Ex, narcissists, psychology

Sometimes you simply have to call bullshit…

This morning, I read an article about Olympic swimmer, 36 year old Ryan Lochte. He’s currently estranged from his mother Ileana Lochte. In an interview with Graham Bensinger, Lochte explained that in 2011, when his mother had divorced his father, Steven Lochte, everyone had been on her side. But then when Ryan told his mother she was going to be a grandmother, she apparently said some very hurtful things and refused to apologize for them. And now, Ryan and his mother have been estranged for a few years. He hasn’t spoken to her. By contrast, he and his father and stepmother are now on very good terms.

I’ve often reflected on how perspectives change as we grow older. When I was a child, things were a lot simpler. Or, at least they seemed that way. I saw things in more black and white terms. All of my friends and relatives were “good”. All of the kids in school who bullied me were “bad”. But then, as I got older, I started to see everyone in a different light. At some point, people I thought were all good developed some very noticeable character defects. Or really, I just noticed them for the first time. By contrast, people I had thought were all bad all of a sudden seemed more human and decent to me. This expanded vision is ultimately a good and necessary thing, but it’s also kind of heartbreaking. Especially when I have good memories of some of these folks, but I know that we’ll probably never speak again.

I think this phenomenon happens to most people who are at least somewhat psychologically healthy. But it’s disconcerting and sometimes very sad when the whole truth comes out about someone we love, or even just like. I think that’s what might be happening with my husband’s children right now.

Last night, Bill talked with his younger daughter, who is struggling with some stuff. She and her husband are in their mid 20s, trying to survive in this pandemic craziness and pay their bills. They have two small children, and as Mormons, are very much involved with their family. Fortunately, younger daughter inherited a lot of Bill’s character and she’s committed to being a good mom.

All of the years, when younger daughter was growing up, Ex’s story was that she was all about taking care of her family. In fact, some years ago, I remember reading a bullshit news story about Ex that appeared in a local newspaper. She claimed that she’d arrived in Arizona in a used van with just $3000 and a dream. She didn’t mention that she was getting child support faithfully every month and that my husband could see to it that the children had medical care. Nope– her narrative was that she was a supermom, doing it ALL alone and handling everything brilliantly. It was such a load of shit!

Bill was faithfully paying her $2550 a month in child support, more than what a general officer would have paid for three children at that time. One of the children he was supporting wasn’t even legally his child. Because Bill was in the military, his children were entitled to military ID cards. They also had access to full medical benefits and free care at military treatment facilities. And yet, Ex chose not to avail herself of these valuable benefits for her children. In fact, she evidently acted as if she didn’t care when younger daughter needed medical attention.

Younger daughter had some physical problems that needed care. Her mother made a huge deal out of the inconvenience and expense of seeking care and implied that she couldn’t afford it. Consequently, those issues went neglected, and now younger daughter is paying a price that may cost her for the rest of her life.

Some people might read this and wonder where Bill was. Well… he tried to stay in touch with Ex and asked her repeatedly about the children. Once she realized that he was going to persist in being involved with the children, she went on a very effective alienation campaign. He really tried to be a good father as best as he was able. But Ex had so effectively alienated Bill’s daughters and ex stepson that no one would speak to him. She moved them to a different state and neglected to inform Bill. We found out about the move through Internet sleuthing. In any case, when these issues were occurring, younger daughter was almost an adult anyway, and wouldn’t speak to Bill. But her mother was freaking out over having to pay several hundred dollars for special equipment that would have helped her daughter function better. She implied that she wasn’t getting any help from Bill, which was patently untrue.

Later, when younger daughter was offered a job in Utah, Ex did her best to get her to stay home. She offered her all kinds of stuff– everything from music lessons that she’d always wanted to more money than what younger daughter would make in Utah. Fortunately, younger daughter was smart enough to see through the bullshit and valued her freedom from the craziness more than a few extra bucks (which would not have materialized, anyway). When younger daughter made her decision, Ex did what she always does… sent a long, scathing, insulting letter full of shaming, empty promises, pleading, and berating. Then, in a true act of apparent desperation to maintain control, she allegedly attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. And when that didn’t work, she brutally cut off her daughter (temporarily, of course– in retrospect, permanently cutting her off might have been the kindest thing to do).

Of course, Ex never totally lets anyone go. The beautiful thing about COVID-19, though, is that it makes it much harder for her to travel. Ex, who once told Bill she would never put the children on a plane to see us in Virginia (because of terrorism), would not hesitate to drive or fly thousands of miles and drop in on people unawares. If she ever got a sign that younger daughter was weakening in her resolve, she would absolutely take the opportunity to insert herself and poison her daughter’s relationships or even alienate her own kids from her. That’s how toxic people operate, and I have been watching Ex do it from afar for many years now.

For many years, I was very angry with my husband’s daughters. I thought they had treated Bill unfairly and were not very bright for rejecting him. Now that we’re hearing the other side, I can see why they did what they did. They were told a lot of lies and raised by a master manipulator who only thinks of herself and her own needs. This morning, Bill said that he used to think that his Ex did these things to be mean and hurtful to him. But now, after comparing notes with his daughter, he realizes that she simply doesn’t care, and that’s even worse than her trying to be hurtful. Because Bill DID care and would have helped them if he’d only known. Those girls didn’t have to suffer as much as they did when they were growing up.

It’s amazing how perspectives change as we age. Five years ago, I never believed I would be writing this about Bill’s daughter. Five years ago, she wouldn’t speak to or about Bill. Now, I realize that she must have been scared. Her mother had built up this image that Bill is an awful man. She told outrageous lies about him and me… things like he abandoned the family to have an affair with me (even though she had moved her boyfriend– now husband #3– into the house while she was still married to Bill) or that the Army was more important than his family (the Army provided excellent pay and benefits he couldn’t get working in a factory– much of which he was sending to Ex as child support).

One of the nice things I have discovered since moving my blog from Blogger is that I get fewer people reading… and leaving me shitty comments because they assume I’ve either made up this story or I’m just a bitter second wife. It’s true that I’m bitter about a lot of things. I despise Bill’s ex wife. That is not a secret. I certainly wouldn’t like her for the way she treated Bill and his kids and other people, but there’s another reason I despise her. It’s because she’s a cruel person. She was very cruel to Bill when they were married. When I say “very cruel”, I mean criminally so… as in, I think she should go to prison for what she did. If she were a man, there would be no question, as long as the crime was reported. Suffice to say, my husband was a victim of domestic violence in his first marriage.

More than once, random people have told me that I have no right to write about these things. They tell me how I “come off” to others and try to silence me from speaking the truth. It’s happened to me repeatedly throughout my life, not just in terms of my husband’s ex wife, but in other situations, too. I’m looking at certain people who have been “interested” in my writing and not wanted me to write about my experiences because they are friends with the other person or because they themselves don’t want to be cast in a bad light. You know what? If you’re doing dirty, dishonest things, you totally deserve to deal with the repercussions of being outed, and I’m done trying to be “positive”, “fair”, and “forgiving” toward people who don’t warrant the consideration. My days of putting up with that shit are over, and it’s a very liberating way to be. Like everyone else, I deserve to be heard and validated, too, even if no one wants to listen to what I have to say (or write). This doesn’t mean, though, that I agree with mobbing people or deliberately trying to ruin their lives. I just think they should have to deal with the natural and inevitable consequences of their bad behavior.

My husband’s daughter, to her credit, has figured this all out a lot younger than her dad and I have. She realizes that some people are simply full of shit and she doesn’t have to waste her time on them. She knows that her mother is full of shit and doesn’t care about her. Her mother couldn’t be bothered to buy inserts for younger daughter’s shoes so she wasn’t in so much pain. Her mother couldn’t be bothered to have her daughter’s spine checked by a doctor and braced so that she didn’t suffer from scoliosis that caused her back problems. She couldn’t be bothered to get in touch with Bill so that those kids could get healthcare. The one time she did contact Bill about their healthcare needs, she asked him to send HER money instead of paying the provider directly. Why? Because that way, she could ask for as much as she wanted and it would go into her pocket… hell, we don’t even know if there ever was a bill that needed to be paid because she wouldn’t send it. Instead, she just tried to demand the money.

The other day, I watched an excellent video by YouTube psychologist, Dr. Ramani, who specializes in talking about narcissists. The video was about “toxic positivity”, which is a real problem in our society today. We have many people who think we always need to be “positive” and “understanding” at all costs. These toxic positivity folks are perfect “flying monkeys” for narcissists, because they always harp on giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when it’s clear that they don’t deserve it.

Well worth watching, if you have the time and inclination.

I have been on the receiving end of a lot of that shit from people… people who have tried to gaslight me into doubting my own instincts and observations in favor of their well spun bullshit. You know what? Letting this kind of thing go– just giving people a break all the time– always leads to being screwed. If you’re a chronically nice and understanding person, you’re are just begging to be screwed over by this type of person. They thrive on people who are always “nice” and “fair” to them. Anyone who has a well-developed sense of shame and a tendency to be forgiving is at risk of being exploited by people like Ex. A little bit of forgiveness is a good thing; don’t get me wrong. But sometimes, you simply have to call bullshit. And bravo to younger daughter for being smart enough and BRAVE enough to do just that. Her dad and I are now working on the same thing.

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narcissists

She just wanted me around for the “likes”…

This morning, I’m listening to a great video by narcissistic behavior guru Dr. Ramani. She is one of several experts on narcissism that I follow on YouTube. She’s wise, insightful, and helpful, although I probably watch videos by fellow expert Dr. Les Carter more often.

Today, the video I stumbled across is on the topic of regret. I’m writing about it now, because I happened to be talking about this very same topic with Bill before I found Dr. Ramani’s video. Bill and I have both had our fill of interactions with narcissists. And we have both experienced regret in the wake of them.

She’s a very kind woman with good insight and better advice.

In this video, Dr. Ramani says “Narcissistic relationships waste time.” And they do. In my case, one of the most damaging relationships of my lifetime lasted about 33 years. I have countless memories of my time with this person. I grew up with her. The friendship probably died before we graduated high school. If it didn’t die in high school, it was definitely in its death throes when we were in college. But I still hung on to it for years, even though I knew that it was a ghost of the “friendship” we’d once had.

I repeatedly resisted the healthy side of me telling me to break off my ties with her for good. Why? Because we’d known each other for so long. I’d invested a lot in the relationship. I didn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I hoped that one day, we could be friends again, more like we were when we were kids.

Then one day, it became painfully clear that she wasn’t my friend and hadn’t been for many years. It became obvious that she saw me as a source of supply and a possession… just one more soul on her Facebook friends list count. She wasn’t interested in being friends with me. She just wanted me for the “likes”. How did I discover this? Well, as it so often happens in my life, it was completely by surprise.

In the fall of 2013, I was sitting in my house in Texas when I got an email from a woman who used to sit next to me in the church I grew up attending. Like my former friend, she had known me since I was eight years old. Her husband was in the choir. My dad was in the choir. Her husband and my dad were both graduates of Virginia Military Institute, so they were like “brothers”. My mom was a church organist at another church, and my three sisters were pretty much grown and out of the house. So there I was, eight years old, with no one to sit with in the forced church services every week. And there she was, a middle aged woman whose children were either grown or in boarding school (she and her husband are wealthy). I spent years sitting through church services with her while her husband and my dad sang in the choir. She was my “special friend”, who even took me for summer outings every year.

Anyway in 2013, this lady, then about 80 years old, had known that my ex friend and I had been “besties” as kids. My ex friend was also the maid of honor at my wedding, which church buddy had also attended. So she probably figured I’d known that ex friend had a baby, and had been attending my former church. She’d had her baby baptized there, and apparently forgot that I was raised in that church and still knew people there.

Church friend wrote to me about the blessed event, probably expecting me to already know about it; but it really was news to me. The revelation that my former friend had kept the news of her pregnancy from me put me in a delicate position, since it didn’t seem appropriate to explain to this elderly lady that apparently my “bestie” and I not only weren’t “best friends” anymore, we weren’t even mere acquaintances. And it was she who had made it abundantly clear that we were no longer “friends” with this bombshell news about my ex friend’s baby’s baptism at the church I had attended as a child.

I think what I ended up doing was telling church friend that I hadn’t known about the baby, since ex friend and I were no longer friends. I didn’t elaborate as to why. I later heard that the church lady asked my mom what happened and my mom couldn’t tell her. When she sent more news to me about ex friend, I reiterated to her that the friendship was over, and I think she finally got the message. It was very awkward, though.

After I got that first email about my ex friend’s shady business, I went looking on her Facebook profile. We were still “friends”, but I had noticed some time earlier that I couldn’t tag her in a photo a mutual friend had shared. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because frankly, we hadn’t been chatting much anyway and I had unfollowed her so her posts didn’t show up in my feed. But after I got the news about the baby, I realized that all of her Facebook posts were public and none were about her baby. It was then that I realized she’d put me on her restricted list, which allowed her to see my page, but restricted what I could see on hers to her infrequent public posts.

She did this, even though we’d known each other since we were eight years old and I have actually met members of her family who are long dead– people like her father, her grandparents, and her great grandmother– most of whom have been gone for decades. I doubt anyone else she knows has ever met these people personally unless they are family members. I would have had a lot more respect for her if she’d just unfriended me, or even blocked me. But no… I was “restricted”, so she could keep tabs on what I was doing and still count me as a “friend”.

Naturally, I was hurt, because there was a time when I genuinely thought we were “best friends”. In fact, she was the one who had first declared us “best friends”, way back in the early 1980s. Honestly, even though we were not as close as we once were years ago, if I had known she was expecting a baby, I would have wished her well. But I have feeling that she didn’t want me to know about her baby because she was afraid I’d somehow steal her thunder. I got married before she did and remember that she’d made a lot of mean-spirited, passive aggressive digs toward Bill and me. I think it upset her that I beat her to the altar. I think she was afraid that if I knew she was pregnant, I’d go out and get pregnant too, or something. She is a competitive person who tends to get jealous and insecure about some things.

I went and talked to Bill and it, and he said, “Well… you know, at our wedding rehearsal, she did and said some inappropriate things.”

Then he proceeded to tell me about how she’d basically hit on him while standing in for me at the rehearsal. She looked at him seductively as she reassured him and told him to relax and pretend she was me. After the rehearsal of the vows was finished, she batted her eyes at him and whispered, “Don’t forget your vows, Bill.”

Bill, being a good guy and knowing that she was my long term “best friend”, figured he’d misinterpreted her behavior. He never mentioned it to me. If he had, I think I would have asked her to leave. Because that behavior on the day before my wedding was extremely disrespectful. I know that if I had done that at her wedding, she would have been furious and there would have been ballistic outrage.

After hearing about her shitty behavior at our rehearsal ten years after our wedding and then discovering that she had me “restricted” on Facebook, so she could see my posts, but I couldn’t see hers, I realized that she was most definitely NOT a friend. I was just something to be used… for narcissistic supply, moral support, adoration, or whatever. It was all on her terms. So, although I really wanted to tell her off, I decided the best thing to do was block her on social media and say nothing. And that’s what I did.

About a year later, I got an unexpected message from her ex boyfriend from our high school years, a guy I hadn’t talked to in well over twenty years. He had a book that I had lent my ex friend, back when we were teenagers (also when they dated, although I think they both carry a torch for each other). He wanted to know how to return it to me. It had been well over twenty years and I had already replaced the book, so I told him to keep it.

I’m sure she put him up to messaging me. There’s no reason he would have otherwise. We weren’t close when we used to know each other. I think she wondered if I’d dish to him. I kept it polite and non-committal because I expected he’d return and report to her. This is what’s known as “Hoovering”. Just like the vacuum cleaner, it’s an attempt to suck someone back into a relationship. Narcissistic people never really let anyone go completely. One way to tell that someone you had dealings with is narcissistic is that they “Hoover”. I suspect that her ex boyfriend was unwittingly serving as a “flying monkey”… doing dirty work on her behalf.

A lot of narcissists will try to Hoover.

Several more years passed. Then, in February of this year, I got an unexpected private message from my former friend’s brother. Again– while we were Facebook friends at one time, I hadn’t spoken to him in years and he wasn’t active on Facebook, so I unfriended him. Out of the blue, I got this message, supposedly from him, with an update on ex friend’s life, including news about the daughter she never told me about. I was tempted to respond to that effect– that I hadn’t even known she’d been pregnant, so I figure we aren’t friends anymore. But I’ve learned that the best thing to do is not respond. No contact is essential.

Moreover, I had a feeling that it might have actually been her sending the message. Maybe she got access to his account and sent me the message because I didn’t have him blocked (I did have her blocked at that time). Either way, I was certain that even if it was a message from her brother– not a bad guy, by the way– she put him up to it. And it had NOTHING to do with her wanting to be friends with me. I was just a possession to her. She was just looking for supply. It didn’t need to come from me. It could have come from anyone. She hasn’t changed. Narcissists never do.

I wrote the below passage in a blog post I wrote back in 2013. I sure called it, didn’t I?

Something tells me she will eventually pop up on Facebook again or send me an email to tell me about her baby or whatever other news she feels compelled to share.  Or she’ll want to take advantage of my super long memory or knowledge and she’ll contact me for that reason.  I’ve watched her do it to other people over and over again.” 

But… I would be lying if I said I didn’t regret the loss of the “friendship”, or at least the illusion of the friendship. The truth is, we had many good times together. We spent many days and nights together playing. We went on trips together– shared books, movies, music, and many Saturday mornings playing with our Barbies together. And, at least until we got to high school, we genuinely liked each other, and it felt like a real friendship, even if people close to me didn’t like her and repeatedly warned me about her self-centered behavior.

But then it started to become clear that she just wanted me around to make herself feel better. There was no reciprocity in our relationship. I was doing most of the work to keep the relationship going, and many times, after talking to her or messaging with her, I was left feeling really angry and upset. She has a way of making cutting remarks that are intended to make the other person feel small. She never misses the opportunity. I also noticed that she wasn’t interested in my successes or triumphs. She only liked to see my failures, vulnerabilities, and heartbreaks. And not because she wanted to offer support.

In fact, I noticed that a lot of her friends were people I wouldn’t necessarily put as her “equals”. Most of them were people who had significant problems of some sort– obvious ones. I suspect it made her feel better to have people around who were worse off than she perceived herself. I came to that conclusion because I noticed that she became distant whenever I had successes. She didn’t want to hear about my triumphs, like a real friend would. She only wanted to hear about the bad stuff or, if she was in the mood, to have someone to gossip with and/or badmouth others to. I noticed she generally had shitty things to say about people we grew up with… she accused one woman who was in a happy marriage of being a “Stepford Wife”. She accused another woman who looked youthful for our age as having had cosmetic surgery. She was gleeful as she told me about another “friend” who had gained a lot of weight and seemed to be gaining more. It was just toxic and mean, especially since she claimed to be friends with some of them. I realized that she was probably saying the same nasty shit to people about me, too.

This could be her theme song. This was the cast we saw when we saw Avenue Q in England in 2016. They cleaned up the language in this version.

Personally, I like it when my friends succeed. I especially like it when Bill succeeds. I don’t feel jealous or slighted when he does well at work, nor am I jealous of my friends who are doing well. I like to be around people who are successful. I try to learn from them.

Yes, I have regrets. I’m sorry I wasted so many years with someone who didn’t value me or my friendship. I’m sorry that I wasted time with someone who kept me from making friends with people who were real friends. I’m sorry that I willingly subjected myself to years of her toxic crap. I’m sorry that she was my maid of honor and that she’s in my wedding pictures. I’m sorry that I put Bill in the position of having to wonder how to handle her inappropriate behavior at our wedding rehearsal. I regret that so many childhood memories involve my times with her, instead of times with other people who might be real friends with me today. I regret that her treatment made me a worse friend to other people. I really regret ever comparing myself to her and thinking that I wasn’t as “good” as she was, simply because of the things she said and did to try to make me feel that way. And I’m sorry that my experiences with her make it hard for me to trust people and make new friends.

But I don’t regret learning the truth about her before it was too late. I have the rest of my life to make real friends, and I’d rather be alone than be “friends” with fake people, anyway. Life is short, and it’s often not a lot of fun. However, it’s always better when it’s not spent wasting time with people who just want to bring you down and watch the world burn. I may regret decisions from the past, but I still have a great future to look forward to… if I survive this pandemic, anyway.

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