family, funny stories, memories, mental health, music, nostalgia, psychology

“Go with the flow”…

A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.

Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.

This is a cover of an old song done by Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton doing harmony…

I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.

A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.

My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.

When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.

Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.

I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.

Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”

Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂

Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.

Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.

Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”

Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.

Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.

From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.

I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.

I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”

My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.

So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”

Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.

So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”

Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.

Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.

My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.

We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.

There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.

Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.

When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.

So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.

Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.

My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.

Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.

Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”

Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.

It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.

The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.

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condescending twatbags, mental health, overly helpful people, poor judgment

You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.

A couple of days ago, I was feeling a bit angry and depressed. I was sitting here alone, reading the local news, and there was an item about Angela Merkel’s latest desires. Mrs. Merkel wants to allow the federal government in Germany to employ an “emergency brake” lockdown for all of Germany. Normally, each individual state’s leaders make decisions for how things run. But because vaccination rollout has been excruciatingly slow here, and people are continuing to get COVID-19 and overrunning the hospitals, Mrs. Merkel and some of the public health leaders in Germany feel that this is a necessary move.

Germany has been in some form of “lockdown” since early November 2020. Apparently, closing everything and trying to restrict people from being in contact with each other has not been effective in slowing down the latest COVID-19 variants. Neither has forcing everyone to wear medical grade face masks. So, as each month passes, the end of the lockdown keeps getting extended. At this point, the estimate is mid June when we can have some semblance of normalcy.

Meanwhile, I watch as my friends back home are getting vaccinated and enjoying a more “normal” life. Actually, I think things have been relatively normal in the United States since the beginning. It’s just that Americans aren’t being allowed to come to Europe willy nilly, and vice versa. I still think Germany has handled the virus a lot better than the USA has… but the incredibly slow vaccine rollout is quite disastrous. Making matters worse is the fact that Bill and I were supposed to be getting our shots by the end of May. A large shipment was sent to German military installations for that purpose. But apparently, they’re Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and the CDC has just recommended holding off on using them until they can be investigated, since several women developed rare clotting disorders after being given the shot.

I was already in a crappy mood for a lot of reasons. The main one is that Bill is gone this week and will be gone for more than half of May on business. He hasn’t been vaccinated, yet he’s allowed to travel for work purposes while I sit here alone with my thumb up my butt– not literally, you understand. And I’m also pissed off because of some recent upsetting news we got regarding a close family member. Bill and I had a private chat about those matters. I finally had to ring off, because I was tired and in a really foul mood, and I didn’t want to talk anymore.

Just as I was about to go to sleep, I got a private message from another family member. This family member is a bit older than I am, and never seems to want to let me forget it. She also seems to assume being older means always being wiser. In her case, I don’t think it does.

Private messages are annoying under most circumstances, but since it was family, I indulged my relative. I was pretty upset after having read the news about the longer lockdown, Bill’s work schedule, and the news about our family member. She wanted to know why I was so irritated, so I explained. As usual, this particular family member starting giving me unsolicited advice, forgetting a number of things… like the fact that before too much longer, I’ll be pushing 50, and I’ve actually had some training in counseling and related subjects.

She immediately started telling me what she thinks I should be doing, even though I never asked for her opinion and was really more wanting to vent than seek advice. I really would like to have someone to talk to… someone who sees me as an equal and is willing to listen, rather than just offer unsolicited suggestions. She doesn’t seem to realize that most competent people don’t want advice or suggestions; they want insight and support.

On that night, I needed a friend, not a pseudo-therapist… especially not one who seems to think I’m naive and incompetent. I know I’ll always be a “squirt” to her, but I really am a grown adult, and I eventually assured her that I AM pretty competent in most things. I’m just fed up, most of all with this fucking COVID-19 lifestyle and Bill’s constant work schedule, as well as the fact that HE can travel for marathon work trips, but we can’t have any fun. It’s making life a colossal bore, and a drag, and I’m starting to hate being here… and my life in general.

Yeah, I know that sounds a lot like pathetic whining. Maybe, to some people, that’s what it is… After all, the bills are paid; we live in a comfortable house; and for now, we have our health. But being locked down, thousands of miles from home, sucks. Telling someone who is feeling upset to “buck up” or “calm down” is not really the best solution.

My situation doesn’t call for “toxic positivity” or invalidation, nor do I need an overly helpful person to suggest that I do things I’m already doing… like creative pursuits. My relative told me to take an online guitar course. Does she honestly think I’d be dumb enough to buy a guitar and not learn how to play it somehow? It’s like the morons who tell an infertile couple to consider adoption… as if that idea had never crossed their minds! And does she really think, as someone with advanced degrees in social work and public health, I need someone to tell me about narcissists and empaths? That would be like me telling her about her chosen field… which I will admit I know nothing about.

So anyway, all of this was the usual par for the course bullshit, when my relative dropped a bombshell. She’s been reading up on narcissists and narcissism, apparently not understanding that she’s a touch on the narcissistic side herself. She was telling me the usual spiel about narcissists, as if I had never read a single book or watched a single video about narcissism, let alone had many personal dealings with them. And then she said, “I really think you and I are empaths.

Well… I had to stifle a giggle at that. I wanted to respond truthfully, by saying “You just used that word… and I don’t think you know what it means.” Seriously. I love this relative very much… but I don’t think she has much insight into what an empath is. I also don’t think she has much personal insight as to what kind of person she is.

I think I am capable of empathy. I can definitely try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I try very hard to see all sides of a situation. But I am definitely NOT an empath… and she is even less empathic than I am. How do I know this? Because I have been on the receiving end of MANY tirades from this particular relative. I’ve known her my whole life, and I’ve seen her lose her shit many times. One time, we were in a city park in Madrid and she got very angry with me for taking too long to find a newspaper. She’d had to pee, and didn’t speak Spanish. Silly me… I though at her age and with her world experience, she would be able to handle going to the potty by herself. But no… and she totally went off on me and called me a “motherfucker”. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

This relative also has a habit of “glomming on” without much situational awareness… and will ask favors, yet show very little consideration. Like, for instance, the time Bill and I had dinner reservations for my birthday, and she asked me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment because she was going to be on Valium. I told her about the dinner reservations, but she assured me she’d be done in time. On the way home, she wanted to stop at a restaurant for dessert. I was worried about the time, but she promised she’d get the dessert to go. Next thing I knew, we were sitting in a booth. That is NOT the behavior of an empath.

She can be very manipulative and will throw epic temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. I’ve witnessed her being rude to wait staff and store clerks, as well as men who try to be overly friendly to her in bars. And she’s also been rude to me on many occasions. When we were a lot younger, she was occasionally legitimately abusive to me. I remember being verbally and physically abused by her, before I got big enough to fight back. She is capable of being an extreme bitch when the situation calls for it. There have been times when I’ve marveled at her ability to be a bitch… and, I must admit, even admired it. She’s not one to be fucked with by anyone.

On the other hand, she’s a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor. She’s also very smart and talented. She can be contrite and sympathetic, when the mood suits. When she’s in a good mood, she’s a delight and HILARIOUS. I do love her. But an empath, she is most definitely NOT.

However, in fairness, like I said, I’m not an empath, either. And that is not a bad thing. Empaths can often end up being taken advantage of by self-centered types. I do have a big heart and am fully capable of being empathetic to people. But that does not make me an empath. That’s a good thing, though, because Bill IS an empath. I think it would be disastrous if both of us were empaths. My being less empathic is good, because it balances out his tendency to be overly forgiving and kind.

I wanted to correct my relative’s thinking, but realized that if I did, it would probably lead to an argument. She thinks she’s an empath, though, and she’s wrong. And if she really thinks she’s the type of person who is constantly thinking of others and putting their welfare before her own, she’s also a bit delusional. She is definitely not one to take on other people’s problems. I have never seen her cry over someone else’s misfortunes. If anything, I think she’s on the other side of the narcissism spectrum. One time, I described a traumatic incident she and I had to my former therapist. He actually used the term “narcissistic” to define the behavior she had displayed to me.

Truly empathic people are unique and somewhat rare. My husband is an empath, and he attracts narcissistic assholes like his ex wife and his war time boss like flies on shit. These folks can smell it on people– those who will put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Bill will bend over backwards for almost anyone, is very slow to anger, quick to forgive, and has a “red line” that is way further down the line than mine is. He is genuinely a kind and compassionate person who almost never raises his voice and feels extreme remorse whenever he hurts anyone, even if just by accident.

Neither my relative, nor I, are like that. I will fully admit that I don’t have much regard for people who are disrespectful to me. I don’t go out of my way to be nasty, but I don’t have tons of sympathy.

I think Bill comes by empathy naturally. Both of his parents and, I suspect, his daughters are also very empathic people. They want to please others and they have overdeveloped superegos and guilt complexes. That’s why Ex runs roughshod over them so easily. Bill fully admits to this, too. It’s not that he’s spineless. It’s just that he hates to disappoint people, wants to make them happy, and genuinely feels for people. But he’s come a long way in his people pleasing ways and has become more assertive, which is something empaths must learn to do or be sucked dry.

My relative has no problem telling people off, taking legal action, or making people feel shitty. I know this, because she’s done a lot of those things to me. I haven’t been sued by her– at least not at this point– but I wouldn’t put it past her if she felt it was necessary. That is not the action of an empath!

I do think I am more empathic than she is, though… and although I could have told her to STFU the other night, I indulged her need to advise me on what she thinks I need to do. And last night, when Bill messaged me, I told him about it and we had a good laugh. Because he also knows that she’s not an empath. And he has frequently told me that he’s glad he married me instead of her… although I think it would have been funny to see how this relative would deal with his Ex, former tenant, or the land bitch from Hell. 😀 My guess is that she would not have handled any of them with much empathy.

Anyway… I wish she’d have a little more empathy for me and stop trying to give me unwanted advice. I’m not 12 anymore. And I wish Mrs. Merkel and her minions would get their acts together so we can all have our lives back.

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Ex

You took the part, that once was my heart…

so why not take all of me?

The first time I heard the classic jazz song, “All of Me”, was back in the 1980s when Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, and Victoria Tennant made a goofy movie by that name. It was about a very wealthy but bitter, nasty, dying woman (Tomlin) who wishes to transfer her soul into a young, beautiful, healthy woman’s body. The young woman who volunteers (Tennant) is a criminal who doesn’t believe the soul transfer will work. She figures she’s about to inherit a beautiful home with horses and money. Through a twist of fate, the rich woman’s soul ends up in Martin’s character. Adding to the conflict, besides the obvious inconvenience of sharing one’s body with another soul, is the fact that Martin’s character can’t stand Tomlin’s character. It’s classic 80s cheese, but I love it because Martin and Tomlin are so great together. I also love the song, “All of Me”. I even love to sing it. Maybe I’ll get around to doing another version today.

I love this… I’m actually sitting here with tears in my eyes. It’s oddly moving to watch Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin dance with with wild abandon, especially since Victoria Tennant was once Steve Martin’s wife. I think Lily and Steve have more chemistry. Maybe that’s why Martin and Tennant eventually split.

I think the song “All of Me” would make for a good theme song for any story involving someone with narcissistic personality disorder. People who have NPD require that everyone in their sphere give them everything of themselves. But, narcissists don’t give anything in return. They simply take and take until their victims have nothing left. And then they accuse their victims of being “selfish” when their victims finally object to the abuse.

My husband hates Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. He also hates a number of popular songs from the early to mid 1990s. Why? Because his ex wife used them as teaching aides to him about what kind of man she expected him to be. She was never satisfied with who he was. She always wanted him to be someone else. And every time he tried to change for her, she criticized him. But Ex wasn’t satisfied with simply being unhappy. She had to ruin songs like “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams and “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow. She’d take the lyrics to those songs and use them as “teaching aids”– examples to Bill as to what kind of man he should strive to be. Even when Bill tried to be what Ex expected, she wanted more, and was unfulfilled. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing appeased her.

But, if Bill had done the same thing to Ex, she would have objected strenuously and accused him of abuse. Somehow, she gets a pass because she had a very fucked up childhood. Bill’s childhood was also a bit fucked up, but he has parents who love and cherish him, while Ex’s parents were truly abusive. Bill had the experience of meeting Ex’s adoptive parents, as well as her stepfather, and he confirms that they were not good people. I can’t deny that Ex was abused when she was growing up by the people who should have protected and cherished her. And that experience, no doubt, helped turn her into who she is today.

Of all of the parental figures in Ex’s life, her adoptive father, whom she didn’t know until she was seven (!) years old, was probably the best of the lot, although that doesn’t mean he was much of a dad. He was in the Merchant Marine, so he was away at sea a lot, and Ex’s mother had an affair with Ex’s stepfather, who turned out to be a sex offender. Ex’s adoptive parents got divorced when she was too young to remember. She spent the first few years of her life thinking her stepfather was her dad. And then her mom had a baby with her stepfather, and Ex’s sister was treated differently because she was a blood relation. Stepdad sexually abused Ex, but left his bio daughter alone. Meanwhile, Mom would do things to sabotage her children, like get them drunk the night before they took the SATs. Yeah… not good people.

Add to the fact that Ex already felt rejected by her natural parents, whom she later found out had conceived her in an affair. Ex’s bio mom was married, and her husband didn’t want to raise another man’s baby. So instead of divorcing her husband and raising Ex, bio mom put her up for adoption, and Ex landed in a terrible situation.

Unlike Ex’s current husband, Bill got to know all of these folks (with the exception of Ex’s biological parents), and he verifies that at least this part of Ex’s narrative is mostly true, even if a lot of the other stuff she says is either outright lies or distorted versions of the truth. Ex’s mother was as bad, or possibly even worse, than Ex is.

I remember one time, Bill called his ex wife’s house to speak to his children. That was back when there was still some hope that they would come to the phone. He heard his former mother-in-law’s voice for the first time in many years. The children, unsurprisingly, weren’t available. This was during the active parental alienation phase, when there rapidly decreasing chances that Bill’s kids would talk to him. He was sad that he couldn’t talk to his children. At that time, he’d included his ex stepson, whom he had always regarded as his son. However, he was chuckling as he hung up the phone. He turned to me and said, “Wow… I bet #3 is in Hell right now…”

“Worse than usual?” I asked.

Still laughing, Bill said, “Ex’s mom answered the phone. You want to talk about a social engineering psychopath? If she’s in that house, he’s got to be in Hell!”

I responded with an evil laugh, “And your daughters are around puberty age, too… That means lots of hormones.”

For a moment, the prospect of #3’s situation kind of made us both feel better, although Bill had always wanted to be there for his daughters, even when they were struggling with teen angst. But thinking about #3 trying to deal with Ex, Ex’s mother, a resentful adult stepson, two teenage girls, and two little kids, one of whom has special needs, brought on an extreme case of Schadenfreude for us. Frankly, #3 has always been a colossal asshole to Bill. Bill has always been a gentleman as much as possible to everyone, and he always tried to treat #3 with respect, even when #3 and Ex invaded his Bill’s dad’s house for the disastrous Christmas gathering of 2004. Instead of responding in kind, #3 repeatedly treated Bill with contempt. And so, we didn’t and still don’t have a lot of pity for his situation. We figure he deserves it for being such a disrespectful and unrepentant asshole.

Over last weekend, when Bill was visiting with his daughter, he learned Ex’s adoptive mom, whom I’ll call “Granny”, had moved in with Ex for the last few years of her life. This wasn’t the first time Granny was living with Ex. She had a long habit of glomming on to family members, claiming to offer free childcare, while she drained their resources and abused everyone with her sociopathic ways. At the end of her life, she had significant health problems and was still a heavy smoker. At one point, she even accused the children of stealing her cigarettes. That’s quite a statement, given that they were practicing Mormons. She also brought a loaded gun into the house, which Ex didn’t know about until after Granny died. Given that there were small children living there, that was a potentially very dangerous situation for everyone.

It’s possible that Ex felt “drained” by her parent figures, so maybe she figures she’s “owed”. She went through a terribly abusive childhood, so it’s “okay” for her to abuse other people. Maybe someone like Bill is irresistible, because he’s so safe. Bill is an extremely empathetic person who tries hard to be forgiving and understanding. He isn’t violent or the slightest bit abusive. So maybe she saw him as “safe” to project all of her shit upon… I’m sure she thought Bill would never leave her, not just because he’s incredibly loyal, but because she knew how much he’d been hurt by his parents’ divorce and how much love and empathy he had for his children.

In a way, in Bill, she had a perfect victim. She probably looked at him and thought he was someone she could mold and control, because he’s very eager to please others. It never occurred to her that what she was doing was horribly abusive. Even if it had occurred to her, I doubt she’d care.

I don’t know what it’s like to be Ex. I don’t know if she’s really a hollow person, or if there’s a lot of pain and misery inside of her. I only know the aftereffects of being exposed to her. How? Because I know a lot of people who have spent time with her. They’ve all reported the same devastating symptoms of narcissistic abuse. And they’ve all reported feeling much better when they were able to get away from her, even if they were completely drained and on the verge of destitution. She could take everything and still demand more, with no thought about how she was hurting the people she took from. She has no empathy. And as someone who has never met her, but has been exposed to several of her victims, I too, have experienced the ripple effects of her narcissistic abuse.

Aside from acting like a bottomless pit and taking until her victims wither away, Ex sees anyone in her world as a possession, to do with what she pleases. That’s why she was so afraid that Bill would “steal” his daughters from her, even though his daughters are their own people and can’t be “stolen”. That’s why she accuses me of “stealing” Bill, even though Bill was divorced when we met. She was sure he’d come crawling back to her. She’d convinced him that no other person would ever want him, and even though she treated him horribly, she had some very powerful “bait” in her trap– Bill’s daughters and, to some extent, his dad, stepmother, and sister. Fortunately, Bill isn’t by any means a stupid person, and though it broke his heart to lose contact with his children, he knew that in reality, he hadn’t lost everything and was much better off by himself. And though we hadn’t met in person at the time of his divorce, he was already talking to me, and he had his job with the Army. He also had his wonderful mom on his side. So he was able to rebuild, although it took a long time and he still has some issues to overcome.

Last night, Bill told me that he doesn’t get angry. Or, he does get angry, but he doesn’t stay angry. I, on the other hand, have no issues getting and staying angry. Bill said he was actually a little envious of my ability to stay pissed off. That surprised me, because although I don’t think anger is a useless emotion, I do know that being angry with no resolution can be destructive and painful, although not being able to express anger can also be problematic. I guess Bill has a very different kind of “anger issue” in that he can’t express anger in a way that is healthy and validating. It’s like he’s either afraid to express anger or simply doesn’t know how.

Anger can be wonderfully energizing and motivating. Channeled properly, it can lead to necessary change. But I get angry and stay angry, mainly because my anger often never gets properly resolved. As an abuse victim myself, I’ve learned to stuff the anger until I can let it out in a safe place. However, I’m now so full of it that it still fizzles out. I have this fear of confronting people assertively because when I was growing up, being assertive often led to being abused. This isn’t to say that I’ve never been able to assertively express myself when I’ve been angry. There are some people, like Bill, with whom I can be assertive with no fear. But to other people– especially overbearing authority figures– I often have a hard time being properly assertive. My anger tends to be either expressed too aggressively, or too meekly. In contrast, Bill barely expresses anger at all… except when he’s in traffic.

Besides that, a lot of people have trouble being assertive themselves, so even if I tried to be assertive, there’s a good chance the other person is incapable of that. And so, my tentative efforts at being assertive are met with verbal abuse, which I can no longer abide. Like I said… I am full to the brim of abuse– saturated with years of being yelled at and occasionally hit for being who I am. So now, when someone is like that with me today, my reaction is usually over the top, and I stay angry for much longer than I should. That kind of anger is not very healthy at all. And yet, Bill says he’s kind of jealous that I can be that way.

If anyone has a right to be angry, it’s Bill. I think that I’m angry on his behalf, because I see how he’s been treated and how people have been quick to assume that because he’s a man, he’s automatically the guilty party. So it’s almost like I have a double dose of anger– my own from shit from my past, and Bill’s, because Bill doesn’t get angry… or stay angry. We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?

Well, I figure this post has rambled on long enough. It’s a bit more personal than I was expecting it to be, but who knows? Maybe someone out there can relate. Or maybe someone thinks this saga is like a soap opera. Recently, I haven’t felt the need to write so much about Ex, because she hasn’t been bothering us personally. But, as I mentioned earlier in this post, Ex is a special kind of toxic and, kind of like genital herpes, she’s pretty much impossible to totally get rid of, even if we’re now asymptomatic a lot of the time. Every once in awhile, we still have the occasional unpleasant flareup, and this is one of those times. I suspect it won’t be the last.

Time for me to sign off and do some reading… I hope everyone enjoys their Friday and stays safe from the Coronavirus.

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