domestic violence, good tv, movies, reviews

A rare movie night at Chez knotty’s…

Last night, something happened that rarely happens at my house these days. I actually watched two very new movies that were actual theatrical releases. This is kind of a big deal, since I usually don’t watch silver screen films until they’ve been out for awhile. Last time I went to an actual movie theater was in 2018. That was to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

Before that, my last visit to a movie theater was in 2011, when Bill and I whimsically decided to see Midnight in Paris while we were vacationing in Maine. We only did that because I was having intractable back pain that made me less interested in walking around Portland. So, after a visit to Soakology (a foot soaking place that was awesome!), we stopped by the movie theater and watched Woody Allen’s flick. I really enjoyed it, plus the foot soak actually made my back feel much better.

I didn’t go to a theater last night. Come on, now, I’m home alone… and far be it for me to get in my car and actually go somewhere. 😉 (Actually, when I was single, I did frequently go out on my own… but I’ve changed my ways. It’s not that I’m afraid– it’s more that I don’t see the point of going out and wandering around alone. Plus, now I have dogs to keep me company.). However, I did download four new films, and I actually watched two of them last night. Both were a bit depressing, yet I still enjoyed them.

The first movie I watched was The Whale, starring Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Ty Simpkins, and the fantastic Sadie Sink. I had never seen Sadie Sink before, because I am one of the few people who doesn’t watch Stranger Things. She is quite an amazing young talent. She reminds me of McKenna Grace, who is a few years younger. Both Sadie Sink and McKenna Grace are from Texas, and both have serious acting chops, especially for their ages. Actually, as I watched Sadie last night, I was also reminded of Kirsten Dunst.

The Whale was poignant and profound on many levels to me. There’s Brendan Fraser, a man who made many films based on his good looks, portraying Charlie, a morbidly obese, reclusive, online college English professor who doesn’t show his face on screen. He’s a very good and patient teacher, but he has serious personal issues to include a deadly eating disorder.

He has a nurse friend named Liz, played by Hong Chau, who comes to see him. Liz was adopted by the leaders of a religious cult who rejected her when she rejected the cult. When a missionary named Thomas from the cult visits Charlie, whose obesity has led to congestive heart failure, Liz doesn’t react well. Charlie is near death, and Thomas thinks he needs God. Liz disagrees vehemently. As time passes, the characters evolve, and we get the heartbreaking backstory for both.

But the really amazing character, to me, anyway, is Charlie’s daughter, 17 year old Ellie, played by Sadie Sink. Ellie is beautiful and intelligent, and she’s flunking out of school. Charlie is desperate to reunite with her before he dies. His ex wife, Mary (Samantha Morton), has kept Ellie away. Charlie left Mary and Ellie when Ellie was eight years old, because he was gay, and in love with another man. So, aside from paying child support to Mary and occasionally hearing the odd snippet about Ellie, he has no relationship with her. But he has over $120,000 saved to give her.

Ellie is a complex character on so many levels. Naturally, because I’m married to a man whose daughters were alienated from him, I have a perspective of this situation that other viewers might not have. Of course, Bill didn’t leave his ex wife for me, nor is he gay, morbidly obese, or reclusive. But he does have a daughter he would love to see again someday, and he has another daughter who reconnected and will probably be the sole recipient of an inheritance from him.

This was such a good movie!

I don’t want to write more about this movie, because I really think it’s a film that should be viewed with few spoilers. I’m glad I took the time to watch it. I have so much respect for Brendan Fraser for taking on this incredible role. His prestige has climbed a few notches for pulling off this character so convincingly. If you have the means to see The Whale, and don’t mind sad movies, I recommend it wholeheartedly. Especially if you were an English major.

The second movie I watched was Alice, Darling, which stars Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Wunmi Mosaku, and Charlie Carrick. I was less into Alice, Darling, than The Whale. Generally speaking, I like Anna Kendrick’s work. I saw her in her debut, 2003’s Camp, and she immediately impressed me. This film is a drama that moves a little slowly, although it’s a story that a lot of people will identify with easily.

Alice and her friends.

Anna plays Alice, a woman whose artist boyfriend, Simon (Carrick) is emotionally abusive. Her friends, Tess (Horn) and Sophie (Mosaku), know Simon is abusive. They’ve seen Alice change, becoming a shell of herself. The women decide to go on a week’s retreat at Sophie’s family’s cabin in the woods, staging sort of an intervention. The premise is Sophie’s birthday, but Alice has to lie to Simon in order for him to reluctantly let her go without a fight.

Over the course of the week, the women hang out, sing songs, drink, have bonfires, and relax. Slowly, we see Alice start to change back into who she was, after gentle encouragement from her friends… until Simon unexpectedly shows up with groceries and tries to pull Alice back into his abusive web of deceit. Alice has good friends, though, and they’ve got her back… and Alice also has a good head on her shoulders as she slips out of the FOG.

Alice, Darling is another movie that speaks to me, mainly because of Bill, who was also married to a narcissistic emotional abuser. Because of his previous marriage, I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting narcissism and relationship abuse tactics. Abusive people pretty much have a playbook that they all seem to go by, more or less. Abuse can take many forms. Simon doesn’t physically abuse Alice; his abuse is more insidious, because it’s not immediately obvious to the eye. But, eventually, it’s plain to see what he’s doing, and it’s easy to see how hard it is for Alice to break out of that predicament. Fortunately, they weren’t married and didn’t have children.

I read that some men who have seen Alice, Darling are also speaking up about their experiences with emotional abuse. I think that’s a good thing, since many people seem to believe that men can’t be abused. I’ve seen it firsthand. Unfortunately, not everyone who is the victim of an abuser has friends like Alice does. In fact, abusers try very hard to isolate their victims, so they are abandoned by people who love and care about them. It happened to Bill, and viewers can see it happening to Alice, too.

As I mentioned up post, I didn’t enjoy Alice, Darling as much as I did The Whale. It’s not because of the story, which I think is well worth sharing. I think the reason I liked this film less is because I didn’t feel like the women meshed as friends. There was no chemistry. I didn’t get the sense of a realistic bond among the three of them, so there weren’t really any profound magic moments in this film that made it feel special. The actors were all very competent.

I was actually very impressed with Wummi Mosaku, who brought a lovely maternal vibe to her character, Sophie. I liked Kaniehtiio Horn, too, in her role. But Mosaku and Horn didn’t seem like they would be friends… nor did they seem legitimately connected to Kendrick, either individually, or within their group. So, it wasn’t that believable to me that these women would try to rescue Alice from Simon. Maybe with different actors, this film would seem more profound and plausible.

I thought Charlie Carrick did a good job portraying an abusive asshole artist. But again, I just couldn’t really see him with Kendrick. They also didn’t seem to have much of a bond, that would make them seem like an actual couple. I think Kendrick does better when she’s playing strong characters. I read that she was also in an abusive relationship, which made her want to take this role. But, in spite of that personal history she has off screen, it doesn’t seem to translate to me when I see her as Alice. To me, she doesn’t come off as a meek, vulnerable, victim type, even though she’s very petite, and looks like she might be easy to control if you don’t hear her speak.

Anyway, I didn’t hate Alice, Darling, and I think it covers an important topic. I just think it would have been better with another cast.

I don’t know if I’ll watch movies tonight. I think today, I might try to make some music videos. I got a very nice comment from a Dutchman in France last night, so that’s encouraging and inspiring. Besides, it’s been a week, and I need to play with my new recording gear.

By the way… I got my new HomePod yesterday, and I hooked it up to the TV. Gotta say, that makes a big difference in the sound quality, which is probably why I decided to watch movies in the first place. I think I might order another one for our other big TV. Maybe we might actually watch it more often, if I did that. 😀

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book reviews

My review of Unbreakable by Jelena Dokic, with Jessica Halloran…

January seems to be my month for reading true stories. Early this morning, because I couldn’t sleep, I finished reading 2017’s Unbreakable, the story of tennis phenom Jelena Dokic, ghostwritten by Jessica Halloran. I bought this book a week ago and finished it in less than 48 hours. Part of the reason I finished so quickly is because I’m alone this week, but I also found it a very compelling and interesting book. I don’t follow tennis at all, and had never even heard of Jelena Dokic before I read Unbreakable. But her story interested and frustrated me on many levels. I think anyone who has ever had to deal with a controlling, narcissistic, alcoholic person will relate to it.

Who is Jelena Dokic?

Born April 12, 1983 in Croatia, which was then part of the former Yugoslavia, Jelena Dokic once played tennis with the likes of Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, and both Venus and Serena Williams. But her earliest days in Osijek, Croatia, didn’t lend a hint to the fame and fortune she would eventually attain.

Jelena Dokic’s mother is from Croatia; her father was born in Croatia, but was of Serbian descent. She was an only child until 1991, when her mother gave birth to her beloved brother, Savo. From the very beginning, Jelena adored her brother and saw herself as his protector. His birth was at the time when the Iron Curtain was falling apart, and that included Jelena’s homeland, Yugoslavia, which was really just a conglomeration of different states with different languages and cultures cobbled together.

One day, when Jelena was still very young, she and her father, Damir Dokic, were in a rowboat fishing, when they saw a body floating past. As Yugoslavia was breaking up, people from the different countries were fighting among themselves. Murders were increasingly common as the area became a war zone. The obstetrician who delivered both Jelena and her brother was murdered, prompting the family to temporarily move to Serbia. There, Jelena had to learn the Serbian language as the civil unrest and ethnic and religion based violence continued.

During those early years, Jelena’s father got the idea to see if his daughter could play tennis. Boy, could she… Jelena was a natural talent. From the age of six, she showed everyone that she was born for the game. Reluctant coaches in Serbia didn’t think she could hang with the bigger girls, but she soon proved herself a formidable player. Before she’d hit puberty, Jelena had launched what would turn into a lucrative career.

Enter “Daddy Dearest”…

Besides dealing with the violence of war and the upheaval of moving from Croatia to Serbia, Jelena’s family was poor. For some time, Jelena, her mother, and brother lived in a garden shack owned by relatives. It was rat infested and freezing cold. Meanwhile, her father and other relatives were in Croatia. Jelena’s dad, Damir, came back when it became clear that his daughter had the potential to go far in the tennis world.

The family eventually immigrated to Australia, where Jelena rose in the ranks to become a great tennis player. But she would inspire jealousy among other Aussie tennis players, who weren’t a match for her. Her entire life revolved around winning tennis matches and making money for her abusive father. Jelena’s mother, beaten down by years of abuse, aided and abetted Damir’s tyrannical behavior.

Damir Dokic had a tragically effective way of “motivating” Jelena to succeed. He drove her to train constantly, berated her, called her vile, filthy names, and when she didn’t win on the tennis court, beat her with his leather belt. Damir was also a severe alcoholic with a weakness for white wine and whiskey. He would show up to Jelena’s games rip roaring drunk, screaming at her from the sidelines. Jelena was treated like a commodity. She wasn’t allowed to have friends, and her abusive father would threaten and humiliate her constantly, even when she did well.

Still, in spite of being called names like “whore” and “cow”, and even though her father would regularly terrorize Jelena, and tell her she was a disgrace, the young tennis phenom consistently rose to the occasion. At the pinnacle of her tennis career, Jelena Dokic was ranked number four in the world. For awhile, she was unstoppable, although her father never praised Jelena for her achievements.

But sadly, before Jelena was even twenty-one years old, it all began to unravel. She went through many coaches, endured a narcissistic boyfriend, and through it all, had to face her terrifying father, who leveraged Jelena’s access to her mother and brother to get what he wanted… which was basically ALL of her money and complete control over her career.

A familiar story, yet still shocking…

As I read Jelena Dokic’s story, I was reminded of several other stories of extremely talented and successful people. A couple of years ago, I wrote a review of a book written by Verona van de Leur, a former elite gymnast from The Netherlands who eventually went to prison and then became a porn star. Like Jelena Dokic, Verona was expected to perform and achieve in her sport, mainly because her parents were leeching money from her.

I don’t believe Verona van de Leur ever made as much money as Jelena Dokic did, as Jelena’s father eventually built a mansion with Jelena’s earnings, complete with a wine cellar and stables. He made her agree to keep sending him payments of $200,000, as well as most of her other earnings. Jelena’s father also forced her to sign over her rights to a house paid for with money she won. Naturally, she was also expected to pay the taxes on her winnings, which she soon couldn’t do as she stopped winning. Not winning meant making much less money playing tennis.

I was also reminded of Dominique Moceanu, an American former elite gymnast of Romanian descent, whose father abused her in order to motivate her to achieve. I remember how adorable Dominique was in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I didn’t know, at that time, the price she was paying to be at the top of her game in gymnastics. I read and reviewed Dominique’s book, too.

Finally, Jelena’s crazy abuse story reminded a bit of Tina Turner, and her story of being mentored by her ex husband, the late Ike Turner. Although Tina is known for being a great singer, she shared the same tragic fate as Jelena, Verona, and Dominique did. All of these incredibly gifted and talented women basically served as “golden geese” for abusive men who exploited and terrorized them to get money and power from them.

Frustrating…

As compelling as Unbreakable is, I have to admit, I found it a frustrating read. Jelena Dokic was caught in a terrible abuse cycle. Over and over again, her father would abuse her in almost every way. He would make her run for miles after exhausting tennis matches or in extreme heat. He would verbally abuse her and terrorize her. Or he would beat her up, kick her with his pointy toed dress shoes, or whip her with his belt. When she became an adult, she would say “enough” and try to leave. But he’d always manage to talk her into coming back for more abuse.

Ditto to other abusers in Jelena’s life. She had a tennis coach who took advantage of her. He wasn’t very experienced in the game, but he was manipulative. More than once, Jelena tried to get rid of him, only to take him back later. She had an abusive, controlling boyfriend of the same ilk who was hard to shake.

On a conscious level, I understand that Jelena was trapped in a cycle of abuse. She was coping the only way she knew how. She didn’t have much help from other people, even though some had seen evidence of her father’s telltale abuse. Jelena was a valuable commodity to a lot of men, and I guess it was easier to allow the blatant terrorism to continue, rather than do something about it. I have had experience with an abusive alcoholic father myself, so I do have an inkling of what Jelena was facing. My dad wasn’t as bad as Jelena’s dad is, either. But still, it was frustrating to read about this very talented and successful woman being horrifically abused, and nothing being done about it. It’s pretty shameful, actually. Fortunately, the story ends well.

Jelena Dokic makes a comeback.

Overall

I think Jessica Halloran did a fine job writing this book. It’s in the historical present tense, which is kind of different. I never got the sense that I wasn’t reading this book from the source, though, which is a good thing. There are some photos included, too.

Like I mentioned up post, I don’t really follow tennis at all. I’m not into sports. But I could relate to and empathize with Jelena Dokic’s story in Unbreakable. It sounds like she’s gotten her life back on track, as she now works as a tennis coach and motivational speaker in Australia. Jelena’s story is horrific at times, but ultimately, she’s triumphed.

Yes, it took a long time for Jelena Dokic to get to where she is… and that may frustrate some readers, who will see her making the same mistakes repeatedly. I notice some comments on Amazon are about how Jelena didn’t ask for help and/or denied the abuse, and the stories of abuse became “tedious” and “repetitive”.

I think it’s helpful to remember that people who are caught up in abuse don’t have the benefit of clarity. They have been conditioned to accept bad treatment from their abusers, who isolate them and swear them to secrecy by using shame, violence, and fear for other loved ones. In Jelena’s case, it was her beloved brother who served as a bargaining chip. If she didn’t cooperate with her father, she would lose contact with Savo. When abuse victims are in that kind of a bind, it can be especially difficult to break free from tyranny. Yes, it’s frustrating to watch obvious abuse when it happens, but getting away from abuse and “stepping out of the F.O.G.” is legitimately hard.

In any case, I think Unbreakable is worth reading. I’d give it four stars out of five.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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mental health, narcissists, psychology, rants, royals, Twitter

This world is full of “creeps like her”…

Fair warning… this is a highly inappropriate post. Some people who read this will think I’m “crazy”. I don’t really care. I have to write about this stuff, or else I’ll drive Bill nuts. Feel free to keep scrolling. I would, if I were you. 😉

As I type today’s blog post, a brilliant song by Lyle Lovett is playing. It comes from his 1994 album, I Love Everybody. I have loved Lyle’s music for a long time now, having discovered him in Armenia. It was Mormons who introduced me to his brilliance. In my Peace Corps group, there was a very cool Latter-day Saint couple. They lived in Yerevan with me; she taught English, and he worked at the airport, as he had worked for Boeing before he was a Volunteer.

One time, they had a potluck lunch, and I was invited. As always, I was tuned into the music more than the conversation. A song called “Since The Last Time”, which was from 1992’s Joshua Judges Ruth, was playing. I immediately loved it, and asked who was singing. They said, “Lyle Lovett.” At that time, I wasn’t familiar with Lyle Lovett, but I vowed that I would further explore his genius when I had the chance.

When I got back to the United States in 1997, I started buying Lyle’s music. I had already bought most of the albums he’d released before I finally discovered Joshua Judges Ruth. Before that happened, I bought I Love Everybody. On that album is the great song, “Creeps Like Me”. Check out Lovett’s witty lyrics…

I wear grandmother’s ring
On my finger
On my finger
She had a tooth of gold
And just before she died
She said son
You can have my tooth
But do I
Really have to go

Look around
And you will see
This world is full of creeps like me
You look surprised
You shouldn’t be
This world is full of creeps like me

And I keep my uncle Leon
In my closet
In my closet
There don’t nobody know
Just me and uncle Leon
And my closet
And they wonder
Where’d that old man go

Look around and you will see
This world is full of creeps like me
You look surprised
You shouldn’t be
This world is full of creeps like me

And I knew this pretty girl once
She was eighteen
Maybe
What’s a year or two
And one day when she asked me
If I loved her
I said baby
What’s it worth to you

But look around
And you will see
This world is full of creeps like me
You look surprised
You shouldn’t be
This world is full of creeps like me

And I wear grandmother’s ring
On my finger
On my finger
She had a tooth of gold
She had a tooth of gold
She had a tooth of gold

I admire Lyle Lovett for so many reasons. He’s a great musician, of course. I also like him because he’s sharp, funny, and observant. Look at how he says so much with just a few words. In “Creeps Like Me”, he’s describing sociopathic jerks who exploit other people for their own purposes. These words are set to a catchy melody played on guitar… Maybe I’ll have to learn it.

Not surprisingly, this song was inspired by a “creep” of a woman… Listen to what Lyle says at the beginning of the song.

Bill and I have had exposure to a whole lot of “creeps”, both as single people, and as a married couple. The biggest creep, in my opinion, is his ex wife. She probably isn’t the biggest creep in terms of what she’s done to humanity as a whole. But, her delusional, mean-spirited, spiteful behavior has affected us the most in a personal sense. She doesn’t seem to see what a creep she is, either. Or she won’t admit to it. Today’s Twitter extravaganza offers ample evidence.

I’ve been reading Prince Harry’s book, Spare. I didn’t originally plan to read the book, but I changed my mind when I heard Anderson Cooper’s comments about it. So far, I’m glad I’m reading it, because it’s truly been enjoyable. The ghost writer, J. R. Moehringer, is very talented and has done a great job channeling Harry’s voice. Yes, there are some errors in the manuscript. Like, for instance, he writes of Harry getting an Xbox as a birthday gift from his mother after she died in 1997. The Xbox didn’t come out until 2001 in the United States, and 2002 abroad. I believe Diana bought Harry a PlayStation. I seem to remember that was even reported in the press at the time.

Ex is a big fan of the British Royal Family. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as she keeps insisting that she’s descended from a famous Highland Scottish family (bullshit). Even before she claimed to be the descendent of Scottish lairds, Ex reportedly worshiped Diana, Princess of Wales. Bill tells me Ex was crushed when Diana died on August 31, 1997. I think Ex aspires to be extraordinary, like Diana was. Alas, as Lyle’s song goes, she’s just an ordinary creep. There are lots of creeps like her in the world. She seems blind to the fact that she’s a creep, too.

Today, on Ex’s very public Twitter account, there’s a veritable cornucopia of Ex’s hypocritical thoughts on the current issues caused by Prince Harry’s bombshell book. It started a couple of hours ago, when someone shared a 2019 era photo of Queen Elizabeth II with William and Kate on their way to church.

Don’t we all?

The above post isn’t so outrageous, although Ex is, herself, a master at spreading half truths and outright lies. A lot of people do miss Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, though. But then Ex slips headlong into incredible hypocrisy and delusion…

Is this bitch for real? Where is she getting this sudden empathy for fathers? She treats the three fathers of her five children like SHIT!

Ex writes, “Blackmail is not the way to revive familial ties that have been strained to the breaking point.” And yet, she’s a big fan of blackmail, manipulation, lies, and threats in her personal relationships. She has three children who were FORCED to “divorce” their bio dads after her marriages to them broke up. She made them change their last names. Ex may have even coerced Bill’s daughters into being legally adopted by her shithead third husband. Not once did she try to work things out with Bill so that he could stay in his daughters’ lives when they were growing up. She just took his money, lied to him, and exposed them to abuse! Then she got his daughters to disown him and didn’t even have the decency to tell him. To this day, we don’t even know if Bill is still legally their father!

Where did Ex get all of this brilliant insight about interpersonal relationships? And why doesn’t she practice what she preaches? I just can’t even… I shake my head at this, even though I’ve seen a lot of shit from her over the years that makes me cringe. This woman is not living in reality.

The extravaganza continues, as Ex ponders further…

Does SHE know what Diana’s life was truly like? Does ANYONE, other than Diana herself?

I haven’t made it a secret that I don’t like Meghan much myself. I see a lot of Ex in her. She seems manipulative to me, and I’m troubled by how many people in her family are estranged. Ex is a LOT like Meghan. Yet, here she is on Twitter, denouncing her soul sister. Ex tells lies with astonishing skill, and she’s constantly on the grift. In spite of what she posts publicly, her children were raised in extreme dysfunction. But if you were to go on what she’s posting on Twitter, you’d think she was a goddamned saint! And not a Latter-day Saint, either… although that’s the church she coerced her family into joining, until the church members were “too helpful” to her children.

Next, she offers an analysis on whether or not the Royals want Harry “back”… and “wisdom” about what royal life entails. Like she fucking knows from personal experience… 😀

She doesn’t give a toss about anyone but herself, and she doesn’t know the first thing about “hard work” or service to others. That’s why my husband’s 31 year old daughter still lives at home and does the cooking, cleaning, and caring for Ex’s son.

I almost wonder if Ex’s comments are more about her own situation. I know a couple of her children had “flown the coop”. She’s been upset because they are speaking out about the way she treated them. She’s even enlisted her indoctrinated children to try to bring them back to the fold. Fortunately, they have their own children they wish to protect and are wise to the manipulative bullshit. I know Ex would love to have them “back”, in spite of their “troublemaking”. I think it’s too late, though. They’ve escaped the FOG. Once a person does that, there’s usually no going back.

Then she gets off the British Royal Family and answers the random tweet of someone who wants to know something deep…

If she’s serious about this, she really should start with herself.

My husband still bears physical and emotional scars from his time with this woman. It took years for us to recover from the financial disasters wrought from his time with her. I don’t have children of my own, mainly because she’s a selfish, greedy, hateful bitch with no sense of responsibility. She has incredible gall to be trying to present herself as some kind of selfless mensch. It’s truly flabbergasting to me. But, again, it’s not like I haven’t seen it before. The world is full of creeps like her.

And finally, a tweet about her fantasy man… and a comment about what she says she wants in a person, but is unwilling to give of herself.

Oh yes… we know you want a “caring” man. You had a caring man when you were married to my husband. You exploited and abused him. And when he made it clear that he cares enough about himself to get away from your abuse, you tried to destroy his relationships with his family.

I know that Ex is far from the only person who is like this. Last night, I talked to another person who is blinded by her own narcissistic proclivities. She sees herself as an empath! She’s definitely NOT an empath, although I don’t think she’s nearly as toxic as Ex is. But then, I make a point of not engaging with her very much anymore, because of all of the incidents that occurred in the past. I’ve had to walk on eggshells around her a lot. One of the reasons I’ve been in Germany for so long is because I don’t want to deal with these people anymore. It’s a plus to have an ocean separating us.

Still, it blows my mind just how out of touch with reality Ex is about herself. She says the right things… but when it comes down to it, she doesn’t put actions into her words. If she did, Bill would still have good relationships with his daughters and his ex stepson. She wouldn’t be trying to manipulate people in Bill’s family into giving her money and things. There would be a lot less lying and selfishness. And poor younger daughter wouldn’t have nightmares when she has to talk to her own mother!

Anyway, I hope to finish reading Spare very soon. I look forward to reviewing it.

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holidays, narcissists

Christmas time is coming… you know what means, right? Here’s the best Christmas gift…

Before I get started… this isn’t going to be a super lighthearted post. It might be funny or interesting to some readers who know our story, and it could be helpful and informative to others… I just want to warn anyone who’s here looking for festive glad tidings that this post ain’t it.

Still with me? Mmm’kay…

When I was really young, I loved Christmas. I loved the food, the music, staying home from school, and getting Christmas presents. I loved being with my family, too. As I got older, Christmas became more of a burden. I found out that Santa isn’t real, not that I was ever a big believer in Santa… I recognized my mom’s handwriting on the packages. Then I felt like I had to buy gifts, and I never had any money. I also realized I didn’t know the recipients well enough to get them something they really wanted, so it felt like I was wasting money that I didn’t have.

As time went on, I came to realize that Christmas had lost its magic for me and filled me with apprehension and stress, rather than the touching family moments depicted on the Hallmark channel. It wasn’t until I married Bill and swore off family gatherings that I started to enjoy the holidays again. So… from about 2005 onwards, Christmas became fun for us… I now enjoy Christmas. I like shopping for Bill, because I know what he likes, needs, and wants. And we don’t try to make Christmas what it isn’t. It’s just a day. We enjoy the day and all the good stuff that comes with it. He is the one person I can count on to love me for exactly who I am. That is a huge blessing. I, in turn, love him for exactly who he is.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t see drama about to erupt from other sources. Most of it stays away from us in the most personal sense. However, because Bill and his daughter have reconnected, he’s hearing about drama from afar. It occurred to me that this is the time of year when narcissists usually become completely insufferable. And based on what I’ve seen from Ex lately, I think it could hit a fever pitch this year.

Behold:

On the surface, this sort of seems like a “cute” post, right? She’s putting up her Christmas tree, and oops! She forgot to add one of the middle sections! She must now get on social media to show everyone her “mistake” and ask for advice.

Ummm… I know for a fact that Ex knows how to put up a Christmas tree. And I think she knows how to fix this problem. That tree has just four parts to it. It’s not even like the trees of yore, which had dozens of individual limbs and color codes that had to be put on one at a time. It takes two minutes to put up a tree like the one pictured, even if you put the wrong section on the lower part. On our tree, the top part wouldn’t even fit on the bottom section. And why in the hell would you put lights on before you assemble the tree?

But then I notice at the end of her post, she writes “On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… no help on the Christmas tree.”

Uh huh. That was a dig at #3, who is apparently checked out. After twenty years of this kind of shit, I can’t really blame him. It took Bill half as much time to withdraw from Ex’s craziness. So when he ignores her, she hits up social media for attention.

Some of you who might be reading this are probably thinking… “How do you know all of this? And more importantly, why do you care?”

The fact is, I don’t actually care, except to the extent that it upsets younger daughter. She lives in another state, true… but it’s the holiday season, and narcissists are typically a nightmare during the holidays. They just can’t help themselves. They have this image they desperately want to project, and they expect everyone else to buy into the image. The trouble is, even if other people are cooperative, the reality never lives up to the perfect image in Ex’s mind. That causes her a lot of stress and gives her excuses to stir up drama.

The holidays are also a time of year when people are expected to be kind, grateful, and happy. Narcissists aren’t naturally kind, grateful, or happy people, even if that’s the image they try, and sometimes manage to project, to strangers. BUT– they expect YOU to be all of those things and more. If you protest when they criticize you, there will be hell to pay. “You can’t win for losin'”, as my sweet husband likes to say.

So… Ex decides to “spread the wealth” that comes with being upset during the holidays. Instead of sending warm wishes in a Christmas card or a lovely present, she sends hateful private messages full of rage, accusations, and guilt. Instead of making a phone call or starting a video chat, she drops a load of psychic angst via Facebook messenger. And then, when the response is anything other than groveling or mea culpas, she “shares the wealth” of misery to other people who care enough to listen to her complaints. Ah… holiday stress. It’s the narcissistic gift that ripples across generations, right?

I’ve been in Bill’s life for over 20 years, and I have seen Ex spoil MANY holidays. She usually craps on Christmas, but I’ve also seen her fuck up birthdays and Easter. Since one of her daughters and a granddaughter were born on July 4th, you can bet that day will be messed up, too. It’s a double whammy– Independence Day and a birthday for two family members. She hates it when the attention isn’t focused on her, so she’s got to do something to get into the limelight.

Years ago, Dr. Tara Palmatier, the Shrink4Men, wrote an excellent article about high conflict individuals during the holidays. If you have one of these in your life, I highly recommend that you check it out. Narcissistic exes who routinely act even more like self-centered idiots during the holidays is a real “thing”. It’s not all in your head. Dr. T also wrote a hilarious gift guide for the high conflict person in your life. Yes, it’s tongue in cheek… and maybe it’ll make you smile as you figure out how to get through another holiday season… and maybe consider if you really want to spend the rest of your life dealing with this kind of ridiculous nonsense.

A few days ago, younger daughter told us a bit about a recent conflict she had with Ex, who berated her for her supposed shortcomings. Younger daughter, to her credit, attempted to stick up for herself. She actually told Ex that she was being abusive. She hoped that Ex would see the error of her ways… but sadly, Ex didn’t get it and simply heaped on more abuse and blame. I couldn’t help but shake my head. I could totally relate.

I once made the mistake of thinking one of my own family members was mature enough to have a discussion about some abusive behavior from a Christmas past. Sure enough, she turned into a victim, and I was the bad one for bringing it up. The crazy thing was, I was actually trying to be positive. I was trying to tell her that her tantrum during the last Christmas I spent with my family of origin had strengthened my resolve not to tolerate that shit from anyone else, including and especially Ex. Saying “no” to this particular relative had led to my having the strength to say “no” to Ex the following year, when she “invited” Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas. Instead of looking back on that incident objectively, she claimed I was being mean to her. She turned into a pathetic victim.

Younger daughter is more mature than I was when I was her age. Hell, she’s probably more mature than I am now. 😉 As she was talking about this dramatic exchange she had with Ex, she got this wizened look on her face and said, “It just totally blew up in my face.” And I knew that she realized, then and there, that there is no point in trying to talk reasonably with personality disordered people like this. They can’t see your viewpoint. They won’t consider your perspective. They have no empathy. That’s part of their disorder and, sadly, it won’t ever change. The best you can do is minimize how that shitty nonsense will affect you. Learn to either diffuse it or ignore it, or better yet, go no or minimal contact.

Then last night, we heard from younger daughter again. She was very excited about and thankful for a birthday gift Bill had sent her. And she told us that she had decided to apologize to her sisters for all of the things Ex claimed they were angry at her about. She also sent them copies of what Ex had sent her in her private message of doom. To that, I say, BRAVO. Ex is a world class triangulator. She has perfected to an art form the skill of telling people different things to get them upset at each other. They don’t speak to one another, so whatever they know has been filtered through Ex, who naturally spins it so that it’s completely twisted and totally askew. She said that older daughter was “nice” and wrote “I accept your apology.” I could see by the slight flash of snark on younger daughter’s face that she could tell it was bullshit that older daughter felt owed an apology for anything. It was quite hilarious.

But what I’d also like to tell her is that it’s a brilliant move to send transcripts of Ex’s diatribes to her sisters. Why? Because then they can see for themselves what was actually communicated. There’s less opportunity to take it out of context. And, there’s a LOVELY side effect to taking this action. Once Ex knows that her secrets aren’t being kept, she stops writing things down and sending them.

Back in 2006, when I wrote to Ex for the first and only time, I ripped her a new one because she had sent Bill an email with all sorts of nasty bile about me, and how the kids hated me and didn’t want us in their lives. She then asked Bill not to tell me what she’d written. She claimed she wanted to “spare my feelings.” Nope… that demand wasn’t about sparing anyone’s feelings. She wanted to drive a wedge between us. She is Olympic class at doing this; I’ve watched her do it for over twenty years. She was hoping Bill would resent me for being an obstacle to having his daughters in his life. It backfired, because Bill could plainly see that I had nothing to do with stopping him from having relationships with his kids. Moreover, the (now adult) kids are free to think whatever they want about me. That’s not something I can control, nor would I want to try. BUT… I will not tolerate Ex telling my husband to keep secrets from me and interfering in our marriage.

She could see that I know all about her and that Bill is loyal to me. Sending him nasty emails simply gives me more evidence of who and what she is. I’m not going to keep her secrets or accept her abuse. So, when that fact became clear, she stopped sending Bill emails! Blessed be! She also never called him again! The last we directly heard from her was, unfortunately, when she sent many boxes of Bill’s possessions restricted delivery, along with an itemized list marked “confidential” and a toxic little story book Bill used to read to the girls… HA! There was a nasty letter about what a horrible father and husband Bill is, along with paperwork for Bill to sign that would allow #3 to adopt Bill’s daughters. Of course he wasn’t going to sign the papers. Even if he did that, she wouldn’t have to file them, and he would have to keep paying child support. And then she’d have a paper with his signature on it to use as an alienation tool. That nasty little delivery occurred just in time for Bill’s 42nd birthday. Another special day ruined!

Bill still has all of that stuff. He’s kept it for the day when he needed to explain it to one of his daughters. Sure enough, that day recently came, and he told his daughter about what Ex had done. He did that because, in her recent little tirade, Ex told younger daughter about how Bill hadn’t wanted to pay child support and “offered” to let #3 adopt them. So younger daughter asked about what had actually happened… or even just Bill’s side of the issue. She’s figured out that her mother lies and twists things to suit her agenda. She knew there was more to the story and she wanted to hear it. So Bill told her his side, and offered to show her the stuff Ex sent anytime she wanted to see it. He told her about how he went next door and spoke to our neighbor at the time, who is a lawyer and is still a dear friend. 😉

But, I think what really made me PROUD of younger daughter and impressed by her smarts was when she looked into the camera and said, “Now I can see things from both sides.” She said she remembered how Bill recently explained to her how, when she was still a kid, Bill would call and try to speak to his daughters. At that time, younger daughter was always “unavailable”. She was in the bathtub, or had a headache, or otherwise couldn’t come to the phone. Gradually, former stepson and older daughter also quit speaking to Bill. Ex turned the ringer off of the phone, so he’d call and no one would answer. Younger daughter became more and more hostile, and for a long time, I didn’t like her. My dislike was because of the image she was portraying. But that wasn’t really her. It was a facade spackled by Ex, designed to turn off anyone who might influence or assist her daughter, whom she sees as solely her “property”. Ex can’t share, and she resents anyone who takes what she thinks belongs to her. That includes other people, especially those who have passed through her birth canal. 😀

Since younger daughter now lives in another state, and has her own family, she is now seeing things the way Bill used to see them when he and Ex communicated. Now, she gets it! It’s a beautiful thing that she finally understands– although I am very sorry that she’s now on the other side of her mother’s abuse. Being on one side is bad enough. I guess we can take comfort in knowing that this is how she treats everyone eventually.

In any case, I strongly suspect that the holidays are causing an uptick in drama at Ex’s house. But I also suspect that her husband is about to ditch her. And this time, she might not land on her feet. So that will cause her to act up and act out, and try to pull other people into her crises… to include strangers on social media whom she asks about how to put up her stupid Christmas tree as she slides in a little dig toward #3, who clearly isn’t paying enough attention to her during this holiday season. Too funny… and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, huh?

What I’d also like to tell younger daughter is that I’ve learned not to be too hard on anyone who has to live full time with Ex. For a long time, I didn’t like people who seemed to be on Ex’s side. But now I realize that Ex makes people miserable. She’s a toxic person, and having to live with a toxic person is unpleasant. Toxic behavior is contagious, especially if you live in the FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt that comes with living with a high conflict person). It’s not really personal. They’re literally living in an environment that makes them “sick”. I have observed people leaving Ex’s sphere and becoming completely different, happier, healthier people. I also observed my own mother becoming a different person after my toxic dad passed eight years ago.

So, when her sisters are snarky, rude, or clueless, or #3’s mother says something thoughtless or insulting, it might be helpful for younger daughter to remember that they live in a toxic place, and they are affected by Ex’s toxic bullshit. Misery loves company, so they’re inviting her to join in their little miserable soiree. That might help her feel more sympathetic when they say shitty things to her. Actually, in her case, it probably would have that effect. In my case, it probably wouldn’t. I’m not as nice as younger daughter is, and I have never had a “loving” relationship with the people involved in this situation. In fact, I barely know them at all. So… I guess I could muster empathy, because they’re fellow human beings, and I don’t like to see fellow human beings suffering.

Anyway… Bill told his daughter that she doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for living her life on her own terms and being as healthy as she can be. One of the best things about being an adult is that you have the ability to make choices like whether or not you’re going to show up for people who behave like jerks. Children don’t often have a choice in whether or not they tolerate abusive behavior. Adults do. And younger daughter is well beyond the age of majority, so she really doesn’t have to tolerate this crap anymore. Better yet, she has young children of her own to protect from this toxic, narcissistic fuckery, which is an even more important reason to tell Ex to “zip it” and kick her to the curb.

For you, Ex.

I’d say that realizing that she doesn’t have to put up with ruined holidays and acting accordingly is the best Christmas present a person could ever get. I know it was a life changer for me when I stopped showing up for dysfunctional family holiday drama. 😉 So… Merry Christmas! And have a happy, HEALTHY, new year.

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divorce, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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