communication, family, mental health, psychology

Once more with feeling…. “Get down off the cross, SMIL!”

I could certainly write more about my banking woes today, especially since I just read news that indicates that my misgivings with USAA are not unwarranted. They just got hit with huge fines “for failing to timely report thousands of suspicious transactions by its customers.” I don’t know that this incident has much to do with my current issues with USAA, which mainly have to do with them erroneously flagging my account for fraud, but then missing actual fraud… and then when I shifted payment methods because I don’t have access to the violated account, I got another false fraud alert. I called about that, and spoke to a very rude customer service guy who basically treated me like he wanted me to “keep sweet”. I had some fun tweeting at USAA last night, noting that I wasn’t the only one who is pissed off at them. Anyway, Bill and I are now hunting for a new place to do business. I think we found one, so today’s business will be to get the ball rolling with that, so at least I can start the process of divorcing USAA. I am done drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now… on to today’s topic. This one is about family, so if you find my “family” posts inappropriate, you best move on to the next Internet station. I’m in the mood to vent.

A few years ago, I blogged about how my husband’s stepmother has a habit of sending manipulative private messages as a means of getting people to pay attention to her. Her late husband, Bill’s dad, also used to lay guilt trips in a bid for attention. Since my father-in-law is now dead, I’m just going to focus this rant on SMIL.

SMIL used to send manipulative messages to Bill, mostly about how his dad was “getting old” and wanted to see Bill. Bill would get really upset about the PMs, which were loaded with fear, obligation, and guilt. She finally quit sending them when Bill had a rather direct discussion with her about her guilt mongering ploys. He told her that if his dad wanted to see or talk to him, all he had to do was place a phone call, send an email, and make a mature, direct request, instead of sending passive aggressive text messages and private messages on Facebook.

SMIL has apparently been hosting Bill’s ex wife all week. At one point, SMIL (or perhaps Ex using SMIL’s phone) tried to call younger daughter. She decided not to answer the call, because she’s busy. And she also didn’t answer because when she does call SMIL back, SMIL doesn’t bother to answer the phone and “ghosts” her. Younger daughter, thankfully, is pretty smart and resilient, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to drop everything to attend to her step grandmother’s “needs”. But because she’s a decent, basically caring person, these texts are still upsetting and troublesome.

Younger daughter is pregnant and has two young children. Her husband has a demanding job, and they don’t have tons of money. But SMIL apparently doesn’t care… or maybe she just hasn’t considered what’s going on in younger daughter’s life right now. She still sends those maudlin text messages that are all about her. I just want to tell her to get down off the cross!

We are preparing a box of gifts for younger daughter, which we picked up in France a couple of weeks ago. In the box, I have included a well worn copy of Dr. Susan Forward’s excellent book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I bought and read it years ago, when Bill and I were fairly newly married. It offered great insight into the emotional blackmail perpetrated by Ex, SMIL, and, on occasion, late FIL. I could just send younger daughter a new copy of that book, but I want to send her my copy because I see it as a sign of solidarity. Having watched Bill deal with these bullying tactics over the years, I have an idea of what she’s going through.

Last night, after I finished complaining about USAA, Bill and I talked about this situation. I suggested to Bill that maybe he should ask his daughter if she would be friends with someone who treated her in that way. Legally, SMIL is basically not much more than friend. Younger daughter doesn’t owe her anything. But because SMIL has known her for so long, she knows younger daughter cares about her and values their relationship. So SMIL uses that caring nature as a tool against younger daughter. SMIL is also the type to hold grudges and declare people “dead to her”. But honestly, who’s got the time for such nonsense? Especially when there’s so much else going on in the world?

I was prompted to write about this today because of an article I read in Carolyn Hax’s column in the Washington Post. A woman wrote in about how her sister-in-law loves ski trips and tries to guilt her and her husband into going on them with her. But, for many completely valid reasons, the letter writer doesn’t like ski trips. She writes that her sister-in-law is the type to get drunk and cry when people say no to her. She doesn’t want to be subjected to the guilt trip.

You know what my response is to that? “Just say no.” Seriously. That was Carolyn’s advice, too. If sister-in-law has a meltdown, that’s on her. Hang up the phone. Block her on social media. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s abuse. Or, if that seems much too harsh, just tell the sister-in-law, in a kind way, that you don’t like skiing. Then offer to participate in a different activity that you like better. If you know sister-in-law also enjoys it, so much the better.

Bill loved his father very much, but he didn’t enjoy calling him. Every time he did, his dad would lay tremendous guilt trips on him about not visiting more often or calling him. But then when Bill would call, his dad would be busy. Or he would lay a bunch of manipulative crap on him designed to make him feel bad. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of guilt when they make a phone call? I know I don’t. Life is painful enough as it is. If a person’s aim is to get someone to call more often, shouldn’t they make the call a pleasant experience? Seems logical to me that that would be the goal.

I do understand that it’s hard not to be a victim of shaming. I’ve been there myself a lot of times. I have a sister who used to try to manipulate me in similar ways. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant to say no to her. But eventually, she came to realize that I make my own decisions. She finally quit with the emotional blackmail, and life has been relatively more peaceful ever since.

If you do give in to the shaming, chances are you’ll just feel resentment. If someone really loves and cares about you, they don’t want you to feel shame and resentment. A healthy relationship should be respectful, kind, and even loving. It shouldn’t be based on fear, obligation, and guilt. I know I can tell when someone resents me and is faking being nice. I’d rather be alone than be with someone who feels compelled to spend time with me.

Anyway… I know younger daughter does love SMIL. She cares very much about her. But these messages are not welcome or helpful in preserving the relationship. I also know that if younger daughter tells SMIL this, it probably won’t go over too well. But again… you can’t control how other people feel or react. If the relationship is really that important, SMIL can try to adapt. I doubt she’ll ever change, but she can certainly try… or suffer the consequences.

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communication, complaints, Military, rants, social media

“Educate yourself!” Most of us would be wise to follow our own advice…

The featured photo is a meme that was posted by a popular veteran’s page on Facebook.

Happy President’s Day, everybody. We had a boring weekend at home, as is par for the course in these pandemic times. In ordinary times, we would have gone away for the weekend, but I’m actually glad we didn’t do that. The weather has been downright crappy. This weekend was cold, windy, and rainy. There was some sun on Saturday, but the temperatures weren’t very pleasant. And since Germany still has COVID measures going on, that makes me not want to go out. I don’t enjoy being indoors with a FFP2 mask strapped to my face and people watching my every move to make sure I follow the rules.

Does that sound paranoid? It probably does… but this is an attitude I’ve noticed over the past couple of years. People are watching. I generally do follow the rules, but I don’t like the feeling of being surveilled by strangers. My desire to go out and see the world isn’t strong enough to deal with that kind of scrutiny, so I just stay home.

I spent several hours yesterday creating a new “AM Gold” playlist for my music library. I downloaded quite a number of albums and spent some money I probably shouldn’t have. But, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, ordinarily we would have gone out of town and spent the money anyway. We will be taking a trip next week to see our dentist in Stuttgart, then we’ll go spend the weekend in France. Hopefully, the weather will be somewhat better for that. I hope the COVID rules will be less onerous in France, too, but I’m not holding my breath.

We’ve come to a turning point in the pandemic, as was inevitable when this shitshow started in March 2020. Even cautious Germans are discussing dropping some of the rules. As of March 20, which would mark the second anniversary of the plague, most COVID restrictions are set to be rescinded. Masks are still going to be required, which I know makes a lot of people happy because they feel safer when people wear masks. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I hate the masks with a passion and will be delighted to see them go. But I generally follow the rules, so all I do is complain and avoid being in situations where masks are needed. Other people are much bolder about their rebellion, which sometimes leads to trouble.

Yesterday, I noticed a thread on Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page. He wrote a very kind and caring post about how he hopes those who haven’t been vaccinated will get the shot(s), because pretty soon, it will be every person for themselves. I appreciated Wil’s thoughts on this. I think he’s reasonable and well-informed.

I wish all famous people were this decent.

Not surprisingly, Wil got a few rude comments about how this is all a conspiracy to make money for politicians and “Big Pharma”. I was impressed by Wil’s reasonable and calm responses to the people who pushed back against his rational thoughts on the vaccines. And there were also comments from the other side of the spectrum. Several people lamented about how no one cares about them or their lives because they are immunocompromised. They are legitimately scared that when the rules are rescinded, their lives will be in danger.

On one level, I can sympathize with people who are immunocompromised. It is scary to think that soon there could be a “free for all”. However, on another level, I want to tell them that this is the way it’s always been. It’s really every person for themselves. For two years, people have lived with rules that have upended lives and caused significant problems. Some people have died during the pandemic, not because they got the virus, but because they suffered from mental health issues or delayed necessary healthcare. Or they’ve been in accidents or been victims of crimes. The sad reality is, life is about risks. COVID presents another one of many risks that we all face every day.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to go on living with these rules and restrictions indefinitely. I also don’t think it’s realistic to assume that the whole world is going to get on the same page when it comes to their behaviors regarding the pandemic. Politics and religions, as well as cultural mores and personal needs, play into how a person behaves. I know that some people will choose to wear face masks for the rest of their lives. I don’t think there should be any issue with that. It doesn’t hurt you or me if someone chooses to wear a mask. On the other hand, other people will not want to do that. I think that should be okay, too.

I noticed one sanctimonious comment by a guy on Wil’s post who wrote he has a “needle phobia”, but still managed to get vaccinated. Someone else added, “I would tell anyone with a needle phobia to consider how many needles they’ll be subjected to if they are hospitalized because of COVID.” To those two people, I would say that neither of them understand phobias. The first person probably doesn’t have a legitimate “needle phobia”. The second person clearly doesn’t understand what it really means to have a phobia. People who have a phobia have an irrational fear, and even downright terror, of something that doesn’t ordinarily cause people to be scared.

For instance, I have a phobia of mushrooms. No amount of telling me how delicious they are, or how their flesh feels like a rubber ball, or how they are beautiful or cute, will make me want to see them, touch them, smell them, or eat them. I freeze up when I’m confronted by mushrooms. I know it’s ridiculous and irrational. That’s what makes it a phobia. Trying to scare people who have needle phobias, with mean spirited comments about what they will face if they are hospitalized, isn’t helpful. All it does is scare them even more, and it shows a stunning lack of compassion, as well as great ignorance. People have laughed at me for my whole life for having a phobia. I wish I could help it, but I can’t. Fortunately, avoiding mushrooms due to a phobia is not a life or death issue, as avoiding the vaccines might be.

One attitude that I’ve gotten really tired of is the constant need to shame people and discount their opinions. I’m not saying it’s wrong to express disagreement with someone. I’m saying that I’ve gotten tired of the derisive and downright rude responses people have toward each other– people they don’t even know– simply because they disagree. It’s on both sides of the pandemic issue. I don’t think it’s helpful, for instance, when someone writes a negative opinion about, say, vaccines, and a stranger posts a GIF of a crying toddler. Someone did that to me at the beginning of the pandemic. My response was to tell her to knock it off. That shit doesn’t help, and it’s rude and disrespectful. I won’t be having a dialogue with someone who does stuff like that. It doesn’t change hearts or minds, either. All it does is cause people to double down on their opinions.

This image is a false equivalency that really isn’t helpful.

Above is a photo that appeared on VoteVets, which is a left leaning Facebook page for people in the US military community. I know what the intent of sharing this was, but I don’t think these kinds of snarky, shaming posts are helpful. I also don’t think there’s any comparison between the two situations. One photo involves an adult person who presumably chose to join the military for whatever reason. Another involves a person who needs to go shopping for essentials. Everybody has to shop, and some people legitimately have good reasons why they have difficulties wearing face masks. Not everyone is suitable for military service or would willingly make the choice to serve. Moreover, I think it’s tasteless to use servicemembers to guilt monger others.

Sure enough, there were plenty of shitty comments posted about this image, with very few people changing their minds. It was just an echo chamber of negativity, wasted time arguing with people with diametrically opposed opinions, and plenty of virtue signaling thrown in for good measure. Actually, I’ve come to expect that in a lot of groups or pages devoted to the military community. Disrespect toward others seems to be a guiding principle, as long as there isn’t rank involved. It’s like they take out having to salute their leaders online, directing their rudeness toward perfect strangers. I’m so glad Bill isn’t like that.

Just a few days ago, there was an excellent editorial in The Local Germany written by someone who thinks Germany should be more tolerant toward people who can’t wear masks. The author cited his friend, an artist with autism and severe sensory issues that cause debilitating physical symptoms when she wears a mask. The artist lives in Britain, where people can get medical exemptions to wearing masks. Here in Germany, her experience was mostly very negative and unnecessarily nasty. Zero tolerance policies often lead to innocent people being punished, or people getting punished when they shouldn’t be, due to unforeseen circumstances. Since the article is behind a paywall, here are a few snippets:

What I think is especially sad is that whenever someone expresses an opinion, he or she is liable to be personally attacked by someone they don’t know. This is someone who doesn’t know a thing about the person they are insulting. They don’t know or care why someone has the opinion they have, nor do they care about the person they are insulting. They just spew aggression and insults. I know this is borne out of frustration and fear, not to mention the very real fatigue that comes with daily bad news about the rogue virus that keeps mutating and making people sick and/or killing them.

But… I’ve got news for those who think this COVID-19 lifestyle should go on forever. People die every day for a huge variety of reasons. Since March 20, 2020, I have lost three family members and a dear friend. Three of the four of them were pretty young to be dying, but not a single one of them died of COVID-19. COVID is just one of many risks that we face every day. A person who wants to go back to a more normal lifestyle isn’t a bad person for wanting that after two years of lockdowns, face masks, and limited travel. Yes, it would be great if every single person on the planet had 100 percent regard and consideration for other people, but unfortunately, that isn’t the way of the world. I wish it was, but it’s not. So instead of fretting about what’s going to happen when mask and vaccine mandates go away, I think it might be more prudent to take the steps that will mitigate risks and hope for the best.

There are always going to be people who think it’s too early to relax the rules. There will always be at least one person who will say the pandemic isn’t over yet. They probably won’t even be wrong. I commend those who are committed to being disciplined, as long as it makes them happy to be that way. I don’t think it’s right to condemn other people who choose a different path. This simply can’t go on forever, and there’s never going to be a situation in which everyone will be satisfied. That’s because we all have opinions, and those opinions are shaped by our own perspectives. If you want people to respect your views, you should probably try to respect theirs, even if you think they are dead wrong. I strongly doubt that we’ll ever have a situation in which everyone agrees. Part of living in a free society is having the ability to disagree.

I know it’s a pipe dream that people will be nicer about disagreements. I sure wish it weren’t so, though. For all of those who are screaming “educate yourself”, I would like to say that they should follow their own advice. Stop and think about it for a moment. Maybe that person does have a valid point. Either way, you probably don’t have to be an asshole to them… at least not at first. I know it’s easier said that done. So often, I’ve been tempted to leave a snarky or rude comment for someone. Then I’ll approach with more respect. Finally, I usually just delete my comment, because unfortunately, I’ve found that commenting on social media is just a waste of time. That’s mainly why I blog.

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mental health, poor judgment, psychology

When manipulators INSIST they’re being straightforward and honest…

A few days ago, I saw today’s featured photo on my social media feed. I decided to share it myself, mainly because I wanted to write a blog post about this phenomenon manipulative people use when they’re trying to get their way. Manipulative people try to frame your impression of them before they engage in manipulative behavior.

When I think about the people in my life who have turned out to be manipulative, I realize that they all seem to follow a pattern. At first, they’re super nice and flattering. Then, often at the beginning of a relationship, they tell you how “honest” they are. I remember very clearly, early on in a business relationship Bill and I had, our former associate told us how they didn’t care about money and wouldn’t look for money until at least a couple of days had passed the due date. This person tried to play themselves off as unconcerned about money. Instead, they stressed to us that they wanted us to be “happy”. I also remember hearing a pretty speech from them about how important “trust” is…

Later, when we had an issue that required bills to be paid, the person put all of the responsibility on us, even though the responsibility was actually not ours. I remember being told that they’d “never had a problem” like the one we were experiencing. I was invited to call other people and hear it from them. Something tells me that if I’d actually requested to make those phone calls, the manipulator would have been insulted… and they would have ultimately refused to give me the information, or had me call someone I suspect was a “flying monkey” type who was in cahoots with them.

As time went on, it became obvious that this person we were doing business with was neither trusting nor honest. I was blamed, personally, for everything that went wrong, and they went to great lengths to pass all responsibility to me, personally. We were subjected to guilt trips, insults, and devaluation. I remember it to be a very uncomfortable situation. Sadly, it ended with a lengthy legal battle that ultimately ended in our favor, but only after a lot of psychic pain and inconvenience.

That’s just one example. There have been others. In fact, just this morning, someone tried to manipulate me into doing something with which I’m uncomfortable. I don’t want to get into specifics because, frankly, I’m still a bit pissed about it. Long story short, this young guy sent me a PM late last night, asking me for help with a “fundraiser”. I don’t know this guy personally; he lives in another country, and he doesn’t speak English very well. I know of him because he’s the one who rescued Noyzi.

A couple of months ago, he asked me to help him share information about his dog rescue. I told him I would, once he had a Web site set up. I didn’t hear from him for weeks and forgot all about it.

Now, he seems to be saying that he wants me to set up a fundraiser for him. When I replied that I wasn’t comfortable doing that, he basically tried to guilt me using insults. He accused me of “playing games” with him and scolded me for saying I would help him and then declining to help. He insists that he’s not asking me to do anything dishonest, even though warning bells are going off in my head.

I explained to him that I had donated a lot of money when I adopted Noyzi. I gave money to help with vet care and food. I didn’t mind doing that, and I thought he was asking me to share information. But I don’t want to be in charge of setting up a fundraiser, collecting money, and sending it to him. I’m just not comfortable with that. Aside from that, it’s now Sunday, and I don’t want to spend my day setting up a fundraiser for a person I’ve never met in the flesh.

What’s more, before I realized he wanted me to set up a fundraiser for him, he sent me some screenshots of the Web site he has prepared, but hasn’t launched. I noticed a couple of typos. I asked him to fix them. He said he doesn’t have the password to the program he used to make the Web site. Then he told me to just share it as it is– very directive. He’s insistent that this must be done right now. When I demurred, he tried to make me feel bad, and implied that I wasn’t being fair and was reneging on a promise. This statement was meant to put me on the defensive. I don’t remember promising anything. I said I would help, but I never promised– and I certainly never agreed to do what he seems to be proposing.

Of course I want to be kind and helpful. I always prefer to be nice when I can. But I just became aware of all of this twelve hours ago. Now he’s pressuring me to help him with what seems like a sketchy proposal… just a little while ago, he brings up using Western Union. I finally decided to mute the conversation, because I just don’t feel comfortable with it. I quite clearly and firmly said “no”, but he’s still insisting, and has engaged in several manipulative tactics to get me to do what he wants, along with implying that I’m being “shady” because I am questioning what he’s asked me to do (which is still not altogether clear). It’s definitely not something I want to deal with on a Sunday morning… especially when the only thing I would get out of it is feeling like I did someone I don’t know very well a favor.

I am very grateful that he rescued Noyzi and has helped so many dogs. I would like to help him. But he’s come to me with a mess, and has insulted me to boot. Even if what he’s proposing is totally above board, I’m just not comfortable with it. Getting involved in these kinds of things can lead to big trouble if one isn’t careful. Or, at the very least, it can become a real hassle.

It’s interesting that this situation came up last night. I saved today’s featured photo two or three days ago, with no idea that this morning, I would be reading it and realizing that I’d be dealing with manipulative tactics this morning. I think most of us are manipulative sometimes… it’s part of being human. Some people take it to an art form. I don’t know this person well enough to know if he’s a manipulator or not, but I didn’t like his tactics this morning.

I just read a great article about characteristics of manipulators. Many of the signs in that list are familiar. Follow the link to have a look for yourself.

Maybe now he thinks I’m a bitch. He wouldn’t be the first. This is just one more reason why I hate Facebook Messenger… it’s so often the source of angst.

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