Ex, 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. πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜€

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. πŸ˜‰ So… Merry Christmas! And have a happy, HEALTHY, new year.

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celebrities, narcissists, royals, YouTube

Things that make my “alarms” go off…

It’s been quite a morning so far. Arran woke me up at about 2:30am, because he needed to pee. I got up and let him out, then tried to go back to sleep. I had minimal luck falling asleep again, so I wasn’t completely out when the fucking smoke alarm went off at 4:00am. I only used the stove at lunchtime, so I knew there wasn’t a fire. It was probably dying batteries that caused the thing to go off. Why does that always happen when Bill is out of town?

I distinctly remember in 2014, when we were living in Texas, and Bill was mere weeks from retiring from the Army. He went to Tennessee to visit his father for what turned out to be the last time. I stayed home to take care of the dogs for several reasons. First: we couldn’t spare the money for housing the dogs, since he was about to be out of a job. Second: the pump on the pool was broken, and someone needed to stay home and make sure it didn’t leak water everywhere. And third: I didn’t feel welcome there, and wasn’t interested in sitting around talking about Ex the whole time.

While Bill was gone on that trip, the smoke alarms, which were hardwired to the house, began to malfunction. They went off in the middle of the night, waking me from a deep sleep. There were a bunch of them in the house, and I couldn’t tell which one was malfunctioning, as if one went off, they all did. So I had to go and unplug each one of them so they wouldn’t keep going off at inopportune times. I know the smoke alarm thing happened another time, too, because I remember having to turn it off and being extremely annoyed about it. I know smoke alarms save lives, but goddamn, they can also be ANNOYING.

Anyway, since I was now wide awake at 4:00am, I got up and fed the dogs, made coffee, and started a few household chores– laundry, dishes, and picking up poop in the backyard. Then I went back to the bedroom and watched a few more YouTube videos, to include one by H.G. Tudor. H.G. Tudor has a podcast about narcissism on YouTube. He also has a Web site, has written books, and is supposedly himself a narcissist. I’m not sure when I discovered this self-described malignant narcissist. It might have been around the time I was watching videos by Jesus Enrique Rosas, “The Body Language Guy“. Rosas, as I have written before on this blog, is no fan of Meghan Markle’s, and he frequently makes rather negative videos about her, and her body language.

YouTube’s algorithms suggest videos that are like ones you frequently watch on the platform. So, if you binge watch bodycam videos about drunk drivers, you can bet that YouTube will suggest more of the same for you on different channels. I don’t watch Jesus Enrique Rosas as often lately, because I’ve fallen down the cop cam rabbit hole, but for some reason, I still get suggestions to watch H.G. Tudor’s podcast. And, I have to admit, I often take the bait. In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to the man talk about Lilibet Diana, daughter of Harry and Meghan. Of course, Tudor never refers to Meghan by her name. Instead, he calls her “Harry’s wife” or the Duchess of Sussex.

Hmmm…

H.G. Tudor claims that he is an expert on narcissism, because he is a narcissist himself. I don’t know if he is or isn’t a narcissist. Personally, I have my doubts, since Tudor is quite astute on the topic of narcissistic personality disorder, and most narcissists are either oblivious, or don’t care, how egregiously terrible their behavior is. But maybe Tudor really is a narcissist. I don’t know– but I will state that although he offers consultations for paying clients, I would not want to enter into a business agreement with someone who describes themselves as a narcissist. Narcissists don’t play fair. It’s kind of like the old story about the frog and the scorpion. Bill and I have had enough dealings with narcissists to know that it’s not a good idea to do business with them. Someone who self-describes themselves as a malignant narcissist is not someone with whom I want to take any chances.

A rare video that isn’t about Harry and his wife…

I must admit, though, that Tudor’s podcasts are always interesting. He has a pleasing speaking voice, which is refined and British. He also has a cheeky English styled wit, referring to the “Harkles'” California hometown as “Monte-shitshow”, and sometimes using funny or snarky voices to make his points. I also genuinely think Tudor is insightful, and he confirms a lot of what we have experienced, dealing with less obvious narcissists. I hear a lot of truth in his discussions about their behaviors, motivations, and effects on other people. So obviously, H.G. Tudor knows a lot about narcissism, and for a malignant narcissist, he does seem to be unusually empathic, in terms of understanding why dealing with them is so difficult and hurtful. Nevertheless, below is a blurb he evidently wrote about himself, explaining his qualifications:

I am H.G. Tudor. I am a narcissistic sociopath (some state psychopath – this remains a matter of debate by the profession concerning the current application of sociopath or psychopath). By my terminology, I am a Greater Elite Narcissist. You will learn here what that means along with all about the other types of narcissists and empaths too. I convey this is an effective manner based on my perspective. I know what I am and I know the best way to communicate this to you. I am a very effective communicator. I write extensively about what this means and what I am. I have practiced this dark art for many years, I have honed and crafted my abilities. I am aware of what I am and I am engaged in understanding why I am this way and why I act as I do. I am sharing these ongoing revelations.

It’s important to remember the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy involves understanding an issue or a problem from your own perspective and having pity. Empathy relates to imagining yourself in the other person’s situation and understanding why THEY may have certain feelings. When Tudor speaks about Meghan and Harry, I hear empathy for both of them, even though he clearly dislikes Meghan very much, and only seems to have marginally more regard for Harry.

Another sample of H.G. Tudor’s wares.

To me, Tudor seems “empathic” on some levels, which I would never expect from someone with NPD or sociopathic traits. Most narcissists know how to talk a good game, but they are too self-absorbed to truly grasp other people’s feelings or motivations. I don’t think a person necessarily has to have positive regard for another person to be able to empathize with them. What is required is being able to put oneself in another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Tudor does seem quite able to do that, even though he claims to be a narcissistic sociopath– but apparently he’s the “good” kind. I don’t think there is such a thing as a benevolent or “good” narcissistic sociopath, so I hesitate to believe that he actually is one. However, since he claims to be one, as he also claims to be an expert, that leaves me rather reluctant to give him any attention, since attention is what narcissists crave, and their focus is never on anyone but themselves.

An unusually insightful video about narcissists and their behaviors by H.G. Tudor. It’s videos like these that make me doubt that he’s really what he claims to be.

So, you see why I’m ambivalent about trusting H.G. Tudor? I suspect there’s some false advertising going on here. While I would agree that a lot of issues are better understood by people who have gone through them personally, I don’t think narcissism is one of them. Narcissists, by definition, are extremely self-involved, lack emotional depth, and are completely devoid of insight regarding themselves, or other people. In any case, I don’t want to do business with a narcissist, even though I obviously have, on many occasions. I’d rather avoid them when I can. Which tells me that maybe I shouldn’t give H.G. Tudor any hits on his YouTube channel… but I do, because, like I said, he’s got an entertaining style. Perhaps it’s that famous narcissistic charm at work. And again, this is just my opinion, based on personal experience.

I don’t believe there are many truly evil people in the world, anyway. Even people who engage in behaviors as revolting as Josh and Jim Bob Duggar have, do usually have some redeeming qualities. Even Donald Trump, who is a very famous and obvious narcissist, has some good things about him. From my perspective, he’s made a lot of people stop being so complacent about voting. Maybe that’s a bad thing when it comes to motivating voters who don’t agree with my choices in the voting booth, but I actually think everyone should vote. I think they should vote their consciences, too, even if it means Trump or someone worse gets elected. Because telling people they’re voting “wrong” is a sure way to polarize them, and drive them to extremes. Maybe, if certain high-minded, voter shaming, ivory tower liberal types hadn’t been so condescending to more conservative people, we wouldn’t be in the incredible “shitshow” we’re in right now. I, for one, would like things to be much more middle of the road. I doubt I’m alone in that wish. But I really think that a lot of the mess we’re in has come about because people are, in general, disrespectful and selfish, and are most concerned with “winning”, even if the prize isn’t really worth having. To be clear– I am ABSOLUTELY done with voting Republican… at least until the other side sinks to the same level and the Republicans start to look better. Sorry… I can’t rule it out. I think the political parties matters less than the people within them. Right now, the Republican Party is loaded with horrible assholes who don’t care about the little people. But I’m not delusional enough to miss the idea that the Democrats could easily be just as terrible. Narcissistic, power hungry, unempathetic people are attracted to positions of power, and the Dems are just as guilty as the Repubs are.

Aw hell, who am I kidding? I have a tendency to mindlessly listen to endless YouTube videos when I’m not busy doing housework, acting like a housewife, making mediocre music, or writing pointless blog posts. So I’ll probably keep consuming H.G. Tudor’s distinctly British thoughts about Harry and Harry’s Wife. At the very least, they are entertaining, and in my opinion, quite insightful looks at what might really be going on in “Monte-shitshow”. To be honest, I’ve never had a great impression of Meghan Markle. I tried to like her at first, and hoped Harry really did find a soul mate in her. But she makes all of my high conflict personality alarms go off, and I now realize that when those alarms go off, I have to listen to them. When I don’t, I’m always sorry in the long run. Now, Meghan’s and Harry’s marriage doesn’t affect me personally… unless Meghan gets it in her head that SHE needs to run for POTUS. Stranger things have happened. I fear that if Meghan got in office, she could be an incarnation of the left wing version of Trump… or maybe Sarah Palin. And God knows, we don’t need any more of that.

Maybe Meghan will turn out to be more like Ex, in that her big ideas often wind up being overcome by events… but seeing as how she’s managed to bag a prince, that seems unlikely.

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mental health, narcissists, nostalgia, psychology, TV

“Be your own hero…” Life lessons from 80s era TV.

Throughout the 1980s, I was a big fan of the cheesy TV show, Fame. I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Even in the 80s, I knew it was a really cheesy show. I wasn’t involved in the performing arts at that time in my life, although my parents were. I just liked watching the reruns every night, which came on an independent, local television station in my area, WTVZ, channel 33. The independent version of WTVZ that I knew during my childhood went defunct years ago. It was bought out by a much bigger, national network. But, back in the day, I used to love watching prime time hits in syndication or reruns on channel 33. Now, I can do that on YouTube.

Yes, this is a cheesy and silly number, but there is wisdom in this song.

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, WTVZ ran episodes of Fame every evening at 7:00pm. I used to watch that show religiously. I still remember a lot of the musical numbers from the show. One such song was sung by the character, Coco (Erica Gimpel). It was called “Be Your Own Hero.” Actually, the song’s lyrics, themselves, aren’t that wise. They’re kind of corny and trite. But, the title is catchy, and the melody is upbeat and positive. And even if all you do is just look at the song’s title, you can take something away from it.

Fame was about talented kids in high school who hoped to make it big in show business someday. They knew they faced long odds of finding success, even though they were obviously gifted people. Being talented isn’t always enough, though. Luck plays a part, as does working hard, and believing in yourself. A big part of success, in any aspect of life, is not letting “the bastards” get you down. Because, as unfortunate as it is, there are always people out there who just like to watch the world burn. They like to see people fail. And some of these folks don’t even have the courtesy to be “real” about who they are. They put on a convincing act, and don’t reveal their true colors until after some time has passed. So, as the song goes, you gotta “be your own hero”, if you want to make it. You have to advocate for yourself and take opportunities as they arise, as you avoid falling into traps and pitfalls. Only you know what your reality is. No one else knows you, like you know yourself.

I am thinking about this song today, having had a discussion with Bill this morning about three situations in which we’ve managed not to be suckers. I’ve talked and written about these situations a lot over the years, but today was the first time I saw a pattern. It was a pattern of success– of us “being our own heroes” by knowing the differences between legitimate opportunities, and traps. This morning, we talked about three different scenarios that came up over the past twenty years, or so. These were circumstances in which other people were trying to take advantage of us. They were using the classic manipulative tactics to get what they wanted, when they weren’t entitled.

I’ll start with an old chestnut that I’ve trotted out umpteen times over the years– Christmas 2004. Detailed versions of the story of that holiday season are easily found in this blog, so I won’t rehash the tale. Basically, Ex was holding Bill’s daughters hostage– or bait, if you will. They were like carrots on the proverbial stick, as she used the prospect of Bill being allowed to see his own kids as reward for letting Ex come in to Bill’s father’s home and control everyone for the holidays. I was supposed to go to that gathering, but I saw it for the trap it was, and wisely stayed out of it. Yes, there was backlash, and plenty of people think I was wrong not to cooperate with Ex. However, I could plainly see what she was doing. I knew that no one– not even Ex– would benefit if I did what she wanted me to do. So I disobeyed her command to spend Christmas with her, and stayed home.

Now, Ex did retaliate, by stepping up her parental alienation campaign and being more toxic. In the years following that incident, there was a price to be paid for not acquiescing to her demands. However, if I had obeyed her, the price would have been much higher. In the long run, her actions have made her look like an asshole, and at least one (and probably more) of her kids know she’s an asshole. And I don’t have the memories of having to spend time in her presence. I was my own hero in that instance, because I realized that my own mental health matters. I don’t have to give in to emotional blackmail. If I had gone along with her plan, there was no guarantee that there would have been a reward of any kind. In fact, if I had given her the chance to know me in person, it might have made things a lot worse. The end result is that I haven’t had to deal with 20 years of her interfering with my marriage or trying to manipulate my husband, or me. Yes, she still manipulates other people, but we can’t control that. They have to be their own heroes and realize what she is, and what she does. Younger daughter has managed to do just that. I have high hopes that she will break the cycle of narcissistic abuse, at least in her own family.

The second scenario happened in 2009, when we busted then 21 year old former stepson secretly changing his last name as he continued to take child support from Bill (who isn’t his legal father). Ex had gotten the lad’s name changed to Bill’s when he was a toddler. When he was 21, he decided to change it back to his original surname (probably at Ex’s behest). But he still wanted Bill’s financial support, so he took these steps in secret. I later found out about it, quite by accident. I told Bill, and he decided to see if he could prompt the young man into coming clean. He never did.

For some reason, Ex had not filed for child support arranged by the state. My guess is that she knew that if she had the state handling child support, she wouldn’t get as much money. Bill was giving her $850 per child, which was a lot of money. When former stepson turned 18, Bill started paying him directly, which was what was required by their divorce agreement. Ex had a change of heart about that. She tried to get Bill to stop giving former stepson money directly. I guess she realized that the money gave her son power, and the ability to get away from her influence. But she did manage to get him to change his name, which was fine. He just should have had the common courtesy and respect to tell Bill what he was doing. Former stepson had neglected to do that, so it was left to Bill to practice some tough love.

As we realized what former stepson was up to, Bill came up with an idea. He’d given former stepson a chance to tell Bill about the name change, but former stepson had kept mum. So Bill, who was handling the “child support” payments directly, abruptly cut off the boy’s money. After a couple of days passed, and the child support money didn’t land in his bank account, as expected, the lad surfaced, asking what was going on. That was when Bill confronted him, and told him he had just declared himself no longer in need of getting “child support”. Changing one’s surname is, after all, the action of an adult.

Naturally, former stepson was angry that the man he had disingenuously been calling “Dad” had found out that he was changing his last name. His initial response wasn’t shame, embarrassment, or contrition. It was outrage. But there was Bill, now in charge. He had “been his own hero”, and not let this kid use his generosity to control and manipulate him. Bill had realized that letting his former stepson get away with this deceptive and shady behavior wasn’t good in the long run. It would make their relationship transactional, encourage more shady behavior in the future, and frankly, make Bill his former stepson’s lackey. That would have done some serious damage to Bill’s self-respect, while it gave former stepson a victory that he shouldn’t have. It would have been bad parenting for Bill to let his former stepson get away with what he was doing.

Yes, there were repercussions. Former stepson was furious, and now he doesn’t talk to Bill anymore. But we’ve heard he also doesn’t talk much to Ex, either. He’s paying his own way now, and has a family of his own. Bill is sorry they don’t talk anymore, but he also knows he’s not in a relationship with someone who only values him for money. Maybe someday they can heal the rift; but if they don’t, it’s okay. Bill will survive. So will former stepson. Hopefully, neither of his children will ever pull the same shameful bullshit with him when they get older.

And finally, we were our own heroes a couple of years ago, when our former landlady tried to steal our security deposit after we left her hovel. In retrospect, we should not have stayed in that house for four years. We should not have allowed her to treat us the way she did. Being nice and acquiescing to her demands only emboldened her, and apparently made her think that she could egregiously break German law and ignore our rights. At the end of our time in her house, we were left having, once again, to be tough and confrontational.

I had determined the year before we moved that ex landlady was going to be a major pain in the ass about our deposit when we moved. Actually, my concern was that she might try to sue us, because the 17 year old awning on her house had collapsed on my watch (due to high winds, NOT my negligence– in fact, she was negligent in not having it repaired by an actual technician, instead of her husband). I talked Bill into getting legal insurance, thinking we might need it if she tried to take action against us, even though it would have been ludicrous and probably doomed to failure.

What ended up happening, though, is that she simply refused to give us our money, and became very rude and insulting. She said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had, not realizing that she was the least professional landlady/landlord we’ve ever had. She did a lot of things wrong. She hadn’t done a proper protocol when we moved in, and she never did a former reconciliation of our “other costs”, which is required by German law. She also made false accusations against us that we could prove were false, and there was strong evidence that she had broken and entered the house when we weren’t home. That’s a huge “no no” in Germany.

When Bill received a very insulting, berating, and downright mean shaming email from the former landlady, he resolved not to respond to her. Instead, he closed his computer and went to sleep. He knew exactly what he was going to do next, and it was going to come as a very unpleasant surprise to the old bitch. She was expecting him to roll over for him, as he had done when we still lived in her house. Instead, he called a lawyer and had her write a letter demanding over 9000 euros, to include our stolen deposit, and the “other costs” she had received from us, but never reconciled. Naturally, ex landlady went berserk, and threatened to countersue. However, she had zero case against us because she couldn’t prove her claims. What’s more, we had a whole stack of rude, unhinged, hostile emails she had sent to Bill, at the end of our tenancy. Bill, on the other hand, had stayed professional and polite.

Ex landlady hadn’t had any respect for me, or what I do– writing blogs, taking photos, and the like. But the fact that I do these things– keep records, that is– was her downfall. And because I am a writer and researcher, we had that evidence to submit in our support of a lawsuit against her. If she had gone to court, it would have likely been a fucking massacre– especially since she falsely accused us of theft, and we could easily prove that her accusation was patently false. It was obvious that she wanted us to buy her a new, fancy awning. But she’s damned lucky that we let her file an insurance claim, under the circumstances. The awning wasn’t repaired properly. If it had fallen on me and caused injury, she would have been liable.

In the end, she settled with us, and was forced to not only give back most of the money she had illegally withheld, but she also had to pay for our lawyer, her lawyer, and court costs. And she’s now blacklisted from renting to anyone in the U.S. military community. I mean, I suppose she could rent to another contractor, like Bill. But most military contractors know that they can access the list of unapproved landlords. If they’re smart, they avoid renting from those folks. And government workers and military servicemembers won’t get government support/housing allowance if they rent from her. Her house is definitely nothing special, so I can’t see anyone paying out of pocket to live there.

That situation was very stressful for us. It gave us no joy or pleasure to sue our ex landlady. But as awful as that situation was, it was also exhilarating not to be someone’s chump. Bill actually described it that way to me. People underestimate him all the time. They take his kind, gentle nature as weakness. They are usually very surprised when he reminds them that he’s spent his whole adult life as a Soldier. Soldiers engage in war for a living. Soldiers are often career heroes. So she should not have been surprised. Bill was just doing what the Army trained him to do. Bill was “being his own hero.”

There have been other incidences of us “being our own heroes”, but this post is long enough already. I write these stories for those who find themselves in similar tough spots. I think our culture teaches us to “go along to get along”, or take the path of least resistance. That’s not always a bad thing to do. Sometimes, cooperating really is the best course of action. But, when you’re dealing with a bully who has no respect for you, it’s usually best not to negotiate. They will always try to make it so that you’re their chump. You can’t expect a fair shake from these people, and if you give them what they want, you will only embolden them to do worse things to you, or other innocent people. So be your own hero.

When you are confronted by high conflict bully types, try not to react emotionally. Stop for a moment. Don’t dash off a response, especially in writing. In fact, you might want to go radio silent and privately hatch some plans. As you can see from our stories, the element of surprise can be very effective in getting these people to fuck off. Above all, realize that you matter, and your mental health matters. Always advocate for yourself, and in a situation in which there isn’t a “win-win” option, do what suits you best. Most of the time, that will be the healthiest choice for everybody. Especially if you’re dealing with a high conflict person.

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book reviews, divorce, Ex

Repost: My review of Say Goodbye To Crazy by Paul Elam and Dr. Tara J. Palmatier

This is a repost of a book review I wrote in 2015, about 18 months or so before Bill reconciled with his younger daughter. At the time, I was hanging out on Shrink4Men.com, run by Dr. Tara Palmatier. I have less of a need to hang out on that site now, since Bill has reconnected with his daughter. I still think this is a good book, though, so I’m sharing this as/is review for those who might find it useful.

In November of this year, I will have been married to my husband, Bill, for thirteen years.  We have had a great marriage for the most part, except for dealing with his former wife and the two kids he had with her.  Those adult children are extremely alienated and haven’t spoken to Bill since 2004– with the exception of letters they supposedly wrote in 2006, formally disowning him.  One might think that Bill is an utter failure at being a parent, but I know the truth about what happened and I know that had he not chosen to have kids with a crazy woman, he would have been a much beloved and highly successful father.  In fact, he was much beloved by his kids until he got divorced and married me.

Before anyone asks– no, I am not the cause of Bill’s first marriage breaking up. I did not meet Bill in person until 2001, almost a whole year after he and his ex wife legally split. I did meet him online prior to that, but Bill’s marriage was already in a death spiral by that time. Moreover, we were strictly platonic until the divorce was final (and really until we actually met in person). Ex, on the other hand, had a boyfriend, and was quick to move him into the house Bill was still paying for, right after they separated. Boyfriend is now Ex’s third husband. She has five children with three different men, and after each of her divorces, the resulting children ended up alienated from their fathers.

It’s been a few years since Ex last directly harassed us, though every once in awhile she rears her ugly head and does something to remind us that she’s lurking.  Overall, things have gotten much better for us, though.  It’s sad that Bill lost contact with his kids and former stepson, but letting go of them ultimately proved to be the best thing he could do for his sanity, his wallet, and our marriage.  Even though Ex mostly leaves us alone now, I am still fascinated by people with high conflict personalities. 

A few years ago, I found Dr. Tara Palmatier’s excellent Web site, Shrink4Men.com. Dr. T’s blog is written for men who are involved with abusive women and the non abusive people who love them. While many might scoff at the idea of an abused man, I know for a fact that there are a lot of guys out there who have suffered abuse at the hands of women. I think Dr. T’s Web site is an important resource that serves an underserved group of people. There are plenty of places for abused women to get relationship help if they need it. Men, by contrast, often have to go it alone.

This year, Dr. T and noted men’s rights activist Paul Elam teamed up to write a book called Say Goodbye To Crazy: How to Get Rid of His Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life.  This book, which was released on Mother’s Day, is primarily written for women like me, married or in a relationship with a man whose ex is toxic and abusive.  Why?  My guess is that it’s because women are more likely to read self help books than men are.  Look at all the heavy hitting books out there that have been popular like Women Who Love Too Much and Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus.  These are books directed to women about relationships with abusive men.  They were hugely successful with their easily quoted titles.  Even though both of those books been around for decades, people still remember their titles.  I think Elam and Dr. T were smart to recognize who their audience really is.   

Though Say Goodbye To Crazy is a great book for men trying to reclaim their lives after being involved with a destructive, “crazy” woman, the authors write as if it’s the man’s new wife or girlfriend reading, rather than the abused man himself.  They refer to the destructive ex wife or girlfriend as “Crazy”, as if that’s her name.  Using a conversational, empathetic tone, the authors explain what and who “crazy” is and describe some of the destructive antics women with high conflict personalities will stoop to in order to get their way and wreak havoc on other peoples’ lives. 

Reading about things “crazy” does was like reading Bill’s life story for the ten years he was involved with her and the few years immediately following their divorce, as she struggled to keep him bending to her will.  As I read, I often found myself nodding in agreement, both in terms of our experiences dealing with Bill’s ex wife and the things we did that finally got her to leave us alone.  It is unfortunate that in Bill’s case, saying goodbye to crazy meant also saying goodbye to his kids.  On the other hand, not having contact with the kids and not letting Ex use them as weapons means that we also have no contact with Ex.  And that has meant peace, harmony, sanity, and prosperity.

Say Goodbye To Crazy helps men choose appropriate and effective attorneys and therapists.  For instance, the authors explain what kinds of questions to ask therapists and attorneys before hiring them.  They point out ways to spot biased and/or ignorant therapists and lawyers before wasting time and money.  They also explain the differences between counselors and their training.  Indeed, they even take a shot at social work, the profession I was trained to enter before I became an Army wife.

Dr. T and Elam explain that social workers tend to be female centric and biased toward feminism.  As someone who has a master’s degree in social work, I have to agree with them.  While there are social workers out there who are open minded about gender, the profession is female dominated and people within the social work profession generally deal with women’s issues.  There was a time when this strong emphasis on feminism was needed.  Unfortunately, I think in some situations it’s gone too far in the other direction and some men are being treated unfairly by social workers due to their gender. 

Please don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I don’t think women need champions or that women aren’t victimized by men; it’s more that if you are a male who is dealing with an abusive woman, you don’t need someone telling you to be more empathetic and tolerant toward her crazy behavior.  You need someone to be YOUR champion and help you escape the abuse.  If you can find a competent social worker who can do that for you, by all means, take the help.  Just remember who the patient/client is.   

Elam and Dr. T also write about the concept of “parallel parenting” and why it’s so important when you are trying to raise a child with a high conflict parent.  They offer advice on how to find mental health and legal professionals who will support the idea of parallel parenting to minimize the post divorce craziness in your life.

Dr. T and Paul Elam write about the many ways “crazy” will try to manipulate and control people– anyone who is within her sphere of influence.  I can speak from experience that Ex tried very hard to get me under control, even to the point of inviting Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas one year.  She expected me to go along with her wishes in the interest of “making nice” and showing the kids that we’re all a big happy family.  She did not ask me if I wanted to go.  She did not speak to me about it at all.  Instead, she told Bill this was how we’d all be spending our holidays and just expected that I would acquiesce.  She thought I would be desperate to try to win over the kids and the in-laws.  I understood that the kids had no interest in seeing me and the in-laws just wanted to hang out with the grandkids, so that made it easy to say “no” to her crazy and ridiculous demands.

I stayed home while Bill visited his kids at his dad’s house.  He booked a hotel while Ex and her current husband stayed with Bill’s family.  Ex ended up looking like a gigantic asshole as Bill sat alone at the Christmas table with a hotel reservation and a rented car.  Bill’s dad and stepmother initially blamed me for not coming and tried to get Bill to stay with relatives.  He declined, since he’d already paid for everything and he wanted his family to understand that his ex is an asshole… and by allowing this spectacle, they aided and abetted her asshole behavior.   

Of course, what Ex was really trying to do was force me to bend to her will and get me on turf where I’d feel forced to tolerate her abuse.  To achieve that end, she used her own children like human shields.  I suspect she figured I would not want to risk upsetting or alienating them or my husband’s father and stepmother, but she made a serious miscalculation in her assessment of me.  I understood that I could never take her place as the mother to her kids and wouldn’t want to try.  I have my own family and I don’t even tolerate much manipulative bullshit from them anymore.  Why would I take it from my husband’s former wife?

In the short term, I got a lot of crap from Bill’s dad and stepmother for not going with Bill and standing by him while also enduring Ex’s toxic bullshit.  However, in the long run, not going was the best and smartest thing I could do.  Crazy, high conflict people are masters at finding peoples’ hot buttons.  Had I exposed myself to Bill’s ex wife, she would have gotten information about what makes me tick.  She would have then used that information to drive a wedge between Bill and me and others in his family.  At the very least, that holiday would have been completely ruined and, God forbid, had it gone well, Ex would have a reason to make it an annual event. 

You may think I’m being dramatic.  I’m not.  I am deadly serious about this.  High conflict people, males and females, live to cause drama and love to destroy friendships, romantic relationships, and family ties.  Bill’s ex wife successfully alienated him from his two daughters.  But that wasn’t enough.  She also tried to turn his own parents against him.  She told them bald faced lies about the kind of person he is, twisting situations and things that were said to make it look like their beloved son is a monster who hates women.  She went on a campaign to turn his extended relatives and friends against him.  And she did all of this despite the fact that he really is a decent guy who bent over backwards for her and their kids. 

I am aware that there are a lot of men who walk away from their parental responsibilities.  Bill is not one of those guys.  He paid a lot of child support for his two daughters and Ex’s son from her first marriage (whom Bill never adopted).  He frequently tried to set up visitations and phone calls.  Ex successfully did everything in her power to thwart his attempts to stay in his kids’ lives until they finally sent him hateful letters disowning him just in time for his birthday.  Ex also sent adoption papers, which she invited Bill to sign so that her current victim could legally become “daddy”.  Bill didn’t sign, though the temptation was certainly there.

While I have pretty much written off Bill’s kids, Bill has not.  He still loves them and would see them if they asked to meet.  I, on the other hand, don’t care if we never see them again.  As far as I’m concerned, they’ve revealed to us who they really are.  They claim we don’t deserve to know them?  I submit that the opposite is true.  I would never tolerate that behavior from people I don’t know.  As far as I’m concerned, Bill’s kids are strangers, not family members.  I have only met them once and I am not their mother.  In fact, I barely qualify as a stepmother.  And I am not the one who made them strangers to us; that was their mother’s and their own decision.  Understandably, Bill has different feelings about his daughters.  If and when they eventually contact him, he will handle the situation as he sees fit and I will do my best to stay out of it.

I realize that not all men who have been married to crazy women have situations as extreme as ours has been.  For those guys (and their girlfriends or wives), Say Goodbye to Crazy is an excellent guide.  For me, it was just more affirmation that as “crazy” as Bill’s ex has always seemed, there are many more people like her, male and female.  In fact, many people have it much worse than we ever did.  We are not alone.  If you have the misfortune of being in a relationship with a high conflict person, you are not alone, either. 

I highly recommend Say Goodbye To Crazy. Dr. T also has a YouTube channel that might be helpful.    

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book reviews, narcissists

Repost: A review of Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family

I am reposting this book review today because it’s relevant to today’s fresh blog content. It was written June 2, 2016, and appears here as/is.

Several years ago, I read a great book by Dr. Karyl McBride called Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.  McBride is a very experienced psychotherapist whose mother was a narcissist.  Due to her own upbringing and the issues she faced growing up, McBride learned a lot about narcissism and has become an expert on the subject.  In 2015, she published another great book, Will I Ever Be Free of You?: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce from a Narcissist and Heal Your Family.  I just finished the book this morning and I think it’s an excellent tool for men and women who are in the midst of a high-conflict divorce from a narcissist.

As some regular readers of this blog may know, my husband was once married to a woman we believe is a narcissist.  She definitely has a high-conflict personality and went out of her way to make things difficult when she and Bill were splitting up.  I wish Dr. McBride’s book had been around win Bill and his ex wife were divorcing.  Even though reading it might not have changed the outcome in their situation, it would have shed some light on some of the behaviors we observed in Bill’s former wife and the two kids they had together.  

Dr. McBride does an outstanding job of explaining what narcissism is.  Many people have the misconception that narcissism is about being extremely vain and selfish.  It’s true that vanity and selfishness are aspects of narcissism, but narcissistic personality disorder goes way beyond simple self-centeredness.  Narcissists lack empathy and crave adulation and attention.  They overestimate  and exaggerate their abilities while tearing down the people around them.  They go to extreme lengths to meet their endless need for narcissistic supply and they hurt good people in the process.  

If you are unfortunate enough to be married to a narcissist, you may find yourself losing inches of your life in support of the narcissist.   Your hopes and dreams become completely lost as the narcissist’s hopes and dreams become the center of importance.  Your health, financial stability, and self-esteem will suffer.  If you have children with a narcissist, you may find yourself constantly fighting parental alienation tactics.

One thing I liked about McBride’s book is that she teaches readers some effective communication skills that can be used with children.  She explains that children can’t process their emotions the way adults can.  They may lash out and say things they don’t really mean.  Many parents will retaliate by getting angry and dismissing or discounting their children’s feelings.  Children of narcissists are especially at risk.  What McBride advocates is using very basic therapeutic skills to communicate with children who are upset or angry.  

Here’s an example.  If a child is upset that you won’t let him or her sleep over at a friend’s house, he or she might say “I hate you!”  Many parents might have a knee jerk reaction to that statement and say something like, “Yeah?  Well, I hate you right back!”  While that response might feel good and seem justified at the time, it’s not constructive.  The situation will only get worse as the child feels like he or she isn’t being heard or respected.  There will be mounting frustration and the situation will likely escalate.

Instead of saying, “I hate you right back!” you could say, “I’m sorry.  It sounds like you’re very upset. Why don’t we talk about why you’re upset and what we can do to make things better?”

When the child explains why he or she is upset, you could paraphrase what he or she says, making it clear you’re listening.  Then the two of you can come up with a solution.  Or not…  the point is, instead of yelling at the kid and reacting in anger or annoyance, you can express empathy and show respect.  Then, the child might eventually learn to behave in the same manner.  

All of this may seem unrealistic to some readers.  It’s easy for a trained therapist to say that a parent should show empathy and respect.  And I’m sure that McBride knows parents are humans who lose their tempers sometimes.  The point is, she offers a new way to communicate.  Children who have a narcissistic parent have it tougher than other kids do.  They have a parent who doesn’t respect them and treats them like a possession rather than a person.  Non-narcissistic parents can ease the situation by learning how to communicate respectfully.

I also liked that Dr. McBride reminded readers that they should never badmouth the child’s other parent, even if the child is complaining.  Kids complain about their parents, but they don’t want to hear other people complain about them.  Like it or not, the other parent most likely shares DNA with the child, so when you criticize the other parent for being a jerk, it can come across as a personal insult to the child.  McBride advocates always taking the high road, at least until the child is mature enough to understand other perspectives.  And even then, it’s probably best to keep the badmouthing to a minimum.

Now, I write all of this realizing that I badmouth Bill’s ex wife all the time.  However, we have no contact with Bill’s kids.  I am not their parent and they are both now grown women.  Bill is their parent, and he hasn’t actually spent time in person with them since 2004.  Sadly, they are both strangers now.  But when he was able to see his kids, Bill didn’t trash talk his ex to them.  (Edited to add: Bill now speaks to his younger daughter, and she does understand the different perspectives now.)

That brings me to my next point.  As many readers may know, sometimes people who divorce someone with a high-conflict personality may end up losing contact with their children.  I think this happens especially often with men who marry narcissistic women.  I think McBride’s book would have been stronger had she addressed this phenomenon.  Also, she doesn’t really explain as much about how to deal with narcissists themselves.  Her book was more about protecting children.  Unfortunately, if you have joint custody with a narcissist, it may be difficult to employ some of McBride’s strategies.  If your narcissistic ex has sole custody, as Bill’s ex did, you probably might as well forget it (and for the record, I think Bill was unwise to allow his ex to have sole custody, but he was naive and trusted her).   

I think Karyl McBride’s book is a worthy read for people who are divorcing someone who has a high conflict personality.  I’d probably give it 4 stars on a scale of 5.  

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