book reviews, narcissists, politicians, politics

A review of I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House, by Stephanie Grisham…

When Bill isn’t home, our dogs– usually Arran– often wake me up in the middle of the night. After they have their midnight pee or poo break, they come back in and go back to bed. I, then, spend another hour or so, trying to get back to sleep. That’s what happened to me in the wee hours of this morning, when Arran got me up TWICE— once to pee, and once to poo, and both times, demanded a cookie reward for doing his business. Noyzi, on the other hand, didn’t bark at me through the bedroom door early this morning, as he has the past two mornings, nor did he want to join Arran on his nocturnal potty runs.

It’s because of Arran’s second potty break that I finally finished Stephanie Grisham’s 2021 book, I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House. While it wasn’t a particularly difficult book to read, it did take me some time to plow through, mainly because I’m not capable of reading as fast as I once was. Nowadays, if I’m reading in bed, I fall asleep. I have to be careful, too, because I usually read on an iPad. I don’t want to get hit in the nose or teeth, or roll over on the iPad and break it. It also took time because I happened to be reading it while we were on vacation, and I was busy doing other things… like watching Netflix and hanging out with Bill.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Stephanie Grisham’s book. I remember reading her comments defending the Trumps when Donald Trump was 45. Many of my regular readers know I despise Donald Trump, and I’d like to forget about him. Still, I have found myself drawn to books written by people who worked for him at the White House (there is no working with him— the man is a raging narcissist and thinks he is the most important person alive). I did read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. I figured I might as well give Stephanie Grisham’s book a chance.

So now I’ve read it… and I have to say, for the most part, it wasn’t terrible.

Ambitious Stephanie Grisham had always dreamt of being the White House Press Secretary. In 2016, when Trump was running for president, she was a “junior press wrangler”. By 2020, she had worked for both Donald Trump, and his wife, Melania. For a time she simultaneously worked for BOTH Trumps, when Trump hired her to be the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director, and Melania Trump’s Communications Director. Grisham was an extremely rare high profile Trump employee, in that she was there for almost the entire time Trump was in office. She finally quit on January 6, 2021, in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, as pro Trump rioters breached one of our country’s most beautiful and recognizable government buildings in an attempt to prevent the 2020 presidential election results from being certified.

Having read Grisham’s book, and about all of the frustrations and mistreatment she no doubt faced, particularly at the hands of some of her male co-workers, I’m surprised it took her so long to finally throw in the towel. But Grisham has an explanation. She, like so many of us, was “trained” to take abuse from people, and she got unusually good at doing that. And she also claims that she’s a Republican and believed in what Trump was doing. She writes that he had some good policies, although she doesn’t really spell out which specific policies she thought were so good.

This book isn’t really about Donald Trump’s policies, though. It’s about what it was like to work for the Trumps. Grisham writes about what it was like to fly on Air Force One, which took the Trumps and their entourage on exotic foreign trips– at one point, meeting the British Royal Family, at another, visiting four countries in Africa. Much of what Grisham writes seems to be more about working for Melania, which I got the impression she did longer than working for Trump himself.

There were a few instances in the book in which Grisham seemed to want to be friends with Melania, but Melania apparently wasn’t interested. For instance, one day Melania seemed kind of depressed. Grisham invited her to take a walk on the beach, as if they were friends. Melania wanted to know if there would be photographers there. Grisham then found herself trying to arrange an impromptu photo shoot with real photographers. Throughout the book, Grisham mentions how beautiful and stylish Melania is, as if she really admires her, in spite of Melania’s hot and cold treatment of her and eventually being completely discarded by the former First Lady when the Trump era ended.

Incidentally, Grisham mentions Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book on more than one occasion. I get the sense there’s no love lost between those two. However, I also get the sense that both of them fancied themselves “close friends” of Melania’s. It’s almost as if they’re jealous of each other (Wolkoff also mentions Grisham in her book). Wolkoff eventually realizes that Melania is no friend to anyone. Grisham, conversely, seems to hold out hope that she and Melania could one day be besties or something. Spoiler alert– it ain’t happening. Melania is into herself, and maybe her son, Barron. That’s about it.

I’m being honest when I write that Grisham comes off as a likable person to me, probably because she uses a lot of profanity. I mean… she uses a LOT of cuss words, including the “f” word. As much as I like cussing myself, that was one aspect of her writing that I noticed and thought detracted a bit from her manuscript, especially given that she’s a journalist. On the other hand, she writes as if she’s having a conversation, which I also tend to do. And if cursing is something she does in her natural voice, maybe it IS appropriate, in terms of her authentic voice. I think if I had to work for either of the Trumps to make a living, I would cuss a lot too. And I would probably drink a lot more… which would not be a good thing. However, while the profanity makes Grisham seem more relatable to me, it also makes her seem less polished and professional. I guess that makes sense in Trump’s White House, given his penchant for “pussy grabbing”.

Grisham offers some details about some of the Trumps’ most notorious moments in the press, as well as Jared and Ivanka, whom she collectively refers to as Javanka. Like Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, she refers to Ivanka alone as “the princess”. Barron gets one mention at the end of the book, and she paints him in a good light. The other Trump kids are described as entitled brats, for the most part– but especially Ivanka. Grisham doesn’t seem impressed with Jared Kushner, either.

Toward the end of Grisham’s book, she writes about an abusive romantic relationship she was involved in with another Trump staffer. She doesn’t identify the man, but she does describe him, and her description of him certainly paints the picture of a classic abuser. This was a man she’d lived with, and even adopted a dog with, and at the end of their relationship, he turned out to be a total dick. One night, she got very upset and hung out with some friends. Another friend brought over some wine and encouraged Grisham to take an Ambien, which she did. It promptly knocked her out cold. Next thing she knew, she was being asked if she was okay by two guys in her bedroom. They were from the Secret Service. Her friend got worried and called the White House. They got the idea that she was suicidal.

At the same time she was reeling from her breakup, Grisham was also dealing with Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s many former Chiefs of Staff. Meadows made Grisham’s life hellish, and basically fired her from working with Trump. Although Grisham had supposedly wanted to keep the Ambien incident quiet, word got out, which is probably why she addresses it in her book. Meadows also got wind of it and was apparently quite the bastard about it, and a lot of other things. Make no mistake about it; Grisham and Mark Meadows are definitely not on good terms.

As she sums up her time fulfilling her ambitions of being the White House Press Secretary, among other things, Grisham discloses her own personal epiphany. She realizes that she has been well-trained to tolerate abuse, especially from men. She says she was abused by her White House boyfriend, by Mark Meadows, and even by Trump. She wrote that she’d gotten used to men being mean to her, calling her names, and treating her like a doormat. I must say, I was a little surprised that she hadn’t seen Trump as an abuser ages ago, especially since she’s a journalist. One of the main reasons why I despise Trump so much is because it’s so OBVIOUS to me that he’s abusive. It was very clear that Trump was an abuser, even in the 1980s, which is when I first heard of Trump.

I remember, in 2016, reading an article about the 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump by Harry Hurt III. Within that article, there was an excerpt from the book about an incident that occurred between Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana. It basically described Trump as having raped his first wife. I was horrified, and decided to read and review the book for myself, which I did, back in April 2017. You can find my repost here. Below is a screenshot of the passage in the article from The New Yorker that I read about Trump’s little domestic violence episode. This attack is also described in Hurt’s book.

Name calling… yet another one of Trump’s least attractive qualities that is constantly on display. I think the fact that he blatantly abuses women should have disqualified Trump from running. He should have been arrested, instead.

Stephanie Grisham seems to like Melania, even though Melania hasn’t said a word to her since the day Grisham quit her job. She does state that both Donald and Melania basically use people and discard them when they are no longer useful. In that sense, they’re both narcissists. However, Melania apparently comes off as a more “human” and less extreme version of a narcissist. Melania is probably more of a garden variety narcissist, while Trump is an obvious, off-the-chain, malignant narcissist. He was put into power by people who are probably actual sociopaths and are a hell of a lot more intelligent and cunning than Trump will ever be. I know there are snakes on both sides of the political spectrum, but the Republicans have really shown their asses in a dangerous way. It saddens me that so many Americans have fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.

At the end of the book, Grisham does concede that she wished another Republican, other than Donald Trump, could have run for president in 2020. I can understand that. Before Trump took office, I had some sympathy for the conservative cause. However… as far as I am concerned, Trump has ruined the Republican Party. I think it’s unlikely I will vote Republican ever again. Grisham, on the other hand, still says she’s a Republican, and at times, even seems to apologize for the Trumps– including Donald, but especially Melania.

Below are a couple of insightful excerpts from Grisham’s epilogue (bolded emphases are mine):

IT HAS OCCURRED TO me as I’ve been writing that I seem to be blaming everyone but myself for how things turned out for me in the White House, especially in the last six months. According to me I was the victim of covid, of Meadows and his people, of my ex, of the former East Wing chief of staff, of some of my own East Wing staff, of some West Wing senior staff, of the president, and even of the first lady at the very end. And although the stories I have laid out are all true and it was very much a perfect storm of certain personalities coming together in opposition to me, I don’t feel that I am a victim who did no wrong. It is my fervent belief that when you are the common denominator in situations like this, you need to look within and determine where your own responsibility lies. People need to hold themselves accountable to situations so that they can learn from them and apply them in the next chapter of life, and that includes me.

I think the first part is obvious: I became heady with power. I got cocky. You get inside the walls of the White House, the most important building in the country and arguably the world, and you are catered to like nowhere else. You go in wanting to help the people of the United States, but I don’t think many people in the Trump administration left there as the best versions of themselves; I know I did not.

Grisham, Stephanie. I’ll Take Your Questions Now (p. 326). Harper. Kindle Edition.

AND

I did think somebody needed to stick around to look out for Mrs. Trump. I was loyal to her personally, and I didn’t want her to be staffed by incompetent or untrustworthy people who didn’t have her best interests at heart. And as she had most always been good to me, I felt gratitude. But her apathy in response to the January 6 riots made it hard for me to stay at the very end.

I also turned a blind eye toward my own falling into a trap I saw over and over again: believing I was a trusted and valued member of Trump World. The plain truth is that most of the Trump family dismisses and cuts people from their lives on a whim. They demand total loyalty, but they are loyal to no one. I don’t blame them, to be honest. They are businesspeople, and business should not be personal. Some people learned that once and walked away; others kept going back for more, and there are many who are still doing it. I allowed my ego to grow in such a way that I never considered that the Trumps would allow me to be treated poorly. I put myself onto the same level as Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, even Javanka, and that was ludicrous. Mrs. Trump did defend me when she could, and privately she always told me of her anger on my behalf, but I’m not sure it ever went farther than that, and I wrongly expected that it should have.

Finally, and most importantly, I should have spoken up more.

Grisham, Stephanie. I’ll Take Your Questions Now (pp. 326-327). Harper. Kindle Edition.

A lot of narcissistic, abusive people rise to meteoric heights and great fame, with many loyal, hardworking people like Stephanie Grisham working tirelessly and thanklessly to put, and keep, them in power. But not every successful person is like this, nor should they be. These are not qualities that are healthy or desirable in world leaders. Until Stephanie Grisham recognizes and acknowledges that, I fear that she’ll keep making the same mistakes… and allow her ambition to blind her to toxic behaviors from others that will simply make her miserable. More importantly, these behaviors also make innocent people miserable… including the folks who went to the Capitol in January of this year, mistakenly thinking Trump would reward their loyalty by pardoning them for the crimes they committed on his behalf.

Grisham said it herself– the Trumps expect loyalty, “but they are loyal to no one.” Trump even ominously told this to Grisham straight up, when he said to her “I am the only one who matters.” I really think Stephanie Grisham should think about that, and reevaluate her idea of what makes appropriate and effective leaders… or even appropriate people to have in her private life. In order to be a great leader, the leader must care about other people and be a decent person themselves. Otherwise, they’re just power hungry toxic people who use others and spit them out when they’re deemed worthless. They’re just like parasites. And they aren’t even polite or kind about it. At one point, Grisham writes that Trump asked her Grisham’s ex boyfriend if Grisham was “good in bed.” When they later broke up, Trump wanted the details, and didn’t seem to care that Grisham was obviously upset and crying about her pain. Trump has no empathy, and that makes him unworthy of anyone’s vote or attention or anything else.

The fact that Grisham recognizes that the Trumps dismiss and cut people from their lives is a positive step in the right direction. However, I think she still has some work to do, because in the next sentence, she writes that she doesn’t blame them. In fact, there are several times in her book that Grisham makes excuses, not just for the Trumps, but for herself. I recall reading more than once that Grisham had gotten DUIs– maybe it was only one, but I know there was at least one– but she basically explains that she got caught drinking and driving after hanging out with her girlfriends, and blows it off as if it’s not a big deal. Then, there was the Ambien incident, apparently after she’d enjoyed some wine. Maybe she should also seek some professional attention regarding her use of substances.

So… that about does it for my review. I’m not sorry I read I’ll Take Your Questions Now, even though I initially wasn’t inclined to read the book. I don’t agree with Stephanie Grisham’s politics, but I appreciate her decision to share her story. I think Stephanie Grisham is, deep down, an okay, but deeply flawed person… maybe even someone I’d enjoy talking to, in spite of her politics and deep flaws. After all, most of us are deeply flawed. What can I say? I still have Republican friends and family members.

I just hope Stephanie Grisham finds herself a good therapist and explores her own self worth more. My friend Audra shared these two thoughts on Facebook yesterday. If Stephanie Grisham ever reads my review, I hope she’ll read them and take them to heart. Based on her book, I think these are lessons she should practice a bit more.

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divorce, LDS, mental health, narcissists, psychology

You CAN’T cross a narcissist’s chasm! It’s just a mirage!

Here’s another very personal post from yours truly. It’s not for people who don’t want to read deep thoughts. I’m sharing this, because I know there are a lot of people out there who are struggling in narcissistic relationships. I hope this offers some insight to those who are hurting.

Mood music for this piece…

This morning, Bill brought up some imagery he’s often used when he talks about his relationship with his narcissistic ex wife. He said that he imagined his ex wife on one side of a chasm with everyone else he loved– his kids, his ex stepson, extended family members, church people, and even his parents. And he was on the other side of the chasm, standing there all alone and miserable. Ex encouraged him to come over the chasm to join his loved ones. He could do that by changing into whatever her image of the perfect man was. Only if he did that, would he ever be able to join his loved ones on the other side of the chasm. But she was happy for him to keep trying to reach that goal, and she would always encourage him to try, even though it was an impossible feat.

After some wasted time spent trying to cross the divide, Bill finally wisely understood that if he’d ever actually crossed the chasm, he would cease to be who he is. Who he is, is not a bad person. Ex had made some unreasonable demands that he dance to her tune. She wanted him to seek counseling from an LDS bishop for his “hatred of women” (which doesn’t now, and never has existed). He refused to do it. In retrospect, he was wise not to agree to counseling with the bishop, since LDS bishops are not usually trained counselors. They’re unpaid laypeople who have professional jobs. He could have wound up spilling his guts to an accountant. Besides, he’s neither a pervert, nor a misogynist. Having been his wife for almost 19 years, I can attest to that fact.

Ex subsequently demanded a divorce, while the family was visiting Bill’s father and stepmother. The timing of her demand was surely done on purpose. She probably figured that asking for a divorce at the home of Bill’s dad and stepmother would make Bill think twice about agreeing to the split. She may have been thinking that he would acquiesce and do her bidding in order to save their marriage for eternity. I’m sure it was driven home that they were not on neutral territory when she made her demand. She later said that she’d been wanting to drive Bill to “rock bottom”, and show him what he was going to be giving up. I think Ex probably needs to work on her threats. A marriage to someone who deliberately sabotages their partners, attempts to shame and humiliate them in front of others, and tells bald faced lies about their characters is not exactly a prize worth anything.

The fact that the divorce stunt was carried out at Easter has always struck me as weirdly symbolic and prophetic. It was as if Bill finally got the opportunity to resurrect his life before it was too late. But then, Bill did something Ex never thought he’d do.

When Ex presented Bill with divorce papers, fully expecting him to cave and agree to her demands, he took her completely by surprise and agreed to divorce, instead. Ex was devastated, because she’d only meant to regain control of Bill. Bill was making responsible adult decisions like going back into the Army and doing work he was qualified for, and would be well paid to do, instead of working in crappy factory shift jobs. Ex knew the Army would, once again, trump her decisions about where they should live, and when Bill would be working. She didn’t want to surrender to that lifestyle again, because she wanted to be in control of everything. To regain control, Ex took some desperate and regrettable measures that ended up backfiring, as many of her harebrained schemes do in the long run.

First, Ex tried to convince Bill that he was a bad person with misogynistic tendencies. I think she knew damned well it wasn’t the truth. The truth is, Bill is kind and generous to a fault. He doesn’t have an abusive bone in his body. Ex, on the other hand, is very abusive. So she just projected herself onto Bill– yet another illusion. Maybe she should have been named Doug Henning! Like all narcissists, she’s a master at creating smoke and mirrors that confuse her targets and distorts their perceptions so that they see things inaccurately.

When Ex suggested that Bill was an abuser, it horrified him. Bill worked hard to prove to her that he wasn’t that person, even though they both knew he’s not abusive. I suspect that Ex was both repulsed and turned on by the way Bill reacted to the idea that he was a monster and his subsequent desperation to prove to her otherwise. I’m sure one part of her wished he would have taken a stand. But the other part of her probably realized that he’d let her change the narrative, and this could be a powerful point of control for her. When he didn’t settle down and give up the idea of going back into the Army, Ex got more desperate. That was when she decided to haul in the big guns and throw out the “D” word– knowing full well that Bill’s parents’ divorce had been very painful for him. She figured he would do anything to avoid a divorce from her and be separated from his children.

Ex never actually meant to end their marriage. At least not at that point. She just wanted to be in control again, and maybe somehow get Bill to change his mind about being in the Army. Or maybe she just wanted to punish and humiliate him for taking back some control over his own life. How dare he?! Either way, if she managed to convince Bill that he was “sick”, damaged, and abusive, and that she was the only woman who would accept him, he would stay with her and never let anyone or anything supersede her authority, including the Army.

This “divorce” stunt, which was supposed to make Bill desperate to appease Ex, had instead forced her into a situation that caused a severe narcissistic injury. She couldn’t backpedal when he said “yes” to her divorce proposal, because that would make the narcissistic injury and subsequent humiliation even worse. So she was forced to ride with Bill on the drive to the notary she’d lined up on Easter morning. It was not the outcome she’d ever expected or wanted. She thought she knew him, but there was still a part of him that he’d kept for himself. I think that’s the part of the situation that upset her the most. All this time, she thought she owned him, not realizing that there was still a little part of him that she didn’t know. I’m sure it enraged her that he’d done the unexpected.

Of course, being a narcissist, Ex only thought she knew Bill. Narcissists never take the time to really get to know anyone. They think they’re special and gifted, so why would they take the time to get to know someone’s heart? The reality is, she really only knew Bill on a superficial level. But she was convinced she had him pegged, and she was certain she knew how he was going to react in that situation. She thought that asking for a divorce while they visited family would pressure Bill into agreeing with her that he’s a monster and a pervert. It turns out Bill has much more self-respect and dignity than she ever realized. She didn’t know, and it was painfully obvious… and in the end, she lost big time.

I’ve heard Bill tell the story about feeling like he was standing alone at a chasm many times. This morning, something new occurred to me. I started thinking about all of the other people in Ex’s life. I have never met Ex in person, but I’ve talked to many people who have known her. She uniformly leaves a lot of angry, confused, and hurt people in her wake. I’ve done enough research about narcissists, and experienced enough of their shit myself, that it dawned on me that Bill must not have been the only one who felt alone and isolated from loved ones.

I suddenly realized that most of those people probably felt the same way Bill did, standing alone on the edge of the chasm, staring longingly at all of their loved ones beckoning them to come over the chasm to join the narcissist’s team. That means that the reality of the situation was, Ex was the one who was alone at the chasm.

Bill was never alone. He was standing there with all of the other people who were being pressured to dance to Ex’s tune and were never quite “good enough” to hang out in the fantasy world. But all of those people had, like Bill, been carefully trained not to ever talk to anyone about how they were feeling. They all had tunnel vision, and were completely unaware that she had a slew of people gazing across the chasm at her fantasy world.

I looked at Bill and blurted out, “She had you fooled. You weren’t standing alone on the chasm. She was. She was the one staring longingly at all of the people on the other side, wanting to join them. But instead of trusting people, being genuinely loving and caring, and making them want to join her because she’s truly a good person, she used lies, threats, manipulation, and devaluation to isolate her victims and make them think they’re alone.”

I am willing to bet that if Bill asked some of Ex’s other victims if they ever felt like they were standing alone at a chasm, more than one of them would say they did. If at least one other person felt like Bill did, that means he wasn’t alone. There were others there with him.

Much like the late Doug Henning was, Ex is a master of illusion… and she also has a similar hairstyle.

The narcissist is very good at convincing people that he or she is the “good one”, who has everyone’s approval. The victims are “bad” and standing alone at the chasm, desperate to make it to the party. But the reality is, it’s not the victims who are alone. Narcissists usually have many victims, and they make every single one of them feel like they’re alone. The truth is, it’s the narcissist who’s alone, and desperately trying to connect. They create a fantasy mirage that looks appealing to their confused and traumatized victims, who are made to feel like they have to cross the chasm. But crossing is impossible.

Narcissists are never actually satisfied, and always keep their prey at an arm’s length. They’re always keeping their victims fighting to be acceptable, and narcissists have ways of making their victims think they’re worthy of the battle. But the reality is, no matter what the victims do, they’re never quite good enough to join the narcissist’s party on the other side of the fissure. They can’t ever be good enough, because they can’t be the narcissist’s equal.

A narcissist who accepts a victim as having finally done enough to appease them can no longer be in control. Losing control is DEATH to the narcissist, so they’ll always move the goalposts. You will never be good enough for them, and if you don’t wise up and end the relationship, you will die trying to appease them. Or you will lose yourself and become a shell of who you were meant to be. You CAN’T cross the chasm. You can only keep chasing the dream, which is just an illusion… a mirage.

The narcissist makes crossing that chasm seem so attractive. It may even look like it’s easy. All anyone has to do is make the narcissist happy and do what they want. Then they can join the party and be happy with the narcissist, who will finally stop being so mean, critical, and dictatorial. But that will never happen. There’s too much value in the narcissist keeping people wanting what they can’t have. So that chasm will forever remain uncrossed… but it’s really just a mirage, anyway, and probably about as enjoyable as Mormon Heaven is.

The sad thing is, narcissists have a knack for zeroing in on a person’s deepest insecurities and exploiting them for their own gain. They’re masters at triangulating their victims, using other people to present false narratives that make them think they are damaged and at risk of being alone. At the same time, like any garden variety abuser, narcissists isolate their victims, discouraging them from comparing notes while encouraging them to take sides and keep secrets. And so, the victims think they’re alone. But they’re not alone… and they can’t ever get across the chasm. So there’s no use trying. Instead of fighting for something you can never have, it’s better to find (or build) a bridge and get over it.

So ends today’s sermon. Go forth and enjoy your Sunday!

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LDS, mental health, psychology

Please don’t smile when you say that…

You know that old cowboy movie saying, “Smile when you say that”? It’s an idiom meaning that you’d better be joking. If you said something shitty and actually meant it, you’re due for a beatdown of some sort. At the very least, if you’re not joking, the other person is going to be very angry or offended by what you dared to say with a straight face. Today, I want to explore the opposite of that saying. Some things aren’t really laughing matters.

Trigger warning– this post is going to be about suicidal ideation.

Recently, I had a rather unsettling experience while witnessing a video call with someone. I wasn’t actually the primary conversant on that call; I just happened to be in the room when it was happening. Bill was talking to his daughter, who was talking about some pretty personal stuff. As she was revealing some painful things about her past, she was laughing and smiling.

At one point, the topic of suicide came up, and she was giggling as she talked about it. There she was, talking about being so aggrieved at more than one point during her childhood that she wanted to meet Jesus. She felt Jesus was the only one who loved or cared about her, and had actually taken steps to make the meeting happen. And as she talked about this painful memory, she was smiling and giggling… which I’m sure she did because she needed Bill to know about this, but didn’t want to upset him. Or maybe it was just too painful and surreal a subject to talk about with a straight face.

Days later, Bill is still a bit apprehensive about that conversation. It didn’t escape either of us that it seems like it would be unexpected for a person to laugh while talking about suicidal ideation. Bill is understandably concerned. So am I. In fact, I wish he could have had this conversation with her in person, preferably in private. Ordinarily, he would have been talking to her with headphones and in a different room. But her call came late and Bill was thinking it wasn’t going to happen, so he didn’t have his laptop handy. He talked to her on his iPad, and was sitting at the table with me when she Skyped. I suppose he could have Skyped her back and spoken to her privately, but he chose not to… and most of the call was mundane, anyway. It was about the usual stuff. But then that topic came up, and it got a bit awkward.

My theory is that many people in Bill’s family, to include Bill himself, have this innate tendency to put others before themselves. They will sacrifice their own needs to make someone else happy or more comfortable. I’ve seen Bill do it many times. I’ve seen his mother do it, too. And now, I think I saw Bill’s daughter doing it, needing to talk about this very deep and painful memory, but not wanting to upset us or herself. Or, it could have been that she was embarrassed about or ashamed of this trauma and wanted to make it seem less serious than it clearly is. I think the laughter could have even been a form of self-protection… a tension breaker of some sort.

I see from reading Psychology Today that laughing about psychological pain is actually not an uncommon phenomenon. In fact, it’s possible that she didn’t even realize what she was doing. This was a very scary, traumatizing, and triggering memory for her, but talking about it with laughter was a way to minimize it somehow. I told Bill that, to me, it seemed like she needed to talk about this, but maybe she was afraid to bring it up because it might traumatize us. That would mean she was at least partially focused on someone’s needs other than her own, although I will say that overall, she’s proven to be very resilient and self-reliant. She couldn’t bear living with her mentally ill mother, so she did what she had to do to escape that environment. But before that happened, she obviously learned to put others before herself, likely to prevent more pain. I also think she comes by that naturally, to some extent. As I mentioned before, I’ve seen that tendency in Bill and his mom. But I also think younger daughter’s mother exploited that tendency and reinforced it. Her older sister reportedly has the same tendency, which is probably why she’s still living with her mom at age 30, taking care of her severely autistic brother.

I heard younger daughter explaining how her mother was “deep down a good person”, as she also talked about how her mom did things like deny her access to her family, force her to take out student loans and give her mom the excess, compel her to change her last name and call her stepfather “dad”, send her off to college and on a church mission with no support whatsoever, deny her medical care, and use money and empty promises as a means of controlling her. I can understand why she does this. It’s not easy to accept that a close family member is not a good person, especially when that person is a parent. When a parent turns out to be a “monster”, the person wonders if that tendency to be monstrous is hereditary. They may try to overcorrect by being overly considerate and kind.

I don’t think younger daughter needs to worry that she’s “monstrous”, like her mother is. I take comfort in knowing that the more younger daughter gets reacquainted with Bill, the more she realizes that she has a lot of him in her… she has a lot of his goodness, kindness, and empathy. But she also has a mother who is truly a selfish, cruel, and abusive person. Her mother didn’t take care of her, and she didn’t have access to her real father. So she’s had to learn to take care of herself by denying herself some basic needs and not speaking up when she urgently needs attention or assistance.

I am pissed at Ex for not taking care of her children properly. It makes me very angry that these things were going on, and Ex apparently knew, and she didn’t speak to Bill about them. She also didn’t do fuck all to help her child. In fact, she even denied her healthcare, even though Bill’s daughters had full access to health insurance through Tricare. Meanwhile, she was telling Bill what a terrible parent he is, and labeling me a homewrecking whore. But this isn’t a surprise. I don’t think Ex is a good person, and I’ve felt that way for many years. I don’t have a connection to her, other than being the wife of her ex husband, so I can safely have these feelings. But her children don’t have that luxury, because she’s their mom, and she’s the only mom they will ever have.

Although people can and do disconnect with their parents, it’s actually a very hard thing to do– to completely cut them off and go no contact. Even if a person dies, as long as any thought of them is in a person’s conscience, the relationship continues on some level. Hell… even many adopted children with excellent adoptive parents wonder about their birth parents. A lot of them do what they can to seek out their birth parents because they want to know their origins. They want to know why their birth parents– particularly their birth mother– didn’t raise them.

Sometimes, the stories adopted children unearth about their birth parents are comforting and reassuring. Birth mom desperately wanted to keep the child, but couldn’t because she was too poor or too young and it was just impossible. But sometimes the stories are painful. Ex was adopted. We heard in Ex’s case that her birth mom was married and had been having an affair with another man. She chose her marriage over keeping and raising Ex. Making matters worse was the fact that Ex’s adoptive parents were abusive, neglectful, and treated her like a second class citizen compared to their natural children. Or, perhaps the adopted child finds her birth parents and neither wants anything to do with him or her. Younger daughter wasn’t adopted. She knows her mom, as well as the truth about her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish it weren’t like that, and have some hope that somehow, someday, her mother will change into a different kind of person.

Younger daughter was told many falsehoods when she was growing up. She was told some outrageous lies about Bill and me, and the nature of how we met. Meanwhile, Ex gaslit her into not seeing what she was seeing with her own eyes. As Ex labeled Bill a philanderer and me a whore, she was shacking up with her now husband while still married to Bill. And they were having a sexual relationship, even though they weren’t married and she was supposedly a devout Mormon. The church teaches that premarital sex, particularly if one is still married and “sealed” to someone else, is morally wrong. The church was used to break up Bill’s relationship with his daughters– Bill was no longer “living the standards”, so he needed to be discarded. But Ex was also not living the standards, and somehow that was okay. The cognitive dissonance was probably incredible for the kids.

Incidentally, younger daughter is still LDS, and the LDS church is good at guilt, too. People are expected to “endure to the end.” I have heard countless stories about people who have wanted to do something for themselves– say stepping down from a church calling or tithing less money– and they were guilted and shamed for that. I suspect that the church has also, in some way, reinforced that tendency to deny problems and minimize or discount them. It’s easier for others when we’re “strong”… at least until it gets so bad that the strength gives out and the strong person finally collapses. And since younger daughter is now a mom herself, she can’t really afford to fall apart.

Is it any wonder Bill’s daughter is so traumatized? Is it any wonder that she laughs and smiles and giggles when she talks about something as serious as suicide, suicidal ideation, or other traumas? I suspect she fears being too “heavy” and turning off her dad, who has been wanting to have a relationship with her for so long. I also suspect that she was trained not to bring any problems to her mom or her stepdad. In fact, I’ll bet Ex’s reactions to her daughter’s pain included anger, derision, or even laughter.

My heart goes out to younger daughter. When I was younger, I had similar thoughts about self-destruction. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to launch. I didn’t think I had anything to offer the world and I didn’t think anyone cared about me, even though there were obviously people who did love me. Adolescence is hard, though… biological processes during that time can be pure hell. Childhood is hard, too. You have no control over anything, and adults are telling you to be quiet… “shut up before I give you something to cry about”. Being a young adult is hard– trying to find one’s way in the world and make enough money to support oneself. I think the phase I’m in now may be the easiest for me so far, but I am about to be menopausal. We’ll see how that goes.

Sometimes I still feel shitty about myself and want it all to end. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that when I admitted having these feelings to my own therapist years ago, I probably laughed too. It’s just not easy to talk about it, and laughter somehow makes the task easier, especially when you don’t know how the other person will react. My therapist was a doctoral level psychologist with many years of experience. He was in the prime of his career when I saw him. But he’s still a flawed human being with feelings and thoughts. Despite the fact that I was paying him to counsel me, I wasn’t sure what his human reaction would be to my comments. Fortunately, he was a professional and talked me through the pain.

I do remember telling my mom, at one point, that I felt suicidal. I don’t think I put it that way, but I did express to her the desire I had for ending it all. Her response was to get angry and say, “I know you won’t do anything ‘stupid’.” It was absolutely the WRONG thing to say. She basically discounted my pain and practically dared me to make an attempt. I have never forgotten that she said that to me. If I’m honest, it kind of lowered my opinion of her, although I do love my mom and I don’t think she meant it. I look back at that time and realize that she was under a lot of stress. So I forgive her for saying that, although I haven’t forgotten that she said it. I can’t forget it because it’s shocking to hear your mom say something like that, even if you kind of know why she said it.

I don’t know what Ex said in that situation… but I suspect it was a lot worse than what my mom said to me. My mom is not a narcissist, nor is she mentally ill. My mom has compassion. Ex has compassion only when it makes her look good to other people. And I truly believe that she sees her children and grandchildren as extensions of herself– objects to be manipulated and owned, rather than nurtured, loved, and cherished. I’m sure if younger daughter had succeeded, Ex would have simply felt abandoned. She would have been angry at the imposition and the inconvenience. And she never would have thought to tell her daughter’s other parent, a loving father who would have done whatever he could to help her and ease her pain. Ex was much too “prideful” and vengeful for that.

I really think that younger daughter’s tendency to “laugh” at trauma is a combination of a few things. One is that she’s been conditioned to minimize her own pain, either because no one would comfort her anyway, or because she would be shamed for it. Another is that talking about these feelings is embarrassing for her. Another is not wanting Bill or me to think there’s something “wrong” with her (which we definitely don’t). And then there’s the need to reduce the tension that comes from talking about trauma and pain. Laughter is good for that. It’s close to crying, but crying is kind of “taboo”– many people see crying as “weakness”. So we laugh and that kind of breaks the tension, even if we really just want to break down in sobs and tears and have someone hug us and tell us it will all be okay.

I know my husband well… and I know that if he was in a room with his daughter and she was talking about this subject, he would give her a hug and stroke her hair. He would encourage her to lean on him and cry as much as she wanted. I know he would comfort her for as long as she needed it. I know this, because this is how he treats me. It’s an absolute tragedy that his children were denied this love and compassion that he’s been waiting to give them freely– without any strings attached.

The good news is that she has him now. She’s out of her mother’s house and can heal. No one can tell her what to do anymore unless she gives them permission.

On the other hand, right now Noyzi is telling me to get off the computer and walk him and Arran. So I guess I’d better wrap this up before he has a conniption. I’ll have to give this some more thought. For now, I told Bill that I think he should tell his daughter that he’s here for her and if she needs to talk to him, she can depend on him. He’ll hear what she has to say and won’t laugh at her, judge her, rage at her, minimize or discount her feelings, or treat her like she owes him… or he owns her. I hope that will help so she won’t have to laugh at her own pain anymore when she speaks to him.

A good video for people who have had a narcissistic mother.

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