Ex

Love bombing 101… lather, rinse, repeat…

Happy April Fool’s Day, y’all… In honor of the day, I’m about to write about a real fool. I know some people won’t understand why I’m writing this. Some might even think I’m a terrible person for writing this. I don’t care. I’m going to write it anyway, because I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in progress, and I need to process it.

Some readers might know the backstory, which is easily found here on this blog. Other people don’t know the backstory, and maybe they don’t care. As my friend Weird Wilbur says, “that’s very fine.” And some clueless people might want to tell me this is none of my business. And, in fact, they would be right. It isn’t my business, really… other than the effect it has on people in my husband’s family and, to a lesser extent, my husband himself.

For those who need a backstory primer, click here and here. Really, this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the history of this sad tale of woe. It’s just the most recent, heartbreaking chapter of a very long, dramatic, poorly written novel of toxic, narcissistic abuse. This story began in the early 1980s and it continues to this day.

So anyway, about a month ago, I wrote a post called “The seaglasshole is at it again”. In that post, I noted that my husband’s ex wife had started a crowdfund. Below are some screenshots. You can easily see how the crowdfunding effort went.

You can see that no one, besides Ex, contributed any money to her fence building campaign. Ex also had a birthday last month, and it came to our attention that she, my husband’s estranged older daughter, and her daughter with #3 (her current husband) all took a trip down to Tennessee to see my husband’s stepmother. Ex lives in New Hampshire, and gas prices are at an all time high. I suppose it’s possible that she and the girls took a flight, but knowing Ex, I’m guessing they took a road trip. I find that to be an interesting decision on many levels. She needs $5500 for a fence, but she has enough money to donate $500 to her own campaign, and she has the money to go to Tennessee, along with two of her daughters. Either way, it’s telling. Obviously, she didn’t need the money that badly.

I noticed that after her “visit” with my husband’s stepmother, Ex quietly removed the link to her crowdfunding campaign from her very public social media accounts. I have a feeling she did that because she talked my husband’s bereaved stepmother, whose beloved husband died in November 2020, into giving her some money. And you know… I don’t think that is a wise decision on SMIL’s part, especially since SMIL has, on more than one occasion, told us sad stories about how she’s given Ex money or gifts that were never appreciated. But I don’t know what SMIL’s situation is right now. I suspect she’s lonely and needs attention. And Ex is all too happy to give it to her in the form of a love bomb.

Well… last night, Bill took a look at Facebook, which he doesn’t do very often, because he can’t seem to log into it on his iPad. He’s only able to see Facebook on his phone. He noticed that his SM had unfriended him. And then I found the below tweets on Ex’s public Twitter account.

Oh Ex… how low have you sunk this time?

Notice the very first tweet. She refers to her “mum”, who is 71 and just crossed an item off her bucket list. SMIL, who is 71 years old, just went to California, where I suspect she saw the Golden Gate Bridge. The photo Ex was reacting to was of the Golden Gate Bridge. Also… Ex is 55 years old, and we know that her adoptive mother is dead, and her bio mom was a married woman who had an affair. So, I can assume that Ex is now claiming Bill’s very Italian stepmother as her “mum” (Ex fancies herself a Scot).

Now… I don’t actually give a shit if Ex and SMIL have become “chums”. I can’t control who SMIL invites into her home, and she’s supposedly a functioning adult. She does have an adopted daughter who is a very good person, though, and I am worried that Ex will do her best to take advantage of SMIL. And then, SMIL could potentially end up in a situation that might make her a burden to other people.

Think this is a far fetched theory? Consider that Ex compelled Bill’s daughters to drop out of school when they were teenagers and get G.E.Ds. Then she got them to enroll in college and take out massive student loans, which she then proceeded to skim money from. My husband’s younger daughter has only just recently managed to pay off the debt, and she does NOT have a degree to show for it. Older daughter, we’re told, went to a very expensive private school, but she’s 30 years old, still lives with her mother, and takes care of her brother… the one Ex claims they need to erect a fence for. We’ve also heard that #3’s mom also lives with Ex and probably serves in an “Aunt Edna” capacity (reference National Lampoon’s Vacation). Maybe she looked after the boy while Ex and her adult daughters were visiting Bill’s stepmother.

My husband’s former wife has a very long history of being a parasite. She uses people for money and narcissistic supply, and anyone who figures out who she is and what she does gets cast out. But she never completely lets go of anyone. She’s still engaging with Bill’s family, even though she’s made false accusations about Bill, and they have been divorced for 22 years. I think if I weren’t around, she’d try to engage with Bill. Again, she never totally burns bridges.

Ex kept in contact with her first ex husband’s family, too. She used them to try to hurt Bill in 2009, when we busted her then 21 year old son trying to change his last name in secret, as he was also being paid child support by Bill. Bill never legally adopted his former stepson, but Ex somehow changed his name to Bill’s and convinced Bill to pay child support for him. She alienated her son from his bio dad and he didn’t pay child support for his son; that was up to Bill, who legally, was never more than his stepdad and, at this point, is now just an acquaintance. Bill loved that boy as his own and didn’t mind paying support for him. But he did feel that since he was paying support and the lad was calling him “Dad”, he should have been informed of his decision to reclaim his original last name.

SMIL knows all about this. She knows that Ex is capable of incredibly low depths. Apparently, she doesn’t care. Either that, or she has dementia. I don’t think she has dementia, though. I think she’s feeling angry and abandoned, and engaging with Ex is her self-destructive way of lashing out at her family– Bill and, perhaps, her daughter, who I know has recently connected with her bio mom. But, I’m afraid she’s only hurting herself, and perhaps her daughter.

Now, there’s really nothing we can do about SMIL’s decision to be Ex’s “flying monkey”/ally. That’s her decision, and her business. My only concern is that SMIL is going to wind up burdening innocent people.

I don’t like to see people being victimized and manipulated… and I have seen the abuse cycle enough times to know what’s going on here. If things go as usual, eventually SMIL and Ex will have a falling out. She will be discarded AGAIN, and her family will be left to pick up the pieces in the wake of Ex’s latest campaign. You can bet on it.

I’ve seen this before. Photo is public domain.

It’s at times like these that I’m so glad we live on another continent. But, I have to give props to Bill, who has told me that this time, he is disinclined to be a “white knight”. He won’t be climbing up on his figurative horse, riding in, and saving the day this time. This time, he’s going to detach. So I hope SMIL knows what she’s doing. And I hope her daughter does what she can to protect herself from the fallout from Hurricane Sabrina.

I am watching an old episode of Dr. Phil this morning. I don’t really like Dr. Phil per se, but I do think this episode is an interesting one, mainly because the dynamic between the guests is somewhat like what we’ve dealt with. Bill was never in arrears with his child support obligations, though. In fact, he went above and beyond. And Ex is still trying to exploit his resources by glomming on to his family. Shame on her.

I relate to the guy in this story. To Bill’s credit, he never went as far as this guy has. But his anger is understandable.
When will the next phase in the cycle of abuse begin…

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movies, narcissists, reviews

Repost: My review of Mommie Dearest, the film… 

I wrote this review for Epinions in October 2007.  We were living in Germany the first time and I needed stuff to do.  So I watched Mommie Dearest and reviewed it.  Here it is reposted for your perusal, because I mentioned it in today’s fresh content. I have not edited this review from its original incarnation.

I wonder how many kids dream about growing up the child of a movie star. On the surface, it seems like it would be such a sweet life of untold indulgences. After all, movie stars don’t have problems. They all live in mansions and never have to think about money or consequences for their actions. They’re surrounded by people who come at their beck and call. Surely it must be the same for their children, right? Of course not. As CNN shows us with its daily reports on Britney Spears’ legal troubles, stars have their problems, too. And their children often have to deal with the aftermath.

Christina Crawford is the late Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter. In 1978, she published a tell-all book about her experiences having Joan Crawford as a mother. The 1981 film Mommie Dearest, based on Christina Crawford’s book of the same name, is the dramatized story of what Christina endured growing up in Hollywood’s glare. Mommie Dearest, the book, made quite a controversial splash back when it was first published. Three years later, the film version, starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, made a very different kind of splash. Even though a lot of critics panned Mommie Dearest, it still gets regular airplay today. Certain audiences, most notably homosexuals and transvestites, love this film and have made it a cult classic.

I have seen Mommie Dearest dozens of times, first on HBO, then on regular cable, and finally on my own DVD. I recently purchased the Hollywood Royalty Edition of the Mommie Dearest DVD. At $9.95, it was a steal and a great way to kill time until my husband and I can move out of our German hotel room and into our new home. I watched Mommie Dearest again last night. Every time I see it, I notice something new.

Thanks to Crawford’s book and Dunaway’s over the top portrayal of Joan Crawford in the movie, Joan Crawford has become sort of a poster child of child abusers. Indeed, there are several infamous scenes in this movie that can be, depending on how the viewer takes it, either very disturbing or hilarious. Take, for instance, the “wire hangers” scene, the scene for which Mommie Dearest is perhaps best known. Dunaway, as Crawford, comes into young Christina’s room to say goodnight to her sleeping daughter and make sure that everything is in its place. Wearing cold cream and a headband, Joan goes into Christina’s closet and starts thumbing through her clothes, all neatly hung on satin hangers. Suddenly, the movie star comes across a dress on a wire hanger. Enraged, she snatches the frilly creation off the rack and cradles it in her arms. Then, at the top of her lungs, she screams “NO WIRE HANGERS, EVER!”

Sure, lots of people make fun of that scene. Dunaway’s cold cream mask and wild hair make her look like an outraged modern day Michael Jackson. She tears all of the clothes off the rack, dumps them in a pile, and forces Christina out of bed. Then, completely out of control, she starts beating the crying child with the wire hanger. The scene is totally over the top and yet it always sends a chill down my spine. When I look in Dunaway’s heavily made up eyes, I see fury that makes me believe that she’s an angry, abusive mother and Mara Hobel, very impressively playing the young version of Christina Crawford, is her terrified little girl.

Diana Scarwid, who plays the teenaged and adult Christina, is also very compelling in her role. Somehow, she’s able to convincingly demonstrate the paradox that affects children of abusive parents. She hates her mother, yet she also loves her. As she grows up and her mother inevitably starts to lose power over her, viewers still see that love/hate struggle. She knows her mother is crazy, yet she can’t bear to lose her. She faithfully puts up with her mother’s insanity, seemingly unable to cut the ties. Then, when Joan Crawford dies and the will is read, Christina and her brother, Christopher, learn that she didn’t leave them a cent “for reasons well known to them.”

Mommie Dearest was produced by Frank Yablans and directed by Frank Perry. Yablans also wrote the screenplay. According to the special features that are included with the Hollywood Royalty version of Mommie Dearest, Yablans originally meant for Anne Bancroft to play Joan Crawford. But Bancroft’s Joan Crawford didn’t seem to be working. Faye Dunaway wanted the part and when she was made up, looked just like the star. I wasn’t around when Joan Crawford was a big star, but I have seen pictures of her. Dunaway is a dead ringer. Moreover, the makeup and costumes in this movie are fantastic. The sets are also incredibly authentic. Whenever I watch this movie, I often forget that it was made in 1981. It really does evoke the glamour and style of the 1940s. It’s not until the very end of the movie that I remember that the film adaptation of Mommie Dearest was made less than thirty years ago.

Despite the fact that I love this movie for its sheer camp factor, there are a few things about it that I don’t like. First of all, the movie isn’t entirely true to the book. Of course, Mommie Dearest is a dramatization based on a book, but it leads viewers to believe that Joan Crawford only had two children when, in fact, she had four. Her adopted daughters Cathy and Cindy wanted nothing to do with the film, so they aren’t mentioned at all. Also, Dunaway’s performance is often really outrageous, so much so that it draws attention away from the very serious topic of child abuse and almost turns it into a joke. Is it funny to see Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford so outraged by being called “box office poison” that she feverishly destroys a rose garden with a pair of hedge clippers? Sure. But imagine being a child in real life watching something like that. Dunaway’s performance is so crazed that a lot of audiences react with laughter instead of shock.

Ditto the scene in which Dunaway, as Joan Crawford, brings Christina (played by Scarwid) home from her boarding school in a snit because Christina got caught kissing a boy. When Christina openly defies her mother, declaring that she’s not one of her fans, Dunaway, as Crawford, tackles the girl, grabbing her around the neck and choking her. It’s a grotesque, disturbing scene that, again, is so over the top that people make fun of it. It turns what should be a tragic scene into something that’s funny. While I agree with comedian George Carlin’s assertion that a person can make a joke out of anything, somehow it seems wrong to do it with child abuse.

The Hollywood Royalty version of Mommie Dearest consists of the movie, which is rated PG and runs for 128 minutes, commentary by campy filmmaker John Waters, three features that explain how the movie was made and include interviews with the movie’s makers and actors, a photo gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. Although I saw this movie many times when I was a child, if I were a parent, I would probably think twice about letting a young child see it. Although I counted only two swear words (including one use of the f word), there are several violent scenes that involve children that might be frightening for them.

Loved or hated, Mommie Dearest is rarely ignored or forgotten. I’m proud to have it as part of my personal movie collection. And, after watching this, I can’t help but remember that movie stars and their children have problems too.

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book reviews, mental health, narcissists, psychology

A review of My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me: A true story of betrayal and a shocking family secret by Helen Naylor…

Today, I made a concerted effort to finish reading my latest book, My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me: A true story of betrayal and a shocking family secret by Helen Naylor. This book was just published in November 2021. I decided to read it because I’m a sucker for true stories, especially when they are about people who have psychological issues. I’ve always found Munchausen’s Syndrome to be a fascinating disorder, although this was the first time I had seen a book about Munchausen’s Syndrome and not its related malady, Munchausen’s By Proxy.

Munchausen’s Syndrome, also known as “factitious disorder imposed on self”, is a psychological disorder in which a person either feigns illness or injury, or deliberately makes themselves ill. They do so to get narcissistic supply, attention, comfort, or sympathy from healthcare providers, their friends, and especially their families. People with Munchausen’s Syndrome exaggerate any real symptoms they have, often insisting that physicians do very thorough examinations, procedures, and tests. They are often hospitalized, and they have a tendency to know a lot about diseases.

If you search this blog, you’ll find that I’ve already reviewed a couple of books about Munchausen’s By Proxy (MbP). One book was written by a woman who was raised by a narcissistic mother who constantly and deliberately made her ill so that she could get narcissistic supply from medical professionals. The other is a true crime book about a social worker who adopted two babies from Korea in the 1970s and deliberately made them sick, resulting in the death of one of the babies. Again, it was so she could get attention and regard from medical professionals, praising her for her devotion and dedication to her children. MbP is an especially horrifying disorder, as it’s often imposed on people who are helpless, like children, elderly people, or the disabled.

In British author Helen Naylor’s case, she was not a victim of her mother doing horrifying things to her physically in order to get attention. Instead, it was Helen’s mother, Elinor, whom Helen describes as a narcissist, who was making up illnesses and demanding attention from her family and friends. Elinor is now deceased, but Helen writes that her mother pretended to have chronic illnesses for about thirty years. Helen’s father, who predeceased his wife by some years, actually was debilitated with a serious heart disease. When he passed away, Helen, as the only child, was left to take care of her mother, whose constant pleas for attention and emotional outbursts caused real hardships for Helen, who was also married and raising two small children.

For years, Helen endured the constant dramas and stresses surrounding her mother’s mysterious illness, called ME in the book. I looked up ME and found it defined as myalgic encephalomyelitis, perhaps better known to us Yanks as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS made a lot of news back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Elinor Page had supposedly contracted ME at around that time. The ME made it difficult for Elinor to care for young Helen, whom she described as a “difficult child”. Helen writes of her mother not having the energy to take her places or spend time with her. Or, so it seemed, anyway.

Throughout her life, Helen’s mother required her daughter to attend to her every need. She convinced many people that she was very sick, and Helen soon found herself being scrutinized and judged by other people, who expected her to take care of her mother. Most of those people never saw Elinor’s true personality. Most of them never saw Elinor when she was full of energy and fully capable of socializing and taking care of herself. They only saw the fake persona she put on in a pathetic bid for sympathy and attention. Elinor would do things like deliberately starve herself so that she looked sicker and weaker. She would stage falls near emergency pull cords and insist that she was in dire need of medical attention. She would get the attention, and nothing notable would be found. Elinor would demand full time “carers”, but she didn’t really need them. So she would call her daughter, who was very busy with her own life and raising her own children.

After Elinor died, Helen found her mother’s diaries, which she kept quite religiously. It was after she read them that Helen realized just how psychologically sick her mother was, even though she insisted that she was debilitated by ME and later by Parkinson’s Disease. Elinor did have mild Parkinsonism, which is not the same as the full blown disease. But Elinor wanted to be regarded as very ill, and she would do all she could to convince people that she was unwell and needed hospital care. I think it’s important to point out that again, this book is set in the United Kingdom, which has the National Health Service. So, while these repeated medical episodes would cost a lot in the United States, money to pay for Elinor’s repeated medical visits and hospitalizations was much less of an issue in England.

I’ll be honest. I found this book compelling, but kind of hard to get through. There were a few parts of the book at which I started to think I didn’t like it very much. But then, toward the end of the book, when Helen writes about the extreme drama her mother put her through as she was trying to raise her children, my heart went out to her. I realized just how incredibly toxic that situation was for everyone involved. Yes, it was very hard on Helen, her husband, Peter, and their two children, Bailey and Blossom, but I think it must have been very hard on Elinor, too. At one point, Helen writes an insightful comment about what had caused Elinor to behave in this way. She was desperate for attention, and must have felt she would die without it.

Of course, it’s easy to have sympathy for the person with Munchausen’s Syndrome when you’re not the person having to deal with their constant emergencies and pleas for attention, coupled with the angry tirades, dismissive hairflips, and outright dramatic scenes that come from narcissists. Having heard from my husband’s daughter about what it was like for her to grow up with a narcissistic mother, I definitely felt for Helen Naylor.

It really is tough when your mother is not a mom. And you are forced to grow up years before your time, taking care of things that children shouldn’t have to worry about. And that demand for duty continues even after you’ve come of age, left the house, gotten married, and have small children of your own to tend. In my husband’s daughter’s case, at least there are siblings– notably, her older sister, who has been recruited to stay home and take care of their mother and youngest brother, who is legitimately disabled. Poor Helen was an only child. And her mother had enlisted a number of “flying monkeys”– friends who were there to help do her dirty work, guilting, and grifting. Helen Naylor didn’t have a “mum”– as she put it. She had a mother who parasitically fed off of her own daughter– for narcissistic supply and to serve as an emotional punching bag. Later, when she found her mother’s diaries, she realized that not only had her mom been faking everything for decades, but Helen was also severely neglected as a helpless baby. She suffered an unexplained and untreated broken arm at six months old, and her mother would leave her alone for hours while she went out drinking.

When I finished My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me this afternoon, I came away with a basically positive opinion of it. It’s reasonably well-written and offers a different look at Munchausen’s. Again, most of the books I’ve seen about Munchausen’s are written about mothers who make their children sick. This book is about a woman who deliberately made herself sick or schemed to make herself look like she’d taken a fall. She fooled a lot of people, except for those who caught her when her facade had slipped. I would imagine that when that happened, it was also traumatic and embarrassing for Helen, who had to deal with the fact that her mother did this stuff. It’s pretty clear to me that Helen is normal and just wants to be a good mom and wife.

People who have to deal with narcissists often hear about going “no contact”. I’m pretty sure that Helen’s husband eventually advocated for that. Or, at least not coming right away when Elinor called. But it’s very hard to turn your back on your own mom. I’m sure that is what kept Helen trapped for so many years. Now that her mother is dead, Helen no longer gets the dramatic phone calls from her mother or people taking care of her mother or worse, finding out that her mother has been hospitalized or moved days after the fact. She no longer has to deal with her mother’s friends, trying to horn in on overseeing her mother’s care and take her things. The traumatic memories linger, however, and I’m sure she is still haunted by them. When I stop and think about just how much this must have been for Helen to deal with, it just blows my mind.

Anyway… I think My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me is well worth reading for those who are interested in psychology, narcissists, or unusual psychological disorders. I will warn that this book is written in a distinctly British style, so some of the terminology and slang may be foreign to American readers. Personally, I found this book kind of hard to finish, but I appreciated that it offers a different perspective of people who need attention so badly that they have to make themselves or other people sick.

It’s pretty clear that Elinor is primarily very narcissistic, but she has a number of other behaviors that augment that already unbearable personality trait. She has the Munchausen’s, but there are also elements of a potential eating disorder and perhaps body dysmorphic disorder, as well as depression and anxiety. She must have been a miserable person, and I am sure she was very miserable to be around. I hope wherever she is now, she’s finally resting in peace. And I hope writing this book helps bring peace and closure to her long suffering daughter.

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Duggars, Ex, narcissists, psychology, Trump

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…”

This morning, I’m reminded of the popular saying that serves as today’s post title. It’s a lesson we’ve learned again and again. The universe will give you opportunities to learn lessons. In our case, we have apparently needed to learn more about narcissists and narcissism. And we have had several teachers who have appeared. It’s only been recently that we’ve been learning the lessons and changing our approaches to dealing with these types of people.

Yesterday’s post turned out to be more popular than I was expecting it to be. I’m sure part of the reason it was so compelling is that it included a somewhat “sordid” true story. Even three years on from our last move, it still made me nervous to share that post. It occurs to me that some people might read my posts and think I’m just whining. Maybe I do “whine” more than I should. It would be nice to have more of a “get on with it” attitude about more things.

I have what Dr. Phil would call a “psychological sunburn” about certain issues. That means I’m unusually sensitive about some things. In my case, it’s dealing with abusive people. I’ve mentioned before that I feel “saturated”, especially when it comes to verbal abuse. I just can’t abide it anymore. I don’t willingly engage with people who are like that, and writing helps me process it. I realize it probably comes off as a little “off-kilter” to some people, although I also know that some people can relate and appreciate these posts. So I keep writing them.

Narcissism is a hot topic these days. Spend a few minutes on YouTube and you’ll find so many videos about narcissism and narcissistic people. Some people are as tired of hearing and reading about narcissism, as I am of hearing about the pandemic. I don’t know why others are so interested in narcissism, but I know I am, because I’ve spent a lifetime being subjected to the general fuckery that can come from being around abusive and exploitative people. It’s a lot to unpack.

The first time I ever heard the term “narcissism” was when I was a senior in high school. I was taking a psychology class, and my teacher was the kind who loved to show “made for TV” movies to demonstrate certain psychological disorders. We watched the 1989 film Small Sacrifices, which starred Farrah Fawcett and was based on true crime writer Ann Rule’s excellent book. Fawcett portrayed Diane Downs, a woman who shot her own children and then claimed that she was carjacked. I remember my teacher saying that Downs had narcissistic personality disorder.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. I was seventeen years old and really didn’t know a lot about the world. Hell, at that time, I didn’t even realize that my father was an alcoholic, even though it was pretty obvious. I was used to seeing him drink excessively, and was accustomed to the erratic and sometimes scary behavior that resulted from his drinking, PTSD, and depression.

It never occurred to me that, years later, I would marry a man whose ex wife was extremely narcissistic, or even that her shockingly abusive behavior, as egregiously selfish and damaging as it was, would be something that a couple of my friends would also experience with people in their lives. I started to look around and realized that I was seeing narcissism all over the place.

When I started to realize how common and pervasive narcissistic behavior seemed to be, I wondered if maybe I was imagining it. Like, maybe I was akin to a physician in training with a little knowledge, suddenly seeing the signs and symptoms of a disease I’d just learned about in a class. I do have degrees in social work and public health, but narcissism isn’t something we necessarily learned about in school, except when I took an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology. I did very well in that class, but I am certainly no expert.

I started learning a lot more about NPD years ago, when I watched my husband’s ex wife treat my husband like literal shit. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the disrespect she showed toward him and his family, and ultimately, her children. I couldn’t believe her nerve. I was very surprised that so many people let her get away with the things they let her get away with, like denying Bill access to his children and telling outrageous lies about him to everyone, including his own parents and the children. Then I learned more about the physical and sexual abuse that occurred, and saw the proof of it.

I knew there had to be something very wrong with Ex, because her “reasons” for her actions didn’t make any sense to me. They did not fit the man that I knew, and have now known, for over twenty years. She made claims that he hates women and was abusive to her. And yet he has never as much as raised his voice to me, let alone a hand. He’s literally one of the kindest, most gentle, and agreeable people I’ve ever met, in spite of his long career as a soldier.

At first, I thought maybe Ex had borderline personality disorder. I read a lot about it and realized that her behavior ticked a lot of the boxes. But people with BPD are usually somewhat treatable, if they realize they have a problem and want to get help, and they aren’t as cruel as Ex is. Ex has been hospitalized on a few occasions, and I’ve seen her spouting off about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a treatment used for people with BPD. However, her behavior doesn’t seem to change, and there are still many signs that she’s got other issues– namely with narcissism. I have studied narcissism for years, and I am convinced that’s her main problem, at least at this point in her life.

Of course, it’s also certainly possible that she has both disorders. Sometimes cluster B personality disorders do overlap. Or maybe she’s got another problem entirely. I can only guess, based on what I’ve witnessed, heard about, and experienced in my years with Bill, and my own educational pursuits.

All I know is that when I started to read about narcissistic personality disorder, Ex’s behavior started to make a lot more sense, and was much less shocking. In fact, once I learned about personality disorders in general, Ex started to become more predictable. While it was still terrible to observe, and awful for my husband, who was denied contact with his daughters, there was something almost comforting in knowing that it wasn’t just our imagination that she was so incredibly controlling, and shamelessly self-centered and hurtful. Indeed, later when Bill started talking to his daughter, she confirmed that she was treated as badly as he was. Younger daughter recently announced that she’s expecting another baby. She wrote that she was much more nervous about telling her mother than telling Bill. Bill always reacts with kindness. Ex doesn’t.

Some might wonder why I write so much about Ex. To that question, I can only answer that it helps me process and unpack. People often assume she’s a normal person and I’m the problem. I would like to ask people who automatically assume that I’m the problem, to stop and think about what they would think, and how they would feel, if they were married to someone who was DENIED access to their own children by the other parent. I would expect a loving parent to want the other parent to be involved, if only for the sake of the children, who deserve to have access to their parents and should not be saddled with an unnecessary stigma of being the child of an abuser.

If there was a legitimate reason for the other parent to be denied access, there should have been documentation as to why that was necessary. But in Ex’s case, she was apparently married to two men who were not fit to be fathers to their children. She denied her first husband access to their son, and only helped them reunite when it suited her toxic agenda. She did it solely to be cruel and punitive to Bill, who was asserting himself because his former stepson was quite obviously using him for money. When Bill busted the young man for hiding the fact that he was changing his name and didn’t bother to tell Bill, but kept accepting child support from him (at age 21, no less), Ex suddenly decided that the young man should be in contact with the man she claimed was “crazy” and “abusive”. And now we know she said the same things about Bill, although as his second wife, I can attest that he’s not the one who is “crazy” and “abusive”.

Once I learned more about narcissism, I found out that a lot of people are dealing with narcissists in their lives. I wonder how that is possible, since it’s supposedly a “personality disorder”. But then I realized that one doesn’t have to have NPD to exhibit those behaviors on occasion. Narcissism seems to be an epidemic in western society. In fact, it seems to be somewhat celebrated and even normalized in American culture. Obviously narcissistic people are the ones who often end up being “stars”. They often have powerful jobs and lots of prestige, or they have a lot of money. But then you look at their personal lives, and examine things they’ve done to get ahead, and you realize they aren’t people you’d necessarily want to know.

Donald Trump, to my mind, is a VERY obvious grandiose and malignant narcissist. He’s had a string of unfaithful marriages and business failures. So many people who have been associated with him have ended up in trouble with the law, ranging from his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to people who invaded the Capitol building last January. There are many stories of him abusing women and being racist. He doesn’t seem to care beyond the superficial for anyone, except maybe his daughter, Ivanka, whom he’s said he would like to date. He’s been friends with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, as well as Steve Bannon. And yet, we made him President of the United States, and many people– some of whom I consider decent and basically intelligent– are still fooled by his icky, superficial and totally fake charm. They see his selfishness and crazy behavior as strengths.

It was my husband’s ex wife who made me realize how dangerous Trump is. Once I started studying narcissists and saw how these people put on public faces, but are toxic nightmares behind closed doors, I realized how terrible Trump as a leader is. And then I saw the proof of it in the aftermath of the 2020 election, which thank GOD he lost. I only hope that he can’t run again, because I’m not altogether sure he wouldn’t win. And if he wins, God help us all, because he would have no reason whatsoever to curb his behavior. He wouldn’t be able to run for another term and would be even closer to the end of his life, anyway.

But Trump is an extreme example of a narcissist. The truth is, they’re everywhere, and that’s why so many people are obsessively reading about them and watching videos about their behavior. Most of them don’t reach the terrible extremes of Trump. Most are probably not even as extreme as Ex is. I would say most narcissists are mainly just what we’d call inconsiderate assholes. They aren’t necessarily dangerous, but they are very unpleasant and toxic to be around. Some go to more extreme lengths and are incredibly dangerous and harmful, particularly to innocent people.

I look at Josh Duggar, whose trial is set to begin tomorrow. This is a man who was lecturing the masses about family values several years ago, as he was meeting and brutalizing a sex worker, cheating on his wife, and apparently, viewing illegal pornographic images. I have never met Josh Duggar, but he definitely has a lot of the signs of NPD, and he’s been raised in a culture where his selfish, destructive, abusive behavior is tolerated and even celebrated.

Meanwhile, since he’s been caught with illegal images that were described as the “worst of the worst” that experienced investigators have ever seen, Josh and his equally narcissistic father, Jim Bob, have been doing everything they can to get out of being held accountable for this behavior. Hell, Jim Bob is even running for public office again, even though his son is probably about to go to prison. Go figure that decision, except that Jim Bob is also extremely controlling and self-centered. Why should we care about these people? By all rights, we shouldn’t, but their story is compelling, because they have that yucky charisma and charm that a lot of narcissists have. I only hope that this time, they finally get held accountable for the things they do.

I come by my fascination with narcissism honestly, because it has affected me personally. I know that I’m not alone. I really think our culture has a lot to do with why this issue is so prevalent. Sadly, narcissists really hurt people, and they cause damage that is not easy to overcome. Whether it’s dealing with an abusive ex spouse who uses children and other people to maintain control, or it’s just a boss or a landlord who lives to make someone’s life hell, or it’s a person who is running the country and refusing to play fair, narcissists do a lot of harm to decent people. And I think the high number of books, videos, and blog posts about this subject only show that many students are ready, so the teachers have appeared.

Now… I’m going to dive back into my latest book by Les Carter, and I hope tomorrow, there will be a fresh book review. I’ve got several new books that I’m dying to start reading, but I can’t tackle them the way I used to. I hope everyone has a great Monday.

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book reviews, divorce, psychology

Repost: Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind

Here’s a great book suggestion for anyone dealing with parental alienation syndrome. I read and reviewed this book ten years ago, before Bill’s younger daughter reconnected (the other remains estranged). Because I like to be helpful, I am reposting the review as it was when I originally wrote it for Epinions.com in 2011.

Those who regularly read my Epinions reviews may know that my husband has two extremely alienated daughters who haven’t spoken to him since 2004.  I have only met my husband’s kids once, back in 2003.  We had a nice enough visit, but afterwards, their mother decided that I was too much of a bad influence on them.  She ramped up her efforts to get my husband’s kids to reject him.  Today in 2011, he has no contact with the two kids (now adults) with whom he used to enjoy a very warm, loving relationship.  My husband’s daughters are textbook examples of kids who are affected by Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

PAS is a term that was originally coined by Dr. Richard Gardner, a child psychiatrist.  Dr. Gardner noted that sometimes in highly contentious divorce situations, one parent may misuse socialization techniques to turn their child against the other parent to the point at which the relationship is completely destroyed.

PAS is a very controversial topic.  Since alienating parents usually tend to be women, a lot of feminist organizations deny that PAS is real.  A lot of legal and mental health professionals also argue about whether or not it’s real.  I am myself educated as a public health social worker and, having spent almost nine years living through PAS with my husband, I have no doubt that parental alienation syndrome is very real and very scary.  It absolutely deserves to be taken seriously, especially by the family court system.

Although I’ve pretty much given up hope that my husband’s daughters will ever have a normal relationship with their father, I do still feel the need to read about PAS and related subjects such as narcissistic personality disorder.  That drive to research led me to read Amy J. L. Baker’s excellent book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Breaking The Ties That Bind (2007).  This book is very well-researched, well-written, and I guarantee that anyone who has experienced the PAS phenomenon will recognize the uncanny steps a determined alienator will take to destroy a child’s relationship with the targeted parent.

Who is Amy Baker and how did she research this book?

Dr. Amy J. L. Baker is director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child protection of the New York Foundling.  In researching Breaking the Ties That Bind, Dr. Baker interviewed 40 adults who believed that when they were children, they were alienated against one of their parents.  She also interviewed people who were targeted parents of parental alienators.  Chapter by chapter, she uses her subject’s stories to lay out what PAS is and outline the tactics used by parental alienators to sever family ties. 

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as I read about the experiences of these adult children of parental alienation syndrome.  Many of the alienating parents were women, though some of them were men.  And in some cases, the alienation tactics even had some validity because there were some targeted parents who really weren’t very good people.  In other cases, the children eventually realized that they were manipulated to hate their other parent and their relationship with the alienating parent was damaged.  Sometimes they were able to reconnect with the lost parent and build a positive relationship; sometimes they found out that the “dead” relationship was better off left alone.  I liked the fact that Dr. Baker explained how adult children of PAS eventually figure out what happened.  In some cases, adult children of PAS figure it out when they themselves become targeted parents, either by marrying someone who alienates the kids or by realizing their alienator parents have turned into alienator grandparents by trying to turn their grandkids against their parents.  Sadly, sometimes PAS victims never learn the whole truth, but Dr. Baker seems to think they usually do eventually “get it”, even if it takes decades.

According to Dr. Baker, the vast majority of parents who alienate their children from their other parents are people who have personality disorders, most notably narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).  Based on our situation, I am inclined to agree with Dr. Baker, although I also recognize that there are varying degrees of PAS and sometimes the PAS is even somewhat unintentional.  

In any case, the children are the ultimate losers in situations where one parent alienates children from the other parent.  Dr. Baker notes that children never forget that they have that other parent “out there” and every time the alienating parent punishes them for mentioning or missing the other parent, they are punishing them for their identity.  These kids are ordered to deny half of their DNA in order to keep their custodial parent happy.  That forced denial has to hurt on many different levels.  Indeed, through her research, Dr. Baker found out just how the realization that they have been lied to and manipulated can be so hurtful to children, who have often lost many years with their other parent.  In some cases, the other parent has died, making reconciliation impossible. 

Overall 

If you, or someone you love, have been affected by PAS, I highly recommend reading this book.  It’s probably one of the very best books I have ever read about parental alienation syndrome.  In so many ways, I found Baker’s book very insightful and helpful.  I found myself feeling a lot more empathy for my husband’s kids, despite the horrible way they have treated him and the rest of his family over the years. 

This is also an excellent book for mental health and legal professionals; indeed, I think it ought to be required reading for custody evaluators, especially those who doubt PAS exists. 

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