Ex

Stuck in the selfish sandpit with Ex…

Special thanks to Wikipedia user, Andrew Dunn, who has allowed free use of his photo. It appears here unaltered.

I thought today, I’d take a break from reposts and rantings about current events. Sometimes, I just need an old fashioned venting session. This particular vent is, yet again, about Ex. It may get profane, so brace yourself or move along. And please, no shaming comments about how inappropriate it is for me to write about this. I’ll write about whatever I damned well please. I know the situation and the people involved. You, most likely, don’t.

July 4th is a big day in Bill’s family. Not only is it Independence Day, which is a big day for anyone in the military community; it’s also Bill’s older daughter’s birthday. Older daughter happens to share her birthday with younger daughter’s daughter– Bill’s granddaughter– who was born on a more recent July 4th. Bill was looking for a gift for his granddaughter, but not for his daughter. Older daughter is still estranged, thanks to her selfish, narcissistic, manipulative mother. He’s come to terms with it. She’s about to turn 30, and she has to make decisions for herself. But that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating to watch from the sidelines.

What do we Americans usually do on birthdays? Most of us celebrate. Sometimes we go on trips, like Bill and I did last weekend for my birthday. We send gifts or have parties… or send a card.

Recently, younger daughter told Bill that she would like to send her sister something for her upcoming 30th birthday. Unfortunately, older daughter still lives with Ex, which makes it hard for younger daughter to communicate with her without interference from their mother. Ex evidently monitors older daughter’s phone and mail. I don’t agree with this policy, but it’s not my life. For some reason, older daughter tolerates the invasion of privacy, even though multiple people– including Bill– would love to help her move out of her mother’s house and live life more on her own terms. What can I say? You get what you settle for.

In any case, younger daughter said that she doesn’t think she can send her sister a birthday present or card. Why not? Because she says it would cause more drama for her sister than is worthwhile. Here are a few potential scenarios that could occur if younger daughter sends her sister anything for her birthday…

Older daughter: Look! My sister sent me a birthday gift!

Ex: How nice for you. She didn’t bother to acknowledge my birthday.

Or…

Ex: That looks pretty cheap. I bet she didn’t spend more than ten minutes picking it out. She doesn’t know what you like, does she?

Or…

Ex: That gift is so inappropriate. It’s not the right size, color, style, etc… (you get the idea) Nice that she can send you a gift, but completely ignore me on MY birthday.

Younger daughter has lived with Ex long enough that she knows what happens when someone other than her has a “special” day. Ex has a very long history of ruining holidays and special days. I have written many posts about how she regularly fucks up major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter…. although the last Easter she ruined turned out to be a wonderful blessing, since it meant the resurrection of Bill’s life. She once ruined Bill’s birthday by sending him many boxes of his possessions that she’d held onto for six years after their divorce, along with hateful letters from his daughters AND adoption papers to allow him to let #3 adopt them. She can’t stand for other people to be happy, get rewarded, or otherwise enjoy connections with other people. She regularly shits on other people’s joy and tries to sabotage their successes.

Now… this isn’t really my business at all. I only know about it because Bill told me. I have a lot of empathy for younger daughter, who was always close to her older sister. I know she’d like to be closer to her now, especially since they live in separate states. But she can’t even send texts or call her without interference from Ex. She says Ex will access older daughter’s phone and read what’s on it. When younger daughter calls her sister, Ex will demand to know who’s on the phone. And she just acts like she owns the three kids who still live in her house. This is her way of maintaining control. It’s pure narcissism, and it sucks.

I am comforted in realizing, though, that Ex can’t live forever. Hopefully the ones still at home will eventually break away from her toxic bullshit and live their own lives… although she does have a child who has severe autism and will probably always need help. That’s supposedly one reason why older daughter still lives at home. Ex doesn’t take proper care of her youngest child, so older daughter, who is also reportedly on the spectrum, does it for her.

I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a huge deal that two adult sisters feel like they can’t wish each other a happy birthday without interference from their twatbag mother… (sorry, I know name calling is childish, but this shit really pisses me off). Both of Bill’s daughters are grown women and more than capable of telling their mother to fuck off. Of course, they won’t put it in those terms, since they’re LDS and don’t like to curse. Or, younger daughter is still LDS. I’m not sure about older daughter.

Apparently, now that the church is no longer an effective parental alienation tool, Ex doesn’t attend anymore. I’m sure older daughter stays home, too, especially since church members apparently tried to help her in the same way they helped younger daughter break away from her toxic mother’s influence. Some might say the church’s influence is also toxic, but I honestly don’t think it’s worse than Ex is.

I’m experienced enough to know that this problem is one that Bill’s daughters have to solve by themselves. It’s going to take them growing a backbone and insisting that their mother stay out of their business. That’s hard to do, though, when one of them still lives under Ex’s roof. It’s like older daughter is stuck in quicksand, with many people standing around the sandpit with life rings, just waiting for her to grab one and get pulled out of the toxic mire. But she won’t grab the ring.

It could be that older daughter doesn’t mind the craziness. Maybe she’s afraid of the unknown, or worries that she can’t survive on the outside. I know younger daughter told Bill that she didn’t contact him for a long time because she was afraid. She’d been told so many lies… and she worried about everything from potential abuse to a cold reception. Of course, now she’s found out that she could have always reached out to him for help, and life is soooo much better on her own terms. But it can be hard to convince people still entrenched in Ex’s private pseudo-cult that escape is possible and life is good on the outside.

I just think it’s sad– and rantworthy– that my husband’s daughters can’t trade birthday greetings without a bunch of drama from their mother… or even just the perception of potential drama. Obviously, this is something that happens a lot in Ex’s house. When younger daughter explained her apprehensiveness about sending a gift, Bill knew exactly what she meant. He remembers his days living with his ex wife, trying to do something good, kind, or nice, and somehow, she would manage to fuck it up or ruin it. She is a master at sabotaging other people’s joy and satisfaction.

I remember, after their divorce, Bill would agonize over gifts and cards he’d send to his daughters when they were kids. Of course, Ex probably never gave them the things he sent… or she’d throw them away or sell them… or somehow discount them with disparaging words about what a loser she thinks Bill is (even though she made two daughters with him and asked him to raise her older son). Apparently, she makes babies with “losers”. She’s either got terrible taste in men or she’s a fucking liar. I’m going with liar. She doesn’t appreciate decent people. In fact, the nicer and kinder a person is, the more disrespect she seems to hurl at them. Especially, if they’re men.

Anyway… I know it’s not my business or my problem. I just think it’s terribly sad, and wanted to vent about it. I don’t have a very close relationship with my three sisters, but they all managed to wish me a happy birthday last week. It was good to hear from them. It makes me sad that younger daughter now knows a little bit about the tremendous pain Bill went through in the many years he was kept exiled from his children. They can commiserate over this shared bad treatment they received from someone who should have been loving and kind to them. Every day, I wish to God he’d had those kids with me, instead of his ex wife.

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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 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 a woman.  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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communication, healthcare, LDS, mental health

“My way or the highway”…

Picture it– a Saturday morning in early July 2006. The doorbell rang. Our mailman, Steve, who knew all of the best gossip on Fort Belvoir, was at the door with a bunch of packages. They were from Bill’s ex wife and sent “restricted delivery”, so Bill had to sign for them personally. In the boxes were a bunch of personal effects that Bill had left behind when he and Ex got divorced in 2000. She had written a letter, explaining that she had expected him to “retrieve” his stuff, but he never had. So she was sending the stuff back to him, along with an itemized list of the contents.

She also included adoption papers for Bill’s daughters, along with an invitation to sign them so her third husband, #3, could officially claim Bill’s daughters as his own. And there were also photocopied letters the girls supposedly wrote, demanding that Bill give permission for them to be adopted by #3. I remember quite distinctly that younger daughter’s letter was especially cold, while older daughter’s was a bit kinder. However, she did include the line, “I’ll never talk to you again” as an ultimatum. As in, “If you don’t let #3 adopt me, I’ll never talk to you again. It’s my way or the highway.”

Bear in mind, Bill had not been allowed a chance to speak to his daughters. Ex refused to let him have any contact with them and had them so mindfucked that they couldn’t think straight. Years later, it turned out that the girls had their names legally changed when they were both 18. Younger daughter said she’d been under a lot of pressure, both to write the letter (which Ex basically dictated to her), and to have her last name changed. But she also realized that she would be changing her name anyway, once she got married. Sure enough, younger daughter did get married and changed her name again. She now freely communicates with Bill– her REAL dad– who is a wonderful person. And it’s been beautiful for both of them. Younger daughter certainly doesn’t consider #3 to be her father and doesn’t really speak to him nowadays.

Older daughter has been as good as her word. She hasn’t spoken to Bill, and remains trapped in her mother’s toxic home. She’ll be 30 years old soon, and younger daughter has said that Ex regularly threatens and demeans her. Meanwhile, life has gone on, and for us, it’s mainly been worth living. Bill would love to have his older daughter in his life again, but she’s made a choice. I hope the “my way or the highway” attitude is worth it to her and brings her much joy… but somehow, I doubt it does. When Bill’s father died in November 2020, older daughter wasn’t welcome at the funeral, even though she had reportedly wanted to attend. Sadly, thanks to COVID-19, Bill wasn’t able to attend, either.

I have shared this story more than a couple of times over the years. I usually share it when I write about parental alienation syndrome or people who have decided to leave Mormonism and get shunned by their families. Since PAS and leaving Mormonism are both factors in our story, it makes sense that I’d share this sad anecdote when I write about those subjects. Today, I’m sharing it for another reason.

This morning, I read an article in The Washington Post about how to have conversations with people about COVID-19 vaccinations. I almost didn’t read the article because, frankly, I’m pretty frustrated by the subject. I live in a place where I can’t yet get a vaccine, even though I’m willing to get one. I see all of my American friends getting their shots, but I’m still sitting here with my thumb up my ass. I’m bored, depressed, and super sick of this lifestyle, especially since I can’t travel, but my husband keeps having to go places for work. It sucks, and I’m so tired of it. I need a new subject to focus on, so my attitude doesn’t completely go down the crapper.

Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to read what the writer, Allyson Chiu, wrote about talking to people who can’t agree about the vaccines. I thought her advice was very sensible. Like me, she realizes that shaming, threatening, scolding, and lecturing aren’t very effective when it comes to changing hearts and minds about vaccinations. I’ve mentioned this more than a couple of times. When you come at a person with aggression, their instinct will naturally be to defend themselves. When a person is focused on defending themselves, they won’t be listening to what you have to say. You might as well save your breath.

Chiu also recommended positive ways of encouraging people to get the vaccine. Instead of insulting them or making assumptions about the person’s reasoning for not cooperating, she suggests asking people what would make them more willing to consider getting the shot(s). She emphasized being caring and concerned about the person’s welfare, rather than issuing stern ultimatums. Above all, she emphasizes maintaining basic respect with a mind toward preserving the relationship.

I looked at the responses left on the actual article, rather than Facebook. I’ve found that people who take the time to respond on a newspaper article itself, usually tend to be more thoughtful and appropriate in their comments. Also, the people who comment on the actual paper usually have taken the time to read the article rather than just responding to the headline.

As I read the comments about the COVID-19 vaccine controversy, I got a strong sense of deja vu. Only, the comments reminded me of ones heard from frustrated and angry parents when a child makes a decision with which the parent disagrees. For instance, when people raise their children in Mormonism, and the family members actually believe in the church doctrine and live by its principles, they tend to be very intolerant of opposing views. They issue ultimatums to the wayward family members, threatening to cut them out of their lives if they don’t conform. They might tell their supposed loved ones, “If you don’t stop rebelling, I’ll never talk to you again.” Or, “You aren’t welcome in my home until you come back to the fold.” Or, “I don’t want you talking to anyone in the family about your ‘beliefs’ or ‘opinions’. Your thinking is ‘wrong’, and I won’t tolerate you leading them down the ‘wrong’ path.”

I’m sure if you asked these folks if they love their family members whom they are so cavalierly threatening to cast out of their lives, they would say they do love them. Sometimes, this is an issue of control, but probably more often than not, these kinds of threats and ultimatums are based on fear of loss. In my husband’s ex wife’s case, she fears losing control and access to certain commodities. Although she joined the LDS church, she doesn’t actually agree with or care about the church’s teachings, and basically, she just uses it for control purposes. Apparently, she only goes to church now when she needs money. However, back in 2006, she sure did use the church and Bill’s decision to resign from the church as a means of trying to exert control and influence. Mormons, as a whole, are pretty famous about being willing to cast out unbelievers. Yes, there are exceptions– some church members are more liberal about their beliefs than others are– but a lot of church members see apostasy as a reason to disown, disinherit, and discard family members over a disagreement about religious beliefs.

And now, with the COVID-19 plague going on, it seems other people are also adopting that same “my way or the highway” attitude regarding the vaccines. Here are a few comments from the Washington Post article.

My honest reaction to anti vaxxers is astonishment and i express that.  That is self- respecting.  Infectious diseases are a fact.  I have no intentions of allowing ignorance on my watch.  (And how do you know that all of the anti vaxxers are being “ignorant”? Have you asked them?)

For antivacciners and antimaskers, it’s good to be compassionate and ask if they need a ride to a vaccination site or if they would like you to buy them some protection.  Ask if they are afraid of getting a shot and offer to accompany them to one.  Ask if they need making an appointment.  Give them a box of gloves.  Ask if they have a smart phone or a device to help them make appointments and to video chat.  (This response, while seemingly well-intentioned, seems rather manipulative and possibly insulting.)

I have mentioned that I am happy to be vaccinated. Usually others are too or are eagerly waiting. If they aren’t going to, I say, ” Really? Hmmm”. Walk away and check them off. I will easily drop any business, service provider or acquaintance and substitute them with a reasonable person. I have no time for this nonsense. (I’m sure the people you’re shunning don’t think of their opinions as “nonsense”.)

I read with interest your article regarding vaccinated parents and unvaccinated kids.  Speaking as a Warrior Mom, it absolutely exhausting dealing with this.  A calm parent with common sense says” My Teen will get vaccinated and my teen will spend time with his peer group.  The Nosy moms need to mind their own business. It is unacceptable and rude to ask your pod of moms ” When is your kid getting vaccinated.”  So let’s be polite and start focusing on summer plans and going to the beach. (What is a Warrior Mom? I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one of those!)

I have no problem telling someone who does not want to get the vaccine that it’s fine but they can’t come inside my home and they need to keep their distance on my porch. This includes my oldest kid who for some reason does not want it. I will be fully protected and my husband and our parents. Honestly that’s all that matters to me. The kid is an adult and can make his own misguided decisions.  (This is the comment that prompted me to write today’s post. It sounds a lot like Mormon parents kicking their kids out or telling them “I will never talk to you again.” I suppose this mom has the right to kick her son out of her life, but I suspect she could eventually end up regretting that decision.)

What a load of touchy-feely crap. FFS why after over a year are we still catering to those who simply won’t be persuaded? HERE’s how to talk about the shots: “I and everyone in my immediate family have been vaccinated. If you want our company, show us your vaccination certificates. If you don’t, or if you aren’t vaccinated yourself, you can count on never seeing us until you are.” Full stop.  Not only does this have the advantage of real world honesty and consequences, it will eventually show what kind of people one is surrounded with, particularly extended family. Their choice with the vaccine will eventually reveal which they value more: family, or clinging to myth, ego, suspicion, and ignorance. (I think this person overvalues his or her own company.)

Like I said… personally, I’m more than willing to get the shot. I’d like to get it over and done with. I have no issues with vaccinations. The science behind them has existed for hundreds of years, and the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine has been in the works since before COVID was a thing. I’m grateful scientists were able to develop them so quickly and I am definitely ready to cooperate, because this lifestyle, truly, is having a terrible effect on my mood and will to live.

But… even though I have my thoughts and opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine, and personally, I do think people should get them, I can also understand why some people are reluctant. I think it’s better to be compassionate toward them, rather than insulting and threatening. And I also think it’s crazy to throw away friendships and family relationships simply because of a disagreement about an illness that wasn’t even on the radar 18 months ago. Seriously? Are you really willing to cast out your loved ones over an argument about COVID-19? Isn’t it bad enough that so many people have actually DIED from this disease and will not ever be coming back? Are you really assuming that your “my way or the highway” attitude is the best way to get compliance, and that the person you are shunning won’t decide your company is that important to them, anyway?

I know some people would say, “But the fact that people are dying is the reason I’m taking such a strong stand about the vaccines. I know I’m right, and they’re wrong!” I get that. And I realize that to many people, it seems like the “my way or the highway” approach is the best, because– they tell themselves– this is the way to “save them”. However, most competent adults don’t take kindly to the negative approach and will resist it. And when it comes down to it, people must be free to make their own choices.

You can resolutely choose not to associate with people who refuse the shot– that’s your choice. And they can refuse to get vaccinated and wind up excluded from things like concerts, cruises, and flights. That’s their choice. But to say something along the lines of, “You aren’t welcome in my house.” or “I don’t want to see you again.” or “I’ll never talk to you again.” or “It’s my way or the highway” may cause a great deal of regret in the long run. Now is not the time to be extremely adversarial. As Joe Biden said some weeks ago, “We are at war with the virus, not each other.”

Everyone is struggling right now, and many people are legitimately frightened. Some people are frightened of catching COVID-19 and dying or living with “long hauler” syndrome. Other people are legitimately frightened of having the vaccine and suffering ill effects or even dying from it. Even if you and I think they’re being “silly” or even “stupid”, that fear is legitimate to them, and it can be difficult to overcome legitimate fear. Whether or not their fear has merit, they will probably remember your reaction to their fear, how it made them feel, and respond accordingly.

Interestingly enough, as I’m writing this post, I’m reminded of a quote that is often attributed to Maya Angelou. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m a big fan of verifying quotes to make sure the right person gets credit. Well, it appears that Maya Angelou is probably not, in fact, the originator of this quote:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It turns out, the originator of that quote was highly likely to be Carl W. Buehner, who was– surprise— a high level official in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! The earliest evidence located by Quote Investigator was in a 1971 book of quotes by Richard L. Evans, also a high ranking Mormon, who was the program narrator for the weekly radio and television broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir called “Music and the Spoken Word”. The Mormons, for all of their dysfunction and propensity for misguided interventions regarding the religious beliefs of their loved ones, sure do put out a lot of quotable quotes for the masses.

It was also a Mormon woman named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Ironic, given the fact that LDS women are very much second bananas in the church’s hierarchy and the demands to “conform” to the rules and mores of the church are well established and known. Ulrich went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and later became a professor at Harvard University.

Clearly both of these quotable Mormons are highly intelligent and talented folks, even if I think their beliefs in Mormonism are ridiculous and certainly not worth shunning loved ones over. I don’t know if Ulrich or Buehner ever did have family members who decided the church wasn’t for them, but I do know that the LDS church is famous for people taking a “my way or the highway approach” regarding obeying the principles of Mormonism. Those who step out of line will be dealt with and, if the infraction is serious enough, potentially cast out of their families or even the church itself. That action kind of flies in the face of those “feel good” quotes, doesn’t it?

Isn’t it possible that people who aren’t ready to get the shot are similarly valuable? Do you really want the COVID-19 vaccine to be the hill your relationship dies upon? Again, isn’t it bad enough that people are literally dying of COVID-19?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t believe you should protect yourself. If someone refuses to follow protocol and you don’t feel safe around them, you are well within your rights to protect yourself. What I propose is approaching the naysayers with basic respect, compassion, and kindness, rather than hostility, sternness, derision, and ultimatums. Don’t use a “my way or the highway” approach in your attempts to persuade. Because there is a real chance that they’ll choose the highway. That might ultimately be alright with you, but I would encourage you to think about it carefully before you go there. Make sure you can live with the results of your “my way or the highway” attitude, because taking that approach may actually put you on the Highway to Hell.

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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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