Today I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving and gratitude and creating the life I want to live. This month has been hard. My Kindergartener got sick and was home from school almost a whole week. Then I crashed on my bike and sustained some injuries. Then I got sick and was in bed for several days with fever, chills, a wicked sore throat, and the usual yuck of fall illnesses. Finally, I strained my ankle at the trampoline park. With all of this I have had a resurgence of depression symptoms including some pretty intense episodes of suicidal ideation. My counselor contracted pneumonia and has not been available. Naturally I was very unhappy when family-of-origin drama began.
At the beginning of this year I did a cut off with my parents. I have avoided writing on my blog about this for a couple of reasons. First, it is extremely painful and for those who have experienced it, you understand just how painful and why I wouldn’t want to post about it. Another reason is that I’ve been afraid of the backlash I might get from well meaning family members with little to no mental health experience. I thought that perhaps if I veiled some of my expressions in poetry that I might avoid some of the latter. Unfortunately, I have still managed to garner the backlash I tried to prevent.
As I have reflected on my blog’s purpose, I realize that I have been holding back useful information from my intended readers. My intended readers are those who have some experience with mental health or at least some desire to learn more, help loved ones, and build a more nurturing environment for our minds. My intended readers are familiar with phrases like “family of origin,” “childhood trauma,” “suicidal ideation,” and “recovery journey.” My intended readers understand that the world of mental health is complicated and that it is best to withhold judgement of those who suffer and their loved ones who suffer with them. My intended readers deserve more vulnerable and direct communications than my poetry posts this year.
This is not the first cutoff I have done with my parents, but this is the longest one. I tried to resume some limited contact with my mom around mother’s day, but we are back to no contact until after the holidays. Family of origin drama is just too much for me right now. I have to be there for my children for the next six weeks.
It’s hard to cope with the reality that you experienced serious trauma as a child. It is almost unbearable when those you love who hurt you so badly deny and minimize your experience, make excuses for themselves, and then shame you for the pain. I have been accused of being ungrateful, unforgiving, and cruel. Those minimizations and accusations hurt more than the original offense. I am comforted to think that the Savior knows the pain I feel. Perhaps he alone will ever truly understand. He whose piercing gaze fell upon the leper and resisted looking away will not fail to see me in my broken state. Like them, I cry out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This post is for those who, like me, who find that in their recovery journey, that they must limit contact with people they love. Love is not a purchased commodity. Those we love have not earned our love. In order for love to be real it must be freely given with no expectation of reciprocation. Sometimes we have built empathetic connections of love with people who continually hurt us and keep us from building a healthy and happy life. They sabotage our efforts, contradict our therapists, and pressure us to continue harmful behaviors. These relationships are unlikely to change unless the empathetic connection changes. Sometimes the relationship can’t continue without great harm to recovery.
Cut offs are so hard. We love the person. We want them to understand. We want them to see that they are hurting us and for it to matter to them. We want the unconditional love from them that we have been giving. Some people are just unable to give that kind of love. It’s okay to let go. Sometimes it’s important to let go. This is hard for people raised in codependency.
My family of origin has a lot of problems with codependency. I was raised to believe that I needed to be unselfish to be good. That belief system has driven me repeatedly into burnout. I am finally making some progress in rooting out those codependent virtue/vices and replacing them with healthier values.
Virtue/Vice One: I need to put others first. Selfish women don’t deserve love. I was taught that women feel fulfilled in the home taking care of their family. I was taught that good wives and mothers put their husband and children’s needs first, often go without and make sacrifices for their family. I thought that when I skipped meals, showers, personal growth opportunities, and social activities that I was being a good person. Over time, resent built up and motivation evaporated. I thought that my sacrifices would make me feel fulfilled and that my efforts would be reciprocated and rewarded. Instead it seemed that everyone became accustomed to my behavior and even felt entitled to it. The love I craved felt insufficient and it was. I wasn’t behaving virtuously, I was being codependent. I was expecting my husband and children’s love to sustain me and make up for my neglect of myself. It left everyone frustrated and resentful.
Now I understand that putting others first doesn’t make me a good person, it makes me a resentful person. I understand that I don’t have to earn love. My husband and children love me because they are empathetic and loving people. I love them because I am an empathetic and loving person. I don’t earn their love with my unselfish behavior. I model healthy self care for them and teach them to do the same. They aren’t responsible for my happiness and I am not responsible for theirs.
Codependency keeps us in unhealthy relationships for too long. It is a habit of thinking that shifts responsibility. “I am responsible for everything,” says one codependent person. “You are responsible for everything,” says the other. Because neither of those statements is true, no progress is made. Codependency is like a tug of war, two people waste time and energy pulling against one another and getting nowhere. It isn’t going to be enough to stop pulling. Its okay to put the rope down and walk away.
Virtue/Vice Two: It is unkind to distance myself from people who hurt me. Christ commanded me to love everyone which means I need to put my mental health at risk rather than set healthy boundaries. This is a classic codependent virtue/vice. Keeping toxic relationships and people in your life is not healthy. Proper self care requires you to keep yourself safe from harm. Sacrificing your safety to enable someone’s toxic behavior is not a virtue, its a codependent vice.
Virtue/Vice Three: Doing family cut-offs is cruel. Family relationships need to be preserved no matter how detrimental they are to your mental health. For many years I have kept family relationships in my life that have hurt my recovery. Some family members have repeatedly reinforced toxic narratives, minimized abusive behavior, and blamed victims. Because I believed in the sanctity of eternal families, I kept trying to change toxic family members.
The truth is, eternal families are healthy families. Each individual is accountable for their own behavior within the family system. Not every individual has equal power within the family system. The parents have the bulk of the power and the responsibility for the overall health of the system. Children within the system, even adult children, have little power to change the system. Eventually healthy adult children will outgrow an unhealthy family system. That’s not cruelty, that’s life. If you want an eternal family, you need a healthy family. If your family isn’t healthy, it won’t last anyway.
Habits of codependence are reinforced with practice. It takes two to tango in the dance of codependence and the steps are unconscious. I’ve had to surround myself with people who have healthy boundaries in order to begin to see my own codependent habits.
Unfortunately, that has restricted my circle of friends to a very small group. Churches sometimes teach codependence as a virtue. Women at church are especially proud of their codependence. It is the whited sepulchre of mental health sins. On the outside they are virtuous servants of mankind while inwardly they are seething with the sickly rot of resentment. From such stay far away!
When it comes to relationships, I’ve prioritized quality over quantity. I have also prioritized relationships I feel I have some power to influence. I’m not investing in relationships with people who are rigid, defensive, and self-righteous. The truth is, there are not a lot of mentally healthy people in this world. There are enough mentally healthy people, but you have to look for them. You might find them in unexpected places.
The holidays are a strange mix of emotions for me. Being in recovery isn’t easy, but I have enough faith to believe it will be worth it. My best to all of you who find yourselves in a complicated place this season. You aren’t alone. As I celebrate the birth of the Savior, my model of mental health and altruistic virtue, this month, I hope I can better emulate Him. I hope my words bring you light and hope and not despair.
The axe forgets. Only the tree remembers.
You had an ideal childhood.
We played games
We went on vacations
We loved you
Those things are all true
But you don’t remember
Feeling your throat in your mouth
As each smash of your hand
Reverberated through my body.
Afraid to run.
Afraid to breathe.
Seeing stars come into my eyes
Terror mixed with shame
You don’t remember the thrill of fear
Travelling up my spine
When I heard the door open,
And I knew you were home.
The rush to hide.
To make myself small.
You were fear personified
And I ran from you.
Like a child runs from
A monster in the closet.
You don’t remember
That desperate need to please
To be good enough
To earn your love
Like a famished beast
It consumed joy and peace of mind
In the womb
Before it could be felt.
Or maybe you do remember
But you want to forget
The memories of your own small self
You defend the ones who hurt you.
You side with them.
They still have the power
And you are still trying to earn their love.
The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.
Can the axe remember that it was once a tree?
Long ago before it became a brittle and dead thing
Designed to destroy its children,
It was green, and it swayed in the wind,
As it flowed through the branches.
Can the axe remember?
Let’s write a different story.
Let’s change the ending.
The powerful can remember
The pain of their choices
On those they forget.
Let’s give the future fertilizer,
And put the axe in the shed.
A timeout for a while.
Let's dig a hole in the Earth
And in that soft soil,
We can grow some seedlings.
And they won’t fear the axe.
And they won’t remember
What they don’t have to forget.
The axe can remember
And the tree can forget.
Cold and hard
Silent and still
My heart raging
My throat bursting
My shoulders constricting.
“YOU DID THIS!”
The echoes reverberate
Off the empty chairs
They stand accused
With no defense
“YOU DID THIS!”
The sound blossoms
Across the generations
Like the ripples of a fetid pool
A pool they made
And I had to live in.
“YOU DID THIS!”
And there was nothing I could do
To help you
To protect myself
Powerless, alone, silent, still.
“YOU DID THIS!”
Tears stick in unfocused eyes
As blood drips down my face
At pain unfelt
At justice denied.
“YOU DID THIS!”
And I paid the price
For your mistake
The sacrificial lamb
“YOU DID THIS!”
But I won’t become you.
They won’t atone for our sins.
I won’t curse the future
To justify the past.
“YOU DID THIS!”
And it isn’t my fault.
I can walk away
From the darkness
Into a rebirth
A new beginning
I was supposed to be completing my work. Pages of numbers scrawled in careless handwriting stared at me like a ravenous beast. Every day I would labor over the numbers, but it was never enough. I was behind again. I had my notebook and my textbook in my lap, my back slouched against the wall of the school hallway. It was awkward, but less because of practice. Day in and day out, recess after recess I would work on my missing assignments. Day in and day out, I would be sent out to the hallway while the class graded papers that I had yet to complete. Classes of students would file past, single file. If I thought about it, my cheeks would burn with shame, but I didn’t think about it. That just made it harder to handle. If everyone in Sugar City didn’t know I was a loser, they didn’t have their eyes open. I was in the hall more than anyone else in the fifth grade. I was in study hall so much that even when I went out to recess, the other kids already had their groups of friends. I was a loser and everyone knew it. Even when I walked across the stage to get my diploma wearing my high honors tassel on my square hat. Even when I graduated from college. I’ve worked my whole life to try and overcome that gnawing feeling of inadequacy that haunts me from those early days sitting in the halls, wishing I could disappear.
I read the book, Lord of the Flies, with my teenage son this week. He was assigned to read the book for school. It’s an incredibly disturbing book and I’m glad that I was able to help my son to process the horror of it. I wish someone had helped me to deal with the book when I had to read it as a teen. The level of savagery that the author portrayed has burned itself into my brain. It teaches important things about cruelty and the capacity of good people to do terrible things; the beast that lives within each of us is real and we need to understand it, even if it’s uncomfortable. As a mother of boys, the book is particularly disturbing because it is perceptive. It is unsurprising that the author was a teacher of boys. He knows them well, like I do. There have been many times when I have seen the savage instincts of my sons flare up and I have thought, “They wouldn’t survive a week on their own. They would murder each other within days.” They aren’t bad boys, but they are never too far from doing some very bad things. It takes constant nurturing and guidance to keep the flame of empathy and compassion alive. Like the boys in the book keep the fire alive, I have to constantly tend it. Hopefully they will learn to light their own inner fires of compassion and empathy. In a world where the lights of compassion are being snuffed out, I hope I am successful. For some boys, compassion comes easily. For them, a culture of cruelty too often encouraged and tolerated by adults can be the most damaging. That boy was Simon in the book.
I relate to Ralph, and his struggle to bare the burden of responsible leadership. I relate to Piggy and his asthma that keeps him from contributing in traditional ways. But most of all, I relate to Simon. Simon, the awkward introvert who keeps trying to say the thing that everyone most needs to hear, but he can’t quite get the words out. Simon, who craves the approval and love of Ralph so he tries to hide what everyone can see; that he is different and wrong and broken. Simon, the bravest and best of the boys on the island who was also the most vulnerable and lonely. Simon, the betrayed and abandoned, who loved the survivors enough to face the beast alone. He was the only one who knew the real danger that the camp faced and he died trying to tell them. The beast is not what you think it is. The monster you fear is within you. Within us.
In a culture of cruelty, I don’t want to be popular and cool. I don’t want to fit in. I would rather be Simon. I know what suffering feels like and I want a world where we have less of it. None of it. The beast is not in the other party. It isn’t in another country. It isn’t in another faith community. It isn’t in another generation. The beast is in you. It is in me. We can choose to climb the mountain. We can face the fear and discomfort of self-discovery. We can face our friends and share what we have learned whether they are in a place to hear it or not. I believe in the power of planting seeds. I like to think that before Simon was murdered by the boys he loved that he was gathering seeds on the island and planting them. He was the kind of person who plants seeds.
It’s interesting to think of how the Lord of the Flies might have been different if Ralph had valued Simon. What if he had listened to him? What if he had relied on him instead of on Jack? Perhaps a group of young boys would inevitably create chaos and cruelty. Perhaps a group of fallen adult people are doomed to do only marginally better on this island cut off from our God. Still, I think it is possible for the Simons in our society to speak out more often, even when we do it imperfectly. I think the Ralphs in our society can listen to us more. If we do, we could change the story of the world.
For the new year, I have been re-focusing on gospel study. For what feels like the millionth time, I am beginning the Book of Mormon again. I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…. Each time I begin, it’s the same book, but yet it’s different because I have changed. The world has changed.
The impeachment Senate trial of Donald J. Trump has begun. Hours and hours of arguments have been presented to show the contours of the Ukraine scandal and the reasons for the House to take the extraordinary step of impeaching the President. I assume that hours and hours will be spent by the President’s defenders to cast suspicion on the House investigation. The country is divided with each side determined to remain so to the detriment of our country.
It reminds me of the sons of Lehi. Laman and Lemuel on the one side, Nephi and Sam on the other. Laman and Lemuel were suspicious of their father. He was a strange and visionary man. He had coerced them into leaving the comforts of their home and community to wander in the wilderness, hunting game, and living in tents. It brings to mind abusive families and cults who isolate their followers and subject them to privations. And Nephi and Sam support and believe. They are the “good sons” who hang on Dad’s every word. Laman and Lemuel saw the good in the Jewish people that their father had condemned and they felt judged. Why did Nephi and Sam see things so differently?
Nephi was himself a visionary man. It might be said that he saw even more than his father did of the designs of God and His Son. He clearly recognized the evil that had steeped itself in the culture of the Jews and knew that destruction was near. He knew this in a way Laman and Lemuel did not because he inquired of the Lord. In making a sincere connection with the Spirit, he saw the truth; his family could not continue to follow God and remain in Jerusalem. I assume Sam must have come to the same conclusions.
I’ve been reading the history of my mom’s great-great-great grandfather John Lowe Butler. He lived in Tennessee in the 1830’s when he and his wife joined the Mormons. He moved to Far West and then to Nauvoo. His wife’s sister, Charity Skeen, had also joined back in Tennessee, but was not able to migrate. She was a deaf-mute and her brothers were hostile to the church and felt she was being manipulated against her will. He traveled back to Tennessee in 1842 on a mission. He visited Charity and learned that she was still strong in the faith and wanted to join her sister in Nauvoo. Her brothers threatened to kill John if he took her with him.
He made an interesting observation of his former friends, and neighbors. He said that the society was “all pretty well and bitterly opposed to the principles of the Kingdom of God.” He felt they were “full of the devil and persecution.” He, like Nephi, could see that people were hard in their hearts, immune to the truth, and determined to walk their own way, away from God.
Like Lehi, John Lowe Butler had to leave his home and society in order to follow his conscience and become the man God intended for him to be. In his day, as in our day, as in Lehi’s day, there are divisions that no calm recitation of “the facts” will bridge. The devil rages in the hearts of men. He distorts the minds and hardens the hearts of those who allow him to. The narratives are many. The cynical insinuations multiply like rabbits. There are many warriors fighting supposed bad guys; each side certain of their own superiority. Like the people of Babel, we hardly speak the same language anymore. Where is the truth? Who is the enemy? Is it Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Muslims, Muslims or Jews, rich or poor, white or black? What tribe do you belong to? How can you project the faults of your own tribe onto your enemy? How can you defend your own people regardless of their crimes? That is the name of the game.
But the truth is there for those who are willing to inquire of the Lord. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees our day. He sees a vision of the rise of “two churches,” one good and one evil. The evil church oppresses the humble followers of Christ and puts them in bondage. Their creed is not of principle or ideology, but of power and lust. Their God is not of heaven, but of mammon. This church is not exclusive. There are members in all parties, religions, ethnicities, nations, and economic means. They see themselves as above the rules. They put the pursuit of power and wealth over everything else. They look down on those who behave honorably and act with integrity. They subject them to persecution and bondage.
I was listening to NPR in the car on the way home from dropping Austin off at preschool. The news talked about the Rohingya in Myanmar and the severe persecution of those people. I imagined in my mind a mob of angry men full of hate and violence. Their victims were the Rohingya; and then they were my ancestors, the Mormon pioneers in Missouri; and then they were the Kurds in Northern Syria. And the mob changed too in my mind. They changed from back to white, from poor to rich, from educated to ignorant, etc. Their weapons were likewise fluid. Sometimes guns, sometimes household items, sometimes laws, sometimes judges and lawyers, sometimes social media shaming.
And I saw the truth of this moment. Like Lehi did. Like Nephi did. Like John Lowe Butler did. There is a rising of evil. There is a hardening of hearts and a blinding of minds. The humble followers of Christ; not only Christians, but everyone who seeks to elevate mankind to greater civility, kindness, and devotion to true principles; will face persecution. We will be driven out. Metaphorically and literally. Driven from councils and schools. Driven from houses of government and places of employment. We will increasingly find ourselves excluded from parties consumed with hate and tribalism, who seek power and revenge. To follow Christ is to reject these things. Christ had a crown of thorns, not gems. He stood above the people nailed to a cross, not elevated on a throne of gold. He was willing to face rejection and death rather than deny the principles and truth he held sacred. If he had lived transactionally, compromised his principles, and made friends with the right people, he would likely have been embraced by the Jews. Perhaps he would have been made a king. A fallen king for a fallen people. Instead He became the King of a different Kingdom. As he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
And it has never been of this world. His Kingdom is Zion; where the pure in heart dwell. Zion is all around us, just as the great and abominable church is all around us. We choose which church we belong to by what we set our hearts upon. Will you be driven out with me? Will you take upon yourself the name of my King? Will you become my countrymen in a kingdom that is not of this world? Let us purify our hearts together. Let us partake of a cleansing sacrament of renewal. Let us join hearts and hands in devotion to a higher law, a better way, a holier path guided by the light of truth that resides in the minds of the pure in heart. The Lord will not forget His people. He will not leave us comfortless. As long as we have one another, we will never be alone.
“You clearly have Trump Derangement Syndrome!” Its a common diagnosis thrown out by Trump supporters. I was diagnosed with it today by someone who obviously considers himself qualified to hand out fictitious mental disorders on social media.
It didn’t hurt my feelings because the sting wore off long ago, although I was surprised by source of the attack who was promptly unfriended. There has been a lot of political drama in my life the last couple of days. I have been feverishly unfriending those who refuse to take the time to understand the feelings I experience and expect me to always behave myself when they say ignorant things. I am only human and although I have my fair share of human frailties, I refuse to tolerate those who too often criticize me in my pain, and fail to provide respect, comfort, and understanding.
My mind continues to go back to the idea of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” It is a classic example of gaslighting. First, elect a mercurial and abrasive man to the highest office of the land. Make sure he is incompetent and divisive and fires anyone around him who might tell him anything he doesn’t want to hear. Then, when people get upset and point out problems, say that they are deranged and hate him, thus blaming them for the problem you have created.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is not a real disorder. It is a way of marginalizing a group of people with the stigma of a mental health disorder. Such a practice is commonplace, but wrong. Mental health disorders do not make people without sense or reason in the vast majority of cases. They should not be used to discredit someone, especially when the disorder referred to doesn’t exist. Qualified mental health professionals use diagnoses to understand a patient and guide treatment options, not discredit and dismiss them.
There is obviously something very wrong in America right now. We are imploding rapidly. Our allies, the Kurds, are being slaughtered as we speak. Our President styles himself a king calling the impeachment inquiry “unconstitutional” although his behavior has made it inevitable that he would be impeached, as the only remedy we have for removing a lawless President. This whole thing causes me immense distress. I have pondered long on our current situation and I keep coming back to Carl Jung. His book The Undiscovered Self, Jung hypothesizes about the challenges of our time. I’ve found a lot of wise insights in that book.
In short, he believes that the biggest threat to mankind is the submission of the individual to the collective– a kind of enmeshing where everyone is to blame and no one is to blame for everything. Factions (Republicans and Democrats) can project blame onto other factions while refusing to do introspection and take responsibility for doing the work of societal change and improvement. Gradually the state replaces the individual and eliminates religion, or makes religion into creed, which is state sponsored religion. Rather than bringing the individual to God, creeds use religious manipulation to subjugate the people. The best defense against this enmeshing, according to Jung, is genuine connection to God; real spiritual and individual wellness of individuals.
Jung lived during the two world wars and had a chance to observe and analyse Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini and, even better, the people they ruled. He gave a fascinating interview with H.R. Knickerbocker that you can access here. Be warned, he makes some rather rude generalizations about Coastal Americans and others. Also, some have considered his comments on Hitler to be too flattering. Some NeoNazis use Jung’s words to justify and explain their continued fascination and even worship of him. Jung, for his part, did all he could to stop the spread of totalitarian governments during his lifetime and his words seem eerily canny and applicable today.
The strange behavior of Trump and his supporters has been the source of much distress to the nation and the world. There are reasons for it, but I am unqualified to fully diagnose the problem. Still, it is increasingly hard to make the argument that there isn’t something strange going on in the subconscious minds of those who have created the Trumpian nightmare we are living through.
George Conway wrote a piece for The Atlantic that I thought was excellent in describing the unenviable position we find ourselves with a President who openly displays the textbook description of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Worse, he seems better at disordering everyone else’s life than he does his own, although one could argue he does both. It is called Unfit for Office.
Mental health is being increasingly discussed and recognized as the vital subject it is. The General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had several talks that touched on it. Mental wellness and spiritual wellness are two sides of the same coin. I pray that we can embrace the mental health resources we have to help us solve our nation’s problems, heal our divisions, and create a true Zion society where each of us is free to grow and develop into the individuals God created us to be.
The small television loomed large in the small family room in rural Idaho. “He’s so hot,” Tiffany said with a dreamy expression. I looked at the screen with Pierce Brosnan’s face gazing lazily at me. “I like Magnum PI,” I retorted. I had a crush on the mustached crime fighter for years. Some of my earliest memories center around feeling weak in the chest as I watched Tom Sellek play Thomas Magnum, a tough guy private investigator who looked rough and rugged. In contrast, Peirce Brosnan seemed like a fake to me. He was! Remington Steele was a fake, a con man, a liar. I think that bothered me even then, before I could really understand what the differences were between the two men.
“He has a mustache!” Tiffany replied with a scandalized tone. “How would you even kiss him.” If felt a flutter as I thought of Tom Sellek’s mustached face kissing me. “It wouldn’t be that bad,” I defended. She rolled her eyes condescendingly. “Remington Steele is way better! He’s so suave and his suit is nice and he just looks at you and you melt. And, he’s kind of a bad guy. That makes him cool.” I didn’t understand that.
I was a straight arrow. Even as a little girl, I saw the world in black and white and Remington Steele was gray. I liked to watch the show, but I didn’t trust Remington Steele. Tiffany liked to get away with stuff. Even small cons on my parents seemed not to bother her in the slightest. If you could get away with it, there was no problem. I couldn’t live that way.
Years later I watched her graduate from high school, so anxious to get on with her life and leave her childhood behind, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of loss. She was leaving me behind as well. I didn’t have a great relationship with her, but I thought things were getting better. She was no longer the bully that she was when we were little. She was always left in charge as the oldest back then, and Tiffany loved to tattle and blame me and criticise me endlessly. I hated her and the feeling was probably mutual. As she became a busy high school student and I started looking up to her a little, things got better. We shared shoes and some clothes, and sometimes talked about boys or school. She would give me advice. Constantly. Sometimes it was helpful, but I didn’t like how she always seemed to want to know everything. I was smart too. Now she was leaving and I was heart broken. She didn’t seem to care at all.
We still saw a lot of Tiffany as she attended the local college. She dated a lot of different boys, but nothing seemed to ever work out. She graduated from the nursing program and moved to the big city to make her mark. She was living in Salt Lake City and working as a nurse when she met David. He was a cell phone salesman with a palm pilot in his pocket. His smooth charm and sad story won Tiffany over and before anyone knew what was happening, they were getting married.
“He’s been married before?” I asked.
“Yes. Don’t be so judgey Bridge!” she retorted.
I was self aware enough to realize that I was judgemental. I had boycotted the senior prom my junior year because they had decided to have prom at Retrix, the only dance club in town. I thought Retrix was the most unholy place in Rexburg and I couldn’t believe that the school was forcing us to support that kind of place. Nothing came of my solitary protest and the next year prom was again at Retrix. I toned down my outrage and I ended up going to it. I was a little disgusted with the way the couples were dancing, but I had enough social awareness by then to keep it to myself. I was learning that the world was bigger than Rexburg and my Mormon upbringing. Tiffany was in the big city now, and she might know a few things I didn’t about the world outside. Even so, I didn’t like how fast everything was going. We hadn’t even met David and now he was going to join our family.
“He’s awesome. You are going to love him. He’s so spiritual and nice and handsome…..” her words and her tone sounded familiar. It was like Pierce Brosnan. He was too good to be true. He was rich and a body builder and he had this sob story about his past that cast him as a pitiful victim of bad circumstances. His parents had divorced right as he was getting ready to go on his mission. He had to stay home to help his family work through the traumatic experience. Then he married a woman who ended up going crazy and stabbing him in the back with a knife from their kitchen. He moved out and got a restraining order against her and filed for divorce. Now he was getting his life back together. He was going to be rich. He was going to be powerful. He was full of drive and determination, and seemed to have just a little bit of a Machiavellian streak; just enough to make him willing to do whatever it took to be successful and that’s what Tiffany wanted most. So what if his past wasn’t ideal? It was his future that mattered, and he was going to be successful.
I never questioned his story. I never speculated that David’s ex-wife might not be the woman that David and his family painted her to be. I never considered that his man might be a con artist; that like Remington Steele, the person he was pretending to be was very different than the man he actually was. I was hopeful that he was a diamond in the rough, a bad boy ready to be a good husband and father as I watched David and Tiffany walk out of the Salt Lake Temple as man and wife.
“There’s been a lot of flying monkeys around today,” I messaged Ben Tuesday. I got a group text from one of Ben’s sisters saying, “Be the change you wish to see in others…..” It was an excerpt from a conference talk. I showed it to my counselor who said it seemed passive aggressive to her. I also got a text from Ben’s mom, whom I haven’t heard from in probably a year. It said, “I love you dearly and I am wondering how you are doing….” I told her that I am good and that I am studying about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was listening to a podcast. It was true.
I found an excellent podcast by a woman named Christine Hammond. It is called “Understanding Today’s Narcissist.” I’ve listened to hours and hours of information about the disorder and how to deal with those who have it. Ms. Hammond says that if someone in your family has this disorder, you need to become an expert in it. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I am learning. The biggest takeaway I’ve learned it, don’t put up with narcissistic behavior in your family. If you do, it will spread. Like cancer, catch it early and kill it or you’ll end up with a big mess.
Even though the primary narcissist is dead, his flying monkeys are ready to neutralize the threat to his perfect memory. Because of that, I have taken several steps to protect myself from them and any spies that they may have. It feels a little paranoid, but I am still in recovery, and I don’t need to invite persecution into my life. Even so, I am preparing myself for the worst.
Assuming that they do come across my post or hear about it, they will likely attack the substance of it, including denying or minimizing the predatory behaviors of the narcissist. They will accuse me of slandering the dead. They will assume the worst of motives for my behavior. They will likely try to hoover Ben back in by accusing me of being a narcissist or worse. After the storm of defensiveness is past and they realize that we have moved on, there might be some self-reflection. Eventually, perhaps there will be some healing. If not, that’s okay too. At least I’m not carrying around the guilt of my silence.
Nothing has really changed since before I found my voice. I’m still in counseling. They still think I’m the problem. Nothing is different except in me. As I read the words of my post to my counselor, and I asked her what she thought of it and she said, “Right on the nose,” and then she praised my ability to explain complicated things in a simple way that is easily grasped. I felt a surge of pleasure at her praise. It feels good to be praised for doing something well.
My relationship with Ben is solid. My boys are growing up loved and secure. They are an asset to their schools and to their community. I am feeling an increase in my confidence. The past can be full of abuse, but the only person who can decide to end it in the present and future is me. I can be honest, open, and brave. I can say no to abusive behavior. I can surround myself with loving people and relationships. I can help others to make the journey from victim to survivor. I can’t change my husband’s family, but there are so many things I can do.
Even though there are voices around me casting judgement or criticism, I can’t hear them anymore. I’m listening to one voice, the voice inside me that channels the spirit. It confirms my path. Though adversity is certain, I am also certain to endure it. I drink deeply of the Love of my Savior who strengthens me. He knows my heart and that it is acceptable before him. It is enough.
It was a beautiful day in September 2001. The sun beat down on the fragrant gardens of temple square, and I looked and felt radiant in my wedding dress. There had never been a finer looking man by my side. He was tall, handsome, strong, and righteous. We had made it to the temple having kept the law of chastity and we had a bright future ahead. It would be our happily ever after. As my face scanned the crowd, I saw him. My smile faded a little. Why did he have to be here? Why was this dark cloud of dread on the horizon of my day in the sun?
My father-in-law looked handsome. My sister even commented at how nice looking he was with his graying beard and sunglasses. Fit and trim in his tuxedo, he looked dashing even for a man in his late fifties. With elegant features and natural good looks, he blended nicely with the gathered crowd. His speech and manner seemed more refined than his brothers and sisters and other family who tended to be boisterous and rough around the edges. I knew he had been the only one of his many siblings to graduate from college. He had taught middle school for many years. Still, I much preferred his unpolished relatives to this man. I knew who he was.
Months before I had lain on a couch frozen with fear as I heard him verbally abusing his wife. He sounded like a monster. When I confronted my husband-to-be about the terrible things I had witnessed, he confided his family’s secrets to me. Some of them. His dad had a dark side. As he explained his dad to me, I felt a revulsion combined with heartrending sympathy. I wished I could unhear the jarring things that I had heard.
He said his father had been sexually victimized as a child. He had depression. He was unemployed and abusive to his wife. He had walked down the highway naked in an attempt to end his life. He had struggled with an addiction to masterbation on his mission that had caused self-esteem problems. It was later that I became aware of his more troubling history.
He had been caught peeping on his bishop’s daughter when his family lived in Vernal. Ben was just a baby then. They had left Vernal. Later he was found using mirrors to peep on women in the J.C. Penny dressing room in Logan. Peeping was something of an addiction with him, I was told. I marveled at the planning and premeditation that must have gone into such a plan. This was a dangerous man. But Ben insisted that all that was in the past and that his dad would never hurt me.
In the first year of our marriage, we went up to Cub River to visit Ben’s family almost every week. It began to interfere with my schooling because I didn’t have enough time to study. Ben’s mom and sisters were fun and kind and eager to build a good relationship with me. And then there was Ben’s dad, always on the periphery. He said very little, but his presence was large. I didn’t like him, and I made little secret about it. Mostly I ignored him.
When we got back from our honeymoon after the September 11th attacks, Ben’s dad gave us an impassioned speech in which he said that the United States deserved the attack because of the legalization of abortion. He insisted that Ben enlist in the army as soon as possible. He knew that this was the beginning of world war three and that enlisting was the only way to avoid the draft and being sent to the front lines, “where the stupid people are sent.” I felt a mixture of terror and dread and rage. My father-in-law was insane. Would my husband enlist? He had blamed my country for horrible terror attack and then implied that the only reason someone might fight on the front lines in war was because they were too stupid to game the system. Who says stuff like that? When we got into the car to leave the house, I said to Ben, “You aren’t going to enlist are you?” Ben said, “My dad doesn’t make my decisions for me. We will look into it. That’s what I told him I would do.” Ben eventually joined the ROTC.
At a family function, we were all seated at a large table. Ben’s extended family were all around and we were discussing something. I had a great love and respect for Ben’s dad’s mother and I asked her a question. Ben’s dad interrupted and answered it. I interrupted him and said, “Yes, but I asked her.” There was a very awkward silence. Later, Ben’s sister confronted me about the way I had treated her dad. I can’t remember what I said, but something about that I didn’t like the way he treats her mom. That set her off. She was livid at the disrespect. I was not allowed to have negative opinions about her dad. After discussing the situation with Ben and enduring many awkward hours, I finally decided to apologize to Ben’s dad and make nice. He apologized as well, and everything was okay again. Except I started getting sick whenever I went up to Cub River to visit.
It wasn’t intentional, although I’m sure it seemed like it was. We would make the drive up the canyon, turn onto the winding dirt roads, and park in front of the beautiful cabin with the fantastic mountain view, and I would find a bedroom to lie down while everyone socialized. Sometimes it was a headache. Many times I was sick to my stomach. I would sometimes vomit.
I tried to pretend that everything was okay, that everyone didn’t treat Ben’s mom like crap, that his dad wasn’t creepy and that this family wasn’t all wrong. Sometimes it would get easier. Then we would get a phone call from Ben’s mom.
She would call every couple of weeks and talk to Ben about what his dad had been doing. She and his dad seemed to have a weird connection. It seemed like she would know when he had been messing around sexually, and he would tell her what he had done. Sometimes she would tell the bishop, or she would have him tell the bishop; I’m not sure which. It was always a big crisis and then when she decided that he had repented, we were told to forgive and forget. I told Ben that was what abusers want you to do. Then they can keep hurting you.
One day Ben was on the phone with his mom. He was white and clearly devastated. He said, “How can we know that our wives are safe? What about our children?” I knew this was big. Ben told me that his youngest sister, who was fourteen, had her best friend over to spend the night. Ben’s dad had groped her. For a while, I just sat there in shock. I thought of that poor girl and her parents who had trusted the wrong family. I thought of the betrayal of a young girl by her father. This was her best friend. What else was this man capable of? I felt the shame of being in his family. I knew that what he had done was criminal, but I had no proof. I had heard the story from someone who heard the story from someone else. I knew I was supposed to forget what I had been told, but I never did. Later, when the sister got married, her best friend was in the wedding line. It was jarring to think that this was the girl my father-in-law had abused. She was so beautiful. One of the prettiest girls I had ever seen and she was standing in the wedding line only a stone’s throw from the man who groped her in her sleep. I wondered how he had managed to get away with it. The girl must not have known what happened. For a moment I wondered if I had remembered correctly. I checked back in my journal where I recorded what I had been told. The girl’s name was the same.
One of the most disturbing things I witnessed was at a birthday party for Ben’s dad. Ben’s mother had bought her husband a high powered telescope. I was appalled. I looked at Ben and there didn’t seem to be any concern in his eyes. Was I crazy? I knew they had said he had an addiction to peeping on women and no one bats an eye when he gets a high powered telescope for his birthday? To watch deer? I wanted to run down the mountain and tell every woman in the valley to pull her shutters. I felt so helpless.
When Ben and I moved to Texas, that meant that we had some good distance from Ben’s dad. It was only occasionally that we had to see them and gradually his hold over Ben receded. I was a little relieved that our first child was a son. Our second son came soon after. Even though they were boys, I still couldn’t quell my anxiety. I remember preparing for a trip to visit Ben’s family and I gathered my two toddler boys close and talked to them about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Ben saw what I was doing and became enraged at me. We both knew why I was doing it. He said, “You give them those talks every time we go and see my family and they are going to put it together!” I was hurt and angry. Did my children not matter? I didn’t even want to think about me. I didn’t matter either. What if I woke to find his hand in my shirt? What would happen? I knew that I would be expected to forgive and move on. If my children were victimized, I would be expected to do the same. I felt so unloved and afraid.
Eventually, after my third son was born and I was in therapy, I talked to my bishop about my anxiety about Ben’s dad and my children. I told him that my father-in-law had a sex addiction and a diagnosis of NPD. I suspected that he had victimized children in the past and was concerned that he would hurt my children or me. I told him that he was going through a second set of church authorized sex addiction recovery sessions, but that I had doubts they would be successful. He assured me that my concerns were valid. I also talked to my counselor and he encouraged me to take measures to protect my children. Still, I didn’t have the courage to do it until I prayed and knew it was the right thing to do.
First, I had to talk to Ben. It started out really badly. I told him that I no longer felt comfortable spending the night at his parent’s house or allowing his dad to have any time with our children without direct supervision from one of us. He was angry. He told me he should never have told me about his dad. He should have known that I wouldn’t understand. That hurt. I remember asking him some hard questions. What would he do if his dad victimized me? Did I matter to him? What would happen if he hurt one of our children? At first he denied that possibility, but I persisted. Did he think his dad was capable of sleeping with a prostitute, visiting strip clubs, or groping a teenager in his home? Did he really know I was safe? I’ll never forget the tortured expression on his face. He knew I was right to be concerned. There was a risk, and he knew, maybe better than I did, that no one mattered in his family except his dad. If one of us was hurt, his dad would not be held accountable. He agreed to the boundaries.
Second, I had to tell my mother-in-law we would not be staying with them. I insisted that we just loved Ben’s sister and wanted to stay with her. She insisted that Ben’s dad would be so disappointed if we didn’t stay. She lovingly asked if there was anything that was making me feel like not staying at their house. I knew that she knew why. I decided to tell her the sexual addiction was a problem. I wanted to prevent a bad situation. She insisted that if I didn’t stay with them, that his depression would get worse. I held my ground and she did too. Finally I said that the three incidents that caused me concern were, the peeping on the girl in Vernal, the J.C. Penny peeping, and the groping of the fourteen year old friend. Her tone changed instantly. “How did you hear about those things?!?” Then she pivoted, “Those things never happened,” she said emphatically. I said, “I would never make those things up. You told Ben those things and he told me. Do you think Ben made them up?” She changed tack. “I know that (he) would NEVER hurt you. I can promise you that! I have received revelation and I know that he would never hurt you or your boys.” I guess I was supposed to take comfort in her supernatural ability to know what her husband was capable of, but I knew she didn’t protect Joann’s friend, and I knew she couldn’t protect me or my boys.
I was at my parent’s house at the time of this conversation. I was devastated by how my valid concerns and efforts to protect my family had been received by someone I thought cared about me. Ben’s mom announced to everyone that Ben and I would no longer stay with Ben’s dad because of me. Ben’s dad called Ben and said, “Just let me know if I need to go away for a while so that you can stay at the house.” Some family members were very angry with me, but others were surprisingly sympathetic. I found out later that another sister-in-law had expressed similar concerns and set similar boundaries.
Ben went up to visit his family first, and I drove down to meet him later. His family seemed to go out of their way to be nice to him and treat him special. He assured me that everything was going to be fine and that no one was going to be mean to me. We ended up staying in a hotel which made everything a lot easier. It was awkward, but our new boundaries were respected and although they were challenged regularly in our yearly visits, we maintained them and our children were safe. I would have talks with the boys about sexual abuse before each visit and check with them after.
Ben’s dad would toy with me. He would go out and mingle with the grandkids when he knew I was visiting with other family members. I had to stay vigilant and always be aware of where he was. I would feel a jolt of panic if I saw him with the children. I would approach them and watch from a distance. Once he locked eyes with me and then took my son around a hill to where I couldn’t see them. I didn’t know if I should panic and make a scene. I was sure he was hurting my boy, but then a moment later, they were back. He did that with two of my boys that day ages 10 and 9. The first chance I got I asked both of the children directly, “Did your grandpa touch you?” They both said no. It was just a game for him. He wanted me to know that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to protect myself, that he was in control. He could have hurt them. He didn’t. My concerns were invalid.
He was a cunning abuser. His abuse of his wife was obvious, but he was subtle with everyone else. He was condescending and cruel to his wife, but she played her part so well that it almost seemed like she deserved it. It was almost impossible not to despise her. Aside from the victims of his sexual abuse, he was very indirect. He never said an unkind thing to me in all the years I was married to Ben. He used his enablers to keep me in line. The sister who dressed me down for disrespect, his wife who pressured me to put my children at risk; they were his flying monkeys doing his dirty work for him and all the while he could sit back and look like the innocent victim of my judgemental cruelty. He was very subtle and shrewd.
One day I overheard Ben and his mom discussing his dad’s latest plan to make money by making some kind of investment in Thailand. I knew that Thailand was the pedophile capital of the world and my stomach dropped. He was going to go there to victimize vulnerable children in a third world country! I decided to call his bishop and express my concerns. His bishop was aware of his plans and knew exactly why he wanted to go to that particular country. It was a relief to talk to someone who seemed to be as concerned about his behavior as I was. That bishop, as well as many others and a family counselor, tried to help his family and hold him accountable, but that was difficult to do. He had a superhuman ability to justify his behavior. Nothing was ever his fault and his web of enablers constantly fed his need to feel superior.
Still, I could tell his power over the family was fading over time. His two sons had encouraged their mother to leave him. When Ben’s grandpa died, his mom made the trip to be with her family for her father’s funeral. Ben’s dad was angry that he wasn’t getting her attention and he took his revenge by going to a strip club instead of being there to support his wife of over forty years bury her father. Her family was livid. Even her children were angry. He had been unworthy to attend the temple for years even missing the weddings of his children. He still tried to command religious authority, even insisting on making a speech before a baby blessing in which he was unworthy to take part in, but such displays only seemed to make him seem more pathetic. He still had a hold on several family members. Ben’s brother had joined the army after his mission. He didn’t go to college, choosing a career in sales instead. These things were in line with the values of his father. Ben’s sisters were likewise influenced, but they were putting time and energy into their own families. Ben’s dad’s constant demands on the time and energy of his wife made things difficult for them too. His assurances that this month he was going to start making his fortune in his network marketing business, started ringing hollow as grinding years of poverty passed. I saw several healthy signs that perhaps the iron grip of the abuser would not crush the family after all. There seemed to be more acceptance and empathy for me and other family members who stepped outside of the controlling grip of the web the abuser had woven.
Then Ben’s dad was diagnosed with stage four liver and colon cancer. I felt a wave of relief. He would be gone, and I could enjoy family gatherings without the stress of making sure he wasn’t going to hurt my kids! Everything was going to be okay. How wrong I was.
The cancer re-established his complete dominance over his family. He was no longer a weak and tantrum prone narcissist, he was now a cancer victim. This rapid transformation from abuser to victim was a frightening thing to observe. A narcissist is at his best when he is seen as a victim, so he relished his new role. He was intoxicated by the idea of beating the odds and overcoming the cancer. His family was elated when he told them he would repent and get his recommend renewed. He was going to be a new man, but first, he had chosen the most unconventional and expensive treatment plan available which would involve an extended stay at a health spa in Mexico. Ben’s siblings immediately began taking out loans to make it happen. He gave stirring speeches, and brought my own teenage son to tears. I was terrified at the power of his manipulations. I suddenly understood cult leaders and the power they had over their congregations. I was sure that Ben would fall for it and we would be sucked in financially. Fortunately, Ben and I agreed to limit our support to what we could handle in spite of incredible pressure from family members. They did make it happen. He had everything he wanted, but even so, he was going to die. He came back from Mexico, he “repented” of his sins (which sins he repented of are unclear) and had his temple recommend restored before he passed away. Now everything is forgiven and forgotten for good…….except no one is allowed to talk about what happened and the ways it has impacted our lives. At least not openly.
For a while, I hoped that now that he was gone, that we could talk about what he had done to us and how we could move forward and heal, but such openness about the past is not allowed with most family members. I have talked to Ben’s mom who has admitted that her husband was abusive. Unfortunately, she wants to think that the abuse was not that bad. Sometimes she assures me that she plans to have some family counseling sessions. Nothing comes of it. I suspect she is telling me what I want to hear. I sent a letter to one sister that I felt a close connection with. The letter was an explanation of my feelings about her dad and how I would never see him the way she does and if that is something we can agree to disagree about. I didn’t hear back from her. When I brought it up weeks later, it was really awkward. I broke the one rule in the family that is not forgivable; I refused the family narrative.
In a narcissistic family system, appearances are the only thing that matter. Looking good is essential. In order to feed the insatiable ego of the narcissist, even in death, he must be praised and felt sorry for and his perfect family must live out his narcissistic fantasies. The family narrative is that he lived a tragic and flawed life, but he has been redeemed. His spirit apparently appears in the temple from time to time according to some family members. The family narrative is that everyone has healed, except Ben and me. We were told that we project our own dysfunction onto them (My dysfunction in particular since I am the outsider). In spite of that, there is ample evidence of serious psychological dysfunction in almost every family member. The carnage is undeniable, but the victims are unable to see it and unwilling to confront the awful truth about the abuse that they suffered. As always, the victims don’t matter in a narcissistic system. They need to forgive and forget as soon as possible and then go back to playing their assigned roles. And the cycle of abuse repeats itself within the family. New abusers and new victims, but the same abusive patterns modeled and practiced for generations.
A year ago in therapy, I spent hours and hours writing letters to different members of Ben’s family. I was convinced that if I said the right things, that they would love and accept me, that they would understand that I was not to blame for the situation that their father created. If I just wrote convincingly enough, they would heal and we could be an eternal family. Eventually, after literally hundreds of type-written pages, I wept. I wept and wept and wept as I said goodbye to my husband’s family. I still love them, but they don’t love me and they probably never will. I can’t change them and I’ve finally accepted that. They want me to do the one thing I can’t do; deny my reality and trade it for theirs.
Last summer we visited Idaho. We didn’t see any members of Ben’s family. I don’t know when or if we will see them again. Even the thought of it makes me physically ill. The only people I allow into my life now are people who respect my boundaries. The only relationships I invest in are those that feel good and allow me to speak openly when they don’t. Life is too short to cultivate the other kind.
I still love them. They were a part of my life and my husband’s life and our shared history. They are valuable children of God who were abused by someone who should have loved and nurtured them. They were betrayed, manipulated, exploited, and lied to. The wounds in my relationship with them are just a fraction of the sad consequences of his terrible choices. I don’t blame them, but they aren’t safe for me. I love them too much and I feel too sorry for them, and I’m too eager to save them when it isn’t within my power to do so. In the end, God is the only one who can sort it out. They have their path and I have mine and those paths diverged. Thankfully, my husband continues to walk the path with me. We have plenty of problems in our little family, but we are honest and authentic and strive to meet the needs of our children rather than exploit them for our narcissistic supply.
Some may question why I call my husband’s father a predator. To me, a predator is a complex part of an ecosystem that is cunning and exploitative and I feel that word encapsulates my observations of him and the web of enablers that surrounded him in life. I don’t use the word predator to dehumanize him. On the contrary, I hope my account reveals the man behind the epithet. He was not a monster, he was human, but he was as dangerous as a monster. He was clever and manipulative and I indirectly enabled his behavior with my silence. I know that because I was never completely under the control of the family system, I was not privy to most of their secrets. In the beginning, they let me in on a few things, but I had a troubling habit of remembering them. I don’t think they ever really trusted me. I’ve always seen his abuse as an iceberg in which what I saw was a small fraction of the whole.
Once, Ben’s sister was in a custody dispute with an ex-husband over their two daughters. She called Ben in a very angry and defensive tone and demanded to know what he had told her ex. He confronted her with the fact that their dad had groped a teenager in their home. She said dismissively, “That is nothing. What do you know? What have you told him?” Ben said he had no idea what she was talking about and that he had said nothing. I have often thought about what we don’t know that would make the sexual assault of a minor child “nothing” in comparison? What was Ben’s sister so desperate to keep a secret from her ex-husband that would endanger her custody bid? How many victims did this man have? What is the shape of the iceberg beneath the surface?
I may never know. I was never meant to know. I was only meant to supply. I supplied my children, my facade of normalcy, my smiling face in family photos, and my silence. Until now. I am silent no more. All predators and their enablers have been given warning to stay away from me and everyone I love. I will expose you. I have no sympathy for you. I will not be manipulated or made to serve you. I will set boundaries with you, I will call law enforcement on you when you break the law, and I will report you to the church authorities. Enablers slander my reputation, but they know the truth even if they don’t want to look at it. The truth has a habit of resurfacing no matter how hard you want to deny it. I will never again be made to stay silent.
Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No one wants me to get it right more than I do, but the reality is, there is no social consensus about what good mothering looks like in the real world. I do the best I can, but I know I fall short each day.
Today after I took my three year old in for a doctor’s appointment, I decided to take him shopping with me at Sam’s Club. Usually I don’t go shopping with my kids. I spend too much and it’s exhausting! Today it just had to be done, so I lugged him along. Leaving the store, I pushed the cart while calling for him to stay nearby in the busy parking lot. When I got the cart settled so it wouldn’t roll away, I tried to get him into his carseat. He cried and arched his back. He wanted a drink. I told him I would get him one after I buckled him in. He continued to fight me, so I gave in and handed him the cup. He looked at me murderously. He wanted to get it HIMSELF. I walked away in frustration to return the cart. I jogged through the parking lot, hoping that he had stayed in his seat. When I got back, I buckled him in listening to him lecture me about how frustrated he was at me. I asked him what he wanted and he said, “A drink.” I gave him the cup and insisted he say thank you.
I finally got him down for his nap and after I left he turned over the bookcase and the changing table in his room. He does this frequently when he is overtired. I was mad, but relieved he wasn’t hurt. I want the behavior to stop. It’s dangerous makes a huge mess. What do I do?
I stayed in the doorway seething, and I said, “Austin, when you do this, I feel angry. It makes me want to hit you. I want you to take a rest and when you wake up we will talk about it.” I shut the door and sat down exhausted. I still have a kitchen stuffed with groceries from Sam’s Club. I’ve got to try to get the ambition to put them away.
I found out my sister-in-law sent an email to my husband a year ago. For a long time, she and I were allies and confidants against the predatory system. After the predator died a couple of years ago, she switched sides. She went on the attack in the email. She tried to make a case to Ben that I am an abuser with a serious gaming addiction. She knows that I have depression and that I’m trying to manage it. She’s had depression herself, but her criticism showed no empathy for my situation. Words stand out to me that cut like knives. She said all the things my inner critic says about me; that I’m no good, selfish, and a bad mother. I know in my mind that she’s a narcissist and that what she said is about her and not me, but it still hurts. She’s a part of the abusive system of his family. I’m the scapegoat and the truth teller. I’m the empathetic depressed person who is vulnerable enough to try to get help. That makes me weak to her and an easy target to criticize. I blocked her on my phone and unfriended her on Facebook. I don’t need people like that in my life. I listen to my counselor not the flying monkeys of an abusive system of narcissists.
Ben wouldn’t share the details with me about the email all this time because he was worried about the effect it would have on my depression. I understand why he did what he did, but I wish I had known how toxic she was. I let her have dinner at my house last month. I have a really hard time with feelings of betrayal, and I’m trying to process that. It also makes me wonder what other family members have been saying to him about me behind my back.
Tomorrow morning I can go talk to my counselor about all this, but in the meantime, I’m just trying to make it through the day. I prayed to the Lord to give me comfort and help me know what I can do to be a better mom. He comforted me saying that men and women in this world look on the outward appearance, but that his gaze penetrates into the heart and soul of a person. His judgement is just and he says my heart is pure before him.
So I can take comfort in that. The self that I am learning to love and accept doesn’t have the polish of a narcissistic projection. That’s okay because she is real and God sees her heart. There are some that look at me and judge me as flawed and unworthy. That’s okay. What they think of me is on them. It’s their business. I’m working to surround myself with people who will love and value me, especially my Savior. His love and acceptance is all I need.
For more info on flying monkeys in narcissistic abuse, here are some links.