Gaslight Nation

I have made a point to keep my blog free of all political discussion purposefully because I don’t run a political blog.  21st c. political discourse tends to be characterized by fear mongering, polarizing and pedantic language, a lack of civility, ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies, and a ferocious but presently normalized invective that was not culturally familiar or acceptable twenty or even ten years ago.  I am most likely the millionth person to observe that something has shifted in the last five years in the United States in terms of what Americans accept as ‘normal’ behavior from our local, state, and national leaders.  Where we were once scandalized by a sitting president engaging in oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office, we now condone (in the form of electing him to office) a father’s brazen admissions of sexual attraction towards his daughter as well as permit a known sexual harasser and batterer to occupy the highest office of power in our country.  This is where the culture wars, political partisanship, ideology substituting itself for good politics, and excessive corporate campaign contributions led us.

They led us to the great disaster of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Friday, September 28.  The nation was on pins and needles because this was not just another hearing.  Something about this hearing felt nauseatingly familiar to many men and women tuned into C-Span, and I’m not talking about politics.  Something else was afoot.

Judge Kavanaugh was nominated by Mr. Trump in July 2018 to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.  While I’m very interested in the political reasons for Mr. Trump’s choice not the least of which is Kavanaugh’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted, I am far more inclined to examine Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) outburst during the hearing in which he explodes in anger towards the Democrats questioning Kavanaugh:

“What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020.”

The Republican from South Carolina then turned his attention back to Kavanaugh and asked: “Are you a gang rapist?” Kavanaugh replied: “No.”

The Republican senator also asked Kavanaugh, “Would you say you’ve been through hell?” Kavanaugh responded, “I’ve been through hell and then some.”
Graham expressed sympathy for the Supreme Court nominee and his family, saying, “I cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through.” He added, “I hope the American people can see through this sham…”
Earlier in the day, Graham compared the judge’s treatment to Ford’s experience, the woman who came forward to accuse him of sexual assault.
“I’m not going to reward people for playing a political game, I think, with her life,” Graham said. “She is just as much a victim of this as I think Brett Kavanaugh (is). Because somebody betrayed her trust, and we know who she gave the letter to.” (CNN)

Certainly, this outburst has a political context, but there is a wide stream of that something else flowing through this dialogue; and it should not to be missed.  I want to break it down, but before I do I want to note that Sen. Graham spoke with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” prior to the hearing.  Here’s what he said:

What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation? I’m just being honest. Unless there’s something more, no, I’m not going to ruin Judge Kavanaugh’s life over this. But she should come forward. She should have her say. She will be respectfully treated…I will listen, but I’m not going to play a game here and tell you this will wipe out his entire life,” Graham noted. “‘Cause if nothing changes, it won’t with me.” (CNN)

There it is again–that idea that Kavanaugh’s life will be ruined somehow were Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations found to be credible, and Graham is…what? The harbinger of Kavanaugh’s downfall should he hold him to account with rigorous questioning or further investigation?  As CNN’s Editor-at-Large says, “If the very people who hold in their hands — and votes — the power to make or break Kavanaugh’s nomination are admitting publicly that almost nothing Ford says will change their mind(s), isn’t that the sort of rank partisanship that has gotten us into this morass in the first place?”  Logically speaking, if Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a young woman in high school, then isn’t he the cause of his own ruin? Of course, a young man can hardly conceive that one day he might be a Supreme Court Justice nominee, but that is neither here nor there.  Young men shouldn’t be drunkenly sexually assaulting young women and expecting to win a gold medal in ‘Character and Ethics’ a few decades later when past bad acts come to light.  The Senate Judiciary Committee’s job is to sniff this sort of thing out and make certain that Supreme Court Justice nominees are fit for the role: beyond reproach.  Sen. Graham and the entire committee lost sight of that role in the midst of their pursuit of power:

“A judge must be a person with strong character. A judge who has strong character has the ability to apply broad, general law to a narrow, specific set of facts without abusing the court’s authority, letting his or her personal views get in the way, or overlooking important facts and law…a judge should be a visionary. The judiciary is responsible for making sure our laws serve justice and uphold the Constitution. When our laws fail to do so, a judge should search for a way, within the confines of the law, to right a wrong and see that justice is done, even in the face of a disapproving majority.  Finally, a judge should be a patriotic American. By this, I mean that a judge must be concerned for the country and the people the law serves more than his or her personal agenda or self-interest.  Justices must have intellectual integrity. Supreme Court justices ordinarily are accountable only to their own consciences. Justices must be able to build consensus. The court’s opinions only have force when a majority agrees; fractured decisions leave people struggling to understand what the law means.” (What Makes a Great Supreme Court Justice?)

Alas, Sen. Graham indicates that holding Kavanaugh to account is akin to ruining his life, but this is not something that jibes with Graham’s past actions or his ambitions.

“Graham, who was first elected to Congress in 1994, came to national attention in 1998. He was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. Graham then served as a “manager” of Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial.

The irony of his demonstration is that Graham, who wants to chair the Judiciary Committee someday, sought to use a sex scandal to take out a president at that time. Now, two decades later, Graham is defending a Republican Supreme Court nominee from accusations of sexual misconduct.” (Politico)

Moving on, the first question that Graham asks of Kavanaugh is whether he is a gang rapist.  That would be a legitimate question if Judge Kavanaugh were accused of gang rape, but Dr. Blasey Ford never alleged that Brett Kavanaugh gang raped her.  She never declared, “Brett Kavanaugh is a gang rapist.”  So, why ask such an absurd question? Well, this question is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad absurdum in which someone appeals to the extremes in an attempt to disprove something.  Notice that Sen. Graham did not ask Kavanaugh whether he had engaged in forced sexual touching with Dr. Blasey Ford.  That would have been a legitimate question.  No, Graham comes up with some absurd caricature that offends the imagination, triggers victims of rape, and strikes skeptics as ridiculous: “Judge Kavanaugh as high school gang rapist?” P’shaw! No, he’s not a gang rapist!  Well, if that’s not right, then the whole allegation must be false; and therein lies the deception and utter brilliance of argumentum ad absurdum.  Brett Kavanaugh, however, can be innocent of gang rape and still be guilty of sexually assaulting Dr. Blasey Ford.  It was, well, an absurd question.

Sen. Graham’s next question makes Brett Kavanaugh look pitiable, and it is a brilliant juxtaposition considering the public just watched a prosecutor take Christine Blasey Ford apart for four hours under high pressure questioning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Who looks like a victim now? The victim of sexual assault or the alleged perpetrator? It was a clever redirect.

Sen. Graham then goes on to offer sympathy for Kavanaugh’s “suffering” going so far as to call the hearing “a sham”.  He then takes it further by comparing Kavanaugh’s present circumstances–being heavily scrutinized, questioned, and potentially investigated–to Dr. Blasey’s high school sexual assault at Kavanaugh’s own hands.  Yet this is the purpose of a hearing! A Supreme Court Justice nominee is supposed to be heavily scrutinized and questioned.  If I, as a citizen, am supposed to abide by the laws this man interprets, then I want to know that he isn’t guilty of breaking any himself particularly in the realm of sexual violence.

So, what is all this then? What is the “something else” that we are witnessing aside from obvious partisan politics and sniping? This is gaslighting.  Perceptual manipulation and minimizing in the public forum.

Why is it gaslighting? This is where I have to speak politically for a moment.  This hearing was indeed a sham largely because the GOP is trying very hard to confirm Kavanaugh before the midterm elections.  I understand their zeal and impatience.  They have an agenda, and they want to see it through.  This hearing was a formality for the conservatives.  Sen. Graham’s irate posturing and belligerent bloviating accusing the DFL of a sham was manipulative.  The entire hearing was a sham from the beginning.  The GOP did not seem interested in the true quality of the contents of Judge Kavanaugh’s character or past actions that might reveal his deeper nature.  If they were, then Sen. Graham would have been open-minded and quietly considered every word Dr. Blasey Ford spoke last Thursday during her four hours before him and his colleagues.  The Senate Judiciary Committee would have called for an FBI Investigation right away and postponed all proceedings.  Some things just matter more than a political agenda.

Had this been the DFL pushing through a favored nominee with little opposition due to lack of votes, then it would have likely played the same way.  Their hearing would have been a formality, too.  Each party has its own idea of who should occupy this most coveted seat on The Bench.  That being said, what is more important? The next two to six years of the GOP political agenda, or the next forty to fifty years of judiciary competence, ethics, and rigor? I know that POTUS has openly boasted about: grabbing women by the p*ssy (2015 “Access Hollywood” Interview), treating women like sh*t (New York Magazine), calling women who breastfeed disgusting, and going so far as to find 12 year-old girls attractive among so many other offensive and misogynistic misdeeds (Telegraph), but Mr. Trump’s anomalous, abnormal, and likely personality-driven behavior should never be normalized because it is not, in fact, normal or something to be modeled.  In fact, America’s elected officials should raise the bar–or, sadly, return the bar to its previous height–and demand excellence from each other in conduct, behavior, speech, personal and professional ethics, and character regardless of their party affiliation.

The issue at hand should not be: “There wasn’t a problem with Kavanaugh until you pointed it out; therefore, you must be the problem, ____________.” (insert Dr. Blasey Ford, another accuser, or DFL) . In my mind, the most pressing issue is the possibility that a Supreme Court Justice nominee may very well have sexually assaulted at least one woman, and the majority of the GOP does not seem to care about that.  This reeks of cronyism, elitism, and that old institution that must crumble: The Boys’ Club (well, you know, generally for privileged white boys and men).

For many people, this “something else” feels so familiar because it is familiar.  For survivors of sexual violence, we’ve seen our perpetrators defended while being blamed ourselves because we “looked” like we wanted it.  Our perpetrator didn’t understand; we should feel sorry for him/her.  S/he sure is going through hell now being held accountable.  Besides, they have such a bright future.  Why make a big deal out of a misunderstanding? (That’s minimizing or trivializing, and that’s a form of gaslighting)

Perhaps we were told that we didn’t remember it like it happened (This is called countering, and this is a form of gaslighting).  The following ever-popular accusation is often made and was made by Trump himself: “If it really happened, then why didn’t you come forward?” You need only look at the four-hour ordeal Dr. Blasey Ford has been subjected to not to mention everything else she is currently enduring to understand why men and women don’t come forward after sexual violence.  I was raped when I was 22 years-old on a date, and I never told anyone.  My refusal to disclose doesn’t mean a rape never happened.  It only means that I didn’t talk about it.  Period.

Gaslighting is pervasive, and one can encounter it in myriad environments both professional and personal–and political it seems.  Be savvy.  Pay attention.  When you begin to feel crazy, like you’re the only sane one around, start really listening to what is being said to you or around you.  Educate yourself on perceptual manipulation aka gaslighting.  Learn about logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies are commonly used in political arguments and rhetoric.  The culture of our political system can change.  It changes when we vote and get involved.

So, get out and vote in the people who line up with your values and ethics, and vote out the people who do not.  Also, pay attention to how your current political favorites behave when they are politicking.  Do they rely on gaslighting and logical fallacies to push their points and agendas? Do they often align themselves with those who do? Carefully consider that.  It matters.  A lot.

Further Reading:

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The Ego and You

Relationships can be very rewarding, but, truthfully, they can be difficult.  This is true for everyone regardless of any residual issues you might face in terms of family of origin, trauma, and relationship history.  This makes personal development in terms of interpersonal effectiveness, perspective-taking, validation, and empathy development all the more important.  Why? Well, a proper development of empathy and perspective-taking enable us to dismantle a lopsided ego when it may, under pressure, take its edification from the disempowerment of others in order to empower itself, and that pursuit and process can be extraordinarily subtle.  The question I often ask of myself is this:

Is your ego driving you, or are you driving your ego? 

In order to continue to develop a more integrated identity (eg0) and increase interpersonal effectiveness and emotional maturity, it is vital to develop insight into our own behaviors and drives and the behavior of others (empathy):

As James Mark Baldwin aptly stated, “Ego and alter are born together”. What he meant by that is our sense of self emerges in close relationship to our sense of others (and how they treat us). Indeed, because our “selves” exist within interdependent networks of other people, because we initially understand ourselves through the lens of mirrored others, and because our identity is very much about narrating and legitimizing our actions to others, a key aspect of ego functioning is the capacity to understand others in a complex manner. Whereas insight refers to the capacity to understand one’s self, empathy refers to the capacity to understand others. So central is this ability that a recent, modern psychodynamic treatment is called mentalizing, which teaches individuals steps for developing more complex, richer, less judgmental and reactive narratives for describing and explaining the actions of others.  (The Elements of Ego Functioning)

Note this idea: “we initially understand ourselves through the lens of mirrored others….”  This concept explains, in part, why family of origin trauma is so significant in personal development.  If we initially understand ourselves through the perceptions of others, then our budding identities could often be founded upon distortions and extremities when we hail from abuse.  Furthermore, this would be normalized because this is our starting point in life and often the cornerstone for our core beliefs.

In my experience, remaining at this developmental stage is often the cause for interpersonal difficulties and suffering.  When we continually remain in a state wherein we understand ourselves through the reflective lens of other people we fail to develop insight or even a more developed empathic response towards others because we are functioning from a deficit.  What do I mean by that? When you are continually looking to understand yourself through the experiences of other people, your reference point for all your experiences becomes, oddly, self-referential even though you are looking externally for your legitimacy and validation.  The mechanism underlying this is the need to consistently legitimize and identify yourself rather than already feeling existentially or ontologically legitimate, and that need is internally driven.  It is the ego driving you.  The extreme version of this is narcissism.  In that context, a person is looking to others for “narcissistic supply” which is:

“a psychological concept which describes a type of admiration, interpersonal support, or sustenance drawn by an individual from his or her environment. The term is typically used in a negative sense, describing a pathological or excessive need for attention or admiration that does not take into account the feelings, opinions or preferences of other people.”  (Wikipedia definition)

Essentially, you are building an identity with borrowed or even stolen bricks and repairing a wounded ego by the same means.  You are not building, maintaining, or developing a sense of self through an internal process of growth.  While it is absolutely necessary to experience support, love, and validation from other people in order to experience a rich and meaningful life, it is important to note the difference here.

We have to ask important questions like: Who is responsible for meeting my needs? Who is responsible for making me happy? Who is responsible for my well-being and sense of personal significance? How do I build a meaningful life and experience rewarding relationships that enrich me and the other person while promoting growth? How do I continue to grow personally even in the midst of a social and emotional drought? How do I feel good about myself when there is no one around to make me feel good about myself? How do I learn to validate and motivate myself?

Why does this matter? Well, on a truly fundamental level, what might happen when you are faced with criticism? It becomes an attack on identity instead of an opportunity to generate growth and listen to another person’s legitimate perspective which may strongly differ from yours.  Why might that be the response? If my sense of self is perceived and developed through other people’s experiences of me rather than a solid understanding of myself, then criticism would be, of course, devastating.

What if you are confronted with a hard truth about how you relate to other people? What if you hurt someone’s feelings? What if you have bad relational habits of which you are not aware? Or, what if your sense of self is still largely founded upon what your family believes about you or even an abusive ex-partner? What if deeply rooted core beliefs are dictating the functioning of our egos? What if your sense of self is founded upon social convention, wealth, or meeting expectations and, suddenly, you lose your standing? All this is to say that it is imperative that we devote time and effort to developing insight into ourselves so that we become not only more empathetic but also more integrated in order to be more interpersonally effective.

What might ego-driven behavior look like in terms of personal relationships? We experience this often, and we certainly feel it.  The sting of a wounded ego is very particularistic.  I’ll give you a more extreme example to illustrate the point:

When my ex-husband and I would try to work out relational issues, it almost always failed.  His self-assessment was largely based upon his professional life and success, therefore, my experience of him created an inescapable dissonance.  Whenever I told him how I felt or even my experience of him he would say something like this:

“No one complains about me.  I have asked other people if I’m like that.  I’m not.  That hurts my feelings that you even think that about me.  I think that you are a broken person because of the things that have happened to you, and maybe you don’t perceive reality as it is.  That’s what is happening here.  Besides I don’t even remember what you’re talking about.”

This is an ego-driven response.

  1. “No one complains about me.”  His sense of self and his behaviors are understood through others.  Were they not, then he would not have used other people’s perceptions to minimize or dismiss mine.  Furthermore, this response conflates his experiences with other people and our experience in relationship together.  People can and do behave differently with others and within the contexts of different environments.  It is not unusual at all to find out that a person, for example, has a bad habit, addiction, or even profound personal struggles “behind closed doors”.  To the shock and dismay of their friends and colleagues, everyone says, “I would have never guessed.  S/he never gave any indication that they struggled in that way.”
  2. The presence of blame.  Blaming is a way to externalize discomfort, distress, and anger.  As Brene Brown puts it, “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.”  Once the blame sets in, shame follows quickly.  To quote Brown again, “Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged and healed…Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
  3. The absence of empathy and validation.  “That’s what is happening here.”  Speaking in terms of omniscience, as if he is the expert on my experiences and heart, shows a lack of empathy, personal insight, and compassion.  There is no interest to learn and grow.  There is, however, a strong desire to be right as well as another desire to deny.
  4. The presence of gaslighting.  This is an example of perceptual manipulation which defines gaslighting, and it characterizes ego-driven responses.  Basically, one must manipulate, suppress, and force change upon the perception of the other person in order to mold it to one’s own perceptions since one’s self-perception is dependent upon others.  It is vital for underdeveloped or dis-integrated ego survival that external supply is consistent because dissonance, which spurs growth, is not allowed.  Growth is often very painful, and survival and pain often don’t make friends easily.

When you experience something like this in life, and you will, understand that this can be the mechanism behind behaviors like this.  Does it hurt to be a part of this kind of dance? Yep.  It is much easier to process, however, when you understand the process, and it’s also a wonderful reminder to tend to your own ego and growth process.  It’s how we heal, grow, and become people worth knowing.  We become better people, and that’s a journey worth taking.

For an outstanding article on ego functioning, read this:

The Elements of Ego Functioning

Opening The Vaults

I am still in therapy.  It’s no longer something I remotely enjoy not that I ever enjoyed sitting in the Hot Seat before.  Now, however, it’s work, and I can feel it.  I can feel myself becoming defensive when my therapist asks a question that I don’t want to answer.

This week, I decided to discuss my mother’s letter with him, and I knew that this would be difficult because my therapist knows little to nothing about my mother.  Trying to catch him up felt too daunting a task which is why I’ve not mentioned her.  So, I took five minutes to try and describe a lifetime of pain and abuse, and I think I came off as a cynical smart ass.  I fully admit to being a smart ass, but I’m not cynical.  I’ve given up on trying to look cognitively sound.  He’s going to think what he’s going to think.

He doesn’t deal in pathologies, thus, he never says, “Your mother’s personality disorder caused…”  You will never hear him mention a DSM diagnosis unless it’s very necessary.  He just lets me talk.  I am not fond of the client-centered approach–talk therapy–because I have an irrational fear of revealing too much.  I don’t know what “too much” might be, but it’s unnerving to sit in a chair and talk while someone stares at you.  Please, ask me a question.  Direct the session.  What’s our goal? I don’t like feeling adrift as if there are no boundaries.

There is, however, a method to his approach, I have learned.  He’s looking for something, and he found it.  “I hear one common theme.  You have said about your mother’s letter and your ex-husband that you are not crazy.  Is that something meaningful to you? Feeling like you’re crazy? Is that what her letter caused you to feel over and above every other emotion? Is that how interacting with your ex makes you feel? Like you’re crazy?”

I just sat there and tried so hard not to feel the emotion rise up.  I wanted to bury my face in a pillow and cry.  I felt ashamed, and I don’t know why.

“Yes, that is exactly how I feel.”

He nodded.  “Can you tell me about that?”

How could I even begin to explain a lifetime of being made to feel this way? So, I chose specific events in an attempt to paint a picture.

“After my mother would try to commit suicide and call on me to talk her off the proverbial ledge, no one would talk about it.  She would come out of her bedroom, and I would usually say something like, ‘So, are we all gonna talk about what just happened?’ I was 13.  Everyone would look at me like I was the one with the problem.  I wanted to tell the truth.  I mean, I wasn’t the one overdosing on narcotics and taking a revolver into a closet and screaming.  I thought that it was crazy to pretend like nothing ever happened, but that became the rule.  Never talk about it.  That is so contrary to my nature.  That same rule became the norm in my marriage, too.  Never discuss anything.  I would try, and he would deny and shut everything down.  It then became a false reality.  I would try to challenge that reality, but, as with my mother, the line, ‘It’s your word against mine’ was used; and, suddenly, every abnormal behavior became normalized, and I felt somewhat insane all the time.”

The truth is that I have spent most of my life trying to prove that I am completely sane, and most of my family members seem to believe that I am the black sheep among them.  I won’t argue with that.  I might be the black sheep, but they’re more like ducks pretending to be sheep.  Nothing is remotely normal about anything that they say or do.  So, I come along and point out a problem (which I’ve stopped doing), and they all quack, “There wasn’t a problem until you pointed it out! You must be the problem! Get her!” And, the cycle of crazymaking continues.

My mother insisting in her letter that it was her word against mine was the trigger for me.  Her word against mine? There are facts.  She could certainly say that her perspective on said facts might be different than mine, but she can’t point at a fact and say, “No, Mr. Fact, it’s your word against mine.”  That’s like pointing at the sun and saying, “No, Sun, you do not set in the west.  It’s your word against mine.  No, Water Molecule, you are not made up of oxygen and hydrogen.  It’s your word against mine.”

It’s the damndest thing to be on the receiving end of this kind of behavior.  “No, I did not do that.  It’s your word against mine.  You just do not remember it properly.”  Or, worse, “I did that, but I had my reasons, and you have no right to be mad at me for it.  Get over it.”

In the end, you feel erased.  Like you don’t matter.  Only I know that I do matter, and I know what happened.  I have an excellent memory.  I used to have a nearly perfect memory.

So, what do you do? What do you do when you know that you are not crazy but you feel like you are? This is serious stuff.

I told my therapist some of the things that my mother had done.  Some of her worst offenses.  The things that she had been claiming never happened.  Frankly, if I had done those things to another person, then I might deny I had ever committed those actions as well.  I told the truth.  We must tell our truth to someone who will listen to us.  We need a witness.  I found myself asking him, “This is a bad thing, right? What she did here was bad, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, this is bad.”

After you’ve told your truth, you need to hear the words: “You are not crazy.”  That is what my therapist did for me.  I know that I’m not crazy.  I know that what I witnessed and endured in my family of origin was painful and abusive.  I don’t need my mother’s validation in order to heal or move on.  I’ve never had her validation.  We do, however, need to receive validation from someone.  We don’t live in a vacuum.  We are social creatures.  A lone primate is a dead primate.  So, find a safe person whom you trust, and tell your truth as hard as that might be.  Fear of judgment can be a strong motivation to keep everything to yourself.  I am immensely private, and it’s almost painful for me at times to open my inner vaults.  It is essential to our healing, however, that we engage in this process.

Let that be the gift you give yourself as 2015 draws to a close.

Shalom…

 

No Apologies

It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means.  It’s Letter from My Mother time!

For those of you familiar with her, I fully expect an eye roll.  For those of you new to my blog, just roll your eyes.  She seems to like to send long, hand-written notes on yellow legal paper folded up and stuffed into Christmas cards annually.  At least this year it wasn’t a Dear Santa letter.

One statement that my mother has made in all of her letters is: “I’m sorry for whatever it is that I did to hurt you.  If I could go back and do it differently then I would.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t the mother that you needed.”

This has always grated on me.  There are three ideas within this statement, and each one carries its own meaning.  The first statement is a blanket apology: “I don’t know what I did, but I’m sorry about it.”  One can’t offer up an apology if one doesn’t know what it’s for.  The very nature of an apology is to take responsibility for a specific action.  This statement fails to meet the criteria for a basic apology.  Am I being a stickler? Perhaps I could be defined as such had I not informed my mother prior to this letter of the actions that needed to be addressed.  There should be no confusion.

The notion that she would like to go back and do it again mystifies me.  If she doesn’t know what she did wrong, then what would she like to go back and change? That doesn’t fit.  We have two contradicting ideas.

Her final statement, to me, is the trickiest of them all.  She wasn’t the mother that I needed.  Perhaps she could have been the mother that another child needed? Just not me.  I had unique needs?

These types of slippery “apologies” are very common in families of origin where high-level abuse was in place.  When you receive them, you might feel confused or crazy.  Like something isn’t quite right.  Did she just apologize to me? Why do I somehow feel worse? That is what I have been thinking about, and I think I’ve come upon an answer that you might find helpful as well.

There are some actions that we witness and experience in abusive families that cannot be defended.  Sexual abuse, for example, cannot be defended.  Attempted homicide cannot be defended unless it’s self-defense.  Long-term physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect cannot be defended.  One can’t offer up an apology for committing incest: “I’m sorry, honey, that I snuck into your bedroom every night and forced you to have sex with me.”  That falls woefully short.  “I’m sorry that you had to talk me out of trying to kill myself so many times.”  Really? “I’m sorry that you were on the receiving end of my rages and violence.”  Huh.

No one should ever have to endure abuse of any kind.  The amount of time and focused effort it requires to recover and heal from abuse is staggering.  How does an apology from the abuser mean anything in comparison to that? It’s worthless.  The act of abuse is indefensible.  There is no apology that could ever be meaningful enough.  There is no apology that could ever build a bridge long enough to mend the gap.  A better statement might be: “I should never have done _______ to you.  That was wrong.  You should never have had to go through that or witness it.  I am sorry that I ever put you in a position to carry lifelong injuries because of my character flaws and subsequent actions.”

The notion that she was not the mother that I needed is absurd.  An abusive parent or guardian is not the parent that anyone needs.  We are not somehow demanding or fragile children because we do not like being abused.  All children need and deserve a loving parent who provides safety, predictability, empathetic presence, and love.  You and I are not high-maintenance because we ask for healthy boundaries, appropriate communication, non-deviant forms of love and intimacy within the parent-child relationship, healthy parent-child role modeling, and a validating environment.  We are sound and healthy when we ask for that.  Being made to feel somehow unreasonable for asking for such is gaslighting: “I’m sorry for whatever it is I did to you, and I am sorry that I was not the parent you needed.”

It’s very high level.  The manipulation is so subtle that it’s easily missed.  Your feelings, however, don’t miss it.  It’s why you feel so crazy after receiving something like this.  Essentially, you are made to feel somehow lesser for asking for that which is appropriate and healthy through an apology like this.  The failures and abusive actions of the person apologizing to you are deflected onto you, and then you are blamed for not only not being able to accept their apology but also for not being able to accept them in their role as parent because, you know, “they did the best they could” and you somehow had special needs making it impossible to be a good parent for you.

I have not crafted a response, but I have figured out why I was so bugged by her latest effort to connect with me.  She and my ex-husband have issued similar apologies.  It’s painful.  I just want someone to own up.  That’s all.  Is it that hard? It must require a Herculean effort because so many people refuse to actually take responsibility for their actions in a meaningful way.  Instead, you see apologies coated with justifications or outright denial:

  • “I never did that.” (Gaslighting specifically countering technique and denial)
  • “That never happened.” (Countering and denial)
  • “Maybe I should have been a little more empathetic.” (Gaslighting specifically trivializing technique)
  • “Maybe I was a little volatile but I wasn’t abusive.” (countering and trivializing together)
  • “Look, I did some wrong things, but I had some things I was struggling with.” (trivializing)
  • “You don’t remember it the way it happened.” (countering)
  • “I will always be your mother.” (This is a weird thing to say, but it’s a common comeback.  It almost feels like blocking and diverting, another form of gaslighting)

The only reasonable defense that I can conjure in my mind for abuse and extreme behaviors is mental illness.  And, in the end, this is my mother’s only defense.  She does struggle with mental illness, but one might argue that she is responsible for the treatment of that illness in order that she would be a safe and healthy adult.  If an adult cannot stop themselves from abusing the people under their care and/or they can no longer differentiate good from bad behavior, then they are no longer fit to care for said minor children or adults needing their care.  If their inability to properly care for people is largely due to mental illness and not an unfortunate character defect, then it is imperative that they seek help.  If they are entrenched and treatment resistant as so many people are, then what?

That is the question to ask.  We each have to decide for ourselves how we want to proceed in relationship with a family member who is a former abuser and also may struggle with mental illness.  This is my current dilemma.  I know for a fact that my mother has rewritten the past.  The family history has been redacted in order to create a narrative that she can tolerate.  She has participated in distortion campaigns and lied about me.  She will never apologize for this.  She will turn the tables on me and blame me should I ever try to hold her accountable for any past behaviors that hurt me.  She will continue to be entitled and emotionally dysregulated.  She will only see her needs and pathologically pursue getting them met at the expense of everyone around her.  And, she will fail to see how any of this could possibly hurt me or anyone else.

This is reality.  Is it even reasonable to expect an apology from a person like this? It’s reasonable to want one.  To expect one?

Truth is a theme on my blog, and this is where we land again.  To continue to heal from having been in a relationship characterized with this flavor of abuse, you must know the truth.  You must know that your perceptions and memories of events are valid and valuable.  You are not crazy.  You are sane.  You are not asking for too much when you ask for safety, predictability, empathy, nurturing, kindness, and healthy reciprocity.  You are not too demanding when you draw a line in the sand against passive-aggressive and unsafe behaviors and defend it.  You are not high-maintenance when you dictate that there will be no gaslighting or ad hominem attacks in future conversations.

You are showing signs of growth and maturation.  You are moving forward and healing.  You don’t need anyone’s apology to do that, but, admittedly, it sure would be nice sometimes, wouldn’t it?

Resources:

For a review of gaslighting, refer to Gaslighting and Distortion Campaigns

It’s Getting Hot in Here

I wish I could bring something therapeutically beneficial to the table this morning.  What I can do is let you take a peek inside the therapeutic process of a “domestic abuse victim”.  That’s what my therapist called me yesterday.  Well, that’s very real, isn’t it?

It gets very real when your therapist mentions the Domestic Abuse Project.  “Have you heard of it?”

Domestic violence is a slippery subject.  It is very slippery for me because the question to be asked and answered is this: Am I married to an abuser or a man who, at times, abuses? It all sounds like semantic hairsplitting, and one might ask if there is even a difference.  Yes, there is a difference.  An abuser knows what they are doing, and they abuse with malicious intent.  Perhaps with premeditation.  That’s a simple definition.  A person who engages in abusive behavior does not plan their abuse.  They have a reactionary nature most likely precipitated by a mental illness diagnosis like PTSD, an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, or even substance abuse issues like alcoholism.  In other words, you are often interfacing with their disorder when they abuse rather than their person.  The latter is my situation.  I am married to a disorder and know his disorder intimately.  I don’t think I know him very well at all.

This is not an excuse or a justification for any sort of abuse.  It is merely an explanation.

It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I didn’t want to be in the marriage anymore.  My therapist asked me what clicked.

“My hip.  It hurts all the time.  It’s damp now, and it aches every moment of the day.  I have to be careful when I sit, when I stand, when I sleep, when I get in and out of the car, when I walk…It might ache for the rest of my life.  It will always be a reminder to me of what he did to me.  How do I get past that?”

I don’t think I’ve ever written it anywhere, but he was the reason behind my hip injury.  I had hip surgery last August.  It was a brutal recovery.  I had to learn to walk again.  It took four months of painful rehabilitation.  When my therapist asked me how he behaved during my recovery, I told him.  He drove me to all my PT appointments.  He made sure I had what I needed.  “To expiate his guilt?”  Yes.  And now? “Well, he asks if I need anything when I’m unwell.  Like tea.”

“Like a roommate.  You do understand that he treats you like a roommate.  Anyone who lives with you ought to do the same.”

Yes, we live as roommates.

“What you describe is not how a husband treats his wife.”

It’s not?

What I can tell you is that it is far easier to recover from physical abuse than emotional abuse. I know this first hand.  But, it is a lot easier to justify wanting out of a relationship when you have surgical scars, scars, and a person to point at while saying, “You put these here.”  This is the slippery slope of domestic abuse.  Gaslighting is so hard to combat.  Feeling crazy all the time becomes such a part of your inner thought life that you become an easy target for the physical abuse.  I felt so responsible for him, his disorder, and his actions after years of crazymaking behaviors that I didn’t even realize initially that what he did to my hip wasn’t my fault! It was only after a bit of time passed that I realized he had done something wrong.  Then, more time passed.  I was finally able to say to him, “You hurt me.”  Only now can I call it abuse.

Why now? You have to be able to tell the truth and be ready to hear the truth.  This is a big part of the therapeutic process.  Truth.  Revealing yourself.  I hate it.  It requires courage and hope even when it seems hopeless.  I have had many a hopeless day and night.  I felt like I was living in a nightmare a few days ago.  The important thing to remember in difficult and desolate times is that you have a future worth fighting for, and you are the one person who can exercise control over what that future will look like–even if you feel like you have the least amount of influence in your life.

Alas, you keep going.  You must because there is no turning back now.  You see it through.  Until darkness becomes day.

“Even darkness must pass.”  Samwise Gamgee

The Resiliency Spectrum

I can’t believe that it’s been a month since my last post.  I don’t usually neglect my blog for such a long time, but life is changing chez moi.  I like to write posts that will, at a minimum, be interesting to read and, if possible, helpful to others.  I am in a season of immense change from a spiritual perspective and in a relational perspective as well.  Many paradigms are shifting.

I am currently studying with a rabbi, and I find the journey very stimulating and illuminating.  I am also attending a synagogue of the Reform persuasion.  It is like inhaling fresh mountain air after having been locked in a stuffy, crowded room for too long.  I am enjoying every moment.  I am learning extraordinary things.

The other thing I finally did was find a therapist.  Yet again.  I have said for a while now to my friends that I need to find a worthy therapist.  It’s one of those off-hand remarks like saying, “I really should go to the dentist,” or “I need to schedule a physical.”  For many of us, we know what we ought to do.  It is overcoming that resistance that is so difficult.

I feel as if I have spent so much of my life in therapy.  One of my daughter’s psychologists suggested that I go back to graduate school and get a graduate degree in psychology: “You’re 75% of the way there already.  It would be a cinch for you.”  That did not feel like a compliment.  It was a reminder to me of just how much time I’ve spent in the Hot Seat.  There are very important reasons to go back to the therapeutic environment, and the primary reason I’ve returned is to re-examine my Resiliency Spectrum.

That’s the name my therapist gave it.  What is the Resiliency Spectrum (RS)? The RS is a great term for something that we all use to judge whether or not a situation is “normal” or tolerable and whether we have the ability to survive the circumstances relatively intact.  For victims of abuse, domestic violence, survivors of long-term domestic abuse, and childhood sexual abuse, the RS is very wide vs. people who have never experienced such things.

Practically speaking, why do men and women who were abused earlier in life often find themselves in relationships and even abusive circumstances repeatedly? Their RS measures their circumstances as “normal” so they don’t realize that they should take action to get help or even leave.  Let me make this more personal.

I returned to therapy because I realized that I was having problems in my marriage.  I specifically told my new therapist in my intake appointment a few days ago that I had lost my ability to judge what is true and healthy because of his crazymaking behaviors.  I knew that he was engaging in gaslighting behaviors, but, in the middle of it, it was becoming harder for me to discern the truth.  I shared an incident with him when my husband displayed violent behavior towards me that was rather shocking.  My therapist asked me if I had ever called the police.  “Well, no.  Why would I do that?”  I, of course, felt silly after my admission.

The important moment came when my therapist said, “I see it now.  You have a very wide Resiliency Spectrum.  Being abducted by a sociopath is a 10 on your spectrum.  So, your husband being violent towards you is what? A 5? You could probably survive anything.  So, we need to adjust your spectrum so that you relearn what is actually acceptable.  Just because you can survive it doesn’t mean that you should ever have to tolerate it.”

Isn’t that key? Just because you could survive it doesn’t mean that you should ever have to tolerate it.  This is one of the primary reasons I am returning to therapy.  I have found this to be a huge hurdle for people exposed to abusive situations.  You can get used to a lot and, suddenly, you find yourself tolerating treatment that is absolutely intolerable.  Self-esteem starts to plummet.  Health begins to falter.  Isolation begins.  Shame becomes a shroud.  Who wants to be identified as a battered woman or a victim of domestic abuse? This is particularly devastating for men.  It’s emasculating.  No one wants to discuss these things, and few people are equipped to actively listen and act as witnesses.  This is why well-trained therapists are the best options.

I do not know how we will proceed.  An intake is about two hours, and one covers a lot of ground from family of origin and past traumatic events to current circumstances and goals for therapy.  There was a moment during my intake wherein I was very honest about an incident with my husband, and my therapist said, “If it was wrong for you, then it was wrong.”  And my immediate response was, “Not in my house.  If it’s wrong for me, then I’m wrong.”

I know that this line of thinking is the crux of gaslighting, and it’s emotionally abusive.  I know this.  I felt very strange hearing myself say this out loud.  I grew up with a borderline mother and an abusive father who used gaslighting as his primary means of communication.  I simply don’t know how to handle this in my marriage.  I’m fearful.  There is narcissism present and other things.  Where does one even begin?

Step 1: Find a therapist.

Step 2: Go to therapy faithfully.

Step 3: Tell the whole truth to said therapist.

I don’t know what Step 4 will be in these circumstances (I could give you a road map for recovering from sexual trauma and parental abuse), but it’s going to involve that Resiliency Spectrum.  Remember: Just because you can survive it doesn’t mean that you should tolerate it.

Resources:

 

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How To Recognize A Mindf*ck

If it weren’t in such bad taste, I would post my mother’s latest letter and use it as an object lesson in “How To Recognize A Mindfuck”.  Excuse my language, but there’s no other way to put it.  Her entire letter was an exercise in gaslighting.  I’m getting much better at recognizing it, but, oh Heaven help me, I didn’t pick up on it fast enough.  I still got the stomach ache, the shakes, and the watery eyes before I figured it out.  What were the finer points of this latest poison pen letter?

  • It was handwritten on yellow legal paper entirely in capital letters.  Her emails are also written entirely in capital letters.  It sort of feels like I’m being yelled at.
  • She loves me so very much, and she has always wished me every happiness.  Even if I thought she did not.
  • She then digressed into a sort of strange memory recall of my childhood.  It was very uncomfortable to read.  She recounted my swimming in a pool in an apartment we lived at when I was a baby.  She mentioned my playing with a childhood friend in our neighborhood.  She went on to describe me when I was a teen riding my bike to work.  It ended with her reminiscing about her visiting me in France and our trip to Paris.  This trip down memory lane was unwelcome and weird.
  • This is where the gaslighting starts.  She started to speak for me.  “I THINK THAT YOU DID ENJOY MY COMPANY AND WE WERE FRIEND AS WELL AS MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.  THERE WERE BAD TIMES BUT I DO THINK THAT THE GOOD DOES OUTWAY (SIC) THE BAD.  MY HEART’S DESIRE IS THAT WE COULD BE MORE THAN ON SPEAKING TERMS.  I KNOW THAT I HAVE MADE MISTAKES…THERE WERE BOUNDARIES CROSSED IN SHARING INFO REGARDING YOUR FATHER AND OTHER MEN I DATED THAT I SHOULD HAVE KEPT FROM YOU AND FOR THAT I AM TRULY SORRY.”  This is a weird statement.  I did not enjoy her company, but she felt free to speak for me as if she had the authority to convince me of my own thoughts and/or feelings.  This is often what happens in emotionally manipulative environments.  We are told how we feel rather than asked.  It’s just yucky.
  • She then launched into an exposition about time flying.  My daughters are getting older.  They are getting so much older! My mother is missing so much not being able to be a part of their lives! I am the only daughter she has.  My daughters are the only grandchildren she has.  She is insinuating that I have created this situation.  I have not.  She did.  She refused to speak to me for five years.  This situation started in 2005 and really took off in 2006.  I’m a little shocked that it’s 2013.
  • She then resorted to begging as if I am a spiteful queen.  Her letter took on a victimized tone.  “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO! NONE OF THIS IS EASY AND A BIT SCARY FOR US.  I AM BEGGING YOU FOR OUR FUTURE.”

My Queen/Witch mother has become the Waif.  I have never seen this side of her.  I am beginning to wonder if this persona is working for her with her therapist who has misdiagnosed her.  She is playing the victim, and she is now playing the victim with me.  So, where’s the mindfuck? The entire letter is a mindfuck.  This is why it was so confusing to me.

Imagine a known sexual predator coming into a court setting, facing his accuser, and then cowering in front of her–a woman he raped, bludgeoned, terrorized, and, for the sake of argument, stalked for a year by sending her dead kittens.  Who is the real victim here? The sexual offender or the victim? The victim.  Who should be afraid? The victim.  Who should be begging? The victim.  Begging for justice, for healing, for peace.  Not the perpetrator.  So, when my mother writes me a letter like this wherein she recalls how wonderful my childhood was, tells me how I really do feel about her, and then begins begging me “for her future” because I’ve somehow victimized her because she  has missed the opportunity to know her granddaughters even though she made that choice–not me–the experience is victimizing.  Her narrative is so off the mark it’s crazymaking.

My mother is indeed a victim.  She was a victim in that my father did gaslight her.  She is a victim of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.  It’s almost impossible not to experience victimization of some kind in life.  She was, however, not a victim in our relationship.  She was the adult.  I was the child.  She was the power broker there as all parents are in relation to their young children.  There is absolutely no room for her tone in our relationship.  I have deprived her of nothing.

This, I have realized, is our primary problem.  It is the clash of narratives.  Her letter revealed a striking truth.  Her story revolves around herself.  She only made a few mistakes.  Come on, Daughter, move on now! This is trivializing at its finest.  The entire letter is steeped in denial.  Her latest narrative says that she is now a victim, and I’m victimizing her.  I am not.  This is very hard stuff to stand up to.  Mark my words, this is very painful stuff because my narrative is the opposite.  She is fearful of me? I’m no longer shocked.  How could I be?  I’ve never known my Queen mother to play the Waif, but if it no longer serves her then why not change personas.

I have been crafting a letter to send in response to my mother’s July email.  I had chosen not to send it yet as I wasn’t feeling peaceful.  I revised it today.  I feel it’s ready to send.  It is very long, and this is a portion of my response:

I know that there is fear on your behalf, but you have missed something.  You are my mother.  I am your adult child.  For most of our relationship, you have been in the position of power.  I saw you almost kill my stepsister by strangling her.  I saw you physically attack your second husband on numerous occasions.  I saw you punch holes in drywall with your bare fist.  I was the victim of a few beatings that left me unable to sit for a day.  You withheld relationship, security, privacy, and love from me consistently for most of my young life.   The sound of your voice can trigger a migraine in me in 5 minutes.

Who do YOU think is more afraid? 

I will not kowtow to this new Waif, and I won’t be victimized by this manipulation.  This feels like the work of a lifetime.  Earlier today, I felt utterly defeated.  I have grown so weary of this fight.  It will end one day.

And, I will be the better for the fight.

Related Posts:

Gaslighting and Distortion Campaigns