Sunday, April 29, 2012

Guilt and Shame: The Vicious and Escalating Cycle (From the Beginning)

I left childhood with a great deal of guilt and shame. I was abused as a child and my experience never validated. Adults involved decided to handle things within the family and not expose the perpetrators, though they abused me and my female cousins in much the same way. The situation and the aftermath were handled despicably. I, therefore, approached puberty with anxiety, an unstable and insecure sense of self and a distorted perception of my role in relationships.  In other words: I was vulnerable to a predator; I had been conditioned to devalue my needs and give without question. I had been conditioned to feel ashamed of myself and would go long periods of time isolating myself, feeling unworthy of genuine human contact. I felt guilt strongly and absorbed wrongs of others thinking I had the mystic power of causing and creating feelings in others; they were not responsible for their anger, for example, I was.
Peter did not hesitate for a moment and began immediately to exploit my guilt and shame. He learned how to easily push these buttons to get exactly what he wanted. It was easy for him; I was raw. In a loving, equitable relationship, my painful past would have diminished and, with the right help, likely not have affected me after only a few years. Instead Peter took the opportunity to immerse me in a toxic environment constantly triggering me. [A trigger is an event in the present that causes a person to react as if in a past similar event. Generally it is seen as an over-reaction and confuses those around because the triggering event does not warrant the emotional response.] By being triggered continually, I became deregulated and was unable to develop a stable and securely grounded sense of myself. In a loving, intimate, warm, safe, and secure relationship, I would have slowly developed a healthy, centered self and learned how to care for myself. Instead I was embarking on the greatest abuse of my life and would live with its intensification for the next 20 years.
When we returned from our honeymoon we began a cycle that was brutal and accelerated over the years (please see figure below). There is disagreement in any relationship; when two people interact they are coming from two different perspectives, established from two different histories. Of course that will clash at times and it’s critical to learn to communicate effectively to maneuver, through the difficult times, back to a place of peace.
According to the book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, “One of the greatest needs is to understand and to be understood. In a verbally abusive relationship, the partner’s need to understand and to be understood is not met. On the other hand, her belief that her mate is rational and that understanding can be reached keeps her in the relationship. The fact that she can’t come to an understanding with her mate simply because he is abusive and will defeat her though abusive power plays is almost incomprehensible to the partner. Not coming to this realization, however, leaves the partner living in an incomprehensible reality where she is blamed for the battering of her own spirit.” 1
By not being validated in childhood, I was particularly sensitive to this. By Peter intentionally not validating me, he could sit back and calmly watch me unravel and then I became the problem. He could then judge me and analyze me, while the issue I was bringing up lost. And guess what? Guilt was activated. The finger pointed at me again; the problem was with me….every time.
According to Evans, “When the verbal abuser refuses to discuss a problem, he prevents all possibility of resolution. In this way he exercises control over the interpersonal reality. Partners are frequently left with a sick, hurt feeling that is never really resolved. There is no feeling of closure. Upsetting incidents may reoccur in confusing flashbacks because they haven’t been fully understood or resolved.” 1  
The saying “crazy is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result,” is applicable here: I was attempting rationality and reason with a person not capable. I was slowly losing my mind.
“All verbal abuse is dominating and controlling. Verbal abuse used to control the partner without the partner’s knowledge is called “crazymaking.” “The sustaining of power seems to be one key factor in crazymaking behavior. It appears to be a way of asserting dominance while denying its existence or the wish for it.”2
In a motion, after being abused in this way for 20 years, appeared accusation #2) I was mentally ill and refused treatment. I was an unfit mother.
1.    Evans P. The verbally abusive relationship:how to recognize it and how to respond. Avon Massachusetts: Adamsmedia; 2010, p.45.
2.    Bach GR, Deutsch R. Stop! You’re driving me crazy. New York; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980, p.16.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Until death do us part: I wish my story were over

I don’t understand this, though; writings from victims of sociopaths all say the same thing: they cannot and will not move on. They could remarry, have other children, move to another country and still…..they remain fanatical about a relationship long gone. They behave and talk in a way that appears the relationship continues. Peter talks about me to my son, daughters, and our legal liaisons as though we are interacting in the same way we did two years ago. He assumes and predicts my actions as if I were the same person I was while living with him. The problem is he does it with such tenacity and persuasiveness it takes years for people, new to our story, to see through his manipulative ways. Peter really should have nothing to say about me; there is very little the same about me. He ignores me unless he wants something, then he will not relent until I respond. We do not interact with the same people and as I’ve talked about in previous posts, and will elaborate on in the future, my older daughters do not communicate with me at all. Yet he “knows” me. I asked my 8 year old son if dad and his sisters say things about me that he knows isn’t true. He smiled, wondering how I knew that, and said yes. I asked him if it was confusing because he is the only person in our family that knows me, they don’t interact with me, yet talk about me constantly. He thinks it is confusing all of the time. He does not understand, and has expressed to everyone involved in our divorce case, why “everyone” hates me. How is this healthy to promote hate and anger? I will ask my daughters this someday: how has it helped you to be filled with so much hate and anger?
With that in mind, I try to remain in a positive state, believing things will turn out okay in the end. I am also human and today I am angry. Today I received an email from our new parent coordinators. This position is court ordered and is an attempt to keep us out of the court system. We have two because I have asked to not ever be in a therapeutic situation with Peter. I can’t put myself in a position where he can have any influence over me (and I hate to admit: I am still scared of him); I need time to process, alone, communication from him so that I don’t fall into any old patterns inculcated over two decades. There can be no back and forth with him; there is no negotiating, only complete submission on my part. I will not, if possible, put myself in a submissive position with him again. Peter threatened to make a formal complaint to the American Psychological Association against our former parent coordinator, who dared to cross him. She quit of course. So here we are again…two women taken in by his charm. He has moved to Canada and by doing so he has given up his rights for 50/50 time share, unless he would like to come back for his time. There are a completely different set of rules when custody becomes international. Even so, they told me today that it was “risky” for me to prevent 50/50 time share. It is risky for me to let him go. It is against the law for him to go unless I agree. He is the one who has left and abandoned time share, but he seems to be able to operate above rules and orders. He will not respond to a simple request to have my son’s field trip shirt or his Cub Scout uniform; he simply turns off his phone when my son is in his care, yet I am supposed to feel comfortable sending him to another country for an entire summer? Am I wrong in wondering if he would come back? I am angry because I can’t get away. Every time I open my email I have a few seconds of panic, every time my phone rings….I wonder will this be the day my son is taken away from me? It is scary to be married to a sociopath and it is scary to leave one…

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Really? Come on...A Sociopath?.....

I don’t think anyone that knows Peter would dispute that he is a narcissist. He is completely self-consumed. So perhaps you are pessimistic about me using the controversial term “Sociopath,” with all of its diabolical implications? What I have lived with Peter is nothing less than evil.
Also called "antisocial personality disorder" a non-correctable condition affecting up to 4% of the population. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, this disorder is characterized by seven features of which the person needs three to receive a diagnosis.

The signs and symptoms include:
  1. Lack of concern regarding society’s rules and expectations.
  2. Repeated violations of the rights of others.
  3. Unlawful behavior.
  4. Lack of regard for the truth
  5. In parents, neglect or abuse of children.
  6. Lack of a steady job.  Frequent job changes through quitting and/or being fired
  7. Tendencies toward physical aggression and extreme irritability. 1
The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) had arranged for drop offs to be at the children’s godparent’s home (Susan and David). The divorce was deemed so hostile that there needed to be a witness to all interactions. The plan was to drop my son off at 7pm so that Peter could take him home for bed; he would be with me three days a week from 3pm until 7pm and all day Saturday. The GAL had also reported that my son was bonded to me and did not have a bond with his father. This was going to be traumatic for him.
Preparing for the very first drop off my 6 year old son and my 16 year old daughter started to melt down. She was upset about the situation, and was angry at me, while my son was completely hysterical about leaving me. He was screaming, hiding, running away, throwing things…hitting me. I watched as he wet himself. I called Susan and said, “Peter will understand, tell him I need to change him and rock him for just 10 minutes to calm him down.” Susan called Peter and called me right back. She was obviously shaken and reported that she had told him what was happening and he had responded (direct quote) “that means nothing to me.” She said it was so cold and unfeeling it sent shivers down her spine. He said that if I didn’t have the children at the house on time he would take legal action against me. I was scared. I put my son over my shoulder and carried him to the car kicking, screaming, crying, hitting. I put him in the back seat and locked the door. It was devastating. At that moment I knew this was something different. This was his own flesh and blood and he did not care; I could not appeal to a conscious. I was dealing with a sociopath.
Susan and David saw all of this and in the next few months would be instrumental in keeping me above water. From time to time they would sit me down and basically tell me to literally get out of bed and keep fighting! I would lose “my little man” to palpable evil if I weakened or slipped into extreme emotion (felt the situation as it was). I coped by turning this intense injustice into a “dissertation” for our final divorce trial. I began to compile evidence of financial abuse and created a timeline documenting his sexual obsessions and emotional, physical and mental abuse.   

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Negotiating with a Sociopath: The Submission Principle

“Death doesn’t come until the end of my guests’ visits here, after I’ve grown weary of them. It’s always so fascinating to see their disappointment.” “Disappointment?” “Exactly. Disappointment. They imagine that if they please me, they’ll live. They adapt to my rules. They start to trust me and develop a certain camaraderie with me, hoping to the very end that this camaraderie means something. The disappointment comes when it finally dawns on them that they’ve been well and truly screwed....”

 “You see. You’ve already started to adapt to the submission principle. I hold your life in my hands….You pleaded with me to improve your quality of life, and you did so by using reason and a little good manners. And you were rewarded.”1(p.449-450)
I took a semester off from college to care for my newborn daughter; Peter continued classes. One girl from Peter’s honeymoon confessions was in an evening class. I was dealing with hormones, exhaustion, isolation and my newly deformed post-pregnancy body at just 20. Peter decided to share his struggles with fantasizing about her and with that coerced me into having sex less than two weeks from a vaginal birth to an 8 pound baby. It was very painful and was likely the real reason I ended up back in the hospital. I lived to please him. I adapted without consideration of myself whatsoever.

My only outlet was church activities, where his father was pastor. If I started to connect, even at church, I was discouraged from that activity. Discouraged with silence and withholding. What is important to note is you can never please a sociopath, though I tried with all my might. The faux camaraderie is only evident with complete submission to their needs. I shudder thinking about his expectations and what I gave up for so long. Even a flinch of an attachment or connection outside of him was met with a dark empty coldness difficult to describe. I started to have nightmares and struggled with distinguishing between reality and dreams. My mind was not able to handle the constant strain of contradiction.  Peter suggested I see a therapist, recommended by his father. It was actually his father’s therapist and he thought she would be the best person to handle my mental illness; the whole family had become involved in “helping me.” I had become the “identified patient.” I had been selected to keep attention focused away from the real problem. I later learned this was a deep seeded family secret centered on sexual deviance and misogyny.
Larson, S. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. New York:  Random House; 2008.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rehab Introductions: Sandy

Sandy had also married an abuser at age 19 and had also been pregnant. As did I, she and her abuser had a second child a few years later, an irresponsible decision for both of us. Abusive relationships are built on chaos, not stability, security and safety; life changing decisions are meant to keep the victim off balance. Our stories were so similar she had also had a third child later on. The difference between us is her abuser had abandoned her and her three daughters when she had moved in with her partner, a woman in her 20s. Sandy’s relationship with her partner was volatile when they were drinking and one evening things got out of control. They ended up in an altercation and Sandy’s partner called the police. The police arrested Sandy on a drinking related charge and assault, and, with no father in the picture, Sandy’s mother was called to care for the children. With this being Sandy’s first experience with law enforcement she or her mother had no idea what would happen next so her mother called the jail and told them Sandy must be suicidal; that must be the answer to her behavior. Sandy had always been “a good girl and never been in trouble.” Sandy was immediately taken to the suicide watch area and stripped. She was put in what inmates call “The Turtle Suit.” This is the same thing you wear when receiving an X-Ray. It’s a hard shield-like cover. You are naked underneath and it is very cold in the jail. Your cell is completely glass with a toilet in the coroner and you are under constant watch by other inmates. One night in The Turtle Suit is traumatic….she was in her Turtle Suit for three days. After the first day she was allowed a phone call; she called her mother desperately begging her to stop saying she was suicidal, trying to explain the consequences. Her mother would not relent. Sandy couldn’t cry, crying led to more time under suicide watch. The inmate “watchers” whispered this to her: “don’t cry or get mad or they’ll leave you in here.” Three days later she finally convinced her mother that she was not suicidal and was able to get out of jail. Anna had been assigned suicide watch during her last 30 day stretch in jail and chimed in while Sandy talked affirming her terrible Turtle Suit treatment.
Sandy was now “in the system.” Her children were assigned a Guardian Ad Litem and her GAL decided it would be a good idea to have her 19 year old daughter become the guardian of the younger two girls. Sandy was allowed visitation with her younger two daughters, as I was with my son. In a matter of just a few weeks her daughters had become uncontrollable. Everyone at work found out, and with her being a professional in the medical field, the story was scandalous, and Sandy was having difficulty making ends meet with all of the legal bills. She had to return to jail to serve out her time for two more weekends. She learned from others in the class to dress warmly and stuff dollar bills in her socks. Just sit there, don’t talk much and “do your time.” The other inmates, there for longer sentences, would try to swindle her money because pop and chips in the vending machine were the ultimate treat in jail.
Anna: young, attractive, smart, who had so much going for her, had almost overdosed the week before. The instructor was trying to convince her to enter a treatment program. She was just not ready to give up those pills….

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rehab Introductions

I began a life completely foreign to me and would continue to live this nightmare for over a year. I was working full time as an assistant professor at one University and teaching three undergraduate classes and one graduate class at another University. I was now also scheduling meetings with psychologists, the Guardian Ad Litem, my attorney and finding it hard to simply survive each day without falling to pieces. I nearly lost my job.
I had no idea how to maneuver through this legal process: what to say and, more importantly, what not to say.  I met with the Guardian Ad Litem first. She had already met with Peter so my interview was almost completely a defense of what had been said about me (opinion without evidence or documentation). I talked about the violence, the abuse, the journals and his obsessions, I showed pictures….but she wanted to talk about what had already been established.  
Accusation #1: I had allowed under-age drinking. I was wrong to have alcohol in my house with teenagers, especially considering the volatility of the separation and impending divorce and how that was affecting my then 16 and 19 year old daughters. I would do it differently; I would have gotten rid of any alcohol to leave no questions. She “recommended” that I attend a course designed for people, ordered by the court to attend for a varying number of weeks, who had been convicted of drinking and drug related offenses. I was not being ordered, but it was one of many hoops I would need to jump through.
I interviewed with a woman social worker who clearly saw the domestic violence in my relationship and the correlation with using alcohol to self-medicate. She wondered why he wasn’t in any anger management classes and I explained the horrific last few weeks and the Guardian Ad Litem’s position. She recommended I take 12 classes and I was to start that Wednesday from 6pm until 7pm. She was one of many people along the way that saw my pain and suffering and would champion my persistence.
On Wednesday I drove to the building across the street from a strip club, in a part of town I had rarely been. I walked into "rehab" and sat on a couch in between two college aged young men. Directly across the room sat a women in her 50s, at the table the instructor, another woman about the same age as myself, a very tattooed man in his late 20s and in a chair, a young lady also in her late 20s. I introduced myself and briefly told my story. I quickly learned, the two young men I shared a couch with had been arrested for running a very successful marijuana business out of their dorm room, the woman in her 50s, a self-professing alcoholic, had just been arrested for her third DUI in less than a month, the young lady in the chair (Anna) was addicted to pills and was sincerely just not ready to give them up yet. Jimmy the tattooed young man….I never understood what he did, but he invited me on a prescription drug run to Florida weeks later. The same aged woman, Sally, was a former Las Vegas stripper who had also lost her daughter as I had my son; she was a drinker and looked like and acted like she was on something else. Everyone was at various weeks in their court ordered class time, some would go and new ones arrived during my time that ended up being just under 20 weeks. They called me the professor and were all very intrigued by my story and the injustice on the "other side of the tracks." One Wednesday a few weeks later, Sandy walked in. She had just gotten out of jail for assaulting her partner. She worked at the same University I did and she had hit rock bottom…