behind the masque – the charismatic controller arrives

They seemed to have so much in common.
He was attentive and noticed minute details about her.
Her healing was incomplete, and she was emotionally vulnerable.

It was 1964, he was divorced and fighting for custody of his children. No Name Judge, “Sir, if only you were married, there would be a better chance of winning.” He didn’t really want his children; he just despised his ex-wife, and wanted revenge. Nobody leaves him. Nobody humiliates him. Nobody beats him.

The relentless pursuit of extracting vengeance fueled his heinous search for victim wife #2. At work there was a woman, and he would begin to execute his plan with her.

At first glance they made a handsome, striking couple. He was the cliché of tall, dark and handsome. She was petite and strikingly lovely with midnight black hair that framed her face in waves. He was charming and extremely attentive. She was flattered and felt unworthy. In a weirdly twisted way, he actually was everything my father wasn’t.  The name of her towering abuser – John.

Progressive Stages of Abuse: the challenge

Time is of the essence in an unfolding controlling relationship. Gaining premature trust always begins with gathering information for the purpose of manipulation. He asked probing, thought provoking questions and then listened attentively as she shared her life story. Mom prematurely exposed the broken, buried dreams and wounded places of her heart to one whom was unworthy to hold them. A failed marriage only affirmed and accentuated her insecurities. Identifying and understanding her sorrows, dreams, and insecurities became the ammunition in his trust quest. This knowledge would be used against her to his advantage while he continued his march toward revenge.

Mom is simply a kind, gentle soul. Seldom will she interject or impose her thoughts or desires on others. Even after the indiscretions of her ex-husband, she still inherently believed in the goodness of others. This naiveté to blindly trust others paved the path to several life altering, dangerous decisions that ripple across time to this very day.

John expertly executed his sinister plan. Strategically expressed and often overheard flattering compliments were perceived as attentiveness. The need for extensive knowledge concerning her past experiences and present life activities was perceived as caring. A premature proclamation identifying them as a couple, and references of future plans were perceived as commitment. Suffering physical and emotional abandonment in her first marriage created a vulnerability to any appearance of attentiveness, caring, and commitment. She was a neglected, parched soul desperately desiring a drop of kindness. Desperation is usually the precursor to a faulty decision making process.

Manipulation sounds like –

We’ve similar experiences and identical future desires to blend and create a new loving family. Our past mistakes don’t matter; this will be our fresh start. I will be a father to your girls and you will be a mother to my sons. We are perfect for one another.

He spoke the words her broken heart was desperate to hear, and he knew it. Sadly, after the divorce she viewed herself as damaged goods. After all who would want another man’s rejected wife with two children?  John baited the hook and she desperately wanted to believe the bait was good.

Progressive Stages of Abuse: covert control and manipulation

Doubting your reasoning ability –

His controlling behavior seeped out subtly on their weekly date nights. Before Mom was cognizant of its existence, an uncomfortable pattern emerged, and then repeated itself each time. My grandparents greeted him at the door, then ushered him into the living room to exchange polite pleasantries.  In another room Mom kissed us goodbye and quickly glanced in the mirror one last time.

The first time it happened she was flattered, but the next time it occurred it felt as if he were conducting critical, silent inspection. It was never called an inspection, but that is exactly what it was. His eyes would slowly and meticulously scan her appearance from head to toe as he mentally critiqued every nuance of her. Later, but much too late she would realize that it wasn’t the look of love or appreciation she saw in his eyes. It was something else, could it be an eagerness to discover something amiss? Was there something amiss in her? She pushed that thought away…

The size, fit, style and color selection of every garment was critiqued. Her makeup, perfume, jewelry and shoes came under scrutiny as well. At the end his inspection the result was always the same. He absolutely never affirmed or approved of her appearance. There was always a But, conjoined to a mandatory wardrobe change for her betterment. Initially Mom was flattered by the attention; in light of the inattentive, callous way my father had treated her. Eagerly and then anxiously she acquiesced to his desires to enhance her appearance. She wanted to please him, and he preyed on that wonderful aspect of her kind heart. After all he noticed and cared, so that meant he loved her, right?

Interestingly, she never considered the absurdity of someone finding fault with her years of experience executing a subdued classically attractive style. Mom had the gift of style and beauty – for a little while. John’s critical observations and subsequent preferred corrections were, wait for it – always ill fitting and unattractive. Are you surprised?   Don’t be.  He was insanely jealous and didn’t want anyone else to notice her.

His manipulation goal was to infuse small portions of doubt to slowly undermine and erode her judgment, opinions and decision making skills. The eventual conclusion – I don’t see things as clearly as John; so I will acquiesce to what he thinks is best. Eventually over time her appearance would mutate into an unrecognizable woman who was called, Elaine, but looked like a stranger to all who knew her.

Manipulation sounds like –

Are you certain you want to wear that particular blouse tonight? Can’t you see this one is the better choice?
It’s just I love you so much, and I want you to look your best.You want to look your best, don’t you?
You’re such a wonderful mother; I want to make certain others know that by the way your look. I know you don’t want to send the wrong message to others, do you?

Nobody noticed –

In case you are wondering if the evil that lurked just beneath the surface was noticeable to others, it wasn’t. The insidious thing about controlling, manipulative individuals is that those who aren’t controlling find it nearly impossible to believe that anyone else could behave in such a way.  

John was as slick as a slimy snail. Ever the consummate used car salesman, seller of tea to China, and the scientist that discovered the moon was made of cheese. He was capable for albeit brief periods of time, to appear charming; especially since Mom stood silently by his side wearing a painted mannequin smile. Neither family nor friends noticed her growing hesitation to communicate when he was near. Their perception – she was simply content after years of sorrow.  Little did anyone know that post-family gatherings were followed by tortuous sessions of scrutiny of everything spoken.  To minimize his displeasure – she embraced silence.

Rush to seal the deal –

There was a premature proclamation of love, rushed courtship, and quick marriage proposal with barely a breath of an engagement prior to their nuptials. An accelerated timeline is a common characteristic of controlling manipulative relationships, because with enough time the abuse will be exposed; creating a possibility for intervention by loved ones. Only my Grandma sensed something was terribly wrong with him. Grandma cried, begged, and pleaded with her only daughter to post-pone the wedding until the last possible moment. Sadly, Mom didn’t listen.

Manipulation sounds like –

Why should we wait? We both know what we want this time around.
You wouldn’t want my sons to stay with their mother would you?
Our love will rescue my sons.
I will love your daughters as if they were my own.

Vengeance extracted –

After a brief honeymoon, John triumphantly entered the courtroom with his newly captured wife. Taking their seats, the testimony began. Mom listened intently as his first victim (wife #1) attempted to explain through her brokenness the psychological abuse she and her children had suffered. As she shared the abuse occurrences, a singular jolting thought exploded in my mother’s mind while seated next to him – he does that to me. The jolting thought was immediately smothered with the fire extinguisher of denial. Oh if she had lingered there just a moment longer.

The thunderous sound of the gavel echoed throughout the courtroom. Custody of the children was awarded to John. His hysterical ex-wife was taken away to a psychiatric ward pronounced delusional. No one believed her testimony, until a few years later. That individual was not a juror, attorney or judge. The someone was my Mom.

Abuse truth –

Time is your friend; don’t be rushed into a commitment. 
The word love is often used as a “get out of jail free card” to camouflage their intent. Changes in a friend’s accessibility, behavior or appearance are early warning signs of abuse.  Abusers leverage your love and protective nature for others, to gain control.

My random partial list –

I love the melody of buoy bells. I love the fresh smell of rain. I love feather pillows.  I love God.

In closing, sharing something lovely –

In our back yard a stately oak stretches her arms wide beckoning birds, squirrels, childhood forts and shade seekers. Her spring and fall outfits are stunning. In the spring she is dressed in a lovely cloak of lime green that proclaims the newness of life and leaf. However her precariously attached golden yellow sweater of fall is the one that takes my breath away. I often peer out of my window eagerly awaiting the hush of a gentle wind that initiates the flutter dance of leaves destined to cover my lawn in a blanket of golden snow.  There is such beauty in the world…


journaling then and now – setting the stage of understanding

The stage is nearly set for the entrance of our family abuser into my life story. Here are a few remaining, yet vital pieces to ensure the brightest light of truth will illuminate and dispel the darkest deception. Knowledge illuminates the truth; at the same time it also dispels the myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about the abused and the abuser.

My personal observations and insights are culled from the childhood abuser in our home, and other abuse victims and abusers I have known. The process of writing this blog prompted me to commit to paper what I have stored in my heart for many years. The prompting is the easy stuff. Submitting to the process – not so much. Honestly, I labored over the creation of The Three Stages and Top Five lists for nearly a month.

Unknown reader, there’s immeasurable hope woven between each line I write. Hope for you. Hope for someone you love. Hope you will recognize and bravely react to the markers of abuse. Hope you will live an abuse free life.

But first a poignant word picture…
The abuse victim literally becomes a marionette who lives to perform the will of the puppeteer. With each attached silken strand, the marionette forfeits a portion of control and transfers it to the hand of the master puppeteer.

Progressive Stages of Abuse – #1 the challenge
Gaining control in a new relationship creates a challenge rush for the abuser. Once a potential abuse victim is identified, the abuser quickly initiates The Con. To convince the target and their support system of friends and family that they are nearly perfect is the goal. The false persona and uncanny amount of professed similarities between the abused and the abuser is meant to gain unwarranted favor and premature trust.

This is a brief phase marked by commitment urgency. The urgency whirlwind inhibits the ability to adequately process what is actually occurring. If this phase is prolonged, the true motives of the abuser will be revealed. Always remember – time is your friend. Hit the pause button to give yourself time to gain a clear perspective.

A few thought-provoking questions that may help. Be honest, because your life may depend on it.
How do they treat others?
Are they respectful or rude the majority of the time?
After a seemingly (nice) interaction, do they mock the individual?
How do they react to accurate constructive criticism?
Are they more often than not critical of you and others?
Do they lie, cheat, or steal?

Summary: The Con. Urgency. Practically Perfect.

Progressive Stages of Abuse – #2 covert control and manipulation
A subtle element of control and manipulation is initially introduced in such a way to appear nearly benign and harmless. Is it caring? Is it attentiveness? Is it concern? Doubt and uncertainty begin to cloud the mind of the victim,  undermining their belief that they’re capable of perceiving correctly. With each step the abuser pauses to ascertain the level of resistance or compliance of the victim and their support system of established relationships.

Every individual has a support system (aka) a personal cheer squad. The group of beaming faces you search for in the stands that encourage, support, believe and love you. Rain or shine, lose or win, agree or disagree, they’re for you. This group of individuals is a dangerous threat to the success of the abuser, because they hold the potential for intervention. In order for control and manipulation to flourish unhindered, these powerful relationship bonds must be severed as completely as an amputation.

The process of silencing your cheer squad doesn’t begin with an edict from the abuser, because that would be far too obvious. Instead it subtly unfolds as one seed of doubt after another is planted in the heart of the victim to nullify the voice of the cheer squad. Eliminating the support group voices will result in only one voice of influence to remain – the voice of the abuser.

Summary: Subtly. Doubt. Separation.

Progressive Stages of Abuse – #3 overt control and manipulation
The abuser ceases to conceal his true identity or intent, believing the abuse victim is trapped. Constant belittling and unrelenting criticism erodes the victim’s self-esteem and creates a doubt-paralyzed mind. Doubt cripples the mental and emotional strength to believe there is a way of escape. The goal is achieved – the abused is totally dependent on the abuser.

The military assault waged in the brain of the victim succeeds in the stripping away of all things unique to you as a person. The stripping must occur in order for the abuser to recreate the abused. Any trace of the former person, must be eradicated and replaced with what the abuser dictates. Total compliance to the will and whim of the abuser is mandatory. Constant reassurance of love, and single-minded devotion is demanded at the personal expense of the abused.

Physical and mental isolation, chaos, fear, pain, and self-recrimination for believing a consummate liar permeate their daily life. Hopelessness becomes the skin that envelops the victim, who now believes they are condemned to a life long sentence of abuse. Hopelessness for one creates freedom for the other. The freedom to abuse leads to an escalation of frequency and ferocity of abuse.

Summary: Criticism. Brainwashing. Hopelessness.

Top Five Abuser Characteristics – #1 abusers are Machiavellian at heart
Initially they appear to be charismatic, perceptive, and engaging.

Their charm is disarming, allowing them to subtly weave their web of lies undetected, and in full view of others. Remember first and foremost that psychological and physical abusers have a doctorate in Con Artistry. The definition of con artist: a fake, hustler, shark, deceiver, or fraud who is adept at lying, cajolery, glib, self-serving talk, and swindling by means of confidence games.

Summary: They are better at deception than we are at detection. Ignore the charisma, listen to their words and observe their character as they interact with others.

Top Five Abuser Characteristics – #2 abusers are attentive listeners and information gatherers
The Listening Gathering Search Engine for abusers identifies the passions and insecurities of an individual.

Their motive for discovery: manipulation. Abusers feign a nearly instantaneous affinity with their potential victim through a fabricated commonality of desires, interests, experiences, and life goals. So many similarities between two individual would move any heart.

While engaged in (get acquainted) conversation they enthusiastically sprinkle you with flattery. This falsely forged connection often produces a dangerous lapse in judgment. Common Sense is bullied by Premature Trust to entice you into ignoring cautious vetting and let your guard down. This is fertile soil for control and manipulation to take root and thrive.

Summary: They briefly appear to be Prince Charming or Cinderella, but they only exist in fairy tales.

Top Five Abuser Characteristics – #3 abusers are extreme narcissists
A narcissist wants to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. e. lutzer

In their twisted thinking there can only be one who is superior – them. All other humanoids are inferior competitors vying to steal their deserved glorious accolades. In a room overflowing with fascinating, brilliant people, they’re the sole card-carrying member of the Est Club. Smartest. Prettiest. Funniest. Strongest. A narcissist becomes highly agitated and sullen if the conversation doesn’t often focus on them. After all, hearing the opinions of another is torturous waste of time, since there is only one opinion that truly matters.

Nothing is more egregious to a narcissist than the success of another, especially those in relationship with them. Any accomplishments of supposed loved ones is critiqued, minimized and belittled. It is impossible for the narcissistic abuser to encourage, facilitate, and celebrate the success of another when they’re viewed as competitors. How do you react when you believe someone is stealing your thunder? You attack.

Rarely will the abuser display an interest in the childhood memories or family traditions of the abused. Any life lived prior to the narcissist was insignificant and inconsequential, because life didn’t truly begin until their arrival.

Summary: They could capture the gold medal, win the beauty contest, and single-handedly discover the cure to all diseases, because of their genius.

Top Five Abuser Characteristics – #4 abusers are infallible
They never do anything wrong. They never say anything wrong. They never are wrong.

In their twisted thinking they are practically perfect. In actuality, they’re astute blame shifters. Like a broken record repeating a single song, the abuser repeats the blame rhetoric with each abuse occurrence.
This absolves the abuser of all culpability for their actions, and the blame for the abuse cascades over the mind and heart of the already fragile, wounded one.

“If you would simply obey my requests, instructions, and demands, then there would be no need for me to punish you.” Translation: If you wouldn’t do (X) – I wouldn’t do (Y). This insane thought process isn’t just espoused propaganda to their victim – it’s actually what they believe. Reasoning with an abuser is futile. A rational mind can’t reason with an irrational mind.

Infallibility Belief can’t be restrained; it will flourish in both the private and public life of an abuser. In their public life, espoused infallibility quickly collides with resistance among friends and coworkers. Character discovery leads to resistance, and constant change in jobs and friend groups. However the core reasons for the change – change not. I was misunderstood, mistreated, and my talents were marginalized.

Summary: They believe in their personal perfection and seldom admit wrong doing for their actions, reactions and words.

Top Five Abuser Characteristics – #5 abusers are addicted to power
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Abusers regard life as a continuous game. Human beings are objects, game pieces, to be controlled and manipulated to feed their sense of power. Winning in everything is everything. Each day every innocuous, routine interaction with family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers must culminate in a demoralizing display of power over others.

Demeaning and dominating others feed the feeling of superiority, which must be reaffirmed daily. The character traits of honesty, kindness, compassion, and generosity are signs of weakness, and disgusting to the abuser. As with all addictions the abuse appetite increases, because the feelings of strength and superiority are increasingly fleeting. The abuser is unfulfilled until the scales of power tip completely to their side.

The abuser treats the abused as an indentured servant who exists solely to fulfill the perverted will of the abuser. Remember these words: Who. What. When. Where.

They decide – Who you see. What you do. Where you go. When you go.

Summary: Inflicting pain feeds the feeling of power at the expense of the mind and heart of others.

One last thing – Abuse crosses the boundaries of gender, age, education, and socio-economic status. The current statistics concerning abuse perpetrated on either gender is startling. We need to be aware that more than 40% of abuse cases consist of a female partner abusing the male partner.

Now I want to end our time together with something lovely – The hushed sound of peace that settles over the earth after a fresh blanket of snow gently kisses the tree limbs and covers the ground with a frosting of delicate untouched softness.      


behind the masque – the not so nasty dog

My fourth birthday was approaching in (five) months, and for a still unknown reason I had a random yet profound dog epiphany. My life was incomplete and lacking without a dog. This wasn’t your garden-variety childhood whim; this was an urgent, life-sustaining need. I knew Grandpa alone held the approval power to fulfill my dog ownership desires. The chips were stacked against me; The Grandparents owned a beloved dog, Mitzy. She was pre-owned by Mom, and later bequeathed to them on her wedding day.

My discovered need and protracted anticipation fueled my undaunted courage. Impatiently I waited by the door as I strained to hear the familiar sounds that announced his daily arrival. Finally, I heard the thunderous echo of the motor as he parked underneath the carport. I had the arrival sequence memorized: thunderous echo, momentary silence, a door slammed, followed by his distinct bowlegged gait that caused his keys to jingle a melody at his side.

As he turned the corner, the smashed face of his granddaughter who had become one with the jalousie door, greeted him. He only grinned.

A half footstep inside the door, I blurted out the need for a serious conversation. Can you imagine his racing thoughts? Yet, in the moment between anticipation and discovered need, he only displayed genuine love toward me. I would imagine he eventually realized the futility of guessing the what , and resided himself to board Wendy’s Wild Ride, content to discover where it took him.

To the Comfy Lumpy Chair we went; or to be more accurate – I dragged him. I positioned the serious conversation footstool in front of Grandpa’s chair. This would be the most serious conversation we ever had, at least at four years old. As usual, he extended his hand to steady my step, and then I looked into his eyes. Eyes so filled with acceptance and love that they gave me courage. Taking a breath, I shared my morning revelation. I needed a dog, and he was the integral part of that plan.

He grinned, briefly paused, and then gingerly (without dashing my hopes) repeated the indictment I had levied on the worldwide dog population just days before. All dogs were nasty dogs. In an instant, I threw his beloved Mitzy under the bus. She was the slobber culprit and first offender in the Nasty Dog Club. I was certain my dog would be perfect, and thus slobber free. Grandpa listened attentively to the plea of his tiny granddaughter, and promised to consider my request. That was all I needed to hear. Hugs and kisses were dispensed, and then I descended the stool, content to wait, because first and foremost – Grandpa was a word keeper.

his word was his bond –

A few weeks later, Grandpa announced we had a mystery errand date. Happily I skipped toward the car, my tiny soft hand firmly surrounded by his strong gentle hand. Now it was my turn to attempt to guess the what of our mysterious expedition. He grinned the grin of knowing and simply replied: “You will have to wait and see.” Of course I guessed the pet store, but much to my surprise and subsequent dismay, we traveled only a few streets away to an unknown neighborhood house.  My disappointment gave way to temporary pout-age as we approached the front door. Suddenly pout-age vanished and gave way to pure excitement as I heard the unmistakable sound of squeaking puppies.

the disastrous attempt –

Who knew that a dog breeder/trainer for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus lived just a few streets away from my grandparent’s home? Recently a prized show dog delivered a litter of puppies. Lady Breeder answered the door, and ushered us into puppy heaven. Grandpa bent down and lovingly shared that I could select any puppy I desired. In just a few moments I would meet my needed puppy. Lady Breeder was patient, but slow as molasses as she presented one cute puppy after another for my inspection, and subsequent rejection. Don’t even ask me the criteria for the needed puppy. I only knew I would know it when I saw the perfect one. Actually, that is exactly the shopping strategy I employ to this very day.

Finally, Lady Breeder announced there were no other puppies. However, I knew this to be untrue. Although hidden from sight, the mournful sound of whimpering continually escaped from underneath a closed hallway door, thus sabotaging my selection ability. The other puppies didn’t need me, but a pitiful puppy called to my heart from behind a door. There was in fact another.

With my allotment of self-control exhausted, a mini melt down ensued replete with pathetic begging and punctuated by large tears. Could I please, please, please just look at the hidden puppy? Lady Breeder expressed her sorrow, but firmly pronounced she wasn’t for sale. Ringling Brothers had already selected her as their next show dog. A glance of desperation from Grandpa, and a brokenhearted child provoked Lady Breeder to briefly acquiesce. She disappeared momentarily and then returned with a precious squiggly wiggly, itty-bitty puppy cupped within her hands.

The moment I held the licorice puppy with a diamond tuft of white, it was love. Calmly she snuggled into my chest as I stroked her fur. I drew closer to Grandpa and showed him her cuteness, “Look Grandpa at the white patch on her neck. Her name should be Patches.” Yes, I named a circus dog that wasn’t mine.

Operation Puppy Procurement had officially digressed into a disaster. Eager anticipation gave way to heartbreak, and then landed on instantaneous puppy love. Grandpa, in a final gallant attempt, offered Lady Breeder whatever price in order to purchase Patches. Unmoved, she emphatically reiterated Patches truly wasn’t for sale. Their exchange contained a litany of words beyond my comprehension; AKC, pedigree, and contractual obligation. As I finally faced the brutal realization Patches was bound for the circus and not our home – all I heard was sobbing .

Again, I was offered any other dog, but there was only one for me, and she wasn’t to be mine. I took Grandpa’s hand of trust as I wiped tears of heartbreak from my face, and then we departed in silence – minus the needed dog. Later during the week, a few feeble attempts were launched to locate the needed dog elsewhere, but a licorice puppy with a tuft of white had already stolen my child’s heart.

the needed dog –

Time passed and we ceased to talk about The Needed Dog, until one evening after work when Grandpa announced it was time for a serious conversation. I rushed to the stool and in a single swipe removed the days old pile of newspapers. I was filled with excitement, eager to hear what he would share as I re-positioned the stool in front of Comfy Lumpy Chair. The serious conversation announcement never produced fear or anxiety in my child’s heart. Maybe “because even if it was corrective in nature, it only further  affirmed his love for me.”

His opener, “Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, and a lot of work.” My heart raced as my head eagerly nodded agreement.  As if I actually understood anything about pet ownership. Grandpa patiently explained the necessary daily dog care regimen that a puppy would require. All I heard was “Puppy.” Once satisfied with his review of dog ownership prerequisites, I waited by Comfy Lumpy for Grandpa’s momentary return. 

I’m not certain which came first: the ginormous box cradled in his arms, or the familiar sound within the box?  In the single tick of a clock, mini me abandoned the designated post and clumsily darted across the room toward what I knew must be a puppy.

Interestingly, I never wondered which puppy was waiting for me inside the box.  I will allow you a moment to take a guess. Is it?  Isn’t it?  Can it possibly be?  But is it?  Nearly breathless from excitement, Grandpa folded back the box flaps to reveal – a licorice puppy with a diamond tuft nestled in a doggie security blanket. It was my beloved Patches designated for the circus, but destined for my heart.

True to Grandpa’s character, he never shared the obscene cost Lady Breeder extracted to unite Patches and I again.  Patches (aka Patchy) lived seventeen years. She was a gentle, faithful companion to the child me.  Amazingly, she never slobbered.

My Grandpa loved generously.


journaling then and now – reading to educate

Periodically,  journaling then and now will feature an article or story that is share worthy, and designed to dispel abuse ignorance through education.

21 Warning Signs of an Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Is it possible that you are being abused and don’t even know it? Domestic violence is once again in the forefront of the news. This is in part due to abusive incidents with sports figures or celebrities that have become very public. Abuse is not always as obvious as being hit or shoved, called degrading names or cussed out. In fact, it can very well be underhanded or subtle.

You may find yourself feeling confused about the relationship, off balance or like you are “walking on eggshells” all the time. This is the kind of abuse that often sneaks up on you as you become more entrenched in the relationship. I am talking here about psychological abuse, which is also known as mental or emotional abuse.

Psychological abuse occurs when a person in the relationship tries to control information available to another person with intent to manipulate that person’s sense of reality or their view of what is acceptable and unacceptable. Psychological abuse often contains strong emotionally manipulative content and threats designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser’s wishes.

All abuse takes a severe toll on self-esteem. The abused person starts feeling helpless and possibly even hopeless. In addition, most mental abusers are adept at convincing the victim that the abuse is his/her fault. Somehow, the victim is responsible for what happened.

A more sophisticated form of psychological abuse is often referred to as “gas lighting.” This happens when false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Examples may range simply from the abuser denying that previous abusive incidents ever occurred to staging bizarre events with the intention of confusing the victim.

I listened to a client tell me that her husband denied an affair after she found a racy email to another woman on his computer and confronted him. The husband vehemently denied this and when so far as to send an email to his tech guy asking how his account could have been hacked and to fix the problem!

A common form of emotional abuse is “I love you, but…” That may sound nice at first, yet it is both a disguised criticism and a threat. It indicates, “I love you now, but if you don’t stop this or that, my love will be taken away.” It is a constant jab that slowly strips away your self-esteem. Abusers get a lot of reinforcement out of using the word “love” as it seems to become a magic word to control you.

Abusers at times do what I call “throw you a bone.” I have heard countless times from clients that their partner was “nice,” “complimentary,” “gave me a gift,” etc. as if it should erase all of the bad treatment. You need to understand that this is part of the dynamic and cycle of abuse.

In fact, it is rare for abusive relationships to not have these (often intense) moments of feeling good, overly sincere apologies or attempts to make up for the bad behavior. The victim clings to hope when these moments occur and the abuser knows this.

Psychological abuse can look like:
1. Humiliating or embarrassing you.
2. Constant put-downs.
3. Hyper-criticism.
4. Refusing to communicate.
5. Ignoring or excluding you.
6. Extramarital affairs.
7. Provocative behavior with opposite sex.
8. Use of sarcasm and unpleasant tone of voice.
9. Unreasonable jealousy.
10. Extreme moodiness.
11. Mean jokes or constantly making fun of you.
12. Saying “I love you but…”
13. Saying things like “If you don’t _____, I will_____.”
14. Domination and control.
15. Withdrawal of affection.
16. Guilt trips.
17. Making everything your fault.
18. Isolating you from friends and family.
19. Using money to control.
20. Constant calling or texting when you are not with him/her.
21. Threatening to commit suicide if you leave.

It is important to remember that it is absolutely not your fault. Abusers are expert manipulators with a knack for getting you to believe that the way you are being treated is your fault. These people know that everyone has insecurities, and they use those insecurities against you.

Abusers can convince you that you do not deserve better treatment or that they are treating you this way to “help” you. Some abusers even act quite charming and nice in public so that others have a good impression of them. In private is a different story, which is also quite baffling.

If you see yourself in these words, know that there is little hope for your relationship to improve. It would take a monumental amount of insight and motivation for the abuser to change and unfortunately, this is rarely the case. If you are in an abusive relationship, I urge you to get out and with professional help if needed. Often the first step in leaving the abuser is obtaining counseling just to rebuild your esteem so that you can leave.

I particularly want you to know that you may “love” this person, but that they do not “love” you or respect you. I assure you that in time you will get over this person if you break it off. You will be making the right decision … no looking back.

For further information on abusive relationships and domestic violence, please contact your local domestic violence shelter, or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). This number will lead you to immediate help in your area. Help is available in either English or Spanish and 170 other languages through interpreters.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Oct 2014
Published on All rights reserved.

behind the masque – fourteen months of wonderful

It was the best of times.
Grateful.  Thankful.  Appreciative.  Safe.  Loved.  Happy.  Peaceful.  Belonging.
Inspiring words that miserably fail to describe this overwhelmingly precious gift of time given to me.

This is dedicated to the only fourteen months of wonderful I would ever know as a child.

Once my grandparents discovered my father’s disclosed secrets, there was no further discussion necessary. To put it succinctly, we three were unwanted by him, but wanted by them. Overnight, their home grew from two to five, and my life story took a sharp right turn down Carefree Childhood Lane. One peaceful day rolled into another, filled with fourteen months of wonderful, full of a child’s innocent curiosities and the discoveries of an unfolding world.  

This series of tender childhood memories were created while I felt sheltered, safe and surrounded by love. They would sustain me into adulthood as the undeniable benchmark for the existence and power of authentic, unselfish love in my life. Sadly, I would never again know consistent peace, acceptance and love – until I escaped from my family many years later.

Now, presenting a few wonderfully random memory snippets. I hope they make you smile. At first glance they are nothing extraordinary, but you would be incorrect in your assumption. Actually, they would shape the woman, wife, mother, and friend I would become, because the memory of my memories would compel me to recognize and reject counterfeit love, while pursuing to love others authentically.

the morning race –

As the brightness of the sun pried my sleepy eyes open, I would hear the symphony of morning sounds wafting from the kitchen. I loved the gurgling coffee, clanging of dishes, slamming of drawers, punctuated by an occasional crash, as Grandpa prepared for the next Great Cheerio Race.

Quickly I would extricate myself from Cover Mountain, then race into the kitchen for hugs, kisses and, “Did you have sweet dreams?” While the rest of the house slept, Grandpa and I would dine on Cheerios, usually studded with strawberries, coffee for him and kiddy coffee for me. In case you are wondering, kiddy coffee was a cup of milk with probably one tablespoon of coffee. Believe it or not that is about how light I drink my coffee even to this day. Occasionally we would indulge in the most heavenly bottles of chocolate milk (this will date me) delivered by the milkman.

Breakfast was a race, because a coveted gold star was at stake, and proudly placing it on the poster board chart was the winner’s prize. After the star posting ceremony, Grandpa would shave and I would talk incessantly while he did so. Even though he was preparing for work, he was never rushed or dismissive, but always legitimately interested and engaged in the ramblings of his granddaughter.

the singing heroines –

In the arena of pretend escapades and adventures, I was sorely pathetic. Stuffed animals and baby dolls were my nemesis, because – hello – they aren’t real! Much to my Grandma’s delight, I did eventually fall in love with Wedding Day Barbie and her extensive trousseau in Gandy’s Toy Store. I would spend countless content hours, not playing with her, but happily organizing her outfits and accessories repeatedly in her case. Yes friends, even at three I had a gifting toward organization.  

Fear not, I did have singing heroines: Shirley Temple and Mary Poppins. Each and every day, there would be several live performances as I would serenade or scream-sing my songs, all the while whirling and twirling throughout the house.  This culminated in the kitchen grand finale sequence: shuffle, tap, twirl, stomp could only be achieved on the super shiny black and pink checkerboard floor. The routine was magnificent and met with rousing applause from my audience each and every time, in spite of the fact that I can neither sing or dance.

Lest you think my obsessions lasted long, they didn’t. Barbie, Shirley and Mary were often temporarily forgotten when I discovered a random life long lack that I needed to fulfill. Remember I was three.  One such occasion involved my need to experience dog ownership, which was hysterical since I referred to all dogs as (nasty dogs), obviously due to several horrific encounters with slobbering dog-faces. More on the dog pursuit to follow later.

the conversation stool –

Grandpa had a special Comfy Lumpy Chair, perfect for cuddling grandchildren. Flanked to the right of it was a special something: a small wooden footstool upholstered in a slightly tacky, black and red embossed leatherette fabric. It was a multi-purpose stool; by day a weekly newspaper stand, by night a tired footrest, and occasionally a serious conversation platform for his tiny granddaughter.

Grandpa and I had an agreement with each other; all serious conversations must occur face-to-face so I could look directly into his loving eyes while I talked. I would place my chubby hands on either side of his face, slightly patting his cheeks, and then announce my conversational need. Somehow he managed to suppress his amusement while watching his serious granddaughter struggle to perfectly re-position the stool in front of his chair. Once I was satisfied, he would ceremoniously extend his hand to steady me as I ascended one huge step to firmly stand on the little stool.

Many of my questions would sound foolish and unimportant to other adult ears, but not to Grandpa. He always treated my observations and questions with gentle tenderness and the utmost respect you bestow on someone you love, regardless of their age. Grandpa had an amazing way of always inviting me into his adult world and granting genuine importance to my inquiries. I was never endured, placated, or worse – dismissed. Even at the day’s end, though weary, never was I treated with fatigue-induced impatience. Grandpa lived available and interruptible to those he loved.

In case you are wondering, the need presentation for an illusive dog was definitely a footstool conversation.

the bedtime routine –

I remember the sweet routine of bedtime.  Cloaked in footy pajamas, I made the rounds receiving several hugs and double cheek kisses from everyone. Happily I would jump into bed, snuggle and squirm my way under Cover Mountain, while my mom patiently waited for me to announce I was just right. She would stroke my face while engaged in bedtime silly talk, the secret weapon of moms to lull you to sleep. As my eyelids grew heavy, she would tenderly kiss me one more time as I drifted off to sleep, cocooned in a blanket of love and belonging. I lived in a peaceful world, and it made my child’s heart content and happy.

the closing for now –

Sadly, the absence of my father in my daily life didn’t create a void, because it’s difficult to miss someone who was a sporadic, reluctant participant in your family life. I had a father, but not a dad. However, I was blessed to have an incredibly wonderful loving Grandpa, whom I adored.

Grandpa was the first man in my life that I knew honestly loved the child me. When I entered a room, his eyes would twinkle and dance with merriment mixed with and a bit of mischief.  His delight was in teasing me, and in short order bellyaching laughter would ensue.

He loved me not because I was special, but his love made me feel special. Isn’t that exactly what authentic love should do? It should be transforming, causing others to feel special, accepted, safe, and wanted.

Friends, never doubt the life transforming power love brings to the heart, mind and life of another. Its brief or extended presence can and will have a lifelong impact. The feelings and memories of those fourteen months were imprinted on my life forever.

my random partial list –
I love the smell of ripe strawberries. I love the color green. I love chubby baby hands. I love God.

love truth –
Authentic love will be safe, comfortable, inspiring, and belonging.
Authentic love is transforming to the heart and mind.
Authentic love is accessible and interruptible.

Until next time,

behind the masque – it began before me

My life story began before me.
The decisions of my parents appear in the opening credits.
The principal player in the opening scenes is Elaine – Mother of Wendy.

Scene One – First Glimpse

She steps from the shadows of my story, no longer an enigma, but a complex woman of substance and weakness. As our entwined stories unfold before you, her inner beauty will shine brighter than her blemishes.  She dreamed of loving and being loved, as a woman, wife, and mother.

My mom is a gentle, kind soul with sorrowful onyx eyes. She radiates a childlike awe in the simple, routine, often overlooked things of life, savoring deeply each moment as a gift. Seldom will she abandon herself to laughter, because her preferred expression of joy is an infectious giggle, which will absolutely melt your heart.

In a crowded room overflowing with conversations, she is the empathetic content listener grateful to be near you, but having no need to proclaim or promote herself. To know my mom is to love my mom, but you must be purposeful to discover her. Just imagine a beautiful flowering plant, concealed yet quietly blooming in a secret garden. That is my sweet mom.

She is the one who cradled my head when I was ill, checked my closet when I was afraid, and colored with me when I was bored. I am her first-born, and she is the first person to love me. I adore her, because I know her heart.

Scene Two – My First Childhood Memory

My earliest childhood memories play like a View Master reel; vividly detailed, but brief scenes alternating between unrecorded white spaces of time. Eventually the white spaces would be filled with details, but not for many years.

I was asleep, but the sound of voices awakened me. My parents were in the living room; so I slipped out of bed drawn to the sound of their strange conversation. Quickly my curiosity was exchanged for fear. I was only three, and incapable of understanding the content of their loud, harsh exchange. I only knew I was frightened, because something was wrong and strangely different about my mom. Her once gentle, loving face had vanished. A silhouette colored by anguish and heartbreak, stained by a stream of unending tears was all that remained. As she walked toward the door, she choked out the word, “leave”.

Over and over again I frantically screamed, “Mommy don’t leave! Mommy don’t leave!” She was deaf to my screams, hearing only my father’s words ravenously gnash and tear at her heart until love no longer remained.  When she reached the door my little feet suddenly began to run, intent on reaching her.  Fortunately or unfortunately  (still undecided) my father was quicker than I, and scooped me up in his arms. Holding me tightly against his chest in order to prevent my escape, I pushed against him, twisting and turning desperately attempting to break free, all the while screaming for my mom to come back.

Heart broken, hysterically crying, and alone, she stepped into the blackness of night.

Scene Three – White Space Details Revealed

On a beautiful winter morning friends and family gathered together in a small Catholic Church to witness my parents exchange their wedding vows.  “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.”

Unfortunately, my father struggled often with the “to have and to hold” part exclusively applying to my mother. After four years of marriage, and several babies, he selected one particular night to cruelly and viciously boast of his countless infidelities, and demand a divorce.  Future hopes and dreams ceased that evening for our little family. 

That night would become my first childhood memory.

My father’s proclamation and their subsequent confrontation marked the failure of a marriage now rapidly careening toward divorce. One wave after another crashed over my mother that night, betrayal, rejection, and shame. Barely able to catch her breath between the battering waves, there was yet one more. The next, last wave overwhelmed and broke her mind, because it wasn’t directed at her, instead this final wave would crash over the lives of her little girls. They would be raised in a fatherless home. She could endure the betrayal of trust, rejection as a wife, societal stigma, and the shame of divorce in an Italian family, but her daughters condemned to experience life in a fatherless home was unbearable. Her greatest life failure wasn’t her broken marriage. She had failed to give her girls what she had treasured in her own life, a loving father, who adored them. That wave of revelation engulfed her, pulled her under, and for a brief while away from everybody who loved her.  

When my mom walked into the night wounded in heart and mind, she didn’t return, but kept walking for twelve long miles. Her destination, a place where she felt loved, safe and protected.  Everything she was taught and embraced about life, marriage, and family had shattered into pieces around her.  At the age of twenty-four, she became a casualty of infidelity.

That night created the bridge that ushered her toward a future abusive relationship. It was paved by betrayal, rejection, shame and her overwhelming desire to give her daughters the gift of a loving father.

Later, into the space of time between pursuit of healing and healed stepped her future husband.   Sadly, my mom would then journey across the bridge.

my random partial list –
I love tulips. I love jeans. I love lobster. I love watches. I love old movies.

abuse truth –
Rejection combined with shame shatters self-esteem, creating a season of vulnerability to future abuse.
It is dangerous to enter a new relationship as a salve for a failed relationship before healing has occurred.

next time –
Behind the Masque – the charismatic controller arrives


journaling then and now – nit picking

A glimpse into the workings of my brain.  

A few days ago I was on the hunt for a travel size pillbox at Target. This was strictly a search and rescue mission, get in and get out as quickly as possible.  Strategically walking down the center of each aisle, eyes rapidly darting from left to right I quickly eliminated aisles 39-41.  Rounding the corner I glanced to my left, my brain briefly registered the section of product dedicated to lice eradication, and quite by accident a loud “yuck” escaped my lips.

What followed “yuck” I liken to a roller coaster ride shrouded in darkness, until a series of gargantuan sized words exploded and then vanished one at a time the moment my brain registered them.  Somehow the word “lice” triggered the ride, that I am pleased to report was brief.  The next word “nit” exploded in bright white letters, and simultaneously unlocked the memory of the Great Lice Infestation of 1993.  Each morning for months, a team of parents would line the sidewalks to meticulously search the sweaty heads of K-4 students for hatched or unhatched lice babies, aka “nits”.  I barely had time to smile, when the lice ride came to a screeching, rather abrupt halt arriving at the desired destination, the gargantuan word nit-picking”.

Merriam Webster’s definition of Nit-picking

  • minute and usually unjustified criticism
  • looking for small unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily.

Nit-picking was an often-used phrase in my childhood home, because fault-finding and belittling were my stepfather’s passion.  If, a Ph.D. could be awarded for excellence in this field, he would have graduated first in his class.  Think finding a nettle in a haystack.  Think never good enough.  Think constant criticism.  Think incessant ridicule.  Think negative, always negative.

He would mercilessly ridicule and attack the validity of any and everything you liked, loved, preferred, desired, created, experienced, or accomplished.  His goal was to tarnish and ruin the thing you valued.  Over and over again for hours at a time, he would rehearse and accentuate a single minute flaw, all the while demanding an explanation for your ridiculous beliefs.  As he cruelly diminished and destroyed that which was significant to you, he was keenly aware of the pain he was inflicting.  It was the practice of inflicting pain that caused him to feel powerful and superior.  Relenting was never an option until his desired, demeaning goal was accomplished.  Finally, after hours of feebly attempting to defend yourself, exhaustion became your foe, and confusion enveloped your mind.  At this point you (willingly yet unwillingly) apologized, proclaimed your extreme wrongness and affirmed his supreme rightness.  Then, as if a light switch was flipped, he would grin the victor’s grin, cease his torment, and leave you alone.   

Enduring repeated episodes of nit-picking year after year eventually produced an ever-present state of confusion and overall doubt that became fertile ground for future deep-rooted feelings of insecurity and insignificance.  This was debilitating and crippling to a child, especially when you slowly began to believe his lies.  After all you were supposed to be able to trust and believe your parents.  Why would the ones who loved you the most tell you lies or deliberately choose to hurt you? 

Nit-picking – it should be reserved for destroying lice, not people.