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.


journaling then and now – the rock

Today, while perched on the edge of a jagged cliff that dropped into the bluest of oceans, I was captivated again by the choreographed rhythm of the waves.  At times they gently rolled across the ocean surface like blue agave, yet a moment later they almost appeared to be chasing one another toward the finish line located along the jagged rocks.  Each and every time I gaze upon an endless ocean that is serenaded by a symphony of rolling waves an amazing thing transpires.  The constant decisions, demands and disappointments of life are quickly replaced with something beautiful, peace and clarity.

Today, was no different.  A single, gentle thought found a voice in the silence, “I wonder when the beauty of the ocean became such a place of peace and clarity for me?”  I had only rolled it across my brain a few times when I quite suddenly remembered something long forgotten.  I guess I could say, in the quieting of my life I hear about my life.

You see as a child I lived on a small island in the Florida Keys.  Across the street from our house was an empty lot void of grass, but covered in white coral rocks that increased in size as you approached the water’s edge.  This empty lot afforded us the most breathtaking, unobstructed view of the ocean.

Countless times throughout my childhood in moments of pain filled despair, I would flee across the road, and climb a particular rock I later named, ‘Wendy’s Rock’.  I know, I know not at all very creative, but adequate and appropriate in the rock naming world.  Anyway, I would often sit weeping with my back turned away from our house, and stare for hours at the thin silvery line where ocean and sky blend from two to one.  As I struggled to envision a future without tears, ‘Wendy’s Rock’ became my secret place that was neither hidden nor secret.  Sitting on that rock, as I watched the movement of the water, and stared into the horizon, for a few brief moments I felt a peace and hope that one day things would be different in my life.

So to answer my question, as an adult the sense of peace and clarity that I obtain at the ocean’s edge, I now remember began when I was child sitting with my back turned symbolically away from a painful world so I could focus my sight toward the possibility of a different future.


behind the masque – is the truth

I wore a mask.
My mask was beautifully deceiving.
Only my eyes spoke the silent truth.

What was behind my mask? Fear. Confusion. Brokenness. Hopelessness.

The day I innocently placed my mask upon my face, I was four. That invisible, yet visible barrier on my face was both friend and foe. At times it shielded me from abuse, yet at the same time it perpetuated the abuse. It was part of me, attached as any arm, leg or hand, until (what a great word) until my eighteenth birthday. On that day in a moment of extreme bravery, I ripped my mask from my face, vowing never to wear it again. That single act of defiance toward abuse forever changed the course of my life.

My refusal to continue the charade I had so carefully perfected over many years, felt foreign at first, and some how selfish to me. Yes, old and new friends, my journey toward emotional and mental wellness would be an arduous one. In my initial moment of bravery, I had absolutely no idea the depth of my woundedness, or even worse the insidious corruption of my thoughts and beliefs about life, others, and myself.

In my family, nothing was as it seemed, and nobody was who they pretended to be. We were so well-trained in the art of (deception for self-preservation) that it became our normal. It was simply what you did to survive in a home brutalized by an extreme narcissist, who was a controlling, manipulative, emotional abuser. Sadly, he held the title of father/stepfather.

Let’s pause right here for just a moment, because I want to pose a question. When you read the words, narcissist controlling, manipulative, or emotional abuser, they didn’t startle you, did they? I believe the reason may be that our society has become increasingly familiar with these terms, but general familiarity does not equal understanding. Actually, it is usually just the opposite. General familiarity is often ripe with misconception and fallacy. The combination of familiarity and lack of knowledge leads us down the road called complacency.

Over the past few years I have moved from concern to red alert as our society subtly becomes increasingly anesthetized to the devastation inflicted on individuals or entire families living in abusive relationships. The current media trend to romanticize abusive behavior in any form has been extremely contributory in perpetuating two dangerous fallacies. Consensual means approval. If you love, endure, and change enough, the abuser will eventually change. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I have listened to the opinionated commentary on controlling, manipulative relationships marked by degradation and emotional abuse, a few things are very clear to me.

First, our current culture has lost its ability to recognize and identify the characteristics of the abused and the abuser. Second, there is an overall lack of understanding of the methods and mechanisms an abuser employs to control their victim. Third, though many individuals are speaking out today from a clinical perspective concerning abuse, there are few speaking from an experiential, personal perspective.

That is why I choose now at the mid-century + four mark of my life, to share my childhood story in a different, hopefully helpful way.

If you’re like me, before I commit my time and energy to anything, even if it’s just following a blog, I want to know what I can expect. So, I will indulge all those who want to know just a few more details about what this blog will actually look like. Here goes, just a warning, it will begin with a question.

Whenever, you initially read a brief description or general explanation of something, do you ever find yourself, asking your screen questions? I have to admit, I do it all the time. Yes, I am that girl waving her hand, holding up class dismissal with just one more question for the teacher. Two of my top favorites are, “Yes, but what does that really look like?” Followed by, “Can you give me an actual example?”

My answers – Yes I can. Yes I will. Yes I must.

As, I strive to transparently share my personal childhood experiences you will be ushered through the doors of a living laboratory observing control, manipulation and emotional abuse at the hands of a narcissist. Together we will examine and identify the mechanisms executed by the abuser to bend the mind and break the will, while constantly demanding proof of total dependence dedication, and devotion.

My heart’s desire as I open the pages of my life story is simple; to transparently share knowledge that will help you identify abusive behavior, thus preventing the entrapment of a controlling, manipulative, emotionally abusive relationship.

Together we will –
Unmask the lie to recognize the truth.
Unmask the cultural misconceptions and myths in a section titled, abuse truth.
Unmask the mechanisms executed by abusers to bend the mind and break the will.
Unmask the short and long-term effects a toxic environment has on a developing child.

Each time we meet I will conclude with my random partial list, and a few snippets of information. I must confess, I am a list lover, and the creation of colored sticky notes has long been my enabler.

Now, without further adieu, I present my random partial list and snippets.

My random partial list –
I love writing. I love questions. I love restoration. I love people. I love God.

Abuse truth –
Ignorance is never benign; it has perpetuating power.
Effects of abuse are both immediate and cumulative.

Next time –
behind the masque – it began before me

Please know I am humbled you have joined me on this journey discovering what lurks – behind the masque.