An Exceptional Man

I got some great news yesterday. A friend of mine has met and started dating a man whom she thinks is wonderful. He might even be “The One.” I have never before seen her so happy, and it filled my heart with joy.

As she was describing this man, however, gushing about how kind, attentive, caring, etc., he seemed to be, I started to worry a bit. I have no reason to believe there is anything at all wrong with the man, whom I have never met, but I began to realize I had no reason to believe, from anything she described, that there was anything exceptionally great about him either. She liked that in months of online chatting they had moved beyond small-talk. (Personally, I don’t endure small-talk for more than an hour.) She was excited by the fact that he respected her boundaries. Isn’t that the bare minimum a normal man should do? She loved that when unexpected things happened to cause problems on their dates (car problems, traffic slowdowns, mosquitoes attacking them on an outdoor adventure) he responded with good humor instead of non-stop complaining. While this behavior is admirable, I’ve found that even a serial-complainer will stifle it on the first, few dates. It takes time to prove that this is a real, positive quality and not just an act. She loved that she could share personal things with him and not be greeted with contempt or derision. The fact that she had ever been on a date with any man who made her feel bad about her personal quirks, which I believe are a great part of her unique charm, shocked me. Such men are rude. That this man was not so horrible toward her seems to me to make him normal, not exceptional.

Here is the thing: I believe my friend is exceptional. She is beautiful – as in gorgeous. She rarely wears makeup, rarely goes to any effort at all on her hair or clothes, but she’s still remarkably lovely. When she does go to effort – look out! She is also brilliant. She is fluent in multiple languages, she has a couple degrees in sciences, a background in health and medicine, and a mind that can pierce directly to the core of any issue with astonishing clarity. On top of that, she is sweet-natured, unassuming, positive, cheerful, empathetic, and inexplicably modest. She is building her own business – two steps forward, one step back – with admirable persistence, and she is determined to be self-sufficient. She does want companionship, but she is certainly not looking for any man to support her. Her only “negative” is that she is recently divorced and a single mother of young children. I know, for some men, that is a significant turn-off, but that is their loss in this case. I believe she would be an amazing catch for anyone worthy of her. Now, however, I’m beginning to wonder if she is as aware of her value as she should be, and willing to wait for a man who will appreciate her as much as she deserves.

How badly must she have been treated in her marriage for her to believe that a man acting with normal behavior is exceptionally wonderful? I understand that, especially once a woman is married and pregnant, she will put up with a lot of behavior she shouldn’t in order to keep the marriage together for the sake of her child. I’ve been there and done that. In retrospect, I realize that my first pregnancy was the point my ex-husband turned from an apparently decent guy to an obvious a**-h*le, though he was certainly lying quite a lot before that. I spent the rest of our marriage trying to excuse inexcusable abuse and fix problems that I had not caused and had no power to change. I turned into a self-sacrificing doormat for the sake of my children, never realizing that their father was abusing them, too. It was a necessary but difficult lesson for me in the fact that true evil does exist. It was a lesson that took me far too long to learn and one that I still struggle to fully appreciate since the depth of his cruelty to his own wife and children seems too depraved to be human. Hopefully, I have now learned this lesson well enough that I will never need a refresher course. However, when I am ready to step back into the dating world, I wonder if, like my friend, I will be blown away by what should be normal behavior, since my ex was so comparatively bad. Will I become absurdly grateful for a man acting with common etiquette rather than outright rudeness? Will I be inclined to confuse basic, normal respect for “love?” Have I been so damaged by an evil man that a normal man will seem extraordinarily wonderful? Is this skewed perspective something I should watch for in myself? It may be this is a normal side-effect of abusive relationships, for which I should be on guard in my own life.

Bottom line, however, my fears for my friend are probably nothing more than my projection of my own worries for myself. They are likely nothing more than proof of the fact that, unlike her, I’m not ready yet to date. Why else would I seek out the possible negative in something that seems so overwhelmingly positive?

My friend seems smarter than I am. She got out of her bad marriage earlier. She turned her incredible intelligence into analyzing what she had done wrong and worked to fix the issues in herself that got her into that bad situation and kept her there for a while. She is now ready for real love in her life, and is in every way worthy of it. I hope she has truly found it, but I know that, even if this man isn’t “it,” she is strong and resilient. She will be fine and keep going until she does find her best partner. There is every possibility that this man is an outstanding match for her, however. I’m alarmed that she is so excited about behavior that should be minimally expected – but that doesn’t change the fact that there are, so far, no “red flags.” Her read is that he is genuine, honest, sincere in his attraction to her, respectful, emotionally available but willing to take it as slowly as she desires. She also finds him sexy and romantic in a very healthy way. He is everything she had been hoping to find in a man, and she says he seems even better than she had dared to desire. She is happy in this first flush of romance, and there is no reason to believe the love between them won’t deepen and grow continuously through time. I hope it does. In fact, I’m expecting it will! She certainly deserves the best, and her achieving it gives me hope for myself as well.

Fail Your Way to Success

I heard a quote by Tom Watson today which, paraphrased, said that the formula for success is to double your rate of failure.

By that measure, I think I should be wildly successful by now. I recently came through the greatest failure of my life – my marriage. I married an abusive man and stayed with him, partly because I failed to wrap my mind around how truly evil he was, but also because I believed that it was better for my children to have a father, even if I was unhappy in the marriage. In the end, it turned out he was not only abusing me, but our children as well and it would have been much better for me to leave much earlier – possibly as soon as I was pregnant with my last children (only because, if I had left any earlier, they wouldn’t have been born).

I failed by marrying him.

I failed by staying with him.

I failed by not seeing clearly what was truly happening and the harm he was doing not only to me but also to our children.

I failed by giving up my career, which I loved, at my husband’s insistence and agreeing to try to make money from home, while birthing, nursing, raising, and homeschooling 5 children single-handedly, with nothing but obstruction and discouragement from him.

I failed in all my attempts to make money from home which, now that I have clearer hindsight, I realize my husband was actively undermining.

I failed by not taking care of myself adequately and allowing my health to degenerate dangerously.

I failed by allowing myself to be almost completely isolated and trapped within our crumbling home by my husband’s insistence that we were too poor to afford gas for the car, house maintenance, or even food, clothes, or medical care for me and our children.

I failed even during the divorce by accepting a ridiculously disastrous settlement. After years of my ex-husband dragging the divorce proceedure out, his refusing to get or keep a job, his refusing to negotiate honorably with me in any way, and after he made it clear he would rather destroy me than to reach any settlement, no matter how beneficial to him, I allowed him to destroy me, just to end the hell.

Then I failed by putting myself in the power of my abusive brother, who promised to help me during my absolute destitution and illness, following my divorce, in exchange for my taking the disastrous settlement, including over $80,000.00 of high interest debt I had no knowledge was even being needlessly created by my husband in my name, so that my brother could buy our house at a bargain. As soon as my brother had the house, he reneged on his verbal agreements and became openly abusive not only to me, but also to my children. I should have seen that coming. I should have known better.

After that, I failed to find anyone to hire me for anything I could physically do, which admittedly, at that point, was not much.

I gave into the fears instilled by my new doctors, who were insisting I was on the brink of death. I took their useless medications which caused, among other devastating side-effects, deep depression and so much thick mental confusion that I could barely function at all. In that state I alienated my older children, who blamed me for the divorce and for my failure to immediately succeed without any emotional or fiscal support at all from anyone. The only thing I did right was finally ditching the doctor’s medications, essentially accepting my death sentence from them, in order to have some quality of life in my last days.

If failure is the key to success, I should be wildly successful right now.

Here’s the thing…perhaps I am. I am still struggling on all levels in the eyes of the outside world, but I am feeling healthier and happier than I have in decades – since shortly after my marriage. I feel as if my health is improving, almost daily. I am back to doing what I love – writing and preparing my books for publication. I am slowly making new friends, people I value greatly, who are kind, good, loving, supportive, positive, and also striving to help others as well as themselves. I am proud to discover I have as much to offer them as they are offering me. I am slowly building a better relationship with my younger children, even though the older ones, who no longer live with me, continue to reject me, ignorant of the changes I am experiencing. I have a vision of a wonderful, future full of love and prosperity, building a community that uplifts everyone involved, and filling the world with delight and joy. By sinking to a point where I had no one in my life who showed any care about me at all, except God, I am learning that I can trust God. I am, thereby, gaining greater courage and faith.

Each day, in every aspect of my life, I’m improving. Even when it feels like baby steps, it is progress. Just the fact that I am now celebrating hope where, for a while, there was only despair, fills my life with joy. The seed of greatness is growing deep inside me. It hasn’t sprouted so others can see it yet, but I can feel it rising toward the light. I know I’m going to be fine and, as I rise, I’ll lift everyone around me as well.

Tom Watson’s quote, no doubt, meant that one succeeds by being willing to dare to fail, since only in audaciously trying to go beyond our limits, which demands failure at first as we grow and learn, can we eventually succeed. Failure is always a stepping stone to success. Therefore, the quicker and the more you fail, the sooner you succeed.

The fact is that I did learn a lot from all my failures. I learned that I am such an inherently good, kind person that I could not conceive of evil, even while I was living with it. It is said that people cannot see the qualities in others that they lack in themselves. My ex-husband could not see love or kindness anywhere in the world, and I could not see his contempt and cruelty. I learned that I am a great wife – throwing myself wholeheartedly into marriage, with complete commitment. It was wrong to blind myself to my husband’s true nature, but I did so, believing his constant lies, in order to stay fully loving and supportive of my husband. The marriage could never have endured if I had known the truth about him. Meanwhile, under the false illusion of dire poverty he inflicted on us, I proved willing to sacrifice my own hopes, dreams, and even basic needs, for his and for my children when necessary. Of course, I know now that it was never truly necessary, and I understand that a real man of even basic quality would never have allowed my sacrifices, especially when he made none of his own. I should have realized how blatantly inequitable our conditions were. Hopefully, going forward, I will be wiser. As it was, however, I had the opportunity to prove, beyond doubt, that I have, hidden in the depths of my soul, the stuff of heroes. I lived with passion, courage, unremitting love, determination, and a cheerfulness and positivity even in the worst of situations (briefly masked by the side-effects of medications). I had the ability to find or create happiness and good in even the worst situations, to see the good in even the worst of people, and to keep striving to intensify that good for everyone around me. I was married to a man who not only failed to appreciate these qualities, but sought to destroy them, yet these qualities only grew stronger over time. Even during the effects of befuddling and depressing medications, I refused to give up. When/If I am ever matched with a good man, who will support the good in me rather than work to destroy it, and accept the boundless love and support that I have proved I’m willing to give, what glory might we achieve together? I don’t think anything wonderful would be impossible for us. I also now realize that I am capable of being wonderful on my own.

God has given me a gorgeous world, full of a multitude of beauties crowding every minute. God has given me the power to make my own dreams come true, and to help others realize their’s. God has shown me endless possibilities for ways I can turn my life to bringing out and brightening the best of God’s creation. I have only to choose which way I prefer. God has been very kind to me, including by putting me through all I have endured, because I did endure it. I strengthened. I grew. I learned. I gained deeper understanding of the heartaches of others, therefore becoming better able to ease and help them, and maybe even to help heal them. Common wisdom likes to say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” My marriage could have killed me. In a very real way, it almost did. It was like a forest fire that leaves a scene of utter desolation in its wake, but which fertilizes and clears the ground, setting the stage for amazing new growth.

My past has made me stronger, I think, not so much in making me capable of enduring more, but it showing me how much I could endure, how well I can heal from that, and even more importantly, how I can turn all my suffering to good, in a way to benefit others as well as myself. I still regret that my children were all so badly hurt – so much more than they yet realize – but if I can turn my experiences to good, then they can turn theirs to good as well. We all have that choice, and what we choose makes all the difference. All their lives I have told them, over and over, that attitude is everything. I endeavored to prove it by finding ways to keep happy and cheerful under crushing poverty, even while starving, with a failing body that could not afford medical help. Now is my chance, however, to prove the power of positive attitude properly. Hopefully my children will see and understand, so that they can choose their own health, happiness, love and prosperity for their own lives.

Thank you God for all your endless blessings!

The Mathematics of Marriage

I was raised with the saying “It takes two to make a marriage.” This seems to me a true statement. It takes two to make any relationship at all, with the sole exception of parent/infant where the baby has no responsibilities in or to the relationship and never had to agree to it. My only point of disagreement with the statement that “it takes two to make a marriage” is that so many people misuse this statement to insist, when any marriage fails, it therefore has to be the fault of BOTH participants. That doesn’t add up.

IF it takes two to make a marriage, THEN the failure of even one of the two to do his/her part is all it takes to destroy that marriage.

Marriage = (1 + 1 = 2).
(1 + 1 = 2) cannot equal (1 + 0 = 1) or (2 – 1 = 1) because 2 cannot equal 1.
Said slightly differently, since Marriage = (1 + 1 + 2), all it takes is the absense or subtraction of 1 to destroy the truth of equation and NOT make a marriage.

One person, alone, cannot make a marriage. One person, alone, cannot make any relationship, since any and every relationship is, by definition, at least two people choosing to interact and respond to each other on a regular basis. One person can pursue another, unwilling person. One person may even be able to dominate and subdue another person, imprison them, even destroy them. Those are NOT “relationships” however, even though they might have started as such. If they have reached that point, they have ceased being relationships, according to my definition. Relationships, even bad ones, require at least two people choosing to interact with each other. Ideally, they do this with the goal of building a happy, healthy co-existence with each other and/or to succeed at building a family, a business, or some other mutual goal. Even when the people involved disagree on the details of their mutual goal, or how best to achieve it, or what they hope might grow from it, as long as they keep choosing to interact with each other, they are in a relationship together.

At the point where even one of the participants decides to bow out of a relationship, that relationship, as such, is over. The reason for this decision is irrelevant. Even if the person remains physically present, if s/he is no longer willing to work with the other person, there is no longer any actual relationship between them. In the future, things might change. Until that point, the relationship doesn’t exist. At this point even a legal marriage ceases to be a relationship for all emotional purposes, even if it remains recognized by law.

It is possible that both of the partners might have made mistakes or hurt each other in a marriage. I’d suggest this is even probable, since humans are fallible and such missteps often occur. That is why forgiveness becomes so vitally important in any healthy relationship. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible for both partners to have contributed to the failure of their marriage. I’m only pointing out that this isn’t necessary.

Given the mathematics, any marriage can fail even with a fully committed partner still pouring in all the effort s/he could, perhaps all or more than should have been required to build an outstandingly successful and happy marriage with an equally committed partner. If such a partner was so striving while the other partner gave up, or possibly never participated at all, then there was no way for that marriage to succeed. The marriage’s failure isn’t the fault of the partner who continued to sincerely try longer than the other. The absent partner renders the marriage a failure despite anything and everything the loving partner can do. It takes two to make a marriage, which means it only requires one of the two to destroy it.

I hope people will come to realize this and stop telling divorcees, reeling from the destruction of all their hopes and dreams for a marriage, heartbroken and mourning all the wasted time, effort, emotions, energy, and resources they fruitlessly poured into it throughout the years, that the marriage failed at least in part because of them. The good partner, who did her/his best, doesn’t need that guilt piled on top of all the rest that they are grieving, especially since it isn’t necessarily true.

It may be that the fault of the good partner was nothing more than trusting someone who was untrustworthy, which is something trustworthy people tend to do. Knowing how dependable they, themselves, are, they naturally expect others to be as well, until that expectation is disappointed in an individual. At that point, many good people may see it as an aberration. People tend to view themselves as the standard of “normal,” so a trustworthy person believes being honorable, dependable, etc., is normal. A person who proves himself otherwise to them seems to be an exception to the rule, until enough people have done so to convince them such behavior is more common than they had realized.

It may be that the good, honest partner, who understood the importance of clear communication in any relationship, was guilty of nothing more than believing someone who was lying to them. Are they truly foolish to trust their spouse? Is it so unreasonable to expect complete honesty in a marriage, where anything short of that can only be destructive? If you are partners working together toward mutual, shared goals, of course you are going to be honest with each other, because that is a fundamental requirement for success when working together. Someone who, in such a situation, falls prey to a liar pretending to be a partner, should not be blamed for failing to see that coming.

If you try to argue, as a divorce lawyer I knew once argued with me, that the good partner should have kept perpetually alert to the possibility of being intentionally abused by the other partner, whom they “foolishly” loved and trusted, then I’ll respond that this cannot be useful to building a good marriage. Love and trust are essential and should be present in a marriage unless and until they are provably destroyed, at which point the marriage is destroyed. Doubting a good partner is potentially worse than trusting a bad one, because it can unjustly and irrevocably destroy a wonderful relationship, full of potential for you both. That loss is worse that continuing to trust a deceiver for a little longer.

When you wrongly trust a deceiver, the worst of all the losses you suffer is only what you never really had – the dream of a loving relationship. How much worse is it to lose something wonderful that was truly yours, but needlessly doubted? By constantly looking for betrayal from a loving spouse, you set yourself up to imagine it where it doesn’t exist. You have, thereby, hurt not only yourself, all your hopes and dreams, but you have also betrayed your good partner, who was depending on you to keep faithful and loving so s/he could keep faithful and loving to you. It is horrible when good people are intentionally abused by their ill-chosen partners, but, once, an abuser has succeeded in being chosen as a partner, even through deceit, the good partner must give the marriage a real chance by remaining trusting and faithful until the evidence proves, beyond a doubt, that they are being abused. In the end, it isn’t a good partner’s fault if his/her partner acted despicably and destroyed their marriage, but it would be his/her fault if s/he unjustly suspected the innocent partner. Where the good partner seems to stay too long with someone who was abusing them, especially covertly (lying, cheating, and/or stealing, while hiding his/her activities, for instance) then the good partner should be held innocent of the destruction of the marriage and even honored for staying faithful and loving until the abuser’s evil was fully proved.

If someone insists that they did their best, that the failure of their marriage wasn’t their fault at all, allow that they may very well be telling the truth. One person, alone, can be the cause of a marriage’s failure, even with an excellent partner. You might be talking to a lying or self-deluded person, so reserve some doubt, privately, until you know for sure, but you might also be talking with an honest, good partner, who doesn’t deserve blame for something that, truly, they had no way at all to remedy.

If you are inclined to suspect they are lying because, for years, you heard their partner complaining about them behind their back, stop and question why the partner was complaining to you instead of working to improve the marriage with their partner. It is possible that the complainer was being abused, but more often the truly abused partner, who is trying desperately to hold the marriage together against mounting odds, isn’t bad-talking their spouse to others outside their marriage. In cases of severe abuse, it is more often the abusive partner who is intentionally trying to turn public opinion against his/her victim, in anticipation of worsening abuse and/or prior abuses coming to light. It is also part of trying to isolate the victim, removing any source of potential help, to keep the victim under his/her control. A good partner, who is struggling to make a marriage work, rarely will malign his/her spouse to others. Abusers commonly do.

If you are the divorced or divorcing person, listening to friends and family trying to tell you that you had to be at least partly to blame for the failure of your marriage, please understand that it isn’t necessarily so. These people may be well-meaning, but they are very possibly mistaken. Unless they can tell you exactly what you did wrong, or help you discover that element yourself, they may not be worth listening to on this subject. It might be best to politely ignore them.

Advice also worth rejecting is any that insists you should ignore the past and just move on. It is harmful to you to wallow in the misery of your failed marriage and divorce forever, but those experiences hold a treasure trove of useful information for you to build your future if/when you can uncover it from beneath all the pain. Everything you go through should be turned to good in your life, especially the tragic events. There are likely important lessons embedded in those experiences which, if you do not learn them this time, may be forced on you again through even worse experiences. It is worth the time and effort to examine, at various points in your life, the failure of your marriage, to see what you can learn from it. What, if anything, could you have done differently or better? The more emotional distance you get from the event, the clearer your understanding may be, so review it a few times at different points in your life.

Where you can find your fault, if any, you have found gold. It is exactly what you need to study, to learn how to improve, in order to make better relationships in the future. Where you have the fault, there you had the power but failed to use it wisely. Identifying where you had the power makes you that much more powerful going forward, and learning how to use it better improves your chances for future joy in current and future relationships. Your faults are not the prettiest images you can find of yourself, but they are the most useful for self-improvement.

If, however, every self-review keeps assuring you that you did, to the best of your ability at the time, everything you could, and the failure really wasn’t your fault, then accept that. Try to choose a better partner next time. Please keep your heart open and eager to love. For someone worthy of you, you may be the perfect partner with whom s/he can make a truly wonderful marriage. I trust that, when you are both ready, you will find each other. For both your sakes, and for the joy for all who love you, and the inspiration of all who know you, I wish for you that great happiness.

Holding Grudges

My brother recently came to town, without telling me, and took my adult and almost adult children out to dinner with him, behind my back. He also bought them some badly needed clothes. During this visit with them he was, apparently, maligning me to my children. One of the insults he applied to me, probably the least offensive, was that I “hold grudges.” I have been puzzling over this and wondering if it is true or, even if it is, whether it is wrong for me to hold grudges in this situation.

The last time I saw my brother was shortly after my divorce was finalized. He had already broken some of his promises to me – promises on which I was completely dependent since accepting my divorce settlement, crafted by him with a lawyer he had hired. The divorce settlement trapped me in an impossible situation in which I could only survive if my brother kept his verbal promises, which he neglected to write in any contract form. I, very foolishly, trusted him. After I had fulfilled my part of our deal by signing the wholly disastrous divorce settlement which allowed my brother to buy our house and property for far below its value, in exchange for me accepting the financially crushing settlement, my brother announced that he was not going to keep some of the promises he had made in exchange. This forced me and my children to remain living in unhealthy, unsafe, sub-human conditions that he had promised to mend. Then, three months later, my brother returned to announce that he was reneging on keeping the rest of his promises as well, thereby inflicting complete disaster on us.

His method for making this announcement was by coming into our home, flying into a rage, and wrongly blaming us for something that was only due to his negligence, which was outside of our control. He commenced yelling at us, in increasing volume until he was screaming, that my children and I were “too disgusting for anyone to ever want to help!” He kept screaming this for about an hour or more, over and over, until I not only gave up trying to have a calm, adult, rational conversation with him, which had been my objective, but I also gave up defending myself and my children from his wholly unjust, ridiculous accusation. I couldn’t insert so much as a single word into our interaction, and every attempt only made him rage worse. That left me with no way to defend myself or my innocent children. The children fled the common room but could still hear their uncle raging from their bedrooms. Once he felt I was sufficiently subdued and that his destructive message had been adequately beaten into us all, he stormed out of the house.

Shortly thereafter, my sister-in-law contacted me and told me I had to talk with my brother. I refused to attempt another verbal conversation on the basis that his prior behavior had proved he had no intention of allowing me to say anything at all. Instead, I emailed a letter, identifying his behavior as abusive (in accord with numerous textbook and other authoritative psychological definitions of “abuse”) and demanding an apology. He emailed back a long letter, the gist of which was

1. His behavior was not at all abusive (based solely on his opinion).

2. My attempt to keep talking to him and to respond to every point he was making was the reason he was forced to scream at us, over and over, that we were “too disgusting for anyone to ever what to help” until he could finally get me to shut up – i.e. his behavior was all my fault.

3. He felt so good doing this to us, during and especially afterward, that he can’t imagine why we didn’t also enjoy it – with the implication that there had to be something wrong with us for not being masochistic enough to enjoy his abuse of us.

I had planned to respond to his email but, after reading that last point, decided he was too insane for any response I could make to have any positive impact. I therefore decided to have as little contact with him as possible from then on.

I was not pleased when I discovered that he was texting and meeting with my children behind my back but, as one of them is now an official adult and the other two are 17, I figured I had no way to prevent them. What I know, that my children don’t, is that my brother was physically abusive toward me during our childhood, to the point where I felt unsafe in our home. Most vivid in my memory is one scene when my mother picked us both up from middle school. I sat in the front seat and was quietly trying to work on my homework on the way home. My brother, in the back seat, suddenly reached around my seat, wrapped both his hands around my neck, and began choaking me. I begged him to stop, which made him choak me harder. I tried to pull his hands away but could not, so I dug my nails in the back of his hands. He let go with one hand, and I let him go, withdrawing my nails from that hand, hoping he would realize that I would withdraw my nails from the other one as soon as he let me go. Instead, he used his free hand to begin battering my head and neck as hard as he could, trying to force me to release his other hand so he could continue throttling me, much harder, without my interference. It was getting difficult to breathe and I was terrified he’d bash in my head or break my neck, so I began crying while trying, and failing, to shield myself with my free arm. My mother responded by yelling at me, blaming me for causing a dangerous scene and distracting her while she was driving. She insisted that my brother was only “playing” and complained that I was “overreacting.” She accused me of having no sense of play, no sense of fun or humor, and said that this was why no one would like me, love me or value me in my life. I was doomed to failure because I could not enjoy my brother strangling me. My brother had been increasingly abusive toward me, throughout our lives, but that was the moment when I finally realized that, according to my family, I had no right at all even to my own body. I had no right to defend myself. If my brother succeeded in killing me (as I was afraid, during that scene, he might do,) then not only would my mother fail to blame him, but, in fact, my brother and my parents would all blame me. My murder by my brother would seem to them to be deserved, especially if I tried to protect myself. That was the moment that it hit me fully that I was absolutely unsafe in my own home and that the only way I was going to survive was to keep my head down and be as invisible as possible until I could move out.

We grew up and lived apart, so the physical abuse ended. He continued to be emotionally abusive when we met, especially when alone with me or in the presence of my mother, but we had both been raised to believe that I deserved this treatment and that it was not abuse, so I did my best to ignore it when I couldn’t avoid him. The recent scene in our home, however, was not only emotionally abusive, but there was the clear threat of physical violence behind it, directed now not only at me, but also at my children.

My brother including my children in his abuse was a revelation to me. I had accepted from childhood that I was in some inexplicable way deficient enough to deserve abuse, but there was no way I believed that of my children! Furthermore, in my experiences during my marriage and through the counseling I received afterward, I have since come to realize not only that emotional abuse is truly abuse, but that abuse only gets worse. It NEVER gets better. In our last interaction, my brother’s emotional abuse of me and my children was, apparently, extreme. There was no possible benefit to anyone at all in convincing me and my children that we were “too disgusting for anyone to ever want to help.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was about the worst possible thing a person could be – including no possibility of every being loved, valued, hired, or cared for by anyone in any way. It was wholly and only demoralizing of us. Worse, my children all believed their uncle, without questioning what he was saying. He is the most respected authority figure in their family, it seems. My brother’s behavior in the scene he made is clearly identifiable by objective, authoritative sources as textbook “abuse.” Beyond that, however, the horrific rage with which he inflicted it, along with the history of physical abuse, left me in no doubt at all that it would quickly escalate into physical as well as emotional abuse. He was not only making it absolutely clear that he had no affection nor even the slightest respect for any of us, but that he felt fully entitled to abuse us based on our current vulnerability and dependence on him. He obviously considered himself to have bought a whole family of punching bags with a handful of promises that no one could force him to keep.

My refusing contact with him since has so far put me out of his reach (though, with my impoverishment, that could change) but my children, being willing to meet with him, makes them vulnerable to him. So now I see him grooming them toward this end. His maligning me to my children to undermine what little, if any, respect for me they may still hold, thereby encouraging them to dismiss my warnings, is another step closer to when he starts beating on them physically as well as emotionally.

Is it a “grudge” to want to protect myself and my children from someone who had been abusive, defends his abuse, expresses enjoyment in abusing others, and whom I am certain intends to acerbate his abuse of us in the future? I would say my behavior is simple common sense. I don’t consider that I am holding a grudge against venomous snakes because I don’t want them in my home and I protect myself against them in the wild. I am only acknowledging the threat they pose and avoiding it. It seems to me the same with my brother. One might say that, because of our lifelong relationship, we have more mutual obligation to each other than I would have to a cobra, but, since our lifelong relationship has included instances of him being abusive to me throughout our childhood, and has been devoid of any instance of him showing me any true kindness or respect, then is it really so different? I believe that, if my brother had acknowledged the wrongness of his behavior toward me and my children, accepted the responsibility for it, promised to change, and not revealed the fact that he enjoyed doing it so much that he could not understand why we failed to enjoy having him do it to us, then I would have given him another chance. A wise counselor might have been appalled by my decision to do so, but, for the sake of our relationship, especially since he is the only immediate family member I have left on this earth, I might have risked it. He did the opposite, however, so of course I want to avoid the obvious risk he now poses to myself and my children. Can this, therefore, be rightly termed “holding a grudge?” And, if it is “holding a grudge,” is it really wrong to do so?

Stripping Bare in Public

Earlier this week I learned that my insurance covered psychological counseling. I had discovered the value of counseling at the beginning of my divorce, when I sought out a counselor through church who offered her services for free. She was extremely helpful to me, but I felt guilty continuing to claim her time and attention when I had nothing with which to pay, so I ceased my visits and worked on my own to followed the excellent advice she had given me.

Now I am seriously worried about my children, several of whom are displaying various “cries for help” while, simultaneously, rejecting my attempts to help them and treating me with varying degrees of contempt to overt hostility. Now that I see how my abusive upbringing led me, unconsciously, to choose and stay trapped in an abusive marriage, I can see how my children are set up to follow the same, unhappy path. I want to save them from that. I want them in individual counseling and us all in family counseling together. Both counseling types my children unanimously refuse to do. I thought if I led the way, by seeking personal counseling, which I believe would benefit me, assuming I can find a good counselor, my children might grow more receptive to the idea.

My initial contact with the counseling offered through my insurance was discouraging. I had a zoom conference with a supposedly trained counselor so she could evaluate my needs and assign my case to another counselor. This conference only lasted an hour, much of which was taken up with reviewing my forms and her asking me open-ended questions which I, apparently, failed to answer in the way she expected, causing me frustration. Knowing time was short, I spoke quickly, struggling to condense my complex concerns, and the extensive reasoning behind them, into the short answers she was seeking. I am a very open and emotionally expressive person, by conscious choice. When I talked about my fears, I let my anxiety show. When I talked about my guilt about having failed and continuing to fail my kids, my sincere tears fell. When she chided me for not answering her poorly phrased questions the way she wanted, I forced a self-deprecating smile and apologized.

Toward the end of this hour, she told me that she had diagnosed me as a manic-depressive with PTSD. This swift and incorrect diagnosis, based on what my study of psychology informed me to be insufficient data, shocked me. I did not finish my degree in psychology, switching to something far less practical, unfortunately, but I don’t believe it is possible to diagnose manic depression in less than an hour of constantly interrupted conversation. Manic depression is a pattern established over time characterized by massive mood-swings, typically independent of external stimuli. I have periods of depression, always for excellent reasons. I do not have the typical manic periods and, generally, my moods are constant and within normal bounds. I am stressed, again for excellent reasons, which is NOT the same as manic. She would not explain why she had reached her diagnosis, but she seemed sure of it. This severely shook my confidence in her.

She gave me breathing and grounding exercises to try when feeling stressed, and suggested I keep a journal. I thanked her for the exercises and directed her to this blog, which functions as my journal. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, insisting that my journal needs to be private. I assured her that, with as few visitors as I get to my blog, it essentially was private. I would have liked to explain why private journals fail to work for me, but she had lost patience with me and, anyway, the interview was over. She promised to try to find a suitable counselor for me though, if she is focusing on one specializing in manic depression, the counselor may not meet my needs. I can only hope the counselor this woman chooses will be far better trained than she was.

I have tried to keep private journals in the past, and always lost interest in them quickly. I am a trained writer. I view writing as a form of communication, which means that I am always writing TO someone, forming my writing to, hopefully, keep my imagined audience interested, entertained, and, somehow, benefited. Much of my writing ends up being for myself, in the sense that I don’t think it worth keeping and throw it away. All writing to myself falls in this category, since I know, without doubt, I won’t ever bother to read it again. It therefore not only fails to serve anyone else, but also fails to serve me and becomes a pointless waste of my time. Only when writing to one or more others does my writing take on any meaning for me. It is the only condition under which I will persevere in writing at all.

I understand the concern that, when writing to others, I will fail to be fully honest. Most people, of course, wish to project the best version of themselves to others – some even to the point of misrepresenting who they really are. The assumption is that this will be my tendency as well. I reject that as a valid concern in my case.

I was, among other things, an actress before I was married. One of the things I learned from acting is that one does not succeed by going on stage and playing a false character. Acting only works when it is a real expression of a true, human soul. Actors may hide behind the illusion that the parts they play are not really them, but if their characters connect with an audience enough to move them, then the fact is it is their true soul connecting. Actor’s strip their souls naked, becoming intensely vulnerable, imagining themselves (and whatever backstory is necessary) in the parts they play, revealing their joys, sorrows, fears, dreams… Anyone who cannot do that, cannot truly act. They may play a caricature of a person – which may entertain to some degree – but which will never be great acting.

Writing fiction is, for me, more distancing, as I intentionally create characters as different as possible from myself. However, in the end, many of my characters are still expressions of facets of myself and/or whom I might have been under different circumstances. The Bible tells us that we are all made in the image of God. I am not God, of course, but I am a creator, in my fiction writing, creating characters who, in one way or another, end up being in my image, however varied they are. Only my nonfiction writing, relaying information in as objective a way as possible, is impersonal. However, a blog like this is me, stripped bare, holding myself up for the world to see as clearly as I can render myself. I do this knowing that, for too many, this makes me a target.

I have always been attacked simply for being me, from as early as I can remember. Everything I did was deemed a failure and used as proof that I was, essentially, unlovable. All honors and accolades I ever earned were dismissed as worthless. I had a choice in how to respond to this. I could give up or keep striving for approval. I chose the latter since I saw no point to the former. Giving up only sealed my failure. Continuing to strive allowed me to continue to hope for improvement. Note, this was not a single choice, but one made over and over as my failures kept mounting and my hope of success, acceptance, love, etc., grew dimmer or, at moments, seemed to perish. All I knew was that when/if I gave up, all hope was gone indeed. I knew I could not live with that.

Another choice I had to make was whether I should hide myself, to protect myself, or reveal myself fully. This was a more difficult choice. When people hate you, they either avoid you or hurt you. Family, who cannot avoid you, hurt you worst of all. I do not like being hurt. Hiding myself would seem the more rational choice, therefore, but I looked down that path and realized it led to hopelessness. What I wanted, more than anything, was to be loved. I could pretend to be whatever the people around me deemed lovable (although my brief attempt to do so failed miserably) but I quickly realized that, even if I could succeed in this, it would not be me being loved, but only the false image I was projecting. What was the point in that? I wanted to be loved. I was willing to improve what I could about myself to become worthy of love, but not to pretend I was someone else. If the true me was unlovable, as my family insisted, then so be it. Through showing myself honestly, I could, at least, still, hope to find someone in the world who would appreciate me, eventually. If I hid myself and played a part – one that would be unsustainable for long – that hope was lost and my life would be come a pointless lie leading to desperation. So, yes, showing myself, warts and all, is a terrifying risk – leading to and, hopefully, through pain. Hiding myself, however, is a worse risk that traps me forever. It may prevent present pain, but it leads only to true, deep isolation, loneliness, and it sacrifices all hope of ever being truly loved.

My entire life has been one of living in hopes of a brighter future. Without that hope, there is nothing left. Pursuing that hope requires me braving the slings and arrows of a cruel world, filled with hateful, destructive people. I walk through the shower of missiles pelting me and painful blows from every side, looking for the people who are NOT trying to hurt me and hoping to find people who may even be kind enough to help me or who may be worthy of my help. This manner of living takes tremendous courage and strength. Yes, I do falter sometimes. I face the despair, cry it out, then pick myself up and carry on, because this is my only chance to achieve what I need. It is my only hope, and I refuse to give it up.

So I write this blog, as honestly as I can, to readers who can respect the courage and strength my life requires. I write to other optimists who are not sunny because life is good, but stay positive and hopeful, even through the worst of it, knowing that this is the only way to persevere. I write with as absolute honesty as I can, so that others who may be in similar circumstances will understand you are not alone. I write to encourage you, as well as myself. We can do this. We MUST do this – not only for ourselves, not only for each other, but for the world, because I believe the world truly needs the strength and courage this kind of honesty requires. My exposed heart has been battered, bruised, torn, shattered over and over into a million pieces which I have reassembled, every time, with enduring hope. It overflows with limitless love – enough to fill the entire world. Maybe I will only ever give love and never receive it, except from God, but I live in the hope that there are others who will appreciate and reciprocate all that I offer. I may never know who you are, but if I can help you, even in passing, even unknown to me, my life has value and purpose. I write to you, for you, and my hope of your existence sustains me.

Beginnings and Endings and How They Matter

“Count no many happy until the end is known.”

The sage and Athenian lawgiver, Solon, according to Herodotus. Also sometimes ascribed to Socrates, the philosopher, or Sophocles from his play “Oedipus Rex.”

All interesting stories thrive on conflict. If there is no conflict, there is no story worth telling.

I have noticed that all lives are full of conflict. Even when talking with people who, from the outside, seem to enjoy ideal existences, they describe real struggles, heartbreaking losses, crises of faith or doubt in themselves, betrayals, failures, or the pain of having to give up or compromise on their hopes and dreams. I have yet to meet any adult who hasn’t endured a lot of personal suffering, even amid all the beauty and joy in this world.

Life, for all of us, seems to be a series of ups and downs, with our overall happiness depending mostly on where we focus our minds and the attitude with which we handle our personal challenges, rather than on what happens to us. We’re all riding the waves of fate, enjoying highs followed, I think inevitably, by lows, which will soon pass again into new highs. For all of us, during our lives, I believe periods of hardship and suffering are unavoidable, but it is also during these periods where we learn the most and build our greatest strengths. It makes me imagine God as an author, writing stories with each of us taking a turn as the main character, growing through conflicts.

I have come to believe the difference between what people identify as a happy life and a tragic life is similar to the difference between a story with a happy-ending (aka a “comedy”) and a tragedy. The difference isn’t the story itself, but only when you choose to end it.

For instance, if Cinderella’s story had ended when her father died and her step-mother enslaved her, it would have been a tragedy. If it had ended years after she married the prince with, perhaps, the loss of a child that stressed her marriage, or the loss of her husband, or a revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy with all the nobles having to flee for their lives or else get slaughtered, or any of the other multi-billions of challenges that can occur in life, it would probably have been a tragedy (although, if you go a few years further, with her creating a new and possibly better life, maybe not). Instead, the story ends at what may have been the happiest point in Cinderella’s life, even though she, presumably, has many decades yet to live. Only because the story ended at that high point, her story counts as a comedy.

I’m reminding myself of this now because, at this point in my life, my story seems like an unmitigated tragedy. I had a miserable childhood in an abusive family, where both parents – very honest people – told me directly that they didn’t love or like me and considered me worthless and doomed to lifelong failure. I went from that into a deeply abusive marriage where my husband was far worse and far more cruel and destructive than any in my family of origin. His abuse was not only toward me, but also toward our children. I blame myself now for not realizing how much intentional harm my husband was inflicting on all of us throughout our marriage. My trust in him, failing to see his constant lies, and my love for the man he was pretending to be, failing to note the contradictions between what he said and how he acted, caused me to blind myself to all the evidence that he was truly, intentionally, destructive of those whom he should have loved. He succeeded in leaving us, particularly me, destitute and broken, physically and emotionally. He succeeded in turning our children against each other and against me. He also undermined every value I tried to teach and model for my children. He and his parents taught the children to have nothing but contempt for their very involved, devoted, and loving mother, to act with cruelty, in general, to accept as truth things they should have known with certainty, from their own experiences, were lies, and to scoff at the thought that true kindness and real love do, or even SHOULD, exist. I hold kindness as the highest virtue. Only my younger daughters, however, seem to regularly act with kindness toward anyone, and even they will not identify kindness as a virtue, when asked. In fact, my middle daughter is quick to call it stupid.

I was struggling, and failing, to manage the divorce while on prescribed medications to treat life-threatening, long-neglected health issues. These drugs were causing thick mental and physical incapacity, deep depression and a variety of other horrific side-effects. Then my only brother surprised me by offering to help me.

My brother had been physically and emotionally abusive to me throughout our childhood, fully supported and even encouraged in this by our mother, who is now deceased. With no one else in the world to whom I could turn, I foolishly convinced myself that my brother’s offer to help with my divorce meant that he wanted to make amends and build a healthy relationship with me now that we are both adults and I am in need. Instead, he used the trust I gave him to craft a settlement disastrous for me and my children, forcing us to be entirely financially dependent on him, in exchange for him being able to buy my house at the price he wanted. Then, using the lie that my children and I were “too disgusting for anyone to ever want to help” which he yelled at us, over and over, for over an hour, allowing no response, my brother reneged on his promises and left us destitute, in complete ruin, with no where else to go and no one else who could help us. I realized he had never intended to help us at all – he had just been buying a whole family of punching bags because, as he explained to me in an email, later, he enjoyed abusing us – so much so, in fact, that he thought there must be something wrong with us for failing to enjoy being abused.

Now I’m facing the new year without the means to survive or provide for my children, without the means to get training or hire mentors to help me figure out how to market my skills, without the means to afford to pay my bills or to buy toilet paper, gas for the car, and other basic necessities not covered by food stamps/SNAP. We’re insecure in our home, my brother’s house now, from which we may be evicted at any time, with no where else in this world we can go. There is no subsidized housing available here and nightly shelters are usually overflowing. I have been desperate enough for income to fall for scam “help wanted” ads, since, with my damaged self-esteem, continuing health challenges, and huge work gap from when I was a stay-at-home and homeschooling mother, I have found no one willing to hire me for anything I can physically do. I have yet to find any way to make enough money to survive, much less to restart my publishing business, which had been very promising and winning awards before my husband crushed it in the divorce. My nearest friend is many states away and dealing with a series of personal tragedies which I have no way to ease. My next nearest friend is on the other side of the country and also dealing with severe difficulties on all levels and almost as financially destitute as we are. With the need for car repairs and difficulty affording gas, I am, effectively, imprisoned in my brother’s house. I am isolated, without access to anyone in the world who loves me or cares whether I live or die, much less anyone who will advise or help me in any meaningful way.

On top of all this, on my own, I went off the drugs the doctors were insisting were necessary to save my life, because the drugs were incapacitating me and doing far more harm than good. Without them, apparently, I can drop dead at any moment or, worse, suffer a stroke. It is a terrifying thought, but I cannot live on the drugs they were prescribing that, anyway, weren’t helping the condition for which they were prescribed. So I’m facing my imminent death with the knowledge that, should it come soon, I will die without ever having been loved by anyone, except a few, dear friends whom I now too rarely see and who have needs I cannot meet. I will die without having accomplished anything I had hoped and striven so hard to do all my life, including being a good enough parent to keep my children healthy, safe, kind and loving, and to help them become productive, prosperous adults who feel truly and deeply loved and valued. I am too destitute to afford the burial I would like, or even any burial at all, so I have no idea what will happen to my corpse whenever it might be discovered. I will probably be lucky if my corpse ends up stripped of ID and dumped in some trash bin somewhere in the middle of the night. Judging from the way my kids act toward me – especially my oldest daughter who has now completely shunned me for no comprehensible reason, and who has moved without telling us where she went, why, or with whom, I won’t be at all missed. From what my loved ones indicate, many of them may actually feel happy that I’m gone.

If my story ends here, it is a tragedy.

If I can survive and push through this period, however, then I have the comfort of knowing that there is now nowhere to go but up. I will either die soon, as the doctors insist, or I will heal and get better. I cannot be less loved, less encouraged, or less cared about than I am now. I cannot be poorer than I am now, having nothing but debts and facing homelessness. If I keep striving, and only if I keep striving, I may find my way to climb out of this pit and create a happier life in the future than anything I have ever yet experienced throughout the entirety of my existence so far. (It is a low bar, so should be eminently doable.) With constant effort I may even end up surrounded by good friends who can be a better “family” to me than the toxic people with whom I have been and am now currently isolated.

If only I can save myself now, then maybe I can find a way to save others too – especially my children who, at this point, cannot even recognize how badly in need of saving they are. The people filling my life up til now have always insisted that I was worthless, but with all I am learning during this period of awakening and growth, I may become of real value to others, especially those trapped in or escaping similarly abusive situations. My story, which at this moment seems like a tragedy, can turn into a comedy. In fact, if I were to write a feel-good fiction with a happy ending, this is the kind of dark place where I would likely start that story, to give the ultimate, impossible-seeming triumph at the end, that much more impact.

In fiction, if happy endings come from happy beginnings, it is best to start the story at the point where that original happiness is lost, if not already a distant memory. Only with tragedies do you start with the main character happy and celebrating his good fortune, so he has something to lose, some high place from which to fall. Since I have never had that good fortune and high position, but only darkness, by the rules of literature, my story must be destined to be a comedy.

So here I am, on New Year’s Eve, on the brink of 2022, starting my story in the perfect way for a happy ending.

The Power of an Obituary

I recently wrote two obituaries, which I published for Halloween (see my Halloween 2021 blog).  One was for the person I used to be, and the other for the person I hope to become. The latter was just goal setting, which is important, but the former proved to be a truly revealing and helpful exercise.

Obituaries focus on the positive aspects of a person’s life. One tries not to speak ill of the dead. Writing it for “J,” my former self, as if she were a stranger, set me on a journey that helped me reconnect to the person I had been before decades of mental, physical, fiscal and emotional abuse ground me down and convinced me that I was ugly, unlovable, useless, and unworthy of anything good in life, including basic, human kindness and minimal consideration. It also revealed to me a shocking truth that may, perhaps, be obvious to some, but that I had not realized before now. More importantly, I think what I learned could be useful to others.

I started the exercise doubting that I could find anything nice to say about J. I didn’t hate her. It was much worse than that. I pitied her. I had come to believe all the things my parents, my brother, and especially my husband and his parents, and even some of my own children had ever expressed about how useless, unlovable, unwanted, doomed to failure J was and had always been. I knew she had sincerely meant well, been truly, deeply loving, faithful, honest, hard-working and determined, and had always given her best to everyone around her, but obviously her best had proved worthless, just as everyone she had ever loved had said it was. How could I possibly find enough good in such a pitiful failure of a person to write an obituary for her?

I applied to life-long, though now distant friends, including some with whom I had reconnected since the divorce, asking what they remembered about me during the active years of our friendships. To my surprise they described a person completely different than the awful one my loved ones had convinced me I was. When I asked one person to comment on my worst faults, which I could easily list, I was shocked that she didn’t recognize many of those faults as applying to me. She reminded me of events we had shared together where I had naturally behaved in ways that refuted what I had just described, establishing my consistent patterns of behavior as, in some ways, exactly opposite to what I had come to believe about myself.

One of the faults my husband and children had berated me for so often it had practically become a mantra in our family was that I was “tactless.” One friend provided examples of when she felt I had been the opposite, including from earlier in that very conversation. Another friend agreed that this criticism was probably valid, pointing out that I was a “truth-teller” and adding that the truth would always be badly received by those who didn’t want it, no matter how kindly or diplomatically it was stated. With that one phrase she turned what had always been my most frustrating fault – one that I had striven with all my might to correct and had failed – into a virtue. It also made me consider (especially in light of more recent evidence) that perhaps my “tactlessness” had never been how I said things, but rather was the response of my loved ones toward me daring to speak at all. Certainly my husband and his parents had always hated me for that and many of the others had told me, since the divorce, when I started sharing more of my personal experiences and observations with others outside the family, that I should just shut up and tell no one anything at all about myself, ever. I hadn’t realized it then, but I wonder, now, if it is because they were aware of how truly abusive their behavior toward me was. I was, at that point, still believing their cruelty toward me was normal behavior and deserved by me. As I am starting to reconnect with others outside my family after the divorce, however (as in this exercise, for instance), I am learning that the way I had been treated was NOT normal, nor could it be considered acceptable under any circumstances. My husband, my brother, and others almost certainly realized that fact, even though I still didn’t. Now I wonder if convincing me that I was offensive to others whenever I tried to say anything at all was a tactic to keep me silent about their abuse so they would not appear as bad as they knew they deserved to for the way they were treating me. It, at least, gives me something to consider.

Overall, my friends presented a new and very different view of me than I had ever known. For this part of the exercise, alone, it was worth the effort. Thank God for my kind, wonderful friends.

The next step, however, was to actually write the obituary. To do so, of course, I had to refer to my prior, now deceased self in third person. Just that simple grammar shift from “I” to “she”, which should have been insignificant, made a massive difference in my attitude that I had not expected.

Toward myself, I am generally harsh and probably far more critical than even the worst of my external critics has ever been, though, obviously, I was never as condescending or contemptuous. While everyone else knew that they were better than me (who in the world wasn’t?), I could not possibly be better than myself. Even so, I am quick to berate myself for every failure (of which there are too many) and every misspeak, every mistake, every accident, and every imperfection, no matter how slight. My successes and virtues are barely noted and can never be enough, but anything bad about me forces my attention as something I must examine thoroughly and remedy, causing me to fixate on my faults to such a degree that my faults seem to be everything about me with nothing good in me to compensate. It is an echo of what all my loved ones throughout my life have constantly told me about myself, except magnified. I now realize that I had internalized the external abuse and was carrying it with me wherever I went. (For a fuller discussion of this see my blog “Why and How I Became My Worst Abuser”)

Switching to third person caused me to think of my former self as someone other than myself. I was now writing about another person – one whom I could consider as a stranger. Suddenly J was no longer the person I had been raised to despise as someone deserving every cruelty and completely unworthy of any love or kindness. In third person, J became someone about whom I could be objective as I tried find something good that I could honestly say about her.

I am in the habit from childhood of trying to be encouraging and uplifting to others – to find what is good in them and to reflect it back so they could see the beauty in themselves that I see. I do this because of the profound impact it has had on me the few times in my life a stranger was kind enough to do this for me. There have been moments when it was practically life-saving. Once or twice I wondered if the stranger might have been an angel sent by God to give me the encouragement I desperately needed at that moment. It takes almost no effort to do and, knowing how important a kind word can be, it seems the least I can offer to repay the world for this kindness given to me. I rush to say honest praise while I try to avoid criticizing unless it is truly necessary. This habit, which I had never before applied to myself, suddenly kicked in when I switched to writing about my departed self in third person.

To my shock, I found that there was a lot of good in J. In fact, she was someone whom I would have really liked, even admired, and found truly worthy of love and friendship had she been anyone else besides me. All the while I was hating myself for my seemingly overwhelming faults, J was demonstrating quite a lot of outstanding qualities that I would have appreciated had she been anyone else. I had been eager to expel her from my life. Now I’m almost sorry she is gone. It made writing her obituary very easy.

So now I recognize the trap of writing and thinking in first person for a person taught from birth to hate herself. “I” becomes irrationally detestable, no matter what. I have learned that it is healthy to regularly look at oneself from a different perspective, in order to obtain a more objective and, hopefully, honest assessment of one’s self. For me this exercise of writing about myself in third person revealed the destructive tendency I had to focus on my faults to the exclusion of all else, even long after those who had seemed to demand impossible perfection from me, in order for me to hopefully become barely tolerable to them, are no longer a part of my life. From now on, when my external critics pile their condemnation on me and try to grind me down, as they continue to do regularly, I’ll set myself up as judge over Aoife and write a brief to see how much, if any, of the criticism of my loved ones is truly applicable to her. I know I won’t ever be perfect, but I’m growing increasingly sure I am not nearly as horrible as my loved ones have always insisted. I now have a tool to help me assess myself more fairly.

I share this with you, dear reader, in the hope that you might try out this exercise to see what it reveals to you about you. Of course you may not need it, but I imagine it would be useful to many different kinds of people in many different situations. If you are willing, I would love to hear what you learn.