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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Perspective: Wants Being A World Away From Needs

I got an iTunes and Amazon gift cards recently for Christmas (2018), so of course, what do I do?  I sought to supplement my music collection on my iPod.   Anyway, I had been a little sad this Christmas season as I had just turned 50, I didn't have my daughter for Christmas and most of Christmas Eve, I had previously lost three of my immediately family members in recent years and frankly, the year had been very tiring at times and I'd reflected on long-time hurts.  So, one could say I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I'd always respected Roy Orbison as a musician and I know I heard his life story before.  However, I never really thought to much about it.  But, this time was different.  I'd been looking up ELO on YouTube and stumbled upon the Traveling Willburys which then led me to Roy Orbison.  In a way, this search had taken me to the "End of The Line" as far as Roy Orbison.

Anyway, in researching his music, I came across his life story and it was very tragic and sad.  Yes, he may have eventually accumulated some wealth and not had to worry about where his next meal came from.  However, his life was far from easy.  He was born smack dab in The Great Depression with his parents both struggling with employment.  He was blessed with a guitar and a gift of music.  Though he was talented, it took him a while to get established in the industry.  His star gained momentum in the early 60s, but he was hit with marital problems which led to divorce in 1964.  He and his first wife, Claudette, had patched things up in late 1965, but this was only a temporary reprieve from downtimes and tragedy in his life.  His 1st was killed in a freak accident in June 1966 and in September 1968, his two eldest sons died in fire that burned his house to the ground while he was touring.  His star by that that time had been in decline.  Eventually, it picked up again and he found new success in the 1980s.  He died of a heart attack at age 52.  I'd heard his story before but this time it really got my attention and I felt sadness for him and thought, while I've faced adversity, I hadn't had to face losing a spouse and kids and health problems like he had.   In a way, though I haven't achieved fame and fortune like had, I hadn't faced some of the tragedy he had.  This got me thinking about something I've thought about a lot during my life.

I've long thought that, we in this country, are very fortunate. I have felt some guilt that my want, even in an unnecessarily poor childhood, was still less than need in many other places in the world.  Our poor usually are better off than much of the world, especially places like Haiti.  I guess it's all perspective.  I grew up with less than many/most others in my school and across town and I felt poor, but seeing images of others having to worry about starvation is very humbling.  Anyway, I have a few thought on wants and needs in my life, the life of kids in this generation and in the world as a whole.

Ponderings:
  • Being around people with "more" can give a distorted picture and can create false 'needs'.  
    • For example, if the people I see socially, work with, or are related have large homes and live in a very nice neighborhoods, it might create a sense in me that in order to 'fit in', I need to have that as well.  In reality, in such a case, I don't 'need' those things, but 'want' them to prevent me from feeling 'inferior'.
    • If a kid goes to school and all his friends have nice clothes, nice cars,  and nice things including electronics out the wazoo, then the kid will 'need' some of those things to at least be able to 'relate' or 'fit in'.  The need, in this case, isn't more nice things but to appreciate that you can't always have every nice thing.  The other need is for other parents, with more means, to raise their kids with a healthy respect for others regardless of what others have.
  • Getting used to 'luxuries' can make them seem like needs.
    • Growing up, I didn't have a microwave oven until I finished college, I didn't AC until I went away to college, I didn't have a dishwasher until I moved into my first apartment, I didn't have a TV with remote or with cable until I was on my own.  At the time each of these things seemed like a luxury.  
    • I am so used to having all of these things that to have them taken away makes them seem like a need that is unmet.
  • If you grown up or gotten used to having more, the best way to remind yourself that much of what you have is a luxury is spending time around those who struggle to have basic needs met.
  • Our real needs are sometimes masked by purposely or unwittingly by those things we feel are needs.
    • If we feel ugly, we may feel like we 'need' to shop for clothes.  In other words, substitute an outfit to deal with insecurity.
    • If we feel sad, we may feel a 'need' for the latest electronic or other gadget to distract us.
    • Often times what we really need is not more 'things' but instead peace and serenity.

I don't know if I broke any new ground here, but I felt compelled to write this blog post.  Kids today seem to not appreciate what they have and when I remind them growing up how we did with less, it doesn't impact them.  I forget that its hard to relate to having less when you never have.  In a way, I feel like it is hard to relate to those in the world who do have less and are in real need unless you actually see them with less.  That's why I titled this post as I did.  Anyway, hopefully, others can relate or get something out of this post.

- Rich

This post reminds me of another I wrote:
Accepting People Where They Are.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Cutting Off Escape Routes: Forcing Responsibility

As an outside observer and as a parent myself I noticed a few things about raising kids and frankly 'raising' aka dealing with adults too.  I've spoken before of people having comfort zones.  By this I meant they are comfortable doing thing a certain way regardless if it is necessarily the 'best way'.   For example, for some odd reason, I like eating most leftovers cold.  Not sure if it is not wanting to wait or deal with heating it up or what.  To my wife, it doesn't make sense, but it's what I feel comfortable with.  In any case, escape routes are a comfort zone issue.  Often find ways to avoid doing what we should or need to by locating an escape route.  That is to say a reason, excuse, or delay tactic to take the place of doing what we need to.


Here are a few examples of things we might want to avoid and create an 'escape routes' for.  That is to say, the things we do to try to doing what we don't want to such as:
  • Having to talk to family.
  • Having to go to work. 
  • Having to do homework.  
  • Having to go to sleep/stay awake.
  • Having to go to the store.
-

Below are a couple examples of an escape route and cutting it off:
  • If my daughter isn't awake already (on a school day), I will wake her up to get ready for the day.  She has said, "If you leave (my room)  I will get up and get ready."   That was her escape route, pressing me to leave at which time she could just plop her head down on the pillow. Anyway, my response to her is this: "If you stand up and get out of bed, I will leave.  After sending my wife in a couple of times to see if she's asleep or changing, and being told she's asleep, I confronted her on it and forced her to get out of bed when I was there.   She didn't like it and growled at first, but it was important for both of us she get up and ready so we both could be on time to where we needed to go.  Anyway, my forcing her to get up and stand up was cutting off her escape route of rolling back over and falling back asleep.  I was forcing on her the responsibility of getting ready for school.
  • A family intervention in which the family refuses to leave until their drug-addicted family member 'surrenders' to rehab.  By that point, they likely would have been pressing him or her to seek help, but being brushed off or promised that they will get it.


Before I finish this post on escape routes I did want to make a few observations:
  • From my observation, people usually don't take to well to having an escape route cut off.   It's not called an escape route because you want to stay in the circumstance or situation you are in or face what you need to.  It's an escape route because you are avoiding something you need to deal with.  Being forced to do so isn't exactly comfortable.  
  • The process of cutting off escape routes can be done so verbally and/or by actions.
    •  If a spouse or sibling is avoiding an uncomfortable conversation, for example, you can redirect the conversation back when they try to change subjects or you can logically cut through the verbal objects they throw in the way.
    • If your child refuses to do her homework and instead goes out with their friends, you can take away their keys and take away their ability to leave without doing their homework.
  • Sometimes it is not our place to cut off someone's escape route.
    • Just because we don't like what choices our adult kids are making doesn't automatically give us a right to interfere and force our will on them, especially if they are not dependent on us.
    • When someone has told us they need space or they don't want to be with us anymore, we can push for a discussion on it or to have them hear us out.   But, keeping them from leaving OR keeping tabs on them while it may be a way from keeping them from 'escaping', it is usually considered harassment or stalking, which is not okay.  It's okay to want to be heard out, but it's not okay to control others.
  • Sometimes we need the escape route, especially if we are in an abusive or toxic relationship.
    • Changing our phone number or address is an escape route from an abusive estranged partner.
    • Get a protection order can be an escape route from an abusive estranged partner.
    • This is especially true, when there are no children involved.  There is absolutely no reason in this case for our estranged partner to try to reach out to us.
  • Sometimes an 'escape route' may be a coping mechanism (or safety valve) that the other party needs until he or she can cope better.  For example, if a child loses a parent, he or she may not be ready to talk about it or openly grieve in front of others.   Sometimes, they just need quiet time to reflect on their loss and do what they need to cope--such as listen to music or just cry in private.  Forcing them to do so too quickly can at the least can breed resentment and at could cause unforeseen problems with the grieving process.

In summary, there are times when it is imperative to cut off 'escape routes' and force responsibility on our loved ones.  However, escape routes are sometimes in place for our benefit and the benefit of others and we should consider the purpose and circumstance of the escape route before mindlessly cutting it off.

Just some thoughts for the day after Christmas (2018).

Cheers.


Monday, December 24, 2018

The 3-Legged Stool: Difficulty in Shaking off Narcissists

I was discussing with my wife recently about why I believe abuse survivors can have a harder time shaking off encounters with a narcissists, specifically those who attempt to control or and/or use belligerence to dominate.  For her it, the solution was to simply ignore the person.  In other words, if the person gives you 'unwanted advice', tries to 'suggest' (aka TELL) you what to do or some attempt at shaming, you either a) humor them or b) just totally ignore them or blow them off.  In other words, don't let them have any 'real estate in your head'.

Now anyone who has ever has ever 'survived' dealing with narcissists, especially those in a position of power over them and/or present in their childhood, probably knows what I am talking about.

In many cases ignoring or humoring them is very sound advice. This is especially true IMHO where their interaction with you doesn't undermine your authority in an appreciable way.  In other words, some things just aren't worth getting riled up over risking a fight.  However, I believe to someone who is an abuse/attack survivor, might find it hard to 'let it go' so to speak.

Her argument was that her dad could be a dominant personality and she was able to stand up for myself.   I understand her point and was struggling to find a way to help her understand.  I tried to find a way to answer why I react more passionately and get more upset when I am completely disrespected or controlled.  I finally stumbled upon an idea.   A table or stool with three legs is harder to collapse or flip over than those with fewer.  That is to say the more destructive factors you've had in your life, the less likely it is that you'll be able to 'let it go'.

Consider it this way:
  • When we think of a stool, we think of a handy product which can be used to hold us up when are reaching to get something we need.   Imagine the stool instead of holding us up, is used to hold up our baggage up and 'in place'.   Is that really a stool we'd want or is that a stool we'd want to see collapsed?
  • We know a 3-legged stool or table is more sturdy or stable than those with fewer legs.  From what I can see, abuse survivors don't just have 'abuse' in play.  From personal experience, observations and talking with others, people who are ultimately abused are often vulnerable to abuse because of other factors--overbearing parents/adults in their formative years and bullying for example.


Anyway, here are three legs of the stool which holds up inability to shake off encounters with narcissists in adulthood:
* Overbearing parent or other authoritative adult figure during childhood.
* Bullying (verbal or menacing)
* Attack/abuse

Now, these three legs or factors aren't necessarily exclusive.  That is to say the same person or persons can supply more than one leg of the stool.  That is to say, a bully can also be an abuser/attacker and that the overbearing parent or adult can be the bully who abuses or attacks for example.

We hear all the time, back in the day if I talked back like that, my mom/dad would have beaten me.  Sometimes the speaker might say how his/her voice was overrode by his/her parent, but that he or she eventually found his or her voice.   As a parent myself, I have found that I sometimes have to be assertive and override voices of a child/children.  Now, taken to the extreme that can be damaging and compel a kid to shut down or fear authority.  I do believe in most cases kids do gain a measure of a voice (and sometimes 'too much'), but I digress.  Like a one-legged stool/table, they can learn to easily push aside disrespect/lack of control later in life.  That is to say, the baggage associated with 'not having a voice', if others negative factors aren't in play, can thrown off more easily in adulthood. As people of my generation understood, that's part of growing up.

Add the factor of being bullied in your formative years.  Not only are you trying to seek their voice among adults in your life, but you are also trying to fend off those who would challenge their well-being and/or peace of mind.  With authoritative adults in a child's life, we typically think that the adult figure has the child's interests in mind.  In the case of a bully, for whatever reason, the bully typically doesn't tend to factor in the child's interest.  For whatever reason, they bully feels that it is okay to pick on his or her target.  Sometimes they don't care, but sometimes they can attempt to justify their behavior.  They might claim that they are helping a kid learn how to deal.   They might also that their 'victim' deserved it.  Whatever their reasoning their behavior it can reinforce the inability of a child to shake off disrespectful (or controlling behavior) later in life.  If you are so used to dealing with this sort of behavior, even minor 'bullying' in your adulthood can seem like more of the same (and hence hard to shake off).  Like adding a second leg, it can strengthen the stool or table which holds up the anger, frustration and/or resentment which results from facing 'bullying' behavior later in life.  A stool with two legs has some degree of stability, but is still by its nature can be collapsed relatively easily.

As with a stool/table, once you add a third leg (or factor), the stool becomes very steady and very sturdy.  In other words, it will tend to stay upright and not collapsed unless you apply a great deal of force to it.  A person who has dealt with an overbearing adult may have had to 'justify' their voice.  A person who has dealt with a bully may have had to create or find a space for their voice.  But a youngster who has been abused or attacked, especially sexually, has had to recover from their voice being stolen outright from them.  It's bad enough having to justify your voice or find a place to exercise it safely, but like the third leg of the stool, having your voice stolen from you, reinforces the anger, frustration and/or resentment.  A response to narcissist behavior in later life isn't simply ignoring attempt it.  It is using whatever tools you have at your resource to make sure your voice isn't stolen again.  Anger, frustration, resentment and the like can be seen as tools to be deployed to ensure you he or she who could hold you down and crush or steal your voice is not given that opportunity.  It isn't simply being annoyed that you are being 'bullied'. Nor is it 'stepping away' and finding a place where your voice is safe.  To a survivor of abuse and/or an attack, there is a sense that the one who would control, disrespect you and/or otherwise bully you must be guarded against and in some cases be shut down.  In other words, sometimes you need to bare your teeth, build a wall or counterattack to make sure their threat to you is neutralized.

To someone who has just dealt with strict parents and maybe some bullying, but has never had to face the insecurity of abuse, a severe reaction to a narcissist can look like an overreaction.  That is to say intense anger, frustration, resentment, etc. can look like an overreaction to a when dealing with a narcissist.  I've dealt with the all three--CSA (childhood sexual abuse), bullying and an overbearing/controlling parent.  As an adult, I've come to understand situations better than I did as a kid.  However, I still am more inclined to, like a cat, arch my back, when I feel under threat or attack, 'hiss' and keep a wary eye open.  

Hopefully, this gives more perspective on why some people can let attempts at abusive/controlling/bullying behavior slide, where others cannot.  The more negative experiences you have had to deal with in life, the more likely you are to see are to see 'more of the same' when it comes to dealing with narcissists.   It isn't just dealing with a jerk, it is dealing with someone who is a threat to your serenity (or at least it can feel like it).

Anyway, I'm tired when writing this, so hopefully, it does make some sense.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Rich


Sunday, December 16, 2018

Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie and Other Mistakes in Relating

I believe that unless we are a really big jerk to everyone or we are surrounding ourselves with a toxic people who don't like us and/or don't respect us at all, most of the people whom we run across in our lives will try to relate or empathize with us.  They may do it on a sincere desire to empathize, a feeling of duty that they should try, a desire to look thoughtful or a cynical attempt to virtue signal.   Whatever the motivation, I believe people unwittingly make mistakes in trying to do so.

First a few notes:
* Audience = The person you are trying to 'relate' to.
* Speaker = You, the one who is trying to 'relate'.

Let's think about a few scenarios:
  •  I know how you feel or I understand what you are going through.
    • Sometimes people have faced very similar circumstances and can relate or understand, but many times, others simply can't know how we feel until they've actually been in our shoes.  Sometimes, it may be beyond their understanding as well.
    • I believe when said genuinely, it is a statement designed to convey solidarity, but it said the wrong way it can wring hollow or can even be condescending.
      • In other words, you--the speaker--are just trying to hard to stand with them.
      • Sometimes, it is better just to quietly stand by another going through trying or tearful times.
    • It is important to try to understand yourself and your audience when considering saying this.
      • Is there any real possible way you could even remotely know?
      • Have you been through a circumstance even remotely close?
      • How well do you actually know the person you are considering saying this too? 
        • Are you close enough that they know what you mean and/or would take it as a solidarity statement?  
        • Are you just an acquaintance and unsure what your audience is thinking but feel compelled to say something 'appropriate'?
    • I can relate to what you are going through (followed by how).
      • Sometimes you can relate and sometimes you can't.
      • Sometimes your audience just wants to vent or 'cry' and they really aren't looking for your reassurance.  They are just looking for a 'pat on the back', not a 'solution' or 'proof' that you know.
        • There is a time for serious reassurance and there is a time to just nod or say, "I hear you" or just a hug.
          • Maybe your audience does want some reassurance and are open to hearing your situation and how you can make it through tough times.
          • Maybe everything will be alright or one day they may feel better, but at the moment your audience may not feel that way.  Perhaps they still need to mourn a bit more before they get to a point of being open to hearing someone who has been there.
        • There is time to jump in and 'problem solve' and there is a time to let your audience figure out there own path.
          • If your audience asks questions about you and a particular situation--in other words, seeks you out-- obviously, they are open to letting you help them.
          • If your audience rebuffs moderate attempts to relate, then they probably aren't ready for your assistance.
          • Sometimes, as painful as it is, you have to watch your audience make his or her way through their own tough circumstances.
            • People process grief and hurt differently, sometimes they have to figure out their own way or pace.  You can't artificially impose a deadline or a path for another.  You can help, but you can't force it.
            • Trying to hard to shield loved ones from the effects of grief and hurt can keep them from gaining the strength they need for future grief or trauma, when they may not have the same 'help' available.
        • There is a time to relate and there is a time in which relating could seem like minimizing.
          • Age or a similar difference in circumstance could cause a problem in relating.
            • People tend to relate better to their own age/circumstance.   I believe this is especially true when life experience levels are different.
            • Trying to relate could sound like "in my day" or "where I come from" or some similar disconnect.  Even if you can see the parallel on the relatable issue, your audience may not.   Besides, due to difference in personal circumstances, your audience may not be open to seeing the parallel.
          • Perceived expertise or regard could cause a problem in relating.
            • Sometimes if your audience hears the same thing from a 'professional', even if you have the life experience to know the same thing, your audience will tend to respond better to the professional.   That's why counseling is such an in demand profession.
            • If there is a disconnect or block with your audience, you might say the right things, but your audience may perceive it 'not getting me'.   Once again, an outsider such as a counselor or minister or highly regarded family or other leader might be the answer as they could be perceived as being more 'objective'.

I could go on indefinitely about mistakes in relating, but I will finish the main part of my post there.  Why I called the post "Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie..." is this.   I have never had a very close knit family and I barely knew family outside of immediate family.   This at points in my life has left a void.  Let's face it, for worse or for better, family has an outsized influence on our life.   They are our first example and in many cases, strongest example.  They are the ones who are expected to be the most loyal and at least initially whom we seek the strongest validation from.   Anyway, at times, I have mourned not knowing my extended family and not having a close knit family.   I've been told by people a few times in my life that well, that knowing your (extended) family and getting together with family isn't all that it's cracked up to be.   In other words, 'having' family is not all it's cracked up to be.  To me that has felt tone deaf.   I came up with an analogy to express this.   Mainly that "Half a Pie is Still Half a Pie".   That is, yes, your circumstances aren't perfect either.  In other words, your family might have its problems, but they are still a unit and they have some close, albeit, not perfect relationships.  In other words, you have half a pie.  Some people, for all practical purposes they don't have a family (little overall cohesion with any that they do know and most that they never knew).  That would be little or no pie.   So, trying to relate by saying, well family isn't all it is cracked up to be seems 'tone-deaf'.  Their intentions may be well in stating that, but it doesn't feel relatable.  Anyway, this was just an obvious example of where I've seen mistakes in relating.

Just my 1/50th of a $1.  As with all my blog posts, feel free to take that which helps.  I write them in hopes that it helps people either can find someone to relate to and/or sees a perspective which they hadn't necessarily thought of.

Cheers,
Rich  


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mission Accomplished: Declaring victory too soon.

Few people ever want to admit defeat.  People generally want to think  well of themselves (unless they are what I call a negative narcissist), but I digress.  People generally want to think reasonably well about themselves.   Sometimes that means ignoring your flaws and seeing an inflated view of yourself, that is to say you are a narcissist.  History is littered with tyrants who justified their tyranny because they felt they were serving the greater good--Hitler is probably the most well known.  Sometimes that means measuring your flaws against your good points and concluding your good points exceed that of your flaws.  We see that in politics, where people who have used bad judgement in their life or made mistakes survive their negatives and go on to become successful and well thought of.  Sometimes, it means working on your flaws or failings and 'overcoming' them or achieving victory over them.  We see that in the friend who puts down the bottle for good, the parent who does a better job with their second or third kid or the felon that who finds peace in their faith and makes something of themselves once they are out of prison.

The focus of this post is those who know they have difficulties, flaws or failings and see themselves as overcoming or having overcome them.   Sometimes if we tie our worth too much to our 'issues', then we create an incentive to 'declare victory' prematurely.  I believe everyone has examples from their own life or from those close to them.   I will list examples or cases I've seen of been a part of.

Declaring victory too soon
  • In my post, #MeAsWell: For What It's Worth, I detail sexual abuse I faced as a child.  In my mind despite some hiccups, I had successfully made it into adulthood gainfully and successfully employed most of the time.  I had bought a decent house in a good part of town, had a nice car, was married and was well on my way to parenthood.  In other words, the American Dream.  I had convinced myself and the few others around me that knew about it that I had survived and escaped the damage of my childhood, despite the fact that I'd never sought counseling for it.  The signs of 'success' were there, so hey...    Meanwhile, I had a generalized anxiety disorder raging since age 17, I had a problem trusting people--even those close to me--and my behavior didn't always measure up to the standards that my faith would imply.  Anyone who knows me, realizes that eventually like any great fa├žade, eventually the truth has an ugly way of rearing its head.  The truth was that I had never really fully healed from the abuse during my childhood.  The distrust, the anxiety, the flaws eventually came to a head and by 2011, the signs of success had largely been swept away like a sign on the beach during a hurricane.  House, marriage, job, etc. were no more.
  • I had a friend who had a heroine addiction.  I stood by that friend as long as I could.  I saw her 'successfully' complete a stint at a drug treatment center.  I heard her hopefulness that she was done with it.   In short, she was seeking to declare victory.   Supposedly she was clean (at least for a short time)  when she tragically died in an auto accident.  Her life had spiraled out of control and at the very least I think she was very fragile by that point.  That is to say, even if drugs hadn't contributed directly to her accident, indirectly I think she was still reeling.  I'd seen another friend successfully through detox and sobriety for alcoholism, so I thought my friend with the heroine addiction could make it too.  I didn't realize at the time how addictive and deadly heroine is/was and was fooled into being optimistic.
  • I've seen someone I dated push aside anger, grief and other such feelings and claim she was fine and didn't need counseling.  Yet, every time things got rough or she faced adversity she could be seen running to grief and regret that she couldn't help her mom avoid dying young from pneumonia. 

I think for most of us, if we honestly look into our lives, we can find area or two in our lives in which were have 'declared victory' too soon.  That is to say, we are not in as good of a place as we would like to believe we are.  That's not to say that everyone is totally screwed up or has areas in their life which hold them back excessively.  However, I think it is safe to say that most people have misjudged their progress in an area in which they can improve.  I believe sometimes it is easier to 'declare victory' than to do the hard work of self-improvement.   

Just my 1/50th of a $1 for the day.  

Cheers from a snowy day in the Gateway to the West.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

#MeAsWell: For What It's Worth

I have always had an interest in human nature.  I've always been fascinated in what makes people tick.   For whatever reason, I was a very sensitive kid and am a sensitive adult--which can lead to understanding or being able to read people/situations, but it also can lead to getting hurt more easily.  But, I digress.   I took an interest specifically in human nature as it relates to codependence and addiction as both hit close to home.  I've experienced addiction and/or codependence, from multiple perspectives--firsthand, as a survivor and as an observer.  So, I figured I could understand and intelligently talk about the subject matter.  Maybe a little bit of hubris, but you talk about what you are confident talking about.


Many of my blog posts are insights from watching others and the world around me.   However, some are from personal experiences--a few of which are deeply personal.  Anyway, when I do decide to share insight from (deep) personal experience, I do with it the goal of helping others. I hope they can  use what I share to relate to, identify with or gain knowledge from what a lifetime of experience has taught me.   I am not one who is prone to 'brag' about or verbally vomit my life story on Facebook  or other social media. So, I when I share deeply personal experiences, it is mostly with the hope that it is benefiting others.  Perhaps to a degree, sharing can give me a fuller opportunity to process or even heal a little bit, but I do sincerely hope I can help others.

What I am about to write as you might imagine has weighed on me for a lifetime and I've shared bit and pieces with those closest to me that I trust.  However, I haven't openly shared it for public consumption or even necessarily fully.

So, what are we talking about?  Good question.  I figured one day after my parents were gone, I'd write about my experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).  I mean my experiences at the time and the effect it has had since. This as you might imagine is not an easy subject for me to write.  My intent is not to throw anyone under the bus or to humiliate or shame anyone living or dead.  For this reason, I didn't tell this story publicly until after both of my parents were gone.  Furthermore, there are some details I will leave out.

Why now? 


  • My parents are gone.
  • I feel it's part of the healing process.
  • The #MeToo movement has helped reduce the stigma of sexual abuse.
  • I want people to realize or not to forget that #MeToo is not or should not be limited to one type of abuse/circumstance.  It happens across all types of gender and age bounaries.
  • Why not, if I can help others relate, understand or become aware of warning signs (before or after abuse), then my unfortunate experiences will not have been in vain.

---


Let's start with what I do know:
  • My dad struggled with demons of alcohol and probably abuse too, sexual and otherwise.  I was shocked a few years before he died when discussing the subject with him, he said to me, "Well how do you think I learned?"   Wow.   
  • My mom struggled with codependence.  She just had always wanted to be accepted and loved and sometimes was a bit obvious with it.
  • My mom was a stay-at-home mom at least until I was a teen.
  • My dad was a workaholic and spent a lot of time when he wasn't working drowning his demons with alcohol.  I'm sure there was probably more to the story, but you know, not everything is told.
  • My parents raised six kids with my dad being gone a lot and my mom being the one had to deal with six kids.
  • Home life was dysfunctional.
  • There was not enough money (at least left after demon drowning) to attend to our basic needs such as decent clothing, not to say anything of our wants.
  • I was bullied as a child.
  • Let's be charitable our house growing up was neglected.
  • I remember my dad having girly magazines from as long as I remember.

I will not speak for others in my family who may have suffered abuse as well with the exception of my late brother where he talked a little bit to me about it.  I am not one to gossip, nor is it my right to speculate or write on the subject matter for others.  I speak only for myself.  That being said as you will read, I have reason to suspect that others in the family were harmed.


Against the backdrop of a dysfunction family, parents with their own issues, my emotional needs not being met and being shunned at school, it is easy to see that I was an at-risk youth.   There were two people that I was aware of that sexually abused me as a child.  One I will not speak about directly, but let's just say I was it was an older adolescent whom I looked up to and whom was likely abused himself.   The second one was an adult, a 'church camp counselor'.  Some of my older siblings went to a church camp which my church at that time participated in.  They had met this guy named Rick (and yes that's his actual name).  He's the reason when I am called 'Rick", I cringe and hate it.

I don't know the precise point in time, but from what I can piece together, they had met this guy during the summer after I was 8, though it could have been the one before I was 8.  Anyway, this guy was associate with another church in our area (as I found out later) and somehow had weaseled his way into getting to be a camp counselor for the boys.  Anyway, some of my older siblings had mentioned about this guy and how he seemed like a nice guy and all.  Well, as I would later figure out predators tend to be attuned to at risk kids/families.  Anyway, Rick weaseled his way into my family first through older siblings and then getting the okay to spend time with us by my parents.  It is easy to question, "Where were my parents?" but I realize that this situation occurred long before the 'priest' sexual abuse and similar scandals surfaced.  This was a time in which we could leave our front door unlocked and even open without having to worry about being attacked.   In other words, a simpler world, a world in which having a having an adult male mentor aka Big Brother, especially one who professed to have good Christian values was seen as a unmitigated positive. 

So, Rick came to spend time with us, really he seemed to take special interest in the boys in my family and pretty well ignored the girls.  Perhaps should have been red flag number one, I don't know.  So, my dad worked a lot and had issues with the bottle and all that came with it.  My mom had her hands full with six kids. So, having someone to help was probably considered a blessing.  From my perspective as a kid, I was getting picked on at school, I felt shunned because I presented as poor and coming from a family with issues, I had few friends, didn't get the good dad time and felt like I couldn't bring anyone over do to a neglected house.  So, to me, I was grateful to have an adult willing to listen to me, who seemed to understand me and seemed to like me and be nice.

  Anyway, I don't know when it started, but I would guess between 8 and 9, he started grooming me.  I don't remember the sequence of events exactly, but if I had to guess based on my knowledge of what grooming is, he probably first talked to me and made me feel important, touched me on my shoulder or something 'harmless', rubbed my back, or eventually reached my privates--I'm still disgusted by saying this.  Let's just say, he probably 'got something out of it' if you know what I mean.  This happened at my parents house and and at a later point, why he was gracious enough to invite me over to his place.  I remember this continued until some time after puberty.  Some kids get sex education or spoken knowledge from their parents, some get it from a film at school, unfortunately, I was treated with this education first hand with a predator.  To this day, I am still humiliated by this.  Let's just say there is a word that people use to discuss 'sexual self-love' and he involved me in that and showed me things.  To this day, I cringe at the word and idea.  I don't know what if anything else more invasive happened than what I have mentioned.  Near the end of his time in my life, three things of note happened:
  • My late older brother Bill, God rest his soul, was treating Rick like a jerk (at least that's what I thought at the time).  I understood later and Bill told me later he was putting it all together and that he was upset because he wasn't sure what all Rick had done to him.  In hindsight, Bill was protecting us and I suspect his intervention helped lead to Rick backing out of the picture.
  • In the process of a call with Rick one time, he said more or less that he could called Child Protective Services (or whatever it was called then) on my parents and have us kids removed from our parents.  I don't remember him saying to hush about what had happened, but that would be the implication.  Obviously, I know now that a man preying on children probably wouldn't want to draw attention to himself that way, but back then it was a threat that I didn't understand.  Why was Rick saying that? 
  • When I was a freshman in high school I got a call from a 'long lost friend'.  His call was about as welcome as wetting the bed a couple years after I thought it ended.  Maybe that was a reason I had a problem with bedwetting, who know?  Anyway. I handed over the phone to a sibling and said, "Could you deal with this?"  That was the last time I heard from him.

The incidents with the older adolescent stopped when I was 17.   They seem to start around near the time that Rick had weaseled my life and were similar in level.  Let's just say, when I was 17, I was sleeping one time and came to find myself starting to be used a certain way that has the initials for Billy Joel.  I was too intimidated to stand up for myself and pretended to be asleep.  That was the last time I was taken advantage of, and definitely by a guy.

I will leave it at that.  I wasn't 'prison raped' to the best of my knowledge, but obviously just short of that.


--

I told my story above, as much as it made me cringe, because I felt it was time. Over time I've put it together and realize the long-term impact it has had.  So, it is time to share that from my perspective.  In no particular order:

  1. I was sexualized very early.  I didn't have the luxury of normal self-discovery, but it was forced on me.   As you might imagine this led to problems in my teens and into my adulthood.  It has led to unhealthy relationships and mistakes in and out of relationships.  It has led to an excess focus in my life upon sexuality.
  2. I got approval when as a kid, "I allowed myself to be used".   For a long time I saw myself as allowing sexual misconduct. In other word, Rich if you had been stronger, you would have put a stop to it.  But, they don't call it the 'age of consent' for no reason.  Kids, especially, but not limited to preteens are not expected to have the wisdom, judgment or power (physical or emotional) to make those kind of determinations or be able to be able fight back against those who would take advantage of them.
  3. My sense of my orientation was messed up.  I think to some degree over the years, this has probably led me to 'prove' myself.  After all, I didn't 'stop' same sex predators from taking advantage of me, so maybe I was 'okay' with it.  I'm not here to judge or condemn others for their orientation or lifestyle, so don't get my wrong. However, a kid shouldn't have those issues thrown in their face, especially without consent.   However, I realize now that my questions about my own orientation were totally unfounded. 
  4. I was concerned that perhaps I'd could turn into into that which I fell victim to.  I think there is a tendency (or at least there was) for people to presume that childhood sexual abuse survivor (CSA) will be at high risk of becoming a perpetrator themselves.   I was oversexualized very early and a teenager and probably gave off those vibes in spades.  I felt dirty, naughty, 'perverted', etc.  I realized when I was in my early to mid 20s and was around kids, especially my young niece, and felt nothing but love and wanting to protect her, that my fears  were totally unfounded.  If anything, I came to realize what happened to me made me more likely to a) never want a kid to be harmed, b) be aware of what harms kids, and c) never want to be remotely perceived as being anything but appropriate.  When I was dating someone and she told her mom about what happened to me.  She expressed that her mom was concerned that kids who are abused turn out to be abusers.  I felt victimized again.  Not only was I abused as a child but I was portrayed as a potential predator that way.   It felt like a huge slap in my face and disregard for what I'd learned from being a survivor of CSA.
  5. Major, major, major, I can't stress how much I mean major distrust of people, especially males.  I was 'taught' at an early age that people act like they like you, but end up only liking you for what you can do for them or what they can 'get' from you.  Getting bullied as a kid and having an 'old school', deal with it, often insensitive male role model didn't help. However, from what I know now, my dad was only following the example he was set (and probably was abused himself).  Anyway to this day, if I sense a male is seriously trying to take advantage of me in any way or trying to negatively affect my life, I get POed.  I can accept and forgive a lot.  Even if they would never be able to find out that I  privately forgave them, I forgave those whom hurt me sexually as a I child.  However, my biggest pet peeve is arrogance, especially from a male, when it is utilized to 'get something' or take advantage of myself or my loved ones.  That's a hard thing for me to swallow.  I'd hate to be a future boyfriend of my daughter who thinks I will tolerate that for a moment.
  6. I find it hard to give up control--including affection.  Unfortunately for my wife, I cringe often when she gives me a friendly rub on the arm or something like that.  The loss of control in such a personal area of one's life as a kid, can fuel a need to 'control' that area in later life.  That's a hard thing to fully recover from.  It is second nature her to show positive attention that way and unfortunately, sometime I have to remind her that that can be uncomfortable for me. 
  7. My self-blame for what was done to me, unfortunately made me susceptible to always blaming myself for my failures (or what I saw as my failures).  It's proper to take blame for a failures when they actually are things you really shouldn't have done or for those things which you really should have been more cautious about.  But, beating yourself up for being too different personality-wise than someone your dating, for example, is a sign of being way too critical of yourself.
  8. Generalized anxiety disorder.  Anyway, who has this knows this can at times be debilitating.  I used to have occasional panic attacks as late teen/early adult.  Confidence and experience have led to me being able to overcome those, but not the generalized anxiety.

Some of these things, I put to rest, like questions about orientation or the risk of me becoming like those hurt me.  Other things I have made progress with including self-blame. But, some things like giving up control, I still struggle with.


I guess the takeaway I have to give from my own CSA survivor experience and to some degree from that of others that I have known:


Beware of the signs of a predator:
  • If a grownup takes what feels like an inordinate amount of interest in your kids, beware.  I'm not talking about someone who loves kids.  I'm talking about someone who tries TOO hard to relate to them and seems TOO eager to try to gain their acceptance.  That could be a huge red flag.  I believe this is usually a you'll know it when you see it sort of thing.  In other words, don't accuse in your mind anyone who gives kids positive attention, but if it seems way off, there is a good chance that it is.  While, it is important not to make accusations or suggestions lightly, it is also important not to dismiss them because 'it couldn't happen' or 'he or she isn't the type'.
  • If someone, especially a grown-up seems too willing to be too affectionate with them, beware.  I'm not talking about a pat on the head or a quick warm hug.  I'm talking about more drawn out and more methodical or more blatantly obvious affection.  Once again, this is an area in which it is important not to make accusations or suggestions lightly or blow affection out of proportion--especially when the giver is a close relative.   However, it is just as important not to automatically dismiss out of hand either.  A parent or caregiver who is open-minded, I believe can usually differentiate on what is 'too much affection' as given by another towards their kid.
  • If someone, especially, a grownup seems to want to spend too much time with them, especially alone time, beware.  This can be true for those whom they are related too (formally or not), but it can also be true with a relative stranger as well.  I remember in my own situation, Rick, when he was in his 'predator zone', would tend to only want one of us immediately around.  I didn't put it together at the time, but it makes sense now.

Be aware of the signs of CSA.
  • A kid is unnaturally inappropriate.  I'm not talking goofy giggly talk of preteens of silly immature talk of kids hitting puberty or locker room talk of boys wanting to fit in.  I'm talking where you sense a child is way too focused on sexuality.   This doesn't mean automatically they have been sexualized early, but it can be a HUGE red flag. 
  • If a kid shuts down or their behavior suddenly changes.  In other words, they seem to be in protective mode or they seem darker in personality than usual.  This can include their seeming complete disinterest or even distaste for dating.
  • A kid spends too much time trying to be private or trying to keep everything private from parents and others.  Kids need their space to figure themselves out and they need their space to develop healthy relationships.  However, CSA can cause kids to become more curious at an early age.  A huge boundary has been crossed with CSA and therefore, crossing other boundaries such as porn and early sexual involvement with other kids probably isn't as taboo for them that it should be.  They know it's 'taboo', but they also have been taught on some level that boundaries are flexible anyway.  To get over this conflict, kids they can resort to hiding their 'taboo' behavior.  A sign of this can be an excessive need for privacy and to 'hide' their behavior from parents.

Be aware of the long-term affects
  • Distrust of others, especially of, but not necessarily limited to those in authority.  After all, CSA is usually, but not always perpetrated by an authority figure who should have been trustworthy.
  • Sexual dysfunction.   Either too sexual or completely closed off sexually.
  • Relationship problems including mistaking sex for love.  After a CSA survivor was 'taught' that positive attention that way means that they are loved or appreciated.
  • Disregard for consequences of their actions at times.  This can include legal consequences, but I'm not specifically meaning that.  The concept is a huge barrier was blown through early on, often without consequences for the one(s) who did it.  This can send a message that barriers are a speed limit sign.  That is something should be followed, but which is largely ignored by many, if not most people.  After all, their own boundaries have not been respected, so what do boundaries matter anyway  In my own life, it took getting older, having a child and my brother Bill's suicide to bring me to maturity in some ways. 
  • Long-term anxiety (if not dealt with early).
  • Self-doubt.  Why did I allow this to happen.


The best thing we can do as parents is to be engaged with our children.  We can't always protect them but at least if we are engaged, we give them a better chance of being protected.  The better we know our kids, the better we can protect them or become aware more quickly if they are in danger or have been harmed.

I hope and pray my story has been helpful to at least a handful of people who may have read this.

Thanks, for spending your team reading part of my life's story and what it taught me.

-- Rich

* Why did I put #MeAsWell?  I think the whole #MeToo thing has been politicized too much and I'm not interested in making a political statement.  I'm not bashing #MeToo as there is so much bravery in #MeToo.  I just wanted to go a different route.

* I picked this song because, while it doesn't speak of CSA, the sense I get with this song is a loss of innocence of a generation.  Obviously, I can relate.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Walking in other people's shoes, when they are wearing boots and 'heroism'

When sharing situations or story with others, I've noticed that most of the time people usually are pretty good about listening.  From my experience, when people try to relate, their attempt is usually well meaning,  accepted and appreciated.

However, I've seen and experienced and probably been guilty of one or both of the following sins:
  • Try too hard to relate, especially where it is impossible to relate.
  • Expressing 'my experience' in a way that could be seen as 'one-upping'.
I refer to the first 'sin' as "walking in other people's shoes when they are wearing boots".   The idea being that you might be able to understand or related on some level to what another is saying--walking in their shoes--but that their circumstance is different enough--they are wearing boots instead of their shoes--that you wouldn't be able to get the same feel for their circumstance by just 'walking in their shoes'.

I refer to the second 'sin' as 'heroism' because whether the intention is pure or not, if you are not careful in relating and tell about 'your difficult circumstance', it could be seen as saying to the other person (condescendingly) that 'your problem is bad, but let me tell you about the time when I...".  In other word, "I've had to deal with worse" or "I dealt with it better".  
  • You could be trying to help them 'understand' that their problem 'isn't all that bad' and is 'survivable' based on your experience.  While there MAY be some truth to this, if handled wrong this could effectively dismiss their concern out of hand rather than letting them express it.  Maybe they just need to talk and get it out of their system to realize "you know it really wasn't that big of a deal".  Your motive is pure, but it isn't exactly what is useful to the other party at that time.
  • You could say it out of an impure motive--exasperation, jealousy, etc--and effectively shutting them down and telling them to suck it up.  While this may feel good at the moment when you are frustrated, it doesn't necessarily lead to a great relationship.   I believe when you are getting to this point, 'listen' as much as possible, help where feasible and when it is too much or what you think as ridiculous just tell them, "I wish I could be more helpful" and quietly extract yourself from the situation where possible to not make it worse. 

Having said all that, I realize as a parent that sometimes when a kid is being irrational there are time and a place to not 'humor' their thinking/worry.  There are times and places, when you just have to face their circumstance completely logically, despite a desire not to.  They are times and places also where you have to give them context.   The way I try to handle this is letting them know that their concerns or worry is legitimate and but that in the big scheme of things they are still in a good place. For example, if a kid (or an adult for that matter) says, "my life is horrible" and just refuses to acknowledge that the good they have, point out as bad as things may be there are people in this world who are too busy trying to survive to have the luxury of worrying about what they are.  It isn't to dismiss their worry/concern, but to let them know, let's keep it in perspective.


I look at it this way, I believe my Higher Power, God, hears my prayers and concerns and provided my motives are proper He will address them and not dismiss them.  In other words, while He may not see it as a big deal or big issue, He knows it is to me.  Sometimes addressing my concerns  will not mean trying to 'solving' them, but showing me a different perspective.  In my faith, God, in the form of His Son, has walked in my shoes and he has faced everything we have.  He lets me know that, but He doesn't impose His 'experience' on me, but rather let's me know that he has been there.




Lest it seem like I am saying, do not try to relate, I believe the furthest thing from that.  It is important to relate and try to empathize with others.  But, IMHO, it is also important to remember the limitations of 'relating'.  



  • Sometimes, you are missing key differences that make your situation different enough than theirs as to be not exactly relateable.
  • Sometimes, even if you can relate, sometimes people need to experience a situation as theirs first, regardless, process it, mourn it if necessary.  Only then they may be in a better place to hear that they aren't the only ones to be in that situation/circumstance. 
  • Sometimes, they need a different person, closer to their age or or just an outsider, for example, to relate.  This I believe is hard for parents to accept.
  • Sometimes, they need to hear how you can relate, but they need to hear it at at different time or with a lighter touch such as "I don't know if this helps at all or is anything like..." vs. "I understand". 

I guess the best advice, is to be pure in your motives in listening, attempt to be mindful of what others need and try to give them what you can, understanding that not everyone is open to hearing your words.