Surviving a maelstrom

Definitions for maelstrom include a situation in which there are a lot of confused activities, emotions, and also a powerful often violent whirlpool sucking in objects within a given radius (taken from

That’s how I felt trying to survive a serious conversation with my passive aggressive husband last night.  Another term I’ve learned in the online support community is the mind-‘f’  (yes, the f word), referring to how you can feel the dizzying, confusing effects of gaslighting while simultaneously feeling your mind is going through a spin cycle. 

I’m no slouch at communication, or being able to hold my own in a conversation, but when my husband is spewing anger, resentment, and accusations in full blown passive aggressive mode, it’s difficult to keep up. 

He’ll always say something particularly upsetting (a vulnerability) to pepper the rapid fire accusations with, and if I try to hit a slow or pause button to respond to it, he’ll glare (in an almost triumphant way) and say something like, “See!  This is why I can never talk to you!  You interrupt me, you never let me finish what I’m trying to say!  I’m sick of your double standards!”

Now I’m darned if I do, and darned if I don’t.  Taking inner note of this hasn’t slowed the pace or intensity of the conversations.  By the time I’m trying to make a mental list of the last few things he’s thrown into the mix, he’s on to more accusations and resentments.  It can feel like he’s waited months or years to tell me just how upset he is, just how awful I am, and just how mistreated, unappreciated, and put upon he is.  By the time he’s finished, I wonder to myself why in the world he ever wanted to be with me, and why he is with me at all. 

But you see, this has been going on forever.  In the early years (and for far too long), it would break me down.  I’d end up in a kind of emotional shock, numb with pain and depression.  Once I was broken down, it was the typical turning point where he’d eventually throw me a crumb, or make an overture.  This would elicit such immense relief within me, and seeing, observing or sensing my relief, he would then turn more kind and attentive behavior on me.  Making up beyond that point required me to behave in such a way that signaled free, clear, and unconditional emotional space that we could ‘be close’ again in.  If I didn’t do that, the cold war would drag on.

He’s been ramping up awhile now.  The withdrawal, self-pity, and resentful hostility have been brewing and escalating.  Why?  As an old farmer friend of my father used to say, “Who knows?  Who cares?  What’s the difference?

Last night was just as confusing as any other time in regards to tracking the conversation, and being able to rationally and coherently respond to it.  It’s impossible… impossible… to respond to specific topics, because there were far too many. 

Some of the things I heard from him were the same old, same old, but there were a few special gems from him. 

I brought up counseling.  I said, “Every time we went for professional help, each and every time you were singled out and focused on as needing help.  If we go to another counselor, and if the new counselor says the same, and says that your behaviors didn’t seem loving or respectful, what would that mean to you?”

He said, “That it would be a misrepresentation. This time, I’d make sure that it wasn’t just your side.  I’d make sure I was able to talk about my feelings and my reasons for things.”

Misrepresentation?  He was not only present for all sessions in past years, but it was him that had the bulk of individual sessions.  Typically we would see a new therapist or psychologist, and after a few sessions as a couple, there would be a request to see him individually. 

Misrepresentation.  That’s how he explains the observations from professionals about his behaviors lacking love and respect?  

I said, “Okay… if you have the first few sessions all alone, and then I come to talk to that counselor, and if the counselor then says the same things other counselors did in past years, then what would that mean to you?”

He said, “I don’t know.  I’d have to think about it.”

When I told him that all I’ve ever wanted from him is love and respect, and also not to lie to me, he responded by saying that he didn’t feel loved by me. 

He says it’s been years since I’ve behaved like I loved him, and that from my behavior, he had a hard time believing that I loved him. 

hmm  How convenient.  The very words I’ve used to try to communicate my hurt are once again used by him towards me.  This has happened too many times to count over the years.  This is a part of the identity vampire dynamic that makes it difficult for me to know what he’s stealing and projecting, and what’s authentically originating from him.

I listened to him saying that he felt like I didn’t love him.  So many visual memories began to flash through my mind; images of real memories that certainly looked like loving behaviors from me towards him.  Apparently, those behaviors and actions must not be worth much.  At the same time, I remembered many of his terrible words and behaviors, and my willingness to forgive him and keep trying.  Listening to him last night made me think he doesn’t value being forgiven, but then perhaps he never felt he had that much to be forgiven for.  In reality, I think he did, but a passive aggressive tends to feel entitled to hurt you, feels justified to hurt you, and that way when he sees the impact of his hurt, the underlying thought is that somehow you deserved to be hurt by him.  Top that off with a lack of empathy and compassion, and you’ll have a man that can see your tears and pain and be seemingly unmoved by it.  It’s no more meaningful to a passive aggressive than some kind of emotional white noise in the room. 

On the other hand, I also had to think of my growing unwillingness to mother him, my enforcement of boundaries, and my not backing down when I hold him accountable for some specific thing.   Perhaps to his mind, those are unloving things.

I told him that I was trying to express my sadness and hurt to him.  His response to that was to start telling me how he cries all the time because he’s so sad. 

I was almost flabberghasted.  I asked him, “You know me well enough to know how hearing that would affect me.  When do you cry?  Where do you cry?”

(I’m not blind.  I’m not heartless.  I haven’t seen evidence of this.)

He yelled back that he was sad all the time.  He went on and on about it actually.  Then at one point, he kind of boo-booed.  He said, “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her.”

whoa… whoa nelly

This was a boo boo because of a conversation our daughter just had with me.  Not long ago, I saw that Ella Enchanted was on instant play, and told her we should watch it together sometime soon.  Two nights ago when I watched Fiddler on the Roof with her, her sister and oldest brother, my husband was into sulk-withdraw mode and chose to sit back at his computer and watch a movie alone.  After he did that, she asked her father if we could all three later watch Ella Enchanted, and whether he thought he and I would be willing to sit on the couch together to watch it with her.  Shortly after, she recounted their conversation, puzzled because he told her, “Oh, I don’t think your mom is very interested in watching that movie.  I’m pretty sure that I care more about watching it than she does.”   My daughter asked me if that was true.  I told her that was not correct, and I wouldn’t have suggested watching it with her if I wasn’t interested.  My daughter asked why her father said that then.  I told her that I didn’t know.

So when he made the comment,  “I’m sad when I hear my daughter tell me that she feels like no one cares about her because no one was interested in watching Ella Enchanted on netflix with her,”  I responded by asking him if he remembered the rest of the conversation about that with her.

Instantly, he gave me a knowing and resentful look.  Then I knew he did remember.  He said, “Yes, I told her you weren’t that interested because you said that you weren’t.”

gaslighting alert

I asked him when and in what context he remembered this supposed comment, and of course he couldn’t answer.  He didn’t like being caught out on that movie conversation with our daughter.

His response about lying to me?  “I don’t lie to you as much as you think I do!”  That statement was followed with barely taking a breath by many others, but the first part of it stuck in my head.

I said, “Did you hear what you just said to me?”

He just kept the rapid fire stuff going, but by now he was openly mocking and using sarcasm. 

I repeated my question, “Did you hear what you just said to me?  Even if you don’t lie as much as you say I think you do, you’re still lying, and you’re upset at me because I suspect you of lying?”

I asked him if he would want to try to keep this house if we divorced.  He went on to tell me that he used to feel differently about this property, but not anymore, so probably not.  I asked him if he’d agree to financially supporting me to stay in this house until our youngest graduated from high school, and at that time, I could either buy him out, or we’d sell it and split.  He said, “Maybe… I don’t know… I have to think about what I’m willing or not to do.”

He continued to tell me why he was unhappy being married to me.  I shook my head and said, “Well, if what you say about me and about how you feel is true, then you really will be so much better off without me.”

He replied, “Well, I don’t know about that…”

I had slept on the couch the night before this conversation.

I told him it was his turn, and I was sleeping in the bed.

This morning he started sending tentative sorry puppy signals.

You know what I did?  Exactly what I promised myself last night that I’d do.  I started Algebra with my daughter, and had a great first lesson.  I’ve eaten healthy. 

Now I’m going swimming.

My promise to myself was to love and take care of me.  To give myself a chance…

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Feedback to a passive aggressive

Bet a dozen donuts the author of this satire has known a passive aggressive in repetitive close quarters.

Sound familiar?

Feedback he’ll ignore

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Sick Tiger cat and a nightmare

It’s been difficult for me the last few days.  Nothing unusual has happened here, just the normal invisible subtle grinding down.  The problem is that I’m not managing well to replenish or nurture myself so I won’t feel so tired and sad.

I do think so often of my cousin.  I wish I could share a picture of her, so you all could see how beautiful she is.  When I went swimming, I walked into the water halfway, but just needed to stand awhile to feel the sun warming my skin, and the small breeze move my hair.  I wondered what hopes and dreams my cousin had as she fought to live, and if and when she understood that she was leaving this earth.  I thought about my mother.  I thought about my friend that died last month.  I thought about my sister-in-law and dear friend that died several years ago.  I thought about how short life is, and how it feels like it’s slipping by.

I’ve already been snappy a few times this morning.  Twice with the same daughter.  I should probably take a five minute nap after posting, and then apologize to her.

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed Tiger (a barn cat) seemed off.  He was entirely uninterested in the sardine I offered him, which was not at all normal for him.  Later in the evening,  we had a summer storm with thunder, lightning, and rain, and he must have hidden in the barn.  After the storm passed, I found Tiger on a lawn chair up by the house.  He seemed lethargic, and he was just laying there wet and quiet.  I picked him up, wet messy fur and all, and held him close, stroked him and tried to comfort him, and brought him inside the garage entry.  I called for my husband, and he reluctantly came. 

He was already upset with me earlier last evening.  I’d asked him to help a friend over the phone with a computer issue.   Sometimes asking him to help someone else works out okay, but sometimes asking my husband for anything when he’s in a certain mood is just going to bite me.  Last night was a time he resented it.  He did it, but he was cool and resentful to me later.  He was so unpleasant that I just wanted to avoid him for the rest of the night.

Then the storm came,  everyone powered down computers, and my oldest son, two youngest daughters and I started to play a dice game.  My husband decided to join us, and I silently didn’t want him to.  After the recent conversation dealing with his resentment, I just wanted him to go away.  Standing up and walking away from the game didn’t seem like a good idea, so I tried to just go with the flow.  The kids all seemed glad that he joined the game.

It was bedtime when the cat got sick.  My husband was tired, and that’s never a good thing.  When he gets tired, it’s like having a little kid that gets tired.  You can’t reason with little kids when they’re tired, just try to get them to bed.  When my kids were little, I tried very hard to avoid ever having them out past bedtime.  When I’d see parents dragging hysterically crying toddlers around a mall or store, I’d want to say, “For pete’s sakes, get the poor kid home and into bed!”  Only I think it’s supposed to be different with adults.  In my husband’s case, his behavior gets overtly unpleasant rather quickly if he’s tired and feels he’s being put upon somehow.

Once I carried Tiger in, I called to my husband to ask him what he thought of Tiger’s condition, and put Tiger in his arms.   He set him down, and Tiger got in the litter box and had diarrhea.  Then Tiger stepped out of the box, and shook and threw up all over.  I confess that I was so worried about Tiger that I pulled out any trick I could think of.  You would have heard me telling my husband about how much Tiger loves him, how comforted Tiger must be to have him nearby when he was sick, and trying to persuade him that we should keep him inside for the night.

He was not at all happy with the gross stinky mess, and I don’t blame him, but he did the worst part of the clean up anyway, which I appreciated (and told him so).  I wondered why I felt like I needed to convince him that we needed to help Tiger, and why he initially seemed to unconcerned.  I did convince him that we should keep Tiger inside overnight, and thankfully he seems a bit better this morning.

When we finally crawled into bed, I felt alone and hopeless.  I quietly told him that it’s sad and lonely to be married to him.  I told him that I’m tired of wondering if and when he’s lying to me about something.  I told him that I hate living with his always having reasons to avoid intimacy, and the wondering if he’s secretly relieving himself. (That’s how he’s explained it before.  He’d say he had some pain ‘down there’ and did it for pain relief.)  I said that I didn’t understand why, if he behaves as though he doesn’t care about me or our relationship, that he doesn’t openly say so and give it up.  I told him I don’t understand why I can’t seem to leave him.  I almost asked him to please leave me, but I went to sleep instead.  I think he started to respond as I was falling asleep.  He said he didn’t want to give up. I didn’t care because I think his words don’t mean much to me anymore.  I’m not sure why I even said what I did to him, because I don’t think it will matter a whit.

I had a strange nightmare that woke me up early this morning.  I was working in a grocery store, and both my younger daughters were with me.  It was late evening, no customers, and dark outside.  Suddenly, some sirens starting going off, the kind of community sirens that warn of storms or disasters.  My oldest daughter showed up knocking on the glass.  She’d ridden a bike to the store.  I let her in, and she said, “Something really bad is about to happen.  We don’t have much time to prepare for it.”  I woke up as we were about to run around the store grabbing supplies to load in the car.






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The most unsafe place

The most unsafe place when you’re with a passive aggressive is to be vulnerable and to need.

I’m struggling so much to believe and accept something.  This morning I found out that a cousin of mine died.  She spent much time at our house when we were kids, and grew up to be a funny, beautiful woman.  We haven’t talked or seen each other for the last handful of years.  How did that happen?  How did I get so tired and isolated that I’ve lost touch with people?  I didn’t know she had cancer until I found out this morning that she died yesterday.

I’ve been looking at pictures and crying on and off.

I was crying on and off.  I stopped, and pulled myself together, because he was escalating and giving off what to me were warning signs. 

We had a work meeting, and he was subtly condescending, impatient etc. That’s when it started to hit me that I needed to compartmentalize my feelings until a safer time.

Then he had an argument with our youngest son.  It was a legitimate issue, but he handled it in such a bogus way with unnecessary drama.

Draining.  No affection.  No support.

Just minutes ago, he talked about how tired he was, and that he didn’t have much to give.  I said, “Okay.”

At least after all these years, I’m finally expecting him to be difficult and unsafe if I’m vulnerable and have any intense personal needs.

Like the ability to grieve.

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Maybe the best article about narcissists that I’ve ever read!

Originally posted on Grace for my Heart:

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Why do the narcissists abuse people?  Why do they do such things?  They hurt.  They use.  They manipulate.  They destroy.


Some have attributed their cruelty to hatred.  Some to anger.  Others to envy.  Perhaps they look at the rest of us and create ways to demolish what we or others have built into our lives.   Perhaps they do it for fun, excitement, maybe challenge.

Narcissists can cause a lot of pain.  I read the stories people send to me privately and those shared in the comments and I grieve for those who have had to endure so much.  Some of the stories are hard to believe, but I know narcissists and I do believe them.  And, again, why do they do these things?

I have written about this before, but it seems important to say it again: it isn’t your fault.  You are not an inferior…

View original 453 more words

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Space that he respects

I decided that I like freaky Friday instead of throwback Thursday.  It needs to be something abnormal if recounting memories of passive aggressive crazymaking.  Feel free to add a freaky story of your own!

Years ago, a therapist once asked me what personal space I had, what ‘thing’ or what ‘space’ was uniquely mine. I couldn’t think of anything. Even my purse (unlike my mother’s) was not sacrosanct. I had a rolltop desk that particularly would get raided (many items like the stapler, tape, stamps etc. ‘borrowed’ by him permanently unless I tracked them down). Respected space for me was an issue that my therapist initiated and pursued, not me. My therapist requested that my husband come into a session, and a good part of it she spent explaining to him the importance for me to have my own inviolate space.  (You all can guess how long that lasted.)

Years later from the time I’d seen that counselor, that session about my own space came up in a conversation with my husband.  By that time, at some point I’d abandoned the desk as ‘mine’, not unlike a bird abandons a nest. Occasionally, my husband would make a comment about the desk needing to be cleaned up or dusted, and I’d look at him as though he’d just spoken to me in a foreign language. 

One of those times, I’d replied to his comment about ‘my’ desk needing to be cleaned, by saying that it wasn’t really my desk.  He insisted it was, and I said that as long as he would take items from it, or put items on it, if he would even move things around on it, then it wasn’t ‘mine’.  For whatever reason, he went into a full-blown puppy dog sincere monologue about how he understood that, and he would respect that, how he’d changed.


I thought and thought about it.  At some point, the idea that I could reclaim the desk as personal space began to intrigue and appeal to me.  

I said, “Husband, are you sure?  Do you mean this?”

He replied ever so sincerely that he meant it with all his heart.

I said, “Do you understand what I’m asking?  Even if I get mail addressed to me, I don’t want you to set it on that desk.  If you need something, you can’t take it from that desk.”

He said he understood clearly.

I said, “I don’t want you to put ANYTHING, absolutely not one thing on that desk, or take anything off of it.  Don’t even move anything on it.  Are you really agreeing to this?”

He replied, “I understand!  You have my word that I won’t touch that desk or go near it!”

Finally, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  After all, it wasn’t a big thing I was asking.  It took me hours to sort through the years of dusty piles and scraps and accumulation.  Much of that dusty stuff had nothing to do with me.  He’d used it as a kind of super junk drawer to plop things on.  I cleaned and oiled the wood until it shone, then placed everything exactly where and how I wanted it.  Towards the end of this process,  I started to feel this strange golden glowing feeling within my chest.  It was pleasant.  I think it was happiness.

It was a happiness that I expressed to him, along with gratitude and hope.  Could this be that small safe space I could build on? 

Later the next day, we were at the grocery store to pick up a few things.  This was back in the days when we actually still went on pseudo date nights, which usually consisted of seeing a movie together.  I’m one of those popcorn addicts that meld the words movie-popcorn or popcorn-movie together.  I was trying to lose some weight, so while we were in the grocery store, I said I was going to pick up some of the straight stick pretzels and try munching on those instead of the theater popcorn.

Not a big deal, right?  While I’m getting that bag off the grocery shelf, he commented that we’d have to write my name on the bag so the kids wouldn’t eat it.

umm  Passive aggressive alert. 

This was an old issue between us.  I believe in sharing, not marking food.  He and I had had this discussion many times over the years.  My adamant feelings came from my childhood.  My mother was a generous soul, but she grew up in the Great Depression, and besides lots and lots of stuff she held on to, she hid and hoarded food as she grew older.  It wasn’t that my mom wouldn’t share her food, she just always had special snacks and treats hidden.  Part of that was because she’d become diabetic, and wasn’t supposed to have them.  The end result was my wanting a clean and straight forward approach to food.  I’d told my husband many times that if we couldn’t afford a treat for everyone, we couldn’t afford it for anyone.

I responded, “No, I’ll just get two bags.  There should be plenty left for me to take a small baggie to the movie, but if they get eaten, they get eaten, no big deal.”

Gee.  You know that was like waving a red towel in front of a sneaky bull.  I suppose in his world, I’d just defied him and spit on him or something equally heinous.  Something that needed to be thwarted and dealt with.  Punished.

We came home, ate dinner, and shortly before bedtime, I went to my desk to check my email.  Guess what was on it?

Such an easy answer.  Two bags of pretzels.  Naturally, it was a huge trigger for me.  Of course, he’d ‘forgotten’ and ‘misunderstood’ and had ‘good intentions’ to make sure I had pretzels when we went to the movie.

Yeah.  Screw the movie.  I had no interest in going to that movie anymore.  I took a look at that gleaming and organized desk as a snapshot of what could and should be.  Then disconnected from it.  It was now back in the camp of things he could use to get at me, and I let go of it again for good.  Later down the road, I gave it to one of our sons.  My computer now just sits on a utility table.  I’d love to have a desk of my own some day.

Another ‘someday’ goal is to have a room of my own. This room would be enter-by-invitation only, and it would have a lock and key. A vintage desk for my computer. A sink-into chair with ottoman for reading with a sweet unique little side table to hold  tea and dark chocolate. I’ll decorate in absolutely any way I wish.  There will be tables and shelves with projects spread out that don’t get moved, an easel that won’t be touched, my own personal file cabinet  (that was another invaded and  ‘borrowed’ thing I once had), maybe even a mini-fridge and tiny pantry so I’d have water and snacks handy if I was writing and didn’t want to be disturbed. A comfy inviting couch I could sleep on! A skylight I can open or close. A quality music system so I can be enveloped and lost in the beauty of some pieces.  The ability to burn incense if I want to.

I do now have a coffee mug that is mostly respected as just mine.

Space that he respects?  His own space and stuff. 

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I haven’t been able to shake it off yet

It’s not that I’ve never yelled, raised my voice, gotten mad or shouted… but there’s a certain way that he’ll yell, and I associate it with bad things happening.  Months or years can pass between when he crosses out of the bell curve, but it reverberates over time for me.

I still feel triggered from last night.

He apologized to our daughter this morning.  He didn’t apologize to me.

I’m pretty sure he knows how it affected me.  I’d bet he knows.

I’m trying to act as normal as possible, but how I feel inside is weepy.

Somehow, I have to pull myself back together inside and focus to stay on track. 

I really just want to cry, and for some safe haven to regain strength and clarity.

I feel… unstable.

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