Summer 2020

psychologists-confirm-narcissistic-parents-are-incapable-of-loving-their-childrenThe summer of COVID-19. I had planned to fly my two boys, now twelve (almost thirteen), and sixteen, to Arizona to spend some quality time with me over their Spring Break. The Coronavirus ruined that.

Instead, I waited for summer and drove more than 1,000 miles to the Pacific Northwest to take them camping and fishing. The planning experience has been ridiculous! My ex has thrown up all kinds of obstacles, and as I test each one, I’m finding that as soon as one obstacle is toppled, another appears in its place. I’ll detail one of them here, but this won’t be the last article. We have all summer. . . .

I’ve spent the last two and a half years in healing, and my perspectives are a bit different now. I’ve removed myself, psychologically speaking, from my ex-wife’s abusive orbit. One thing is still quite glaring: she has no compunction against using the children as tools to twist the knife. The problem is, I now know who and what she is. I no longer react. Instead, I’ve become adept at expecting and predicting a particular approach.

I began this trip by setting boundaries. One was that I did not desire a personal encounter of any kind, and I wanted Barbie to drop off the boys at the home of a former neighbor, whom they’ve known for fifteen years. I had everything arranged. You’ll never guess . . . no dice. She’s requiring me to come to her home to collect my children, claiming it was important for the children to see a “healthy transition” from one parent to the other. Sound reasonable? I thought so, too. However, I am under legal advice to call law enforcement for Civil Standby. That, in my opinion, would introduce some rather bad optics, from the children’s perspective. I informed her. I soon received an angry reply via talkingparents.com (an awesome system!) that I would still need to come to the house, police or no. Hmm. . . . What’s the motive, then? The exchange hasn’t happened yet, and I admit, I haven’t figured it out. But there’s some motive, and it’s certainly not about the children seeing a “healthy transition.” That much has been exposed.

My twelve-year-old has recently said some things that make me believe he’s been the subject of a relentless gaslighting campaign. I’ll learn more when we’re around the campfire.

To be continued. I hope everyone is healthy. Wear a mask, and be safe!


A Crucible of Heartbreak

My name isn’t Harry. My wife’s name isn’t really Barbie. I’m writing this on December 4, 2017. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

I’ve walked through a kind of Hell no one should ever have to go through. Ever. My married life was driven so far beyond the point of normalcy that now, even I can hardly believe I tolerated it for as long as I did. While in the throes of the most egregious verbal, mental, and emotional abuse imaginable, I was forced to find the strength and courage to repress a panoply of emotions—anger, fear, hurt, even pity and compassion—to act firmly and decisively, and put an end to the absurdity. I had to draw a line in the sand. For me and my children, it was a crucible of heartbreak.

This is my story.

In the spring of 2017, I made the difficult decision to end a twenty-one year relationship. My wife and I have two children, aged 10 and 13. They’re both boys—intelligent, thoughtful, polite—the results, I think, of me being the primary contact parent for nearly fourteen years. Sadly, for the children, that’s going to change. But they know I was a dedicated, balanced, kind, and attentive father. No amount of manipulation is going to change that.

There were good reasons for me being the primary parent, not least among them my own strong Irish Catholic, family-oriented background. It differed markedly from that of my wife, whose childhood family life was likely abusive—her father left when she was very young—and in constant disarray.

Although our property settlement assigned me more than fifty percent of the marital assets, I failed to attain more than fifty percent custody of the children.

Not for lack of trying. No one in the family law system, it seemed, was willing to step up and make the call to designate me as the primary parent without some kind of “smoking gun,” like a DUII, or drug arrest—or a domestic violence conviction. I understand the reticence—assigning the children to one or the other parent assumes a huge amount of responsibility for children still in their formative years. What if you picked the wrong parent? I’d probably shy away from that decision, too. But having fifty percent custody is now unfortunate, because I’m contemplating a long-distance relocation, and I’m not sure how that’s going to work. The children would be much better off with me, surrounded by my large extended family. However, I predict Barbie will fight to keep the boys for most of the year. Anything else, to an outside observer, would look like she’d “lost” the children to me. And in her world, that just wouldn’t be tolerable. What happens to the kids, in the mean time, doesn’t really matter. Not to her, anyway.

Presently, we own a nice house together in an affluent neighborhood. Barbie is trying to scare up enough money to buy out my half of our estate. Her motivation is clear—I literally threw her out of the house with restraining orders last March. A judge then affirmed that, allowing me to retain the property and the bulk of the time with the children. My Petition for Divorce cited three main causes for the action: (a) her excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs; (b) being a disengaged, absent parent; and (c) serial infidelity, of which I held indelible proof. Barbie launched a bloody backlash, and even tried to have me declared in contempt of court twice. Both efforts failed. Now she’s clawing to get it all back—the appearances, I mean. To her, it’s important that to outsiders, it’s made to look like she “won” the divorce, like her unacceptably bad behavior was somehow vindicated or exonerated. I’m going to let her have that, although there is no logical defense for any of her behavior. She was shown to be lacking in conscience, empathy, shame, impulse control, and basic human decency. She was selfish, malicious, and vile. Barbie repeatedly demonstrated an absence of the wisdom, maturity, and moral acumen to instill good values in our two male offspring. She was dysfunctional, and behaved with insufficient integrity to continue acting as a maternal role model. It took me a while to recognize it for what it was, and that contributed to a year—367 days—of conflict in our household before I put an end to it.

In a divorce, there are no winners. Only losers—and in ours, those who’ll lose the most are the children. Especially with her fighting over them like they’re possessions, not people. Her sudden interest in the children is all about outward appearances. That disturbs me because her behavior is, at its core, morally wrong, and I expect that to continue. Either way, it’s not good for the children. At the ages of 10 and 13, they’re still developing. They need both paternal and maternal role models. But despite what she may say, Barbie has clearly demonstrated she doesn’t care about that. I’m not worried what the children think of me; they know what I brought to the game. I was always the Pillar in their lives. Meanwhile, she was free to do whatever she pleased, and I enabled that. My bad.

Everything Barbie does is about outward appearance. The people and things with which she surrounds herself have all become integral parts of her fake persona. What she wears, what she drives, where she lives, what she drinks, and so on.

My suspicions were piqued when I first attended a group for men in abusive relationships in early 2017. After two hours, I was overcome by a powerful sense of commonality among all the men present. At the next session, the group organizer, a male family therapist with a background in psychology, began introducing concepts like “borderline,” “histrionic,” and “narcissistic” personality disorders. I was immediately alarmed—I recognized far too many behaviors and characteristics. I’d already had a strong sense that something at the core of my wife was very wrong or even missing. And that’s what spurred me to begin further research. My uneasiness soared when the new concepts I was learning could be used as predictors of my wife’s behaviors and reactions.

Betrayal & The Unmasking

I initiated divorce proceedings against Barbie in late March 2017 after 367 days of sheer hell. I documented my experience in detail, and learned a few things along the way. Once I’d unmasked her true self, everything changed immediately, and she became downright vicious. Once I knew the truth, she had no further reason to maintain the charade. So she didn’t. It was as simple as that.

In the spring of 2016, Barbie began living a life of absentee parenting, frequent late-night partying, and heavy alcohol use. And probably other drugs, too. These were risky and dangerous behaviors. I was gripped by a constant fear she’d hit someone while driving intoxicated, because many of the establishments she visited after work were in parts of town with large pedestrian and bicycle zones. My concerns worsened when I learned she was slipping out of the office during the day in favor of taverns and infidelity. The prudence of my fears was further underscored the day I took her car to Paul, a Portland Audi specialist, who told me he needed to replace the passenger-side front wheel bearings. Paul then asked if the vehicle had sustained an impact, because, he explained, the mileage was “far too low for the bearings to go bad on their own.” My fears were highlighted again one evening when Barbie called me from the Interstate Bridge too drunk to speak clearly. I asked her to pull off the road and wait for me, but instead, as I listened, she vomited red wine into her lap and the instrument panel, and kept driving homeward. To this day, it’s a wonder she never got pulled over.

I frequently objected to Barbie’s absence from our family life, as well as her behavior and judgment. When I did, she’d predictably fly into a rage. One day in particular, she began shrieking with the pitch and volume of a train whistle. You know—the piercing kind of scream that could peel the skin off your comfort level about the sanity and balance of your life partner. “YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!” I’d simply asked where she was going, and to please explain her whereabouts the night before. The entire night before. “I owe you nothing.” So grandiose was her sense of entitlement.

In March 2016, Barbie had entered into a brand new relationship with “Jake Oliphant,” a male co-worker. I’ve nicknamed him “Beavis.” I believe Beavis had become her enabler with regard to drugs and alcohol. I was never able to identify specifically which drugs she was ingesting, other than edible marijuana, wIMG_6688_LI (2)hich she admitted, but I’d sometimes see text messages on the face of her phone featuring a small yellow-and-red “pill” emoticon with cryptic text. The motif appeared enough times to raise my concerns. Barbie’s erratic behaviors seemed to be the result of more than a couple of triple Ketel One-and-soda cocktails. My process of discovery also yielded irrefutable proof that she and Beavis would separately slip out of the office in the afternoon, only to rendezvous for drinks at dive bars where no fellow employees were likely to show. Nearby places, like Crackerjacks, Joe’s Cellar, Nob Hill. Then they’d return to the office before close of business. She always drove, and was careful to let him out of the vehicle far enough from the office to conceal their secret. I know that because I had access to on-line credit card transactions. We even experienced a “near miss” one day when I innocently showed up downtown at lunchtime—Beavis had to jump out of the car a block from her office as I spoke with her on the phone.

Often Barbie and Beavis drank at the office as well, and I’d seen proof of that, too, in text messages. After work, other bars furnished a meet-up venue. The Marathon Taverna, Knob Hill, Broadway Bar & Grill, Maui’s, Vendetta, and many others. Barbie appeared to be kiting funds from her generous corporate expense allowance, or simply using family funds, to pay for her illicit outings. Sex probably came afterward, just before she got on her way home to her doting husband and children. What a lovely picture. Barbie always did the paying, which made her activities with Beavis ridiculously easy to track.

On average, Barbie was absent from our home and family life for fourteen to sixteen hours per day—and often more. By the late spring of 2016, she’d begun returning home from “work” thoroughly inebriated on a regular basis. If she returned home at all, that is. If she wasn’t already with Beavis after work, he’d pressure her for a “drive-by” to his North Portland apartment. When she stayed out all night, she’d sneak in just before five o’clock in the morning, being sure to allow the boys to see her when they awoke. It’s all about appearances, remember? But Eldest knew something very wrong was going on.

At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Barbie, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated. The little voice in my head was getting louder and louder, and it was screaming “dysfunction!” like never before. The more I observed her behaviors, the more I recognized that “marriage breakdown” was not a good descriptor of what was happening.

The situation began to get out of hand by the end of 2016. Beavis committed two acts of harassment in separate jurisdictions against me and my elderly father on December 22, 2016, and February 4, 2017. That was not enough of a pattern of unlawful behavior to obtain a Protection Order against him, although I tried. These experiences are detailed in another post. I correctly recognized the purpose of the harassment, and I became persuaded that it was the beginning of a plot to accuse me of domestic violence, have me arrested, charged, and removed from our family home. I couldn’t allow that, and I filed a petition for divorce. The abuse—both spousal and substance—had to stop. Barbie was served on Friday, March 24.

Beavis subsequently attempted to engage one of my children in my marital conflict, in early April 2017. A minor child. WTF?! I believe his deliberate action—curiously, conducted at 1:10 AM—is tantamount to child abuse. Together with the stalking and harassment, I believe it paints a fairly clear picture of his character—we used to call it “Bad Seed,” back in the Day. As a judge told Beavis, he simply had “no lawful nor legitimate reason” for contacting my elderly father or my thirteen-year-old son.

enoughBy the end of February 2017, when I suspected Beavis and Barbie might be planning to frame me for domestic violence, I noticed that unexplained bruises began appearing on her arms and legs. There was even one on her left deltoid in early March with a bite mark in the center. I had to ask. Her explanation disgusted me: “a guy on the elevator in Vegas said I looked good enough to eat.”


By that time, Barbie had become physically more aggressive toward me when she arrived home at night. Her level of aggression had a positive correlation with intoxication. One night, she made the mistake of texting me photos of her bruises as a way of threatening me. I understood it as a foreshadowing of what she and Beavis were likely planning. That threat was real to me. I was afraid of falling victim to false accusations of physical assault of my wife, or even sexual assault. The situation had gotten so crazy that anything seemed possible. The next morning, I went to Christine H., an attorney I’d hired, and showed her the photos with which Barbie had threatened me. Christine’s position was, “let her bring it.”

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most.

Christine’s response emboldened me. I dared Barbie to go to the police with the photos. Please, I thought. Go ahead. File a false police report. I believe she’d been collecting photos for some time, at different times and places. But I’d also been making notes in my journal when I saw any new bruises, and recorded where she’d been, if I knew. There was at least one long stretch where she stayed at the home of friends for more than a week, and returned with new bruises—particularly bad ones. My planned defense was going to rely on my journal, plus the electronic timestamps and geotags embedded in the photos. Electronic geotags from photos posted on social media sites like Facebook, and its Russian counterpart, VKontakte (ВКонтакте), known as “Veh-Ka,” were how Western investigators discovered active Russian troops had invaded Ukraine in early 2014, when Vladimir Putin openly denied their presence in that country. I was certain Barbie didn’t know anything about geotags.

She immediately backed down. A real victim of abuse, I believe, would have and should have used the opportunity to turn me in to authorities. But she’d learned not to play around with false accusations where I was concerned—I might already have evidence supporting truth and reality, which I’d had numerous times before, when she’d lied to me.

Throughout February and March, I’d become increasingly afraid Barbie would attack me and then claim I’d hit her. I never raised a hand against her throughout all the years of marriage. Ever. My children are my witnesses. Barbie also assumed I wouldn’t act against her because, I believe, she felt she had me financially trapped. She’d even cockily announced privately to a mutual (female) friend, “Harry will never leave me.”

WRONG. I’d been contemplating and planning legal action for some time, particularly as my fear of false accusations rose. My attorneys urged action, while I wavered on the timing. Rick Osborne, a Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy, even advised me to take action for my own safety. “Somebody’s going to get hurt if you let this continue,” he said, “and it could be you. You’re at a disadvantage here.” I trusted Deputy Osborne’s advice; he was well-acquainted with the situation in our household, including the day she tried to seize the kids from my custody and drive them to a movie while visibly drunk. And I’m not talking “a couple o’ beers” here—this was drinking to the point of speaking in tongues. Eldest even noticed the pronounced slurring that day. “What’s wrong with Mom’s voice?”

If the framing plot went forward, I planned to involve Deputy Osborne as a key player in my defense. Still, I wavered on taking action. I simply couldn’t find the resolve to initiate it. I knew it would be a one-way path. I’d loved Barbie for twenty-one years, I was committed to family, and I assumed what I was observing was a drug- or alcohol-fueled aberration in her behavior.

But I was dead wrong. It was something much, much deeper.

I changed my mind the night of March 19, 2017, a Sunday, nearing midnight. I was working IMG_8669in my home office with the double-doors tied with network cable in anticipation of Barbie’s arrival. Who has to do that? The situation had acquired that degree of absurdity.

Barbie eventually came home. I bid her good night without opening the office doors. She was like a raging bull. I wish I could have taken a video, but I needed my hands and feet to brace the doors. Using her body as a battering ram, she tried to force the doors open. I struggled to hold them closed, hoping she wouldn’t crash through the glass. She was undoubtedly angry I was dragging Beavis into court for a Protection Order hearing on Wednesday that week (March 22). She finally relented, slumped to the floor with her flannel blouse against the glass {camera click: that’s her against the door in the photo below}.

A few minutes later, Barbie crawled off to pass out on the bed. That’s when I made the final decision. I had to do it. I had to act. I called 911, reported the incident, and saw my attorneys the next morning. In retrospect, I still wonder whether the framing plan was supposed to go down that night. I’ll probably never know for sure, because I struck first.

For me, the line in the sand had been drawn and crossed. By the end of that week, I managed to have Barbie removed from our family home. The apparent plan to frame me for domestic violence especially galled me. I’d given her and our children nothing but love, kindness, and care over many years. I didn’t deserve to be treated like she was treating me. It was pure avarice. And I certainly couldn’t let the framing go forward. As they say in government, good decisions are based on good intelligence—and I had it. I’d been pushed too far. Way too far.

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most. I gritted my teeth and moved the process forward.

IMG_8670Two weeks after filing for divorce, Barbie and I found ourselves on opposite sides of a Vancouver Family Court. Two people who’d once embraced a loving marriage (or so I’d thought) now bore the cardboard titles of Petitioner and Respondent. My family was in the Midwest, and I only had Matt K., my capable legal gun, at my side. Barbie had a young, blondish male attorney named Jordan T., who stood stiff as a soldier preparing to charge the enemy. “Your Honor,” Jordan said when it was his turn to speak, “we believe the husband to be mentally unstable.”

What?! I was stunned. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But despite my disbelief, I’d come prepared to hear something like that. Jordan’s statement was the first salvo of the backlash that my Portland counselor-cum-divorce coach, Joel Taylor, had predicted not even a month before. He’d told me truth and honesty wouldn’t matter to her; that she would demonize me to the court and friends alike because I had the found the courage to strike out against her, and end the charade. I had rejected her and her unacceptable behavior—and whether deserved or not, it enraged her like never before.

Joel was a psychological professional who regularly convened a group for men in abusive relationships. Joel interviewed me in early February to assess whether I belonged in the group. I must have said something “right,” because he admitted me. At the first group session, I sat in a room with six or seven other men in a circle. And Joel. I listened attentively as the others introduced themselves and related their stories. I was the last to speak. Based on what I’d heard, all I could muster was, “are you guys kidding? Are we all married to the same woman?!” Afterward, when I told Joel I was about to file for divorce, he advised me to speak with him about my situation first. I did, and that was a good move. He talked about how males are naturally at a disadvantage in our nation’s family courts, and that documentation would be absolutely critical.

In the backlash that came after I filed, Barbie assumed no ownership of her behavior whatsoever. And it was bad behavior—really bad behavior—the kind that’s completely incompatible with child-rearing and family life. She reacted as if I’d thrown Holy Water on a vampire. Barbie denied absolutely everything of which I’d accused her—even in the face of documentation—excessive use of alcohol, being an absentee, adulterous parent, and behaving abusively in front of the children. All of it was lobbed right back at me. One thing became clear: things like truth, reality, facts, and evidence were mere trifles to be tossed out the nearest window. She’d become like a cornered, panicked cat, lashing out with extended claws and bared fangs, trying to draw blood any way she could. I took comfort in the fact that the children knew the truth, but Joel had warned me—that wouldn’t matter in the divorce proceedings. He was right. As a male, the battle was uphill, no matter what had happened. No one in the court system wanted to be the one “who took children away from their mother.” I don’t like it, but I get it.

Barbie’s mendacious response was exactly as Joel had predicted. Exactly. I was astonished by the stream of lies. Joel urged me to relax. He knew I’d already been keeping a daily journal of events in my household for months, and the level of documentation made my case different. He encouraged meticulous documentation because, he explained, it could tip the scales in what he predicted would be a high-conflict divorce. Barbie would do whatever it took to protect her false self, he said, her false persona, to prevent exposure. He was right. I don’t know what I’d been thinking. Somehow I thought she’d never use her well-honed fabrication skills against me. But she did.

Also at Barbie’s side stood my sister-in-law, Kim, an officious and meddlesome woman who’d submitted a perjured statement to the court in support of my wife. I could hardly believe I’d trusted Kim so much that I’d gone to her first when I needed help dealing with Barbie’s excessive partying and infidelity. What the hell had I been thinking?! Incredulously, Kim betrayed me and the boys that day without batting an eye. After saying she wouldn’t take sides, Kim did just that—the morally wrong side, in view of the facts. She had listened to me, but by her actions, Kim made it clear that Kim cared only about herself. She exposed herself as a user. But Kim would never see it that way, of course. Instead, she would see loyalty. She believed she owed Barbie because Barbie had helped her land a decent job a few years before. In Kim’s sworn statement, she had the brazen audacity to declare that I’d even kidnapped the children one day in July 2016 and held them from my wife incommunicado. What?! Kidnapped my own children?! Kidnapped?! Strong words, but not just that. It was perjury, and I knew I could prove it. Still, Kim’s betrayal cut me deeply. She turned out to be Nikko, the head of the winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

As a quick aside, I need to say something about Kim’s husband, David. David is Barbie’s half-brother from the same mother. He is the only person on her side of the family who sent a private condolences message to me when my mother passed away on March 24, 2017, the same day I had to eject his sister from our family home. The message was truly heartfelt. To date, he has not taken sides.

The boys were left in my constant care and custody during Barbie’s long absences, and I frequently took them on adventures to entertain them and get them out of the house. I never knew what condition Barbie might bring home, so I also helped the children avoid her alcoholic binges. On the day in question, I had taken the boys hiking on Mt. Hood, and to Timberline Lodge. Kim previously knew Barbie had turned off my cell phone service that day in July because I’d told her just after it happened. She submitted the false sworn statement to the court anyway. I contacted AT&T Wireless’ legal department and obtained confirmation that my phone service had indeed been turned off on the day in question, and not by me. Fortunately for Kim, I never got the chance to present evidence of her perjury to the court.

Over the next weeks and months, a Court Commissioner and an appointed custody evaluator reviewed the intimate details of our family and our very different family backgrounds, attempting to make the most reasonable decisions for our separate futures. From the outside, it looked like an orderly process; after all, their rulings would directly affect the future care and psychological development of our children. However, our case seemed to receive rather perfunctory treatment because of the extraordinary level of conflict and the backlash of unbridled deceit Barbie unleashed. Her responses to my legal Declarations amounted to nothing more than a massive smear campaign against me. Truth clearly didn’t matter, even though these were “sworn” statements. Everything I had detailed about her behavior was flung right back at me as if I had done it. She held nothing back. I now know why—in her eyes, I’d committed the greatest crime anyone could have. I’d dared to unmask her, and expose her true self. In her world, that was tantamount to a capital offense. I hadn’t expected her response to be what it was, but Joel, a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders, had predicted all of it with astonishing accuracy.

I’d invested my faith and trust in our family law system, but I was disappointed by the outcome. My attractive, charismatic, and polished wife had clearly charmed the court-appointed custody evaluator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, a psychologist in his late sixties. However, Jennifer Snider, the Court Commissioner, seemed more suspicious. And rightly so. I think she looked at my educational background, my documentation, and saw credibility in my account of events. And it was, after all, supported by strong evidence.

At the first hearing, the Commissioner ruled that I should remain in the family home with custody of the children for the bulk of the time, over Barbie’s objections. Because of the mutual accusations of drug and alcohol abuse, the Commissioner ordered both of us to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing for the next 120 days. Very fair. I was attending my mother’s funeral with the boys that week, but through my attorney, I asked that the testing would be a randomly-administered ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test, an aggressive alcohol metabolite test with a 72- to 80-hour retrospect. I was certain Barbie would have tried to cheat a less aggressive test. In fact, at that first hearing after I discarded her, her attorney showed up in court with the results of an EtS test. That test showed she hadn’t been drunk in the previous 24 hours. Big whoop.

The brutal, high-conflict process I’d initiated schooled me about what I’ve come to call the “divorce industry.” One person’s divorce, it seems, is another’s opportunity to make a few bucks. I discovered the people involved in our case lacked critical knowledge and experience with Cluster B personality disorders, particularly unhealthy narcissism and full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which is characterized by a dysregulation of emotions, thinking, and behavior. She easily were easily misled. A personality test administered by Dr. Johnson (the MMPI-2, I believe) showed that my former spouse had scored high for characteristics of not only one, but two of the four distinct Cluster B disorders—Narcissism and Histrionic Personality Disorder. But those important clues to the truth were either missed or ignored. My thinking on Cluster B disorders is in line with Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant Self-Love (1995), that the Cluster B disorders are all facets of the same pathology; a sort of Cluster B kaleidoscope. Many of the characteristics of the disorders are in common, such as entitlement, erratic, often impulsive behavior, and dysregulated, labile emotions.

The divorce and custody evaluation alarmed me. I felt like it was shaded by some kind of bias. Was it gender bias? Can a father not be an effective primary parent just because he’s male? In our family, history said otherwise. The court-appointed investigators seemed preoccupied with one thing: if there was abuse in the relationship—and indeed there was—then how was it possible that the male was not the abuser? Dr. Johnson’s report, for example, struggled as he described my successful discovery of Barbie’s infidelity as “coercive control”—a “form of abuse,” he claimed. Really? Had I no right to the truth? As aggrieved spouse, I believe I did. And in seeking it, that made me an abuser? What if I’d been a woman, and hired a Private Investigator? Would that be tagged as “abuse?” I think not. To me, Johnson’s report reads as though he believes abusive women—if there are such creatures—are themselves the victims of “patriarchal oppression.” This is an anachronistic point of view.

In addition, some of the “professional” participants in our case were flat-out incompetent. My wife was ordered by our judge to complete an updated domestic violence assessment, for instance. The report was submitted to the court, but the assessor never bothered to contact me, the “victim” of two documented assaults! No one seemed to be asking the right questions. With Barbie absent from our home for long hours during the day, evening, and night—including weekends—when the hell would I have had time to be doing all the things she claimed? I was cheating and partying, too? Laughable. Children require time. In fact, they demand it. And raising them demands sobriety and focus. Dr. Johnson, I believe, was just another cog in the local divorce industry. He didn’t really take any interest in what was going to happen, or the outcome, or, perhaps, he was simply so charmed and manipulated that he allowed himself to be misled. That was highly possible, because Barbie is slick. Either way, he was another person in the queue to get paid. I expected a trained psychologist to see through her veneer, or at least to suspect that something might be awry. His professional specialty was something else: most of Johnson’s work focused on sex offenders. Perhaps he was an inappropriate choice as custody evaluator.

In my first interview with Dr. Johnson, he noted my multilingual prowess, then smugly bragged about how he’d managed to sneak through his PhD program at Arizona without having to satisfy doctoral programs’ traditional language requirement. Psychology would favor German. He’d “learned the computer” instead. Good for him. In my written response to Dr. Johnson’s Forensic History Questionnaire, when describing Barbie’s outlandish behavior, I had prominently used the phrase “sense of entitlement,” well before I’d done any research into narcissism and NPD. I even depicted her entitlement as having alarmingly “epic proportions.” As Harvard psychologist Dr. Craig Malkin has pointed out about unhealthy narcissism and NPD: “… it all comes down to one word: entitlement. It’s the most salient characteristic of the subtle narcissist” (Malkin 2015). Johnson had completely missed it. Or had he ignored it? I can’t be sure which. And where does his misjudgment leave my children? Stuck in the middle. German would have served Johnson well. A most conspicuous concept in German psychological literature on narcissism is selbstzentriertes Anspruchsdenken. “Self-centered sense of entitlement.” Maybe he would have recognized it. Shrug.

A Growing Penchant for Violence

In September 2016, seven months before I filed for divorce, Barbie physically assaulted me on two separate occasions with blows to the face. The first assault was in public and independently witnessed; I called the sheriff the second time it happened, which was in our home. She was arrested and charged with domestic violence. (I’ve detailed that experience here. I regretted it the instant it happened, but I look at things differently now.)

Barbie was not convicted. And that was my fault. She’d sucker-punched me with a promise to work on keeping our family together. I fell for it, and lobbied the county prosecutor to drop the charges. Hope can be a powerful motivator. I worked hard on the prosecutor, and accomplished my goal. But still, the assault had taken place, and she’d admitted to it to the arresting officers. After I filed for divorce, the court inexplicably ignored this experience, and instead turned to a closer examination of me as a potential perpetrator of “coercive abuse” because I had tracked Barbie’s whereabouts for a brief period in 2016, when I suspected rampant infidelity, and again in 2017, when I began to suspect the framing plot.

My attorney labeled the tracking activity my “process of discovery,” and said it would be reasonably defensible. After all, I was simply verifying my suspicions about her partying and repeated infidelity. Is that not fair? The Court Commissioner, a woman, thought my actions were tantamount to stalking, yet it didn’t to rise to a level where she would issue sanctions against me. Did I have the right to seek the truth or not?

I had questions, I sought answers, and I aggressively applied my skillset to get them, and in short order, too. Because of the allegations of domestic violence in my divorce case, court officials and court-appointed officials alike seemed to be searching for every reason to show why it was me—the male—who had to be the perpetrator, despite my wife’s violent track record. We’ll dig deeper into that set of issues later. The good thing is that my children still know who their father is. And I’m certainly no abuser.

The Reality of Narcissism

This blog will contain the story of how Barbie and I arrived at the unenviable point of divorce, how her shift up the narcissism spectrum toward full-blown NPD contributed to the high level of conflict between us, and how it is likely to cause significant developmental issues for the children going forward. I will sketch the key characteristics of unhealthy narcissism in the hopes of giving you a set of benchmarks against which to measure your own relationship experiences. In the psychological community, there has been some useful new thinking about the nature of narcissism, and I will present that as well. It offers a compelling framework to help me understand what went wrong in my marriage.

I’ll discuss my personal journey through narcissistic abuse, physical assault, and even the alarming and unlawful harassment by the man I call “Beavis,” Barbie’s new narcissistic “supply.” He’s also a Portland attorney. (I find that shocking.) I also take full responsibility for getting myself into this abhorrent situation because, alas, I’d ignored some gigantic red flags. I’d witnessed the same cycle in her relationships twenty-one years hence, when I had been the shiny new object the crow had desired. More on that, too.

Finally, I’ve described my decision to plan and initiate the forcible breakout—how I arrived at that decision and why. I will also make note of things I could have done better. If you’re living in this kind of situation, I hope my analysis will help you plan your escape, and discard your narcissistic partner with less pain than I suffered. Narcissistic manipulation can turn reality on its head. It gaslights you into questioning your own sanity and sense of reality, but in the end, knowledge is still power.

Breaking Free of the Control & Abuse

When a romantic relationship comes to an end, many counselors use the seminal Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief to describe the emotions we experience (Kübler-Ross 1969). I’ve thought of the process a bit differently.

Over a period of many months, I moved through four distinct stages. These stages represent a progression from an initially shocked and angry reaction through despair and other sentiments related to helplessness and self-pity, toward a fully proactive interest in deliverance from the psychological turmoil that is infidelity, narcissistic abuse, and divorce. My anger phase, admittedly, was prolonged, but it was prolonged because my values, as I continued to remain in our family home and focus on our children, were repeatedly and violent transgressed as my wife openly flaunted her cheating to me, as if there were nothing wrong with it. Somewhere along the way, I developed a full readiness to turn the tables on Barbie, and to prosper from the negative experience she’d served me. If you’re going to discard your narcissist successfully, that’s where you need to be, too. I will have some suggestions about getting there. It’s all about State of Mind.


In the first stage, my sense of anger and betrayal were both profound and crippling. That’s all I’m going to say at this point. After the unmasking in the spring of 2016, the daily emotional abuse became vicious and grotesque. Barbie verbally mistreated me in front of the children, causing the elder to side with me, and the younger to become combative and sometimes acutely disrespectful to his father. This experience is essentially what spurred me to focus on myself, fall back on my advanced education, and begin researching narcissism and NPD.¹ I also arranged ongoing professional counseling for the children. At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Barbie, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated. Something was wrong, and deep down, I knew it wasn’t me.


The second stage encompassed a deep sense of despair, underpinned by fear, resentment, and regret. “What a big fucking mistake!” thundered in my head day and night. I’d wasted twenty-one years of my life with an abusive narcissist. I could have seen it coming, if only…. My marriage had been a total fraud—some kind of contrived virtual reality. And I now had two children with her! Shit! What the hell was I thinking?!

In retrospect, the red flags were all there; I’d simply chosen to ignore them. For years. I felt stupid. The last couple years of the relationship were particularly bad—filled with emotional pain and trauma as the narcissistic abuse cycle crossed the line from Idealization to Devaluation and began to proceed toward Discard. The process ground to a crawl, however, because Barbie thought I wouldn’t move against her, legally speaking. Discarding me was too costly, so she asserted and reasserted her overblown sense of entitlement. Horribly, she expected me to tolerate her perfidy and abuse! We entered a limbo of daily verbal and emotional abuse, and her continued substance abuse only amplified it. I felt powerless. After trying to ride the tiger for 367 days, it became abundantly clear I had to take action to end it for the sake of my own sanity, safety, and well-being.


I entered a third stage just after I ejected Barbie from our family home on March 24, 2017. It was the same day my mother passed away from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. Although Barbie knew of my mother’s death that morning, she expressed no condolences as she left for work. She was unaware that I was serving divorce papers that day, and she wouldn’t be returning home. The thud of the garage door that morning filled me with a sense of relief. It was a sound of finality. A sound of tranquility. A sound of freedom.

After March 24, I found calm. I sank deep into introspection. I discovered that I still had intelligence, honesty, integrity, commitment, and compassion—all the things I’d first brought to the relationship, to my family, to my children. I rediscovered my intellect. I came to realize that during our marriage, Barbie had gradually broken down my personal boundaries—a little bit here, a little bit there. I’d allowed her to walk all over me. I allowed it. Why? Probably my strong sense of commitment and obligation to family. No more. This phase had to be about rebuilding strength and resolve.

I took my two children and flew to the Midwest to bury my mother, with the haunting German lyrics of the 17 Hippies’ song, “Adieu,” playing over and over in my head. Ich bin gekommen, um Adieu zu sagen …

I was saying goodbye to so many things.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it—don’t cheat with it.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms


Now, my sentiment is one of gratefulness. Simply put, I am grateful to have had this horrible experience, to have survived it, and to have learned from it. It awakened me in ways I never expected. I am also grateful that the circumstances under which I’m exiting the marriage are not dire. Things could have been much worse, and were definitely heading in that direction. It’s what made me realize I’d best take action to protect myself. My fear of being wrongfully accused of domestic violence was very real. Also, among the people I met through the divorce support group at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, were people whose financial status became very strained by their marital strife. Mine isn’t, and I’m grateful for that, too.

Deliverance from the horror of the experience is my fourth stage, and, as of this writing, I haven’t fully arrived. But this blog has been a great start. I’m developing a solid understanding of what I’d allowed myself to get mixed up with, and why. I now see a light at the end of the tunnel. As I move forward in my life without Barbie, I have a need to share my traumatic experiences. How can I use my unique talents to turn this patently negative experience into a healing positive—not only for myself—but for others who’ve found themselves in similar situations? That’s my question, my focus.

I can write. I can research. I can analyze. And I can share my story. There’s no reason why my experience can’t become a springboard for continued self-improvement and service to others.

My deepest concern remains. With court-assigned fifty/fifty joint custody, for my children, the challenges are only beginning. My greatest fear is them being subjected to an emotionally underdeveloped, dysfunctional mother who is bent on controlling their lives’ destiny, distorting all their future relationships as well as their own senses of self-worth. And she’ll launch into their destruction with all the wild abandon of a value-free adolescent without an ounce of comprehension about the threat she poses to their future well-being.

In life, there are no mistakes. Only lessons.


¹ I had the honor of working with the renowned political psychologist Margaret G. Hermann, PhD, when pursuing a doctorate at The Ohio State University’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies. Dr. Hermann’s focus was leadership and personality; thus the study of personality types is not virgin territory to me.


Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth S. On Death and Dying. Scribner, 1969.

Malkin, Craig, PhD. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. Harper Collins, 2015.


Ever have the sense the world is seriously f*cked up? That’s how I feel today.

I my last post, Battlefield Report, I described how I’d been denied access to my children by Barbie, a malignant narcissist. I filed a first Motion for Contempt after she flew into a rage and “cancelled” two weeks of camping and fishing I had planned with them. That was a reprehensible thing to do to the kids. They’d been so excited to spend time with me.

I did get them for a standard parenting weekend, August 7-9. She held them back for about an hour and a half. I filed a second Motion for Contempt after that weekend.

Yesterday was my hearing. The results were curious. Clark County Superior Court Commissioner Stephanie Ellis recognized what Barbie did in the first instance as “underhanded,” yet could not find contempt, she explained, since our Parenting Plan specifies that I had to have requested that time by May 1, 2020. No slack given for the pandemic. None whatsoever.

I was shocked, given the egregious nature of my ex’s actions. Yet on the second motion, Commissioner Ellis did find contempt–Barbie had no right under the Parenting Plan to demand that I come to the exchange point of her choosing. How do you like that? I feel like it’s both a win and a loss. No recognition of the horrendous cruelty and psychological manipulation of the children. Instead, a technical response for a technical world. No regard for the children. In fact, no mention of them.

This is wrong. The family law system is seriously f*cked up.

But there is a lesson in this experience.

Battlefield Report

OUR STORY: Barbie flew into a rage the weekend of July 18-19 and “cancelled” my children’s two camping trips with me, July 20-27, and August 3-10. I claimed the short weekend of August 7-9 to try to make up for it. A paltry forty-eight hours. I took it.

Barbie viciously “cancelled” my time with my children with only one day’s notice, on July 19. Please note the date. It was one day before scheduled pickup. How do you think the children felt? That came after I’d already arrived in the Pacific Northwest to perform my part of the agreement. After I’d spent the money for travel expenses and reservations for my sons and myself. I decided to drive the three hours from Grays Harbor to Vancouver, pick up the boys, then return to Grays Harbor, only to bring them back Sunday afternoon. What a sh*tty thing to do to my children. Why would someone do that? How is this award-winning parenting?

I filed a Motion for Contempt Hearing in Superior Court in Vancouver that week, before spending time with my sons. What did I expect to hear from the Court? Yawn. Another “he-said/she-said,” it seems. Two more hate-filled parents fighting over a minor custody issue.

But there’s a pattern. I needed to demonstrate how she’s using the children as pawns to get at me. I held the court documents a couple of days, and chose to have her served after I’d made off with the children for the weekend. That experience was demonstrative. Here’s why.

Barbie knew I wouldn’t want to pick up the children at my former property because of the history of violence and false accusations. So she pushed for that. And pushed. Of course. The criminal, Beavis, lives there now. In the same house with my children. My house. My bed. Creepy.

I called the Clark County Sheriff for Civil Standby, only to learn they do not provide Civil Standby services for custody exchanges. Drat. The hair on the back of my neck prickled as I approached the house in my vehicle. I stopped in front of my former neighbor’s house, texted my sons that I’d arrived. Within minutes, my eldest waved at me from the front porch. I waved at him to come to the vehicle. He did not, but went back into the house. My second son came out and texted me that I needed to come “to the property.” Barbie was going to make this tough. I waited. I pulled closer. I waited. After several texts that rejected me, I drove away. Then another text, “things may change, but I don’t know.” I finally returned and pulled to the southern edge of my former property.

I got out. “Get in the car, Sam. Get in the car.” Eldest, who was cowering on the front porch, followed. We were off! But Barbie had essentially withheld them for almost an hour and a half

The weekend was great. We went to the beach in Ocean Shores, WA. We bought chinook salmon and mussels to cook, and ate oysters at a surfside establishment. I returned them on time on Sunday.

I then filed the second Motion for Contempt the next week.

I really shouldn’t need to explain why her behavior is contemptible. Most serious, engaged parents will “get it.” But this is the regime under which my children must live. It’s not right. It’s a deliberate denigration of my authority as a parent. That’s the essence of my complaint.

Summer 2020 II

My ex-spouse has done something incredibly sh*tty to my children. We had two weeks of camping planned in the Pacific NW. Week 1: July 20 to July 27. Week 2: August 3 to August 10.

She requested that I come to my former property, which she had to buy from me, where one of her former cheating partners (the one known as “Beavis”) now lives with my children.

I’m not doing it.

I refused to come to the property. She cancelled everything. My children are left with nothing.

I’m going to have to go to court.

The Battle is Joined

My children are being withheld by a malignant narcissist. She knows this is my final visit to the Pacific NW. It’s Day Five. I was scheduled to pick up my children this morning for a week of camping. No deal. Late last night, a message came through talkingparents.com that withdrew the trip. I called the police. They couldn’t enforce it. I’m going to need to petition the Court.

Turning the Tables on Pain

shardsAs I’ve looked back on my experiences of the past two years, I find myself returning to a single core question: how can I gather up the scattered, blood-spattered emotional shards of this horribly negative experience, and reorganize them? Reshape them into something new, something positive? What the Landmark Forum people call “creating a new possibility?”

It would require action.

I took the first step last week. I searched on meetup.com for a divorce support group in my area. When I didn’t find one, I created it. It’s a closed group, meaning that people not in the group can’t see the membership or any content. That’s for privacy, because I expect at least some participants will be people who haven’t yet taken any action, or are in abusive relationships, as I was.

Divorce is one of life’s most painful experiences. You don’t have to go through it alone. Share with others who are at various stages of divorce and divorce recovery, feel the support, experience deep healing, and then be part of the healing for someone else. I’d like at least one other organizer to come forward. I’d also like to share and work from a very insightful book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends (3rd Edition), by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti.

The thought of leading a group like this had been gnawing at me for some time. I already had chosen a book I wanted to use as a set of guideposts, and I plan on drawing a lot from my own experience participating in the very worthwhile group that meets every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. That group started an immensely profitable process inside me.

Divorce is tough, whether you’re the Petitioner or the Respondent. I was the Petitioner, but still, ending a two-decade relationship wasn’t easy. I wanted my wife to get help and stop cheating. I wanted her to be a role model for our two male children. I wanted to keep my family together.

I couldn’t control it. I endured the worst for a whole year. I was forced to file for divorce. No one should attempt to go it alone when that happens. Close friends and family are important, but meeting and sharing with people who are in the throes of the same emotions you’re experiencing can be much better. When you share, they get it. Immediately. Opening up and sharing your painful experiences with others creates an authentic connection, and perhaps, by really putting your heart into it—as you strive to comprehend and regain control over your own feelings and emotions—you’ll help someone else through their pain as well.

My group hasn’t yet held its first meeting, but I have a co-organizer now, and a total membership of eight. I think things are looking up.

When People are Disposable

Nothing screams “disorder” louder.

My ex-wife had a solid relationship with members of my family for two decades, including my father. In fact, I thought the two of them hit it off particularly welltrash. Until the day my father alerted me to harassment by her boyfriend, “Beavis.” Good Lord. My Dad lived 2,500 miles away, yet he was still a target for disparaging text messages. What’s more, I later figured out that Barbie was with him, sucking down booze at Hazel Dell Lanes in Vancouver, when the texting occurred. I’ve detailed that shameful episode here.

Everyone in my family was deeply upset. My Dad, a kind, dedicated man who was presiding over his wife’s end-of-life care because of a recently-broken hip and Parkinson’s Disease, didn’t deserve that. Not at all.

My brother wrote Barbie and scorched her with words of disdain. I did the same in person. In fact, it turned out that it was the only time my children could recall their father getting really angry. That’s what they told the custody evaluator, anyway. Barbie wrote an “apology” to him on behalf of her wayward paramour. WTF! A copy of it came back around to me. Instead of an apology, it was an attempt to smear me!

A month later, when my mother passed away, Barbie made no effort to express any form of condolences to anyone in my family, including my father, who’d just lost his dear wife of nearly sixty years. After twenty-two years, to Barbie, he’d become utterly disposable. She knows his health hasn’t been good, yet no communication. Not one peep. Normal people don’t do that. And that is instructive.

Narcissists and other personality-disordered people are not your average jerks. They have a defined set of observable behaviors that meet the set of criteria for the disorder. They’re all about appearances, and appearances alone. Barbie has nothing to gain from further interaction with my father. He may as well be “dead to her” … which, incidentally, is one of her own expressions.


In a renewed effort to focus my energies, I enrolled in and completed a Landmark Forum weekend seminar at the end of March. I’d been invited to a one-night introductory session in February in Portland by a very good friend who’d just completed his own seminar. Landmark was a positive experience, and I’m glad I committed to do it.thinking-brain-clipart-for-kids-png-14

My friend had told me about Landmark numerous times in the preceding months, but, to be honest, I resisted making a commitment with all the force I could muster. Sometimes the problem with me is that I’m a hard-core skeptic. And I mean really hard-core. I can also be somewhat arrogant when it comes to accepting the advice of others, particularly when it involves myself. Who knows me better than me, after all? Sometimes you just can’t tell me anything. I’m glad that at least I recognize it. But through the absurd adversity of the past two years, I’ve learned I don’t have all the answers in life, and I should at least listen to other voices.

Having said that, during the previous two years, as my marriage and family life careened out of control, I sought the help of three professional counselors and even a divorce support group in Portland. When it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to keep our family together, I enrolled my children with a child counselor as well, knowing that they would need something, too, to help them make sense of the coming storm. I’d tried everything, but enough was enough.

Seeking professional help for myself wasn’t easy, nor was it like me—not at all. Nevertheless, counseling helped me to understand what I needed to do with regard to self-control. Brian, one of my counselors, had bluntly pointed out that I completely lacked personal boundaries with regard to my wife, and that I was allowing her to walk all over me. Hearing that was a punch in the gut. But he was right. He calmed me by reminding me I wasn’t alone in the world.

When my friend initially approached me about Landmark, I doubted that such a broad-based self-help program had anything to teach me, but on a whim, I decided it couldn’t hurt. Landmark is globally one of the most popular programs of its type, and when I attended the Tuesday “sampler” evening with him, I was satisfied that it wasn’t religious or “new-agey.” Know what I mean? I didn’t want to be locked in a room with someone pressing me with a need for more God in my life, or declaring that my ch’i was low and my chakras were horribly out of alignment!

I signed up for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday program, which ran from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm each day, with only one significant break for dinner.

My very first experience Friday morning relit the fires of suspicion. The people who greeted me at the Landmark Center had that certain come-to-Jesus smile on their faces—you know, the kind you see on wide-eyed, young Mormon missionaries right before they declare they have all the answers to every question life could ever pose. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who wouldn’t want that?

I scanned the room judiciously. The greeters comprised a small grinning army. Shiny brochures featuring attractive, beaming models beckoned from several banquet-style tables. I cautiously collected my preprinted nametag from another table and proceeded past the welcome committee into a large room of about 150 people of all ages, races, and creeds. I selected a chair in the second row and read the large posterboard:

In the forum, you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life. Inside this New Realm of Possibility:

  • The constraints the past imposes on your view of life disappear. A new view of life emerges.
  • New possibilities for being call you powerfully into being.
  • New openings for action call you powerfully into action.
  • The experience of being alive transforms.

My shoulders slumped forward as I stared at it. Phrases with no real meaning. Platitudes.

Damn. My suspicions were being confirmed. But because what I’d heard at the Tuesday-night Portland event had genuinely moved me, I decided to wait it out and listen.


The Forum leader was an intelligent, capable man in his sixties named David Cunningham. David exuded presence and charisma, and he identified himself as one of the founders of Prevent Child Abuse America, formerly the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. David also confidently promised that the next three days would transform each and every one of us. Yeah?

Humph! à la Kipling’s camel. But I kept listening.

The first lesson contained a discussion about the nature of Knowledge. There are three types: (a) knowledge we know, and we are certain that we know it; (b) knowledge we don’t know, but we know it exists, like quantum physics for most people; and (c) knowledge we don’t know and we don’t know it’s even out there. That’s the way it was presented, but it’s not meant to be confusing. Instead, the discussion is about differentiating among things which you consciously know and consciously don’t know (quantum physics); as well as recognizing yet another realm of knowledge that contains things we don’t know, and we’re not even aware of its existence.

The second lesson distinguished “facts” from “stories.” Facts, David explained, are things in our lives that have actually happened—the events that occur. Stories are our interpretations of the facts—the way we link and understand them. Shucks, I thought. the Landmark Forum would be of little use to that growing number of Americans who invent their own facts and then spin off interpretations of things that never occurred. “What happened, happened,” David repeated, “and what didn’t happen, didn’t happen.” Okay, I can accept that. We’ll have to be clear about the facts.

David’s point was that throughout our lives, we’ve all collected our interpretations of various events and formed narratives to explain our life experiences. What comes next is important: we, the creators of those narratives, then forget we created those narratives, and we begin to live our interpretations as if they were real—as if they were the facts. Our stories thus become the goggles through which we see, hear, and feel everything as we proceed through life. Any gaps are filled in by our assumptions. Pretty profound, huh? We sweep up anything that confirms our stories as supporting evidence; anything that doesn’t, we dismiss or ignore. This pattern of seeing and hearing only what we want is called, in the language of Landmark, having “blind spots.” Blind spots are in the realm of knowledge we both don’t know, and don’t recognize its existence. David’s argument was that what we miss in life because of our blind spots causes us suffering and prevents us from achieving what we want in life. It squelches our freedom, our power, our self-expression, our peace of mind—and our relationships with others. For instance, a father who is initially shocked and unreceptive when he finds out his son is gay is assumed to be “closed-minded” by the son. And from that, years of a father-son impasse can ensue.

None of this talk shocked me. These were familiar concepts. There was nothing cultish, or even spiritual—it was all grounded in common sense. David’s discussion of facts and stories reminded me of an article I’d just read by Lisa Arends, about the perils of jumping to conclusions about facts. When Lisa was four, her grandmother used to show her family photos that were all in black-and-white. Being four, Lisa assumed the world once used to be black-and-white. A simple example, perhaps, but it’s the same mechanism.

David suddenly guided us in another direction. It turns out Facts versus Stories is not Landmark’s main event. Instead, David reduced the concept to something that demanded we take action. Comparing our lives to a sporting match, he urged us to use the concepts presented to bring ourselves down “out of the stands,” where we passively live while watching our lives proceed. We need to become proactive participants: we need to move “onto the court,” where we become players in our own lives.

David then invited participants to approach the microphone. Some had questions, but others began to share stories. One woman—I’ll call her Rachel—spoke about years of vicious sibling rivalry between her and her sister. Yet I was struck how simple it was for me to recognize Rachel’s “stories,” and how difficult it was for her to see them. Using her story, David deftly showed how Rachel had imbued an event that happened years hence with a meaning that contributed to further deterioration in their relationship. I sat up in my chair, my interest snared. Committed to her own interpretation and assumptions, Rachel had resented her sister for years. And in addition to the distance in their own relationship, there was a clear impact on Rachel’s and her sister’s relationships with everyone else in their family, including their mother. But now what?

When Rachel had finished, other people revealed the powerful interpretive filters they’d installed over their lives’ adversities. One man had gotten bad grades in school, and realized he wasn’t achieving his financial goals in life because of a constant, tiny voice in his head that reminded him he wasn’t capable or worthy. Other people talked about how they’d medicated with drugs and alcohol when they felt frustrated, undeserving, or unworthy.

David clarified his point: too often, we all live our lives in constant search of evidence that our stories are true. What’s worse is that our desire to be right is more powerful than our desire to be free. As it turns out, we want to be right more than we want close and intimate relationships, as evidenced by the fact that we’ll often choose one over the other. If our story is, “I’m not good enough because …,” then we’ll try any number of things to assuage the negative feelings we have. Yet all the while, we are still searching out evidence to support the story’s veracity. The story developed long ago, and it’s all we know. On the other hand, we may try nothing, and simply assume the story’s true. I began to wonder … did I have stories of my own? Nah—not me.



The winter of 1995 was a tough period of time in my life. After three years of work building a diamond drill bit manufacturing operation in Russia, I found myself at a Trade Zone in the US, to inspect a large shipment of bits. Customs agents were dismayed because the bits were in containers that looked remarkably like Soviet Army ammunition cases (they were). I was happy we’d gotten the shipment out of Russia, because by then, I suspected it would probably be the last time. The Russian side of the company had come under enormous extortion pressure from a guy named Sandgartén, a local “construction” magnate. “Construction.” Ha-ha. The threat was so great we started packing illegal 9mm Makarovs in Russia, and seeking patronage (protection) from other questionable figures whose political stars appeared to be rising in the post-Soviet chaos. I was no idiot—under these new conditions, I knew our fairly complicated operation was going to fail. I also feared the seizure of assets in Russia. It was tragic. The “story” I told myself about the experience was that “well, we’d lost the ability to manufacture our bits competitively.” Oh, sure. There was some truth to that, but in actual fact, there was much more to what happened.

We had to shift strategies rapidly—abandon a fancy marketing campaign and dump inventory on the US market to pay off a six-figure bank loan. There wasn’t going to be sufficient cash flow for anything else, and there was no future. I did whatever I could to survive—consulting with two Ohio law firms, a small Michigan manufacturer, and scrambling to get drill bit inventory to market any way I could. I also did some things of which I’m not proud, largely because I wanted to continue pretending my dream business was alright. I sank into depression, and was forced to retrain my sights on a consulting job with the finance department of a large university. I was bored to tears there. I craved excitement, so I sought escape.

My experience in Landmark taught me that my escapism was one of the things they call a “racket.” Everybody has them, but they’re all different. By the end of 1996, I did escape—from Russia, from the midwest, and into the life that became my reality for the next twenty-two years.

My thoughts were interrupted when David asked us to share one of our stories with the person next to us. I listened intently as my seat-mate shared her relationship with her alcoholic father. We talked, and slowly, the onion’s layers were peeled back. She was uniquely messed up, she thought, because of how her father—who was also her employer—had raised her. He’d been too harsh, too judgmental, and had failed to listen and support her when she was growing up. She was a recovering alcoholic, and she’d had trouble with other drugs as well. Her father’s company was now up for sale, and she wasn’t being considered as a potential buyer. She desperately craved self-confidence, self-acceptance, and happiness. She was also willing to let go of everything in her past that told her she wasn’t capable.

This kind of story was, as we learned the lingo of Landmark, a “racket.” We blame others for things that happened in the past, striving to make our case look as plausible and sympathetic as possible. It’s when we construct a pleasant-looking façade “to conceal our own criminality” in the back of the house, as David put it. We maintain lists of all the things our parents, our exes, our former friends, and our ex-bosses did that damaged us. We collect piles of evidence supporting our accounts of the injustice.

The blaming component of “rackets” is nothing more than a pretense. It’s a way of concealing what’s really going on behind the scenes, and we are getting a payoff from it. Rackets allow us to be right—which means making the other person wrong. We get to dominate them, which means avoiding their domination. We get to justify our behavior, which means invalidating theirs. We get to win. They get to lose. The ultimate purpose of a “racket,” you see, is avoidance of responsibility.

If a person blames his ex-spouse for the failure of their marriage, is it a pretense to justify his own behavior in the relationship? Is a person blaming a lack of decisiveness for business issues maintaining a pretense to protect themselves from having to take a real risk? As I write this blog, I am acutely aware of these questions.

Rackets can also be self-defeating. College graduates, for instance, often blame the job market for a lack of opportunities. Is he or she really trying to distract from a lack of preparation? Rackets have a hidden payoff—that’s why we have them. The way to get free of the racket is to understand its payoff and to clearly see its cost. There is always a cost — love or affinity, vitality or well-being, satisfaction or self-expression. The cost ultimately boils down to a reduction in the quality of our lives. Over time, the payoff gets less and less enticing, and the cost grows steadily worse. We become like drug addicts, willing to give away much of what makes life worth living to buy even the tiniest dose of self-justification.

During the Saturday session, I began to wonder whether I could simply pick up the phone and speak with my ex-wife. What would I say? I wouldn’t know where to begin, or even what I would say. I didn’t call because I was certain I’d be met with uncontrolled rage. She’s extremely angry that I did the unexpected. But with regard to my emotions, Landmark taught me one big thing: holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I need to take care of myself; to finally let go of the anger and resentment—not for her sake, but for my own. To unburden myself. That’s the goal.


I have to apologize. I’m not going to reveal the important epiphany that happens on Sunday because it defies description. The Landmark Forum is a journey of discovery about yourself, and you have to experience it. Keep an open mind, and it’ll touch you in a way that’s unique to you.

By the third day, you’re equipped with enough of the core concepts to move forward with breathtaking speed. I did indeed experience the paradigm-shifting moments David had promised on the first day.

What was getting in my way was my constant desire to live in the past as a way of avoiding the future. What I learned, however, is stark, blunt, and quite common-sensical: that the future doesn’t need to be based on the past. Instead, it is whatever we choose to make it—right here, right now, not “someday,” not “eventually.” To move forward, the past needs to be cut loose. Bad things may have happened in the past. It is what it is. What’s in the future? Nothing. Nothing at all. Because I haven’t yet created it.

The only constraints I face are posed by my stories. I am the one telling them. I am the source of the language that shapes my experience, which means I can change it. Now, I alone must claim how my life proceeds, and what kind of life is available to me in the days ahead.

When leaving the Landmark Forum Sunday night, I felt unchained. I really needed that.

Tuesday Evening

I walked away from the Landmark Forum with a whole new approach to both my distant and my recent past. The latter, to my surprise, seems to be fading fast now. The Forum and my interactions with many people there (and continuing interactions in the Landmark Seminar Series) are helping me to focus on letting go of the residual anger and resentment I feel about my marriage. What happened, happened. What didn’t happen, didn’t happen. I need to come to terms with that by collecting the intellectual bits and emotion-laden pieces I’ve strewn all over this blog, and then wind them into a new effort to reach out and help at least one other person who’s in the same kind of situation I was in. Whoever you are, I know you’re out there.

Landmark offers a wide curriculum of courses—everything from communication to personal integrity to finances to leadership. You choose. I’ve signed up for the Advanced Course, the follow-on to the Forum. If the Landmark Forum is about freeing you from things in your past—things that constrain you—in the Advanced Course, you focus on designing a new personal future.

My Biggest Racket? Perfectionism. Now I can see the story running in the background—my success in life depended on me doing everything perfectly. This is the “story” that compelled me to endlessly revise, rewrite, polish and repolish my writing, never convinced that it was quite good enough. Perfectionism had me doing every last little thing myself, not asking for and sometimes even refusing offers of help—because no one can get it “right” except me … and that leads me to yet another racket. And a third. I’m also very guarded—very “closed.” I always have been. It’s the factory default, it seems. I think I know why. But I’ve decided to write a new story for myself: that I can open up; that I can have better, more authentic relationships with others, with all of the vulnerability and risk that entails. I decided that people would no longer be threats to me, but instead, become the most precious opportunities in my life.

I’m convinced Landmark is one of the most important educational experiences in the world today. I recommend it. It’s about changing the way you thinking about past adversities, and it’s very mainstream existentialist. There’s nothing weirdly spiritual. Gaining the ability to see beyond your own interpretations of the past and taking full responsibility for your own life experiences going forward are fundamental to changing your mindset and improving the quality of your life.

If the Landmark Forum interests you, you can visit their web site at www.landmarkworldwide.com.

Sunshine Blogger Award!

I recently learned I’ve been nominated for the 2018 Sunshine Blogger Award, “given to bloggers who are deemed to be creative, inspiring and positive, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.” I was nominated not once, but twice, by the generous bloggers at Surviving the Unhinged & Clan and Fairy Tale Shadows. Thank you.

Sunshine-Blogger-AwareI’m deeply touched by their kind thoughts, as well as the implication of the nomination—that the intensely personal experiences I’ve shared on my blog has been helpful to others. That significance of that implication isn’t lost on me. I’m very grateful to both of them.

This is not at all what I expected—blogging, I mean. What began as a purely selfish, angry rant with no expectations has now morphed into something much calmer, more introspective, cathartic, and therapeutic. And analytical. The act of sharing the story has helped me to immerse myself in a process of release from the chains of anger and resentment. Analyzing the mechanisms that operated in my marriage, at least toward the end, has led me to find other people who’ve had similar experiences in their lives. Some of those people have suppressed their past, and have moved on; others are stuck in a vicious psychological circle of bitterness and pain; still others are struggling to find an exit from the emotional Autobahn of narcissistic abuse. Sharing with others has caused me to pose the most important question I’ve asked myself in a long time: how do I pick up all of the dangerous, scattered shards from this enormous negative in my life, and reassemble them into something positive? Something of which I can be proud, rather than deeply ashamed? Something that can provide a positive to someone else? My blog contains many of the pieces of a work which, at this point, still needs a superstructure, but it’s coming along. I can feel it.

I recently completed an intense weekend in the Landmark Forum, one of the most popular self-help seminars in the world. I suffered some important breakthoughs there, and that’s saying a lot, because I’m the ultimate skeptic about such programs. My next post will cover my experiences at Landmark.

As part of the nomination rules, I now have two sets of eleven questions to address. Here goes …

Questions from Searching for Hope:

1. What’s the most interesting place you have traveled to?

Russia is the most interesting place to which I’ve traveled. It first happened when I was only 20, when Russia was the largest component republic in the Soviet Union. In any case, by the time I was 25, I’d begun a decades-long love affair with Russia. My skin still sometimes prickles with goosebumps when I hear sports fans chanting “Ros-si-ya!” or I hear their national anthem. I was once very much part of that world.

2. Who is your favorite author?

I have two favorite authors, one nineteenth-century, one modern. The first is Mikhail Lermontov. My favorite work is Hero of Our Time—vignettes of life in the early 1800s Russian Caucasus, replete with character observations that are still meaningful today. I especially love the way the author paints the beautiful and rugged Caucasian landscape with literary flourish.

The second is David J. M. Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré. He’s inspired my own writing with a single comment: “let the verb do the work.”

3. Do you meditate?

No, not really. I’ve tried it. I do like to sit quietly and think, however, although it’s not what most people would think of as meditation.

4. What or who do you miss right now?

I miss the life I had three years ago.

5. What song gets you out of a rut?

David Guetta/Sia, “Titanium.” I also like the energy of the song “Radost” (Joy) by the group known as !DelaDap. It belongs to the Balkan Beat musical genre, which hasn’t really made it to America yet.

6. Favorite type of vacation?

A warm, sunny beach, with exploring historical sites a very close second.

7. What’s the one thing you learned about you this year?

That not being so guarded (as I am) can sometimes lead to good things.

8. What motivates you to blog?

I want to reach out, live my life authentically, and share the big negative I’ve experienced with someone who’s in a similar situation, and hopefully inspire him or her to make an exit.

9. Where were you born?

Northwestern Ohio.

10. What was one of the best days of your life?

My fortieth birthday. I spent it in Nice, France, on the beaches, in the cafés, the sidewalk bistros, and then at the Festival aux Fleurs nighttime parade near the Cours Saleya. The sun was warm, the people welcoming, and the wine flowed freely. What a day, what a night!

11. What common misconception do you hate to hear repeated as fact?

I am often annoyed by things repeated so many times that people accept them as truth. One such attribution is that “Al Gore said he invented the internet.” That’s false. Al Gore actually said, “during my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore did take the initiative by working on funding expansion of the already-existing National Science Foundation Network for public use. That eventually became the Internet, but to say Al Gore claimed to have created it is a deliberate misrepresentation of fact designed to smear and ridicule Mr. Gore.

Questions from Kristen Milstead:

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Barcelona. Hands down. Un cafè, si us plau.

2. What three things are you the most grateful for?

The kindness of others. The life-changing experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met around the world. My best friendships.

3. What is/was your favorite subject in school?

Math and Languages

4. If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

5. What did/do you want to be when you grew up?

I once wanted to be a veterinarian … until I worked at a veterinary clinic! That cured me. LOL

6. If you were given one million dollars, what is the first thing you would do or buy?

I’d buy a modest cabin with an awesome kitchen and a huge fireplace. Then I’d have a big party and ask my friends if they knew of a situation where an influx of money could make a big and lasting difference in someone’s troubled life.

7. What was your favorite age so far?

Forty-four, the year I became a father.

8. What is your favorite type of music?

Tough to answer. I like many different types, depending on my mood. And my tastes are always expanding.

9. What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving. I love to cook for family and friends.

10. On which website do you spend the most time?

Yahoo.com. Okay, time to ‘fess up: I’m a news junkie.

11. What are three words to describe you?

Kind. Intelligent. Resourceful.


The Rules:

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog.

My Nominations:


Story Lynne


My Eleven Questions:

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow with any new skill or ability, what would it be?
  2. If you could invite any person to dinner, living or deceased, whom would it be?
  3. If you were to die suddenly in the next few minutes, what is the one thing you would most regret not having told someone?
  4. Why haven’t you told them yet? (See #3)
  5. Name the three things in your life for which you’re most grateful.
  6. If you won a $10 million lottery prize, what would you do to impact the greatest number of people?
  7. What have you dreamed you’d like to do in your life, and haven’t yet?
  8. Why not? (See #7)
  9. If your life were a book with chapters, what would be the title of the one you’re living now?
  10. What are two of your “personal rules” that you never break?
  11. What’s one responsibility you really wish you didn’t have?

Thank you!


This Week, One Year Ago

It’s March 22, 2018. One year ago, I was in the midst of a very difficult week.

On Sunday, March 19, 2017, Barbie returned home late, near midnight. I was in our home office. I could hear the garage door raise, then heard the purr of Barbie’s Audi as she drove in. The door began to lower. An abrupt scraping sound interrupted my thoughts. The garage door had hit the back of her car on its way down. Barbie raised the door again, pulled further into the garage, then lowered it. Blitzed. Again.

IMG_8670I knew what to expect. She’d been off drinking with Beavis all afternoon and evening, abandoning the children to my care and custody for the day. I’d gotten used to it. I wrapped the knobs of the office’s double doors with a stout network cable and tied myself in. She came to the doors and demanded that I allow her in. I refused. “You’ve been drinking. Go to bed,” I said. She was raging. She attempted to ram the doors in, but the cable, as well as my hands and feet, held them closed. After multiple impacts, she slumped to the stone floor with her back against the door. That’s her in the photo, sporting plaid flannel. She got up a few minutes later and renewed her effort to force the doors open. It was to no avail. A hundred and fifteen pounds was no match for me and the cable.

But I was scared. Really scared. I had already concluded that she and Beavis intended to frame me for domestic violence, and this was the start of it. When it became clear to Barbie that she wasn’t going to gain entry to the office under any circumstances, she crawled off—to the bedroom, I assumed. I stayed in the office for another fifteen or twenty minutes until I was sure I couldn’t hear anything, and the coast was clear. Silently, I untied the door knobs and crept into the foyer. I already had my car keys in my pocket. If she suddenly materialized and came at me, I intended to make a break for the front door. That didn’t happen.

In the first-floor master, I found Barbie fully dressed, face-up on the ornate, four-poster king. Passed out. I know she was passed out because I gently placed my hand on her cheek. Just for a moment, while the deep, deep sadness of my predicament overwhelmed me. Tears of grief streaked my cheeks as I gazed upon her delicately chiseled face. I was in a dark, emotional abyss. Barbie’s cheek was cold to the touch, and she didn’t react. I returned to the office, closed the doors, and dialed 911. I spoke with an operator and asked that a record be made of the attempted assault. I told her I wouldn’t need assistance that night, but I promised that if my wife roused, I’d call back. I hung up. Not knowing what to do, I sat there for hours, pondering my dilemma. This was a ridiculous position to be in. This was my own house. This was no way to live. And this was not normal, by any means. I’d tried as hard as I could to maintain normalcy; to keep our family together. Barbie had a serious problem, and her problem had begun to endanger me in ways I never imagined.

I couldn’t save Barbie from herself. I had to save myself instead. I made the decision that night to proceed with the divorce.

Now, fast-forward to Wednesday, March 22. That was the day I dragged Beavis into court for a Protection Order because he’d harassed me and my elderly father. I’ve detailed those events in a separate post. I entered the courtroom at 8:55 and instantly had to choke down the bitterness of treachery in its utmost form.

Barbie had left the house very early that morning, and I assumed she must’ve had an early meeting at work. When I walked into the courtroom, there she was, sitting in the gallery—next to Beavis. Her betrayal cut deeply, like a jagged, rusty blade—ripping, rather than slicing. Barbie attempted eye contact with me, to twist the knife, of course, but this time I refused her the opportunity. Her presence was high treason. And there was nothing “normal” about any of this.

As I awaited my turn before the judge, my thoughts turned to love. Yes—love. I had loved Barbie for twenty-one years. Had she loved me? Ever? I’d already begun to have serious doubts, but now I felt the last bits of hope slipping from my grasp. But what the hell was it, then, if not love? Had two decades been a total fraud? Couldn’t be. Could it? And if it was love, how could she just switch it off like that? Who does that? Nothing screamed “abnormal” louder than the events of that day, exactly one year ago, from this writing.

My petition for a Protection Order against Beavis was denied because, as the judge explained, the circumstances failed to meet the requirements under the statute that the offending events number at least three, and be in the same jurisdiction. I had only two events, in two different jurisdictions. Still, the judge, a Court Commissioner named Kristen Parcher, issued a sharp verbal warning to Beavis: “… I think it has been made extremely clear that this type of contact with family members, if it were to continue, or if there was any contact with the children, and it continued, it might be grounds for Mr. — to come back and renew his petition for an Anti-Harassment Order. So it’s been made clear that no contact of this kind is wanted by this family. The court is finding that it’s an inappropriate type of contact. You had no legitimate or lawful purpose to contact his father.”

The judge’s warning validated that day’s action against Beavis. Here was a man who oozed avarice and rapacity; nothing seemed sacred or off-limits to him. When the proceedings were over, I allowed Barbie and Beavis to vacate the courtroom ahead of me. I sat and waited. When I finally exited, I went straight to my attorney’s office and signed the Petition for Divorce they’d prepared under my direction. I riffled through the papers; the air of finality was asphyxiating.

The iron horse I’d stoked and fired on Wednesday thundered into Barbie’s office around midday on Friday, March 24, when she was served with her copies of the papers. I’d been forced to erect a wall to protect myself. There was enough evidence of a threat to me that the judge issued an ex parte Protection Order. Barbie was prohibited from returning to our home and contacting me. Friends reported to me that she was devastated.

And rightly so. She earned it. She deserved it. I didn’t want to hear it. She’d finally pushed me too far, and at last I’d found the elusive resolve to bring my long nightmare to an end.

My mother passed away that same day, March 24. I took my two boys and flew to the Midwest to honor her, and my father, as he laid his wife of nearly sixty years to eternal rest. Requiescat in Pace.

Document, Document, Document!

I can’t write enough about the importance of documentation. What I’m talking about, however, is unassailable, irrefutable documentation. What is known as “contemporaneous” documentation—a play-by-play account of events in your household recorded when they happened.

journalAs you contemplate taking action against your wayward, abusive spouse, one of the most important things you can do is begin a journal. Make sure it’s daily. Note down the times of comings and goings, and any stops at stores, restaurants, etc.—anything a bank statement might corroborate. If you’ve already sought counseling, you should periodically share copies of your journal with your counselor. That way, when your angry spouse unleashes the predictably vicious backlash of deceit when you finally do file for divorce, your counselor can corroborate your account, because he or she has already seen it.

When I finally got the nerve to file the petition for divorce, my wife’s response to the court included a hastily-created “journal” of her own that purported to show me as an absentee parent. She’d noted that I was likely “out drinking” on nights I’d been attending my divorce support group at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, where they kept an attendance sheet. Her effort was ridiculous, and it ran for a mere couple of weeks. My journal, on the other hand, covered almost a full calendar year. I’d also noted down any places visited so that credit card purchases could be matched to the journal, if necessary. One of our credit cards even electronically recorded the table number, server, and number of guests—so when Barbie said she was meeting a group of people, I knew when she was lying. I now recognize that in addition to listing the intricate details, I should have shared copies with my counselor or with chosen members of my divorce support group.

Still, the journal was immensely helpful. I petitioned the court for relief from a marriage with a fairly long list of bad behaviors, including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, excessive alcohol use, serial fidelity, and absentee parenting. Some of the events in my account had also been supported by calls to the authorities. The whole thing oozed with veracity because of the level of detail. I think it convinced the court that I could not have gone back and invented any of it, particularly the account of events on Saturday, February 4, 2017, when Barbie showed up intoxicated at home, trying to intervene in my plans to take the children to see Star Wars: Rogue One at a downtown Vancouver movie theater. That afternoon, she gave chase for nearly five miles, honking her horn, flashing her lights, and trying to edge my Ford Expedition off the road with her faster Audi A4. Her behavior scared the boys—and me. My response was to call 911 as I drove. Unfortunately, Barbie broke off her chase, jumped on I-5 South and scooted across the Columbia River into Oregon before Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies could get into a position to apprehend her. I was disappointed. If she’d only kept following me for another quarter-mile … if she’d only kept up her chase for a few minutes longer, the outcome of our custody evaluation might have been very different, not 50/50. But the officers had already been on their way, and there was a twelve-minute running call between me, a 911 operator, and a Deputy that day, as the events were happening. Those are real records, and they’re public. Barbie’s attempts to retell or “reinterpret” the events of that day are doomed to failure. (See my article on gaslighting, because it’s what narcissists do.)

What I learned later was that she’d spent the morning at the Hazel Dell Bowling Alley, and Beavis, her “boyfriend,” had been sending my elderly father disparaging text messages about me that morning. How irritatingly juvenile. Barbie was likely with Beavis at the bowling alley while he was doing that, encouraging him.

One of the most important things I learned was that documentation is absolutely critical—but not just any documentation: it must have been recorded when the events happened. Stop and think of how President Trump’s legal team is highly concerned about the potential existence of fired FBI Director James Comey’s “contemporaneous notes.” If such notes indeed exist, they will be extremely damaging to Trump. They will contain the truth about what was said between the two men.

Acquiring the State of Mind to Act

State of mind is everything. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, chances are good that they’ve twisted your reality to make you think you’re the problem. You’re not the problem. But being able to telling yourself that is often difficult because their messages are subtle and supported by half-truths. You need to shift your thinking about your situation. That’s the first step. Remember, you’re not alone, even if you feel isolated.

thought powerIn my case, discovery of my wife’s serial infidelity—the fact that she was living a parallel life—dragged me kicking and screaming into a harsh reality. It was a gut-punch. A stab in the back. I couldn’t believe she was doing that to me. I couldn’t believe she was doing that to our children. She was blowing off her responsibilities to her family, running around town, drinking excessively, and even taking business trips with another man while using corporate and family funds to support it. But she believed she was entitled to do whatever she wanted. She seemed driven by some weird delusion of grandeur. Barbie’s actions violated all sense of fairness, obligation, and responsibility.

My initial suspicions led me to construct a discovery operation that repeatedly confirmed my worst fears. It was like she had a bifurcated personality. My discoveries also made it impossible for her to continue gaslighting me—making me question my understanding or recollection of what was transpiring. In one instance, which I’ve detailed in this post, I’d acquired foreknowledge of one of Barbie’s “business” trips to Seattle, then calmly observed as she attempted to cover up her behavior while she was speaking with me and the children on FaceTime. My observations squelched my disbelief—or, perhaps, better yet—my denial that I was dealing with a deeply disordered personality. Barbie exhibited absolutely no shame. Beavis, her cheating partner, had been with her in the hotel room all along, and the use of FaceTime was designed to assuage my concerns. What a sucker I’d been.

As it turns out, that first epiphany was a critical step. I immediately realized two things. First, Barbie’s behavior was not going to stop. It was the result of dysfunction. Second, she was deliberately manipulating the children and me—constructing a false version of reality for us designed to keep us in the dark about her extramarital life. For her, lying seemed to be a compulsion. The first sharp rays of a cruel dawn cut me deeply: I realized I might have been living for years in a relationship that was not, by any person’s standards, “normal.” It was time to brush myself off, and call things by their proper names.

I. A Tale of Two Epiphanies

The realization that something was very, very wrong in my family life marked the beginning of a process of change, and I began researching marriage failure. My efforts only underscored the abnormality of my own personal situation. The books I read used a vocabulary that didn’t apply to my case. This wasn’t a case of “two people who’d grown apart,” or “a breakdown in communication in the marriage.” It wasn’t that at all. And the more I read, the more my growing suspicions were confirmed.

I was in an abnormal, dysfunctional relationship with an abusive narcissist.

Discovery of my wife’s second-track life led me to question the person I thought I knew. By June 2016, Barbie’s mask had slipped. I’d exposed her. Her response was to become more vicious and abusive than ever before. She constantly launched abusive jabs at me. “You’re a worthless piece of shit. I’m so done with you. I don’t need you. I hate you. Why don’t you just leave? You’re sick in the head. You’re obsessive. You’re spinning things out of control.” A secret smear campaign against me began in earnest among her friends—people who didn’t know me. All of my observations leading up to this point repeatedly confirmed that nothing I was experiencing is what “normal” people experience.

Barbie’s new job, a management position she accepted in January 2015, subjected her to dramatically increased stress. She’d never managed that many people before, and, for that matter, had only managed through a dotted line on the organizational chart at her previous job. As Dr. Craig Malkin points out in Rethinking Narcissism, stress has been observed as the single most important factor that can propel a narcissist up the spectrum, and the observable manifestation of it is entitlement run amok (Malkin 2015). Malkin’s research confirmed my own observations. (For more on Malkin and the narcissism spectrum, see this post.) I believe Barbie had already existed at an elevated place on the spectrum as it was—probably a 7 or 8—because our interaction often acquired the appearance of the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse. I believe the increased stress of her new job sent her into 9 territory. Alcohol, some other intoxicant(s), a second-track persona, and the excitement of cheating on her husband and family became her release. By December of 2015, observant friends had begun noticing my wife’s increased use of alcohol. Our private interactions had also become far more volatile than ever before.

The first epiphany I experienced had several characteristics and events that foreshadowed it:

A. Red flags. First, one of Barbie’s fellow employees, Vance, had what appeared to be a jealous reaction when he saw us together at the company Christmas party in December 2015. It struck me as odd. I later recognized it as the result of triangulation, a Cluster-B signature behavior. She’d likely been fooling around with Vance, and having us together in the same place fed her ego. She glowed as if sucking amperage from a car battery. He looked like a pot about to boil over—so much so that the company president intervened to send the inebriate outside for a walk around the block, which he did, shirtless! God only knows what Barbie had told him about our family life. There was also a Christmas Eve party with friends that year, where Barbie became noticeably over-intoxicated and belligerent. I hadn’t noticed her getting out of control because I’d left the party for about an hour and a half to pick up some last-minute Christmas presents for the boys. Going home after the party, with the children in the back seat, she screamed she was going to “punch me in the face” if I didn’t let her drive. I did not allow her to drive, and she passed out on the way home. She didn’t punch me, either. Not that time.

B. Spin Control. Initially, after the unmasking, I was seeing double. I’d seen a person I didn’t know lurking behind her mask, and I’d begun to think she wasn’t the person I thought she was. But that didn’t happen all at once. I continued looking for the person I thought I knew, hoping she would reappear. Sometimes, when it looked like she had, I became easily manipulated again. I wished everything could revert to what had once seemed “normal,” but the double vision persisted. Sometimes I saw my wife—a fantasy persona, really, that had been created for me. At other times, I glimpsed the unknown side, the “evil” side, but now it operated with a vigor like never before. My own desires paralyzed me. I wanted one persona back, but not the other. I told myself there must be something wrong with her—something deep inside. The person I’d married was the real Barbie, I told myself. Wasn’t it? I was dead wrong. Even on “good days,” the suspicion that I’d discovered a total fraud still tormented me, because what I called “good days” were nothing more than her post-discovery spin control.

Barbie’s efforts at spin control involved a series of key tactics: denial of the occurrence of real events; gaslighting—a  manipulated reinterpretation of real events; belligerent rebellion followed by hoovering; and triangulation to rekindle my emotions and keep them boiling. She was at once pushing one part of me—the part that knew her reality—away from her, yet she also seemed to be trying to suck the “old” me back into the relationship. I struggled to understand her motivations. Inside me, Logic was bludgeoning Emotion into submission, but Emotion was fighting back. If I thought we were having a “good day,” I found myself walking on eggshells. I simply didn’t want to ruin it—I could never be certain what might set her off. The struggle between Logic and Emotion, for a time, paralyzed me, and left me suspended in a state of helplessness and despair. I realized she was using my own inner conflict to manipulate me.

A second epiphany came when I realized I was trapped. Caught in a vicious circle. My life and our family life would never return to what I had once regarded as “normal.” The situation in which I found myself was never going to improve. It might even become worse. If I’d allowed myself to be framed for domestic violence, for instance, which I’d deduced might happen, I would be in much worse condition than I’m in now. I had to erect boundaries. I had to act. Fast.

II. Taking Action

The two epiphanies put me in the proper state of mind, although I struggled to maintain it, despite the detailed documentation I’d kept since the summer of 2016. In late March 2017, I petitioned for divorce and asked for a Protection Order, which the judge granted on the basis of evidence of assault against me, harassment, and several police calls regarding Barbie’s intoxication and abusive behaviors. By March, the conflict in our household had reached a crescendo. I knew I’d have to act—and act soon—because Barbie had become physically more combative when she returned home at night, and because Beavis had also shown more aggression with his harassment of my elderly father. It didn’t take much imagination to see where this situation was going. Unexplained bruises had begun appearing more frequently on Barbie’s arms and legs, and she’d already made the mistake of threatening me with photos she’d been taking. On Sunday, March 19, she came home just before midnight and tried to get into our home office, where I’d been working. I’d tied the double doors shut with network cable to prevent her from confronting me. She was intoxicated, and was in a crazy rage because I’d had the audacity to file for a Protection Order against Beavis after he stalked me to a restaurant in December and then harassed my father with disparaging text messages in February. I believe she and Beavis must have expected me to react differently; to become confrontational and belligerent, instead of seeking legal protection. Bad assumption. A third epiphany came together for me that night. I concluded that I was likely going to be framed for domestic violence. As Barbie tried to ram the doors of the office open that night, my fear became palpable. I recall looking over at the window as I braced the doors closed. If only I could get out … and get away from this nightmare that my life had become.

Fortunately, she gave up and slumped to the floor. After she passed out, I reported the incident to police, but asked them not to come to the house. I saw my attorneys the next day.

III. The Backlash

After having the audacity to file for divorce, I experienced a backlash that consisted of a massive smear campaign against me to the court, to any and all family law professionals, counselors, and to mutual friends. Now that the divorce is complete, I expect there will also be a smear campaign, albeit more subtle, that paints me disparagingly to the children, as well as an effort to smear me as a parent to all outsiders. I’ve already seen evidence in an email to me that mentioned how “the children cry because of the things I tell them about her.” That’s pathetic. I don’t ask, and I don’t tell. I don’t even think about her. “No Contact” means completely putting Barbie out of my life in every way possible. Incidentally, that email, although it was written and sent to me, was designed for a very different audience. I’m sure I’ll see it again. She knows full well I’m not schooling the boys about her. She’s already done enough damage without my help, especially to the eldest. “Mom of the Year,” as one of our mutual friends has said.

On the topic of smear campaigns, Barbie’s mother had once done the same with Barbie’s own father, so I think I know where this could be going. I heard her mother’s account of physical abuse—being beaten up and dragged down the hall by the hair—but I was surprised when I finally had the chance to have a relationship with Barbie’s biological father after our sons were born. I never glimpsed the monster he’d been made out to be.

Had Barbie’s mother been spinning a myth about her marriage to Barbie’s father? Perhaps. When Barbie was pregnant with our first child, I observed her mother going off on her partner in a most vulgar and verbally abusive fashion. In contrast, in the family from which I came, there was no such abuse. My father treated my mother like a queen for their 59 years of marriage. I’ve always tried to follow his example.

What still astonishes me is that the smear campaign against me had all been accurately predicted by a counselor who convened a small support group for men in abusive relationships. Just before I filed the petition for divorce, he’d said, “you should be prepared for anything and everything you allege against her in your petition to be turned around and served right back to you.” He’d been correct. That was exactly what happened.

Post-Hoc Analysis A: the Nature of the Relationship

The custody evaluation came next, conducted by a court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Jepson, who struggled to outline how I, as the male, just had to be the abuser in the relationship. His report contained a virtual comedy of errors—including interviews with my children, who portrayed me with words like “kind,” and “caring,” and “helpful.” Their words were ignored.

Instead, Jepson appeared to have relied on the eight distinct behavior patterns detailed in the Duluth Model’s Power and Control Wheel, which, oddly, is drawn from a work that reads more like an ideology than a scientific study in its discussion of how the long patriarchal traditions institutionalized in Western societies in both church and state shaped men as abusers. This long heritage of patriarchy, the Duluth Model’s authors believed, established and supported men’s right to dominate and control women. Women were also assumed to be, by their very nature, subservient to men, and that there was nothing unnatural about this relationship. By sheer virtue of economic and physical power, males were simply wired to be the abuser (Pence and Paymar 1993; Dobash 1979). In Jepson’s report to the family court, he used some words that paralleled those of the Duluth Model—like “coercive control,” applied to my efforts to illuminate my spouse’s illicit behaviors. Really?! His words are what tipped me off to his use of that template. Jepson, in my view, was merely attempting to hammer what he thought were my behaviors into several of the Duluth Model’s categories. Jepson’s knowledge of my behaviors, of course, were fed to him by my manipulative wife, and beyond that, he simply ignored my statements as well as the statements of my children, which would have contradicted hers. I was male—to him, that meant I had to be the source of the abuse. If I weren’t in a given instance, well … then I must have deserved whatever I got. Such was the mindset I faced.

Post-Hoc Analysis B: Assigning Blame

When the relationship finally declines and fails, who’s to blame? I think my divorce decree used the words “irreconcilable differences.” That’s an understatement.

The topic of assigning blame demands more flesh on its bones because a relationship with a narcissist is quite unlike a “normal” relationship. My experiences over the last two years have taught me that if you haven’t had a relationship with a narcissist, much of what I describe in this blog will seem alien to you. Conversely, if you have had a relationship with such an individual, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and everything I have to say is in familiar territory.

Most people like to believe that a relationship’s demise is caused by both people. This is also what a narcissist tells their partner as they enter the devaluation and discard phase. (See this article for more on the nature of a narcissistic relationship.) But the power balance is askew in a narcissistic relationship—what feels like a “relationship” is really nothing more than a fraud, constructed and controlled for the sole purpose of serving the selfish interests of the narcissist. As the relationship moves toward the discard phase, the narcissist gaslights their partner into believing he or she shares a part of the blame for the collapse. This gaslighting effort is also extended to friends, family, and anyone outside the relationship who will listen. This is precisely how the narcissist shunts responsibility for his or her actions—actions which lie at the core of the destruction of the relationship. The narcissist spins a myth to virtually all outsiders—that their partner is brooding and emotional; or angry, combative and abusive; or jealous and controlling; or they’re enraged and trying to retaliate because the narcissist was caught cheating. In a word, the narcissist describes a situation in which they’ve shapeshifted into a “victim mode.” I now believe this is precisely the myth Barbie spun to her cheating partner, Jake Oliphant, a.k.a. “Beavis.” That’s why he had no compunction against harassing me and my family members (including one of the children), and doing it repeatedly. The family-wrecking scoundrel disguised with layers of excrement actually imagined he was a White Knight! Oh, the absurdity of it all! My interpretation fits well with the logical principle known as Occam’s Razor—that the correct solution to a complex question is usually the simplest and most parsimonious.

I intend to detail some additional thoughts about assigning blame in a future post.

IV. Next Steps: Creating and Enforcing Distance

In the great internal battle of Logic versus Emotion, Logic must win. For this to happen, you need to eject the narcissist and extract yourself from the relationship to a safe place. Even if you have children together, you still must do it; otherwise, you’ll be served up a cocktail of control and torture at every point of contact, just like I was. Every reason for contact was used as a plausibly deniable reason to exert influence, control, or simply deliver a sneer or derogatory comment.

Accept what happened and move on. Focus on reducing your vulnerability.

One of the things my blog will accomplish is to expose truths about my marriage to Barbie that she has worked hard to conceal. My story will directly challenge her false public persona, or, should I say, personae. To be sure, some people will have their doubts, but those who knew us best over two decades, and knew her family, will instantly grasp the veracity of my story.

Once you’ve created distance, you must enforce it. Then get on with your life and let Time do the rest. A complete and total erasure of the narcissist from your life will strengthen you and clarify your thinking about what happened in your relationship. You’ll begin to see things differently—very differently—and you’ll see your former partner for what he or she really was.

Be strong. You’re not alone.


Dobash, Russell E. Violence Against Wives: A Case Against the Patriarchy. The Free Press, 1979.

Malkin, Craig. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. Harper Collins, 2015.

Pence, Ellen, and Paymar, Michael. Education Groups For Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model. Springer Publishing, 1993.