Instant Cooking

The view out my window

We’ve had a few cold, windy, snowy days that made my face and fingers ache. Today is mostly sunny. When the sun comes out from behind a cloud, it makes my eyes squint from its brilliance. My northern eyes aren’t used to sunshine. LOL. I read an article that said Michigan may have an early Spring this year, which would be quite nice–especially since last year Spring took forever to get here.

Last weekend I saw a bird sitting in the top branches of a tree on the hill. I’m used to crows sitting there, but this bird looked larger than a crow. I urged EJ to come look. I was going to get the binoculars to try to get a closer look, but before I could, the bird took off. It flew into the air and then went into a very fast sharp dive. Neither EJ or I were thrilled–we’ve never actually seen such a dive before. Of course, the bird was some sort of predator but we couldn’t tell what kind–only that it wasn’t an eagle. The eagle we saw a week or two ago stayed around for three days to eat from the deer carcass.

Adorable Bunny is available at Terics Treasures

I’ve been busy working on a crochet project for a customer/friend. I’m made an Adorable Bunny for her and I’m working on two pairs of slippers. I ran out of yarn for the slippers so I’m on a break until we can get to the store on Friday. We are also getting our taxes done on Friday. Yuck Yuck, and Double Yuck. It’s much more fun buying yarn than getting the taxes done.

My friend paid me via money order, and when I opened the envelope last Saturday, I saw that she had very generously sent more than the price I had quoted. I felt very blessed. It was like a hug from heaven. ❤

My dear friend, whom I’ve “adopted” as my sister, and her husband bought us an Instant Pot for Christmas. It’s an awesome gift that has been a real life-changer for us. It’s so easy to make even complicated recipes. The meat turns out so incredibly tender and yummy. I’m having a wonderful time experimenting with different types of food that I never dreamed of making–like cheesecake and yogurt. In the last week or so, I’ve been making Asian recipes–such as Korean Bulgogi and General Tso’s Chicken–that are as good as any we had at Chinese restaurants if I do say so myself. EJ and I are constantly exclaiming, “Oh, yum! Yum!” Furthermore, cleanup is incredibly easy. There are few dirty dishes and no baked-on sauces to scrub off. We use our Instant Pot pretty much every day.

Hannah and the towel she ate.

Hannah Joy has been her loveable, irrepressible self. I think she gets separation anxiety because she gets into mischief when I’m outside for too long. “Too long” seems to be about ten minutes. She has chewed up several washcloths, a hand towel, and a dishtowel in the last month or two. I put them in a drawer in the nightstand to keep them from her, but then she began to eat the towels. The other day I discovered that while I was out caring for the chickens, she had gotten a towel off the shelf, carried it onto our bed, and eaten a hole in the center. When I say “hole,” I don’t mean a tiny little hole. It was large enough that I could easily put it over her head and she could wear the towel as a poncho. EJ says he will cut the towel up and use the pieces for shop rags. If Hannah keeps this up, I won’t have a washcloth or towel in the house. I only hope she doesn’t go after the blankets.

No Spend February

Sometimes I feel as if I blink and then find that the calendar has jumped ahead several days. I mean, it was February 5th and then *** Blink *** it’s suddenly February 14th. Valentines Day. I hope each of you has the type of Valentine’s Day that is most special to you. 

Image result for Create a life you don't need a vacation fromWe are spending Valentine’s Day the way we always spend Fridays. There’s a quote that I often come across that says, “Create a life you don’t need a vacation from,” which is what we began to seriously do when we moved north to our beloved little home in our beautiful Enchanted Forest. We show our love to each other through everyday activities and I really don’t feel the need for romantic dinners or getaways. Of course, it’s fun to do those things sometimes, but it’s because we enjoy each other’s company. I love spending time with EJ whether we eat at a restaurant, go on a rock-hounding (or other type of) adventure, run errands, or simply spend time at home together.

My homemade suet

Besides, after committing to a “No Spend November, December, and January,” we are now into a “No Spend February.” We are trying to pay off some bills so we are pinching pennies so hard that they are passing out from the pain. When possible, we are making items instead of buying them. For example, we ran out of suet for the wild birds so last weekend I learned how to make homemade suet from ingredients I already had at home. I make homemade granola and EJ makes homemade bread every week so we don’t have to buy it. We post a grocery list of items we need to the kitchen door but then we ask ourselves, “What items on this list are absolutely essential and which can we put off buying?” We buy items when they are on sale and shop at Goodwill for clothes. When possible, EJ stops at a store on his way to or from work so we don’t have to make extra trips. Yesterday he went to Blains Farm & Fleet on his way to work to buy cat food, which we were almost out of. The cat food was on sale and we bought it with money we made selling my chickens’ eggs. On his way home from work in the wee hours of the morning, EJ stopped at Meijers to buy oatmeal and carrots, spending only $8. We give kitchen scraps to the chickens or put them in our compost pile so we don’t have much trash. Every week or two we take our trash right to the waste company rather than pay extra for curbside service. It saves us a ton of money.

We’ve had a lot of financial setbacks in recent years–JJ’s medical bills, moving, EJ losing his job last year. Just when we think we can breathe a bit, our medical insurance costs went up a bit and EJ’s company said “No more overtime.” Not having extra money forces us to be creative, and that’s not such a bad thing. Although we have to forego some things, it’s kind of a challenge to try to be as frugal as we possibly can, and we both have a good attitude about it. So…no romantic dinners at a restaurant, but it’s really fun cooking together in the kitchen. And we’ve seen God’s provision, such as our neighbor, whom we had never met before, deciding to regularly snowblow our driveway for us and refusing to be paid for his gas and time. This is the second year he’s cleared our driveway for us. Or having my chickens begin laying eggs earlier than expected this year, which brings in a little extra money. Or selling one of my crocheted items. I’m thankful that even though we don’t often have extra, but we’ve always had enough. We’ve never been hungry or unable to pay a bill.

My chickens are regularly laying eggs now, so I contacted my regular egg customers to let them know. I had wondered if they would have found other sources for eggs over the winter. Chickens can be sort of forced to keep laying eggs during the winter by keeping lights on in the coop, but we’ve read that they actually live longer if allowed a hiatus so there’s no eggs until the chickens are laying. My customers were eager to get back to buying our eggs, and both told me how much tastier our chickens’ eggs are than the ones from the store. One of my very compassionate customers told me that she had bought eggs once at another place this winter, but she wasn’t impressed by their setup so she didn’t buy from them again. She loves how we care for our chickens, which is important to her.

This is not our cat.

I’m still trying to figure out how to keep the outdoor cats’ food from being eaten by the chickens. I’ve been putting on top of one of the raised beds for them, hoping the chickens won’t find it, but also putting a bowl of food on the front porch in case they do. So far the chickens haven’t found the bowl in the garden, but a few days ago I saw a cat eating from it. The cat isn’t ours. I also occasionally see a Blue Jay eating from the front porch bowl. So apparently we feed cats, chickens, wild birds, and strange cats our cat food. I think that trying to keep the cat food for the cats might be a hopeless endeavor. I’m not giving up yet, though. I’m still thinking.

Millie in the Snow

Usually the deer run off if I go outside, even if I’m in the back yard and they are in the front yard. However, yesterday afternoon when I came inside from stealing our chickens’ eggs, I saw SEVEN deer in the front yard. They were a bit nervous, but they settle right down when they saw me sit in my chair by the window. Our cat Millie often hangs out on the front porch–to eat and to get lovings. Most of the deer ignore her, but one deer keeps trying to warn her off by stomping its foot. Even if I can’t see Millie, I can always tell where she is because the deer is looking at her as he warns her. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. I actually got it on video yesterday:

Morning Delight

Hannah Joy woke me up earlier than usual this morning. She jumped off the bed then came over to the side of the bed and started grunting at me. I figured she needed to go out so I got my coat, hat, gloves, and boots on and then told her to go out in the hallway to put her harness on. She remained sitting, indicating that she didn’t really want to go outside, but since I was all ready, I made her go anyway. When we came back inside, I feed her, which is apparently what she wanted in the first place.

 

Hannah Joy sleeping on my lap.

Then I settled my chair with a cup of coffee and watched the sun rise while Hannah dozed on my lap. When it was light enough, I went out to tend to the animals in the coop, feeding them, giving them fresh water, and opening their little door in case they want to go outside later.

Next, I put seed out for the wild birds. I came back inside and poured myself a cup of hot coffee to warm my soul and hands. I have very warm work gloves but it’s easier to do many tasks without them and on mornings like this one my hands begin to ache from the cold.

A lone little deer.

I settled in my chair again and Hannah cuddled on my lap again. When it grew lighter, I saw a doe and her young’un emerge from the forest and come up to eat the birdseed. The morning was cold enough that I could see their breath as a fog when they breathed. They moved off and then a little deer came by. He was alone so I wondered if it was his Mama who was killed in our little valley. Poor thing…although he is old enough now to make it on his own.

Emptied

After the deer all left, a squirrel ran up to check the feeder. A blue jay also checked it out. They were unimpressed. There was nothing there because the deer ate it all. I might put a little more seed out for them so the birds can have something rather than nothing. I am still trying to re-think how to construct my feeders so the deer can’t access it all.

Yesterday I glanced out of the window and saw a large bird gliding in the sky. I assumed it was a turkey vulture, which I often see overhead. The bird flew toward the house, closer and lower, and I suddenly realized it was a bald eagle! I explained in delight and EJ hurried to the window, but by the time he got the cat off his lap and out of his chair, the bird was gone. However, a few seconds later it flew back into sight–so EJ saw it too–and it landed in a tree in our forest. It stayed there for quite a while. I kept an eye on it because I wanted to watch it soar again, but my attention was diverted by a task and when I looked again it had disappeared. It is always such a thrill to see bald eagles. I’ve occasionally seen them high overheard but never this close. EJ said it was probably attracted by the dead deer in our valley. I really hate seeing dead animals, but it was awesome seeing the eagle.

 

Murder in Deer Valley

I re-organized the chest freezer and the kitchen cupboards on Friday but didn’t stop there. I sorted through my closet yesterday, getting rid of clothes that I no longer wear. I’ve also been working on organizing the library, even sorting through our file cabinet. I still have more straightening up to do in the library. I suspect I might have a touch of Spring fever?

With such a mild winter it’s not surprising that we are thinking of Spring–but it’s only just February and really much too early for Spring. EJ and I both agreed that there are still weeks left for Winter to hammer us. But sometimes it’s difficult not to let hope for Spring’s arrive rise. Although I actually like winter too.

Today the sky was blue and the temps into the mid-40s so EJ and I walked down to the mailbox for our mail. About halfway down the driveway, EJ suddenly exclaimed, “Holy CRAP!” He had spotted a body at the bottom of the small valley we have nicknamed “Deer Valley” because we’ve often seen the grass flattened where they bed down overnight.

The body was what remained of a deer. EJ went down for a closer look but I continued on to the mailbox because I didn’t want to see more than what I had already seen. Although I did take some photos from further back.

It was rather gruesome: The body was torn apart with pieces here and there and the ribs were bare. Things like this remind me that behind the bucolic scenery and beautiful wildlife that we so enjoy, there is a brutal life and death fight for survival. I am aware of this, and I know it is the way of things, but I really do not like to be a witness to it. It makes me sad to think that one of the deer we enjoy was killed. 

It made me feel a bit vulnerable to think of the vicious predator(s) attacking and devouring the deer just over the hill from the house. It makes me wonder whose eyes are watching us from the forest. If the whatever-it-was could bring down a deer, will it consider us or Hannah Joy prey as well? Creepy. Predators are why I lock up the chickens and cats safely in their coop at night. We hadn’t heard anything, although Hannah Joy had been trying to pull me down the driveway for the last day or two so I’m assuming she smelled it. EJ says it was probably coyotes, but there are other predators in the area as well. Yikes.

Here are some of the photos I took of the “crime scene.”  Don’t look at them if you are squeamish.

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Annie

Here we are, we’ve already made it to February. I used to dislike February. Even though it has the least number of days, it always felt like the longest month. By February, winter felt like it had last forever and that Spring would never arrive. But I don’t hate February anymore. It’s just another beautiful month in winter, one of my favorite seasons. Winter is when the landscape is dressed beautifully and peacefully in white. It’s when the wildlife come to the feeders where I can enjoy them. It’s when I enjoy the coziness of drinking hot beverages, wrapped in an afghan, cuddling with Hannah Joy. There’s a lot to enjoy about winter.

My other favorite seasons are Spring, Summer, and Autumn.

EJ did a bit of grocery shopping at the 24-hour grocery store on his way home from work Friday morning. EJ and I enjoy shopping together but if we have a short list of things we need, it saves time and gas if he just does it after work. Although he’s tired after work, he says he doesn’t mind shopping in the wee hours of the night because the store isn’t crowded–it’s usually just him and the store employees.

Friday I re-organized the chest freezer in the pantry. the freezer has dividers. I put all the poultry in one section, all the beef in another, the vegetables and fruit in separate sections. Now I can more easily see what I have and what I need to replenish.

Next, EJ and I tackled the kitchen cupboards. Over time, the cupboards get in disarray and it’s helpful to go through and re-organize them. We made sure that everything was in a mouse-proof plastic or glass jar. I’ve not seen any mice in the food cupboards, but there have been mice in the pot/pans cupboard near the sink. We have to figure out how to stop them from getting in. Hannah Joy tried to do her part–a couple weeks ago she heard a mouse in those cupboards and wanted me to help her get it. I opened the cupboard doors for her, but the mouse had already gotten behind the dishwasher. Hannah ordered me to pull out the dishwasher, but it’s built-in and I couldn’t do it. She was very upset with me.

I’m still trying to figure out how to keep the chickens from eating the outside cats’ food. I put a little dish for the cats in one of the outdoor dog houses, but if the weather is mild and the chickens go outside, they find it and eat it. So I’ve been putting an additional dish of food on the patio table on the front porch. The other day, I saw a blue jay eating the cat food. Sigh. I haven’t given up trying to figure out how to keep the food inaccessible to everyone except the cats.

Our cat, Annie, died yesterday. She’s quite old and her health was deteriorating over the winter so we knew it was only a matter of time. Still, it’s sad. Annie was a Manx (tailless) cat who didn’t simply meow–she sang her meows with melodious trills. I’ve never heard a more musical meow. Annie is one of the cats that came with us when we moved from downstate. We transported all the animals on the day we drove north to close on our new house. We brought only enough items to “camp out” in the house until our friends could help us move the next weekend. EJ had a quiet drive with our dog, Danny, but I (with JJ) drove our car the four hours with seven cats all loudly harmonizing their displeasure at being contained in cat carriers. They all sang differently so it was rather interesting–and created memories that we won’t soon forget.

I worked for a week or so designing a crocheted square that was inspired by our Hannah Joy. The squares can be used to make pillows, afghans, blankets. I’m selling the pattern, but I’m also willing to make the finished items. Here is what I ended up with:

Mucky Job

EJ’s company is banning overtime for now so he had Friday off. I did laundry and made granola while EJ made bread and our first ever attempt to make yogurt in the Instant Pot. The yogurt turned out well–it was very tasty, especially with my granola mixed in.

This afternoon I went out and cleaned the chicken coop, taking out all the dirty straw and replacing it with new. I also reconfigured the coop a bit. I’m always tweaking. Usually, I don’t do any of the cleaning or tweaking until warmer weather–because the poop freezes in cold weather and also the mat of straw on the floor helps insulate the coop. However, our winter has been milder than normal, the poop wasn’t frozen, the chickens were laying their eggs in not-so-great places, and the coop was beginning to get a stronger ammonia smell–probably from the cats. So it was time.

Dirty straw

It snowed a little this afternoon, but the temperatures weren’t terribly cold and the work kept me warm. The dirty straw is very heavy and at times I can roll it up like a carpet. I raked out a mound of straw. Once the dirty straw breaks down a bit it can be used in the garden.  Once the old straw was out, I put clean straw in. I do give the chickens clean straw throughout the winter, but they have a habit of scratching it all onto the floor. I’m trying to figure out what I can do to keep more of it in their perching/nesting areas.

It took me several hours to clean out the coop. I had to work around 20 chickens, most of whom didn’t want to leave the coop, and the cats. A couple times when I bent down to pick up the dirty straw from the floor, Annie jumped on my back. Theo also likes to jump on my back when I’m working, although he didn’t do it today. When a cat jumps on my back, I have to go over to their food shelf and straighten up so they leap off me.

I was caked in muck by the time I was finished. I took my clothes off in the laundry room, put them in the washer, and then went and took a shower. I’m exhausted and my body–especially my arms– is aching from the hard work. It was a good workout and I’m counting it as exercise. I think there should be some sort of chart indicating how many calories are burned by doing chores. I’d say cleaning out the coop should burn about 10,000 calories, resulting in a loss of 20 lbs. Or something.

 

WalkAbout

A snowstorm was forecasted for both last weekend and this weekend. Last weekend’s storm never appeared–although I read that the middle and southern parts of the state were hit with a pretty bad ice storm. Although I think that ice storms are remarkably beautiful, they cause driving treacherous and cause a lot of damage so I’m very glad we were spared. Snow is easier to deal with than ice.

Blue Jay and Cardinal

This weekend’s snowstorm did hit us. As near as I can figure it, we now have about of foot of snow on the ground, which I don’t consider all that much for a northern winter. I think we’ve had quite a mild winter this year. So far. I really enjoyed sitting in my chair yesterday watching the snow fall and the various wildlife visit the feeders. We often have titmouses (titmice?), chickadees, and woodpeckers visit our feeder, and occasionally goldfinches and cardinals. We also have a family of Blue Jays that frequently visits. I assume that they are a family because six of them always arrive in a group.

Blue Bird?

This morning I think that, maybe, I saw a bluebird checking out one of the birdhouses. That really surprised me because I didn’t think they came until Spring. Maybe the bluebird’s visit–if that’s what it was–is a harbinger that we will have an early Spring? I tried to take a photo of it, but it was rather blurry because my current camera sort of sucks. What do you think? Is it a bluebird?

Of course, we also get other wildlife visiting our feeders, such as deer. They can drain the feeders in minutes. I tried to put the tray feeder on a higher hook so the deer can’t reach it and the birds have a chance to eat since the birds are actually why we put out the feeders. Every few nights a possum comes by to eat the seeds the birds and deer spill out of the feeders. I have grown rather fond of the possums, especially since I learned that they eat ticks. I despise ticks. I don’t mind who comes to the feeders; I enjoy watching them all.

I’ve been trying to keep walking around the house every day for exercise. I call it my “WalkAbout.” I was walking 18 times around the house each day last week and even made it to 20 one day. I usually walk half the trips in the morning and half in the afternoon after EJ goes to work. However, Friday morning I didn’t walk at all because EJ and I went grocery shopping and I didn’t walk on Saturday. But I did walk three around the house this morning in the early dawn when it was still mostly dark. Not all at once, I rested between each trip with a cup of coffee because It wasn’t easy wading through the deep snow. Each time, when I had huffed and puffed halfway around the house, with the snow reaching above my boots to my knees and the cold stinging my face, I began to doubt the wisdom of my endeavor. I reminded myself that it would be just as much effort to turn back as it was to go forward, so onward I went. But I think that each around the house in deep snow should count the same as six trips around when I had trodden an easier path through the snow. I took these next photos on my third circle around the house this morning.

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It probably would be easier to use some exercise equipment in the house during the winter, but we don’t really have any space for any and I don’t want to risk waking EJ by doing aerobic exercises. Besides, I find using exercise equipment or routines to be very boring. All that effort used to go nowhere at all. When I walk outside around the house, I am actually going somewhere, and I get to enjoy the changing beauty of the forest. One time as I walked last week, I watched a Blue Jay’s panicked flight as he tried to escape some sort of hawk that had him in its sights. I was glad that the Blue Jay escaped. I know hawks have to eat too, but I don’t want to watch them kill their prey. I tend to root for the underdog–or under-bird, as the case may be.

Surprisingly, the younger chickens laid a couple of eggs on New Year’s Eve, and I’m finding more and more eggs–sometimes in odd places in the coop. In fact, I didn’t realize they were laying as much as they were until I found piles of eggs, some of them frozen, cracked, and unusable so I throw them in the compost pile. If the chickens keep it up, it won’t be long before I will have enough eggs to begin selling again, although I don’t know how customers will make it up the driveway unless they have four-wheel drive.  In the warmer months, I want to reconfigure the coop and have EJ build more nesting boxes.

Our snowstorm has passed. Earlier this morning the sky was cloudless. Clouds are beginning to drift in, but the sun is still peeking through and the snow glitter. I’ve always been mesmerized by the glitter in the snow that sparkles like crushed diamonds. I think I live in a magical land.

The Washcloth Thief

We’ve had some crazy weather today with wind gusts that stirred up the snow into duststorm-like clouds and twisted it into snow-nadoes. Then we had freezing rain that tapped on the windows and froze there. We are supposed to get more than 6 inches of snow over the weekend, I read.

This morning we saw a buck come through our yard. We don’t often see antlered bucks on our property so it was a treat. I think we’ve only seen one other one in the years we’ve lived here. That one was a six-point buck that I saw pursuing a doe last autumn during the rut. I’m not saying bucks don’t often come onto our property. Sometimes we see their large hoof prints in the sand or snow. But we have only actually SEEN two of them. Isn’t the one today a beauty?

I think I gained some weight during the holidays. Bummer. So I thought I probably should exercise more. In the summer, I sometimes walk up and down our long, steep driveway, but I don’t want to do that in the winter because I’m afraid I will slip, fall, and break a bone, which is what I did a couple of years ago so my fear is not unfounded. Yesterday it occurred to me that I could walk around the house and fenced garden and chicken pen, which is all on flat ground. Yesterday I walked around the house five times. Today I walked around it twelve times. I counted and learned that it takes around 200 steps to go once around the house. So I walked 2,400 steps today. I’m not sure how many inches a step is. Maybe I should walk in the snow and then measure it. I’d like to know how many times I have to walk around the house to equal a mile.

A couple of weeks ago we stopped in at Goodwill and I found a neat “feeder” for the chickens. It was only $3. I think it works better than the bucket I was using–mainly because it’s easier to keep filled.

I took a group photo of my chickens. I counted and I think that 19 of the 20 chickens were in the photo. There seem to be an awful lot of them when they are all in the coop. They tend to stay inside when the weather is cold and/or snowy. Three of the chickens are roosters and seventeen are hens.

This is what 19-20 chickens look like.
Ruined washcloth

Hannah Joy has been her irrepressible self. We pretty much have to “child-proof” the house but despite our best efforts, she keeps finding things to eat that she isn’t supposed to. I did laundry a couple days ago and before I could get the clean clothes folded, she got into the basket and ate two washcloths. As is her usual modus operandi, she waited until I went out to care for the chickens to steal the washcloths. She has eaten a washcloth or two before, as well as a couple dishcloths, and most of my kitchen towels are now ragged around the edges.

I snatched the ruined washcloths away from Hannah, quickly folded all the clothes, and put the baskets away. But yesterday I was sitting in my chair and I glanced into the bedroom and saw something on the bed. I went in there and found a mostly folded washcloth, not yet chewed up. I took it into the bathroom to return to the shelf. We don’t have enough storage in the bathroom so our towels are on a standalone 4-tier shelf unit. I found two more folded washcloths on the floor. Silly Hannah has begun taking the washcloths right off the shelf! I’m trying to remember to close the bathroom door before I go out to care for the chickens.

Hannah Joy

Hannah also likes to steal Kleenex out of my sweater pockets and papers out of my purse if I forget to put them out of her reach. I call her my “pit-pocket.” She also loves to get under the blankets in the bed. Some days I have to remake the bed several times because she tries to get under the blankets and ends up messing the whole bed up. But Hannah is such a loving, cuddly, protective, funny part of our family that we forgive–no, we enjoy–her quirks. She keeps us laughing.

 

 

From 19 to 20

It was back to work for EJ today. He had last weekend off, as usual, then worked two days, then had two days off, and now is working another two days before the weekend. I am now all messed up about which day it is because today feels sort of like Monday.

Our neighbor

Two days of wintry weather had brought us several inches of snow so our neighbor came driving up in his tractor to snow blow our driveway. Ever since he saw me clearing our driveway with our little snowblower last winter, he has snowblowed it for us with his tractor. He’s been such a blessing–he can clear in a few minutes what it took us more than two hours to do. He won’t accept payment so we bought him a gift box of sausage and such as a thank you. I was going to make him homemade candy and cookies, but he mentioned to EJ that he didn’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Today the temperatures warm again into the lower 40s (F) so the snow began to melt again although we could get freezing drizzle overnight.

Our first cheesecake, half-eaten.

On New Year’s Eve, I made 21 small turkey potpies and I made 14 more yesterday for a total of 35 pies. Yesterday evening EJ and I made cheesecake together in our Instant Pot. I quickly volunteered to make the graham cracker crust because I was tired from making pies, and I left EJ to make the filling. We both made some mistakes, but it was still tasty. Yum! But, ugh, after a couple days of eating pizza, chips, and cookies, we are both feeling rather yucky. EJ said we will now have to be good until next Thanksgiving. I agree.

On the weekends, EJ often goes out with me in the evening when I lock all the animals in the coop. When we went out last weekend, we discovered that Millie and Theo had caught a chipmunk. Sometimes Millie had it and sometimes Theo did. We didn’t want them to bring the chipmunk into the coop so I hurried into the coop, shutting the big doors behind me. Before I could get the little door closed, Theo brought the chipmunk in. With a small scream, I hurriedly unfastened the big door and scurried out because I didn’t want to risk the critter getting free and climbing up me in its panic. Theo took the chipmunk outside again, and as soon as he dropped it on the ground, I picked him up and put him in the coop with the other two cats and the chickens. I think the chipmunk crawled under the coop. I suspect he didn’t live long.

This was the first rodent we’ve seen the cats catch. Millie and Theo aren’t the serial killers that Madeline was. I really liked Madeline, but I’m relieved that I don’t find dead bodies every day.

Last week I wrote about some of the Red Flag traits that I look for to help me identify an abusive person. Those traits basically include attitudes of self-centeredness, superiority, and entitlement, as well as a lack of gratitude and generosity. Today I read a couple of articles that Dr. George Simon wrote on his website that says pretty much the same thing. One was about how to recognize covert narcissists and the other was about their lack of gratitude, the latter of which I want to quote from here.

…One of the pioneers studying character disturbance made an interesting observation. Folks with significant character disturbances came from all backgrounds. Some experienced early trauma. But others came from remarkably benign backgrounds. Some were impoverished in many ways. However, others were products of privilege. But one thing they all had in common was a disturbing attitude. The world owed them, they felt. And they owed nothing back. For them, life was all about taking what they could get. And sometimes it was an additional kick to take nefariously. They had no sense of obligation – to anyone or anything. And that, in a nutshell, lay at the core of their character dysfunction.

When it comes to having integrity of character, it all begins with gratitude. Appreciating the precious gift of life itself comes first, of course. Gratitude inherently inspires a sense of indebtedness. And that indebtedness inevitably inspires us to give back and not just take. So, real thanksgiving is not so much about feeling grateful. And it goes beyond expressing gratitude. It’s more about showing it by doing our part to make the whole enterprise work….

Dr. George Simon has worked with and researched manipulative people–narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths–for decades. His writings have really helped me to understand and recover from abuse. I highly recommend his website if you want to learn more.

New Year’s Eve

I hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year’s Eve!

Cuddle time.

Hannah Joy and I started our day cuddling in my chair. She likes to sleep on my lap under a blanket with only her nose sticking out. I like it because she keeps me toasty warm with her body heat!

I sipped my coffee and watched the snow fall. The last few weeks the temperature had warmed and melted almost all of our snow. However, yesterday we got several inches so our world is beautifully white again. The heavy snow stuck to the trees until a strong wind rose in the afternoon and the snow fell in avalanches from the swaying trees. A lot of people lost their power, mostly to the north of us. I feel sorry for them because it’s not fun losing power in the winter. I’m glad that we didn’t lose power because I’m not sure I would have remembered how to hook up the propane heater.

Yesterday I made a quadruple batch of turkey pot pie filling. I spent all this afternoon making small individual 5-inch pies. I got 21 made. I’ll make more tomorrow to use up the rest of the filling. I freeze them to bake later, usually when we have a busy day and/or don’t feel like cooking. Pot pie is one of my favorite meals. EJ wants us to make beef pot pies as well. I press a turkey cookie cutter into the pies so we know they are turkey pot pies. I don’t know what we will use for a beef pot pie because I don’t have any cow cookie cutters.

Because I was so busy today, EJ made a pot roast in the Instant Pot for lunch. It was very delicious. We love our Instant Pot!

Originally, EJ was supposed to work tonight and just get New Year’s Day off. EJ was a trifle bummed because he would be working at midnight when the new year arrived, and he’d be driving home in the early morning when inebriated people would be driving home from their parties. However, his boss called today to say that the employees could have both today and tomorrow off if they all worked Friday instead. Employees usually work four 10-hour days each week and working Friday is optional over-time.

Our homemade pizza

Because I thought EJ would be working, I had been planning to have a quiet evening and just go to bed at my regular time. But plans have changed and we are going to stay up to greet the new year and decade. EJ went to the store this afternoon to buy a few items so we can make a cheesecake in the Instant Pot. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow. He also bought some potato chips for tonight, as well as some cashews, which he knows that I love. While he was gone, I finished the pot pies and then I made the dough and sauce for our traditional New Year’s Eve pizza. I always make it from “scratch.” I spent several years searching for a “just-right” pizza dough recipe, and finally found it about ten years ago, give or take a few years. It’s delicious. EJ came home at about the time the dough was finished rising and helped me assemble the pizza.

I’m exhausted, my body aches, and my feet are throbbing from standing on them all day, but I got a lot accomplished. However, I was glad to finally sit down and enjoy our pizza meal. 🙂

I’ve been reminiscing that it’s already been twenty years since the Y2K scare, when people were panicking because they were afraid that if computers interpreted the “00” in 2000 as 1900, it could lead to all sorts of disastrous problems, including large-scale blackouts and infrastructure damage.

Thirty years ago EJ and I met for the first time on New Year’s Eve. A young woman from our church singles’ group invited him to our church and he came that morning and then attended our New Year’s Eve party later that night. I think we started dating in April and on June 15 he asked me to marry him. I’m really glad we met and married. He’s my best friend.

I’m going to end my day the same way I began it–with Hannah Joy cuddling on my lap.

Repairing the World

This is the last in a series of posts about abuse, beginning here.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prov. 18:21)

I spent a month writing and rewriting my previous three posts about abuse. I am writing this one because I think it’s also important, but it’s a last-minute add-on. I didn’t think of it until I had written the others. I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around that I have to sort through but I wanted to get it posted before the New Year so I’m writing quickly. There are a lot of approaches I could take, but I’ve decided on this one:

I think words are extremely powerful.

Words can bring hope or despair, strength or weakness, bravery or cowardice, life or death.

Words can actually change reality: Hitler, for example, didn’t have super-human physical strength, he wasn’t even a soldier, but with his words, he inspired people to horrendous cruelty, he caused the death of millions, and he reshaped the world. Conversely, I think England might have fallen during WW2 if Winston Churchill had not spoken words that brought courage:

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
― Winston Churchill

God created the universe with words. He speaks the truth and gives life with words. Jesus is called “The Living Word” who is the Light, the way, the truth, and the life. Conversely, Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Liars destroy truth and people.

 

I think that one of the most terrible weapons of abusers are words. With words, abusers attack the core identity of a person so that she forgets who she is. With their words, abusers weave a false reality that drains the life from their victims, turning strong, intelligent, creative individuals into someone who believes s/he is damaged, stupid, without gifts or value. With their words, abusers can drive a person to despair, hopelessness, self-hatred, and even suicide.

I think that the hardest part of recovery involves the struggle to replace lies with the truth, rejecting the false reality that brings destruction and holding fast to the true reality that gives life. Because the abuser has destroyed his/her victims’ core identity, recovery takes time and struggle.

Photo from Pixabay

Whenever I have encounters with a toxic/abusive person, I have to talk and/or write about it. I have told EJ several times that I feel as if the abuser has ripped and torn the fabric of truth–of who I am, of my value–and I have to reweave the truth by recognizing the lies and re-remembering the truth.

This makes me think of two Jewish phrases. One is a statement in the Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” I think this statement has a lot of truth in it. When a wicked person destroys a person, he is destroying her entire world, he is often destroying families, and this destruction can ripple on to affect communities, societies, the world. I’ve read an article about a scientific study that showed that trauma can even change DNA and be passed down the generations.

The second phrase is Tikkun Olam, which in Hebrew means “repair of the world.” It is a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. The phrase is found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It is often used when discussing issues of social policy, insuring a safeguard to those who may be at a disadvantage. When you give comfort, strength, courage, support, healing, and justice to others, you are helping to save their world as well as working to repair the world.

I think that repairing the world involves kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I think it also involves seeking justice and resisting and standing against evil.

  • Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph 5:11)
  • A righteous person giving in to the wicked is like a contaminated spring or a polluted fountain. (Prov 25:26)
  • Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered. (Prov 21:13)
  • Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Prov. 24:11-12)
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17)
  • “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Now I’ve kind of gone full-circle and ended where I began–because in order to speak up, judge fairly, correct oppression, a person has to identify who is the wicked one and who is the innocent, which isn’t easy when the wicked person is covertly deceptive. Another question to ask is how to help the innocent victim. I think people have different talents and ways of helping. Some “helpers” are lawyers, some are pastors, some are bloggers, some are friends who help friends. Some work to change laws, some work at abuse shelters or hotlines, some write blogs, some generously give to those in need,  some encourage hurting friends in their lives. Whether the help affects many or few, it contributes to the repair of the world.

No matter what the help looks like, I think there are a few basic things to keep in mind, which underlie all the others:

  1. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between an abuser and his/her victim, but it helps to educate yourself about the dynamics of abuse so you can recognize tactics and behaviors.
  2. Do not minimize, excuse, justify, or defend the behavior of the abuser. Do not say things such as, “I’m sure he didn’t really mean it” or “I’m sure she actually really loves you…” or “But he’s such a wonderful person–he would never do such a thing.” Abusers hide their abuse from everyone except the victim. Supporting the abuser does great damage to the victim who is struggling to break free of the false reality that was created by the abuser.
  3. Do not shift the blame to the victim. An abuser abuses because he is an abuser, not because the victim didn’t love enough, forgive enough, please enough.
  4. Do NOT try to fix the victim by telling her that all she has to do is follow Steps A, B, C, and everything will be fine. It’s not that easy. A victim has to sort through countless lies and replace them with the truth. She has to repair her world that was destroyed by the abuser. This takes time.
  5. Do not pressure a victim to quickly forgive the abuser. Forgiveness is a messy process that takes time. The process is similar to the Stages of Grief. Forgiveness does NOT mean that future contact or reconciliation is possible or safe.

    The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? (Prov 18:14)
  6. Do not tell the victim to stop talking about the abuse, to “just let go and move on.” The victim has been through hell, she has suffered great betrayal, and her core self has been destroyed. Just as a serious physical injury can take a long time to heal, so a psychological injury can take a long time. In fact, inner wounds can take longer because they are deeper.
  7. Victims all tend to go through similar stages as they recover, including educating themselves, talking/writing about it, feeling the messy emotions, grieving the losses, processing it all, and eventually helping other victims. Don’t shut the process down because you are uncomfortable with it.
  8. Do not force on the victim your idea of how long recovery should take. It’s different for everyone and takes as long as it takes.
  9. In fact, do not FORCE or PRESSURE a victim of abuse at all in any way. She has already been forced by the abuser to do things against her will. She has been pressured by the abuser’s supporters as well. Don’t you force or pressure her. Let her seek healing in her way, in her time, when she is ready.
  10. If you don’t know what to say or do, just listen without judgment. Listening is more healing than advising or fixing. Tell the victim you love her. Tell her you believe her. Be there.

I’ll end with Bene Brown’s wonderful video about empathy. I’ll get back to my enchanted forest in my next post. 🙂

Checkmate

This is the third in a series of posts about abuse, beginning here.

This post is a story about being checkmated in a crazy-making psychological chess game. But it’s not all bad. This is also a story about determination, recovery, and healing.

Both EJ and I feel very strongly that people have the right to make their own choices–whether or not others approve. We strongly respect others’ boundaries. We value the unique differences and unique gifts of people. We value harmony and hate conflict. When we have a difference of opinion–with each other or with others–we try to work to resolve it, seeking win-win solutions or compromises. We try to help others when we can. We hate even the thought of hurting other people. We loathe dishonesty and cruelty. We have a loving, healthy relationship. Relationships with emotional abusers are totally different. The following description is not an over-exaggeration:

What’s it like interacting with an emotional abuser?

Dealing with an abusive person is a crazy-making experience because there is no way to live together peacefully, no way to resolve conflicts. Every person’s story is different–and I think many of them are far worse than mine–but following is a description of the sorts of things I have experienced when interacting with abusers. I’m describing experiences with a variety of family members over the years. some of them were male, some female, many used a variety of these tactics, so I will use a combined pronoun “s/he” (she/he) to refer to them. Just to be clear, EJ isn’t one of the people I am describing.

As described in my previous posts, an abuser is a person who is very controlling, critical, angry, accuses, has double standards, disrespects personal boundaries, stirs up conflict, and so forth. When faced with such behavior,

  • If I defended my actions: You know, explained why I did what I did or that I did not do what I was accused of, that just gave the abuser more fuel to argue
  • If I attempted to explain how the behavior is hurtful, the abuser ignored it, denied it, or shifted the blame. I found myself trying to explain, explain, explain….because I wanted the relationship healed and even if s/he didn’t understand the first million times, maybe I could explain it just right so s/he understood the next time. Or the next. Or maybe the next?
  • If I tried to warn that the behavior is abusive and is/will damage relationships, the abuser became intensely angry that I would say such a hurtful thing, totally ignoring her/his own hurtful behavior.
  • If I tried to confront the behavior, the abuser accused, “You always criticize me!” which wasn’t true. Of course, s/he totally ignored/denied that s/he had just been insulting, accusing, criticizing.
  • If I tried to disengage by walking away, which is what a counselor suggested I do, the person followed me, shouting insults–including. “That’s right! Walk away! Refuse to deal with the issues!” Even if I had listened to her/him “discuss the issues” (rage) for hours without resolution.
  • If I chose to be silent and just let the person rant, hoping s/he would eventually wind down: When s/he realized I wasn’t saying anything, s/he intensified the verbal abuse, growing more and more insulting, until I finally shouted “ENOUGH!” and began to angrily stand up for myself, which just gave her/him more fuel to argue and accuse. I’ve also seen an abuser grow immediately calm when I’ve finally snapped, saying very softly and gently: “Calm down. You are getting emotional for absolutely no reason…” as if s/he hadn’t just been verbally battering me for long periods of time.
  • I don’t cry often, but a couple times I broke down and cried because the abuser was intensely insulting me. S/He said that I was, “Mewing like a kitten for no reason.”

    His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. (Ps 10:7)
  • At least once I pleaded: “Please, just stop.” S/He mockingly echoed back, “Just stop. Please. Please, just stop.”
  • On again, off again: Sometimes an abuser said s/he loved me, but later said s/he wanted nothing to do with me, but then later contacted me as if nothing had happened and “sweetly” asked to reconnect. Sometimes s/he asked if I would call her/him occasionally because s/he would love to hear from me, but then s/he didn’t answer the phone when I did, telling me later that s/he wanted distance. If I gave her/him distance as asked, s/he would suddenly call-call-call and then said that obviously I knew that s/he didn’t mean for me to do it immediately. If I asked for some distance–to try to defuse the turmoil or because we were dealing with a crisis in our life–s/he’d find ways to force contact. This love/hate, near/distant behavior is actually a common psychological tactic used to confuse a victim and make her second-guess herself.
  • I’ve overlooked abusive behavior, believing the person was “just” wounded and needed love and understanding. I’ve tried to “just forgive” as those guilting FB memes urge–“forgive, even if they never say they are sorry. ” But I think doing so was a mistake because bad behavior is still bad behavior no matter who does it. I didn’t know that at the time. My overlooking and forgiving wrong behavior didn’t heal her/him. In fact, s/he just became worse.
  • After years of trying to restore a relationship with one relative, I finally wrote that we all do and say things we shouldn’t and please let’s just forgive each other and start over. S/he wrote back, “What have I ever done to hurt you?” This person had said that s/he considered all my efforts to reconcile to be “a mere drop in a teacup” and s/he would never forgive me, no matter how hard I tried. I’d never defended myself with her/him before, but this time I did because I felt I had nothing else to lose. And that was that. Emotional abusers want power and control; they don’t want a relationship.
  • One time a toxic relative stirred up others in the family so they all bullied me at once, insulting me because I wouldn’t do what they wanted–have contact with an unscrupulous, and perhaps dangerous, relative. I stood firm. People have the right to choose who they want in their life–or not. They don’t have the right to force their choice on others.
Photo by Piro4d – Pixabay

It becomes an insane, surreal experience where none of the “rules” of relationship or communication work, nothing makes sense, and you don’t ever really know what to expect. If a person is unable to defend herself or overlook, forgive, explain, confront, walk away, speak, be silent, plead, be near, be distant, break down, be understanding, or compromise, without being verbally battered, how can any of the problems be resolved? I could do nothing to stop abuse, but couldn’t endure it. I couldn’t do two opposite actions at the same time.  I finally reached a point where I knew I would be insulted no matter what I did, so I simply made the best decision I could at any given time–and then I was accused of being passive-aggressive. No matter what you do, how hard you try, how long you try, no amount of love, forgiveness, or understanding can restore a relationship that the other person doesn’t want and is trying to destroy.

  • Although I generally love life, I confess that one time the verbal abuse was so intense and lasted for so many hours that I broke down and cried aloud that I wished I was dead. The next day, the person started up again, and when I cried, s/he callously said, “So, what? Are you going to threaten suicide again today?” This person had also told me that I wasn’t worth the air I breathed. I couldn’t ever imagine saying things like that to another person, not even to my worst enemy. The cruelty of abusers takes my breath away. Some survivors say that the goal of narcissists is to drive their victims to insanity or suicide. I believe it.

EJ and I were ignorant about abuse, believing like many others that difficult relationships could be worked out with enough love and forgiveness until we started experiencing my Mom’s increasing attempts to control us after we got engaged. That was when our eyes were opened and we began to learn about emotional abuse. It’s been difficult because we didn’t find the support then that is now available on the Internet and we had to learn the hard way through struggle and trial and error. Throughout our married lives, we’ve never gone more than a few months without having to deal with one abuser or another in some manner, most of them family members. We were always kept on edge, off-balance, confused, trying to figure out how to be “Christlike” in a crazy world.

When we tried to set boundaries or go No Contact to protect ourselves, the abusers and/or their defenders stepped in, heaping guilt, blame, and accusations on us: “You are unloving, unforgiving, unChristlike.” “You are dishonoring God, your family, and yourself by having No Contact.” “You don’t know how to love like we do.” “You must never give up on family, no matter what.” Nevermind that their bullying wasn’t loving or that they had divorced their spouses so obviously they had not done what they pressured us to do and stand with family no matter what. Forgive me for the snarkiness, but I felt like saying (but didn’t), “Why, bless your heart!” I’ve heard that that statement in Southern (USA) culture is a nice-sounding catchall insult meaning “I think you are an idiot, naive, clueless, etc.” They have no idea how deeply we’ve loved, how much we’ve forgiven, or how long we’ve endured. Or, maybe they do. Abusers specifically choose victims who are loving, forgiving, and enduring.

Many people wrongly believe that abuse only involves physical violence and that other forms such as verbal or emotional isn’t abuse or “isn’t that bad.” But every form of abuse is damaging. I used to feel calmer, more patient, more able to cope with setbacks. However after so many years of dealing with emotional abusers, I’ve struggled with depression, sadness, anxiety, I get easily stressed and overwhelmed. I have insomnia and nightmares. I struggle with guilt, self-blame, second-guessing myself, and a sense of failure. I also struggle with some stress-related health problems. Sometimes I feel that even just one more incident of abuse will shatter me. All of these are typical effects of abuse.

EJ says that he thinks I am incredibly strong and courageous because although I have been hit hard, I have not been destroyed. I may be battered and bloody but I’m still standing. I think the same of him because he also has suffered from abuse right along with me. As 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 

No matter how much we love our families, we can no longer endure the constant drama, the disrespecting of our boundaries, the conflict, the cruelty, the damage.  We have given a lot of chances over the years because we didn’t want to lose loved ones, but for the sake of our health, we will give no more chances unless/until we see permanent evidence of real change. We’ve had enough. (The Bible, by the way, says in numerous places to avoid, stay away from, don’t associate with, and have nothing to do with wicked/abusive people. 2 Tim. 3:1-5, is one of those places.)

It’s impossible to win a game in which the other person cheats and constantly changes the rules. Abuse survivors repeatedly state that the only possible way to win with a Narcissist is to refuse to play their game. “Run,” they urge. “Run, and don’t look back.” They are right.

It’s very difficult to explain our conflicting emotions. On the one hand, our hearts ache because we couldn’t heal the relationships with the people we love. We feel deep sadness and grief over things lost–relationships that could have been wonderful but aren’t. But on the other hand, there is also a sense of relief to walk away from something that has caused so much chaos and heartache. There can’t be a relationship as long as there is abuse. I think there comes a point at which further help, support, and unconditional forgiveness only enables the toxic person and perhaps the most compassionate thing to do is step away to let the person reap the consequences of her/his behavior.

Photo by Steve Buissinne – Pixabay

We have been checkmated. We lay our king down on the game board in admitted defeat. “You have won and we have lost,” we say, as we sigh with relief and push away from the game we never wanted to play.

I am actually entering 2020 with extremely hopeful anticipation. Now that we have been thoroughly checkmated, thoroughly defeated, we can start life over with no more manipulative games. We plan to rest, soak in quiet peace, rediscover joyful delights, heal…without constant drama or chaos. We have sought these things all along, but it’s impossible to heal in the midst of abuse because there is so much turmoil and confusion. We plan to have zero tolerance for any sort of abusive behavior. The only people who will be allowed in our lives from this point forward are people who are kind. We anticipate 2020 will be our year of restoration.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-29)

For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again…
(Prov 24:16)

The Psychological Chess Game

In my last post, I tried to explain how difficult it is to recognize a covert abuser, especially if you are ignorant of the dynamics of abuse. Abusers are so deceptive and manipulative, and so skilled at making their victims second-guess themselves, that it’s even difficult for victims to recognize abuse. EJ and I have struggled with abusive family throughout our marriage, we have spent years educating ourselves, and we still second-guess and blame ourselves. But over the years, as I have experienced various traits and tactics of abusers, I have developed a list of Red Flag behaviors that I personally watch for to help me recognize toxic people. These behaviors are often hidden from outsiders, but they help me and I’ll try to describe them in this post in the hopes that maybe they will help others who are in abusive relationships.

Photo by Daniel Tiriba – Pixabay

Emotional abuse is much like a game of chess. The goal of chess is to bring down the opposing king. This is done by removing as many of the king’s allies–pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, queen–as possible in order to isolate him and trap him. Without allies, the king is vulnerable to checkmate. Meanwhile, you use your own allies to protect yourself and to attack the opposing king. It’s a very tactical game.

Abusers use similar tactics in their psychological chess game. Using manipulation, lies, and other tactics, they work behind the scenes to remove as many of their victim’s supporters as possible, often turning their family and friends into their own supporters whom they use to protect themselves and attack their victims. Without support, the victim can be isolated and brought down.

Photo by Klimkin – Pixabay

Just as there are chess pieces with different roles and movements, so there are different types of people that an abuser uses. These can include well-meaning people who are ignorant of abuse and don’t realize they are being used as pawns. Or they can be people who choose to be willfully blind–they don’t want to see or hear what is happening or get involved. Others know what is happening, but they deliberately choose to align themselves with the abuser.  Whether ignorant or deliberate allies, all these people are used to destroy the victim. The terrible thing about the psychological chess game is that the victim is matching wits with a master and she doesn’t even know she’s in the game until suddenly she finds herself surrounded, with no support, fighting for survival.

I have been helped by the realization that abusers and their tactics are actually described throughout the Bible. We call them “abusers.” The Bible calls them “wicked people” or “evildoers.” I’d like you to see just a few of the many similarities between both modern descriptions of abusers and Biblical descriptions of the wicked.

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People who are good at the game of chess can easily recognize the type of tactic the opposing player is using in just a few moves. The tactics even have names, such as the King’s Gambit, the Sicilian Defense, the French Defense, and others. I’m not good at chess and I don’t know what any of those names mean (I found them listed on the Internet), but my point is that I’d like to train myself to recognize the behaviors/tactics of abusers in just a few moves so I won’t be totally blindsided and destroyed by them. Over the years, I’ve observed (and experienced) some behaviors that I want to set up as Red Flags to help me recognize abusers.

I think it’s important to note that abuse experts advise that people pay attention to patterns of behavior and that is what we are talking about here. We are not talking about good people who occasionally have a bad day.

Controlling/Critical

Abusive people are incredibly self-centered and controlling, demanding to be given what they want, when they want it, in exactly their way. If something isn’t done as they want, they excessively criticize and/or get very angry.

Excessive meddling is also part of this control. 1 Peter 4:15 says, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler.” For many years, I didn’t understand why “meddlers,” also called “busybodies,” were in this list because they seemed relatively harmless compared to the others. However, I’ve come to realize that meddlers are actually people who are on the self-centered end of the spectrum. In varying degrees they take on god-like powers over others: They assume their way is the only correct way, they assume they know what is best for others, and they assume they have the right to override the free-will of others. I’ve known some who have dictated such things as what opinions others should hold, what foods to eat (or not), where to shop, how to drive, where to live, what friends they should (or shouldn’t) have, what books to read (or not), what Bible version to read, what time of day to read the Bible, and so on. Most people occasionally meddle, but they also respect boundaries if told to back off. Abusers meddle excessively and refuse to respect boundaries when asked.

Bullying is also a type of controlling behavior. It is defined as “seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).” Bullying is anything that is used to try to pressure/force a person to do something against her will. A bully can be an individual or a group. Sometimes an emotional abuser will stir up others to bully his or her victim.

All forms of control ignore healthy boundaries and are attempts to take away the freedoms of others–their right to have their own preferences, their own opinions, their own choices. Controlling behavior can sound nasty or sound “nice,” “reasonable,” or even “spiritual.” It can involve threats, anger, insults or more covert methods such as guilt, shame, ridicule, patronizing statements. People who control have the attitude that there’s MY way or the wrong way–which leads me to the next behavior:

Attitude of Superiority/Arrogance 

There are two different ways that these attitudes are revealed: Sometimes it is very obvious that people believe they are superior–they are boastful, arrogant, treat others as if they have less intelligence or value. Other times it is more covert. Superiority can masquerade as caring, doing what is best for others, being more humble or righteous than others.

For example, a couple who led a small group that EJ and I used to belong to often stated that “Most people cannot handle the truth so we must handle it for them.” They assumed they were wiser and more spiritual than others. They treated others–all with an attitude of caring–as if they were simple little children who didn’t know what was best for them. But God never tells us to “manage” other people or to make the truth “easier” for them by manipulating it. He says instead that “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

There are also what we call “toppers.” Their attitude is like the song in the old movie, Annie Get Your Gun:Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.” They don’t lift others up, they lift themselves. If a person shares that she had stayed up until midnight packing boxes for the poor, a “topper” virtuously comments that she stayed up far later and packed twice as many boxes. If someone jokes about never knowing what to fix for meals until the last moment, a topper shares that she prepares healthy meals a month in advance. Her marriage is the best ever, her parenting style is without flaw, and so on. I think such people must live in Lake Woebegone where, in their family, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Being proud of your family or endeavors is not wrong, but excessive “topping” can be. The pattern of having to be the “bestest and mostest,” of never allowing another person to take “center stage,” is a Red Flag that I watch for, especially when other abusive behaviors are also present.

Wanting to win at all costs

I’ve heard a person say that “If I am not winning, I feel as if I am losing–and I don’t want to lose” so he/she has to win no matter what it costs or who it hurts. Such people always seek the advantage for themselves. I’ve also heard, “If a person is not 100% with me, they are against me.” This attitude leaves no room for differences, for compromise, for working together.

I think that the person who has to win all the time is very short-sighted. Galatians 6:7 says “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” These “winners” may win a few things–they may succeed in getting what they want for a while, but they end up losing much more than they win. They lose loving relationships. They lose respect. They might get the promotion by stabbing their co-workers in the back, but they lose their co-workers’ trust and loyalty. They might succeed in avoiding the “inconvenience” of helping others, but eventually people will be less willing to help them out (and rightly so). They might gain the world, but they lose their soul.

Lies/Manipulation/Deception

Abusive people are extremely manipulative and deceptive.

I’ve heard people who were leaders in their church say that they would have no problem lying to and deceiving others if it accomplished something (they felt was)  good. But the way we accomplish something matters, the end should never justify the means. In fact, one of the six things that Prov. 6:6-7 says that God particularly hates is “a lying tongue.” In John 8, Jesus said that those who lie are of their father the devil, who lied from the beginning.

Abusers also twist the truth and falsely accuse their victims and manipulate situations so they appear good and their victims bad. For example, I’ve known some who have provoked in secret and then pointed out their victims’ reactions to others as proof that they are the terrible ones. Or they might show others “proof” that they tried to reconcile and their victims refused, but they don’t mention all the times they were abusive so that the victim now knows that the “apologies” are not genuine.

People who truly love God will not believe lies or deception are good, they will love the truth.

Double standards

A pattern of double standards is a HUGE Red Flag. Abusers often demand from others things they refuse to give. For example, an abuser would:

  • Demand that you respect their boundaries but disregard yours.
  • Demand respect, but never give it.
  • Want you to make huge sacrifices for them, but won’t even inconvenience themselves for you.
  • Try to dictate who you are friends with (or not), but would never allow you to choose their friends.
  • Criticize you for the slightest (real or imagined) offense, but expect you to accept their most terrible behavior without a word.
  • Want you to “have their back,” but they never have yours.
  • Want you to show them mercy, but they never give you mercy.

The list can go on and on. Whenever someone demands from you things that they would never give, BEWARE.

Lack of Empathy/Compassion

In the beginning, emotional abusers can appear to be extremely loving and compassionate, but it’s an illusion. Once they have your love and trust, the mask falls off and they are extremely callous and uncaring. They might expect you to heap on the compassion for their paper cut, but have absolutely no empathy/compassion for your serious injury.

Greed/Lack of Generosity

Healthy relationships involve a balance of both giving and taking. Sometimes others give, sometimes we do. Sometimes we have a need that they meet, sometimes they have a need that we meet. Generosity flows naturally in a healthy, loving relationship. In contrast, abusive people tend to be takers. No matter how much we help them, it’s never enough. No matter how much we sacrifice, it’s always trivial. They take and take and take without ever giving back. This behavior shows deep self-centeredness, tremendous greed, a sense of entitlement, a lack of love.

Ingratitude

No matter how much you give to an abusive person, they are not grateful. They might throw a “thanks” at you now and then, but they always want more, what you do is never enough, and if you ever tell them “no,” they get angry and tell you, “You never do anything for me.”

Gratitude is extremely important, which is why both God and parents try to teach gratitude to their children. A person who is grateful recognizes the sacrifices of time, effort, or money that another person made on their behalf. A grateful person has humility. An ungrateful person has an attitude of greed, arrogance, and selfishness.

Angry Tantrums/Verbal Abuse

I do not believe that all anger is wrong. We ought to be angry about some things, such as abuse, injustice, cruelty, oppression. Anger can motivate us to make good changes in our lives or in society. Psalms 7:11 says that God “is angry with the wicked every day.” In the NT, Jesus was so angry at the money changers that he drove them out of the temple. However, uncontrolled, revengeful anger can destroy. The Bible warns us against this sort of anger:

  • Fools give full vent to their rage… (Prov 29:11)
  • A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict… (Prov 15:17)
  • Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered…(Prov 22:24)

I have encountered people who fly into a rage whenever they don’t get their way, even in little things. They curse, they insult, they rip people to shreds. I will no longer associate with people who are easily angered.

Financial Abuse

The wicked borrow and do not repay, (Ps 27:31)

I know that there are many ways that money can be used to abuse, such as an abusive husband who has such excessive control of the finances that he allows his wife very little money and/or demands that she account for every penny she spends. I’ve never experienced that sort of abuse.

However, we have experienced a different form of financial abuse. There are times when we have given money (or items) as a gift, no need to pay us back. There are also times we can’t afford to just give money, so we have lent it to meet a person’s temporarily need. Most of the time when we lend money we set generous repayment conditions, such as “Pay us when you can, or as much as you can afford.” However, we have also had a borrower refused to pay us back, even though it hurt us financially, even after EJ lost his job and we could have really used it. In fact, this person often used the money as leverage, promising to repay us if we did what he wanted or telling us he’d never repay us when he was angry. This person also demanded that we immediately “repay” him for every penny he felt owed to him. For example, if he drove us anywhere, he demanded that we immediately repay every cent for gas, even if it was a short drive or a medical emergency and we were struggling financially.

It reminds me very much of the parable in Matt 18:21-35, in which a king forgave a servant a HUGE debt, but then the servant had a fellow servant put into prison when he couldn’t immediately repay a tiny debt. The king was angered over the servant’s lack of mercy:  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

We will never again lend anything to a person who has refused to repay us because of the lack of integrity, love, mercy, compassion, and generosity that is shown. To continue giving/helping such a person only empowers him. I’ve added to my list the Red Flag that “The wicked borrow and do not repay (Ps 27:31).

Forgiveness/Repentance

Repentance and forgiveness are not easy to write about because it’s been so twisted that it’s difficult to untangle. It would take several posts and many long conversations to pin down what forgiveness is and isn’t. I’ve found that to many people, “to forgive” means to never confront others, to overlook all offensive behaviors, and to unconditionally accept the other person without requiring any change whatsoever. Let me just say this: It is neither unloving nor unforgiving to set healthy boundaries or to stand up to evil.

Forgiveness requires repentance. Apologies and repentance are not the same things. Apologies are easy to give, and they aren’t always genuine. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of a guy who beats up his wife and then brings her flowers, tearfully crying that he’s sorry and will never do it again. She forgives him, but a while later he beats her up again. And again. And again. The man apologized, but it wasn’t genuine. True repentance involves changed behavior. If you apologize but never change, you are not repentant, you are manipulative, you are abusive. I think Helena Knowlton did a good job explaining forgiveness in this article on her blog: Lies About Forgiveness.

There are other behaviors to watch for, but I think you get the idea. Again, it’s not always easy to see these behaviors when the abuser is hiding his abuse, but eventually his mask comes off–at least to the victim. If a person or situation feels “off,” there probably really is something wrong. And if you begin to see any of the behaviors listed here, you are likely dealing with an abuser.

To Tell The Truth

I’ve been pondering for a number of weeks (years, really) how to describe narcissistic/emotonal abusers to those who are ignorant about the dynamics of abuse. Dr. George Simon has said that what he calls “character disturbed people”–manipulative people such as narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths–are on the increase so the chances are high that you, or someone you know, will encounter these people in your life. The more ignorant you are about these people and their tactics, the higher the likelihood is that either you will become a victim yourself or you will end up defending and supporting the abuser.  If you support the abuser, even ignorantly, you add to the victim’s confusion and torment. So it’s really quite important to educate yourself.

Years ago there was a game show on TV called, “To Tell The Truth.” In the show, three contestants all identified themselves with the same name, for example, “My name is [John Smith]. Celebrity panelists had to identify which was actually the real “John Smith.” When the panelists questioned the contestants, the two “impostors” could lie whereas the real “John Smith” had to tell the truth. I think that identifying an abuser and victim is somewhat similar. The victim tells the truth, but the abuser skillfully uses all sorts of manipulation, deceit, gaslighting, and other tactics to make himself appear to be an innocent victim.

There is a huge difference between an abuser and a victim, but an abuser’s tactics are so powerful that even victims can have trouble recognizing abuse. It’s difficult to describe an abuser and his tactics when so much of it is hidden. For example, one advocate shared on his blog a true story of an abusive husband and his wife who went to counseling together. After several sessions, the counselor observed that they seemed to be at an impasse and they would make more progress if the wife spoke up more. So the wife shared the struggles she was having in the marriage. The husband broke down, and with choked voice and tears in his eyes confessed that he hadn’t been a good husband and that he would try to do better in the future. The counselor felt that there had been a real breakthrough and now the couple could make progress in healing the marriage. Sounds good, right? However, on the way home, the husband repeatedly slammed his wife’s head into the dashboard of the car, angrily yelling, “I told you to never say anything!” What do you think will happen in future counseling sessions? I’ll tell you: The wife won’t dare to speak up and she will be blamed for refusing to.work on the marriage while the husband will appear to be the one really trying. This sort of scenario–and others–happens all the time. 

“I think a servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.”  ~ Frodo Baggins

Because appearances really are deceiving, I have often wondered how to explain to others–or even myself–how to recognize abusers.

  • There are some genuinely good people in the world who are kind, loving, and a delight to know, but abusers also often appear very charming and loving when you first meet them because they want to draw you into their web. They only start their abuse later. It can be a challenge to tell the fake from the real when you first meet someone.
  • Advocates say “always believe the victim” and this is truly essential. Disbelief actually validates and empowers the abuser, which causes the victim more confusion, makes her blame herself more, makes her try harder. It also isolates her from support, makes her more vulnerable to the abuser, and makes it more difficult to escape and recover.  Yet, abusers often “play the victim” very convincingly. So how does a person who is ignorant of the dynamics of abuse tell the difference between a true victim and an abuser who is pretending to be one? I think that maybe some of the reasons people disbelieve the victim is:
    1. They don’t understand the dynamics of abuse.
    2. They don’t see everything that is going on because the abuser is so skilled at hiding it.
    3. They assume cruel actions must be “unintentional,” because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that anyone could be so deliberately cruel and enjoy causing others pain.
    4. If, as they believe, the abuse is unintentional then the victim must surely be over-reacting, negative, bitter, petty, judgmental. So it’s all her fault.
    5. They assume there are easy fixes: If you (the victim) just stop holding grudges, if you just unconditionally love and forgive him (the abuser), or pray for him, or have the right attitude, then he will miraculously transform into a better person.
    6. They don’t realize that abusers consider people who are forgiving and loving as “sheep to be sheared,” as vulnerable to exploitation, and…go back to #1.
  • Abusers often torment their victims until they can’t take anymore and then they condemn them for their reactions as if their reactions are the problem and not the abuse. The abuser’s anger is a deliberate tactic. A victim’s anger is a natural reaction to abuse and injustice. But how is an ignorant person supposed to tell the difference when they just see the anger of the victim? I don’t know how to explain it.
  • Advocates point out that abusers use the Silent Treatment. Victims are urged to go No Contact. On the surface, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the Silent Treatment and No Contact. The difference is that the abuser uses the Silent Treatment as a manipulative tactic while the victim goes No Contact to escape the abuser. Usually, after a period of silence, an abuser will try to re-establish contact with his victim because he doesn’t want to lose her any more than a spider wants a fly to escape his web.

So what is a fool-proof way of telling the difference between the real victim and the pretender? I’m not quite sure. It may be that abuse is something a person can’t understand unless she experiences it–at which point she becomes the person being ripped apart by the wolf with no one to help. Maybe the abuse information is mostly just helpful to the victims–helping them see through the confusion, helping them to understand what’s happening, helping them to get support. Maybe advocates are like the people who were part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, secretly helping slaves escape while most people were ignorantly living their lives. Maybe it’s useless trying to inform the ignorant.

And, yet, as I said at the beginning of this post, people who are ignorant of abuse are themselves at risk for abuse and/or for empowering the abuser. Sometimes helping the abuser can have dire consequences, such as when people urge a victim to return to her abuser and she ends up getting murdered. So it matters. The very basic advice I’d give to people is never, ever, pressure someone to “forgive” and reconcile with a person she has cut off contact with–whether it’s a spouse, family member, friend, or whoever. No matter how wonderful you think that other person is, you might have no idea what he’s doing when no one can see. Also, don’t try to “fix” an abuse victim, don’t tell her she will recover if she just does these few steps, and don’t tell her to just “move on” or “get over it.” Narcissistic/emotional abuse is not easy to recover from because, as one advocate wrote, “it affects the very core of your heart, mind, and soul.”

In my next post, I will describe some of the Red Flags I have developed, based on my own experience, to help me personally recognize toxic/abusive people. They are behaviors that I will be alert for, behaviors that will help me set boundaries about what I will or will not tolerate. Maybe my list will help someone else.

Hannah Joy’s Gift

I have friends who we’ve “adopted” as family.

My friends sent Hannah Joy a Christmas gift. Because of a snafu, it arrived after Christmas instead of before, but I reassured my friend that Hannah didn’t know any better. Hannah was so excited to get her gift. As soon as she realized it was for her, she went wild:

Hannah could hardly wait as EJ got the gift out of the box for her.

Hannah played with her ball constantly for several hours. If we came too close to her, she turned her back on us so we wouldn’t take her ball. She growled whenever a cat came near.

After a couple hours, she went out to the kitchen to check the box her ball had come in, just in case there was another gift in it. She checked the box repeatedly, even sitting under the table for a while before checking again. I think she must have checked it a dozen times.

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Hannah’s chewed ball.

Sadly, we had to throw away the ball when Hannah wasn’t looking because she was chewing it up. I waited until she wasn’t looking. She is a very aggressive chewer and it’s difficult to find toys for her. But, oh, she had a wonderful time while it lasted.

 

 

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