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7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Doc@DrIrene.com

M Got It!

Interactive Email: M  Got It!

"Happiness is never stopping to think if you are."
- Palmer Sondreal

Color Key (more or less):

M - first time around
Doc - first go round
M - second time around
Doc - second go round

 January 23, 2001

Hello Dr. Irene, This is M from the On_track interactive email of… well.. a long time ago.

 Hi M. Happy New Year! I am to remarry and relocate soon. Congratulations! My very best wishes!  Thank you!  The children are understandably upset about leaving their friends. I’ve noticed that my ex and my oldest daughter have been having frequent phone conversations since he was informed of my intention to relocate. I let her know that I was aware that ‘something’ was going on but left it at that. My ex-husband has had visitation with the children in another state which is several hundred miles from me. Over the last two summer visits, there have been domestic violence incidents in the presence of the children. Ouchhh! The last incident also involved destruction of property which belonged to my oldest daughter. The property was replaced. This incident involved the police. When I learned of the latest incident, I had a criminal record check run on my ex and his wife. This record check turned up a charge of domestic violence against the ex. I requested a copy of the case file. I’ve been following the case because I’m concerned about the welfare of the children during their visits. Yesterday, the County Court got my check for another copy of the case files. Due to some error on their part, my ex was contacted about the check and my request for a copy of the record. Oh boy… He called my parents’ home twice looking for me and also called my home 5 times during the day. I was out. Good. He then sent me email asking why I had sent a check to the court which I didn’t get until early evening. He waited an hour, then sent the below. He had no information from me or anyone who knows me before writing this email:

 “I found out on my own why you did what you did regarding the County Court. Nice attempt to make me out as an animal and unfit to parent my children. It will do you no good, as that DV Case will be dismissed. Please provide a copy of this letter to your attorney. If you'd like, you can check back with County Court in March. You'll then see that it was dismissed, removed from my record, etc. No matter anyway, as I will be providing the dismissal to my attorney. In turn, I'm sure your attorney will receive a copy as well as the County Courts. I let you take the children from me before. I will do everything in my power to not let that happen again. The children are old enough to decide where they want to live. Your atheist lifestyle coupled with the manner in which your atheist-spouse-to-be treats our children won't pass muster. We'll let everything come out in court. You should know by now who you are dealing with. I'll see you in court. “

My ex is currently in contempt of court though I haven’t filed against him. What are you waiting for?!?! Right now, I’m waiting for my lawyer to call me back.  Since I’ve said he has til a certain date to pay the medical.  I will wait on that but I’m going to file for supervised visitation as soon as the case records and police reports (I called them this morning, they have 18pages to send to me) get here.  Which should be no later than Wednesday morning.  Of course, you are right. I’m trying too hard to be nice and fair and letting myself be walked all over by my children as well as my ex. And, you are right. By doing things rationally, and relying on your lawyer for him to make his moves, that’s the way to go!

 Obviously, if my intent was to hurt him in some way, I could have done it back in August since a contempt charge would be a violation of his sentence. This is not about hurting or not hurting him. Filing is about protecting you! Go file NOW! You do yourself a disservice if you give him the benefit of the doubt in any matter that even remotely breaks your agreement. Why are you “protecting” a man who would hurt you in a second – as demonstrated by this latest email?  I’m trying to help the children continue to have a relationship with both of us as well as I know how to.  Obviously though, if I don’t start to stick up for myself, no one will. Exactly. Your job is not to stand in the way of their relationship with their dad. But covering up for him, minimizing his mess-ups, etc. is not OK. Your kids have a right to know why you feel the way you do about him. They have a right to all the info so that one day, they can see the world through your eyes – as well as his. And don’t be fooled: he will make sure they know exactly how he sees things! And, I bet he won’t be at all concerned about minimizing your mess-ups or fully fessing up with his… His email to you demonstrated that kind of thinking.

He was sentenced to Anger Management Counseling and counseling. I assume from his email that his case will be dismissed if he meets all of the conditions set forth by the court. Also, I have not told the children of their dad’s domestic violence charge and I have no intention of doing so unless this has to go to court.. Again, why are you protecting him? OK, OK, I understand your not saying anything regarding a charge – but, look at the big picture: Property was destroyed, a charge was filed, an order was violated. Hmmmm… If daddy thinks nothing of twisting things to his advantage, what do you do for yourSelf when you bend over backward to shield his behavior from the kids? By the way, you don’t give me much background in this email and since my last computer crash, I can’t locate an email that could have been yours. Please write back and fill in the blanks. How many children, how old are they, etc. I was sorely tempted when they told me that A, his wife, bruised easily and that she’d shown them bruises and told them that their dad had done that to her but that they didn’t believe her. It’s OK to open your mouth and state your opinion.  By the way, she is the one who destroyed my daughter’s property. Wonderful…  

I’ve decided not to answer his email. However, I feel an urge to reply! I guess I’m not as far beyond reacting to his stuff as I’d like to be. You are far along. Just need more practice. More about that below. I had hoped that the anger management counseling had made a difference but now I’m more concerned than ever about the safety of my children during visitation. Don’t give him the power. Who cares how he’s changed? You have no control over that. But YOU have control over how YOU change, as I’m sure you already know.  As an aside, my ‘atheist-spouse-to-be’ Giggle! is very good to the children and to me. So I have no idea what that comment is all about. He did put his finger to his lips once while on the phone because my oldest daughter was being a bit loud. She took great offense to being shushed. How do I get beyond reacting to his stuff? I have a huge urge to write back something along the lines of “you don’t scare me :-p” or to file the contempt charge against him to ensure his charges aren’t dismissed. I feel like hurting him! Seems to me you need to listen to your feelings. Not the “raw” ones, but the message is on target. And, you figured that out with the reply you wrote me that you would send him. Anyway, I’m just hoping to get your thoughts and ideas on this. Thank you, M

Dear Dr. Irene,

 Thank you!

 The older email is here: http://www.drirene.com/on_track.php

I'll try to fill in the blanks here.  On the children's first summer visit after the divorce, B (my ex) and A (fiancée at the time) had a fight which resulted in her packing her car to leave.  The fight was nothing physical, the girls said it was a bunch of yelling and name calling. A was crying and was giving the girls things of hers that she wanted them to have. 

The next summer, which was last year, the whole family was in the car. A put in one of C's CD's in.  B reached over to change the song.  They got into an argument over which song to listen to. A threw the CD out of the window.  The argument continued after they got home.  During this time, A said something to B about calling the District Attorney on him because he was already in trouble. A was also saying some very hurtful things about the girls (they were in their room with the door closed but C still heard)  He called the police on A at this point.  The police came and made A leave for the evening. A waited a couple of hours and came back. B called the police again and she ran off.  E slept through the second visit by the police. C called me to tell me about what happened.  She said that her father said he would tell me but when he hadn't made any effort in a day, she called.  She said that when he found out she was calling, he went outside to sit on the roof. When the girls told me about the DA comment, I decided to run a criminal history check and found the "battery against a household member" charge.  I decided to follow the case for a while to see if it may be necessary to ask for supervised visitation.

 C reminds me of her father.  She feels free to ask prying questions and seems to think that they should be answered.  She's also on the loud side and seems to want to be sure to be noticed.  Of course, she is a teenager!  I've noticed that I feel the same buttons being pushed with her as I used to feel with her dad but I manage not to react.  I'm not the only one who has this reaction to her.  An example of this happened just today.  I'd hired my cousin to come out to paint some rooms in my house. My mom wanted to go to church this evening unexpectedly, so she called me and asked me to have my cousin call her back while C and I were gone to the store so she could arrange to get the car back in time.  C has an attraction to one of the choir boys and has been going to church as often as she can.  So, my mother didn't want C to know that she was going so instead of telling C no, she just hid the fact that she was going to church from her rather than face the questioning and then the blaming.  C expects for other's decisions to be justified to her.  C is very social and enjoys being out and doing things or talking on the phone to her friends. 

My fiance', D, has spent as much time with the children as we've been able to manage.  It's not easy since he lives in another state.  B has made derogatory comments about D in the past to the children.  .  D is even tempered and has a deadpan sense of humor.  The girls tell me he is boring :-).  D and I get along very well.  We've been able to talk through any concerns or rough spots that we've hit along the way. He's respectful of people and considerate of their feelings.  He has three girls ages 7 to 15. They came to stay with us over Thanksgiving.  We all had such a good time together that C wanted to move up with them as soon as possible (She's changed her mind). E has never wanted to move.  She wants to stay here.

E (my youngest) is very quiet most of the time, but if you get her alone (w/o C) she'll talk your ear off.  She entertains herself and if something is bothering her she normally keeps it to herself.  Her grades are good. She has two good friends and seems satisfied with that.  She's just now beginning to tug at the apron strings.

I hope this helps!

Yes. It does. You are likely to have Trubble with C in the future. I have trubble with C now! She identifies with dad and probably sees you as weak. I think this is true.  OK. She’s your best reason to get over your tendency to shut your mouth and protect him. She needs to learn to respect mommy now, and in time, as she sees mommy is no longer being stepped on, is decisive, and has a mind of her own that she stands by (and you do!), she may. The best thing you can possibly do for this child in the future both in terms of helping her change and teaching her good stuff is to continue to listen to your feelings and open your mouth. Pay attention to your anger in particular (the I feel like I want to kill him” stuff). Not that you should express it just yet… As you did this time, if you wait, sit on it, etc., the answer comes to you. Your reply to ex was assertive, powerful, and reflective of your internal state. C will see this over time and not only will be more likely to respect you, but may learn that the behavior you demonstrate is more powerful than his.

 Your problems will come when ex or even C replies to one of your assertive statements. C may threaten to go live with dad. Let her, without anger. Let her threaten or let her go to live with him? Live with him. If she gets into threatening to live with him, you can calmly call her on it. For example, “Dear, if you really want to live with Daddy, as much as I’ll miss you and as much as I think you are hurting yourself, you are too old for me to stop you. So, either stop threatening or let me know when you want the ticket for. Ex may up the ante in some way. So what? He blows lots of hot air that is intended to disarm you. And, it will disarm you.  Here is his latest reply to me: 

“M, I am addressing you, the mother of my two children. The children have been exposed to inappropriate behavior while living with you. I too have records indicating such behavior to include acknowledgement from you and your attorney. For me to address any additional information I have at this time regarding you and your future spouse, is not appropriate. The petition will go forth. From such, you will be receiving instructions not to move the children out of their present "quality of life" situation. They will not live in another state unless they want to...and they do not. The children are of age to choose. They choose to live with me. Talk with them once in awhile and you'll know that. Simply put... With the children being of age to decide for themselves - and they've decided to live with me - you are posed with one simple task: Prove that I am an unfit parent to have primary custodial custody. Do that, and you win. Don't, and you'll lose. You've taken my children away from me. You've lied, cheated and made the institution of marriage a joke. This too will be acknowledged in court. So, hold me in contempt and add additional garnishment of my wages. Do what you can for as long as you can. Your rope is getting short. You can do nothing more to me. end “ 

I simply replied with “That’s fine.  I’m sure your behavior will speak for itself. Giggle! Very good. Just be careful that you don’t let him rattle you and you bite back. I’m sure he’s an excellent bite back provoker… Does this mean that you don’t intend to pay your medical obligations by the due date?” Wonderful… You dropped the junk and got back to the point. 

He didn’t answer.  There is no acknowlegement of wrong doing from me or from my attorney.  And I notice that he declined to cite specifics on my intended spouse’s musterless stuff <g>. Not answering is a good tactic. Notice how often he uses it. (And how it’s frustrated you in the past.) Overcome any remnants of urges to explain or justify. Remember, you owe no explanation. Route provocative communications you must reply to through your attorney. 

Oh, and I made sure that I answered the phone last night when he called for the girls. Good! 

Again, DO NOT REACT. Do nothing until you’ve regained your center and turned your angry intimidation into assertion – just as you did with the email.  

Never forget doing these things requires a bunch of SKILLS. It takes impulse control skills to not REACT. It takes attentiveness skills so that you may become more mindful of what is going on internally – your inner guide is trying to talk to you! It takes cognitive and verbal skills to put all this into action.

I can’t stress this enough: Skills are learned. The more you practice, the better you get.  When a situation that is slightly different comes your way, you may feel lost again. You are not stupid. This is normal. Verbal and cognitive skills especially do not “generalize” across situations very well. You may feel as though you’re back to square one (kinda like you did above), but you’re not. In time you will have handled one more. (Well, you will have handled it if you didn’t prematurely react!)

 And, one more and one more and one more pile up. More and more stuff will just “come to you.” Automatically. Quickly. The fastest way to help this process along is practice. Each situation that comes your way, review it in your head. How can I handle this? What exactly can I say? How do I say it, etc. Do this especially with situations you feel you didn’t handle as well as you could have. (You will blow many situations. Promise! And, that’s OK. Normal. Part of learning these skills.) 

Boy, have you come a long way! And, while there will be bumps along the way, you only get better and better at handling this stuff!

 You may want to look at Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Dr. Susan Forward and Donna Frazier  and/or The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by (The Father of Cognitive Therapy) Albert Ellis to reinforce your learning.  Wherever You Go, There You Are : Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn is also excellent at helping you improve your non reactive skills so that you can become more mindful of what’s inside. 

But none of these books can replace life. You WILL go through times you feel at a loss. Never forget that this is part of the process. No book will teach you to speak Martian, for example. You will read about the grammar and language structure, etc. But it is up to you to put together the phrase the next time a Martian challenges you. Practice practice practice! OK?  Yes.    

 Dr. Irene 

Ps: You can call this one “Still On Track” Giggle!

Here's how she replied to the ex: 

"B,

As far as I'm concerned, who I am dealing with is the father of C and S. The children have been exposed to inappropriate behavior on the last two summer visits with you. I have been aware of the charges against you since <a certain date> and was sent the first copy of the case file a month later. In the event that you and A continue to be unable to relate to each other in a consistently civil way while the children are present, I will petition the court for supervised visitation.

 As to D's treatment of the children, please provide the incidents which 'will not pass muster' and I will be sure to address them with D and with the children.

 Please make sure that the $600 plus the children's medical expenses reaches me by <a certain date> or I will contact my lawyer about initiating contempt charges against you."

 The above email merits the Trubble Stamp of Approval!

 Doc

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