Month: June 2012

Meet the Suite–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–September 1991, part 1

The story begins in September 1991 in a little college in Wisconsin by a little town called H–.  Roanoke College is officially by the small city of S–, but H– and unincorporated A– are much closer.

1991 was a great year for me: My generation saw its first war, but we beat them bad; I graduated; my eighteenth birthday was on June 22; and now I would have a new life in a state I first visited in February.

I came from South Bend, Indiana, which is twice the size of and a different world than S–, Wisconsin.

I was a writing major with a Fessler Writing Scholarship, a naive young girl who thought that I would support myself with a novel writing career and German translation, and not need the internships or resumé writing classes.

I also thought that “Christian college” meant a college full of Christian people.

There were roughly 1600 students at Roanoke (the size of my high school)–around 400 on campus, the rest commuters and Lifelong Learning (night class) students.

This was a campus in the middle of cornfields in a state that has two seasons: winter and under (road) construction, as it is said, when the orange signs are in bloom.

The comedian during freshman orientation week said that, no matter what befell you there, you could console yourself and others by saying, “At least it’s not snowing!”  Despite how vulgar he was otherwise, this one phrase stuck in my mind throughout my time at Roanoke.

In the October 1991 issue of the campus newspaper was a cartoon: A car marked “New Student” is driving down a road with nothing but cornfields and signposts on either side.  On the left-side signposts you find: “Out there –> ,” “The corn –> ,” “<– The old tree,” “Roanoke College –> ,” “Absolutely nowhere –> ,” “Millers Farm,” and “Over there –> .”  On the right-side signpost you find, “H– Pop. 14.”  A speech balloon pointed at the car’s driver reads, “I guess the college is just down this road?”

I arrived on Labor Day, 1991.  There were a couple days of orientation before classes began.  The earliest class was at 9:15 AM!  For someone used to starting school at 7:45, this was luxury.  As I told my roommate, I liked this better than high school, which I had loved.

I saw this guy in February on SEED Day, a day of testing and orientation for high school seniors who were about to become Roanoke freshman.  He had blond hair and sky-blue eyes, joked around, and smiled at and flirted with me.  The rare eye color of sky blue was my favorite, and I figured my future husband probably had them.

Where was this guy?  He’d said he was a junior; I should see him again.  (Once or twice I thought I spotted him during the fall semester, but wasn’t sure.  Finally, I saw him again, and his name was Ned.  He was in his mid-20s, I believe.  More stories about him to come.)

I was a Nazarene girl, so I didn’t dance or drink alcohol or smoke or cuss or go to movies, though the denominational restrictions on movies and dancing had recently been lifted.

I had royal ancestors–Duncan of “Macbeth,” Saints Margaret and David of Scotland–and folk-hero ancestors–John and Priscilla Alden of Longfellow and Mayflower fame.

I had been in (as a teen magazine termed it) a love drought–plenty of crushes but all unrequited–since sophomore year of high school.

I took German for three years; French for two. I wanted to continue in German and learn Latin, as everyone at college always did, I thought.  But there were no Latin classes at Roanoke.

I would be living in the German suite, an honor only now opened to freshmen.  Only one other freshman lived in the two suite buildings, Friedli and Hofer.  Hofer was mostly fraternity suites, day care and the commuter suite; Friedli was language and honor suites.

In between was the main suite lounge, a little building with a lounge, couches, chairs, TV, bathroom, a microwave and a pop machine; half of the building was even a living area for a campus official.  That part was closed off to us.

Though suite usually means luxury, here it did not.  We got four tiny bedrooms (mine was largest), a bathroom (two stalls, two sinks, two shower stalls), shelves, no air conditioner, little heat from an ancient steam heater, and a little lounge that got compared to a waiting room.  This insulted Heidi, who said she tried to make it look more liveable with plants, a German flag over the couch, and posters.

In this lounge was a TV (a neat digital one, provided by the school) and furniture with no arm-cushions. We would take the cushion from another chair to make a comfortable neck-rest when lounging on this couch.

On our doors were little, Swiss mice next to cheese bearing our names.  Heidi, our German suite mentor, made these cute mice out of construction paper.  I still have mine.  But then, that’s hardly remarkable, considering I put most of my college memories into boxes when each year ended, and never got rid of the boxes.

Since it was tacked up against a concrete-block wall, the flag would often fall down.  My freshman year boyfriend, Peter, thought it had something against him, since it often fell on him as he sat on the couch.

Also living in the suite were my roommate, Candice; Latosha, whose door faced ours; and Tom.  Yes, the suite was co-ed.

Heidi was a German-speaking Swiss miss of twenty-five.  She had a birthday in the fall semester, I believe, that made her twenty-six.  Frank, a balding, non-traditional freshman, was twenty-five and became good friends with her.

Heidi seemed so old to us, and once complained about that.  But once I got to my mid-twenties and thought back, she didn’t seem quite so old after all.

I believe she once tried to get a license which would allow her to drive in America.  Her Swiss license wasn’t enough to drive here, and international students were often trapped on campus without cars or American licenses.

Heidi’s sandy-blonde hair was distinctly European: short, longer on one side than on the other, no perm.  (As a girl in my high school German class had said after going to Germany, over there nobody got perms.  They just cut their hair in different ways.)

Heidi arrived at this school the same year I did, with a strong Swiss accent and frequent trouble with the language.  Lots of words she didn’t know, like sassy, I looked up for her in the pocket German dictionary I carried for her benefit.

She lived in a room at the back of the other end of the suite, near the little balcony with its iron railing.  Each upper-level suite had a tiny, back balcony.  I believe some people put grills on their balconies.  The lower-level suites just had little porches, if anything.

I had thought the suite mentor in a Christian college would be a fellow Christian and a potential spiritual adviser.  I had expected to have many profound discussions with her about following God.  The reality was that I didn’t know what she was.  The French mentor, Nicole, didn’t even believe in God, though she liked to go to church for the ceremonies and the values.

Heidi amused my ears with her accent.  My favorite of her sayings was, “My GOOD-ness!”

I got along well with Nicole.  She was sweet and fun to talk to.

As for Heidi–we had some sort of personality clash that I never understood.  I’ve heard that European cultures look down on shyness; maybe it was simply a culture clash, worsened by my nonverbal learning disorder (NVLD, to be explained later).  Or maybe being chronically late like I was in those days is considered a grave offense in Switzerland.

Considering both she and my German teacher, who was Swiss, had problems with me, while most teachers liked me, it could very well have been a cultural issue which I did not know about.

In any case, I was grateful to Heidi for helping me polish my German, such as when she taught me that nicht was supposed to be said as one syllable, not two.  (It is difficult and takes practice.)

I enjoyed reading the 19th-century German story Undine (Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué) with her.

She told me that when you don’t know a language totally fluently, you can’t let yourself get hung up during conversation on words you don’t understand.

This surprised me because, when she said, “Now when I first came here, did I run for a dictionary every time I didn’t understand a word?”  I said yes, because I had the impression she did.  She often seemed to want my help with words, and I looked them up in my German dictionary.

But she said that no, she didn’t always run for a dictionary.

Heidi knew both French and Italian, since in Switzerland both were spoken along with German and a special Swiss dialect, Räto Romanisch.  She had conversations in French with Nicole.

One day, while sitting with me and somebody else at a meal, she reflected that our generation didn’t seem to drink coffee, while hers did.  The younger people didn’t seem to like the taste, and at best drank cappuccino, with its various flavors.

As many of the international students did, she had a problem with American sarcasm.  I’d thought sarcasm was universal, but non-English-speaking international students had a hard time understanding sentences with the opposite meaning of what they seemed to say.

Also, while watching TV, there would be commercials roughly every ten or fifteen minutes.  For the rest of us in the suite, this was normal and expected.  We read something, went to the bathroom, got something to eat, or just sat there bored as the commercials played.

But Heidi would cry out, “So many com-mehr-cials!”  In Europe, the commercials were only aired between programs, not in the middle of them.  (When do Europeans go to the bathroom during movies?)

Another of Heidi’s phrases was, “What is that?”  She didn’t just use it when she heard or saw something unusual; she would say it when talking of somebody’s inexplicable behavior.  For example, she might say something like, “And then when I came over, he was rude to me.  What is that?”  (This is not a quote, by the way, just an example.)

Another phrase was, “It doesn’t work.”  This applied to all sorts of things, not just mechanical devices.  For example, she might look at an improperly constructed German sentence and say, “It doesn’t work.”  Or she might look at an intended solution for a situation and say, “It doesn’t work.”  She also had an accented way of saying “It doesn’t matter” that made it, too, seem like a Heidi-ism.

Nicole, also about twenty-five years old, was her best friend.  Late in the school year, when visiting our suite, their friends would sit and count how many times they kissed each others’ cheeks when saying good-bye, because Nicole and Heidi didn’t bother to keep track.  The count once got up to ten.  Nicole was a fun one to talk to, and I liked to try out my sparse French on her.

Heidi was impressed those first few weeks by what German I knew, like the slang terms toll and Mensch.  She also told me that Ach Mensch was dated, and now people generally said only Mensch.  But “Ach, Mensch!” is so much more fun to say when you’re upset.

My first day at Roanoke, I went up to Heidi–the lounge full of Heidi’s international friends–and asked her when we were going to dinner, thinking everyone in the suite naturally would go at once.

In those first few days, college seemed like summer camp.  And in summer camp, everyone in a cabin went to meals together, so this is where I got the idea that everyone in a suite in college would do the same.

We all went to dinner together, Heidi and her friends and me, and I impressed myself with my outgoing, cheerful demeanor–such a contrast to my shy, high school self.

Not that I came out of my shell for good.  But at dinner I kept laughing and talking and showing off my German and French.  I felt like a new me.

Another time that week, Paul showed up at the suite door, asking for Heidi and saying he wanted to go to dinner with her.  I asked if I could go with them, and he said okay.

I felt so outgoing; I was very proud of myself.  Paul seemed like a nice guy, too.  He was, or soon would be, a Zeta.

Once I sat in the Spanish suite and taught the phrase “not just yet” to Nicole and a girl from Costa Rica.  That’s also when Nicole told us she doesn’t believe in God, but believes in the values of church-going.  I took the opportunity to witness to her in a simple, non-intrusive way by saying I do believe in God.

I had been told that everyone in the German suite was supposed to be taking the language, and speak in only that language with each other for an hour every day.  But my roommate Candice only took German once, back in high school.  The other students didn’t know German at all; Latosha was taking French.

Candice was a talkative, pretty sophomore with auburn hair.  She was on the tennis team, which practiced on the court right outside our window.  Her boyfriend, Jeff, went to Roanoke over the summer with her, but now went to UW-Lacrosse.

Latosha was an African-American sophomore from Kansas City, MO.  She always seemed confident, strong, and mature.  I greatly admired her and respected her advice.

Latosha had an ex, E–, who’d been her boyfriend for three years.  It was a crushing blow when he fooled around and left her for another girl, but he was the possessive one, following her car when she went on dates and calling her up all the time from his new college in Chicago, even though he’d broken up with her a year before.

We all wished he’d leave her alone, especially when he called her at three in the morning and she cussed him out: Those suites had concrete walls, but you could hear everything.  Plus, her door faced ours.

As for the new girlfriend, she was in a class with Latosha–and was very afraid of Latosha.  This made things difficult for either of the two girls when they had to do class work together (I think it was a science class, and they had to do labs together).  Latosha called her E–‘s ho, at least when speaking of her to us.

This E–, by the way, was the grandson of a famous black man.  If I told you who, I’d probably be subject to a libel suit for accusing this man’s grandson of stalking, even though what I tell you is true.  Through E–, Latosha met other famous people, and even got a tour jacket which only band members or roadies could get.

Tom was a flirtatious first-year senior and a football player.  He had two roommates that year, Tim first and then Stefan.

The immaculately clean Tim took one step into Tom’s smelly room and sprayed air freshener with a loud “hsssh!”  The next day, he was gone.

Stefan came later in the semester; he was a German lawyer, here in America until the end of Winterim.  Somehow, he survived Tom’s room.

Tom and Stefan seemed to get along pretty well, and whenever Stefan came in the suite while Tom was in the lounge, Tom cried out, “Roommie!”

Stefan was tall and sweet, and always seemed to be happy.  He was from K–, Germany, and my boyfriend was from K–, Wisconsin.

Stefan and a short, pretty young woman became great platonic friends.  It had to be platonic because she was married.  No, I never heard of a scandal.

One day, Stefan said goodbye to my boyfriend and me in the lounge as he left the suite, and one or both of us said, “Auf Wiedersehen!”  He practically fell over in his surprise that we knew some German, and cried, “Whoa!”

Tom had a crush on Candice the year before, not returned by her.  She’d known about it.  Her best friend would have taken him off her hands, if only Tom would’ve let her.  I heard Tom and Candice argue about this once.

Tom constantly went into Candice’s mini-fridge in the lounge and drank her milk without permission.  One day, Candice told me she was getting him back.

On a friend’s suggestion, she put shampoo in her milk.  Tom came into the room and asked if he could use her milk for a mixed drink he was making.

She said okay, then confessed to me that she felt really bad about putting shampoo in it.  Tom didn’t even seem to notice or get sick from it, so that eased her conscience a little bit.

Each suite had two outside doors, one to the balcony and one as a main entrance.  The upper levels doors led to the balcony-like walkway and stairs, with a railing along the side of the walkway.  The lower levels doors led to a walkway along the side of the building, and to the courtyard.

The suites had no set visiting hours.  If your suitemates decided on special rules, that was your business.  But it was different in the other halls, which did have visiting hours and quiet hours.  I heard that visitors after hours were to go to the Main Suite Lounge, but no one ever followed this, and the RA’s (Resident Assistants, or the people in charge) didn’t care.

Heidi talked about quiet hours and such, but said that rather than conform to the rules of quiet hours which applied to the other dorms, we should all be adults and ask each other to please turn it down if someone played a TV or radio too loud.

With two stalls with working doors in the toilet area, two shower stalls with curtains, and a man (sometimes two) living with a bunch of women in the suite, we thought nothing of men and women using the bathroom at the same time.

During the warmer months, probably September or October when yellow jackets are really bad in Wisconsin, we discovered a hive of them living right outside Heidi’s window.  They tormented us until the cold finally killed them.

With the TV on the same wall as the outside window showing the head of the stairs, you’d sit on the couch watching TV, and people could see you as they came up the stairs.  And people would invariably look, whether they were coming up the stairs or just walking by.  It made me uncomfortable.

The best thing about the TV: it had cable, basic but better than nothing.

Besides the suites, we had Krueger Hall (women), Muehlmeier Hall (co-ed), and Grossheusch Hall (so-called hall of men, as the RA wrote beside a chalk drawing of a Playboy bunny on the front window that year).  Krueger is pronounced “KROO-ger,” Muehlmeier is “MULE-my-er,” and Grossheusch is “GROSH-iss” (otherwise known as “Grossh”).

Gross “Grossh” was disgustingly kept by its inhabitants (some would even pee in the hallways), noisy, and frequented by high school girls on weekends, a.k.a. “pop-tarts.”

Also, the cleaning crews hated cleaning Grossh, especially when they did major cleaning over holiday breaks.  So we girls laughed when the hall director drew a Playboy-style bunny in chalk on a window near the entrance, and wrote, “Hall Of Men.”

Muehlmeier looked like Grossh structurally, having been built about the same time, and both had carpeting in all the rooms.  But Muehlmeier was a little less scary and had women living on the top floor.

Both halls had two floors and a basement; Krueger had three and a basement.

Krueger, the oldest, also had huge rooms, compared to the cells in the other dorms.

Certain floors in each dorm were alcohol-free, probably based on where most of the upperclassmen and underclassmen lived.  The suites had more lax alcohol rules: basically, no underage drinking.  One improvement the next year: all the dorms went alcohol-free, excepting the suites, which mostly held upperclassmen.

But wait–they’re not dorms, they’re residence halls!

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:


How to Deal With Narcissism in the Church

For Christians who have encountered narcissists inside the Church, we’re often baffled at how to deal with them.  We keep hearing that we’re supposed to love and pray for our enemies, not judge others, etc.

But what about the ones who we can’t deny keep behaving in evil ways?  Are we to ignore what our eyes and hearts know to be true for the sake of some veneer of a happy church family?

I have found these posts from Narcissists Suck by Anna Valerious to be especially helpful, because they address these questions directly, and take support directly from the Bible:

From Such Turn Away
No Contact: Because Their Evil is Contagious

Quotes from the above links:

Romans 16:17-18. Notice that those who are co-opted by the “divisive” ones are called naive. Other versions use the term “simple” or “simpletons”.

The Bible marks those Christians who can’t discern the evil acts of their brothers in Christ to be simpletons. Remember that when one of those simpletons come to you to accuse you of being ignorant! Oh, the irony of it.

Also remember that the Christian church is called a family and its structure is modeled on the family. What applies to the church family can be rightly applied to the family you were born into.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13. As in Paul’s instruction to Timothy where he says “from such turn away” Paul is very specific about whom we should be shunning in his letter to the Corinthians.

He says that if he told God’s church to turn away from ALL evil doers then the Christian would have to leave the world. Paul says this is obviously impossible so obviously he wasn’t telling Christians to avoid all the evil doers in the world. He was telling them how to deal with those in the church.

This is entirely consistent with the view of the contagiousness of evil. That evil which is closest to us is the most dangerous form.

Paul was much more concerned about prospering evil doers in the church than in the world at large because evil disguising itself in Christian garb is much more persuasive to other Christians than some stranger outside the circle of the church family.

He concludes his admonition with this unequivocal command which is a quote from the Old Testament (Deut. 13:5), “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

There is no special clemency for evil doers just because they are in the family. The very opposite is true. Paul is clear that we are to judge those closest to us…not those furthest away.

Those who call themselves family (church or birth) are the most accountable to us for their behavior!

Back to Paul’s instruction concerning the churchified narcissist:

“…from such people turn away!”

Obviously, Paul doesn’t want us to hold out that we can convince such people to turn away from their wickedness.

It isn’t our job to reform them. It isn’t our job to hang around while holding out hope for their reform. It isn’t our job to stay in close proximity to them as if our love can somehow separate them from their wicked ways.

Paul is unequivocal and crystalline clear. “From such turn away!” (KJV ) Some reasons for this instruction can be found here, and here.

1 Tim. 3:1-5 is solid Biblical counsel to go “no contact” with those who persist in being evil. Ignore Christians who ignore this counsel. They haven’t “known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation…” (2 Tim. 3:15)

Paul instructs Christians that the peril of end times will largely be because of evil persons disguising themselves as being godly. The course of action in such peril is to walk away.

The concern shouldn’t be for the salvation of such individuals; the issue becomes your salvation both temporal and eternal. Save yourself, your family, your church by turning away from those dedicated to their evil agendas.

Here are a couple of very relevant verses from the Bible as well:

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.  (Luke 17:3-4)

Note the IF.  And note that narcissists have a tendency to not repent.

As one commenter, Barbara, noted in the “No Contact” post,

Sandra Brown has mentioned that years ago when she was treating psychopaths (she only treats their victims now) they TOLD her…

they PURPOSELY TARGET X-tians, churches, church groups & Bible study because these people are the most likely to look the other way at their exploitive behavior. They go out of their way to use scripture to give them the air of believability & goodness.

And now for verses straight from the Bible, the ones which the author of Narcissists Suck noted above:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,

without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,

treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—

having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  (2 Tim 3:1-9, NIV)

In the New Living Translation:

 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred.

They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires. (Such women are forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth.)

These teachers oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith. But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres.

This quote from Princess Fi’s BETRAYAL, DEFIANCE, LIES, DENIAL, INJUSTICE, FORGIVENESS ISSUES sounds especially familiar:

It’s very hard when people are deliberately and defiantly non repentant and hard faced – turning up in church as if nothing is wrong and nothing has happened.

Having to cope with your abusers turning up in church whilst deliberately sticking 2 fingers up at God is beyond the capacity of describe. Having to cope with your abusers continuing to use the church as their cover story is beyond awful and beyond hypocrisy.

Having them do all of that on that back of having lied and denied to prevent justice and to prevent exposure is disgusting and distasteful at the very least.

It is utterly appalling for me as a victim, for those who gave evidence against them to the police and for the church leadership who now know the truth about them. It’s totally ghastly and repulsive to be brutally honest.  It is as if they have no conscience at all.

Sometimes when people have lied and denied for long enough they actually believe their lies and denials to be absolute truth regardless of evidence to the contrary. Thus they worm their way out of it and can be incredibly and frighteningly convincing in their true lies….

Without confession, repentance, admission of guilt or other things which lead to closure surely it will always be there at the back of your mind. Having to watch your abusers behaving as if nothing untoward happened and all is normal fuels the fire.

When people have been so deliberately cruel to you and are so defiant when faced with the truth where can you go? How can such defiance be coped with, processed and gotten out of your mind.

It is in reality and in all truth extremely difficult. It’s almost impossible to forgive cruel people who lie, pretend all is normal and do all they can legally to silence you and keep their evil deeds secret.

“Domestic Violence: A Quick Q&A” in the June 2007 issue of Presbyterians Today stated,

What is the most important thing a church can do in ministering to victims?  Listen, while providing safety.

Victims are most vulnerable when they begin taking steps to leave an abusive situation.  Give them information about abuse hotlines and shelters.  Listen without judging or pressuring the person to act.

The typical abuse victim “will try to leave five to eight times before they [finally] do,” says abuse survivor and advocate Bonnie Orth.  “One of the hardest things is walking with someone through that journey.”

What is the most important thing a church should do in ministering to perpetrators?  Hold them accountable for their actions.

“To offer cheap grace would be totally wrong,” says Black Mountain (N.C.) pastor Kevin Frederick.  “You can’t just forgive without facing the full impact of what they’ve done and seeking restitution.

Insist that they take responsibility for their actions and get the help they need (by attending a treatment group, for example).  This can be done without “painting the perpetrator as beyond redemption,” Frederick says.

I am just a personal blogger trying to understand what I’ve been through, NOT an adviser or counselor. 

For more information about dealing with narcissists in the church, and a better place for advice, go to Grace for My Heart (run by a pastor).  If your narcissist is the pastor, see Spiritual Sounding Board.


De Profundis: Oscar Wilde on toxic friendship–Part 1

(Here is another blog about this work, which also gives some background.)

I’m currently reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, written by him in prison to his “friend” Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”).

So far, it’s complaining about the volatile relationship they had, a combination of intimate friendship and lover, and a violent temper which ran in Douglas’ family.  The more I read, the more it sounds like borderline personality or some other mood/personality disorder:

Douglas was a leech, a stalker, and a writer of telegrams and letters full of foul accusations whenever Wilde tried to stick up for himself and end the friendship.  Wilde recognized that it was toxic, but kept taking him back, again and again and again.

He kept giving in to Douglas, hoping that he would calm down, only to find that he became even worse over time.  The rages of this Douglas sound so much like Tracy that I really feel for Wilde.

The text you often find for this work is abridged for general audiences, cutting out the personal letter to Bosie, since it’s a massive work and much of it is about general subjects such as suffering, humility, art, things which Wilde wanted the public to read.

But my copy, part of Complete Works of Oscar Wilde published by Collins (HarperCollins) Publishers, is the entire work, 80 pages.  Here I will focus on the private letter and how it deals with toxic friendship and Cluster Bs (often-used colloquial term for people with narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, anti-social, high-conflict personality disorders), and how similar it sounds to my own experiences with Tracy.

On page 984, we read,

But most of all I blame myself for the entire ethical degradation I allowed you to bring on me. The basis of character is will power, and my will power became absolutely subject to yours. It sounds a grotesque thing to say, but it is none the less true.

Those incessant scenes that seemed to be almost physically necessary to you, and in which your mind and body grew distorted, and you became a thing as terrible to look at as to listen to:

that dreadful mania you inherit from your father, the mania for writing revolting and loathsome letters:

your entire lack of any control over your emotions as displayed in your long resentful moods of sullen silence, no less than in the sudden fits of almost epileptic rage:

all these things in reference to which one of my letters to you, left by you lying about in the Savoy or some other hotel, and so produced in court by your father’s counsel, contained an entreaty not devoid of pathos, had you at that time been able to recognise pathos either in its elements or its expression — these, I say, were the origin and causes of my fatal yielding to you in your daily increasing demands.

You wore me out. It was the triumph of the smaller over the bigger nature. It was the case of that tyranny of the weak over the strong which somewhere in one of my plays I describe as being “the only tyranny that lasts.”

This certainly sounds like some form of Cluster B personality disorder, especially because it is “inherited.”  Borderline and narcissistic personality disorders can run in families, though it’s unclear if it’s from genetics, or from a psychological response to living with a Cluster B.  The following sounds very much like Tracy:

And it was inevitable. In every relation of life with others one has to find some moyen de vivreIn your case, one had either to give up to you or to give you up.  There was no other alternative.

Through deep if misplaced affection for you: through great pity for your defects of temper and temperament: through my own proverbial good-nature and Celtic laziness: through an artistic aversion to coarse scenes and ugly words: through that incapacity to bear resentment of any kind which at that time characterised me:

through my dislike of seeing life made bitter and uncomely by what to me, with my eyes really fixed on other things, seemed to be mere trifles too petty for more than a moment’s thought or interest–through these reasons, simple as they may sound, I gave up to you always.

As a natural result, your claims, your efforts at domination, your exactions grew more and more unreasonable.

Your meanest motive, your lowest appetite, your most common passion, became to you laws by which the lives of others were to be guided always, and to which, if necessary, they were to be without scruple sacrificed.

Knowing that by making a scene you could always have your way, it was but natural that you should proceed, almost unconsciously I have no doubt, to every excess of vulgar violence….

At the one supremely and tragically critical moment of all my life, just before my lamentable step of beginning my absurd action [suing Bosie’s father for libel], on the one side there was your father attacking me with hideous cards left at my club, on the other side there was you attacking me with no less loathsome letters….

My habit — due to indifference chiefly at first — of giving up to you in everything had become insensibly a real part of my nature….I had allowed you to sap my strength of character, and to me the formation of a habit had proved to be not Failure merely but Ruin.

Ethically you had been even still more destructive to me than you had been artistically.  The warrant once granted, your will of course directed everything.

Wilde writes that, when Bosie talked him into going to trial against Bosie’s father instead of going abroad as his true friends advised, “Of course I should have got rid of you, I should have shaken you out of my life as a man shakes from his raiment a thing that has stung him.”

This is what I did to Tracy when she raged at me, but unfortunately, Wilde did not do this to Bosie.  Part of the trouble was that Wilde kept trying to shake him off, sometimes even going to the trouble of fleeing the country and leaving a fake address with a servant so Bosie would not follow him:

As far as I can make out I ended my friendship with you every three months regularly, and each time that I did so you managed by means of entreaties, telegrams, letters, the interposition of your friends, the interposition of mine, and the like to induce me to allow you back.

Sounds like Wilde was subjected to “hoovering,” the common term for a Cluster B’s attempts to get back the person who has escaped.  And Wilde kept taking him back and forgiving him.  It must be maddening to go through this every three months with the same person.

Wilde also was subject to “false nostalgia,” when the victim of a Cluster B begins thinking things couldn’t possibly be as bad as he thinks they are, that he must be imagining it:

On my return to London the next day I remember sitting in my room and sadly and seriously trying to make up my mind whether or not you really were what you seemed to me to be, so full of terrible defects, so utterly ruinous both to yourself and to others, so fatal a one to know even or to be with. 

For a whole week I thought about it, and wondered if after all I was not unjust and mistaken in my estimate of you.

At the end of the week a letter from your mother is handed in.  It expressed to the full every feeling I myself had about you….

She saw, of course, that heredity had burdened you with a terrible legacy, and frankly admitted it, admitted it with terror: he is ‘the one of my children who has inherited the fatal Douglas temperament,’ she wrote of you.

I know the feeling, because I, myself, was subjected to these same feelings many times, during my ill-fated friendship with Richard and Tracy, during the several times I considered breaking off the friendship before I actually did, and even after Jeff and I broke things off with them finally.

Even after I wrote everything down, I still would get these feelings–then look back over what I had written, in my blogs/accounts and to friends, and see that everything I wrote was true.

And since it was all true, and since there was so much crap in there that they did, and since my friends were reading what I wrote and saying these people were not worth the pain I was going through, and how horrible they were–I had to force myself to realize that I was not making it up.

Just as Wilde did, I had to get confirmation from others that I was not “unjust and mistaken.”  Not only did my husband Jeff agree with me about the things that had gone on, but I would e-mail Todd about the situation and find that he had the same impressions I did about many things.

I wrote out the things I had witnessed Richard and Tracy doing, and what Richard had told me was going on when I wasn’t around, sent it to a friend who does social work–and she said they both sound very abusive so please report them to CPS.

From what I’ve read on the Shrink4Men website, false nostalgia seems to be common among victims of Cluster Bs, probably because it’s so hard to believe that someone you love could really be so horrible to you, and because of the gaslighting they often do to their victims.  For example:

The I’ve Never Been Happier Hoover: This Hoover is basically a form of reverse psychology in which the abuser assumes, rightly or wrongly, that your abandonment fears are equal to or greater than her own.

I haven’t been this happy in years since you left. You always brought out the worst in me. I never behaved that way with anyone else. I started dating again and am being treated the way I always wanted to be treated. You have no idea how to treat a woman.

The purpose of this Hoover is to get you to begin to doubt your experiences, feelings and memories of her and the relationship. This kind of Hoover can lead you to wonder,

“What if I’d said or done x instead of y? Maybe it really is me? Maybe I should give her another chance? What if she really is wonderful with the new guy? Why wasn’t she that way than me? I wonder if she’ll take me back if I promise to try harder to make her happy?” –Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, Hoovers: Don’t Let the Crazy Suck You Back In

Wilde tried to let go of his friendship with Bosie, at Bosie’s mother’s urging.  But Bosie kept “writing to me by every post from Egypt.”  Wilde read them, then tore them up.  Bosie even telegraphed Wilde’s wife to beg her to get Wilde to write him back!

Our friendship had always been a source of distress to her: not merely because she had never liked you personally, but because she saw how your continual companionship altered me, and not for the better: still, just as she had always been most gracious and hospitable to you, so she could not bear the idea of my being in any way unkind–for so it seemed to her–to any of my friends.

She thought, knew indeed, that it was a thing alien to my character.  At her request I did communicate with you.

The result is especially noteworthy:

I remember the wording of my telegram quite well.  I said that time healed every wound but that for many months to come I would neither write to you nor see you.

You started without delay for Paris, sending me passionate telegrams on the road to beg me to see you once, at any rate.  I declined.  You arrived in Paris late on a Saturday night, and found a brief letter from me waiting for you at your hotel stating that I would not see you.

Next morning I received in Tite Street a telegram of some ten or eleven pages in length from you.  You stated in it that no matter what you had done to me you could not believe that I would absolutely decline to see you:

you reminded me that for the sake of seeing me even for one hour you had travelled six days and nights across Europe without stopping once on the way: you made what I must admit was a most pathetic appeal, and ended with what seemed to me a threat of suicide, and one not thinly veiled.

You had yourself often told me how many of your race there had been who had stained their hands in their own blood; your uncle certainly, your grandfather possibly; many others in the mad, bad line from which you come.

Pity, my old affection for you, regard for your mother to whom your death under such dreadful circumstances would have been a  blow almost too great for her to bear, the horror of the idea that so young a life, and one that amidst all its ugly faults had still promise of beauty in it, should come to so revolting an end, mere humanity itself–all these, if excuses be necessary, must serve as my excuse for consenting to accord you one last interview.

When I arrived in Paris, your tears, breaking out again and again all through the evening, and falling over your cheeks like rain as we sat, at dinner first at Voisin’s, at supper at Paillard’s afterwards:

the unfeigned joy you evinced at seeing me, holding my hand whenever you could, as though you were a gentle and penitent child: your contrition, so simple and sincere, at the moment: made me consent to renew our friendship.

Two days after we had returned to London, your father saw you having luncheon with me at the Cafe Royal, joined my table, drank of my wine, and that afternoon, through a letter addressed to you, began his first attack on me.

As written here, this is

The Psycho Hoover: The Psycho Hoover is the FOG Hoover on steroids. It includes threats of suicide and/or violence. Basically, the abuser is just escalating their guilt and/or intimidation tactics to keep you in the relationship.

The Deluxe Hoover: This is the Hoover in which she morphs from abuser to super sweet, sexed up, Stepford wife. In reality, it’s nothing more than a return to the honeymoon and or love bombing stage of the relationship.

In other words, she turns on the charm or whatever it was about her that attracted you to her in the first place. It can have the effect of resurrecting your hopes that the woman you fell in love with is real and that maybe, just maybe, you can go back to the way things were “before.”

I promise things will get better. I love you SO much. We were great together at first. We can get that back! Please just give us another chance! Remember the good times (or time)? Don’t you want to have that again? We’ll both go to therapy. We’ll make it work.

More often than not, the abuse behaviors resurface once you return.

In other words, you broke up with this person because they’re nasty/crazy/whatever, but they do whatever they can to get you back and make you think things will be better this time.

But it’s all an act, because as soon as they’ve got you back, the old behaviors resurface.  Yet more ways that Bosie’s family curse seems to be a Cluster B personality disorder.

Wilde then describes a time when first Bosie, then Wilde came down with a nasty flu.  They were away from home at the time, so had to depend on each other.  Wilde took care of Bosie very well, while when he got better and then Wilde got it, Bosie just kept disappearing to go have fun, leaving Wilde without anyone to care for him.

Bosie, of course, being a leech, is doing this on Wilde’s dime.  Wilde tries to get him to stick around, but Bosie never comes around except for money.  One night at 3am, Wilde goes to the sitting-room in desperate need of water, and finds Bosie:

You fell on me with every hideous word an intemperate mood, an undisciplined and untutored nature could suggest.  By the terrible alchemy of egotism you converted your remorse into rage.

You accused me of selfishness in expecting you to be with me when I was ill; of standing between you and your amusements; of trying to deprive you of your pleasures.

You told me, and I know it was quite true, that you had come back at midnight simply in order to change your dress-clothes, and go out again to where you hoped new pleasures were waiting for you, but that by leaving for you a letter in which I had reminded you that you had neglected me the whole day and the whole evening, I had really robbed you of your desire for more enjoyments, and diminished your actual capacity for fresh delights.

Wilde left in disgust, went back to bed, but lay awake for some time, full of thirst.  At 11:00 Bosie came in.  Wilde thought Bosie was going to make excuses and ask for forgiveness like usual, the forgiveness

that you knew in your heart was invariably waiting for you, no matter what you did; your absolute trust that I would always forgive you being the thing in you that I always really liked the best, perhaps the best thing in you to like.  So far from doing that, you began to repeat the same scene with renewed emphasis and more violent assertion.

I told you at length to leave the room: you pretended to do so, but when I lifted up my head from the pillow in which I had buried it, you were still there, and with brutality of laughter and hysteria of rage you moved suddenly towards me.

A sense of horror came over me, for what exact reason I could not make out; but I got out of my bed at once, and bare-footed and just as I was, made my way down the two flights of stairs to the sitting-room, which I did not leave till the owner of the lodgings–whom I had rung for–had assured me that you had left my bedroom, and promised to remain within call, in case of necessity.

An hour passes, during which the doctor comes by, finding him “in a state of absolute nervous prostration,” and worse fever than he had been before.  Then Bosie comes back, grabs some money from the dressing-table and mantelpiece, takes his luggage, and leaves.

Actually, this also reminds me of Richard, in the final weeks when I tried to confront him over things he had done that were mean, and his reaction each time was to blow up at me.

And it reminds me of my abusive ex Phil, who–along with his brother and his girlfriend–accused me of being a “party pooper” who didn’t want Phil to have any fun–because I had a concussion.  Because I did not want to go dancing with a concussion.  Because I wanted Phil to care for me instead of dancing while I had a concussion.

Bosie’s narcissistic/borderline rage episode produced the same effect on Wilde which Tracy’s rage episode had on me:

Is it necessary for me to state that I saw clearly that it would be a dishonour to myself to continue even an acquaintance with such a one as you had showed yourself to be? 

That I recognised that the ultimate moment had come, and recognised it as being really a great relief?

This is an 80-page work with lots of ground to cover, so I will break this off now and continue it later.

Part 2

Review of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

by Jane Austen:

(First, read my review of Mysteries of Udolpho.)

Spoilers Ahead!

Now for Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s satire of Mysteries of Udolpho and the Gothic genre of the late-18th century.

The first couple of chapters have been quite delightful, mostly narrative but all comic, with our introduction to Catherine (who has never had the makings of a heroine and has only now begun to even be pretty) and Mrs. Allen (who should be making the heroine’s life miserable but in reality has a good temper and nothing whatsoever to make her intolerable, or interesting other than being rich).

Rather than a fainting beauty with many accomplishments like, say, Emily in Udolpho, Catherine has always been a rambunctious tomboy, playing with cricket bats rather than dolls, and preferring books that have absolutely nothing to teach whatsoever.

Mrs. Allen takes Catherine to her first ball in the fashionable resort town of Bath.  But unlike both movie versions of this book, they meet nobody of interest at the ball, not even Henry Tilney, and the most attention Catherine gets in the huge crowd is overhearing a couple of young gentlemen calling her “pretty.”

As Austen notes, no one goes into raptures on seeing her, or calls her divine, or any such.  But what she did get means more to her than fifteen sonnets would to a “true-quality” heroine.

Catherine does finally meet Mr. Tilney, but at a different dance.  He’s a goofball, just the sort to make girls laugh and fall for him.

In chapter 6, Catherine has formed a fast attachment to Isabella Thorpe, the sister of one of her brother’s friends, and the daughter of Mrs. Allen’s old friend.  They’re attached to each other like glue, and love to talk about those “horrid” Gothic novels.

Catherine is now reading Mysteries of Udolpho and loves it.  They talk about the black veil, wonder what’s hidden behind it, and Catherine says, “Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it.”  Well, it could take you about that long to read it, those nearly 700 pages, and so much of it either landscape description or (geez) yet more plot-numbing poetry….

Isabella seems like a wonderful friend, the kind of bosom friend who is a joy to find, a kindred spirit.  She has a list of a bunch more horrid Gothic novels to read together.  And Austen, of course, pokes fun at novels of the day that would disparage novel-reading as something that their heroines, of course, would never do.  Catherine says, “[A]re they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”  Isabella assures her that they are.

Now it’s time to go to Amazon and find all the books listed here….Judging by Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” list, other people have done this very same thing.  And guess who has published these as paperbacks in the past several years: Valancourt Books!  They appear to have been grouped together as “Northanger Abbey Horrid Novels.”

Like with Eusebius‘ many quotes from other writers, you wonder how many of these books would have simply fallen into obscurity had it not been for Jane Austen mentioning them in her own book.

Catherine, however, soon discovers her wonderful friend Isabella is actually rather selfish and self-centered.  Isabella, an incorrigible flirt, captures Catherine’s brother James’ heart, and Isabella’s brother Thorpe hopes to capture Catherine’s as well.  But he’s so rude, crude and obnoxious that this is impossible for a sweet, open, guileless girl like Catherine.

When Catherine wants to go for walks with Henry Tilney and his sister Elinor, Isabella and her brother throw a fit and try to force her to go with them instead on a long trip.  When force doesn’t work, they try manipulation: Thorpe lies to the Tilneys.  Poor Catherine, our heroine, must fight the forces that try to keep her from her true love!

When the Tilneys invite Catherine to cut her visit to Bath short and come stay with them for three weeks at their place, Northanger Abbey, Catherine is delighted: Abbeys show up in her beloved Gothic novels all the time.  She hopes for rotted walls, secret passages, and the like; Henry plays with her, encouraging her romantic spirit by telling her all the horrid things she’ll find in the abbey.  Her imagination runs rampant, so she starts exploring.

Silly Catherine quickly comes up with an elaborate suspicion of General Tilney, that he killed his wife–or locked her up–nine years ago and the proof is to be found in her old bedroom.

But Henry soon disabuses her of this notion, she realizes that General Tilney has a dreadful temper but is hardly a murderer or torturer, and she’s back to real-life concerns: Isabella has thrown over Catherine’s brother to be with Henry’s brother, since the terms of the upcoming marriage to James Morland are far poorer than she had hoped.

Henry realizes that in losing her best friend,

Your brother is certainly very much to be pitied at present; but we must not, in our concern for his sufferings, undervalue yours.

You feel, I suppose, that in losing Isabella, you lose half yourself: you feel a void in your heart which nothing else can occupy. Society is becoming irksome; and as for the amusements in which you were wont to share at Bath, the very idea of them without her is abhorrent. You would not, for instance, now go to a ball for the world.

You feel that you have no longer any friend to whom you can speak with unreserve, on whose regard you can place dependence, or whose counsel, in any difficulty, you could rely on. You feel all this?

You’d think that she would feel all this after losing the friend who had been side-by-side with her for weeks.  I think most people would; I certainly have felt it more than once, no matter if the friend was lost through betrayal or simply a change of geography or school.  But oddly, she says no, she doesn’t.  But she doesn’t know why.

Isabella has shown herself to be a golddigger; Captain Tilney has shown himself to be a player who talked big and trifled with her heart, then threw her over for somebody else.  Now she writes to Catherine asking her to plead her case with James.  Catherine sees right through her and decides not to write to James on her behalf, or to Isabella ever again.

I feel for Catherine as she suffers the disappointment of learning a dear friend’s true character, of having to give up that friend because they are not what they seemed.  But fortunately for Catherine, she has Eleanor and Henry to soothe her spirits.

General Tilney soon unceremoniously tosses Catherine out of the abbey, without reason other than a previously remembered engagement, after she and Eleanor had just decided that she’d stay another few weeks.

He’d been catering to Catherine’s every need for all this time, treating her better than he treated his own children, practically throwing her at Henry–and now he’s ordered her to take the first cab home, 70 miles, without even a servant to attend her.

Henry, the romantic hero, soon follows her to her home, proposes, and tells her what happened.  Of course, the 1987 movie version has a much more dramatic and romantic proposal scene than the book does.  (Sorry for the bad quality: It’s apparently the only video the BBC has not bumped off Youtube.)  But the book goes into more detail about the misunderstandings:

John Thorpe, in his usual self-promoting bluster, first told General Tilney that Catherine was an heiress; then in the sting of disappointment (since Catherine refused him), and not being able to get James and Isabella back together, he went the other way, telling the general that the Morlands were poor and disreputable fortune-hunters.  He claimed he’d been misled by James’ own vain boasting.

The movie’s depiction of the argument between Henry and his father [sorry, this got bumped, too] is more satisfying dramatically, making me wish that the many details in the book had been shown rather than told.  So even the great classic works suffer from this every once in a while.

Catherine’s parents are willing, but want the general to consent as well.  Rather than acting like golddiggers who want a share of the general’s money, they’re quite willing for Catherine to live on Henry’s own income as a parson.  But until the general consents, Catherine and Henry must wait.

This seems impossible, until Eleanor makes a good match herself and puts him in good humor.  Eleanor has been forced apart for years by her father from this man, but he’s suddenly come into money and title.  General Tilney discovers that far from being dirt-poor, Catherine’s parents are able to give her 3000 pounds.  He soon forgives Henry, who then marries Catherine.  So just as in Mysteries of Udolpho, there is finally a happy ending.

The funny part about Henry’s love of Catherine is how it began: He truly loves her now, but it

originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a second thought.

It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of a heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.

This is a fun little book, only 212 pages, a quick and easy read.  Time to re-watch the movie, and see if the Masterpiece Theater version (from around 2008) is still on Youtube…..

The 1987 movie: This one makes all sorts of changes from the novel, and the way it chops up Mysteries of Udolpho is scandalous (that is NOT what’s behind the black veil). But it’s still lots of fun to watch, I love the ending song, Peter Firth is a handsome and funny Tilney (I love the way he says “gloomy”), and the ending is charmingly romantic–so much so that I wish it were that way in the book.

It also has some great lines that aren’t in the book: “Never underestimate the power of [a woman’s] refusal”; “I promise not to oppress you with too much remorse or too much passion, though since you left the white rose bush has died of grief.”  The last is one I often think of when someone I care about is gone.

The 2007 movie: This one is far more faithful to the book, though it also takes many liberties (such as Catherine’s dreams based on The Monk, and what Captain Tilney does with Isabella at the end).  But at least, like the 1987 movie, it has Henry Tilney arriving on a white horse…. Watch the movie here.

[Finished 1/30/11]


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