So, it was another Sunday evening and I took a few minutes to prepare for our On-Line Support Group, at OneStepataTime.com. I admit, it can be a bit tedious to run such groups every Sunday night, as I would have to rush home from whatever I was doing or have a computer and a strong Internet signal wherever I was at the time. However, as a therapist I realized that having a support group of people behind you, egging you on and offering suggestions and kudos for your efforts really makes a difference.
As I have implied earlier, one of the tools that controlling, manipulative and sociopathic persons use against their victims is to isolate or separate him or her from anyone who would offer support. To that point, many will try to shame their victims to the point that the person does not want to appear weak, or foolish, so they will not say anything to the very people who care about them. I know it is very important that the members of our support group, or anyone who is a potential victim, are challenging themselves and making strides in recognizing and taking control of manipulative people in their lives. They need to talk about their latest endeavors and successes because that offers support for the rest who have reached a plateau and cannot bring themselves to take the somewhat daunting task of standing up against bullies, or imagine their lives as in anyway different than it has been. I realize and respect the fears that often hold them back. It is not easy to muster the courage to challenge someone who enjoys manipulating and controlling the life of another, and has no qualms or little to no conscience.
I turned on the computer and loaded up the Chat Room software and almost immediately a few of the regular support group members started showing up.
The first to show up seem to be the ones who have made the most progress and are understandably anxious to share, because they feel empowered by the situations and people they have dealt with which they would have avoided before. It was a shot of adrenaline to their self esteem that they were taking control, and they wanted to spew out all the details. Of course, I was excited to hear from them and to praise their efforts and be part of their support system.
As other members came into the room, they engaged with each other, getting all the details and wishing they were as strong as the ones who were reporting successes. I reminded them all that there day would come. One Step at a Time, I repeated over and over. I pressed on the value of a Support Team of caring family and friends around them, including this Support Group. They each needed to understand the qualities that made them special, and begin doing things in their lives that magnified those qualities. They too would be able to release themselves from the shackles that came with avoiding conflicts and people who negated their self-esteem.
Giving Progress Reports at this Support Group meeting were:
Joanne, who announced that she was finally leaving her husband who was prone to having affairs, and worse, had the uncanny “gift” of making her feel that it was her fault. It took getting a job and losing some weight for her to realize some respect from others she worked with, and more critically, realizing that the medications she was taking for anxiety had been altered by her husband. He had taken seizure medication from one of his girlfriends and mixed it in her capsules which made her loopy and unable to see things clearly. I am rejoicing in the part I played when she was in therapy, especially when we invited the husband into a session with us. He, being full of himself, thought he was there to expound on his wife’s bad behavior that sabotaged their marriage. However, when he sat down and we unloaded the facts that first, we had alerted the City Prosecutor that her ‘looniness’ was actually a side effect of his altering her meds; that his company knew of his behavior; and that she had talked to her attorney, and her soon to be ex-husband would be paying for his wife to be retrained as a legal secretary. It took a lot of support from our Support Group, family and friends, and major self-esteem therapy to make this happen, but she did it. Now she was there to help others.
Then there was Fran, who was a teacher at a private school run by a controlling and manipulative Principal. She would come into work in the mornings and find her lesson plans had been significantly altered by her boss, the Principal. She felt abused emotionally by this man, and knew he enjoyed playing these kind on control games, as he did it with other staff members. But no one would say anything as he ruled the roost and had garnered so much power. Teaching jobs in the area were not easy to find as many teachers were holding on to their jobs longer, especially for the benefits. The Principal had a habit of blaming, shaming and guilting each member of the staff when he caught them alone. The owners of the private school would not call him on the carpet because they were afraid of this man as he had dug up dirt on each of them that would be severely damage the school’s reputation. It wasn’t until some un-named person who possessed dirt on the Principal and presented it to Fran, that she threatened to expose the whole lot of them. Fran had the strength to take a rumor she heard about the Principal and explore it cautiously, but thoroughly. Then , with the help of a female attorney she knew, support from her therapist and other members from our Support Group, as well as others at the school who joined ranks with her, approached the owners. The owners had cause to fire the Principal that they could not ignore\. The previous charge that he thought he had evaded blew up his world. The Principal had evaded a covered-up charge from years past of having sex with a minor because the parents at the time did not want their teenager to go through all this embarrassment. In the end, he lost his Administrative License and found himself on the National Registry of Sex Offenders and is awaiting further legal action.
Frank was excited to share that he was making progress expressing himself tactfully and more consistently with his overbearing wife. His wife had to be right all of the time and had a history of berating Frank, and if he said anything, she would say he was just too sensitive. Frank always hoped for emotional closeness in his marriage, intimacy and sharing, not as common for the male species. He would hold back his feelings and not express himself as he was a very caring guy. But Frank’s anger with himself was growing as he felt abused when she made fun of him in public. She never experienced any consequences for her comments because Frank had become dependent on any dribble of positive emotion from her, and he did not want to be alone. With the Support Groups help and therapy, he began to very consistently but respectfully express himself, and he was seeing a change in his wife’s behavior. He finally found his voice ! He became strong enough that he was willing to leave his wife and find someone worthy of his energies.
And then Meagan showed up ! She signed in but said nothing, which was not so strange for a newcomer just checking us out. So I welcomed her, mentioned that she was free to listen or ask questions, and when she was ready, share what brought her to OneStepataTime.com. She did not say a word for the rest of the ninety minute session, and then signed out.
The next week, she signed in again. I welcomed everyone, and a discussion began between a few members. When there was a break in the discussion, Meagan commented that she had no anxiety or issues but was working on a paper for her Freshman class at the State University on abuse, and that she was nineteen.
I responded that I hoped the group would help her with her paper and repeated that she was free to ask any questions. She listened to the other members express some of their successes and frustrations in dealing with controlling persons in their life, and made a few short, supportive comments, then signed off.
I had a suspicion that there was no paper to be written, but I knew to give her time , if she returned. And she did return, week after week. My curiosity was at a peak, but little did I know or expect what was to unfold.
She did not say anything other than make supportive comments to other members like, “ you should be proud of what you have accomplished” or “you seem so strong to me”. No mention of a paper or questions, just support and a genuine sign of truly caring. No one in the group pressed her as I think they knew from their experiences how difficult it is to reach out for help.
Then about the sixth or seventh week she sent me a Private Message asking if there was a way to speak with me privately after Group. I was excited at her reaching out and certainly my curiosity was peaked. I agreed. When I suggested we could do so right after Group in our private chat space, she quickly responded with a “No, daddy will be coming home.” So we set up a time to meet during the week.
My thoughts: Why is that a problem? She is nineteen, almost twenty. I sensed fear in her words, but let it pass for now. I do not want to scare her away.