Yesterday, Shrink4Men's Dr. Tara Palmatier posted an email she had gotten from one of her readers. The man wanted to know if his fiancee is an abusive/controlling person. His description of his fiancee made it clear that he's involved in an abusive relationship. But there was one aspect of that email that stood out to me. The man wrote that his fiancee wanted him to break off a friendship he had enjoyed with another woman. The fiancee claimed that this female friend, whom the man had known for ten years, was a "bad influence".
Those two words, bad influence, were used to describe me after the one and only visitation my husband and I had with his two daughters. The visit occurred in the summer of 2003. The girls and their brother came to see us at our crappy apartment. My husband, excited to see his daughters and former stepson, had taken off several days of work. Ex, who at that time lived across the country from us, had told my husband that they would be spending about a week in our area. My husband wanted to make himself fully available to them.
Finally, the expected day of arrival came... and went. We heard nothing from the ex. My husband paced around in our apartment, nervous and upset about the bullshit, yet still very excited at the prospect of seeing his kids. The ex finally contacted him. She was driving cross country with her husband, their baby daughter, and the three older kids. She claimed that none of the phone numbers she'd had for us worked. Then she said that former stepson was angry at my husband and didn't want to visit. Then she said she had thought about just dropping by with the kids, but apparently thought better of it.
So we went to the hotel where the ex, her husband, and all four of their kids were sharing a single room. We picked up former stepson and my husband's daughters and took them to our apartment. We all had a pretty good time. They spent barely 48 hours with us, but the visit had gone pretty well. One of the kids even called me her second mom and gave me a hug. Then the kids left. That was the first and last time I ever saw them in person.
After that visit, the ex went on the warpath. She labeled me a bad influence and said the kids didn't want to have anything to do with me. Prior to my being labeled a "bad influence", my husband's mother was labeled a "bad influence". My husband's mother had encouraged her son to get out of the marriage because the ex was abusive and toxic. Consequently, the kids apparently wanted nothing to do with their grandmother, either.
Years later, ex sent my husband an email, asking him for help with her oldest child. She was worried about the girl he was dating. She said the girl reminded her of herself when she was a teenager and was a "bad influence". Later, my husband and I met the girl and we both agreed that she mostly came across as pretty, smart, and opinionated. Obviously, a person like that might be a "bad influence" in that she might eventually encourage her boyfriend to think for himself. On the other hand, my husband and I also saw some evidence that the girl had already herself been influenced by the ex. She had the same eerily similar speech patterns that my husband's stepmother had before she, too, was labeled a "bad influence" and unceremoniously cut out of the kids' lives.
The label "bad influence" has a negative connotation, of course. When a narcissist tells her minions that someone is a "bad influence", they either really believe her or they're too afraid to cross her. So anyone who might encourage the minions to think for themselves is inevitably labeled a "bad influence" and the minions are strongly encouraged not to associate with that person. That includes people like the female friend of the man who sent Dr. Tara an email about his fiancee. The friend is an objective person who cares... and she might be a "bad influence" in the sense that she will encourage her friend to get out of the relationship or at least stand up for himself.
Abusive people isolate their victims, even from each other. When I think of an abusive person, I picture a wheel with spokes. The abuser is the axis and all of her minions are spokes. The spokes don't have contact with anyone but the axis and the wheel (the world). Likewise, the abuser's minions don't talk to each other or compare notes. They are devoted to the axis, who keeps them spinning around, confused, yet obediently functional, at least for the abuser's purposes.
I find the idea of a wagon wheel useful whenever I encounter an abusive relationship that involves a narcissistic person. Narcissists hate dissension and defiance. They surround themselves with people who are indoctrinated and "settled". When one of those spokes "breaks", it creates havoc and desperation. The wheel is not as strong as it was and threatens to spin out of control. So the narcissist does whatever he or she can to get things back under control. A"spoke" that breaks is suddenly a "bad influence" or weak link and must be cast away from the wheel before it collapses.
If someone in your life is involved with an abuser and you find yourself being labeled a "bad influence", take heed. You have been spotted as a threat. The abuser is trying to neutralize you and isolate her victim(s) from your influence.