Thursday, March 23, 2017

"I can't help how you feel..."

Today's blog post is inspired by something Bill's ex wife used to say to him whenever he mustered the courage to complain about her behavior.  When they'd have a disagreement, he would try to tell his ex how he felt.  She usually responded with, "I can't help how you feel, Bill."

I remember how Bill sounded when he first told me she'd said that to him.  He'd adopted a cold, almost snarky tone to his voice.  If you knew Bill, you'd know that when he's snarky, it's always in a playful, cute way.  But when he was imitating his ex wife, he'd adopt this mocking tone in his voice.  By the way he imitated her, I could tell that she plainly didn't care about Bill's feelings.  She only cared about her own feelings.

Of course, Bill's ex wife would shriek like a banshee when she was offended by something Bill said or did.  I remember years ago, when she was still trying to maintain control of Bill, she'd send him emails full of shaming and recrimination about all of the things Bill did or didn't do, or said or didn't say, that made her life worse.

Yesterday, Dr. Tara Palmatier, a "shrink for men" and co-author of the book Say Goodbye to Crazy, posted a great "red flag" meme about personality disordered people like Bill's ex wife.  Bill's ex would never apologize for anything.  She expected people to bow down and kiss her ass or even flat out grovel, which Bill did a few times.  On the rare occasions when she did offer an apology, it was always followed by the word "but".

"I'm sorry, but what do you expect?"

"I'm sorry, but I can't help how you feel."

"I'm sorry, but you shouldn't say or do such stupid things."

Or she would share the blame.  "We both did things we shouldn't have."

Never did she ever offer any true indication that she was remorseful.  Never did she take any responsibility for her part in the many messes of their relationship.

I'm writing about this today, not necessarily because I'm feeling upset.  I'm actually not.  In fact, lately I've been feeling pretty well recovered.  I'm not even that angry with Bill's ex kids anymore.  I still think they're assholes, but I don't seethe with rage like I did a few months ago.  In fact, I could say I'm actually feeling empathy toward them, even if I still wouldn't want to have a glass of Kool-Aid with them (no coffee, tea, or alcohol for Mormons).  I hate to admit it, but maybe it was a good thing that Bill's ex kid showed up in Bill's "people you may know" section on Facebook.  He did get a rather lame apology from younger kid, but it's better than nothing.  At least she didn't express the same vile hatred she did eleven years ago, when she demanded that he give her up for adoption.

I'm writing about this today more because I know there are a lot of people stuck in relationships with people like Bill's ex.  In fact, right now, the whole world is dealing with a massive narcissist.  Donald Trump is probably one of the biggest ones any of us will ever encounter in our lifetimes.

I don't want to say that a person is never right when they say, "I can't help how you feel."  Sometimes, if you're dealing with someone who whines incessantly or tries to blame you for everything that ever goes wrong, it's right to say that.  However, just like "tough love" and the concept of "rock bottom", that statement can be bastardized into something very toxic.

It's healthy to say, "I can't help how you feel." to a person who tries to make you responsible for all of their hurts.  It's abusive to say it when a person tries to hold you accountable for your part in a bad situation.  Moreover, I'm pretty sure that if Bill had turned that phrase around on his ex wife, she would have hollered like a stuck pig.  The words "How dare you?" would probably be uttered, followed by a lengthy diatribe of insults and uncontrollable rage.

You see, narcissists are the only people in their own worlds who are allowed to have grievances.  And anyone in their world who tries to hold them accountable will be shamed, ridiculed, abused, and demoralized until they either run away or submit.  I write about "I can't help how you feel" to remind anyone out there reading this that in almost any situation, there's blame to go around.  And if someone regularly diminishes or discounts your feelings because they can't help how you feel, they are probably not worth your time.

Anyway... below is a link to Dr. T's excellent book.  I recommend it to anyone, especially men, who deal with an abusive partner.


  1. I love it when people offer to share the blame when they're solely at fault. The mother of the goon who stole my essay then attacked me in a restroom because he was caught having stole my essay said that her son and I shared the blame for the attack because i wrote the essay that he used; had I not written it, he would not have been able to steal it. My mom told her that she was wrong.


Comments on older posts will be moderated until further notice.