26 January 2015

I Was Married to a Sociopath.

Some things hit you between the eyes.  Others take a little longer, then whack you around the face to boot, as if to wake you from your stupor.

And then, you're finally free.

'He's a Sociopath,' someone had said.

'A Sociopath?'  I thought.  'Psycopath' had often crossed my mind, but 'Sociopath?' What on earth did that mean?

It seemed a good Google was in order.

This produced amazing and instant results.  It explained everything.  With relief and awe amidst feelings of incredible shame and foolishness, the truth dawned:  I'd been married to one.

I perused page after page listing the signs and symptoms and the eye-opening continued.  It made complete sense.

Not that there was anything I could do about any of it.  Only my perception had changed.  His behaviour would continue to hurt me. Worse, it would affect the children too.

It wasn't as if the tell tale stuff wasn't there at the outset of what would be a doomed and mostly miserable relationship, it sure as hell was, but so clever are they at luring you in to their 'Woe is me' story, making you feel sorry for them and exploiting every last fibre of your kind and giving being that it may be many years before you manage to eventually extricate yourself.

If you work with a Sociopath, you will feel bullied and humiliated. So, too, if a parent or your partner could be classed one.  It's difficult to recover.

This is what Professor Robert Hare says in one of his books 'Without Conscience' -
'Sociopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plough their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations and empty wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.'
In my experience, you fall for Mr. Charming - the attentive, caring, witty and understanding part of his personality which hides a ruthless, cunning, deceitful and domineering one.  Your friends will be impressed.  Your family will welcome him in.  You don't tell them about the snide comments when they begin.

You think you are happy.  You make excuses for him.  The criticisms about your cooking, the dissing your driving and the sneers at your appearance insidiously mount.  You slowly become quieter, the more of you that is extinguished, the more your confidence evaporates.

You might try to talk about it.  Your friends and family make excuses for him.  You don't tell them how bad it really is, because in-between times, in public, you see the man you thought he was, believe he is, if only you can help him.

You try harder.

He blames everyone else.  He blames his luck.  He thinks everyone is out to get him.  You try harder again.  You can see someone brilliant and extraordinary with incredible potential, perhaps with depression, or even Asperger's, but these are condidions which cannot be turned on and off at whim, depending on who's watching.   You are confused, you feel wretched and guilty.

By now, you might have children with this person.  Something else that will add to his angry temperament.  He will try to make you happy.  Becaue he's so f*cked up, he will fail.  Your heart can't switch around as his moods do.  Much damage will have been done.  Many tears will have been shed.  Yours and his.

In outward ways he is great.  He saves the real him for you, when no-one is looking.  He will punch walls, smash a glass table, but never hit you.  He is intimidating and his favourite remark is that you don't know anything about anything.  He makes you fight to be heard.  He condemns your opinions, disregards your feelings, ignores your efforts and dismisses your desires.

You try harder.

You may become more assertive.  He merely ups his menacing game.  But his mask might start to slip - in front of the children.  The neighbours will notice.  Your friends get a glimpse - the few from whom he luckily didn't manage to isolate you.  All the 'Who the f*ck is that?' comments every time one of them rang will have unnerved you and those who went by the wayside will have increased your insecurity and fed his power.

You will feel embarrassed,  but you will start to open up, take legal advice even.  They label it 'Emotional / Domestic Abuse.'  Years later you will hear the newer, posher term 'Intimate Terrorism' and know exactly what it means.  You will peer past the glamourous exterior of Nigella Lawson, identifying with the pain, hurt and betrayal in her eyes and you will sense that she, too, despite her dignified appearance, deep down, is broken.

You secretly make notes of things.  And then one day, he finally goes far too far, so, with newfound boldness, you quit, calling it a day, at last accepting it's not you who is crazy.  

All your previous attempts to finish the relationship will have been met with threats of suicide, promises to seek help and counselling sessions might even have been had, but to no avail.

And when you're divorced, you think it's over.  But, no, he wades back into your life, throwing his weight around, banging on about his right to see the children who he goes on to upset and disturb with alarming regularity.

Your life is toxic with him in it.  You don't want him to win.  You have to protect your sons - yet you don't know what is actually best for them.  You tear yourself up trying to do work out what that is. You find yourself required to rely on professionals who don't even get their names right.  They suggest your ex-husband is a controlling 'Narcisstic Sociopath,' but they add the caveat - 'If what you are saying is true.'

They throw in 'Anti-Social Personality Dis-Order' which is deemed more acceptable to the courts, but it's expensive to prove.   For every step forward feeling heard, there are a couple back.  Despair sets in. You are dangerously demoralised.  Frustration must be overcome with yet more faith and fortitude.

Fortunately for you, your friends no longer hold back.

You are exhausted, shattered from so much trying, yet still you continue.  Some women will go under, but you're determined not to be one of them.

You are free of him now, but the children aren't.  You do your best to faciliate a healthy, loving relationship but you wonder whether it's possible.  It's no longer about how he made you leave the bedroom three times a night when you were breastfeeding because he 'couldn't stand the f*cking sucking sound.'  It's about how your eldest son has 'dark feelings in his heart' he attributes to his father and how the youngest one clings to your Foreign Language Students (enforced upon us all by his lack of contribution) and more or less any other man he meets and calls them all 'Daddy,' as unedifying and mortifying as it is.

You have to stay strong, brave and decent, everything he isn't.  But you cope.

You have to for the childrens' sakes.

And your new life may falter, but it will still be there.

sociopath, psycopath, loved and lost,
Articles and Sources of help -

Psycopath vs Sociopath - What's the difference?

Sociopath Signs: Is your Ex a Sociopath or a Narcissist?

womens aid (National Domestic Violence Helpline) 0808 2000 247
RESPECT - helpline for men 0808 8010 327  / anyone else 0808 802 4040 
RISE (Brighton & Hove) 01273 622822

10 December 2014

Things I've Nearly Said...

Sometimes I begin a blog post and it never sees the light of day.  This is because, just as in 'real life,' as we're all aware, conversations are started but almost impossible to finish with two young children around.  Throw in a Foreign Language Student who *shock* actually wants to practise his English with me whenever he can and even more moments will pass and lots of stuff on lots of levels will be abandoned.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  The students can make my life a living hell when they're inconsiderate and party all the time, so it's a refreshing change to be treated like a human being and not someone here just to do their washing and change their sheets and feed them when they deign to turn up.  Every now and then we get one who is actually interested in the family, integrating and not treating the place like a Hotel.  They're in a no-win situation really as I'll moan when they do and I'll moan when they don't (to myself), as any free time it's possible to muster when the kids are in bed disappears into the night with them.

It's been quite challenging amusing interesting, however, explaining #TheApprentice and #I'maCeleb to a 41 year old man whose English isn't quite up to translating that yet.  Seeing as he's from Libya, my opinion about the Mel vs. Edwina argument - 'Nothing wrong with independence' (Mel Sykes) vs. 'Without a bloke she'll end up a bitter old woman' (Edwina Currie) would have been too exhausting to try to chat about and completely wasted on someone who can have four wives if he wants to.  And I never got chance to bring it up on the blog where, for the record, I was going to suggest that Edwina seems the far happier woman. #Justsaying.

Plus I was going to chat about how I hoped that cuckoo Kendra woman paid tax on the $500 000 she boasted about earning in the six months she claimed to be a stripper.  Before she went up in the world to and of prostituion - which is what living at the Playboy mansion involves.  Apparently, the old man (83 at the time), calls you upstairs when it's you he fancies.  She had no qualms in admitting that she slept with him (plus I bet she wasn't saying her incredibly annyoing 'OMG' every five seconds then;) ).  And the lovely Libyan and I didn't get very far with that convo either.  He comes from a mainly Muslim country where women's elbows and ankles must be covered, so it was a tad too embarassing!

Anyway, moving swiftly on, my ancient but amazing runaround has had a new clutch probably double the worth of the car itself and I've recently found myself in the peculiar position of reading a book that didn't seem anywhere near as good as the film that inspired me to borrow it from the library. Everyone knows the rule generally goes the other way and, despite keeping reading and hoping, it never happened.  And it's huge, so there's many an hour of my life I'll never get back.  If you get the chance, though, I recommend 'Philomena' - a great movie based on a true story.  The book is completely different and left me a bit meh.

The other night was far more entertaining.  The eldest was in a Christmas Concert at the esteemed Brighton Centre.  There were over 40 schools performing altogether and it was a charming event, made all the more challenging amusing interesting by my companion, the youngest, who had virtually stripped off in the heat of the place and was making those farting sounds with one hand under his armpit and moving his elbow up and down sharply, perfectly in time to Ding Dong Merrily on High.

This would be inbetween him alternating trying to sleep on the floor because it was well past his bedtime and standing up attempting to out-sing the whole lot of them without really knowing all of the words or tunes to any of the songs.  He has no shame that child.  I pretended not to notice those knowing looks passing between the poor people who were unfortunately seated within earshot.

But as if my perpetual humilation wasn't enough, I found myself faffing about with all our layers afterwards - coats, scarves and gloves everywhere, with both their little boy woolly hats perched temporarily on my head in an effort not to lose anything, just as the first man I've fancied in a few years came by to say Hi.

I guess some things are better not said or done!

What have you been up to?

5 December 2014

Co-Parenting at Christmas.

Christmas is a tricky time of year for separated and divorced parents.  In the early days, no-one knows what 'the right thing' to do is and then as you become more familiar with family law and are happy with the arrangements, the kids throw a spanner in the works.  They've become older, have formed their own opinions and you're lucky if they want to see any of you, let alone celebrate two Christmasses with both sets of parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents. *Big Sigh!*

For some of us, the single parenting / co-parenting situation can be fairly straightforward.  For others though, it's nigh on impossible.  My experiences have led me to ascertain that if one of the parties was really darned unreasonable during the marriage, they're likely to remain that way when you have ongoing dealings with them.  And I'm not just talking about mine (*rolls eyes at continual exapseration with nutty ex-h*) but others' too. 

Fraught feelings pass, but in the early days, and / or especially at this time of year, we might need help. There is no 'right way' for everyone.  What serves your family best is key, as is spelled out in this brilliant co-parenting guide which has come to my attention.  When both parties put aside their anger and focus on damage limitation, much can be achieved.

It's produced by The Co-operative Legal Services and it's FREE, full of helpful tips and advice on the issues we need to consider and I really recommend a read.  It keeps co-parenting after divorce as straightforward as is possible.

In the interests of reducing stress around the logistics of the festive season though and making it more enjoyable for everyone, they've provided me personally with their Family Law expert Jenny Beck, to whom I've posed these rather probing (genuine, obvs) questions and seeing as no circumstances are black and white her answers are in blue ;) !  I hope they go some way towards alleviating any anxiety you - or someone you know - might be feeling. 

Jenny Beck, The Cooperative Legal Advice, Family Law expert. 

Our Questions & Answers:

  1. What's the normal arrangement for divorced or separated parents re their kids at Christmas? time? There isn’t a ‘normal’ arrangement as such. It depends on the parents and children’s individual needs and circumstances. Ideally, children would spend equal time with both of their parents during the Christmas holidays and arrangements such as whether mum has the children on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and dad has the children on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day would alternate year on year to make things fair. 
  1. My ex-husband was supposed to have his first set of children every other Christmas, alternated with New Year, but the children didn't really want to be away from their mum and I didn’t think it was fair - what’s best in this situation?  It’s understandable that your ex wants to spend Christmas Day with his children. If the children don’t want to be away from their mum, perhaps both parents could come to an agreement that suits everyone. For example, the children staying with their mum on Christmas Eve allowing the father to visit them at home on Christmas Day? That way, he benefits from seeing them and they don’t miss out on spending quality time with their father at an important time of year. This is of course is dependent on whether the parents’ relationship, is an amicable one. If it isn’t amicable, I wouldn’t advise this and would instead advise that the parents reach an agreement such as the child spending a few hours on Christmas Day with their father. Children pick up on negative atmospheres which can lead to them being very unhappy. 
  1. What about if the children are used to a big family bash at the in-laws with aunties, uncles and cousins etc. and now you're looking at a quiet Christmas at home.  Won't they be missing out?  Do you think it's really fair for them to miss out on what they're used to?  I think it’s important to put children’s’ needs first. Family is so important and it’s good for children to build relationships with extended family members. Having said that, it’s vital that children develop relationships and bonds with their parents. I think in this case, there needs to be a compromise. Could the children not spend Christmas Eve with one parent and that side of the family and then Christmas Day with the other parent and their family? That way each parent and their relatives are able to spend some time with the children. 
  1. What kind of sway do you think the children should have when decisions are being made re arrangements, vs what the law says?  The law suggests that children’s wishes and feelings should be taken into account in decision making but the weight placed on those views will depend on age and maturity. The reality is that asking children to decide what they want places them in a really difficult emotional place and this sort of pressure should be avoided at all costs. The adults should understand their wishes and needs and make sensible decisions to meet them . These decisions are best communicated in a united way so that the children are presented a plan to suit them with both parents in agreement. 
  1. I know some estranged couples that live near each other who share the day with the children - the morning at home, the afternoon with the non-resident parent.  What do you think of that and how long past the separation point do you think that's a good idea?  Each family’s individual circumstances are personal to them. There is not a one rule fits all approach when it comes to separation. Where parents have an amicable co-parenting relationship, it is beneficial for all parties involved. For some ex partners, however this is just not possible as they struggle to communicate with one another on a weekly basis, let alone spend time together daily. Where separated and divorced parents have continued to attend all family events and functions together as a family and a new partner is introduced, it can become quite awkward as the new partner might be uncomfortable with the ex being around so much. 
  1. How confusing do you think it is for the children for the non-resident parent to come round for the day and share it all together - like some people seem to be able to do?  Providing both parents have sat down with the children following their decision to separate and clearly explained that they are no longer going to be together but that both parents will continue to see them as much as possible, it shouldn’t be too confusing for them. Much will depend on the relationship between the parents but these arrangements can work. 
  1. What about where the kids don't really want to see their other parent anymore but presents still arrive? How best should they / we deal with that? Although it’s often hard to do its very important for parents to encourage a positive view of their ex and presents should be given and communication encouraged. Children’s views change over time and allowing a parent to become completely marginalised presents real emotional risks as children grow up. Often they can end up demonising, or idealising the absent parent and this can impact on their relationship with their primary carer and other family members. It also impacts their own self esteem. 
  1. And where do the grandparents stand all round?   Grandparents are often  important sources of support and stability, particularly when they can be balanced and not take sides between sparring parents. Relationships with wider family are always important to children and Christmas is a time to enjoy them. 
  1. And what about where the parents have kids on set days and they fall on Christmas and you can't get your ex to be flexible and the kids are complaining - and the days are a court order - where does the law stand? It is beneficial for both parents and their children to have a routine and set days or weeks in place so that all parties involved are clear on arrangements and so that parents can make relevant childcare plans. For Christmas and other holidays throughout the year, parents need to be more flexible and plan in advance of these holidays and occasions. Most well thought through orders will provide for holiday periods. If your ex-partner isn’t flexible and refuses to change set days or weeks, I would recommend seeking advice such as mediation. A mediator can take some of the pressure of you and can help by sorting through your arrangements to ensure childcare suits both of you. 
If you can think of something we haven't covered, please do make contact.  Leave a question below or Tweet me at @anyaharris01.  You might come up with the elementary question that occurred to me in the middle of the night which has escaped me since and, as always, your comments are most welcome too! 

Disclosure - This post is in association with The Co-operative Legal Services. 

1 December 2014

The Moment You Know Your Relationship is Over.

For quite some time I've been fancying a column somewhere, but don't really have the confidence to go shouting about it.  I've trusted that, in time, the shocking statistics and my credibility would come together, that the need for a voice to represent single parents fairly and responsibly would make itself known, that we'd shrug off this worn out cliche of who we are supposed to be and we'd finally be heard in our real light and right.

Six months after I first started blogging, netmums ran a week called Busting the Myths about single parents, which I was proud to spearhead and, indeed, they have always been a tremendous support to all parents, regardless of their status, so I asked if I could write some stuff for them and their response was that they would be honoured to have me!

My first piece is called 'The Moment You Know.'  It's about when we realise our relationship with our partner truly is over and there's no going back, how the breaking point is generally a long time coming and not always really obvious or cut and dried, but, for every separated parent out there, it will have come.  Several people have contributed to it.

As we approach Christmas, for too many families, some enforced togetherness will bring strained times to a head.  I wanted to explain why some of us just can't carry on sometimes, why we don't deserve judgment or pity, but credit for the courage it takes to make the break and how, when children are involved, none of us leaves until our conscience allows.

I would love to know your thoughts too and thank you all for your support!

Image courtesy of netmums.

Fancy Glasses, Sledging Snowmen and The Argos Wish List App,

*Puts on best voice*

''Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la

'Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!''

Ooh 'tis the 1st December and time to officially let Christmas in the door.  I swear it gets harder each year to keep it at bay and have to confess to caving to mince pies already.   

Plus, I've already been road testing these little stunners - reduced from £50 to £25 in House of Fraser. Oh, the double #shame of starting so early!   

Anyhow, I think they're sold out of these specific ones presently, but beautiful wine glasses are a great idea for a gift for people who wouldn't spend that kind of money for themselves.  The etching is very fetching (!) when shown off with a similarly gorgeous red, but it starts to come off if you give them an every day bashing, so they're meant for an occasion and I wouldn't dream of loading them in the dishwasher, even though they're supposed to be able to withstand it.  I do love them - they definitely add some extra pzazz to opening a bottle when friends come round.   

And, indeed, it's time to get the decs down and then up! For the last few years, I've made a point of investing in one extra special piece to add to our collection and these give me an additional thrill when they come out.  Of course, you can wait for the sales for those really expensive items, but we're not that patient, so we go for something in the middle.  This year, we fancied a big snowman but these smaller ones have come our way from culture vulture.  They rock on their little sleighs / sledges / sleds (I still can't decide which would be the correct term, especially as they're carrying skiing poles!) and their hats are springy. We love these too.

Today is the day that the children traditionally send off their letters to Father Christmas and even though, this year, we've been playing with the Argos Wish List App which emails him directly, they've got them ready for posting later on 'just in case!'

We've had some fun with the app though.  It plays the jingly jangly Fa la la la la music which got us in the mood immediately and despite being designed for kids 3-7, the eldest (9) really enjoyed it too. Fortunately, they've put the same items on both sets of correspondence, so as not to confuse me the great man.  They're offered a selection of 'Top Toys' plus all their other departments broken down into themes.  No prices are shown which adds to the feeling that they're coming straight from the North Pole and limits can be set privately by the adults anyhow - re maximum costs and numbers of presents that can be requested.  I found it very useful and equally alarming to receive a copy of the email outlining what they've secretly asked for, seeing as they've changed their minds from the things we've discussed to date!

Here's the official video that tells you all about it.

So that's us off to a great start!  How are your plans going?  When do you officially let Christmas in the door?

24 November 2014

Is Integrity Dead?

The other day I was at my new favourite place of the moment, which is Tai Hair & Beaty in Hove, with my mind mulling over a couple of those problems which some might say are nice to have.

Both dilemmas were about loyalty and I was wondering if I'd done myself some sort of a disservice. In this instance - whether to have a massage and a facial with the voucher I'd been given or go for the haircut with a cut and colour option - it shouldn't really have been a biggie and keeping some obvious perspective required, it really wasn't.

But why did I choose to go for the beauty stuff when what I really wanted to go for was the hair stuff?  And why was I struggling with turning down an opportunity to attend an all expenses paid blogging event that others might have given their right arm for when I really didn't want to go?

Both of these issues came down to the same thing:  Integrity.

The lady who does my hair is funny and kind and comes to my home.  We have children the same age.  We drink tea and chat and she comforted me when my my Nana passed away.  I didn't want to offend her by going elsewhere for my treatment, but oh how I miss going to a salon, being made a cuppa, flicking through a magazine and instead of jumping up to get on with jobs whilst the dye is taking, just taking it easy instead, enjoying being somewhere bright and glamorous and generally being made a fuss of .

So I passed it up, convincing myself being indulged and pampered differently would be as much of a treat - and, naturally, it was.  They have their own revolutionary tea and coffee bar there anyhow and there are worse ways to spend a week-day morning.  All was obviously not lost and my conscience was clear, but when I mentioned it to her the next time I saw her, she told me I should have gone for what I really wanted.  Yet I never would have.

The other issue, the main one that comes to mind, was working with a big name brand to go to a massive event that I'd already decided not to attend.  Just because it was being paid for - ticket, hotel, travel - it didn't suddenly become more attractive to me when it didn't feel right in the first place.  I work with a couple of other companies in competition with this particular crew, but was feeling sort of obliged to accept the invitation because I knew so many others would have appreciated it. Yet I didn't.  And I kept it quiet.

What stunned me though, was that some of the people I confided in were really surprised that I should do that, saying how so many other people wouldn't do the same thing.

Call me old fashioned, but morals still matter to some of us and it's been bothering me a bit, making me wonder whether principles have become out of date.

Although recently, one of my very favourite films came on the telly and Bill Nighy ended up living his Happy Ever After at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India, having been awkwardly loyal for a very long time and I suddenly felt strangely vindicated!  (There's a sequel out next year which I am eagerly anticipating and hope it's as hilarious as the first one- do catch them if you can).

But I still wonder.... what would you do?  Do you think integrity is dead?

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post but all anxieties are my own obvs.

19 November 2014

Be Safe, Be Seen Campaign.

I don't know about you, but the words 'Children' and 'Funeralcare' in near enough the same sentence gives me the Heebie Jeebies - to the extent that they almost put me off writing this post.  But then I realised that's why it had to be done, because, thank the Lord, in this instance, it's for all the right reasons.

Now that the clocks have gone back The Co-operative Funeralcare have launched their national Be Safe, Be Seen campaign.  They work with primary schools all over the country, donating yellow high visibility reflective pin-badges designed to keep young children safe when the dark nights arrive.

This is what they say - “Over the past 5 years we have given out over 160,000 badges to 1,500 schools and youth groups. We also deliver school assemblies or lessons about road safety prepared by road safety charity Brake for children between the ages of 3 and 7 years.”

I'm always nagging my kids about being careful of driveways when they're running or scooting off and how careful and clever we have to be regarding traffic while we're out and about, so welcome any oppotunity to raise their awareness about road safety.  Experience has shown these activities with schools are successful and they've released this 'brilliant' (according to my boys) video which spells out great points in a language that has hopefully had an impact bigger than my unladylike bellowing at them.  

I don't know why they need to be convinced by computerised images, but, let's face it, most children respond to them and anything that reinforces how important it is to think more about how to be safe and be seen can only do good.  

Here are the some of the tips covered, but I really recommend roping the youngsters in for a watch which wasn't even wasted on my nine year old!     

  • Look out for and encourage your children to be aware of hidden entrances or driveways when crossing pavements.
  • Make sure your children walk on the side of pavements away from the traffic.
  • When crossing the road your child should always choose a safe place and time to cross. It’s always safer to cross at a pedestrian or patrolled crossing.
  • Avoid crossing between parked cars as drivers won’t be able to see children who do this very well.
  • It’s important to stop at the kerb, look both ways and listen to traffic before crossing. Pedestrian crossings can still be dangerous if care is not taken.
  • All pedestrians should wait on the pavement until all the traffic from both directions has stopped as this is the safest time to cross. Islands are often provided in the middle of the road, so children should treat each half as a separate crossing.
  • Children should avoid playing near busy roads as they can often forget their surroundings and become unaware of the dangers on the road.
You can read more about the Be Safe, Be Seen campaign and order free badges for your childrens' and other local schools on their site - HERE or, as we did, pop into your local  Co-op Funeralcare branch and organize them from there.  Plus, if you would like to add your support via @CoopFuneralcare and / or @TheCooperative, that would be appreciated.  

Let's keep the words 'Children' and 'Funeralcare' in near enough the same sentence for all the right reasons.  

Thank you. 

  This is a Netmum's sponsored review.To find out more click the button:

Official Disclosure - I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.
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