Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Haibun: Nightmare

November 19, 2016

Winter Scene, 3


Haibun: “Nightmare”

I awoke this morning, being thrown to the ground by a nightmare. What would make me dream in garish technicolor about a marriage ended over three decades ago? It ended badly, but it also started the same. We were too young, and caught up in a ridiculous political cult where he was the ‘revolutionary leader’ while I was of a much lesser status in life and marriage. The abuse grew constant and I, not having the strength to physically abuse, honed my words to the sharpest point.

When you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas….

Perhaps this nightmare was a product of what we have seen on the national stage: misogyny, attempts at humiliation, fear and a bullying of weaker elements in society. Whatever brought this nightmare of a person into my subconscious, one I have not thought of in years, whatever made me sit up gasping for breath, I walked around my house in the grey dawn, touching furniture, mantels,  grateful for the gentle, kind man married to for 32 years, looking through large windows at the old apple tree that gave us such wonderful fruit this year. Walking outside, the raw  late fall dawn cleared my mind and gladdened my heart: The finally-changed leaves and the whipping, smoky wind, the peal of the different wind chimes were like church bells calling me to a reality that life is good and a nightmare is just a bad dream that will vanish like a rotten apple in time


Fall’s crispness compels

Apples to tumble from trees

Worms make the journey.




Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2016
















Choosing Boundaries and Meaning Them.


Sailboat, watercolor, Jane kohut-bartels, 2006

Sailboat, watercolor, Jane kohut-bartels, 2006


This short essay is new. I wondered whether to post this now, but others are also struggling with this same theme in their lives.  I buck up my courage and post it with an eye toward revisions for the future.

Lady Nyo



This short essay is going to sound weird, strange or downright mean to some people. Frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I’m still learning here so this is certainly not a complete answer, far from it. It’s an issue like an onion, with many layers. It can be stinky, too. And, it can make us uncomfortable in the doing.

I grew up with a parent who was an extreme narcissist by any score. I never learned, or actually, I was never allowed to set boundaries as a child or teen. Since a narcissistic parent doesn’t see their child as anything except an extension of their own person, the offspring setting boundaries is something not tolerated. Hence, it was something I didn’t really know the value of until much later in adulthood and after quite a bit of therapy.

Boundaries mean choices for by a person and choices should reflect a healthy sense of oneself. In life we meet all sorts of people, appropriate to our existence and those inappropriate. When we haven’t an understanding of boundaries, (and this doesn’t just fall out of the sky, we have to learn this) when we are uncomfortable with the behavior of others towards us but don’t know why, we can dismiss these feelings and we can choose inappropriate or unhealthy relationships. Many times we are afraid of offending, so we open ourselves to what comes down as actual abuse. When we have serious deficiencies in self-worth and don’t value ourselves in healthy and positive ways, we fall to the relationships that are obstacles and become, ultimately, terrible and/or destructive burdens.

Recently, I have been taking stock of this issue. It has loomed large in my life over the past few years. Perhaps this is because I have become more conscious of this, and the ties to narcissistic behavior, but also because I began to develop a long needed and necessary sense of self-worth. And it isn’t something that is easy. Abuse, emotional and otherwise, comes from not valuing yourself and setting boundaries. There are many people in this world who look for what they perceive as vulnerable people and they latch on for their own benefit. We call them opportunists.

I remember working at a local university in the early 90’s. I grew to hate it. I had a female supervisor who demanded that I give her neck/back rubs. This was not in my job description, but she was a woman who had a lot of issues. She was just a low-class bully, with little to redeem her. I remember complaining to HR and then I realized clerical workers were just seen as shit, expendable.  I was told any employee who went up against a supervisor was sure to lose. The “University would win all the time.” That was the way it was then. I don’t know if things have changed at this university, but I had to realize boundaries weren’t encouraged to clerical workers, even though the HR rep knew well my complaint.   I was told “This University isn’t a place to work for everyone. If you can’t take it, quit.”   Amazingly arrogant, but a reflection of the reality of the situation.   I also remember having to cover (and in one case clean up) for the stupid and (at times) drunk designers in the department. These were two girls (they didn’t deserve the title ’women’) who had been there a long time, and they abused their jobs. On occasion I ended up doing their work in different departments of the University. Not that I had qualifications and I certainly did not receive any pay or credit for this. I also remember having to constantly apologize for their behavior and this became ridiculous. It was humiliating. I felt like I was in a crazed universe, not university. A ship of damn fools. I got an earful from different departments about these two girls. People were fed up with their behavior over the years and they made complaints to our department head who ducked the issues. Their behavior was known all over. There was no excuse. They were being protected by the head of the department. He wasn’t going to make any changes here, though his reputation suffered because of his ego. He was a huge narcissist and inappropriately, in front of employees berated the female supervisor. Most of us hated her, and I had particular reason to dislike this woman, but I remember feeling shocked at his behavior. I left after five years. I started to write a book, just a historic novel, but it gave me feet to get away from a situation that was debilitating. This situation was so bad I had nightmares. I was in despair. A few weeks away from this mess and those feelings passed. I didn’t set any boundaries and I was afraid IF I did, I would lose my job and probably in that highly dysfunctional department, would. We had just adopted our only child, and it would have been much better to leave. My priorities were very screwed. I was beyond ‘uncomfortable’ but didn’t understand what to do to end this situation. Quitting was a relief, but the basic problem (setting boundaries and meaning them) wasn’t addressed.

Again, no boundaries, no resolve. I didn’t honor or protect myself. I was too fearful about things that others who had better self-worth would have walked out of with little problem.

It’s been a long struggle to come to terms with this issue of boundaries. Many women just don’t see this as possible or important. It has everything to do with either the way we are raised, especially when there are psychological issues with parents and also within society’s concepts and expectations of women in general. Marriage can have a lot to do with this lag. I am very fortunate in my second marriage. My first was full of abuse, some physical but mostly emotional. I had left a narcissistic parent to marry a man who was my mother with a dick. I didn’t set boundaries, I didn’t know how. I prolonged my own misery.

Recently I was involved in an online squabble with a bunch of women here in Atlanta calling themselves “Smart Asses”. As a dear friend pointed out….”They were not so smart, but they definitely were asses.” I knew a few of them, and some I knew as probable sociopaths. Possibly more than a few. Why be involved with these kind of people? Stupidity on my part and thinking I could make a difference. One needs to realize that you can’t correct crazy. Again, I failed to set boundaries, this time internally. What in Hell was I trying to do with these people? I had nothing really in common with these women (and men) so what was I there for?

You can’t change the world; you can only attempt to change yourself.

Recently, a sister in law said (when I asked about her youngest (24 years old) son that “we will not have this conversation”. Sounds rude? Perhaps it is, but she was setting a boundary, and I think this healthy. Setting boundaries isn’t easy. It takes work, but more so, it takes perseverance. You have to mean them.

What I have learned about boundaries needs a lot more thought and practice. However, I have learned some things and these I hope are helpful.

First, know who you are. Know your limits. Don’t make excuses for them, look at them closely and consider if they are something you can defend.  If you feel uncomfortable with a person or a flock of people, you probably need a boundary of some sort. Maybe several. Go with your gut.

Center yourself in who you are and what you love. In those things you have accomplished. This takes time and a lot of energy and probably some therapy for many of us. Our wires get twisted in life, but down there, somewhere, if we are honest with ourselves….are the things that make us glow and blossom. Don’t get caught up in the energy sucking drama of other people. That’s just a waste of your precious life. They don’t want any advice, they just want an audience. (I’ve done this myself to some of my friends, and for some reason they are still my friends. My apologies all around…I’m learning.)

When our boundaries are weak, when we are not clear about our value and self-worth, or the value of actually having boundaries we will lean towards all sorts of chaos and drama that isn’t ours. When our boundaries are weak we are also uncomfortable. We self-doubt most of the time. Recently I wrote an article titled “Nihilism, Smart Asses, etc.” on the blog and this was because I was trying to ‘fit in’ with people I should have run from like the raging plague. These people had nothing going in their lives except creating negativity and bitchin’ to the Heavens, but I stepped into it with both feet. Again, you can’t fix crazy. If some people have given you the willies before by their past behavior, trust your gut. They probably haven’t changed much. Set boundaries and don’t try to climb over the retaining wall because you think you can change a situation. You probably can’t. See your boundaries as protection that accompanies you through life. Respect the need for them and you will begin to respect yourself.

Base yourself in something you love and in something you have pride in accomplishing. When I feel swayed by other people that I know mean me ‘no good’, are insulting or belittling, that I can see are violating my boundaries, I look at the bindings of my four books sitting in my library. I look at all these paintings on the walls. These are accomplishments I should honor. They meant I tore myself away long enough to do something positive. I set boundaries here where I used an enormous amount of energy to do these things. They were made ‘real’ because I set boundaries on my time and energy and what I would give to the rest of the world.  However, I also know I didn’t do these things all by myself. Bill Penrose formatted and ‘made real’ the first three books on, and Nick Nicholson did “Pitcher of Moon”. I’ve known both of these guys for eight years and they are great friends. They gave of their time and energies and experience, mostly their enormous hearts and friendship and I am still amazed by their generosity. The writing was the easy part for me. I couldn’t have done what they did. Of course, there are friends along the way, especially in the last five years, other writers, poets and some just wonderful women. Especially these women, on websites concerning the issues of narcissism, were beacons for me. They guided me through the maze of abuse and into the light of knowledge. First, they helped me understand boundaries and then they helped me put them in place. I owe so much to other people in my life. They saw someone floundering around in the water, and dragged me to shore.

And that’s the point of life. We can start deficient in these issues, like boundaries, but if we remain so, we impoverish ourselves. We impoverish our creativity. Learn from those who can help on these weighty issues, and avoid the negative folk.   Setting boundaries are possible, and also necessary in this fugue of life.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014


”The Peace that Surpasses All Understanding’, Part 2

August 27, 2011

I’m using this title for an entry because it seems to be a continuation of the previous entry, dated August 20th.

I have a friend, who happens to be a neighbor, close enough so we can work out together during the week.  I’ve known her about a year, and we have circled each other carefully.  She’s a high powered woman, and in the beginning she had little filter to her mouth: what she thought came out with little consideration about subject or audience.  I didn’t know her well, but I called her on it.  I was surprised because she immediately apologized  and from there we relaxed.  We’ve become good friends, and I value her highly.  She’s the sister I never had.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t done things that annoyed her; I did, and after a rough spell, we realized   we had much more in common than not.

She’s a decade younger but she has an energy about her that can be exhausting; it also can be invigorating.  As I got to know her better, I saw such worth and also such pain.

We get together to do the Callanetics dvd, laughing at the 80’s hairdos and the funny leotards.  B. was doing something called ‘bootcamp’ for the last year, serious 5 times a week running, serious exercising, push ups, crunches, and she was tearing up her joints. B. is also a breast cancer survivor. She was having to go to physical therapy to recover from the bootcamp.  We decided to do this dvd together. 

Isometrics versus Bootcamp.

So far we do the ‘Stomach’ dvd, only 20 minutes, but we both are groaning and sweating at the end.  I am awaiting the full hour Callanetics dvd, something I had in vhs 10 years ago  and recently dumped. Vhs was on the blink.  It is a killer exercise regime, and  Callan Pickney is part sweet, Southern Nazi,  part ballet dancer. 

When it finally arrives we are in for it.  I remember not being able to reach down and tie my joggers because my stomach muscles were screaming.

So we manage to get that 20 minutes in, but we spend about an hour (or more) just talking.

B. is an amazing graphic artist.  She’s been at it for 27 years, and did my bookmarks and cards this spring for the three books published by  They are so beautiful.  I really admire her abilities.

We’ve been exchanging stories but  I have been listening closely.  B. comes from a very abusive childhood home.  Her mother’s abuse is only now muted by senility.  She still has a foul and berating mouth on her, and uses it to instill control and power over B.  I won’t repeat the language this elderly woman uses on her daughter, but it’s shocking enough that a mother would  say these things so easily.  She was like this, however, before the clouding of her mind.

B. is  a dutiful daughter.  She is patient with her mother, she seems to accept what is nothing but abuse and she has been deeply impacted by a lifetime of this narcissistic behavior. 

And that brings me to a point: When a woman has such  a parent, especially a mother, who abuses her, allows no independent opinion, tears down her self-worth with cruelty, what is finally left of that person?

Well, for all of us, until we get ‘wise’ to the issues….women who make bad choices in life, women who can’t set boundaries, women who sometimes have to hit rock bottom before they can begin the recovery process.

B. is finally blessed, as I am, with a good and knowledgeable therapist.  Actually, it’s not easy to find a therapist who is versed in the issues of Personality Disorders, in particular Narcissism, and many will try to make you ‘swallow’ the abuse of a parent because we are so indoctrinated to take abuse from parents.

A mother’s love is the earliest and most influential part of a child’s life. And when we are children, we have few options.  When we are adults, we have choices.  But the influences stick, and we come from these ruinous relationships with many issues. (These are called ‘fleas’ by some) Bad choices are very much part of this; setting boundaries seems to be the very hardest for women.

Perhaps it is hardest with our mothers.  Recently, I realized this and just gave up. I also realized that I lived in ‘fear’ of her. (this fear is many faceted.  Still working it out)

 I had hoped  there would be some ‘half-way’ ground where my mother could acknowledge my boundaries; where I could express my opinions without her contempt or rudeness. Her rudeness, when it isn’t  outrageous dismissal of an opinion,  usually is expressed by her turning away and showing her impatience with anything said. She doesn’t want to hear you.  This is where narcissism shows it’s ugly head.  If it isn’t about her, it doesn’t have value.

The problem really came down to this:  I never really set boundaries with this woman.  I didn’t know how. I was still hoping  as my mother, she would wake up someday, change.  But she’s a narcissist; in fact, she’s an ignoring narcissist.  In a way, it made it easier for me to walk away.  And that is what I did: I just gave up any hope that things would change between us. I faced a reality that she wasn’t  capable as a human being of any change. She liked the way she was. Narcissists have no inner self-compass.  They don’t question what they do or their effects.  They don’t really have the wiring because they are devoid of empathy.  They may make a show of great emotion and tears, but it’s usually about themselves, or rage that they aren’t getting something.  They really function like 6 year old children, retarded emotionally to this age.

 Six decades of no change, so what was I expecting….the Second Coming of Christ?

Over the years, I have changed.  It hasn’t been a straight line progress, more like the Russian Army: two steps forward, one step back. Or something like that. Hobbled by many things.   Perhaps becoming a writer, and applying myself enough to publish three books so far, and having a good and stable marriage, and certainly this blog helped.

It’s also having a great and comfortable therapist.  Over the past 5 years, she has become the “good” mother.  She has set an example of what motherhood should be, without any preaching.   She’s elderly, too, enough so  I can see her as my mother….and I can mourn all   those years of disruption and grief with my ‘real’ mother.  I can get past the anger and lose because she wasn’t capable of so  many things.  I can’t  really get angry anymore because I feel pity for her. Coming to that was a process. You can’t get angry at a cripple. 

Having the good therapist was so helpful because a mother raising a child needs good influences around her. My child is in the Navy, and almost 24. I feel  I made so many mistakes when he was younger. He survived my rotten parenting, and is thriving and making us proud. So something went right in those early years.  Now I understand so much more about being a mother, and I wish I had the chance to do it right, with what I know now.

No I don’t, I am enjoying my freedom.  He’s a great kid, and somehow the human spirit is so resilient.  I take hope from this.

What I have learned is this: empathy is the key issue in our relationships.  Being able to truly feel what the other feels, to put yourself aside and listen, to try hard to connect with that other person, to be there when they need you most.  Perhaps this is what it means most to be human.

I am hoping my friend B. will find the strength within to walk away from her mother’s horrid abuse.  Like me, once she does, she will start examining very closely all the other relationships in her life: friends that are verbally abusive, friends that are users, friends that really don’t come up to the standard of friendship.  Family, too, will come under this microscope.  Luckily for her, B. has some great sisters.  And she keeps me laughing with the stories of confusing and diverting the mother’s constant abuse.

She’s a good friend, and she deserves support and encouragement.  Mostly, she deserves peace.

Lady Nyo

Out in the marsh reeds

A bird cries out in sorrow,

As though it had recalled

Something better forgotten.

—Ki No Tsurayuki

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