My friend Miranda and I have the impossible jobs of "co-parenting" with aVIP Ex. To offset the gut-punch of receiving incendiary texts and e-mails from our VIPs, we send each other the offending messages to get moral support and also some been-there chuckles. Because, underneath the toxic veneer of these missives, lies a kind of thinking so tangled that that laughter is the only sane response.
Here is a text message Miranda recently sent me after her ex picked up her son for a weeklong trip. Keep in mind, as you read this, that her offense was to give her son his favorite stuffed animals to take to his dad's house.
The stuffed animals are now in a bag hidden in my closet.
Our son has his own things here, including toys, stuffed animals and games.
You are babying and traumatizing Sam through your relentless efforts to be inserted into my life and provide him with many stuffed animals. Sam is 8 and cries about the latest stuffed animal. It is ridiculous that you would torture him at pick up this evening by demanding that he take his stuffed animal with him.
Sam is safe and will be better off not being tortured by your creating disputes and problems and trying to interfere with my time with him.
This text reminded me of an e-mail Prince set me in 2003, so I sent it to Miranda, hoping the amusement would take the sting off the mishigas that had just been dumped on her head.
Prince wrote this after I dropped off Luca for a holiday trip. I had neglected to provide Luca's Elmo carry-on suitcase, assuming that Prince would use one of his own suitcases, as he had kept all the luggage in the divorce settlement. So bear in mind, as you read this, that the reason for this tirade was the fact that I assumed Prince would use his own carry-on for his own trip.
I am shocked and appalled by your complete lack of understanding and sensitivity to the needs of your children.
The more I discover, the more I question your ability to parent.
For someone entering the field of psychotherapy, this is especially disturbing.
I now know why Luca's emotional well-being may be in danger -- and it's due to your parenting!
You destroy Luca's pride, you cause him embarrassment, you make him angry, you make him frustrated, you totally derail a six-year-old boy so that YOU can maintain some bizarre psychotic upperhand in a material possession game that is in your head.
To put your obsessive nature before the needs of your children is despicable!
Now I know why he is SO angry with you! I can't believe you treat him this way!
I am so disgusted and saddened for our children in your care, it makes me sick.
After Miranda read this, her response was: "Do they use the same ghostwriter?"
How VIP Exes Are Like Internet Trolls
It occurred to me, after reading both our VIP correspondences, that VIP Exes are like Internet Trolls.
Projecting Unowned Parts of Themselves
Like trolls, VIP exes tend to project unowned aspects of themselves onto another person. Miranda's ex accused her of "relentless efforts to be inserted into my life" when in fact he has gone to great lengths to insert himself into her life, i.e. giving her money for a carpet cleaner because he didn't like the dog smell in her house. In my case, Prince accused me of "some bizarre psychotic material possession game" when his life is primarily about acquiring property: in our divorce settlement, he finagled both our houses and most of the stuff in the houses.
The Disinhibition Effect
The distance created by electronic devices spurs VIP Exes and Trolls to let loose in a way that they never would to your face. Troll expert John Suler PhD likens this to "a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.”
Both VIPs and Trolls share this classic trait of narcissism. Both believe that they hold The Truth about the person they're attacking and they have the right to point out said person's errant ways -- in the nastiest, below-the-beltiest way possible.
No Matter What You Do, You Can't Win
I have blogged on web sites that attract trolls in droves: Good Men Project, Salon, and Huffington Post in particular. And what I've noticed about the cyber-stones thrown at me and at other bloggers, is that what you say really doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how benign your point is, or even what your point is. Trolls don't need a legitimate reason to attack you because they're driven to find fault.
For instance: Miranda's ex went bezerk because she gave him her son's stuffed animals to take to his house, thinking her son would want them. Prince had a conniption because I didn't lend him my son's carry-on, thinking he would use his own carry-on (as he had kept all the luggage) and also trying to maintain boundaries.
I honestly believe that if Miranda had I had made the opposite choice -- keeping the lovies and lending the carry-on -- our exes would have attacked us for different reasons.
Because it's not about us. It's about them.