Catfish and Sociopaths

Catfish (According to Urbandictionary.com):  A catfish is someone who assumes a false identity on the Internet using various platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A catfish is often undesirable in comparison to thier profile, as an actual catfish would be to a premium “catch” fish like Alaskan salmon.

 

A few weeks ago, during a business meeting, a few of my coworkers brought up their obsession with reality television.  When several of them began to rave about the MTV show “Catfish”, I immediately assumed that they were referring to some show about actual Catfish farmers or fisherman in the Deep South.  You can imagine how silly I looked as I questioned them on why a show about a Catfish farm would be so interesting.  After a brief description of the show, however, I decided that I should check it out.

As the Urban Dictionary explains, the Catfish that MTV features on this program is someone who creates a false sense of themselves online in order to lure in unsuspecting and vulnerable for romantic relationships.  The show follows the person who is questioning the identity of the Catfish (usually because the person begins to make up loads of excuses to not meet in person).  By the end of the show, the viewers find out what the true identity of the Catfish.

After watching a few episodes, I realized that this term Catfish is basically another word for a person with a personality disorder.  Most episodes of the reality show leave the viewer as though he/she should feel sorry for this person who has lied about their identity (because usually it shows a deep rooted self esteem issue); however, having lived through a relationship in which I was extremely deceived, I find it hard to have compassion for someone who has engaged in this sort of behavior.

 

Social Media Catfish:

 

With the Internet and Social Media so pervasive, it is becoming increasingly easy to create a whole new identity and “false self” virtually.  The television show often focuses on those who are hiding their true physical appearance.  This is likely why it is so easy for viewers to feel a sense of sadness for the Catfish.  In a society that places so much value on physical appearance, many people can relate to the idea of wanting to escape and be someone else for a while – someone that most people would find physically attractive.

The more common (and potentially more dangerous) Catfish, however, is the person who trolls the Internet for his/her mark and intends for the deception to continue in person (or intends to harm the mark financially, emotionally, or even physically).  These Catfish focus on creating a bond with their mark before meeting in person so that the mark feels a false sense of trust upon the initial in person meeting.  Luc used Match.com as his trolling mechanism.  He created the profile based completely on his false self.

 

Here are some of the lies Luc propagated through match.com:

1)   Rising R&B Singer:  Luc made himself out to be a young man who had recently been signed by a major record label.  If he could have gotten away with telling the world he was an established artist he would have; however, he knew that it would be impossible to pull off something that big.  He created enough fake information online about this false career that anyone who wasn’t familiar with the music industry (like me) wouldn’t have initially thought this was strange.

2)   College Graduate:  Luc’s online profile noted that he was looking for someone with a comparable educational background.  He claimed that he had attended Virginia Tech and graduated in Music Engineering.  Upon meeting in person, he even had a framed diploma (which was fake) making it appear as though this lie was completely true.  In reality, Luc hadn’t even finished High School.  Unless I had requested official transcripts from the school, I would have had no way of vetting this lie initially.

3)   Name and Age:  Unless you are able to get ahold of a person’s Social Security number, this one is really hard to prove.  On just about any social media site, you can claim whatever name and age you want without any proof.  Luc decided that on match.com he wanted to be 26 years old (he was nearly 40).  Had I known he was actually 40, lie number one wouldn’t have been as plausible.

4)   Successful Software Businessman:  Another lie that is easy to pass off on the web is your profession.  For example, does LinkedIn require proof of the profession that you claim?  Luc claimed he owned a small software company and this was how he was able to make ends meet while he pursued his music career.  He created a website for this company, registered some random software product for a patent, and created a virtual job for himself.

 

When the Catfish steps from behind the computer:

 

If the Catfish has completely lied about their appearance, I imagine it usually doesn’t move from behind the computer; however, the most dangerous lies have nothing to do with appearance.  In fact, when you meet them in person, and they look enough like their pictures, you might breath a sigh of relief.  When I met Luc in person, he looked older than his pictures.  When I questioned this, however, he noted that he had shared headshots and they must have been air brushed or something.  Given that he still looked like the same person, I didn’t immediately question the other facts about his profile.

Before meeting Luc in person, we had spoken on the phone several times and shared many life experiences and stories (mine were true – his completely fabricated).  I felt like I knew him already and this was a danger that I hadn’t known to protect myself from.  My normal skeptical nature had been squashed because I believed I had gotten enough background from his profile and our conversations.  All of the “background” I felt I had gathered, however, had been a fabrication provided by the Catfish.

 

Could you be dealing with a Catfish?

 

Since I started blogging, I have received many letters from women who tell me about how they were in a relationship with someone whom they really didn’t know.  Sometimes, these women were married to the men for years before they learn their true identities.  They believed they married and had children with an Alaskan salmon, when in reality they married a Potomac River Catfish.

(Note:  For those of you outside of Washington, DC – Potomac River Catfish are big and ugly.  While fun to catch, the CDC warns against eating them because they are full of dangerous levels of Mercury that when consumed in large quantities can poison you.  Catfish are bottom feeders, so if their environment is polluted – they are too.)

Just because you think you know a person, and your relationship has moved beyond the virtual sphere doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with a Catfish.  If you are with someone whose story doesn’t seem to make sense, it might not make sense because they aren’t being honest.  In the age of technology it has become increasingly easier to re-invent yourself.  Regardless of what appears to be an attempt by popular media to sympathize with the Catfish, I believe this type of Catfish is dangerous and should be treated as such.

 

 

Family Court – Nuke And Pave

The Family Court system in America is a disaster area.  My personal experience has been on the Family Court battlefield in the State of Maryland, but I know Maryland is not alone in its level of chaos.  It is certainly not alone in the number of children who are abused and die as a result of decisions made in these courts.  While I understand that not every case ends as poorly as mine did (with the unnecessary and brutal murder of a child), the courts as they stand are breeding grounds for sociopathic people to terrorize both their children and their former partners.  Since the murder of my son, many desperate parents have sent me letters asking me for advice.  I have also gotten letters from fellow Children’s Rights advocates who seek my input on how to best change the system.  In my best attempt to remain as positive as possible, given the dire realities that we face, my best advice for the change that needs to happen on a systemic level is as follows:

NUKE AND PAVE

(Note:  I don’t mean literally “nuke”.  I am not a violent person, and would never suggest blowing something up.  By “nuke”, I mean “get rid of the failures and start with a new foundation”.)

This might appear pessimistic, however, it is my strong opinion that an institution that fails so many children to the degree of sanctioning murder – needs to be completely overhauled.  A friend of mine, and follow advocate for Children, recently sent me the following link:

MD Commission on Child Custody Decision Making

To spare those of you with only a mild interest (or not a ton of time to read legislative crap) the time it takes to go through this lengthy document, I will summarize:  The State of Maryland is creating a “Commission on Child Custody Decision Making.”  This sounds great right?  On the surface it sounds like progress; however, it could also serve as a temporary bandage on a system that needs open-heart surgery.

 

The Commission:

The commission has 14 areas it is going to be reviewing.  Five public forums will be held (The county where my son’s murder was sanctioned has been left off of this list) so that the commission can take under advisement public opinion on these issues.  Below are the issues the commission is set to address where I will focus my attention:

1)   To ensure custody orders are more uniform, fair, and equitable.

My comments:  This statement screams “parental rights”.  It shouldn’t be about what is equal for the parents.  It should be about what is the best environment for the child.  If one or both of the parents is unstable, and shows a history of abuse and poor decision making, why should that parent be entitled to equal access to the child?

2)   Study and consider the adverse effects of child custody litigation and ways the court system can minimize those effects.

My comments:  It should be common knowledge in the legal community that the cases that make it to court most certainly involve at least one parent who suffers from a personality disorder.  If the court wanted to minimize the effects that litigation has on the child, it should focus on how the parents got to court in the first place.  Just trying to get the parents out of court is not going to save the child from the negative impact of dealing with a sociopathic parent.

3)   Study how to promote and ensure that children have ongoing relationships with each parent.

My comments:  This is similar to point number one.  In a perfect world where sociopathic people didn’t have children, both point number one and this point would be a non-issue.  Instead of “ongoing relationships”, how about focusing on “healthy and safe relationships”?  Many children have ongoing relationships with abusive parents.  Many of these children either require extensive therapy to try and reverse the damage or become abusers themselves.

4)   Study how to maximize the involvement of both parents in each child’s life.

My comments:  It continues to baffle me how the government often believes that it’s in the child’s best interest to try and get a deadbeat parent involved in his/her child’s life.  I have seen so many odd cases where the court will try and “encourage” a parent to spend more time with their child, even if it should be clear that the person’s involvement is not in the child’s best interest.  It is better to have one good parent than one good one and one abusive one.  News flash:  Good parents don’t need to be encouraged to be involved with their child.

5)   Study whether or not there is any gender discrimination in custody decisions in Maryland and, if so, how to address such discrimination.

My comments:  While many times it appears as though currently there is a war on motherhood, in this back bending attempt to promote Father’s Rights, gender discrimination should be irrelevant if we are focusing on Children’s Rights.  Shouldn’t it?

6)   Make recommendations regarding the most effective manner in which to facilitate cooperative decision- making by parents involved in child custody proceedings as it relates to their children.

My comments:  Going back to an earlier point, most cases that end up in court include at least one sociopath.  The sooner the courts realize that it is impossible to negotiate or “facilitate cooperative decision-making” with a terrorist, the sooner they will realize this point is ludicrous.  During my custody case, both Luc and I were ordered to go to a two- day co-parenting class (6 hours total).  I attended this course at the expense of leaving my boob diva of a breast fed child (who was not yet used to taking the bottle and cried with Grandma for six hours straight); however, Luc chose not to attend at all. Those are six hours I will never get back with my son.

7)   Study how to ensure that child custody determinations involving parents with mental health issues are handled in a fair and even manner based on actual evidence and not presumed limitations.

My comment:  Now this one is an interesting point and scratches the surface of a major problem.  The issue with this point, however, is that it assumes that mental health assessments are done appropriately.  The judge in my case suspected that Luc had a serious mental health issue based on a preponderance of evidence; however, given that the judge was not a mental health professional, he ordered Luc to get a forensic psychological assessment.  Luc found a school psychologist, who specialized in child autism and was friends and co-workers with his older son’s therapist, and paid for what appeared to be a one-sided and negligent custody evaluation from a woman with no experience in adult forensic testing.  This test was the evidence the judge needed to protect my son.  Even after it became clear that Luc was disordered (when he drowned his own child for life insurance money), this therapist continued to practice and likely still appears in court potentially ruining the lives of other children and families.

 

What’s Missing?

After going through all 14 (yes, I excluded some of the ones that focused on cultural sensitivity issues and other periphery issues that I don’t believe are at the root of the problem), I didn’t see one point that talked about a review of the cases that went terribly wrong. Wouldn’t the commission benefit from local case studies that are right at their fingertips and a part of public record?  In addition to my own horrific case, they could review Amy Castillo’s case.  After begging a judge to pay attention to the deterioration of her husband’s mental health, Amy’s protection order was denied.  Her husband then went on to do exactly what he told Amy he would do – he drowned all three children to death in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room.

 

Children’s Rights:

 

Children have no rights in America.  Looking at the Family Court System, it often reminds me of slave times.  Laws were made that directly impacted the slaves, yet they had no voice in the process.  Slaves were treated like property, killed, and “owner’s rights” always came first.  Children are treated much in the same way.  Our laws are designed so that parents are given “the right” to do what they wish to their children.  It is only after the child is murdered when that parent faces any sort of loss in their rights, but by then it is too late for the child.

When I am asked what I think about this commission or the state of Family Law in general, I always think about Prince.  Prince never had a chance in this system because his father intended on killing him.  His father wanted access, would cry on cue on the stand when talking about how much he missed his son, and his father effectively gamed our broken system.  Prince should have had a right to live.  He should have had a right to be happy, healthy, and safe.  Prince didn’t have those rights, but the court succeeded in making sure that Luc’s rights were never in jeopardy.

 

Nuke and pave Maryland.  If you want to fix it, start over and make Children’s Rights your foundation.

 

Are You A Deadbeat Enabler?

In last week’s post, I discussed maternal instincts and how this very instinct can work to psychologically torture a woman in Family Court.  This week, I want to take you back to basic relationship dynamics before a woman finds herself in the nightmare of Family Court.   While many women are fortunate enough to never end up in Family Court, that doesn’t mean they have escaped the torturous experience of being with a deadbeat man.  For every deadbeat man, there is a deadbeat enabler.  Possibly one of the harshest realities I had to face in my journey of recovery was the fact that, for a time, I was a deadbeat enabler.

Let me begin by defining what I mean by a deadbeat.  Deadbeats come in all races, ages, socio-economic statuses, and even genders.  For this post, however, I am going to focus on deadbeat men (because, frankly, I am a woman and can only speak from the perspective of a woman who was a deadbeat man enabler).   I recognize that there are tons of wonderful men out there who are amazing sons, husbands, ex-husbands, fathers, and friends.  This week I am not talking about them – those men don’t fall into any of the below categories.

Deadbeat Dad:  This is the type of deadbeat that society usually associates with the word deadbeat.  You might see versions of this man on popular daytime talk shows denying that the child is theirs (even though the baby looks just like them), and calling the mother of their child all sorts of terrible names.  Other forms of deadbeats are those who walk away from their children, abuse their children, or refuse to financially, physically, or emotionally support their children.  If you know a man who is paying an attorney thousands of dollars in an attempt to evade providing financial support to their child, then you know a deadbeat.  While sometimes it’s easier to spot a deadbeat once they have children, I assure you that this deadbeat Dad was a deadbeat even before he became a father.

The Financial Leech:  This common type of deadbeat could be your son, husband, brother, boyfriend, or father.  While it is reasonable that hard working people sometimes find themselves in unfortunate financial circumstances, this man would like you to believe that he is always down and out with his financial luck.  He will talk about how hard it is to find a job, but spend his entire day playing video games, watching television, or sleeping.  He is perfectly happy watching his mother, girlfriend, baby Mama, or wife support him financially…forever.  When his financial support system (the enabler) questions his apparent lack of desire to financially support himself, he immediately attempts to make this person feel insensitive and mean.  A good man would never feel comfortable doing this to a woman.

The Abuser:  We often associate deadbeats with the financially irresponsible, however, the abusing deadbeat is possibly one of the most dangerous types.  This person might be completely financially responsible, yet I would still consider him a deadbeat.  This is the man who treats women poorly by either emotionally or physically abusing them.  A man who treats his mother, ex-wife, baby Mama, or any important woman in his life poorly is a deadbeat.  He could be as wealthy as Donald Trump and buy you Prada shoes and a nice house, but if he beats you up or abuses your children – he is still a deadbeat.  Before you have a child with a man, pay close attention to how he treats the women in his life.  (Unfortunately, Luc’s mother had already died from suffocation before I met him so I was unable to enact this particular test)  Even if you think his mother is weird and annoying, if he doesn’t treat her well – there is something wrong and you could be looking at your future relationship with him.

 

My ex (Lucifer as I call him) had a little bit of all three of the above deadbeat qualities, and unfortunately, I was once his enabler.  Anyone who has known me for long enough would never imagine me to be the type of woman to be a deadbeat enabler; however, I now realize that I was one myself.  Initially in the relationship, I was a strong woman who asked questions and demanded reasonable answers – and initially he had those answers.

Over time, as I grew to love the imaginary man he had created through his insidious lies, the reality began to show its ugly face.  When I would question why Luc wasn’t getting out of bed, and why he was no longer contributing to the household financially, he would claim that he was depressed.  He even once claimed that he had suffered a mild stroke due to the extreme financial and emotional stress he was under.  This is when my basic female instincts turned on me.  I would see him looking pale, sick, and hideous (most likely because he wasn’t showering or leaving the house), and I would immediately want to protect and take care of him.

It is natural as a woman to want to protect and care for those you love; however, you must be able to recognize the difference between someone who deserves to be loved and someone who is using your instincts against you while literally sucking the life out of you.  I, too, have been in a position where I was scared to leave the deadbeat.  I worried that things would be worse for me if I walked away from the father of my child.  I wondered if I was being unreasonable or whether my expectations were too high.  While the deadbeat in my life was an extreme case (as he is now awaiting trial for the murder of my son), many of the things I made excuses for and ignored are the same things many women continue to ignore every day.

 

Help for the deadbeat enabler:

One of my readers recently asked me what she should do to help her friend realize that she is enabling a deadbeat.  My answer is simple:  You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot force it to take a drink.  Friends and family should tread carefully when raising these issues with deadbeat enablers.  The last thing you want is for the deadbeat to catch wind that you are raising these issues and effectively terminate your relationship with the enabler.  The best thing you can do for this person is point out the obvious in a non-aggressive manner, and let them know that you will be there to support them if and when they choose to free themselves from this situation.  While it can be maddening to watch someone you love get used and abused by a deadbeat, there is often not much you can do if the person is unwilling to accept the painful reality. 

Finally, to all of the strong women out there who realize that they are in the vicious cycle of deadbeat enabling – you deserve to be treated better than what you are currently accepting.  Deadbeats will always exist, but it is your choice as to whether or not you will allow them to exist in your life.

Focusing On Happiness In The Midst Of Chaos

Mothers have a primal urge to protect their children.  It’s part of our DNA and unless your maternal instinct isn’t working properly, it is impossible to turn it off.

The first time I walked into my attorney’s office, I have no doubt in my mind that all the attorneys in that office believed I was bat shit crazy.  To some degree, I probably was.  While an attorney likely expects his/her client to calmly explain their situation, I hadn’t been living anything close to a normal or calm situation.  In fact, I had been at war and was ready to throw myself in front of a moving train if it meant saving my son’s life.  From the perspective of the attorney’s, however, they were looking at a woman who was hysterical and they likely assumed that it was my intent to block Luc’s access to Prince out of anger or spite.

While I understand that many cases that come through Family Court are not as extreme as mine was, there are many other women who feel just as desperate to save their children as I was.  This fear is often very real and very legitimate.  Asking a mother to turn her child over to someone she believes is dangerous (i.e. if the person has a history of abuse and/or people keep violently dying around this person), can be compared to asking her to send her defenseless child walking across a battle field in the middle of bombs and gunfire – and just hoping that the child will make it to the other side alive.

Each week during the unsupervised visitation period, I felt as though the court ripped my son from my arms and sent him across the battlefield.  As the court held me back from wrapping my arms around him to take the bullets for him, I slowly felt as though I was dying too.  I am a mother, but I was not legally allowed to protect my own son.  If I am honest, the terror and pain I felt knowing that he was in danger and not being able to protect him felt as bad as the death itself.  It is a different pain, but its terrible and I lived that pain for nearly Prince’s entire life.

Since my son was killed, I have received hundreds of emails from women who are trying to protect their children from someone whom they have reason to believe is dangerous.  Many people have asked me how I am still standing.  Knowing how I felt as I was trying to save my son’s life from a man I knew was dangerous, I am often more baffled at how I was able to remain standing then.

Many of these letters are from women asking me for advise on how to survive a custody war or how to save their children.  Sadly, I cannot give the best advice on how to save their children, as I was unable to save my own.  I can, however, explain how I survived and how I continue to survive.

Life isn’t always pleasant.  We all get thrown curve balls and some of us are unfortunate enough to step into a pile of crazy that can put a damper on life.  While there are many things that are out of your control, you do have the ability to control how you look at the positive things in your life.  There are ALWAYS positive things, even if they seem a bit buried in the negative.  When my son was killed, my first thought was that I wanted to die too.  Then, I realized that I have a lot of things to still live for; I have had many blessings in my life, and would inevitably have many more.

To all of my readers who are being forced to send their children across that battlefield, understand that you are not alone.  It is normal to feel crazy because you are being asked to turn off something that is impossible to turn off – maternal instinct.  While you are going through the battle, never forget to take care of yourself.  Go to a therapist and get help so that when you walk into that attorney’s office you can do so with as clear a mind as possible.  And never forget to enjoy your child.  Don’t let the battlefield continue in your home because of your stress about the situation.

A week ago, my sister was in a terrible car accident on the Pennsylvania turnpike after being run off the road by a massive truck.  When I first heard about it, all I received was a text from my mother telling me that my sister had been taken to the hospital after an accident.  The last time I was told that someone I loved had been taken to the hospital, I arrived to find out that my son was dead.  So, when I heard this news I immediately panicked.  ‘This cannot be happening again,’ I thought as I drove like a maniac toward the hospital.

My sister’s car was found completely flipped over and crushed pretty bad.  She walked away with a bad headache and some bumps and bruises.  The next day she said to me, “Why do we have this black cloud over us?”  I responded by saying, “We don’t.  If we had a black cloud, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation because you wouldn’t have survived that accident.”

Life is full of bad things, but its also full of joy and happiness.  Before the demon walked into my life, I admit that I had a tendency to stress over the bad without recognizing the good.  If there is one thing that this situation has taught me, it’s to enjoy the good things life has to offer.  If you don’t take the time to be thankful about the good, the insanity will drive you crazy and the Luc’s of the world will win.