• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • February 29, 2016 in Columnists

    Ten degrees of Ermingard

    People sometimes say that we lack remorse or guilt like it’s a bad thing. They are sure that remorse and guilt are necessary to being a ‘good’ person.
    M.E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight

    *Some details have been changed to protect myself, not her.

    Her name is not Ermingard. I’m not telling what her name is. I don’t want that name connected with me or mine — not now or ever, ever again. She is the only person in the world I truly hate and will never forgive, no matter how many earthy-crunchy, never-victimized people tell me (while afloat on their sea of lily pads and hyacinth blossoms) that I need to do it “for my own sake.” God can forgive her. I don’t have to. To this day, if I meet another predator, I evaluate them for “degrees of Ermingard.” Even two degrees of Ermingard sends up warning flares.

    When you are raised to think you are absolutely nothing, the first big predator that comes along is going to get you.

    Predators often come in glamorous garb, dripping words that simulate real wisdom like a honey trail to attract hapless ants. They smile charmingly, they focus on you. It can be sexual, but it doesn’t have to be. My predator was as straight as I am. Gorgeous, her native language was French and she came with two pretty little children in tow, one almost the exact age of mine.

    I can honestly say that I have gone from an unloved child to one of the best loved women I know. This gives me the strength to get through nearly anything. At the time, I was just 21, so raw from my upbringing and my subsequent survival flailings that had you looked closely, you would have seen me bleeding.

    I met her in a grocery store. When she spoke, I heard her accent and called out to her “I speak French” (my first mistake).

    And so it began. She paid such sweet attention to starveling me. She told me I was beautiful and didn’t understand how my family of origin could be so cruel. She went places with me. She loved my child and I loved hers. Her boyfriend was kind. I felt wanted and included.


    Except she would offer to take care of my daughter for an hour in trade for childcare and then be gone for five or six hours, leaving me to feed her always-ravenous children food I could not replace. I went hungry after that so my daughter could still eat.

    Except when her sister-in-law gave me gas money for running them all up to Seattle, she wanted it and when I said that it was given to me for desperately needed gas money I’d just spent on her, she went into a rage, tore the bill in half and said “There. There’s your half.”

    Except she said she loved going places with me — wasn’t it fun — but to get there on time because she needed a ride to an appointment.

    Except she stole the crepe de chine yardage inherited from my grandmother I’d planned to use for my daughter’s wedding dress. Nobody else knew where it was stored.

    Except she told me that people despised me, would invite her to parties but tell her not to bring her fat, repulsive friend, but that she was my friend, my only friend and they just didn’t know me.

    Except she moved her entire family including boyfriend into my apartment for “a week” and then wouldn’t leave.

    Except she offered to take care of my daughter during summer breaks when I couldn’t even afford child care and I found out, years and years later, that she’d starved my child even though I gave her every penny I could, so much I had to hitchhike out to see my child.

    But oh, she loved me and valued me. I was family. Of course, I was threatened with ejection from that family if I didn’t toe the line. And all my opinions were crap, all my beliefs were stupid. My daughter was somehow inferior to her children, but that was okay, she loved her anyway.

    She particularly specialized in stealing the loyalties of children and I watched her do it over and over. She stole my daughter’s loyalty. It was so easy in the days of exhausted single moms. In those days, so many dads just left and we couldn’t get them to come back even enough to spend time with their children. And child support? Piffle. They needed the money to support their new families. So we all banded together for support. She would offer to take someone’s kid for a week “because I know you’re tired and really need the break. Once the child had been at her house a few days she would tell them that their mother didn’t want them but that she did — and then start hammering the kid with all the ways their mother was a terrible parent.

    It was a consistently successful strategy.

    It actually didn’t take me that long to figure her out and to despise her, but I was also trapped in my solitude, self-hatred and vulnerability. I was raised despised and the idea of being cast out by a second “family” was more than I thought I could survive. I didn’t know then the degree of abuse my daughter was suffering although I do now and I have had to pull over to the side of the road when driving because when I think of it, I cry too hard to safely drive.

    The final straw was when she allowed my daughter to smoke pot and take mushrooms while I was at work

    That. Was. It. We were getting out, whatever it took. Amazingly, that was when I met my now-husband. I didn’t fall in love with him in order to get out, but get us out he did.

    I can’t honestly say I freed myself from her immediately. It was so entrenched. My sense of self worth, shattered from infancy and never rebuilt, kept me so vulnerable. But I can now say I haven’t seen her in nearly 30 years and I hope never to lay eyes on her again. I can’t be sure I won’t cause her serious harm if I do. I was scared to death of running into her for years — literally would shake in terror. Now, I’m not sure I could resist the urge to harm her.

    Best to just stay away.

    Sociopaths are everywhere and they tend to be highly skilled at pretending to be human, but they aren’t. If you know what you’re looking for, you can spot them pretty quickly, but don’t kick yourself if you get taken in. They’re predators and fooling the unwary is their stock in trade. In fact, I was taken in, if not ensnared, by another such sociopath in recent years, but this time I got a good warning before I got caught up. It didn’t hurt that this person lives a long way away from me. And now I recognize them when I come across them.

    Do they do horrible things and make you think you either imagined it or it was your fault?

    Do they give a little first and then take far out of proportion to what was given?

    Do they isolate you?

    Do they thrive on the cult of personality, setting themselves up as the be all and end all of wisdom and charisma, with a little central clique of sycophants?

    Do they publicly torment anyone who bucks their commands and skillfully make it seem like that now-ostracized person was the evil one?

    Do you somehow feel inferior and that you should be grateful that this great one deigns to notice unworthy you?

    Does it feel like you exist to be their worshiping audience and if you want to shine, too, they do their best to (often pityingly) squash you?

    The list goes on and on and on, but the best indicator is that you feel used, diminished, inferior and apologetic about it, but can’t quite put your finger on why.

    I’ll tell you why. You’ve been snared by a sociopath. You aren’t stupid and you aren’t weak. (You aren’t inferior and unworthy, either.) It really can happen to anybody. If you aren’t sure who it is, just think of the self-aggrandizing narcissist who makes you feel you aren’t quite the thing. Know who it is now? Yup, that’s the one.

    There’s not much you can do about them except RUN, don’t walk, away from them. If possible, make sure they don’t know where you are. Their vanity will have them writing you off sooner rather than later, but that same vanity will try to re-ensnare you because you had the audacity to get away. Also, try to get away before you have children with them. Their children are built-in sycophant/victims and they will hurt you to get control of them. In fact, hurting you to get control of the kids is bonus. Mostly just GO – and get started figuring out who you actually are as opposed to the sad, diminished, inferior, apologetic pod person your sociopath created to stick in your body. That isn’t you.

    It never was.

      • Michelline D"Arcy

      • March 1, 2016 at 7:24 am
      • Reply

      Oh. My. God.

        • Maya Spier Stiles North

        • March 1, 2016 at 8:05 am
        • Reply


    • “Sociopaths are everywhere and they tend to be highly skilled at pretending to be human, but they aren’t. “ so true!

      The Ermingards… always the tricksters. I also agree that it’s easy to blame ourselves when we get taken in by others – but should we really blame ourselves for seeing the best in people at first? Must we walk around on guard and waiting for the other show to drop every time we meet someone? It’s exhausting to be that suspicious all the time. Sometimes people just suck and those people always manage to get a little of it on anyone who stands anywhere close.

      Manipulation is the weapon of choice for most of these predators. They’ve learned to find our vulnerabilities and exploit them. The only thing I can think of that is worse than being a victim of an Ermingard – is having to live your life as her… surrounded by your frenemies and building a cult to avoid ever hearing two of your own thoughts rub together – lest you be forced to confront your own demons. There isn’t enough sleep meds in the world to comfort that psyche (or psycho as it were…).

      Thank you for writing this Maya. May we all forgive ourselves when caught in Ermingard’s clever trap – and find our way out as fast as HUMANLY possible… and learn to love ourselves enough to not need the approval of anyone’s cult. No kool-aid is that good.


        • Maya North

        • August 27, 2018 at 9:45 am
        • Reply

        You, dearheart, know the second one who nearly got me. Huge hugs…

    • Pretend I edited my comment before I posted it. Reference

    Leave a Reply to Jenna Stone Cancel reply