Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It's All Relative

Today, I found myself thinking about the correlation between a person's level of dysfunction and their inability slash unwillingness to discuss their interpersonal conflicts in particular with those they have engaged with in some kind of power play. For the sake of this post, I'm going to loosely define "normal" as the non-personality disordered and "personality disorder" as specifically relating to those who exhibit narcissistic and sociopathic behaviors. So what I've noticed is that for fairly obvious reasons, it's a whole hell of a lot easier to discuss interpersonal conflict with a normal person than it is to discuss with the personality disordered.

I have about a million examples I could share about how the non-personality disordered tend to engage in conflict resolution because I've generally lived that way my whole life - with a FOO consisting of pretty good problem solvers and critical thinkers and perhaps most importantly, honest individuals. I'll give you an example: Sometime last year, I became pretty concerned about the child of a loved one as I felt that she was exhibiting obsessive-compulsive behaviors that had started at a very young age and I was genuinely worried that she might not be able to cope with her anxieties as time passed. Unfortunately, not only did I end up offering my unsolicited advice to her parents, but in hindsight, I realized that I did it in such a way that came across as being rather offensive and disconcerting. I meant well, but I didn't immediately recognize the signs from my loved ones that my opinions were really not welcome. And so I kept at it, offering my thoughts and opinions, and even talking in such a way that probably came across as though I knew more about their own child and what was best for her than they did.

I was concerned for her, but it simply wasn't my business to step in and offer my advice when it wasn't asked for and when it was, however subtly, being refused. But my point is this: the parents of this little girl were not pleased with what they felt was me butting into their business and their parenting. I think that when it became apparent that I really wasn't picking up on the clues that they didn't want my opinions on the matter, they decided they had to address it directly. And so my loved one called me on the phone one night, obviously distressed, and explained that she wanted me to stop offering advice and opinions and that she disagreed with me almost completely. She described her feelings and her thoughts. She shared with me her fear that, even if I didn't share my thoughts aloud to their daughter, that she would feel I thought these things about her and that it would make her self-conscious or feel badly. She asked me to stop sharing my thoughts with other members of the extended family (which I had been doing and which I'd shared with her because I thought the information I gathered from another close relative of mine, who also had an anxiety-prone child, would be helpful to her).

I felt bad while I was talking to her. I remember getting sweaty and hot and having an overall sense that I had stepped over some boundaries that I shouldn't have. I told her that I would honor her request not to talk with extended family members anymore concerning the issue and I apologized for having put her in such a position that she felt she needed to address it with me. And days later, I was still thinking about it. I told my husband in days to come that I could understand why my language had been offensive (I remember using phrases like, "What should WE do about this?" and "WE have to do something,") and that I had come to the conclusion that it's not support if the opposing party isn't asking for it and makes it clear that it's unwanted. I was worried for a couple of days that the loved ones who had taken up issue with me might attempt to avoid me because they were so upset with me. My worries were unfounded, mostly because I think they were reassured that I would really work at keeping my opinions to myself in the future (which I have) and that I saw the issues from their perspective (which I did.)

It was such a difference from having to deal with the personality disordered, where not only do you have to account for the fact that they tend to be the most dishonest people you'll ever meet, but they are also the most manipulative and indirect. They don't come to you to express their concerns, and when they do, they spend more time bullying you into submission and backing you into a corner than they do attempting to actually converse with you. As equals. They have hidden agendas. And the real rub is that they still won't communicate with you about their personal gripes with you, even when you give them the clear opportunity to do so. DH and I have been there - we've offered his family (and in some cases friends) the chance to share their thoughts and feelings and experiences. Sometimes the offer came from the both of us, other times from just DH. For myself, I can say that at various points I had a very real interest in hearing what they had to say (if only they were willing to say it, and say it honestly!). I have found myself wondering at times, how DID they experience the events I have written about? What were they thinking? What were they feeling (or not feeling?) How have their life experiences lead them to see those moments differently than I might have seen them? I have had such a deep desire to understand them - their motives, their feelings, their experiences. Because I well recognize that we all come to the table with different baggage and we respond differently to stimuli as a result.

And still, often there is no answer. And when there is an answer, you always always always have to consider the source. And then you have to pick through the blaming and the projection and the denial. And by the time all that is done, there is nothing left that's real or tangible to go by anyway; nothing left to indicate any of the things you were looking for: their emotional state, their thoughts, their opinions. If any of that even exists, it's buried underneath all of the manipulative bullshit.

What gets me every time is that we offered on numerous occasions for them to share their side of the story with us. Our invitations could not have been any clearer. And they refused, never in a direct way, but they refused. Sure did drive the point home that every last one of them had a hidden agenda. Every last one.


  1. The difference in you and a garden variety PD is the level of self awareness you exhibit just by writing this post. PD's are so steeped in denial and projection that they can't acknowledge their own abhorrent behavior to any one else much less to them selves.

    1. I find that trait to be particularly fucking annoying. It's like, WTF, just admit you behaved like a shitty fucking person and we can move the fuck on. God damn.

  2. And thank's for writing this. I still struggle with my mother and what might have been had she not been so hopelessly non-compliant with the social norms every one else takes for granted.

    1. There really was never any hope that your mother would chance. She is the example I always give about the worst of the worst narcissists. It really doesn't get any worse than murder.

  3. In my NFOO the reaction to putting your thoughts and feelings out there for discussion are as follows:
    -she's weak for sharing her "feelings"
    -she's "gone off the deep end, as usual" aka nutso
    -she's a liar
    -she's "too bloody sensitive"
    -she's exaggerating, "as usual"
    -let's go ape shit and accuse her of hating us
    -let's pretend none of this happened & keep playing "happy family"

    1. I saw all of those reactions in DH's family as well. They tended to favor the "You're just crazy" and "let's all pretend everything is perfect" responses the most, but we did eventually see them all.

  4. When you're dealing with Cluster B FOOs and their ilk, it's all about being RIGHT. The genuine is subsumed to the hollow plated and fawned over as if it's priceless instead of reproduction. Relationships are sacrificed on the High Altar of Worship: Appearances.
    That's all that matters.
    They truly know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  5. Wading thru manipulative bullshit myself today. Good thing I brought my rubber boots!
    You are spot on. Big differences in communication and conflict resolution with normal vs PD. It took me a long time to not expect a PD conversation with everyone.