Interesting

'Attractive Stone Wall' Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

‘Attractive Stone Wall’ Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

I have a friend who greatly dislikes the use of the word ‘interesting’. He sees it as loaded but empty; it is used when people mean all manner of other things much more consequential that they cannot quite bring themselves to share, or are unable to express. I must say I agree with him and in saying so: today I had an interesting day.

This morning I wordlessly gave the right of way at a difficult driving spot to my ex-husband. It is a place I drive past daily. A place where each day I decide based on traffic and the time whether I will allow passage of the other vehicle (it is a spot where they do not have right of way and in heavy traffic will never move without polite drivers making way) to go before me. Today my ex was the driver and he knew damn well that I was the other driver and that I was giving him right of way. He took this opportunity to pause willfully and smile inanely. These were not my thoughts at the time but words I put in place now, after the fact. At the time I was thinking that it is about time that in this small town that he take a gesture of polite willingness as a ‘gesture of polite willingness’ nothing more nothing less; nada más nada menos. I am thinking ‘surely by now we can co-exist in this town without malice or any deep meaning hidden in random interactions’. He milked it. He paused too long; I had to indicate twice for him to take the opportunity, he smiled ruefully and gave me that look I recognize as ‘wistful love’. How sweet. Eventually he drove on and allowed me, and the rest of the traffic, to continue driving.

My day progressed. At lunchtime when I returned to work I see his vehicle is parked very close to my office. Time for the ‘yuck’ moment, the sinking feeling, the arrival of anxiety. This man has stalked me, bullied me, controlled me, manipulated me, was seriously addicted to pornography, was abusive and only ever loved his own reflection in me. I felt stupid for having thought briefly for a moment this morning that it was okay to feel good about him, okay to remember that I loved him once. He can’t help himself. Anytime we incidentally see one another here he is at my work place lurking, leaving things behind that get handed into me, as he well knows they do, and I have to decide what to do about it. Again and again I go through the agony of weighing up what ‘normal’ people do in these situations. If I engage the usual process is the unfolding of email interaction that is laced with the taint of all the aforementioned traits and a ‘backslide’ for me into deep anxiety. Unfortunately clinical narcissists do not come with user manuals.

Today however, I did not engage. I did not allow him to have any kind of power over me. I acknowledged that he was nearby and vocalized that this was reasonable. I did not allow his proximity to terrify me. I forgot all about it until I drove home. I didn’t feel the need to inform my trusted colleagues that there was a bogey on site. If there is one thing I have learned in the past few years it is that it is up to me how I respond to his presence. I am no longer in any danger, he has no power over me, and he never will again. I have learnt what the correct salutation towards a clinical narcissist is: do not engage. Regardless of that deep hook that is still somehow there in your soul do not engage, do not give a millimeter, or yard, or ounce, or quarter, or moment, or glimpse EVER. You must be a stone wall regardless of what you feel inside. Because any slip and that hook is well and truly back in.

I have been thinking on what I have learned from my ten year relationship with a clinical narcissist lately simply because I have two beautiful women whom I love dearly in my life that have both found themselves dealing with what they both recognise as a lesser version of this type of personality. They are both very aware, to the extent they can be, of what I went through and are asking for my help. I tried very hard to make my marriage work. I did everything I could. I left three times but was committed, until I could no longer cope, to making it work. I have talked briefly recently about how bad it got, I won’t go there again in this post. Now because of these beautiful women who have to have contact, through shared custody of children, with the men they are no longer with I feel a strong desire to be able to articulate what makes it safe. It is not going to be easy but I believe it will also help me. So I will attempt to advise and write a beginners guide to boundaries and safe interaction with the clinical narcissist, the pathological liar, and the emotional manipulator who will have you second-guessing the colour of your own hair and the spelling of your own name. I pray I will find some gold for these lovely women because for me, in my particular predicament, the only safe way is, I repeat: do not engage.

words and image by errant satiety

Humour me

snow-white

I want to talk of metaphor. How it shapes us, our thoughts, our self, our very being, of who we dream we are, who we were, who we are to become. I read a post today it reminded me of a passionate interest I have. I had been searching before reading this of something I wrote long ago, a series of questions during my master’s studies that I put to a group of people. I wanted to post it here but it has been lost, multiple changes of address and hard drives but the passion still excites me. I want to you ask you my dear readers what story defines you? What metaphor drives you? Are you aware or is it under the surface defining you without your knowledge.

Did you know that the brain cleverly and economically functions on metaphor. It is the most brilliant method of data storage we have in our organic super computer brains. We think the super computers we carry in our hands now days are amazing yet the function of our human brain is beyond anything we can create, yet. I refer to this as the human brain has an incredible ability to serve or destroy us. Created like the universe in a magnificent inexplicable evolutionary moment similar to the ‘big bang’ (or for the creationists among us when the word of God brought about the world) the Homo sapiens brain evolved and was able to remember, formulate future, to imagine, to plan and to create on a level that no other creature on Earth comes close. It didn’t happen to all of them, just some and over time there were more (through genetics and learning). Yet there was a cost, a high cost. The cost was the need for a high protein diet, the need to attend to our young for much longer than any other creature on this planet. These brains of ours are large and are not fully grown when we are born. We seem to be born with a relatively open template for growth that we can adapt to incredible differences in languages, in culture and in environment. To do so we spend 50% of our childhood sleeping in the REM state. What is the REM state? Dreaming. Did you know that within the cycle of sleep we spend a significant period of every 90 minutes dreaming? This dreaming period expends as much energy as the ‘awake’ brain does. Did you know that you experience the REM state while awake? Every 90 minutes (more or less, the time varies person to person) during your waking day you ‘trance out’ (know the feeling when you need a glass of water, a nap, a break, a walk, a coffee, some food….). This is the moment needed to solidify learning or let go of experiences not needed. Same as when we sleep.

Significantly we dream to release the emotional arousal or expectations of the day. We dream in metaphor to avoid any issues as the brain, elegant as it is, does not know the difference between the real, the imagined or the dreamed. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘Expectation fulfillment theory’ or the ‘flush toilet mechanism’. A simple example is perhaps the boss says something that you do not like but cannot without jeopardising your employment say what you would like to them. That night fuming you go home, fall asleep and dream of telling someone in authority, say an old teacher or public political figure etc, exactly what you think of them. You wake and return to your work environment without feeling emotionally aroused and ready to tell you boss: ‘F *%& you buddy you can F*&%ing stick your stupid job’.

But back to the point, what stories defined you as a child? Have you updated these ideas or inadvertently is your brain still seeking to fulfill these metaphorical ideals? My personal example is the classic ‘Snow White’ story. I didn’t have many books, in fact very few, but I had this one book with wood block prints and lyrical verse. I was lost to it. But this metaphor defined me far longer than I ever intended. Until I consciously realised and created a new metaphor for myself that launched me into something unexpected. I wrote something simple and childish to bridge the gap between where my metaphorical expectations were and where my adult self realized I wanted to be. I defined myself as a ‘knight in shining pink armour on a quest of knowledge and learning’. My metaphor before this (as defined by Snow White) was that I was persecuted for who I was and would be hunted by women of perceived power and those within the execution of their will and my only hope was to be saved by a prince on a white charger… seriously these stories we read have great effect (I am no feminist just one who has seen and experienced the difference this choice makes for man and woman). I have had several more metaphors since this first consciously rewritten one which was playful and made me smile in the face of adversary. Metaphors don’t need to be elaborate…. Can you remember what your favourite childhood story was? Is it relevant now? Does it still have a hold on you? Do you need to take charge of that magnificent brain of yours and feed it some better information setting it on a search for a much richer and wonderful tomorrow? Humour me. Lets see what comes to mind in the next few days….

Words by Errant Satiety image from here. Major credit to the Human Givens Institute.

Please feel free to email me privately with any questions.