Tuesday, 29 January 2013

At least Paul Ekman doesn't lie to me...

Sorry about the pun, I just couldn't resist it... I loved this video of Paul Ekman where he discusses why triggers are so hard to tame. After years of hearing every "expert" making the solutions to problems so easy and making me feel like I must be such a moron for not being able to implement them at once, Paul Ekman's honesty feels reassuringly refreshing.

Related post The Golden Pause 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Right here is where you start paying...

"Del dicho al hecho hay un gran trecho."
"From saying it to doing it there is a big stretch."
Spanish Proverb

     I am great at finding information about a problem and getting the point. Implementing it in my life? Not so much... I tend to be the sort of person who gets very excited about a new concept and puts it to work for a while, but stops doing it the minute it feels better. Then I find myself back to square one. However, if I want to see real change in my life, I know that have to apply the things that I have learned and persevere with them until they become habits for life. Let's make no bones about it: it's HARD WORK. I keep hearing the voice of the dance teacher in Fame in my head, when she says to her students: "You want fame? Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying, in sweat. 
    Looks like emotional health is just as hard to achieve, if not harder, than fame...

Related post The Insignificance of Feeling Better

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Sleight of Hand

"It is commonly suggested that sleight of hand works because "the hand is quicker than the eye" but this is usually not the case. In addition to manual dexterity, sleight of hand depends on the use of psychology, timing, misdirection, and natural choreography in accomplishing a magical effect. Misdirection is perhaps the most important component of the art of sleight of hand. Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from anotherThe magician choreographs his actions so that all spectators are likely to look where he or she wants them to. More importantly, they do not look where the performer does not wish them to look. Two types of misdirection are timing and movement. Timing is simple: by allowing a small amount of time to pass after an action, events are skewed in the viewer's mind. Movement is a little more complicated. A phrase often used is "A larger action covers a smaller action.Care must be taken however to not make the larger action so big that it becomes suspect."(from the wikipedia article)

This is one of the biggest tricks up the sleeve of a Narcissist. My sister performed one years ago and it took three months for the penny to drop for me to be able to see what she had done. One of our friends and also both my husband and I had noticed that one of my niece's friends was being emotionally abusive to her. We all decided to bring up our concerns to my sister. We were all sitting round the kitchen table when we -gently- mentioned it. My sister jumped of the chair - like those toys in a box with a spring inside- while she said in an indignant voice: "but Sandra (my niece's friend's mother) is the only one that helps me!" and then run out of the room. Talk about a dramatic performance. And what a way to throw the real issue off the table.  

And that, my friends, it's how it's done.  .

Monday, 7 January 2013

Monochromatic People

  1. Containing or using only one color.
  2. (of light or other radiation) Of a single wavelength or frequency

Just finished watching the film "The Age of Innocence". As I watched it, I kept thinking that the character May Welland was so utterly monochromatic: the range of her personality, while nice enough, only had one frequency. This line, at the end of the film, is quite telling:

"The world of her youth had fallen to pieces and rebuilt itself without her ever noticing. This hard, bright blindness, her incapacity to recognise change made her children conceal their views from her just as Archer concealed his. She died thinking the world a good place, full of loving and harmonious households like her own."

Made me think of the Ns I know,  they also seem to be just as flat. My husband used to have a friend years ago that came on a couple of holidays with us. This guy would never ever be in synch with the group. He only had one speed, and it made no difference whether the occasion required to be fast or slow. Made no difference to him if there was people waiting for him either. We bumped into him the other day and he remains unchanged. Just like May Welland, his world remains static. As if every day is a "groundhog day" for him.

My sister also only has one frequency. My MIL once remarked that everything she does is approached with the same intensity whether the task requires it or not. When she said this, I thought this was also true of the level of drama she pumps up. When I had a conversation with her recently she hurled all sorts of accusations. The dramatic way she was saying it you'd think I'd stolen from her, kidnapped her children and slept with her husband. Once she went away and I thought about her list of my "alleged" offences, what they really came up to was this:
  • I had disagreed with her 
  • I had said no to favours she wanted from me
  • I had stopped hanging out with the same people as her
Oh dear, such heinous crimes... At some point in the conversation, I asked her why she wanted to be my friend if she had so much against me. She looked at me so completely blankly, you'd think I'd asked her to explain the Theory of Relativity...    

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Haman Complex

In the late 90s my brother had a girlfriend whom we'd known since we were kids. Whenever I visited, I'd bring her a gift and I'd take an interest in her. One day my brother mentioned to me that she'd said that both my sister and myself didn't like her. This really puzzled me. I had treated her just like I treat everybody else in the family. It was also perplexing because my sister and I are of such different character and behaviour. The fact that she was tarring us with the same brush made me think that there was more to the story.  However those were "pre-internet" times and if you encountered odd behaviour in someone there was no way to check it out. Self-help books hadn't become so widely available. The only other source to discuss anything like that would have been my parents and older people, but since we had never had those sorts of conversations it never occurred to me to run it by them.
By the time my brother mentioned it, they were no longer going out together, so I just filed the episode somewhere in my brain and carried on with my life.
Then one day I start reading the story of Queen Esther. In the story, Persian king Ahasuerus "appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordechai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman's disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordechai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordechai but all the Jews in the empire" (quote from the wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Esther)

The exact phrase in the story that opened up the pending "file" in my brain about my brother's ex was this:

"When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage."

Aaaahhh, massive lightbulb moment. When she'd said to my brother "your sisters don't like me", what she actually meant was "your sisters don't adore me". (Shame that Narcissists don't come with subtitles, it would make life so much easier for everyone involved). This girl was the youngest in her family and when she was born her older brother and sister were old enough to have been her own parents. So she was used to a level of attention (and adoration) that we couldn't possibly match. (Or one that we would have wanted to match anyway.) Any less than that level of adoration was paramount to not "liking" her.

Haman's personality was a  revelation to me, and I have encountered many "Hamans" since. People who are highly offended because you haven't done whatever it is that they wanted you to do. Which, almost invariably, comes down to bowing down to them.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Rediscovering Cinderella

Émile Bertrand 1899
(image in the public domain)
The first opera I ever saw was "Cinderella".  I only went to the performance because one of our friends didn't want to go on her own. Before that, I always thought that opera was quite possibly one of the most boring things ever. The performance would change my mind forever. 
Cinderella was never a story that I paid much attention to when I was little. My absolute favourite was "Sleeping Beauty". (subject for a whole other post...) However, of lately I have been musing on the story of Cinderella a lot. Particularly as it is portrayed in the 1950 Disney film. On how it's such a fitting allegory for what happens in the lives of Adult Children of Narcissists. In the film, the Stepmother agrees to let Cinderella go to the ball provided she finishes her chores and finds something suitable to wear. Cinderella believes her words and works really hard to accomplish these tasks. However when the time comes and she's ready to go, the Stepsisters -being used as flying monkeys by their mother- destroy her dress so that she can't attend. It is clear that the Stepmother never intended to let Cinderella go to the ball at the palace, but she never says an outright no; she just keeps moving the goal post. Covert aggression in all its glory... It reminds me so much of the times when I toiled to have a good relationship with Narcissistic types, and nothing I did brought me closer to the person or improved the relationship in any way. Nothing Cinderella did would have ever made any difference: there was a reason why the Stepmother was keeping her in that position. She wanted  to eliminate competition so that Cinderella would not outshine her or her daughters and, while we are at it, an unpaid servant. So all the time that you're scratching your head wondering why nothing you do makes any difference, you're looking at the wrong reason for the problem. You think it's you, and that you're not trying hard enough, because if you did, everybody involved would be happy. But it's not you. Their act is a ruse.  They're only saying whatever is needed to keep you in the place they want to keep you in. You think that they mean what they say because you do mean what you say. But believe me, they don't.
The analogy that I had in mind, though, is something else. In the film two mice make a dress for Cinderella out of the scraps being thrown away of what's not needed for the making of the dresses of the Stepsisters. Real life "Cinderellas" don't have mice that help them to make a dress. They have to make the dress themselves. We try to build a life for ourselves with whatever scraps of emotional resources we've been able to scramble together, only to have it all torn to shreds by our FOO the minute they realise that we've made it and are indeed "going to the ball". That's how I felt a couple of years ago: I had worked really hard to make my life happy only to have my sister come and invade it as if it was her royal right. By the time it all exploded, I felt like Cinderella: standing desolate with my dress in tatters, wondering what to do next. In the story, this would be the bit where the Fairy godmother appears and makes her a new, more beautiful dress. In real life, as you very well know, there is no Fairy godmother (not even a "real" mother, for that matter, to help you rebuild it), so you have to start again. So you have another go and "start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss" as in the famous poem* and build it up again. The life I have been able to create for myself in these last two years is so much better than what I had before, or of anything that I could have possibly imagined. An unexpected surprise that, unlike the Fairy godmother's gifts to Cinderella, will not be over at the stroke of midnight.

*"If" by Rudyard Kipling