Saturday, 24 August 2013

Learning to Pick One's Battles

Dealing with "El Zorro" I had an opportunity to practise another valuable skill: choosing what "battles" to fight and which ones to let go by the wayside.

One evening we were talking about Van Gogh, (Don Diego paints as a hobby and has had his work exhibited.) I mentioned that I had gone to an exhibition of Van Gogh's letters and how I had been touched by a letter he wrote to his sister. He immediately butts in: "Van Gogh didn't have a sister! He had a brother, Theo, but no sisters. I've read two of his biographies and there was no mention of him having any sisters". Whereas ordinarily this had the potential of turning into one of those "yes, he did" "no, he didn't" obnoxious sort of argument, I thought to myself: let's go about this another way. I say: "Van Gogh DID have a sister, I'm not going to argue about it. Look it up" 
The next day he gets his phone out and starts typing. With a triumphant smile he says: "well, I'm typing it and it's not coming up right away." Then his face changes completely as he says, while sinking deeper into his seat: "Oh, Van Gogh did have a sister..."

Sometime later, he asks me what I do for work. I say: "I don't work." He says:"I don't agree with that" I was very tempted to bluntly say: "do you think I care what someone I met only yesterday thinks of what I do?" but instead I reply: "Why do you say that? What is your basis for thinking that?" He replies: "I think women should bring money home every month" I say: "But I do, I make interest from managing money" "No, that doesn't count" he retorts. "By all means, you're entitled to your opinion" I say with a unflinching smile and a tone that says "I am not at all bothered by your opinion" and I stop there. It is obvious that this is a gripe about his ex-wife and he's not interested in learning about my circumstances or reasons for not working, and that he just wants an excuse to have a rant. Which I did not give him ;) 

One evening after we get to the villa, he says he's going to jump in the pool before we go out for dinner.  I was not,  because by then the sun had gone in and my hair takes forever to dry and I didn't want to go for dinner with wet hair. I say as much and then he says: "oh, I get it, you women don't want us men to see you in a bikini because of complexes and all that" ( he includes my friend in this even though she's already said she's going to jump in the pool too- her hair dries in minutes). Both my friend and I look at him and say: "what kind of women do you hang out with? we're not like that at all." And I didn't feel like I had to go in the pool to re-inforce my point. I remembered that in the book The Gift Of Fear it mentioned how men sometimes use such statements as a form of manipulation. So I didn't fall for it. In the book it calls it "typecasting", it says: "a man labels a woman in some slightly critical way, hoping she'll feel compelled to prove his opinion is not accurate." "Not that it matters what some stranger thinks anyway, but the typecaster doesn't even believe what he says is true. He just believes that it will work."

While we're driving to dinner we start discussing books. He tells us a bit about the book he's currently reading and then he says ( in a way designed to impress us): when I finish this one I'm going to read a self-help book called "Your Erroneous Zones", have you heard about it? 
"Yeah", we say at unison, "we read it 20 years ago."

The next day, we were walking about in the town, and we see a Kiehl's shop. He looks at us all serious and says: "This shop makes bespoke perfume". I know for a fact that Kiehl's don't do perfume -at least in Europe they don't, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - but by this point, I wasn't going to spend any energy in correcting him ;) 


  1. He sounds exhausting! I so wish I could've been there to watch you in action. You've done such a lovely job of learning to think on your feet and not be baited into reactions.

    I found the "typecasting" thing to be very interesting. I imagine it must take a strong person to not take the "bait" and believe in themselves enough to not feel they have to "defend" against this kind of attack. Good for you.

    1. He didn't feel exhausting to start with but by the afternoon of second day I was getting weary, and I was glad that he was leaving early the next day, and that it was unlikely that I would bump into him again any time soon. :)

  2. You are doing great! I'm also learning. Seeing the new behaviors put into practice, even reading about it, helps me understand better how it's supposed to work. Too often I end up stuck on finding the exact right words. Reading about your experiences, I'm learning it's the message not the words. Go you!

    1. Thanks Judy :) I guess this is like anything else, we learn by seeing it in action. I agree that it's not about finding the right words: more than not narcs aren't really listening to what we say anyway, it's definitely more about the message.

    2. One thing about El Zorro that reminds me of your last post about him--he seems to want to provoke aggravation or competetiveness in others. That's an interesting thing--some narcissists (whom we've discussed recently!) like to "do and undo"--I think part of that is getting others to feel or express something that they don't want to have to feel or say. Offloading something. If they can get you to argue a point, they will have "gotten" you, or your complete engagement at least. Not arguing a point with someone shows them you have no 'investment' in their opinion. This is something I will try to practice in the weeks ahead. Short of stating a fact (like Van Gogh had a sister), just conceding every other "opinion" point, with a shrug like 'who cares?' is a great way to counter passive aggressive provocation.

    3. That's a very insightful connection CS. Interestingly the only question he asked about DH was what he did for work. He seemed very concerned with social status. I reckon he's also one with resentment over class.
      The "doing and undoing" is what makes interacting with these people so tiring, because underneath all that "do and undo" there is a tug of war.
      There's no question that it gets easier with practice, but over the last week I've been caught into the old pattern a couple of times, mainly because I was very overtired. So there is a pitfall to watch out for: don't attempt to deal with Ns if you're very tired.