by Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFCC
This paper is an excerpt of the full length article, “Coping With The Disorders”, which is based on the many questions that I have received asking how to cope with a disordered relationship and partner. This paper is meant to strengthen who you are and teach you coping strategies without losing your self in relationship chaos. Below are the first eleven points from “Coping with the Disorders”.
1. Take care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, interpersonally and financially. Acknowledge your own hurt and pain. Each one of the preceding categories is like a bank account, that you either invest in or that you withdraw resources. For example, your Physical Account, also known as a Health Account, is subject to deposits made of healthy exercise, good sleep hygiene, disciplined eating habits and other behaviors that build up and expand your Health Account. Any behavior that lessens your Health Account can be seen as bank withdrawals, which can eventually lead to physical deterioration, health problems, shortened lifespan and physical bankruptcy. Remember, your life and your present circumstances are your responsibility and your creation. You have choices! You can either choose to make deposits and expand the above Bank Accounts or you can withdraw your assets. If you don't take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, interpersonally and financially, you will experience the depletion of those various accounts. In this book, you will also come across the concept of the Love Bank, which also uses the metaphor of bank deposits and withdrawals.
Jack was going through a nasty divorce. His Love Bank had been completely depleted. He immediately started paying attention to his eating behavior, while he started a whole new exercise program. He entered into my Deep Feeling Therapy Program, where he attempted to get rid of his pain and build up his Emotional Bank Account. He also entered into our Spiritual Renewal program where he built up his Spiritual Bank Account. According to Jack, it was too late to salvage his ex-wife's depleted Love Bank. So, he decided to move on and eventually he met a woman who was more capable of satisfying his needs and helping him to rebuild his Love Bank. He had learned so much from his marital disaster that he was able to make better choices and help build his new woman's Love Bank.
The lesson to be learned here is that if you are no longer in a position to revitalize and reinvest in your own and your partner's Love Banks, then you must start reinvesting new units into your various accounts. Once you have sufficiently done that, then you can reassess what strategies did not work for you and what strategies can and will be effective in the future. But, you will need to discard ineffective strategies and search for those strategies that do work. I recommend strategies that discipline, control, shape and mold your instincts, emotions, behaviors, thoughts and habits into workable effective choices.
2. Practice non-reactivity. Do not react! Observe and respond with honest self-statements. Do not attack, criticize or blame. Explore the possibility of integrating a non-reactive philosophy for dealing with many of the difficult situations that you will encounter in life. The following are some suggestions you can utilize:
[a] If after an unpleasant experience, you are left with unpleasant feelings, go to a private place and purge/cleanse those feelings. I recommend the deep feeling, primal integration method. This includes free association, deep breathing, and the willingness to cry and scream out the pain. Prayer also helps. You can also set up a therapeutic situation, in your sanctuary, where you can role play what it is you would like to say and express to that particular person. Going to a therapist can also be a great help by allowing you to talk out, express and purge your disturbed thoughts and feelings. A therapist can teach you various cognitive and emotional tools for relieving the distress that reactivity can cause.
[b] When you anticipate being in a difficult, unpleasant situation, decide ahead of time, not to react emotionally to it , in your usual reactive way. Choose to take an observing position, where you deliberately choose not to react and instead observe the situation from an objective position. This requires that you do not deny your internal responses, but instead, choose a more preferable, non-reactive, calm way of thinking, feeling and dealing with it. This approach allows you to stay in control, by you choosing how you wish to think, feel and respond. The non-reactive solution to many difficult interpersonal situations, assumes that you will take a more observant, less reactive, more thoughtful approach to recognizable, anticipated difficult situations. You do not have to add fire to an already inflamed and intense situation. You can take a calm, measured, thoughtful approach by you choosing to deliberately monitor your internal reactions and replacing your habitual responses with calm, observable, objective responses. Just remember, that if you are still disturbed after leaving a negative interaction, you can go home and work your way through your disordered feelings with tools that are learnable, such as cognitive restructuring, journal work, role-playing, anger dissipation by punching pillows, verbally ventilating and various abreactive, cathartic, deep feeling pain release methods.
[c] Evaluate your situation to see if you are emotionally, intellectually and interpersonally over-involved. Sometimes when you are over-involved in a difficult situation, you cannot see it clearly and creating distance may lessen your over-involvement. I am not saying that you should not be involved in potentially difficult situations, I am saying that if you recognize that you are over-involved, you may wish to make a decision to lessening your involvement to a more manageable level. Remember, that over-involvement can lead to excess of stress and overwhelming negative feelings. Lessening your involvement can help you to restore your sense of balance and equilibrium.
3. Seek support from others, groups, friends, family, professionals etc. etc. etc.
4. Work your anger and pain. Get to the bottom line of your anger, so that there is no anger left for reacting to the disorder. A punching bag and an aluminum baseball bat work well together for anger work. Punching and screaming into a pillow works wonders. Most situations that produce anger, usually reflect the absence of Empathy in either one or both participants. Some people do not adequately test their perceptions and usually makes statements through a particular lens or filter. The result is that some kind of malignant or disrespectful judgment is made and the other person usually uses anger to fend off the attack. Empathy requires that you be able to put yourself inside of the shoes and the skin of another person in order to feel and experience what they are going through. Your anger might be the result of someone else's insensitivity and lack of empathy. If you react with anger, you will probably make the situation worst. Therefore, learn to control and discipline your instinct for anger. No matter what anyone says or does, if you use anger as a negotiation tool, it may backfire on you. Difficult people are all around you and they make assumptions and perceptions based on poor reality testing for validity and reliability.
Focus on the desire and ability to be open, honest and clear. The goal of anger work is not the anger itself. The goal is to get the anger out of the way so that you can become clear while getting to the pain and hurt that is underneath. Do not listen to people who say that such anger work only reinforces the anger. These people do not understand the purpose and dynamics involved in deep anger/pain work. You can tell this by the way they structure their thinking and their ideas. Understand that the process and benefits of working the anger is so you can get to your bottom line emotional truth, which will free you from unnecessary and counterproductive expressions of anger.
Anger as a relationship negotiation tool, usually does not work and causes pain and hurt. People who use anger as a relationship negotiation tool need to find a more effective strategy for problem solving and negotiation. Fighting does not work and eventually will create withdrawals from the relationship Love Bank. In all serious relationships, I recommend the implementation of the policy of Enthusiastic Mutual Agreement. This policy requires that no decision be made until both parties enthusiastically agree to an effective strategy. (See my paper on “Build and Maintain Sizzling Relationships/Ecstatic Marriages”. It is part of my Marriage and Relationship Program.)
5. If you are the object of projections, engage in empathic reflection and paraphrasing. Observe and steer conversations in your direction without appearing to be controlling or manipulative. Do not use force or power tactics.
Many people get caught in a War of Perceptions. Remember, that perceptions are not reality. Some perceptions come from a person's belief system and are just thrown out without adequately testing for validity and reliability. Most people also mistakenly believe that their perceptions are reality and will fight you to the death in order to defend their perceptions. Refuse to get trapped in a War of Perceptions. Perceptions are usually formed through a specific lens or filter. You can pretty much figure out what that filter is, while recognizing that most perceptions are nothing but opinions.
If you want to avoid a war of perceptions, keep your opinions and your perceptions to yourself until someone asks for them. In your thinking and in your conversations, do not be tempted to make someone, including yourself, into a bad person, a so-called Mr./Mrs. Hyde. Troublesome people ineffectually spatter their conversations with disrespectful and malignant judgments. When you open your mouth, in front of these people, you are potentially subjecting yourself to being hit by a negative judgment. Don't argue or try to convince that person of the errors in their judgments. Don't even try to convince them to change their judgments about you, no matter how hurtful they can be. This type of person is usually awash in self-righteous, rigid thinking while being totally convinced of their own innocence and your guilty bad ways. They can never do any wrong and usually behave like a "goody two shoes." Notice how they squiggle at anything off-color. This is usually their attempt to devalue your motives and elevate themselves. They are probably very jealous of you and fear your superiority and your love of life. In a sense, it is your ability to have fun and enjoy yourself that irks these people, the most.
The Antidote: align and involve yourself with people who share the same love of life, fun lovingness and sense of humor as yourself. Get your needs for acceptance satisfied elsewhere.
6. If the personality disordered person has very little or no affectionate feelings toward you, don't try to change that. You will only reinforce their lack of positive feelings. Accept that you have been symbolically rejected. Remember, this is symbolic and not very rational or real. The more you react, rather than respond, the more you will reinforce and reward disordered behavior.
If you have caused pain or hurt to a significant other, admit it and vow that you will stop doing the offending behavior. This can be reinforced by assuring the other person that you will do everything in your power to remove your offending behavior. By engaging in more positive behaviors, you may be able to be in a position of depositing love units into the other person's Love Bank.
7. Learn to recognize when you are being set up to play the role of a rejecter, abandoner and annihilator. If you go along with the disordered person's symbolic needs, you will unconsciously be regarded as a good object parent. If you go against the person's needs and desires, you will be seen unconsciously, as the bad parent object.
Don't argue or try to change the other person's opinion or perceptions. Simply engage in more loving and supportive behavior, while eliminating love withdrawals. If the other person's perceptions seem very far-fetched, wait for the right time to discuss your valid opinions and views of the situation. Do it in a very calm, warm manner based on the assumption that the other person wants a more productive relationship with you. Do not blame or accuse. This is not a contest to see who wins. This is about finding effective strategies for recovering what was once lost and might be found again.
8. Engage in interpersonal politicking and diplomacy. Do not reject outright. If you put yourself in a conflict situation, organize it so that you get something out of it. For example, if the person invites you to a special occasion and you harbor resistance to attending, reframe the situation in your mind so that you glean some reward for attending. Remember, most if not all invitations by the disordered person can be seen as setups for mutual rejection and distancing. Back in the 1970s, people had to learn how to say, “No.” You may also have to find a way to say, “Yes … this is the age of Political Correctness and its counterculture Hip Hop reaction. No matter how you feel about these two polar opposite trends, they both exert social pressure. So make it OK to consciously seek fulfillment and accomplishment in every situation that you find your self. You cannot avoid all situations. So make up your mind that where ever you find yourself, you are going to create a golden opportunity where none seemed to exist. Turn minuses into pluses!
9. Learn how to restructure your thinking. The most pliable and flexible organ of your body is your mind and your thinking processes. Believe that you can shape and mold your thinking and your ideas into more fulfilling, positive and productive outcomes. Picture your mind as a shapeless, formless lump of clay, just waiting for you to turn nothing into something, negativity into productivity and creativity. Observe and watch your mind and your thinking processes. Activate your observing ego into changing and shaping the very nature of thought it self. Then watch the results of what you have reshaped and created in the Paradise of your mind.
10. Stay and be alert! An alert and observant mind is your best hedge against being pulled into the characteristics of the disorder. Abandonment may be a big issue with some disorders while narcissistic injury and deflation of the ego could be problems for other disorders.
11. Take inventory of what you are unconsciously doing to reinforce the difficult person's behavior. Once you have acknowledged your contribution to any difficult situation, work very hard at eliminating all of your ineffective strategies and discover ways to be more effective. Keep a Daily Planner that allows you keep track of what ineffective strategies you are trying to eradicate and the effective strategies that you are intending to implement. Get a coach, someone who already possesses the skills that you wish to acquire. Great achievements are usually accomplished by imitating the successful activities of those people who are already doing what you want to do.
The full length article, “Coping With The Disorders”, is available for purchase. To obtain the manuscript, please go to the Best Sellers page on the PsychotherapyHELP web site at http://www.nvo.com/psych_help/services/item.nhtml?profile=services&UID=60 . For therapy information, please feel free to contact me at (818) 882-7404 or by email.