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Doc@DrIrene.com

Relationships Ugh! Round 2

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here Relationships Ugh, Round 2

January 1, 2004

Hi Dr. Irene,

It’s Faith. Hi Faith!              (See Faith's first Forum here.)

I’m looking for a new therapist. I went to therapy a couple of times, but I feel like the therapist was mostly "yes, tell me more", with very little input or insight. Her orientation is probably psychodynamic as opposed to behavior or systems (family). Psychodynamic therapists predominate on the East Coast and the majority, though certainly not all, tend to wait for the insights and material to come from you rather than from them. I told her that “my” forum on line was over, and she said she was glad because she thought that it was just a “racket.” I'm sorry she feels that way. I said, that it actually helped me out, at least I have some direction, and I’m questioning myself a lot more. Working on setting boundaries, my self-esteem, she said she didn’t see how the forum could possibly help me! She said the reasons why I get involved with the men that I get involved with is because growing up I experienced abuse and that’s all I know. She is correct; we agree. The last session we had I didn’t feel like she was really there, her phone rang in the middle of my session and she picked it up and started having a conversation with the person on the other end, saying that she was about to wrap things up. That would bother me too unless you were running over on time or were just a couple minutes before ending. Don’t get me wrong Dr. Irene, I know things come up and people have lives outside of what they do for there professions, but I thought it was a little on the rude side, so here I am going to search for a new therapist. OK, you are the consumer, but don't give up! It may take a while to find somebody you feel really comfortable with. Regardless, I hope you told her how you felt about the phone call.

Keep in mind that there are essentially 2 schools of thought on the therapist thing. One school of thought believes that you don't need to like or trust or feel comfortable with your therapist. The assumption is that you are in therapy because you have these relational problems, and your problem with the therapist is one of the first issues you will work through - because that issue is your issue which the particular therapist happens to bring out in you. Not untrue, I think, but a little one-sided. Psychodynamic therapists tend to support this model. The second model is more inclined to see the client as the consumer rather than as the patient. Since behaviorists, like myself, see themselves as teachers of cognitive and verbal skills rather than as experts of the psyche, they tend to feel more comfortable within this framework.

Which viewpoint is correct? I don't know what is best for you, though I am clearly biased in the behavioral camp for reasons too complex to discuss here. I suggest you give about a dozen therapists a try. If you haven't clicked with any of them, perhaps it's time to talk about the issue of not clicking. Also, try seeking out a couple behavioral or cognitive-behaviorally oriented clinicians. You seem to prefer the more active, directive, and collaborative approach.

I’m disappointed in myself because I’ve been spending a lot of time with Gregg. Rather than be disappointed in yourself, stop seeing him. On the other hand, if you choose to continue to see him, perhaps you are giving him another chance, hoping that your changed behavior may result in a changed Gregg. If you've been down a similar road before, perhaps you need another lesson: if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, it is a duck - despite the tuxedo it's wearing. Sometimes you just need to repeat situations a few times before you can trust your senses better and rely less on wishful thinking. So, the jury is still out. We aren’t officially back together again, but we see each other 3 times a week. I certainly hope he makes it worth your while! At least I stick up for myself now. Great! Keep practicing sticking up for yourSelf with him. If he annoys me with one of his comments, I let him know about it. He said something that I didn’t appreciate last Saturday, I told him that I didn’t appreciate it, and that I hated the way he talked to me and I wouldn’t speak to him again! He started hugging and kissing me and ended up apologizing. How can he be so nice and than go back to being so nasty? First things first: if you tell him you'll never speak to him again and then speak to him again after he is nice and apologetic, he will have good reason not to believe you'll carry out future threats. Better you come up with a more reasonable consequence that you can actually carry out.

It’s so confusing to me, if I’m upset about something and he sees me crying, he’ll cry with me. If we listen to a sad love song, we both get emotional over it and the same goes for sad movies. But, than he can be very nasty; like the way he’ll ask me to get something for him, he’ll say go get that, no please, no can you, just go get that!  You are not alone in being confused by his back and forth behavior. On the surface, it is very confusing. Think of it this way: he operates much more out of his mood states than you do. Combine this with the tendency this kind of guy has to feel resentful / angry over what he perceives as a slight or loss of control over the other person / situation. Notice I didn't say that he was slighted, just that from his centrist point of view, he interprets a slight or loss. His mood will shift immediately from happy and loving to angry, condescending, etc. It's just the way he sees the world: he expects you to make things go his way; yet, he's on the lookout for when they don't. Watch out when they don't! The silliest little things can tip the scale.

So while he can be the sweetest most loving guy in the world when he is in the mood to be sweet, he cannot sustain his goodness when he perceives you/the situation to have thwarted him in some way. When you don't accurately read his mind and behave the way he wants you to behave, he reacts poorly.

For example: If you are not careful how you address him or are not empathic to his needs when he wants you to be because you are in pain, etc. he gets angry.  If you react the way you react because you are human and have your own needs, and your reaction is not the reaction he wants or expects, he may get angry or sullen. After all, this loving person totally goes all out for you when he's in the mood to!  

Note: It's all about what mood he's in. There is no room for what mood you're in. His needs always take precedence. So if you're hurt or angry and he's in the mood, he will be a Prince. If you're hurt or angry and he's not in the mood, well, you're dealing with an emotional infant.

The key is that it's always about him.

Given that your type of personality style is to intuitively care more about the other person's internal state than your own, you two click. The deal is you are there to be empathic to him. This state satisfies both of you most of the time.

But watch out when time and time again he is asked to put his needs aside for yours. His internal adding machine gets turned on and he's keeping score. You owe him! Grrrrrr!

The playing field is not level.  He's interested in you because you are good at catering to his internal state.  He has much greater difficulty putting his needs aside for yours than you do putting your needs aside for him. And when he does, his internal time clock is ticking, keeping track of the score. The "normal" state of affairs assumes that you are there for him. After a while, this begins to feel bad for you and is not emotionally satisfying. This is not a partnership.

Stated again in different words: He is controlling because he implicitly expects you to read his mind and behave empathically towards him -  so he can maintain a good emotional state. The reverse is not true. He will be there for you not necessarily when you need him to, but when he feels in the mood to.

When he's not making the effort to be on his very best behavior (which is hard to do all the time, especially for a self-centered type) he reverts to his "autopilot," his normal, not-so-nice ways. I told him that he needs to ask me in a nice way, and he tells me to shut up, but in a kidding around way. Tell him not to tell you to shut up in a kidding around way, as long as you make sure he gets the message.

He gets mad at silly things, one time we were about to have dinner and I told him to serve himself - and he had a fit. Shop talk: a "narcissistic injury." He has a fit, and than the next time it comes to having dinner, he’ll serve himself, like this past weekend. I use to complain that he didn’t do anything; he just sits there and waits to be served. This past weekend, he asked me if I wanted him to set the table. Because he senses when he's gone too far and self-corrects to keep you around. This is part of "being there for you" and is on the clock. If I ask him to do something for me, he’ll do it. I just hate the way he talks to me. He tells me that I’m go sensitive because he likes to kid around a lot, he’ll say what are you retarded, or you’re an idiot. I tell him that I don’t like that, and he tells me that he’s only kidding around with me. That's his contempt showing. Tell him that whether or not he's kidding, put downs of any type are not OK with you and will never be OK with you. He says the same things to his Mom. Too bad she took it. Tell him that just because his mom puts up with his "jokes" does not make them acceptable; that put downs are not funny. He has no patience, sometimes I laugh at him, I tell him, you should tape yourself, and maybe you’ll hear how mean you sound. Why don't you tape him? I mean it. There's a good chance he will be surprised to hear himself. Many people are.

So is it common for someone who is abusive to switch back and forth. YES! Unfortunately, that's common behavior for people like Greg because it's dictated by his internal mood state and whether or not he's getting what he needs emotionally at the moment. He sincerely wants to be good. He just doesn't have the emotional stuff to sustain the goodness when he's feeling slighted or deprived. And when they do switch back and forth, is it common for them to try and make a change like Gregg does? Yes. When he has little power in the relationship (like now since you are not "His" now), he will try very hard to please you. But watch out! The change is not likely to have much longevity. He is likely to get tired or resentful of "working so hard to please you" (i.e., normal respectful behavior) at some point. He may wonder how long he has to keep "this" up. He may keep the good behavior up until you've fallen in love again. The minute - no the second -  you let up, he will revert more and more to his yukky ways.

You can't ever let your guard down. Not with him, not with anybody! Learning how to stick up for yourSelf more than you do now can become "normal" behavior for you, that you effortlessly engage in. This is the growth you need and concomitantly helps elevate your self esteem. Just keep practicing sticking up for yourself and not putting up with junk - because you don't deserve it! And when you miss an opportunity, Monday Morning Quarterback it: figure out what you could have said. / done.  In doing so you are learning new skills that will come in handy in similar future situations.

Gregg asked me if he could borrow some money so he could buy some Christmas gifts. He said that he would give me back the money on Wednesday. He said that he’s broke, and that he can’t wait to get his money situation squared away. He’s never admitted that to me in the past. I’m not worried about giving him money because he always gives it back, with interest. But a part of me does get a little annoyed. Good for you for recognizing your annoyance instead of simply taking this as "proof" that he cares about you because he needs you. Your annoyance is healthy. He is beginning to shift more responsibility for himself onto you. He will make you responsible for more and more over time - and it will be your job not to disappoint him. Take care not to fall into the trap of taking care of him this way.

I know you want to understand him and I know you are hopeful that he may be capable of change for the better. While Gregg is young, his chances of changing his ways are better now than they will be later. He may or may not make permanent changes.  But keep in mind that his tendency to assign responsibility to you for how he's feeling (because he's unable to take care of himself emotionally) is fundamentally flawed. That's not likely to change very much. That is a personality style, just as it is your style to implicitly be aware of and considerate of other.

Your odds of being treated well by him are a function of who he is plus your unwillingness to put up with junk. Based on his track record, you're taking a chance. And the odds are not in your favor.

Thanks Dr. Irene, Have a Happy New Year. Faith.  Happy New Year to you too! Doc.

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