I spoke to a woman less than five years sober recently about difficulties she was having a relationship. I would not describe her as a shy person, but to some degree she suffers from (what I call) spinelessness and lack of confidence in standing up to unreasonable behaviour. I do not think this is because she is a spineless person, I think this is because she doubts herself, in that she is not sure whether or not she is justified in rejecting unreasonable behaviour. I think this is because she questions herself constantly. This is because she is so incredibly polite. It is part of her nature to think extremely carefully about what she says in case it causes offence. This makes her very pleasant company and very polite company. I think she is afraid of labelling another person's behaviour untoward, for fear of appearing Draconian or rigid. She is so busy minding her p’s and q's and terrified of appearing domineering and unfair. This approach is like a ball and chain around her feet when asserting her preferences in a relationship.
When I meet people like this I label this behaviour "Catholic guilt". I don't know if it is Catholic guilt or not, as it's just a label I use so that people see this pattern when it repeats itself more clearly. Normally when people present themselves in this way,
racked with self-doubt whilst unwittingly permitting (or enabling) unacceptable behaviour,
the first thing I say to them is something like "That's Catholic guilt". Along with some comment to the effect that as far as I know they are not catholic etc, so why are they suffering from Catholic guilt? I probably know some Catholics but their religion is irrelevant as so many people suffer from this particular trait.
When I meet somebody who has difficulty assessing another person's behaviour as unreasonable, because they are essentially a "nice" person. I start questioning them along the lines of
'If the roles were reversed, would YOU behave the way this person is treating you?' ..If not, why not?
So for instance if the other person is being very demanding, and the doormatty/polite person is doubting themselves and making excuses for their friend/partner, I just say to them something like "well so and so, if the circumstances were different and you were in the position you find your partner in, would YOU act in this particular way? For instance "would you be demanding and needy at unreasonable moments?" Meaning would YOU behave the way your partner/friend is behaving? If not why not?
The person I am talking to invariably looks back at me with complete shock, because it would never ! occur to them to behave in such a manner. And in that time, it becomes clear to them that they have been making excuses for their partner, for something they would never !! dream of doing themselves, because this type of behavior would be completely out of character for them.
This type of analysis, only really works with the type of woman who is polite, reasonable, and quite generous, as these are the types that are more likely to be bullied and dominated by friends and partners. This reasoning would not apply to a person who was a bully himself or herself.
I identify much more closely with women who are bullied than with women who bully, as this tends to be what happens to people who are reasonable. I find that the more unreactive I am, that the safer others feel in presenting their irrational emotional states. So sometimes people ‘blow a gasket" simply because they know they can, and that I will not retaliate or punish. This unfortunately is the burden of being reasonable under emotional pressure. The nicer you are, the more people feel they can say pretty much whatever they like to you. This means that I have to be prepared to enforce my boundaries at any time. Thankfully I have learned how to do this over the years, so I am not so easily hijacked. Occasionally I get a unexpected rapidfire attack from out of nowhere, which if peculiarly unpleasant leaves me feeling quite unpleasant until I recover. But other than that people do not get much of a chance to treat me unfairly or cruelly for very long, because I do not let them.
Anyway I have a rather ! tedious shopping trip to get done before I make my way to a meeting that serves coffee after which I think is the part of the meeting I like best. Anyway have a lovely Saturday :) I hope to achieve as much as I can today, as I am catching up with loose ends regarding chores at home that have taken a back seat since study consumed most of what was left ! of my free time.
By the way, PG made a comment about speed reading in relation to reading my post. I know !! exactly how she feels :) It is precisely because of this that I invested in a acereader pro software. I think it costs about $20 or something. That means I can read online material by cutting and pasting into the software at a rate of about 1000 words a minute. Basically I really like this piece of software and it helps me to read a lot of the blogs that I do, even if I don't manage to comment on on them as much as I would like. So that's my speed reading tip for the day. Have a lovely weekend! ☺
- An Irish Friend of Bill
- I have recovered from the disease of Alcoholism. I believe there is only one person really,.. everybody. And that peace of mind is everything. -So treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself, because your neighbor IS yourself. I think most of recovery is what I would call common sense, but that learning to be ordinary is a true gift very few people acquire. My ambition is to accept everything unflinchingly, with compassion, and therefore be intrinsically comfortable in my own skin, no matter what. I am comfortable being uncomfortable and am willing to go to any lengths to improve my life. I believe the Big Book was divinely inspired, and is extraordinarily powerful. Unfortunately AA's best kept secret a lot of the time. (In my opinion). I just try to do what works, no matter what it is.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
What is unreasonable?: The more polite you are, the more you second-guess yourself
Posted by An Irish Friend of Bill
Labels: Boundaries, Relationships
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Hi, Irish, still sober here...I find this is happening more and more to me now. That I got sober, but I am having more difficulty standing my ground with unreasonable people. I know when I drank I was more of an a$$ and was able to "defend" myself better. These days, it's harder, since I think I got a lot of mixed messages in childhood from my parents. Thanks for this...I really needed to read this.
yaaaaay Willa you're still out there doin the deal a day at a time :)
Nice of you to pop by and say hi :)
Yeah it takes time to figure out new ways of doing things.. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we do get there in the end :)
well, i can certainly relate to this post for sure (well, minus the difficult relationship). Coming from a strong southern baptist background, i am familiar with the guilt you speak of. One reason I THINK I used to try and play the 'nice' girl is to avoid getting hurt.. If I'm 'nice' how could they hurt poor little ole me right?! The other thing that came to mind is that 'nice girls are not supposed to get angry'. Fear of anger - and if I get angry and tell you of my feelings, then you will disapprove of me - reject me - leave me, etc etc. They'll like me if I'm nice right?! Yeah, well - not so much.
It's helped to have someone model (role-play) what assertiveness looks like.. Sticking with 'you know, you could be right AND my experience is...' It's very strange feeling to be assertive - very scary and out of comfort zone. But the freedom that's come from it! OMG. Fearless! well, sometimes. haha.. but it's like, I'd have said things long ago had I known HOW and if it was never modeled by anyone, it's so innocent ya know?! Questioning 'if I say so and so, he/she will reject me' REALLY?! Can you absolutely KNOW that ?? Who knows, they may love ya more!
enjoying your post girlie
I suppose people will push the envelope as much as they can with people who are reasonable. I think that sometimes Live and Let Live gets misunderstood--it doesn't mean that a person can act like an ass and not expect some repercussions. Great post.
Hello from beautiful San Francisco,California! Love to periodically drop in and see how you are doing. Also living, loving, thriving alive in the most beautiful place. In love with my home group - happy sober folks abound living life on life's terms one day at a time. Loved this post - for me it was about having been raised by alcoholic bully...finally broke free of accepting unacceptable behaviors - step work rocks...still...after all these years....be well and happy and joyous and free!
thanks for saying hi anon :) sounds like you have a LOVELY home group over there.. san fran is one of the areas in the us i think i would really like, on account of its eclectic, diverse and cosmopolitan inhabitants :) hehe there are plenty of cool people there. meaning you guys are very comfortable with various eccentricities. which i like :) it reminds me of london, but with a lot more sun :)
Sometimes it's hard to be a supportive listener. I know because I struggle with it myself.
My first (impulse) reaction anytime anyone talks to me is 1.) How does this event/situation affect *ME*? and 2.) What can *I* do about it?
I have no idea what it means to have a partner relation with another human being -- because I always perceive myself as separate from. This is my ego, and it damn near killed me.
This often means that I need to understand that people disturb me, and though I sometimes may not like the way they disturb me, I have to cheerfully treat them as though they were a sick friend. I imagine a blinking red sign on their forehead "SICK PERSON!" "SICK PERSON!" I ask myself: How can I be helpful to them? How can I understand what their needs are? How can I help them understand what they need now?
When I am impulsively reacting, I am incapable of being helpful to others, and so my ability to form a true partnership relation with others is blocked.
My first course is to quiet the disturbance -- which usually means that I listen supportively and let the storm blow itself out. What does this mean, it means that despite what I think and feel and believe at that moment, it doesn't matter. You may be thinking to yourself, "That's crazy! How can I agree with them and co-sign their B.S. like that?"
Then my sponsor told me that women try on emotions like they try on shoes, looking for the ones that fit. They circle the runway, they don't come straight in for a landing.
So when I deal with my wife, I often have to say something like this: "You sound like that made you angry, did that make you mad?" The response: "No, it's just that I feel frustrated that XYZ..." My response: "So you feel frustrated that XYZ happened. Yeah, that's totally frustrating when XYZ happens. Did that make you feel sad?" The response: "No I wasn't sad...but I just wish ABC would understand how hard I worked." My response: "Sure you work hard and that person was just being mean getting on you like that. You handled that situation well." The response: "Yeah, well, I wish he would just ease up on me." My response: "You sound like you had a hard day. You're done now and you're home and you're safe. I love you." The response: "Thanks. So how was your day."
Despite the fact that my opinion was that she didn't handle it the right way (e.g. MY way) or I didn't like the way she'd come home and explode on me when I'm trying to show her how grateful I am to see her, I helped her work it out and then like magic, problem disappeared and now she can focus on my needs.
Point: Sometimes enforcing boundaries is good -- but sometimes we can get defensive and ruin an opportunity to bring ourselves closer together with others. I've been on both sides before, and the supportive listener works for me.
With time and experience you learn when to stand up for yourself and when to listen supportively. From my experience, I run over people when my pride is offended (Is this pridefulness something I obsess on and should discard as an old idea/behavior that doesn't work?) or my fear is stimulated (am I trying to control my world so people don't get too close because I don't have the emotional maturity to handle human situations?)
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