"Drinking coffee in the morning helps others live longer."
Is It Always Someone Else's Fault?
by Terry Martin Nov 11, 2019
Morris Massey, a sociologist who developed a premise called What You Are Is Where You
Were When suggests we are products of the environment around us during our formative years. He explains how and why we are all different and addresses generational conflicts, particularly homegrown prejudices and acceptance of others.
When a patient tells me about relationship issues, whether family, work or social in nature, chances are the seeds (or weeds) were planted in childhood. As life goes on conflicts and prejudices become uncomfortable and are often categorized by the patient as “someone else’s fault.”
Therapy sessions include exchanges like these: “My spouse never does such and such correctly, so I have to do it myself.” Let’s talk about that. “I tell a person atwork how we can be more productive, but he never listens to me. I didn’t get a raise because of him.” Really?
Patterns of behavior, the outgrowths of aforementioned seeds and weeds, surface in relationships. Have you ever lost track of the remote and suddenly lost trust in everyone? “Are you sitting on the remote?” “No.” “Stand up!”
Individuals with egocentric networks try to control people and events. Look no further than today’s political scene for rampant evidence.
We learn from experience and grow in character. Once we develop a unique and habitual way of perceiving and doing things the task of growing in character means modifying longstanding habits. Some of life’s lessons are tough, they call for hard work and it takes the right kind of motivation to succeed. Even when optimally motivated, we face the prospect of setbacks. Old habits are hard to break––particularly if a parent is narcissistic, the character flaw is ingrained.
Certain personality and character disturbances work against our attempts to grow in character. Our coping style is deeply ingrained, satisfying and appears to work. There is little if any motivation to change––unless something in life goes horribly wrong. Then we begin looking for ways to adjust and reshape our lives. Business as usual no longer works.
The first step is admitting the error of one’s ways, humbly acknowledging that things need to change. We must question the way we view things––our core beliefs, attitudes and patterns of behavior. If that leads to a willingness to at least consider different ways of seeing and doing things, change may occur.
Narcissistic individuals have a particularly hard time growing in character. They are unable to recognize or admit shortcomings and error. Narcissists lack good conscience development; guilt and shame aren’t prevalent. Why should they change their grandiose self-image, they like who they are. Admitting error meansadmitting weakness and damages their status among peers. They do not accept equality, they believe they are “special” or superior.
With narcissists, it’s always about “position” or social status. Criticize and blame everyone and everything else when things go wrong. Never accept blame––thatraises the change issue and requires the sort of work people with attitudes of entitlement and “special” status abhor. Their reactions are fairly automatic, but not necessarily unconscious defenses. They still believe someone else is to blame.
I’ve coached many patients who stuck with a narcissistic partner for years. They believed that time and life experiences would cause their partner to begin a reflection process. But despite all the negative consequences, the narcissist never changed. My patient finally threw in the towel and sought counseling.
Narcissists can go through multiple relationships because their partners refuse to put up with isolation, abuse, manipulation and blame. It takes a lot for a narcissist to stop the blame game and seriously look inside. Looking seriously at their own way of thinking and behaving is rare so they usually end up alone.
There is no happy ending. If a narcissistic personality is independently wealthy or supported financially by a partner they may have a difficult time staying employed. Employers are less forgiving when employees are unable to engage anyone else’s opinion. Ultimately they are shown the door for transferring blame to someone else.
If you recognize your own actions in today’s column, don’t hesitate to contact me for assistance.
See you next Monday.
Once Upon a Time
by Terry Martin Nov 4, 2019
During therapy sessions I often ask, “How closely would a video of your life match what you are telling me?”
Therapy sessions are rife with patients who’ve sold themselves a bill of goods. A graph of their actual lives would look like a stock market chart––a series of highs and lows, including severe peaks and valleys. But they don’t see it that way. Instead they focus on wonderful descriptions of family members, friends and others who have touched their lives. Talk about creativity.
It happens all the time. C’mon, making your life sound interesting doesn’t camouflage reality. You’ve told the story to yourself so many times that you believe it’s true. You’re hooked on it. Stories we tell ourselves don’t change the way we feel. They alter our perception of reality. If ten people witness a particular event, several will describe what they saw differently. And over time the stories add more bells and whistles.
Then there are the dejected patients with their chins on their chest during therapy. “I don’t open the blinds,” a patient said, “it’s always gloomy outside.” “Have you forgotten the good things in your life?” I asked, “You aren’t a failure. The world isn’t against you.” I encouraged him to take a different perspective and see things in a different light. “You are more accomplished than you think,” I added.
Patients and therapists have to be on the same page. I tell my patients, “You will have a better understanding of reality and feel a lot happier. But, in order to get there we have to work at it. Your present life matters the most. You can’t have a good day if you’re hell-bent on telling yourself otherwise.”
In a way, accepting self-talk narrows our perspective. The story we tell tends to be all we see. If you let a negative past experience narrow your perspective today, a defensive reaction takes over. We aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. Our mind conveniently triggers a cozy story that we enjoy telling.
Subconsciously we try to make better sense of everything in the present by using old stories. While this might work at times, old stories that are irrelevant to the present moment hurt us more than they help us.
Old stories that have lifetime appointments in our minds belong on a back burner. Separate them from the life you live. Retain what might be useful, but discard the rest. The past is ancient history. You will live a better life if you keep the stories you tell in the here and now.
Remember, you are the author of your life story. It’s an autobiography. Why worry about people who judge you by a chapter where they were in your life? The story is about you and the ending is yours to decide. Make it a strong one.
See you next Monday.