Thursday, August 25, 2016


Yes, I vanished.  For over 2 weeks.

I wish I could say I was vacationing somewhere perfectly wonderful or figuring out how to invest my lottery earnings, but... no such luck.  At first I was simply busy, then I was going a bit crazy, and lately, I've been settling back into simply busy.

The good news takes two forms: on the one hand, the bit o' crazy I experienced this time around seemed to have the effect of a lightning bolt on my brain.  It motivated me to write and write and write, and I'm nearing the end of an article that I'm quite happy with and embarking on another one that I anticipate being happy with as well.

By a strange coincidence, when "the crazy" hit this time around, I had been reading Mark Goulstan's book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life (2015).

While I wouldn't say it kept me from going crazy myself--I had a couple of sleepless nights in there and the stress was palpable--I do feel like reading about some of the insights he offered helped me get to a place of calm more quickly than I might otherwise have.

I've blogged a bit in the past about being a "Pathological Altruist"--basically, someone who gets often pulled in as a "Rescuer" in the Karpman Drama Triangle or who takes on a "Care-Taking" role in relationships, attempt to solve others' problems to such an extent that it creates problems for myself.

So this latest flare-up was, in some ways, a good measuring stick for how far I've come.  I got angry, I got obsessive, I got down to brass tacks and figured out what I wanted to do, and then I stated what was on my mind, clearly, firmly, definitively.

And I didn't succumb to guilt or emotional manipulation.  I insisted that others take responsibility for their own choices.  And although it annoyed me when I was pretty sure I wasn't being listened to, I didn't keep trying to make my points: I knew I had been clear, I knew I'd done all I could do, and I knew I needed to walk away.

So that's what I did: I said, "I'm stepping away from this--don't follow me," and left.  And as a result, after 48 hrs of crazy, I felt calm and collected and in control.  There wasn't the same repetitive anxiety and relived frustration I've experienced before.

A couple of Goulstan's approaches in particular helped me. As I mentioned (I think) in a previous post, Goulstan suggests taking inventory of the "irrational" or demanding (i.e., "crazy" and "crazy-making") people in your life by "taking stock" of what you think you should be getting from them versus what you're actually getting.

So, Goulstan suggests,
Ask yourself: Can you rely on this person for emotional or psychological support, or is the person distant or even abusive? Can you rely on this person for practical help, or does the person let you down whenever you need assistance?  Does the person accept responsibility for his actions or blame others? Is the person reliable or unreliable? Is the person self-reliant or needy? (35)
The goal, obviously, is to determine the level of reciprocity in the relationship.  If you're always supportive, helpful and reliable, and the person tends to leave you twisting in the wind... that's not good.  If said person often blames others when s/he leaves you twisting in the wind... that's even worse.

Goulstan acknowledges that "[s]ometimes you'll owe the person loyalty 'just because.' Because you're grateful for everything she did for you earlier. Because it's not her fault that a trauma or illness is making her behave irrationally. Because you love her, no matter what" (36).

And while that's fine and a fair choice, Goulstan also points out that sometimes "you'll discover that you're sticking with an irrational person simply because you don't want to feel like a bad person yourself" (36)--in particular, you feel guilty for having "bad thoughts" about the person.

Goulstan argues that, if you feel like this, "it's a very strong sign that you need to disconnect from the person" (36).

Which is always easier said than done, obviously.  Goulstan offers some help, in the form of "the DNR method for escaping a relationship": "Do Not React," "Do Not Respond," "Do Not Resuscitate" (36).

Not reacting simply means not making the person's problems or responsibilities your fault or responsibility.  It's their point of view, their problem, and their responsibility.  Not yours.

Not responding is not saying anything that can be twisted and used against you--not giving the person a way of making their problem your problem, fault or responsibility.

Not resuscitating is simply refusing to engage with the person in way that enables him/her to "rev up and try to rehook you."

If you do all of these things, you'll get out, but it's up to you to stay "out." The person will probably try to hook you back in, particularly if you've helped solved their problems in the past. So it's up to you to not let that happen.

Personally, I'm a big believer in the power of peace and quiet. I really think that, for most psychologically healthy people, getting a toxic or difficult person out of one's life is such a relief that you aren't really tempted to go back to them.  They're hard to miss, because the "good" times with them are few and far between or in the far-off past--in a sense, they've overdrawn their emotional "account" with you and have been kiting checks at your expense for a while now.

Goulstan also offers what I find to be even more helpful advice: suggestions for getting your own "crazy" under control, particularly in moments when you're dealing with an irrational person.  He frames these suggestions as a series of "weapons."

First, you can stop thinking of yourself as under attack and instead, pause and say... "Opportunity for poise" (59).

While it may sound silly, it has a basis in neurobiology.  When we're under attack, our amygdala kicks in and we go into "fight, flight or freeze" mode--we can't deploy the more rational centers of our brain.

So actually saying something like, "Opportunity for poise," either mentally or out loud, engages your cerebral cortex. It forces the more rational, less emotive centers of the brain to kick in a bit.  And if you repeat the phrase, they will begin to take over.

I really want to get better at implementing this weapon.  I'm still a bit to prone to hit "WTF?!" mode.

Another "weapon" that Goulstan suggests is "Picturing Your Mentors." I'll admit, I've done this.

When I'm under attack or someone is making me feel bad or foolish or whatever, I'll picture my dad standing behind me. Or various friends and advisors I've had over the years: I think about what they would say and what they would advise me to do in the moment (usually, "Keep your mouth shut: they're not worth your time and energy!") and I feel much stronger as a result.

Because it can be hard to stand your ground when crazy piles onto you.  But feeling like you have the presence of a "posse" can really help.

A more detailed suggestion that Goulstan offers is an "Eight-Step Pause."  Basically, in this instance, you systematically take stock of how you're feeling physically and emotionally, what your impulses are or might be, what the consequences of acting on those impulses might be, and how else you might respond (insights and possible solutions).

Once you've catalogued those, you can figure out what the benefits would be of acting on the insights and solutions and decide to take action.

Again, the idea is to move out of the "fight, flight, freeze" response which is purely emotional and impulsive (and often not good or useful) in order to tap into the more cerebral reactions.

In effect, you are "training yourself to be saner" (66). Instead of succumbing to anger and fear, you have resources at your disposal for remaining calm.

Instead of reacting to a lapse in your own sanity brought on by the irrationality of others, you act from the place of your own integrity and sense of self.

A difficult task, but an important goal.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."