Self-protection and self-respect

Some folks are in inherently unsafe relationships.  In particular, those in a close relationship with someone who demonstrates narcissistic traits.  This is a great trial because, to one degree or another, a person who is narcissistic is not able to care, nor particularly interested in, your position on anything.

In relationships like this, we have to consider all our options, including detachment and creating distance in the relationship if it becomes destructive for us.  If you are in a relationship like that and are working hard to maintain it for various reasons, then here is a piece of advice for you (and all of us really).

Our day-to-day work, a spiritual discipline really, includes identifying and valuing our own core values so that we can both own them and apply them under the pressure of conflict.  I know how hard this is to do particularly if you discover that you are in relationship with someone who is skilled at gaslighting and is doing so to you.  Again, evaluate and re-evaluate your options for moving to a safer relational distance.

But while we figure all that out, seek to practice your own core values so that you do not add your own personal disappointments in yourself into the mix.  It is sad but true that many of us are in relationships with people who are so insecure that they try to elevate themselves by stepping on our necks to keep us down.  If this is happening to you - get counseling to help you sort this out!!

But also be mindful that if a core value of yours is respecting humans, then you owe it to yourself to make sure you do not allow another person to treat you with disrespect AND do your best to act respectfully to others.  

In an abusive relationship (get evaluated you might be in one and not recognize it), the most respectful thing you can do is make sure you keep yourself safe!

Focus on what you CAN control

I am not a fan of living in a world of contempt.  How can I make a difference without falling into my own trap of contempt toward others?  What is the opposite of contempt?

Appreciation. Sounds simple, right?  Say some nice stuff to others; maybe bring them a cookie once in awhile?  Good start, but let’s delve deeper.

According to Dr. John Gottman, a researcher who has dedicated himself to studying the institution of marriage, the #1 predictor of failure is when couples treat each other with disrespect and contempt.  

Research indicates that decent marriages and disastrous ones have about the same amount of conflict, which surprised the heck out of me.  I figured that marriages with lots of conflict broke up and the lucky ones with less conflict remained intact. Not true according to Gottman’s research.

It turns out that marriages that create a culture of appreciation for small things makes for a firm foundation and guards against toxic contempt. He calls it a habit of the mind - developing the practice of scanning the environment for ways we can express praise and appreciation.  Gottman suggests we should work hard to catch folks doing right and call attention to it through affirmation. Constantly.

I would add a caveat.  Beware of manipulative praise.  When my grandson went through a brief phase of temper tantrums and the excessive use of the word “NO!”, our family chose a strategy of response.  As a team we chose to not respond or give any attention to foot stomping and loud profanity-sound-a-like shouts of “NO!” We would avert our gaze, go still and wait.  He caught on pretty quickly that all the drama didn’t serve him well. But it took a LOT of practice to rid himself of the impulse to respond so robustly to his passions.

When he remembered that his hissy fit was not serving him well, he would turn on the charm.  I particularly loved how it worked with me. He would bat his long eyelashes and stare lovingly into my eyes, raise his pudgy little arms for an embrace and with the sweetest sing songy voice EVER say, “MEEEEEEEEEEEM (translation for those who don’t speak 18 month language, he is saying Meme).”  Oh my gosh. So cute.

But I would not give into my inclination to gush over his charming entreaty because the little dude was working me.  I don’t think this is what Gottman has in mind. He is not saying that we flatter and cajole and charm anytime we find ourselves in conflict.  What he is suggesting is that we develop the habit of sincere affirming and praising and appreciating whenever possible, even over the smallest matters, as a way of life.

I may not be able to stop every impulse I have to think contemptuously (progress not perfection) but I CAN become a person who becomes more alert and responsive to appreciating those around me.