Appearances

April 2, 2012

I took a walk this morning (while the carpenters were re-doing the right panel of the railing in their shop), and somewhere around one of the overpasses I walk under on the stretch of the bike path nearest where I live, it suddenly occurred to me what one of the many contributing factors might have been to why someone I used to work with blew up at me many years ago.

When another colleague had retired, I had been offered her previous position as a secretary/treasurer to a professional organization of a sort.  I had accepted, and then this person I worked with who outranked me “asked” if we could split the post, I would be secretary and he treasurer.  I went along with that, for a bunch of reasons.

Years later I took time off to adopt two children and help them settle in.  I planned to continue as secretary, and in that context, continued as I had before (including leaving this person, as treasurer, notes about what I was doing).  Including buying postage stamps to put on the letters I mailed out as secretary.  The person who I worked with became exceedingly angry when I did this, accused me of all sorts of high crimes and misdemeanors and apparently shared this version with many others.

He had never asked me to resign my position, return the office key, anything like that.  I was shocked at his reaction.

Years later I have pieced together that he never thought of me as having that position in my own right but only through him.  That certainly had not been my understanding.  And I’m not sure it was in fact factually accurate.  But I think it must have been his way of thinking about it, and I think that framing of our relationship must have been his reality.  When I left other aspects of my working relationship with him because of the adoption, he, I think, must have decided that that severed my relationship to my position as secretary.  He never said so, so I can’t know for sure.  Certainly at the time it wasn’t obvious to me.  I had seen our office-holding as a joint enterprise.  I’m thinking now that he had seen me as only an authorized participant, and that he saw himself as the authorizing authority, as well.  What he did to force his way I won’t get into here, but I didn’t understand it until I happened to read, for some other reason, about what happens when someone tries to divorce a narcissistic spouse — that was the reaction I got.  I hadn’t seen that coming, either — that he was a narcissist or that I was like a spouse.

What occurred to me this morning was that people who are used to having there be a discrepancy between reality and the facade they or their family shows the world, may come more easily to relate to a facade as reality.  So, even if I had the authority to do what I did, he reacted as if I didn’t, because in his version, I didn’t and he perhaps was used to playing “let’s pretend” in other contexts and having that illusion be upheld as in a folie à deux.

To wrap up the story, I would just note that many years later I thought we were having a reconciliation, but I hadn’t yet understood him as someone who behaves the way narcissists are said to.  So, it turned out to be more of the same, and I finally saw him for the way he is, and that gave me release.

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