Archive for the 'dysfunctional behavior' Category

Intentional or unintentional

October 20, 2013

I don’t like dualism, but here I am going to contrast intentional mirroring with unintentional mirroring, an issue that’s been on my mind for a long time.

The mirroring that has power occurs not through behavior we engage in with the intention of mirroring.  Effective mirroring takes place at a deeper level, the level revealed when we manage to pull away our personal concerns, desires, and fears — that other strand is what produces the mirroring effect, it is not something we consciously craft.

When someone mirrors another in this way, they may not be aware of it.

Just as it is difficult to distinguish the difference between badly-intended behavior and stupid behavior, it is difficult to tell when a person is conscious of what is going on in their actions, including writing, and when they are unaware of what they are doing (“It’s just a song,” for example).  People may consciously write versions of their friends and relatives into their novels, but people may also write pieces of other, real people into their books, too, whether they are aware of it or not.  Maybe it happens when they think they are communing with a muse, I don’t know.

Contrived mirroring (self-conscious acts of trying to mirror someone’s behavior or attitude back to them) doesn’t have the same impact, I don’t think, as mirroring done through a deeper level of the person.  Contrived mirroring may be a technique to modify behavior, it may be a way of calling attention to itself, kind of like a friendly wave or a not- so- friendly gesture — some sort of indication of response — but I don’t see it having a very significant function in the great scheme of things.

Here’s, for me, at least, the rub:  how do you talk about the part of this that occurs unwittingly, with people who don’t “believe in it?”

One participant in the interaction cannot even tell you “where it hurts,” what is going wrong, the other claims they are not doing anything to impact the other person negatively.

People disconnected from their inner selves may actually not be aware of what they are doing, other people may have some degree of knowledge of what they are doing, but employ a defense of “deniability” — they hide behind how socially unacceptable in our culture it is to talk about any of this and claim they ain’t doin’ nothin’.

An abusive pattern can continue over and over again if neither party has a clue what is going on, just as post partum infections spread so easily in hospitals before people realized they needed wash unseen germs off their hands between examining patients.

What I think is true, however, is that we only need one member of the interactive pair to understand what is, wittingly or unwittingly, going on, to end the dysfunctional dynamic.  That person just has to tolerate being regarded as a little daft.



October 16, 2013

I wrote a comment to Maureen Dowd’s column today that is, probably, really a criticism of “bystanders” in dysfunctional relationships such as bullying.  The bystanders do their thing, feeling they are only doing what is socially acceptable.  When things don’t end well, for either the target or the bully, the bystanders are left to regroup — regroup socially and regroup within themselves.

I guess that’s where my sense of what happens ends.  I don’t have all that much evidence of what bystanders do afterwards.  I can tell from the attempts of some people I know who have tried to ask the target to say it was all okay, that some bystanders feel they did something wrong.  But it usually comes across as “I had to do it, and I would do it again, but please tell me it’s okay as if I am saying I won’t do it again.”

I think this is called asking someone else to hold your anxiety, or at least something parallel.  I think we are engaging in enabling if we agree to do it.

I don’t think the target necessarily feels any emotional satisfaction in telling bystanders who look for this kind of emotional exchange, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  I think the difficulty of the situation only allows for them to do not much more than to recognize the limitations of human beings.

So I don’t think we get resolution either as a bang or a whimper or even a hug;  I think the resolution is neutral acceptance that stuff happens, including stuff that causes real and lasting damage, and that there is not always recourse available for redressing that damage.  And that it should be left there:  no bitterness, no rancor, but no shifting, back onto the target, of the burden of holding the tension.

Comfort level with dysfunction

July 1, 2013

This is a footnote to the last post.  It’s an explanation of why I’ve ended up in so many dysfunctional relationships.

The way I see it, I got groomed in my family of origin to accept anti-social behavior and people who engage in it as normal.  I don’t see red flags and run in the opposite direction when I encounter it again, I don’t even see it coming, because I was taught not to distinguish between people who behave this way and people who don’t.

Tensing up

January 7, 2013

Faced with an unknown dog or a bee on the arm, if we remain quiet and relaxed, we don’t escalate the likelihood of harm.  When we want to float in the water, relaxing our muscles and ourselves allows us to.  When we encounter hurt within a human relationship, if we stay with the initial emotion of hurt and don’t transform it into a defensive (tense) posture, we can also remain in an open (here, emotional) posture.  It’s about, I think, being able to tolerate feeling the hurt.  And that, paradoxically, both allows us to pass through the situation (and to let it pass through us) and also not to become more (and more permanently) damaged.

There are times when we cannot tolerate the hurt, and when that happens, I think we use a coping device to attenuate it.  The coping device has its own cost.  Here’s an extreme example:  my boyfriend breaks up with me and I swear off dating altogether.  Maybe for some people this is a stage they have to go through, putting up an impermeable protective wall to assure themselves they won’t be hurt again.  But that impermeable barrier also, obviously, cuts them off from the possibility of a (healthy) new relationship that does work out.

Some people don’t, to use the example above, actually foreswear the dating market, but rather re-enter it using a detached persona, a self separated from their heart.  This looks like a strategy that allows for both relationship and protection, but I think it is actually much worse than withdrawing.  For one thing, without having one’s heart in the game, one is hugely likely to do real damage to other people, because the ability to generalize empathetic feeling I think resides in the heart; if a person is trying to understand other people’s perspective through the intellect and not the heart, I think that understanding will be piecemeal, like particles instead of waves.  It will likely fail to be accurate in a new situation it has not yet encountered, and hence will not be a helpful guide for what to do and will instead be more likely to give rise to behavior that damages.

But walled-off people do conduct relationships that endure, and what about them?  I think they wobble, less so when the other partner knows how to compensate for the missteps taken by the protagonist.  There are some people who are emotionally willing and limber enough to try to compensate in their part of the partner dance for extreme missteps by the protagonist.  Not only are these dances and relationships painful for others to watch, but they often end in the collapse of the compensating partner.  Here’s an example:  primary person doesn’t want partner to have outside secondary relationships (of the platonic sort) and/or makes it difficult for them to have them, and then the primary person complains that the partner has become too emotionally dependent on them.

My main point here, though, is about trying to stay with the initial feeling of hurt and not transform it into something else.  In its original form it can be completely processed, I think, whereas in a transformed state, there will be a residue that clogs up the heart and weighs us down.   If we stay with the original hurt with an open emotional stance, the feeling will pass through us and we through that stage of feeling.  It may take time, but I think it is far preferable to do than to wrap the hurt up in anger and bitterness, for example, and be left with a foreign object within us, or rather, with an outer shell walling us off.

Group dynamics

November 8, 2012

When interactions between or among individuals who need to be working for a common good bog down, they can take a step back and work on process.  Twelve-step groups sometimes take a “group inventory,” families sometimes seek counseling, sports teams might have some sort of meeting, musical groups and businesses, too.  Here’s my question:  why doesn’t Congress?  Roger Fisher is deceased, but there are others well versed in teaching people to negotiate productively.  I’m sure Congress could find a couple of figures they could agree on to co-chair some sort of house-cleaning of the two chambers.  Being dysfunctional may feel good from the inside, but it just looks unnecessary and self-indulgent from the point of view of (many) observers.  Maybe these folks can’t distinguish between positive attention and negative attention, but I would have thought they’d like to be thought of as a Congress that did its job effectively.  I hope they don’t think that because they are “Members of Congress,” they are not vulnerable to the same human weaknesses that can result in unproductive behaviors in any group situation.

Merging and enmeshment

October 29, 2012

This post is inspired by my viewing and listening to Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas singing what turns out to be a Bob Dylan tune (in other words, I didn’t realize this at first), during the Transatlantic Sessions, series 5.

A little after the three-minute mark, they sing together.  Their respective expressions I find very moving and their very different voices blend beautifully.  For me it’s a wonderful experience aesthetically, but it’s also an illustration of how we can relate to each other.

I think so often we end up enmeshing with each other using the part of ourselves that is only our personal identity and is managed by our ego.  These jockeys interact with each other, and with many of us, using them we cross one another’s boundaries and become enmeshed — extensions of one another.  This can manifest in trying to tell other people what to do or in bleeding for them.  Suggestions can be good, compassion is good, but trying to be someone else or to live their life for them is a dynamic that ultimately fails (and damages).

Merging our spiritual selves with the divine works.  And we all have the divine within us, too.  Rohr’s daily meditation for today speaks to that.  Those aspects of ourselves allow us to merge with each other.  Merging with each other through our souls, on a sort of spiritual exchange platform, is fine, I think.  (And I think those mergers are temporary, even if the effects can be long-lasting.)  The outer parts of ourselves can interact in other ways, like singing harmony with one another, and maintain their needed boundaries.

So I see in this video two people separately going deep into their respective selves while also interacting with one another.  I suspect they connected with each other on multiple levels through the (musical) experience.  To me it’s what we should be doing with each other, even without the music.

I noticed after listening to the video multiple times that many of the commenters to the video also noticed the passage that caught my attention too.  I think we all are attuned to the same sense of what works — we know it when we see it, even if we can’t do it or don’t analyze it.  I am grateful that musicians have preserved in their realm a public demonstration of this core human dynamic.

It’s not about you

October 24, 2012

That’s one of my favorite ways to help untangle a problem:  to choose, in a sense, not to take whatever is going on personally.  If I actually see it as the result, at its origins, of impersonal forces happening to come together in a certain way, the strands slide apart, like spaghetti after you add the butter or oil in the bowl after it’s cooked.  A different variation of “spacer” from the space I was thinking of in my previous post.  There the spacer was the kind that occurs when each party has their expectations met (in the case treated in the post, even when the expectations conflict).  In the case in this post, instead of sating an attachment (using extraneous resources), the expectation is denatured by avoiding the attachment by means of minimizing the involvement of the ego.

Illusion of control

October 21, 2012

Maybe people who want to feel in control of their lives ought to thank all the people who who behave in ways known to be deleterious to health.  Because now many people easily say, well, those people are likely to get sick, therefore if I’m not doing those things I am not likely to.  I agree they are less likely to, but I think all too often this blends into thinking that illness can be avoided, period.  That, in turn, gives rise to blaming people for their illnesses, for being surprised when they themselves develop one despite right living, etc.  But I’m wondering if in the meantime people feel more in control and that that feeds a desire.  If so, they should thank all the people overeating, overdrinking, smoking, etc. for letting them believe the absence of such behaviors ensures health.

Actually, I don’t really believe that at all, but I do think people ought to rethink their need to victimize people who are victimizing their own bodies, and not confuse that with general principles of how people become ill.

What attitude we take towards people whose behavior is conducive to the development of medical conditions I think is a hard question.  I guess I wouldn’t ignore the likelihood that the behavior is a maladaptive attempt at self-protection from something and try to ameliorate that and not just go after the behavior in a condemnatory way.  And I’d probably also want to go after behaviors in society that support the maladaptive behavior.  For example, we’ve changed the rhythms of our lives so much that many people rely on convenience and processed foods that appeal to appetite as much as they do to hunger.  I suspect such foods are more conducive to overeating.  While most people use them responsibly, I suppose we could say, maybe we should work on revising the rhythms of our lives into something that doesn’t require such short-cuts to food preparation.

I think we expect too much of human ability not to seek out pleasure.  There was an old experiment using pigeons, an experiment Larry Tribe talked about at the outset on his Constitutional Law class, as I recall it.  In the experiment, pigeons had an opportunity to do something that would prevent themselves in the future from doing something against their interests, and they learned to do that (the analogy was to our Constitution but I forget the details of the pigeon experiment).  I think with many of our innovations we give people the opportunity to do things against their interests and that the feedback in the system isn’t adequate to teach them not to do it before there’s great damage to themselves or to society.


October 10, 2012

I wrote about appreciating human flawedness yesterday, in my last post, and this morning I was reading about accepting the body as “good, worthy, [and] holy” in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation.

It got me thinking about bodies, how they can be a source of pain and disappointment, how some people find a way during extreme difficulties experienced through their bodies (I’m thinking about rape and torture but also about illness and accident) to attenuate their relationship with their own.  I don’t doubt that Father Rohr is accurate that this leads to trouble in the long run.  Techniques like disassociation have drawbacks, too.  They’re coping strategies but they are only stopgap measures for people who were unprepared to deal with the difficulty in some other way without these costs, I think.

But, as a general proposition, old coping strategies can be transcended.  It’s much harder, I think, when the difficulties are on-going or there have been secondary consequences to the difficulties that led to a rejection of the body, consequences with their own difficult dynamic, but I don’t doubt that making peace with the body and bodily existence will result in new possibilities, even if it doesn’t lead to repair of old ones.

I wonder how much of addictive behavior, which Father Rohr relates to this issue of alienation or separation from the body, is really just a distraction to keep from dealing again with that which was so painful or which actually no longer works, or never worked, and for which an alternative (without the downsides of addiction) should be sought.  Maybe if we let go and wait for an understanding of where might lie an alternative to experiencing the situation as too difficult, and an alternative to using a maladaptive response, we find some progress.

The false equivalency issue

September 10, 2012

I read a lot about the issue of people reporting on politics giving equal time and respect to both sides of an argument regardless of each side’s factual accuracy (I think factual accuracy is the criterion; sometimes it might be proven worth, in terms of actual predictive value, of a theory).

I think what may be going on is a misunderstanding of how to have a “difficult conversation.”  It’s not that one accepts as factually true something that isn’t, but one hears the assertion as an expression of something not being said — an idea, a fear, a misunderstanding, perhaps.  It’s an opening to delve deeper into what lies behind the assertion, in a respectful, compassionate, and tactful way.

If that polite and genuinely interested inquiry is met with complete rejection, then I state where I am, what expectation I might have, and then I “take space” (withdraw and wait to reconvene).  When we do talk again, I try to take into account my best guess as to what may be lurking behind an assertion of what was said before that was untrue or that didn’t make sense — what is the person trying to tell me.  In the case of elderly parents who don’t want to accept the help they need, difficulty accepting a loss of independence and privacy and difficulty accepting the nearness of the end of life are things we as a group have ascertained are often going on.  In the case of politics I’m not sure how often we delve into that level of why people use the strategies of thought they do to parry another’s input.  It’s after all the public and not the private sphere.  This is why I harp on people’s needing to develop their own self-awareness.  This can be done in the privacy of one’s own home.  Then, when one is out in public, there is much less likelihood of those unresolved personal issues getting in the way of the public transaction.

I think part of the problem is getting people motivated to do this.  If they’ve arranged things so that they don’t receive immediate negative feedback for having unresolved issues, they might not be interested in cultivating more self-awareness.  I could say, “Your issues are showing,” the way we as kids used to say, “Your epidermis is showing,” but they might not care — like telling people to tuck in their shirt tails when they maintain it’s the style to wear them out.

Coping strategies often work in the short run, even when they’re maladaptive.  And I measure the short run even in terms of an entire lifetime.  So I’ve learned not to hold my breath for people to get interested in changing themselves on the inside.  Some people do, often people exposed to hardship and the effects of other people’s alcoholism or dysfunction.  I think it’s called the gift of desperation.

People who have found a way to get by as they are often aren’t motivated to develop.  Some of them claim they can’t or shouldn’t have to.  That conversation isn’t very interesting to me after a while.

So the interaction that would be helpful may never happen.  But what I think it’s supposed to be is not “one the one hand, on the other hand,” but “Oh, that’s what you’re trying to say — you have an issue that needs addressing first before we can move on to the main topic.”

For example, why do Democrats play fast and loose with chronology when it comes to negative sequelae of Bain actions?  Or Republicans do something similar to that with the closing of, I think, a GM plant?  They are trying to express something else.  What they’re trying to express however unhelpfully needs to be heard and addressed: as president, Romney would treat the less advantaged callously and we are uncomfortable with Bain’s mission; as president, factory closings were not sufficiently reversed and we don’t like ascribing to Bush what happened under his watch, we’d rather blame someone on the other “team.”

Something like that.  In any case, I see the false equivalency treatment as a misunderstood implementation of a conversational technique that actually is helpful.  Reading about the misuse of special ed strategies in yesterday’s NYTimes reminded me how, even given a menu of helpful techniques, people can pick and choose and unhelpfully and in a distorted way implement the worst — it’s not just the need for information, there’s a need for the people involved to be healthy themselves to use it to help and not harm.  So, too, with conversational strategies — they can be badly, mistakenly, or incorrectly implemented, too.