People complain that I don’t give out lists of traits when I teach my “How to Spot a Predator” Class.
But lists are destructive and dangerous. The lists on the Internet of personality traits for abusers, sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissistic individuals really mess you up. They are shallow. Pop psychology is shallow. Actual real life relationships are convoluted and deep. Genuine interactions cannot be reduced to a list of 10 or 20 simple lines in a writing.
As I’m working on this writing, I see so far that I probably have at least 9 new writings that need to follow this one in order to truly be helpful. Otherwise, what I’m writing may not be useful to you at all.
In the real world, relationships are not static, simple or in a list. Always, at least two people are involved and interacting. It’s never, not even when you are in an abusive relationship, just one person acting. This means that you are part of the dynamic process between you and other people. And that’s the only element of your relationship you have any control over: YOU.
I usually tell people who come in for relationship coaching that they own 50% of the problem. The math breaks down for me in more complex relationship constellations, but the principle of carrying equal weight for the problem is always present.
There is a simple test with a complicated answer. This test will work in other situations as well: Work, social groups, friendships and so on.
I’m going to tell you the test and then I’m going to list many aspects of why you might mistake a good person for an abusive asshole. Or at least as many as I can think of for this writing. And even my writing is going to end up more shallow that I’d like. This is the subject of multiple books, multiple coaching sessions, multiple variations. As many difference nuances as there are people in relationships.
Please note that this test is not recommended for relationships where your are being physically hit, beaten or physically assaulted.
Give them the benefit of the doubt. You treat them as if they are not abusive. You don’t fight, argue, yell, defend yourself, or anything else. The absolutely very best thing you can do when someone you are about behaves inappropriately to or with you is to listen. I mean really listen.
It’s counterintuitive, I know. But if they are behaving badly for any number of the reasons I listed below, they will stop. Maybe not quite right away. In the utterly worst argument I have ever experienced, it took 30 minutes. That’s 30 minutes of me listening actively and attempting to let him know I heard whatever crazy stuff he voiced for him to stop. Not arguing, not explaining why he sounded crazy, not defending myself. Just sitting on my own feelings and repeating back as politely as I could what he voiced.
Reasons The Test Works
Abusive people have one goal. They want your hurt. They thrive when you are upset, in pain, off balance and troubled. If you react in a normal manner, they will escalate. That’s right. If you respond to an abusive person without showing they’ve bothered you, they will do more and more and more until it’s obvious what they are doing.
Normal interactions with other people are complex. Love makes fools of us all.
But, most people who are not abusive will not increase their hurtful actions when there is no argument. Abusive people will.
Reasons Good People Might Act Badly in a Relationship
Here is my list of potential topics. Let me know what you all might prefer I write first.
- Most people have intimacy pain left over from their personal history.
- Everyone has triggers. When anyone is triggered, they live in their past and are not rational. Couples have nasty, brutal arguments when both people are triggered.
- People say awful, hurtful and nasty things they don’t mean when they fight. It’s normal that they forget they said them, but remember the awful, hurtful and nasty things you said.
- Relationships blow up when communication breaks down. Everyone has some troubles expressing their wants, needs, and hurt feelings.
- Trying to change another person in order to get what you think you need is an argument in the making.
- Misunderstandings happen. They grow when interpreted through your personal history.
- We see the bad behavior of our partner and don’t see the awful behavior we engage in.
- We take in what the other does colored by our feelings, and don’t hear theirs.
If you have responses to my writing, have questions, or just want to share your thoughts, please feel free to share your comments. I’d love to hear what you are thinking.
If you’d like more information or want to make an appointment:
Telephone: (615) 464-3791
©2016 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons