I had my session last night and obviously the main focus was this situation at work with T (see yesterday’s post).
I have spoken to my therapist about this same situation countless times over the last few years regarding my friend T, so I felt silly for going in there yet again with the same story.. how exhausting that must be for her! She assured me that I shouldn’t feel like that because apparently it is really important that I go over it as many times as I need to, to really make sense of it.
So my therapist has told me a few times before that she thinks T is narcissistic. She has told me this each time a very similar situation to now has arisen. She told me that the dynamic with T is just like the dynamic used to be with my mother in that T makes me responsible for her needs and then uses certain tactics to make me feel guilty (which I always do!). She told me that it is emotional blackmail.
Last night, T told me that I really haven’t done anything wrong. Just because I made plans to see another friend, does not give T the right to sulk, ignore or get angry with me. The fact that she is coincidentally (real or not) having a shitty time in her personal life, is not my responsibility. The thing that makes me have less empathy is that it just so happens that EVERY single time I’ve ever made plans that don’t include her, she has a huge drama in her life. One that she hasn’t yet told me and one that I am somehow just meant to know about like I am a mind-reader.
My therapist told me that I have been programmed by my mother that I have to meet other people’s needs and that their needs are more important than my own, that when I go against the grain and make plans for myself, they get so angry and say things to me like I am selfish and statements such as “it isn’t all about you!” because they are projections. “It isn’t all about you” is what T said to me, when really she wants it to all be about her.
My therapist said that she is extremely childish and immature and that I shouldn’t rise to her silliness. I told her that I know I shouldn’t, but it just really pressed my buttons on Monday and I couldn’t help myself. I told my therapist that I messaged her after she abruptly left the chat to ask if she had the ump – she told me she understands the temptation, but told me that I cannot change her – I can only change what I have control over, which is myself and my response.
I told my therapist that I knew this, but something in me just couldn’t ignore this time. I have spent years ignoring her “bad” behaviour and I just had enough on Monday.
My therapist told me that she understood this and told me that now I am “really seeing” the abusive cycles I have got myself caught up in, it is harder to ignore. I agreed. I have managed to put in firm boundaries to protect myself from my mother and I no longer speak to my old friend who was abusive – now I am left with T who I thought was entirely different to my mother, but is clearly just as narcissistic and clearly treats me in very similar ways – emotional blackmail and guilt-tripping constantly to get what she wants at the expense of what I might want or need. I guess that now I am changing and getting healthier in my recovery, I have better boundaries and perhaps am developing a stronger sense of self which I didn’t used to have. My sense of self used to depend on what other people told me about myself – and so it was imperative to please them. My mother, my ex-friend and T. It is no coincidence that all 3 of these women are so much older than me. They are all in their 50’s.
My therapist said that she thinks I am getting in touch with rage that I feel about all of the people who I’ve been involved with and the rage I might be feeling in response to T’s latest thing is probably more about the whole thing or perhaps mainly about my mother. I agree with that. The general feeling I have which probably is coming from more of a childish place, is “No! You can’t tell me what to do! You don’t own me!!!”. The sensible reaction of ignore, ignore, ignore just wasn’t working on Monday. It hit a nerve.
It hit the same nerve a year or so ago when I told T I wasn’t joining her for lunch that day and she shouted at me in front of half of the office, I lost my temper that time and shouted at her “GET OVER IT!!!”. That went down VERY badly and resulted in a huge rupture in our friendship for weeks. Another time I went to yoga at lunch instead of having lunch with her and that resulted in me receiving an email later that day to tell me she had spent the hour on her own crying (guilt-tripping) because it had been the anniversary of a relative’s death a few years previous. I have a lot more examples like this.
My therapist encouraged me to just not rise to T. To just continue making whatever plans I want to and to let T react however she wishes without reacting to it. Basically maintaining my boundaries.
I did my usual Googling this morning and found some articles which have really helped me to digest this a bit more (I am clearly a slow learner!)
“emotional blackmail is a powerful form of manipulation in which people close to us threaten to punish us for not doing what they want. Emotional blackmailers know how much we value our relationships with them. They know our vulnerabilities and our deepest secrets. They can be our parents or partners, bosses or coworkers, friends or lovers. No matter how much they care about us, they use this intimate knowledge to win our compliance.”
“Sufferers are blamers and guilters who expect us to figure out what they want and ensure that they get it. Sufferers take the position that if they feel miserable, sick, unhappy, or are just plain unlucky, we are expected to help them – even if they haven’t told us how. They let us know, in no uncertain terms, that if we don’t help, they will suffer, and it will be our fault. Sufferers are pre-occupied with how awful they feel, and often they interpret our inability to read their minds as proof that we don’t care enough about them”.
It has helped me to understand why I get such a huge feeling of dread come over me when I know I have to tell her that I can’t have lunch with her because of something that might have come up – why I dread her response and when it comes, I feel angry, guilty and fed up!! It explains why she ignores me when I don’t see her. How dare I not put her needs first! How selfish of me. It also explains why she doesn’t react the same way to our other colleague at work who is much more outspoken than me – because she would get a mouthful back. She chose her weak pray all those years ago and I played the game! I let this happen.
“Overwhelmed: You feel overwhelmed from the excessive responsibility a narcissist dumps on you. A narcissist expects you to drop everything to “cheer them up” when they are depressed, angry or anxious. You are frequently blamed for their problems or unhappiness as they bombard you with unnecessary and irrelevant information”.
“Guilt: As soon as you try to do something positive in your life, a narcissist stops you though the use of guilt. They claim that they should be the most important person in your life, you owe them your unwavering loyalty, or you are being selfish for taking care of yourself.”
“Shame: When manipulated right, shame is a powerful motivator. A narcissist shames you by constantly reminding you of your shortcomings, often in a passive-aggressive way. Or they complain about how badly you treat them compared to “great” they treat you“.
“Anger: A narcissist generates an angry response by acting immature and selfish but accusing you of behaving that way. Then, they divert the discussion thereby preventing any real resolution, especially anything involving action on their part. Finally, you are set up with only you lose-they win options. Your anger is a response to feeling like you are fighting a no-win battle all the time.”
Being emotionally blackmailed takes 2. I am not trying to play the victim here – I have let this dynamic happen for all these years, I just didn’t realise and now I’ve opened my eyes and become aware of it. For emotional blackmail to work, you need to have the controller, and the controlled. The only way someone can emotionally blackmail you – quite frankly, is if you let them.
So, for me to break this pattern I need to accept whatever punishment she might decide to throw my way and not change my response. That will be hard for me, it will be going against what I’ve done my entire life. I need to get the message over to her that guilt-tripping me, sulking etc will no longer work. My therapist has warned me that if I don’t give in to her direct or indirect threats, she will “up the anti” – so I best put my seatbelt on for this is sure to be a rocky ride! I need to make all these changes whilst trying to remain compassionate – I am not trying to end our friendship, just trying to make changes to enable the friendship to continue, if these changes aren’t made then unfortunately I don’t think our friendship will continue for much longer.
Blimey, I never predicated that so many changes would be made from me starting therapy!