Susan announced on Facebook to the 1000 friends she has that once again people have been bullying her. Last time round, it was the boss who had ‘screamed’ at her (when really he just sent an email saying that her work was always late and had mistakes in them) and this time round, a really good friend had told her off for being way too needy.
For Susan, these acts were bullying and denigrating.
“They don’t appreciate how hard it is for me!” She’d complain to her friends over supper, “I’m very fragile at this moment!”
“You don’t have to take that crap from him,” Sarah had said to her.
“That’s right!” Lynn chimed in, between drinking her ice tea.
Susan felt understood in that moment and her mood changed - she was inexplicably happier and so she explained more about how others did not seem to care about how much she NEEDED, absolutely NEEDED people to take care of her. To drive home to point for good measure, she again emphasised her fragility.
Tim, who had been sitting silently eating his supper, asked her if perhaps her boss was somewhat right, that she could be more timely with her work and perhaps be more careful. He knew that she could get extremely defensive and had chosen his words very carefully.
So he was not prepared for the explosion of tears and scrunched-face crying from Susan. And her open hostility directed at him. They had been friends for years and now Susan was crying loudly in front of them all; at supper; calling him a bully and slamming him for being an insensitive a****le. Everyone at the restaurant was looking at them.
“You’re just like the rest of them! So self-righteous! I know your parents are rich OK? You are a spoilt privileged brat and don’t know what it’s like for people like me! You don't understand me! I can't take stress! O.M.G! I've got such a headache!!!” Suiting deed to action, Susan clasped her head dramatically.
Several weeks later, Tim was shocked then irate to know that Susan had posted on Facebook about the incident and wrote a lengthy essay on how she doesn’t understand how he, a friend for 2 decades could just ignore her and not reply his text messages. He couldn’t fathom how she couldn't see that her actions that night drove him away. He couldn’t understand how she could not see how hurt and angry her words have made him.
Susan unfortunately, is a self-saboteur. She has a strong need for people to connect with her, but somehow she has come to perceive others as bullying and as lacking empathy or not understanding her. Worst yet, she comes to see them as ready to abandon her at the drop of the pin.
Susan also positions herself as being fragile and in need of care and support, perhaps unwittingly as a means of trying to get the connection she fears she might lose. She doesn't recognize that she would often lash out when others questioned her contributions to her own struggles or that she had not considered others’ thoughts and feelings when she does something to hurt them.
Elaine sat with Tim over lunch. She knew what had happened from Facebook and through mutual friends. Although she was not close to Tim, she had taken the initiative to ask him out for lunch - they worked together after all.
“She did that to me too,” Elaine shrugged her shoulders in a blasé manner.
“What’s wrong with her?” Tim asked, unable to keep the anger from his voice. “She obviously made mistakes in her work. I’d know, her boss was showing me all her mistakes! I was just trying to help her so that she can stop doing that and have less problems from him!”
“Susan is very needy and likes to play the ‘I’m frail like a dandelion’ card even though she is a lot more capable than she lets on,” Elaine explained. “She never takes responsibility for anything she does and people are often cleaning up after her”
“That’s so disgusting! She’s nearly 45 this year!”
“I know! People start out by being genuinely concerned and wanting to support her. But when she just keeps shunning responsibility and playing the victim, and getting people into trouble, they get sick of it and call her out or keep their distance. Then she lashes out at them, calling them bullies and digging her heels deeper in and playing the victim card even harder.” Elaine pointed out.
“I know that she really cherishes deep connection and wants a sense of belonging, but her actions are so disgusting. Doesn’t she see that her own actions are driving people away?” Tim said, exasperated.
“Nope. Doesn’t see it or doesn’t want to see it,” Elaine shrugged. “I’ve tried to tell her about it and look where it got me - I’m still the evil b**** in her eyes, so I don’t bother with her now.”
IF YOU'RE ON THE RECEIVING END
Does Susan’s story ring a bell for you? Does it remind you of people in your own life who are like her - wanting something (in her situation - a sense of belonging and deep relationships) but ironically doing things that makes it hard for them to get the very thing they crave for?
Many of these people have blind spots and are very entrenched in their interaction patterns with others. In Susan’s situation, she had distanced friends who would try to raise her awareness about the impact of her actions on others and ultimately on herself. The only friends left are those who would agree with her and encourage her to keep playing the “I’m frail” and “I’m in need role”.
The best thing you could do for someone like Susan is to firmly set your boundaries with them. While you can be empathetic to their NEED (in this case for connection and understanding), you do not have to engage or recognize their behaviour. The best way to dis-engage from their behaviour is not to acknowledge it at all, or the content of their complaints. This reduces the odds of being drawn the same situation as Tim and Elaine.
IF YOU'VE RECOGNIZED SOMETHING OF YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP PATTERN HERE - HARSH TRUTHS
If we’re even remotely like Susan, struggling with others and having this huge blind spot, the first step (which is the hardest but also the most crucial) is to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your relationship pattern. That's the only way to begin to break the pattern and start having a genuine relationship with people. It's the same as taking responsibility for your health.
Take some time to really be aware of these patterns and acknowledging your roles in this pattern. Identify the deep emotional needs underneath this pattern of yours, recognizing how you perceive others - about how they might get in the way of these needs being met, and then most crucially, recognizing your response to these perceptions of others.
The next steps involve deciding how we’re going to act instead - what’s the best way to react or act so that our needs are actually being met without succumbing to the usual pattern.
In Susan's case, it means acknowledging the consequences of her actions on others - driving people away, and the acknowledging to her friends that she has a role to play in her struggles. Then instead of constantly playing the victim, to take responsibility for her actions. This is the hardest thing to do in the world, but
“If she would just say ‘hey I screwed up and I’ll fix it’,” Tim said to Elaine, “then we’d all feel less like we are babysitting a 45 year old child!”
“We all know that,” Elaine exclaimed, “all of her ex-friends can see that if she actually took responsibility instead of playing the damn victim, then people would respect her and feel inclined to stick around her when she really struggles!”
A RELATIONSHIP PATTERN TEMPLATE
Here's a basic but very powerful model of understanding how we relate to people. I call it the NEED-BUT-THEREFORE Model.
I NEED.....(usually a deep set of emotional needs like love, connection, respect, being seen, protection, nurturance and so forth)
BUT OTHERS...(usually a perception about others as getting in the way of, doing the opposite of, or hurting our NEEDS. For instance, others as abusive, invalidating, not understanding, writing us off, judgmental, dangerous and so forth)
THEREFORE I.....(usually our response to the previous step. In Susan's case, she would grasp at people, play the victim, play out the fragility card, lash out at people whom she perceives as not understanding, be demanding, and so forth)
THIS ENDS IN....(tears. This is an additional step. It helps us recognize the consequences of our actions in the previous step. In Susan's case, she has driven friends away, and ironically perpetuated her sense that others are not going to meet her needs, the first two steps).
It's really quite informative to write down our own pattern of relating using this Model. It also helps us take control of our actions (THEREFORE I....) to recreate a new kind of relationship with people.
In fact, for those who want to take it even deeper to transform this pattern, you can try a spot of Focusing on the whole of it. When you consider this pattern and the times it has played out in you, what does it bring up in your body as a response? Expand from there to get memories, thoughts, images, dreams and so on, using your bodily sense to guide you. Eventually, you would be able to identify the core emotional parts driving the pattern and what is needed to shift it gradually. Read our earlier posts and articles on how to do the process of Focusing.
Even better and if possible, find someone who is a good Focusing Facilitator/ therapist to guide you through the process.
Ultimately though, it starts with your own attitude - to take responsibility for your own actions and your own relationships.