Tag relationships

Baseline

“But if there’s one single thing that has made the difference between partners who have hope and partners who are struggling, it’s this: we – the ones with ADHD – have to own it. We have to say to ourselves and our partners: “Some of the things I do don’t work for us. They don’t work for the family, for my job, for me. I want to change them.”

That’s it. That’s the baseline. There are many different ways to go from there: couples counseling, education about ADHD, medication, support groups, and forgiveness and growth. There’s no one-size-fits-all “next step,” but if we can’t at least do this – if we can’t at least say “something has to change” – there’s nowhere we can go.

ADDA – We All Want to Be Heard

Posttraumatic Growth (6/17-6/18)

“PTG is a cousin to resilience, but more of a thug: meaner, more brutal, more devastating – and more transformative. Rich Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, psychologists at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, coined the term in 1995, when they noticed they some people did not recover from their traumatic experiences in a typically resilient fashion. Rather than return to their set point, everything about them radically changed: their worldviews, their goals in life, their friendships. […]

“The one thing that overwhelmingly predicts it is the extent to which you say, ‘My core beliefs were shaken,'” Calhoun adds.

“What kind of core beliefs? “The degree to which the world is just,” Tedeschi says, “or that people are benevolent or that the future is something that you can control. Beliefs about, basically, how life works.”

Life Reimagined, The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, Barbara Bradley Hagerty

End Game Analysis: Relationship Principles

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In the article entitled “Mind the Gap,” I wrote about the importance of having both self and situational awareness when it comes to managing relationships. Since it is difficult to provide explicit guidance across all personalities and situations, a better alternative is to rely upon a set of relationship principles.

The absence of principles is akin to traveling without a map. This approach may be suitable for local exploration, but arguably irresponsible when traveling in unfamiliar territory (at least if you wish to reach a specific destination). Principles allow one to navigate successfully independently of the situation.

Let’s build an initial set by posing the following questions:

Do I feel comfortable with this person?

Is the relationship balanced?

Is the relationship moving forward?

These translate into the following three criterion: comfort, balance, and strength, and are neutral enough where they can be easily applied in both professional and personal contexts. They also follow a natural order (i.e., relationships which make one uncomfortable should probably not move forward by default).

Lastly, since change is ever present, these questions need to be continuously asked. Each assessment should inform whether the relationship is on track or requires recalibration, containment, or termination.

The Illusion of Perfection

“To escape the uncomfortable barrage of complaints leveled against them, women like Rhonda learn to protect themselves by hiding (Solden, 2005). They avoid addressing painful mistakes by deflecting attention away from themselves. They cover their tracks with a smile, but behind the scenes they are working frantically to uphold an illusion of perfection. Women with ADHD are resourceful and creative; more often than not, they find a way to covertly triumph over their latest SNAFU. Buoyed by their success, they expand their camouflage to conceal not only their executive function weaknesses, but their true personalities.”

The Distracted Couple, Edited by Larry Maucieri, PhD and Jon Carlson, PsyD, EdD

End Game Analysis: Relationship Spectrum

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my Connectedness post, I highlighted the importance of staying reasonably connected with others when one’s primary energy is focused on challenging work. Maintaining a balance between the two contexts can improve the quality of both.

Unfortunately, not every connection will result in a positive experience or outcome. Hence, it is very important to consider the use of “early warning systems” and boundaries to enable one to continue to stay reasonably connected regardless of the participant “mix.”

Thus, it’s worth exploring another spectrum, one that I have traveled along and gained experience from. Let’s call this the “relationship spectrum.”

At one end of this spectrum is naive openness, where one’s relationship with others places no restriction on the types of people or the relationships themselves. All advice and opinions are weighted equally regardless of source, and there is little-to-no “post-processing” done before acting upon such advice. All behaviors are tolerated.

At the far end of this spectrum is complete isolation and containment. Here, all relationships are discouraged, and the concept of “post-processing” has little to no meaning given that advice is neither sought nor recognized. All behavior is absent.

These are extreme positions.

Without an appropriate understanding or management of this spectrum, one can find themselves needlessly vacillating. This pattern of behavior, if left unchecked, can result in a cascade of poor decisions, the outcome of which can be difficult to unwind.

In my next post, I’ll talk about “minding the gap” via a comprehensive understanding of what lies between these two positions, and a starting point for defining a set of operating principles to maintain perspective and a positive outlook.

End Game Analysis: Connectedness

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my “end game” narrative, I shared the following topic which is one I find to be omnipresent throughout the spectrum:

“The challenge at this level is balancing one’s ability to produce efficiently and effectively while remaining reasonably connected with others.”

As a refresher, the primary reason for focusing so heavily on “deep work” is a continuous desire to maximize one’s potential. However, there is a second reason which exists at a more subconscious level that requires examination.

While this may not be obvious to some, one’s ability to form and maintain close relationships with others depends heavily on the quality of past relationships. This is true in both professional and personal contexts.

If one’s “success rate” is low, the desire to form new relationships in either context will also be low.

This can pose a problem for two reasons:

Reason #1: Challenging assignments and new ideas typically originate from other people. Not staying connected with others places an artificial restriction on one’s ability to learn about, and engage in new opportunities.

Reason #2: Spending too much time working, and not enough time interacting, goes against the principle of deep work. Hard work requires intense concentration, and thus time spent in this area is somewhat limited by default (~4 hours per day). Maintaining a balance is considered beneficial.

Over the past decade, I have personally experienced numerous challenging relationships which have tested me in countless ways. With each experience comes a period of recalibration, which is a necessary step towards establishing appropriate boundaries and controls.

I will explore this topic in greater detail in my next post.

Illegitimate Suffering

When I consider the personal losses I’ve experienced over the past decade, and in particular, my most recent experience, I am left to wonder why these experiences have entered my life, and why I find myself increasingly isolated after each one.

Given the majority of these experiences involved some form of mental disorder, this provides some assurance that all is not “random.” Yet, these experiences leave deep scars that will never truly heal.

What’s perhaps more unfortunate is the feedback shared by friends and family. In their desire to move past the visible suffering, they are inadvertently negating the experience all-together:

“Bad things happen to good people.”
“Now you’re free to have someone else enter your life.”
“There is a reason why this happened to you.”

(And any derivation thereof)

These comments, in particular, are reduced versions of their originals; the longer versions, ironically, drive an even greater wedge between giver and receiver. In my personal experience, I’m frequently left confused, conflicted, and angry. I don’t feel heard, and worse, my feelings appear illegitimate.

Ultimately, these comments reflect a lack of courage to lament.

Taking the necessary time for deep introspection, counseling, or other forward-moving actions is a necessary, albeit eventual, component of grief. All too often, I have found that people omit these valuable exercises with the intent of “getting on with life.” And, unsurprisingly, they wish others to do the same.

Ironically, persons with ADHD are unfortunately programmed for this type of behavior. By its very nature, they are able to quickly “forgive and forget” which only worsens the pain on the inflicted (partner) and, unfortunately, leaves them in an increasingly vulnerable position over time. Not everyone heals as quickly.

Those who have not experienced mental illness first-hand are unable to comprehend the severity of the disorder. All too often, relationships involving partners with BPD, NPD, or ADHD, exhibit behaviors that are clearly visible within the relationship arena, but are invisible in normal, daily “life” interactions. The result of this disconnect should be obvious.

Through no choice of my own, there is the benefit in transforming what would otherwise be a positive and supportive relationship to an academic exercise.

The “illegitimate” dimension of suffering is initially manifested through the seemingly detached guidance just shared. It’s only when this suffering extends into inaction, and potentially subsequent unhealthy relationships, that it becomes self-inflicted.

And this is what requires my greatest level of attention.

 

Attention I – The Risks

The young can get away with IM-ing while playing a computer game or the like, but there’s a risk: if you grow up assuming that you can pay attention to several things at once, you may not realize that the way in which you process such information is superficial at best. When you’re finally forced to confront intellectually demanding situations in high school or college, you may find that you’ve traded depth of knowledge for breadth and stunted your capacity for serious thought.

Along with the costs to strong learning and deep thinking, hours spent in the thrall of alluring machines exact a toll from your attention to human beings. At the very least, time online is subtracted from real-world interactions, such as conversation, sharing a meal, or even having sex.

Rapt, Attention and the Focused Life – Winifred Gallagher

SFP I: “Choices”

About a year ago, I watched a documentary about human relationships.  There was one segment that I found extremely interesting.

Approximately 20 women and men (equal distribution) were placed in a room and asked to select who they felt were most likely to choose them as a potential mate.  Each individual was ultimately faced with two primary decision factors (among many):

Factor #1: Who am I attracted to?

Factor #2: What is the likelihood that this individual will feel similarly about me?

While one’s measure of attractiveness varies, particularly by individual and culture, it’s something that is inherent to one’s personality.  Thus, if you aren’t given an explicit opportunity to learn about that individual for who they really are, your measure of attraction isn’t likely going to change and is based solely on one’s physical appearance.  This is normal.

The second factor is a blend of risk, self-worth and ego.  In this example, one may eliminate someone they’re attracted to there is a likelihood of that person not sharing similar feelings (e.g. “I won’t ask her/him because she/he will probably say no ..”) To some degree, this casts light on how one feels about her or himself, both on the outside and inside.

If you feel positively about yourself and believe that your companionship is valuable, that same attitude will reflect onto others regardless of your physical appearance.  A positive external image is short-lived if one’s self-worth is lacking.

Thus, the key to attracting and selecting potential partners is to focus all attention on the first factor (“instinctual attraction”) and eliminate the second through positive and unbreakable feelings of self-worth.  Employing this strategy doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful outcome (as I’ve recently discovered), but it’s a strategy that needs to be followed nevertheless.

(SFP = Self-fulfilling prophecy)

 

Narcissistic Illusion.

After what seemed like a fairly continuous stream of “lows” spread across a period of nearly four years, in December 2011 I met a woman who I was genuinely interested in and attracted to.  At initial meeting, she had everything that I was looking for and I was extremely happy.

The beginning of the relationship started as most relationships do, but there were aspects that I (internally) questioned.  The first aspect was the fact that she established plans for us well into the future.  Needless to say, this was extremely flattering in that it showed 1) she wanted to spend time with me, 2) she was interested in doing fun things and 3) she was optimistic about our future.   As I would eventually see, the downside of this planning activity was the exclusion of things / places that *I* wanted us to experience.  Those ideas were simply not on her agenda.

Another boundary she set early on was communication.  While we saw each other on a fairly routine basis, our communication outside of these dates was limited primarily to texting (no phone calls).  Since I had unfortunately equated “conflict” with phone communication (i.e. phone conversations that involve someone with borderline personality disorder are typically conflict-ridden), I initially did not have any issue with this lack of communication.  Over time I believed she would open up and texting would be replaced by “normal” communication channels (i.e. the telephone).

Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Communication hit a peak early in the relationship and then slowly tapered off until there was no communication at all.  By the time I figured out what was happening, the music had stopped and I was without a place to sit.

Early in the relationship I was told by close friends that my girlfriend had a “wall” and that I needed to be patient.  What was confusing was the speed by which she emotionally opened up.  Within weeks she was talking about eventually moving in together and spoke often about how she liked taking care of me and how we were progressing to the “next stage of our relationship.”  She even commented on how she liked “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” labels.  All of this was extremely flattering and encouraging.

If there was a “wall,” I was only seeing glimpses of it.  I believed that her wall was slowly (quickly?) coming down.

Unfortunately, these “glimpses” became increasingly prevalent as time went on.  We would start getting close to one another, but once the weekend was over, the method of communication flipped 180 degrees from interpersonal to electronic.  It was this very shift that prompted me to establish initial psychological & emotional boundaries.  This “push-pull” behavior (I’m feeling comfortable with you … now I’m not …) indirectly created distrust in the relationship.  What I didn’t realize was the strength of the undercurrent that had started to form; the relationship was becoming based upon activities vs. true communication and connection.

This lack of connection was also present when we spent time together.  For example, when walking side by side, her arm would be next to mine but rarely around me.  When we spent time with her friends, I frequently felt like a third wheel; just another “body” to be around but nothing more.  On dates, we were in the same general location, but not close enough to converse about what we were experiencing.  To be sure, this distance ebbed and flowed throughout the relationship, until the “tide” decided to remain far from shore.

The most puzzling aspect of her behavior was the fact that she would never “look back” when we (temporarily) departed from one another (I would always look back because I wanted to see her again before I left).  Clearly something wasn’t right, but I continuously attributed this to her “wall.”  If I was patient enough, the wall would eventually collapse and our relationship would begin.  In this case however, the wall was only getting stronger.

Towards the end of the relationship, her behavior and general attitude towards me became increasingly ambivalent and negative.  While extensive disagreement / conflict would normally be the cause of such behavior, there wasn’t anything specific to which I could trace her hostility and coldness.  I was puzzled.

At this stage, my self-esteem was rapidly eroding.  I felt isolated and alone, and any semblance of positive change was nowhere to be seen.  I was losing my friend and she was seemingly unaware of the damage she was inflicting.

At the end of the relationship I was told that I “needed more friends and confidence,” and that perhaps I should see a “life coach” to deal with my feelings (?).  While there were some truths in her comments (after all, this relationship was taking a serious toll on my self-confidence given her behavior), they were clearly projections of what she believed about herself.  Unfortunately I was the closest target.

Confidence and friend issues aside, the ending of this relationship was extremely painful, not just because of the loss of a “friend” and companion, but of a relationship that “could have been” (fill in the blank: great, wonderful, fulfilling).

To have hopes that you’ve found a true partner only to have those same dreams dashed was (and is) very hard to process, particularly when you’ve fallen for the wrong person (which coincidentally resulted in extreme feelings of shame).

The kind and gentle woman who I met in December eventually turned into a complete stranger.  In the end, I realized that our relationship wasn’t about us, it was about her.

Appendix: Warning Signs

  • Family background
  • Fast-forwarding
  • Excessive boundaries
  • Disrespectful behavior towards waitstaff / friends
  • “Fiercely independent”
  • Always need to be in control
  • Push-pull behavior

Appendix: Statistics

  • Relationship Duration: 4-5 months
  • Grief Cycle Duration: 4 months
  • Primary Feelings: Shame / Embarrassment / Isolation
  • Books Read (narcissism, relationships, boundaries): 5
  • No Contact Policy: Permanent