13 May 2009

Avoidant Personality? Meet Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

D-friend Bek is going through a hard time. She and her husband are having problems. She called me up tonight and told me they had a fight about pizza, he packed up a bag and went to stay at his mother's. Bek called me in tears today because her husband claimed he has filed for a divorce.

Ok, just between us chickens, this guy needs to grow some damn cajones and kick his fucking mommy out of his marriage, go home and deal with his wife.

Ahem. I just had to get that out.

We all know the problem may be about a lot of things, but it sure as hell isn't pizza. The last fight before the breakup rarely has anything to do with the problem. Because the problem has become the way the two people view one another and the habit they have adopted for dealing with one another. It has to do with who has their ear and what sort of nonsense outsiders are feeding them. It also has a great deal to do with the way people deal with stress.

Some people deal with stress on the spot. That's Bek's M.O. and I'd have to guess that also is mine. I mean, I've tried to figure out how I deal with stress. Ok, I bitch a lot. That is to say that I lean on friends and vent. I think venting has its merits. Bek has been venting a lot lately. I just sit and listen. Sometimes that is all it takes to be helpful. By the way, all you people who listen to me vent? Thanks, dude(s). But in my more intimate relationships, I'm not likely to let it build up. I stand up for myself. I don't allow people to walk all over me. I don't think it is healthy for a relationship to allow anyone to get into a habit of treating me poorly, so I point out when I think I'm being treated poorly. The other person can fall in line or move their happy ass on down the line. But not everyone deals with problems like me and Bek. Some people avoid their problems like the plague. My brother is one of those. Apparently, so is Bek's husband. He'd rather get a divorce than even have the conversation about why he is unhappy. People like me and Bek have problems dealing with people like my brother and her husband.

People who avoid conflict at all costs can't deal with an honest examination of the problem. In general, they also can't deal with the fact that the conflict may arise out of their own behavior. I have noticed the most unusual thing when dealing with avoidant personalities. When you call a turd a turd and tell them that this is, in fact, their turd, they tend to look away and say, "hey, there's a much larger turd over there (gesticulating wildly) and that turd is YOUR TURD."

And if you tell them you aren't talking about THAT TURD at the moment, but this turd right here, they will begin to generate a map, with amazing detail, of all the turds in the yard that belong to you.

Because, avoidant personalities can't have the problem be about them. They will wiggle and squirm and justify and deflect and the only thing you can do is nail their happy asses to the wall and walk away. At least, I haven't found a reasonable way to deal with them.

And in trying to accommodate a person who can't deal with conflict is frustrating. I mean, how are you supposed to deal with problems with someone who can't even deal with the fact that there is a problem? And if you insist on talking about the problem, they feel cornered, and either get angry and lash out or cry? I just sit there mystified in such situations. I have no Plan B. I have no idea how to approach the problem other than my way of approaching problems. So when I can't, I find myself doing things like writing about the problem over and over over and over.......and re-writing about it over and over .....and writing emails to the person that I will never send, and obsessing about it. And how do I know this? Because that is where I am now. And you are witnessing an example of it right here in this post. I can't have the conversation with the person with whom I'm in conflict and so I'm writing everything I'd like to say to them here. Stress is like water. It will find a way out.

Which brings me to my problem. I'm involved in a work relationship that has become entirely dysfunctional because I am dealing with an avoidant personality. Normally work relationships are low on my radar, but this one can't be because it is with my advisor. In relationship terms, we need to break up. It is time to move on. Recognize that the relationship isn't salvageable. We are simply incompatible. Problem is, I'm not ready to graduate . So the state of the relationship is that there is a lot of seething and bad feelings (mostly on my part), and I get pissed at the sight of her. Amazingly enough, she seems to be blissfully unaware of how she is treating me and how it is making me feel.

That part is my fault. Well, it is and it isn't. When someone with whom you have worked for nearly 5 years and with whom you thought you had a good working relationship suddenly begins 1) making fun of you, 2) accusing you of unbelievable and unfounded offenses, and 3) treating you like a second-class citizen relative to the others around you, well, excuse me for being caught off guard. When these things have happened, I have basically stood there with my chin on the floor in disbelief. And when you don't speak up right away, the moment has passed. Do you bring it up later? Will you be able to do so calmly? Is later the best time or is immediately the best time? Those who know me know that I am unlikely to handle that "later" conversation well. Especially after the offense against me has had time to sink in and fester. Which leaves me where I am. Pissed and muted.

And all of that is, in fact, why she thinks our relationship is aces. She tools through life making extraordinarily inappropriate comments, catching people off guard and because no one speaks up, she thinks there isn't a problem. Add to this the complex mix of advisor-graduate student relations of academic life and we are talking about a potentially career-changing problem. I have learned to tolerate things in graduate school that I NEVER would have tolerated in normal life. I sort of accepted that I'm her bitch until I graduate. So despite an exceptional 5-year relationship history, I find myself powerless when she decides that being nice isn't a professional courtesy of which I'm deserving.

It wasn't always like this. Oh, we've had a bobble or two. And the bobbles that I didn't let pass--like when she took a 6-week hiatus and I couldn't get any work done for lack of supplies--I found her completely unwilling to hear that she was the cause of my troubles. In her world, nothing bad that ever happens has her hand in it. And I have let a great deal pass. I didn't sweat the small stuff. I didn't sweat some of the medium sized stuff. In fact, there were some real whoppers that I should have sweated, that I didn't. Because, you know, I always felt that this person had my best interests at heart. I no longer think that. When you realize that someone is not simply blissfully incompetent, or potentially professionally negligent, but openly manipulative, well, that's the moment when your tolerance tops out. Which is exactly where D's bullshit meter remains.

The icing on the cake is that, lately, she has taken to insulting me in public. She has made comments about my ability to interact with children. She has made comments about my love interests. She has been trying to defend her actions by saying that sometimes advisors have to say the hard truths. What sorts of opportunities I pursue, how I spend my leisure time, what rocks my boat is ultimately none of her fucking business.

I live by one mantra. Do unto others. I wouldn't dream of offering my advisor unsolicited career advice or making fun of her interests. Neither would I ask my advisor for life advice because--honestly--I'm not a fan of her judgement. Her life is certainly not a model for mine. And I don't mean to suggest there is anything wrong with her life, but I don't want that to be the path mine takes. She has led a sheltered life. She doesn't know the pressures of divorce, or murder attempts, or five-figure student loans. She doesn't know a world where there is no one to help you when you are going through a hard time. I'd hazard she's never been homeless. Her life has been a virtual cake walk compared to mine. I have had quarries-full more experience than her and I can't think of a single judgement that she could offer that I would give greater weight than my own. I worked in the world for 15 years BEFORE I came to school. She's been out of school for 5. One job. At a second tier school. Yeah. I'm sitting on the edge of my seat for THAT career advice. In fact, when I have opted to listen to her advice, it has rarely gone well for me.

So instead of apologizing (which would have been the humane thing to do), she chose to defend her actions as some sort of self-help program for D. A self-help program that I neither asked for nor desired. In any event, this recent habit of talking to me like I'm some sort of young punk and putting me down at will and in public has destroyed my faith in and respect for her. I am angry. I am incensed, in fact. And I am afraid that I am going to unload on her and it is not going to go well. At this point, I just want to finish and get the hell out. And if she could keep the fucking insulting comments to herself in the mean time, well that would be gravy.

What I am not is confused. I'm not really sweating the "why is she doing this" because honestly I don't give a flying fuck. I just know that if she doesn't stop there are going to be repercussions. I am not going to put up with this crap much longer. I'm at the point where I could care less about accommodating her conflict resolution style. One more comment blasting me out of the water and fur is going to fly. I can't tell you at this point whether I will handle it well or handle it ill. I guess we'll both have to wait and see.

So yeah, I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately, particularly toxic relationships. What makes relationships toxic I think has less to do with the circumstances than the personalities and how those personalities mesh. When you find yourself in a sphere with a personality that is incompatible with your own, my experience is that the best course of action is to get away from one another as quickly as possible. Some relationships can not be salvaged. And certainly one where the mere thought of having to deal with the other person gives you heartburn is one of them.

Has anyone seen my Rolaids?

1 comment:

  1. You are completely right about avoidant personality types, and pointing out all the other extant turds in the world. Interestingly, this was also Andrew Sullivan's approach in a religion discussion with an atheist on his blog that I linked to on FB a little while back. When the atheist pointed out the turds in a Christian believer's yard (what's more, a gay, moderate, scientifically-minded and rationality-seeking Christian believer), Sullivan often just looked over them and pointed out various other turds in other yards. And since the question was about the rationality of religious belief, pointing out other turds wasn't really relevant to the discussion, at least, not in the way Sull referenced them.

    Anyway. Maybe I should come visit. I just had a fantasy of being around when Dr. CrazyFuck made some disparaging comment and calling her out about it. In the fantasy, of course, she doesn't know I'm a D-friend, but rather I seem to be a passerby, calling her out and having no relationship with anything she knows of that she can visit repercussions on. Of course on the other hand, she'd probably use the simple fact of my presence as an opportunity to speak/judge you about you & black men, even if she didn't know I knew you.

    But fuck, D. Good luck. I know you're tired of this shit, yo, and you are completely right to be. Actually, I know you're beyond tired of it. And sadly, the way one should be able to deal with toxic work relationships, which is appeal to a third party administrator, seems to be of no avail to you. Dr. DipShit is truly fucked up.

    Well, all I can recommend off the top of my head is to elaborately fantasize about all the things you can do and say once she signs off finally on your finished thesis. And the best part is, you can say them, or not, and just never speak to her again, because she will no longer have power over you. And hey, if you're worried that saying something might have professional repercussions, let ol' J know, and I'll come down there and chew her a new one then. Fuck, I'll come now. God, I can't believe you have to put up with this.

    Hang in there!