Protecting Your Psychic Space

15 Jul

I have a very bad habit of letting negative people into my life and tolerating their toxicity. This is not good for anyone, but it is actually dangerous for those of us with mental health issues because such people throw us off balance and sap us of emotional energy that we need to take care of ourselves. They can also be triggering as hell.

One trait PTSD and mood disorders share is sensitivity. We are finely tuned to our emotional environment. There are potential benefits to this, such as empathy and strong communication skills. But if you don’t protect your psychic space, as certain as a shark loves blood, serial victims and emotional vampires will gravitate towards your openness and vulnerability. They will prey upon your empathy. They will suck you dry. And you can’t get and keep your shit together if you allow that to happen.

I’ve culled people who triggered breakdowns, who exploited everything they knew about my past and my symptoms to hurt and control me, and who caused me moral distress by expecting me to turn a blind eye to, if not actively enable, dysfunctional and abusive behaviors. I used to think that ridding my life of such individuals would be a finite process, but like most things relating to my mental health, I am discovering that it’s ongoing and requires a fundamental shift in my perspective and MO. Removing the toxic people I know is only the first step. I must also learn to identify and protect myself from the ones I encounter. Until I do that, all of my efforts towards recovery are futile.

If you have mental illness, especially PTSD or a mood disorder, clean your house, and keep it clean. You won’t be able to achieve anything close to stability otherwise.

Here is an overview of the usual suspects who crop up in my life. It’s not an exhaustive list and the categories are by no means mutually exclusive. Speaking from my own experience, beware the following:


The Bottomless Pit of Need

I have found this is the most common variety of toxic individual, and one to whom I easily fall prey because I feel loathe to judge. I too have been in crisis more times than I care to count. I too have felt that the whole world was against me and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d venture to say that everyone who grapples with mental illness can relate to this on some level. We all need help sometimes, and if someone is working towards addressing the problem, there is nothing wrong with giving them a hand.

But Bottomless Pits of Need do not address problems. They do not desire or seek agency. Instead, they embrace and wallow in their helplessness while harvesting as many resources (e.g. emotional support, favors, money) from you as they can.

Don’t Get Fooled: Occasionally, a Bottomless Pit of Need will seem to rally and try to cast off their self-forged shackles so that they can live a life of decency and self-respect. Once in a blue moon, this effort is genuine, and if the BPoN commits to change they may redeem themselves. Nine times out of ten, however, such essays are nothing but ephemeral, illusory attempts to keep you around so they can continue sucking you dry. Should you encounter a seemingly contrite BPoN, keep your distance until you are convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are truly reformed. When in doubt, shut them out.


The Drama Magnet

There are two types of Drama Magnets. The most well known type is the person who endlessly pursues and manufactures crises, catastrophes, and interpersonal strife. Writer Suzan Bond refers to these individuals as Drama Creators. Many of them have been raised in chaos and now cling to it because it is familiar. They often do it to obfuscate the overarching issues that are fueling their behavior. It is also a handy method of control because the Drama Magnet’s crisis du jour will always take precedence over whatever else is going on.

Don’t Get Fooled: There is little hope for Drama Creators. As uncharitable as it sounds, the truth is that such behavior is usually pathological and unlikely to change. These people can ruin your life in a mind-boggling multitude of ways. Eliminate them. Extricate yourself. Run for the fucking HILLS.

Bond calls the second type Drama Allowers: people who let the Drama Creators in and don’t evict them from their lives. I am currently escaping from this category. We don’t seek out or actively cause drama, but we don’t take the necessary steps to protect ourselves from it, so it follows us wherever we go. Many of us have become so used to this state of affairs that we think it is simply our lot in life. A lot of us have savior and martyr complexes.

Don’t Get Fooled: Obviously, I believe that we Drama Allowers can be rehabilitated, but only if we realize that this is a pattern over which we have control and commit to actively interrupting it and enforcing our boundaries. If the Drama Allower will not do this, cut them loose, or at the very least distance yourself so you don’t get sucked into their vortex.

For more on Drama Magnets and other musings on self-determination, check out Suzan Bond’s excellent blog Word is Bond:

http://www.suzanbond.com/blog/


“It’s Not My Fault”

This is not uncommon to people with attachment issues and personality disorders, but PLENTY of “normies” are guilty of it, too. This is someone who endlessly recreates the same problems but devises a unique set of extenuating circumstances on which to blame each one as it individually occurs. In doing so, they completely escape accountability. They never learn from their mistakes or feel any need to change their ways. Their anger and defensiveness set up a positive feedback loop, and over time they become more stubbornly entrenched in their conviction that everything and everyone else is to blame for their woes.

People exhibiting the “It’s Not My Fault” mindset have a propensity for abrasiveness, manipulation, even emotional abuse. They tend to fight endlessly with everyone around them: family, friends, significant others, and professional colleagues.  A hallmark of these interpersonal conflicts is that such people rarely, if ever, offer sincere apologies. If pressed, they say that they’re sorry you took whatever unacceptable thing they said or did the wrong way, or that you deserved whatever they did to hurt you. Should you attempt to hold them accountable for their actions, they will denounce your instincts and observations and do everything they can to put you on the defensive, a charming technique known as “gaslighting.”

Don’t Get Fooled: These folks have an ever-increasing backlog of guilt and shame from which they are constantly fleeing, and many of them would rather eviscerate you than hear anything you have to say that threatens the reality they have constructed for themselves. Do not engage. Avoid at all costs.



 

The Willful Martyr

The Willful Martyr is a close friend, family member, or romantic partner of another toxic person.  The Martyr normalizes and accepts their toxic counterpart’s behavior and, to at least some extent, expects everyone around them to do likewise. Their full-time job is caring for their toxic counterpart and “saving” them from the big bad world. They are constantly putting out fires, convoluting excuses, and compensating for their counterpart’s dreadfulness. Willful Martyrs must work very hard to maintain the cognitive dissonance necessary to do all of this. As their sense of reality erodes, they become blind to their counterpart’s destructive qualities and behaviors, and may even come to emulate them.

Identifying Willful Martyrs can be tricky because many seem like nice people. Often, their toxicity becomes apparent only when viewed in the context of their counterpart. But rest assured, anyone who seems fine on their own but is in a close relationship with a toxic person is a Willful Martyr, and must be shunned lest their counterpart’s nonsense seep into your life.

“But he seems so nice!” “She’s just a regular person!” Do not fall into this trap. Willful Martyrs are enablers, however harmless and well intentioned they might seem. Let them in and you open yourself up to the counterpart’s poisonous nature and all it engenders. Worse yet, you may become complicit in the Martyr’s enabling campaigns.

Don’t Get Fooled: Even if the Willful Martyr shuffles off their toxic counterpart, they are likely to take up with another one. A Martyr between toxic counterparts is still bad news and should be kept at arm’s length until they demonstrate that they have changed their ways.


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some housecleaning to do.

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