In the previous post, I talked about the Law of Attraction, and argued that it was easily weaponized, often wielded to terrible effects in relationships, and in particular, a weapon-of-choice for certain types of unhealthy, difficult kinds of personalities, the kinds of people who cause a disproportionate amount of the struggles and conflict that happen in relationships.
Not to be all blame-y here or anything, particularly because I fully admit to playing out my own version of these, and other, dysfunctional patterns in the past. woohoo…yay, me…
But let’s try and do something positive with all this — I would like to explore some patterns of destructive behaviour that people far-too-often experience in their intimate relationships especially, and we’ll focus on three “types of people:” gas-lighters, narcissists, and spiritual predators. Although these are not exactly the same things, there’s a solid ‘family resemblance’ between them. So let’s call them Wolves In Sheeps’ Clothing (WSCs, which also could stand for Wanking Sufferer’s Chains, but that’s beside the point.)
Brief note up front — the whole idea of “types of People” leaves me a bit uncomfortable. I prefer to focus on the potential for people to change, and so instead of thinking of “types of people,” I’d rather think about “patterns of behaviour” or something like that. But, 1) it’s awkward to communicate that way, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it very well, tbh. 2) When it comes to the Personality Disorders, these really are quite stable, very difficult-to-change patterns of behaviour. So, for descriptive ease, I’m going to talk as though these are “types of people”. But please let’s keep in mind that people CAN change. Sometimes. If they’re willing to work on it.
Wolves in Sheeps’ Clothing: WSCs
Let’s start with the sheeps’ clothing — WSCs are often quite likeable people, even charming, charismatic, engaging. From the outside, in small doses, before you establish much intimacy with them, and certainly BEFORE YOU DISAGREE WITH THEM, they seem like great people!!
In fact, people with personality disorders who are much easier to spot as “problematic” on the surface, are in some ways not the dangerous ones, for the most part. Because you ARE likely to spot these people, and organize your life in such a way as to not establish a lot of intimacy with them. That sounds kind of insensitive maybe….but it is the truth. And it’s healthy. It’s like, when you have those difficult conversations with kids about how to balance between ‘being there’ for their friends who are going through hard times, and having healthy boundaries so that you don’t get in over-your-head, so to speak, and find yourself emotionally overwhelmed or exhausted by all these “problems” you have gotten invested in. Having those conversations is tough, but you’ve gotta do it, and it’s one of the hardest things about being an adult, I think — navigating that boundary between caring-for-yourself and being there for others.
So, yes, in truth, the easy-to-spot wolves are people you generally avoid, or you choose your people carefully. Maybe there IS someone in your life who is a very difficult personality, and it IS probably true that over time, most people have turned away from them (or in some way, those relationships ended). And that DOES suck, from their perspective. That IS hard to deal with. But there are still questions that you would need to ask yourself about just how much to invest of your own energy into this particular relationship, as opposed to all of the other possibilities in your life? There is no single right answer to that question, I don’t think. And sometimes, it IS the right thing to do to jump in with both feet and really help even the most difficult of people. I just can’t make a blanket statement one way or the other.
But having acknowledged that, it is still worthwhile to be cautionary — most people with what would be considered a “personality disorder,” are unlikely to change much over time. The resistance of their own personality and how it will play out in your relationship is, in all likelihood, stronger than you. What a WSC-type of person needs, is to heal, and to do a lot of hard, hard work on themselves. I mean, we all need that, basically. But people with WSC personalities, who are rigidified into being that way, who have a track of record of broken relationships behind them, they do in particular need to “work on themselves.” It’s not something that will just happen because you believe in them, or stay in a relationship with them.
In other words, you (very likely) can’t “fix” a WSC. And believing you can, that you are the person who can help them, is THE single biggest trap that keeps people in emotionally unhealthy relationships.
The fact that WSCs are NOT entirely, 100% terrible people is exactly what lures you in and attracts you in the first place. They might be very nice people. Have good senses of humour. Be nice to your kids. Charming. Polite, and all sorts of good things like that. And almost certainly, they’ll be that way SOME of the time! So, this is the Sheeps’ Clothing part.
As a result, later on, when their less-warm&fuzzy qualities have emerged and you are starting to struggle with the way the relationship is making you feel, this struggle will be very hard, very confusing. You’ll feel guilty for doubting them, you’ll feel like you’re being selfish, or like they really need you and you’re letting them down, or you’ll tell yourself that you HAVE TO be there for them because everyone else has turned their backs on this person and you said you understood and you’d believe in them….
NOTE: These types of beliefs are EXACTLY what WSCs are particularly skilled at influencing you to believe. For example, they:
- Behave differently in private towards you than in public. So what everyone else sees is different from what you see.
- They run down the people in your life, taking advantage of anything to crate a wedge, or cast doubt about your friends’ loyalty to you, etc.
- They are the eternal victim. They’ll have a story about all the bad things that have happened to them and the people who’ve screwed them over. It’ll be so sad. And you’ll see just how vulnerable etc., they are.
- They’ll also be the victim in your friendship groups. They’ll say things about how your friends exclude them, or aren’t very nice to them, or make them feel uncomfortable, or something like that.
- They’ll say things that are very supportive and encouraging to you, when it’s ‘just talking’, but when it’s time for you to DO things that will make you stronger, make you grow or learn or shine in some way, some kind of success or accomplishment, or a personal event that’s important to you (family event, friends, etc.) — THEN the person will become needy. They’ll have a crisis. They’ll get sick, or a migraine, or have a panic attack, or whatever their deal is, it’ll flare up like mad. Requiring you to give them at least SOME of your attention, at the time when you should be focusing on the fact that this is your moment, your spotlight, you are having good things happen right now. But of course, you don’t want to be selfish, so you do cut short your event, or cancel things you can cancel. Or spend way less time preparing for your Big Presentation than you would’ve liked to, because there was just so much “crisis management” that needed to happen.
- And when you do end up sacrificing whatever you’re doing to “be there for them”, they WILL reward you like mad, at first. They’ll make you feel like you have really been there for them, you really grew closer together as a couple, they feel like you made some progress, blahblahblah. And so, you’ll feel like what you did, what you sacrificed, was “for the good”. Ultimately, long-term, it’s all for the good, right?
- Well, no. In reality, your sacrifice made no lasting positive difference whatsoever; it just made you less strong, and reinforced the pattern of you capitulating to them. And you know this to be true, because the exact same cycle is going to happen again and again and again. BUT when you draw a firmer boundary and say “no, not this time, I need to do this thing”, then OH MY GOD will they ever make you feel like you are selfish, they are disappointed in you, and in all sorts of different ways, will hold this over your head, and how much they had to suffer when it would have taken so little for you to just do A, B, C…. You selfish person, you.
- And of course, a lot of the time they do just criticize you. They criticize you for things you DO feel bad about, because at some point you opened up to them and told them your vulnerabilities. So, if you struggle with body issues, sexual performance, feeling “imposter syndrome” at your job, feeling insecure about what other people think about you, etc.etc., then you can be assured that they are going to bring these sorts of things up on a regular basis, rubbing your nose in exactly the things that you are already insecure about. And then, they’ll criticize you about other things as well, spin and interpret your behaviour into you being “selfish”, or how “this is just like that other time…” creating the image of YOU, the problem-person, with all these flaws and weaknesses and problems. And THEY are the strong one, the person who “really gets you” and tolerates you, even loves you, despite “how crazy you are.” They turn themselves into the strong one, and you into the weak one.
….At first I didn’t see it coming. They seemed so great, and then, all of a sudden it was like they were a different person!
Sometimes, of course, that’s true. But usually, there are Red Flags. We tend to overlook them, not wanting to believe it’s a wolf, and instead focusing on the nice fuzziness of being together. But there are Red Flags. And although every story is different, there are some ‘family resemblances’ which I’ll try to focus on as much as possible.
The biggest Red Flag is, counterintuitively, that things are Too Good To Be True. Not to cast doubt on all romantic giddiness and feeling “over the moon” in the glow of a new love, but when the person seems larger than life to you, seems just so amazing, so confident, so exactly-what-you’ve-always-wanted, then on the one hand, you might have found True Love (cue music….), but on the other hand you might be getting drawn into a vortex of your own fantasies being projected onto this person, plus the likelihood that the person is really a Wolf and has been playing you all along.
The second-biggest Red Flag, I think, is how this person reacts to YOUR good things. How do they react to your strengths, your needs, your preferences, your quirky ‘weird’ stuff that makes you stand out and makes you cool? How do they react to your opportunities — such as people you collaborate with, work advancements that come your way, moments when you get to shine? Do you have someone who 100% is your cheerleader and biggest fan? Or do you have someone who, inevitably, things are ‘a little rocky’ with regards to YOUR strengths and successes? To me, this is a huge one.
The thing is, we so easily overlook these Flags, because we are so busy projecting our fantasies onto the person, and also basking in how they are probably projecting their fantasies onto us. I mean, mutually projected fantasies? That’s pretty good times!
Don’t think for a second that you’re immune to this, or feel bad about it! It’s not your fault, in a sense, that you project fantasies onto other people. We all do that, to some degree, and we all can get ‘enamoured’ with some person who seems larger-than-life, idolize someone, etc. But knowing that you DO have this happen is the first step to getting a little more wise about it.
3 things to ask yourself:
— (personal question) — Do I tend to do this? Is this like “here I go again?”
— (situational question) Am I at a particularly vulnerable time right now for someone to ’swoop’ in? Like, am I recently getting over somebody, and all of a sudden met this great person? Or am I in the “end stage” of my current relationship, and have met this new person and “maybe THIS is the one?”
— (intuition, gut-feelings) — Are my Spidey-senses going off at all, and I’m just ignoring them because the person’s sooooo perfect? And….my friends? How do they HONESTLY feel about this? Do they have any reservations? Have I actually asked them?
In conclusion — pay attention to your fantasies, your Spidey-senses, and your friends. Not that every “Red Flag” means you should run the other way, because honestly? Everybody has some kind of apparent Red Flag, no doubt. And some people from terrible pasts have matured into lovely human beings. Nevertheless, pay attention. Early warning signs are exactly that, and if you are alert to the build-up of unhealthy patterns, you can step in much sooner, and prevent things from worsening.
Wow! Thanks Mike! Coming from you, that means particularly a lot. 🙂