Archive for control

Illness and the Relationship

Tough times are likely to invade all relationships at some stage, and unexpected challenges can come upon us very suddenly. Life will sometimes deal unforeseen blows that appear with shocking suddenness.
When ‘Sickness/Poorer/Worse’ replace the ‘Health/Richer/Better’ options that we hoped would be our lot, we need to find fresh skills and understanding in order to learn how to cope in any new situation.
A sudden diagnosis of illness in one partner can prove a serious challenge to even the most solid of relationships. Resilience will be needed by any couple faced with the prospect of having to cope with unexpected adversity. The person with the diagnosis may well react strongly to the changes they are experiencing, some of these changes may be temporary, although it may seem a mighty mountain to climb when the process is being endured.
The supporting partner needs time to adjust to what may seem a situation unfairly imposed upon them, too.
Loss of control around the established pattern of our lives is a situation likely to bring difficult emotional responses of helplessness and unfairness leading both partners, at times, feeling trapped and out of control.
It’s so vital to talk to each other, to exchange feelings and reactions, to listen with empathy to the world in which the other is now caught. The traditional family patterns will need to adapt. A turnaround in established roles may mean they now become a patient and a carer. It takes time to discover how habitual ways of relating could be now at odds with the new needs of both parties. 
Tricky feelings left unexpressed will stick and it’s easy for grievances to spiral. Remember that the frustration is with the illness or impairment and not with each other. Keep ‘the enemy’ on the outside, it’s so much easier to fight this in tandem than allowing it to come between you.
Talk and explore together, take time to find out how each partner feels, learn as much as you can about the situation you face – information gives feelings of control. Knowledge in this, as in so many other places, is power.
It’s very easy for couples to get locked into a cycle of competition – who is the most hard done by – and get enmeshed in the feeling that neither can ever truly understand the burden the other carries.
Illness and impairment can be lonely and isolating. Unfairness rankles and anger is an understandable response. It’s normal to be sad or overwhelmed and both people will need to find outside places to talk and offload a little.
New contacts or fresh interests can emerge from a need to sometimes break free and it’s possible to believe that we can still enlarge a life that might start to feel smaller and more insular.  It is so important to find new connections, as well as nurturing existing relationships.
It may be difficult at first, but explore groups, local resources and ideas that fit in with the different pattern of your lives.
Reach out. People, even those closest to us, often just don’t know what could help, so never be afraid to ask. We have no influence on what happens to us, but we do have choices around how we respond to these changes. Resilience is not a static situation but a life long and ongoing project. 
Facing adversity is a big challenge and needs some self-compassion. It’s easy to for couples to neglect themselves when life overwhelms. Always remember to look after ourselves as well as each other. Treats, sleep, good food will all help, but are easily pushed aside when we struggle. The patient and the carer both need to make sure that they know how to find, and use, all resources open to them – physical, emotional and spiritual.
After the sudden death of her husband, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg put her energy and grief into the book ‘Option B’, a good resource for anyone experiencing loss. Here she explains how it took a painfully long time for her to face the dreadful truth that what she yearned for, the normality of her life, was just not there any longer. 
She offers up her truism that:
‘if option A is no longer available, then let’s kick the shit out of option B’
Change is inevitable for us all, and will bring loss. There may have to be substantial adjustments in all areas of couple life. But the best defence is to change our defences and adapt to new situations.
Find that option B and use it to the best advantage of your new selves. Accepting the new normal takes time, and it’s sometimes hard to hold onto hope, but try defying gravity, and don’t let adversity bring you down.

Christina Fraser

Narcissism and The Archers

Rob is unmasked…..

Now that so many loyal radio 4 listeners are caught in a notoriously mesmerising web of intrigue that has overwhelmed the Archers, it makes a case for some comparisons with issues that appear regularly in our counselling sessions.
Much has been written about Rob’s domestic abuse towards Helen, but this may be driven by all the classic symptoms of a narcissistic personality that Rob exhibits.
Clients often use this term to describe difficult partners or family members, saying that “they are a bit of a narcissist”, but this is to trivialise and diminish a personality type that, if identified, can severely damage any relationship.

Here’s how to spot a real narcissist

* They need to feel in control, but do it so cleverly that they make those around them feel immensely important and needed. A narcissist needs to be seen as heroic. Rob’s flood rescue is true to type. But if things don’t go their way? Then they become hugely critical and punitive leaving their poor victim searching for a way to make things ‘right’ again. The narcissistic Rob then regains control, Helen the partner is powerless. There’s only one way and it’s the narcissists way.

* They take offence very easily, taking on the role of wounded victim if challenged. This leaves their partner feeling ashamed of having behaved badly, and desperate to make amends and be back in favour. There’s no scope for a safe and creative difference of opinion. Helen’s sense of herself became increasingly shaky and eroded as mirrored by Rob’s need for complete control.

* They have no capacity for genuine gentleness, curiosity or empathy. Because they have created a false self to protect themselves from their own intolerable vulnerability, they can’t recognise this in others. They hide their own fears behind a facade of superiority. There are only two roles in their world – the Emperor or the worm. They can’t even begin to accept their fear that they may be the worm and this causes them to scramble onto the Emperor’s shaky throne, living inside a false self of which they are unaware. Everyone else become the worms. Poor old Kirsty never had a chance.

* They have a first class degree in fakery  and can appear immensely seductive, oozing charisma  and positively bewitching in their charmingly seductive behaviour, making the others in their aura feel special and lucky to know them and be part of their lives. They are always desperate to come across as clever and unique – it’s vital to them that they are widely admired and will always have to be in control. Even Pat, the Archer’s token feminist, was taken in.

The narcissistic Robs of this world will read this blog but never believe for a moment that it applies to them.
As for the Helens – the only way out is to detach, PDQ.
There’s always a way out of any toxic relationship – walk away, with love if necessary, but get out of there fast before the only way of detaching becomes so violent and hysterical that it involves a kitchen knife and a protracted court case.


Christina Fraser