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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Breakthrough! 

Steve and I had a rather long and eventful day, at least as far as our relationship work goes. Interestingly enough, this was the direct result of his taking the lead. That's a rare thing, in and of itself -- I'm usually (almost always) the one who initiates and leads these discussions. I think encouraging him to take the lead more often is a good idea.

After a lot of difficult and not-so-productive work with a therapist, sometimes something will come up and eerything clicks into place... suddenly all of the apparent contradictions make sense. This is termed a "breakthrough" and it's precisely what we experienced today.

It was not an easy day, but I am proud to say that all things considered, I handled it quite well -- no temper tantrums, no emotional outbursts, and thank God, no dumping. A few times today, Steve gently suggested that I might need to take a time-out and go through "The List". I declined, each time because I felt we were on the edge of something, and we were.

I learned several things today, the most notable being:

1. It is okay for Steve to feel like a failure sometimes.

2. It is a very bad idea to speak negatively about yourself to an autistic person whose opinion you value, especially if you tend to be persuasive.

3. Never underestimate the power of an attitude adjustment.

I'll get to those in a moment.

I also discovered the source of my unhappiness in this relationship -- why I keep suggesting a breakup, why I keep saying that Steve doesn't love me, and why I've been pushing for more and more "romantic behavior". Until four months ago, I felt loved, cherished, and treasured by him. That ended abruptly on "That Thursday" (which seems to be the source of nearly all of our troubles). In fact, I have been under the impression that the only reason Steve has not yet left me is because it would be difficult and inconvenient for him to find someone else.

As of this writing, that is not (no longer?) true.

In order to explain the rest, I'll need to go into the concept of splitting (black and white thinking) briefly. Or not so briefly -- brevity is not my strong point.

As an individual with BPD, I do not have any neutral or middle of the road opinions, especially about other people. Within two or three hours of interaction with someone, I feel one of two things for them. I either feel love and admiration (usually of a platonic sort), or I despise everything about them. There are no "okay", "mostly good", or "mostly bad" people in my head.

If I love someone, they are considered to be "split white". If I hate them, they are "split black". Note that, in my mind, a person who is split white seems *perfect*, whereas a person who is split black appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Furthermore, an individual may switch from being split white to black, or vice versa, many times. The longer I have known them, the less frequent and more difficult the switch is to make. So, if I have known you a few days, you may become split black because you do something that annoys me, such as humming. Whereas if I have known you for a year, you'd have to really piss me off (say, punch me in the face) to change to split black.

To further complicate matters, I split myself on a regular basis. It's usually pretty easy to tell by my energy level -- if I hate myself, I'm going to be depressed and not feel like doing much of anything, except perhaps (in severe cases) self-injury or suicide. On the other hand, if I have split myself white, I'm confidant, energetic, and talkative.

In in doubt, one can always ask for three words I would use to describe myself. If the answer is something like, "Intelligent. Confidant. Sensitive." then I'm split white. On the other hand, if I say, "Fat. Lazy. Worthless." then it's pretty clear I'm not feeling too good about myself.

This is the reason I have had problems with substance abuse in the past -- being split black to myself is not pleasant (to put it lightly), and when high I am always split white.

In the rest of this post, I'll attempt to describe some behaviors that have caused major problems between us. I'm doing this based on the theory that the way I think is abnormal unless proven otherwise, so I may overexplain some things. I'm not sure... I thought I was pretty damned normal and *everyone* thought in black and white terms until just a few days ago.

Watch closely. Here we have the mess that is interaction between a man on the autistic spectrum, and a borderline woman (who also happens to have a mild case of schizophrenia).

Item #1 - It's okay for Steve to feel like a failure sometimes.

When Steve first arrived in Texas, he had a tendency to use the phrase, "I've failed!" every time he made a mistake or was unable to do something (even if it wasn't his fault). This was upsetting to me, because I thought it meant he was splitting himself black and felt horrible.

So I'd argue it with him -- "You haven't failed! It's not your fault! You did really well considering the circumstances! blah blah blah." In fact, I pushed him into the idea that he should never, ever feel like a failure, because he's a good person and tries really hard, etc.

Steve, on the other hand, didn't seem to grasp the fact that "failure" has very negative connotations. To him, "I've failed" means the same as "I made a mistake". This was, in fact, how he worked into what he calls "fixing himself" and I call "learning from your mistakes/self-improvement". "Fixing" indicates that he's broken, which he also says pretty often... I think he's not picking up the negative connotation there, either.

Apparently, I was sufficiently convincing when I told him that (about two weeks after he arrived), and he started thinking of himself as a victim of circumstances. In other words, he stopped taking personal responsibility for his actions. Ugh.

Today I reversed my stance on that issue, based on the new information I gained about how he interprets the words "failure", "fixing", and "broken".

Item #2 -- It is a very bad idea to speak negatively about yourself to an autistic person whose opinion you value, especially if you tend to be persuasive.

This is a theory I expect to have confirmed once Steve reads this post. I arrived at this conclusion tonight while I was on patrol, an activity that lends itself to a whole lot of thinking.

First of all, I'm a very persuasive person. This is why I excel at jobs such as sales and customer retention. I'm also damned good at making people like me, and psyching up subordinates (doesn't apply much now, but it did when I was working in management). It's a handy skill when you're leading a group of people, whether it's part of your job, or even in an online game (I used to run guilds).

Unfortunately, I also tend to talk about myself in negative terms for a couple of reasons. This has been particularly true over the last four months, as I have spent almost all of my time split black. Also, my parents taught me that speaking of yourself in positives is a bad, bad, bad thing -- only self-centered, obnoxious braggarts do that. This is why I have a difficult time with job interviews -- I can sell anything with ease, except myself.

I told Steve at one point today, that he has got to stop thinking of me as the "psychobitch girlfriend". He needs to recognize that considering the circumstances, I've survived some nasty ordeals in my life. That includes psychotic breaks -- I mean, that's tough shit to deal with, right there. How well would YOU cope if your brain was "possessed by aliens" and you started acting like a raving maniac despite your best efforts?

But today while I was on patrol, I realized the reason he thinks of me the way he does is because... I've TOLD him, over and over again, what a useless, insane, ugly, fat, piece of shit I am! And convincingly, at that.

Why? Because that's honestly how I feel about myself in some circumstances. It's not that simple, though -- I'm not fishing for compliments exactly, but it's a coping mechanism I use when I'm on the verge of splitting myself black and trying to prevent it. I announce how much I suck, and hope someone tells me I don't, so I don't split black and start hating myself.

A typical conversation between myself and an NT (neurotypical, or "normal" person) goes like this:

Kataine: I'm such a fucking nutcase.

Other person (wondering why I'm being hard on myself): Why do you say that?

Kataine: Look at all these scars I have from cutting myself up that time!

Other person (trying to make me feel better): Yeah, but you were under a hell of a lot of stress, and considering your genetic predisposition towards mental illness... I think you did pretty well just to survive it all. Besides, you haven't cut yourself in months. You're not a nutcase, you're a really cool person who just happens to have more challenges than most of us do.

The same conversation, with Steve, goes like this:

Kataine: I'm such a fucking nutcase!

Steve (looking for evidence to support my claim): Why do you say that?

Kataine: Look at all these scars I have from cutting myself up that time!

Steve (convinced by the evidence and agreeing my conclusion is logical): Hmm... yeah, I guess you are.

After all, to Steve, words like "nutcase", "crazy", and "psycho" don't really have negative connotations, anymore than "mentally ill" does. But he does pick up on the negative way I say it, and oftentimes I push the issue by getting even more negative about myself... and presenting convincing evidence that I am correct.

End result -- if I talk negatively about myself, Steve winds up agreeing with my conclusions. After a lot of this, he starts thinking rather negatively about me as well, and questioning why he's with someone like me. Especially since I also talk quite positively about him, and also provide convincing evidence on that. The obvious conclusion is that he's too good for me.

Not a good attitude to pick up in a relationship you want to work. Mostly my fault, yes -- I fail to make allowances for the fact that he is autistic and when I say something, he hears WHAT I SAY. Literally. The "hidden message" is lost on him.

From here on out, I'm going to try to be a lot more clear on this count. "I'm feeling bad about my appearance" is probably a lot more likely to get the needed results than, "I am soooo ugly and fat!!"

I'll have to get to Item #3 later, because I'm out of time. Oh well, more later. For now, I'll say I'm feeling a whole lot better about this relationship than I have in four months. Woo!

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