When You Think Your Head Will Explode
There are so many reasons for your head to explode: his relentless lying, the irrational conclusions of the therapist, your adult children protecting him and punishing you, your faith community protecting him and punishing you, his stunning arrogance and sense of entitlement, the “sex addict turned counsellor’s” misogynist remarks, the thousands of dollars spent on his recovery and he emerges worse than when he went in, the friend who tells you “it’s no big deal, get over it,” his assertion that his therapist says you’re abusive because you don’t want to have sex….
Okay I’m going to stop there because…well…exploding heads.
Practically speaking, though, how can we manage this?
Let’s affirm that there is nothing, NOTHING, that could have prepared us for what is called—warning*f-word*next—mindfuckery.
And while we’re at it, let’s affirm that nothing, NOTHING, that could have prepared us for that mindfuckery being presented as rational argument, clinical treatment, respectful discourse, God’s plan, friendly advice, a moral lesson, tough love, support, your best option, etc.
Then, let’s understand that what each of these experiences is called is an ambush. We can’t see it coming because aren’t expecting it. We aren’t expecting it because it violates our frame of reference for the construct of reality, including basic core values and civil laws we assume are a part of human interactions within it. We can absorb a violation every once in a while (someone steals your car, your priest is drunk, your teenager lies about where she/he was, as examples), but we can’t abandon our reasonable expectations every single day, several times a day. If we do, we have to redefine reality and redefine basic core values and civil laws. That’s why I call it an ambush. People who choose to deny truth will do this to you. This is important. Understanding what is happening that makes it an ambush will help you train yourself for the ambush appropriately.
Some of you may be familiar with how I work with scripts to help clients manage various situations, including ambushes. Here’s the basic principle:
You don’t have to answer any questions or respond to others with actual content.
Men called sex addicts choose women who live by their uplifting and positive core values in their treatment of others. They are honest, responsible, responsive, caring, available, kind, and give others the benefit of the doubt. That also means we tend to respond to people who speak to us, and choose to reveal our thoughts and feelings in an honest way. We engage. But when you are ambushed by head-exploding encounters, you should not engage.
Here’s what I mean: By not answering or responding specifically, you do not start your mental engines running try to process information, analysis, assertions that are flawed or fake. You stay cool. You are less combustible. You don’t waste your mental energy trying to speak into confusion, ignorance, and abuse. That may be something you can do later—for me it’s nearly nine years later! Get what I’m saying here? You need to heal. Protect your healing first. Do not engage.
The key thing is to train yourself to stop answering questions and stop responding to specifics. And the first step is to become aware of how ready you are to do that. In changing our behaviours and habits of heart, spirit and mind, I find that pledging not to do “that” anymore sets us up to fail. So for the first week, simply cultivate self-awareness about how responsive you are, how much you engage others, how consistently you try to respond, correct, defend yourself, argue, etc. Don’t try and stop yourself. Just become aware.
Here’s the next thing to notice. Chances are, in that week you will begin to recognize how few “ambushes” are true discussion opportunities. They are more like—scripts—or position papers that draw lines in the sand, establish boundaries, construct false frames for reality, create safety zones for others, etc.—all of which serve to isolate you and punish you if you persist in owning your truth and speaking it. And as long as you keep talking you don’t see that happening. But that is what is happening. If you just stay quiet, you can see the strategies being implemented all around you—in family life, in your primary relationship, in treatment, in faith communities, at work, in friendships, and so on. This is because people are struggling to find a way to manage facts that are hideous—fact that they want to “soften” so they don’t have to worry about them. Others are actively trying to put the whole mess back into a box that with a label that says whose fault this really is. Still others are implementing a supposed treatment program that makes them money, and for some of those people, it also allows them to be abusive to you and get away with it. If you intend to stay in those relationships, you will need to comply or expect regular meltdowns and head explosions.. And in some cases, complying might be necessary—for example, in a job setting. You may need to find a way to manage that in order to keep your pay cheque.
So, this is where your scripts come in. It’s a third option. Staying silent is not usually an option. It will be interpreted as passive aggression or even agreement. That may not serve you any more than engaging and therefore set up your head to explode anyway. And again, in suggesting some scripts you might try in these ambushes, remember my other suggestion that you participate as if you are conducting an experiment. Some scripts will work better than others. You may need to devise some of your own as you gain insight to the underlying dynamics for those ambushing you. Adapting is a survival technique that does not have to mean accepting. It can mean not accepting through creative non-engagement.
Here are some non-engagement scripts for various ambushes you might be experiencing:
Thank you for sharing your perspective.
I will have to take some time to think about that.
It sounds like you are pretty sure about that.
I’m still working it through.
Thanks for letting me know what you/he/she/they think(s).
I’m not ready to be that sure, but it’s good to know where you are coming from.
There are a lot of things to consider and I’m taking all them very seriously.
I understand you want that to be true, and respect that is your right.
I’m doing a lot of soul searching and that takes care and time.
I don’t want to speak carelessly about things so important to both of us.
I don’t know.
You may be right about that.
I respect that your core values may not turn out to be the same as mine.
Thank you for your input.
I’m not able to have that conversation right now, but thanks for reaching out.
When I’m ready to have that conversation I will let you know.
I appreciate your emotional investment here, and hope you can respect mine.
There’s a lot at stake and I appreciate knowing you want me to have the time I need to work things through.
In choosing what line(s) you want to test, remember that you don’t have to be responding exactly to anything anyone has said. The scripts are always about YOUR agenda, not theirs. If you are buying yourself time, then choose accordingly. If you are closing off a topic, choose accordingly. If you are saving your job, choose according. Your strategy is to stop letting these people set the agenda and require your participation in a head-exploding exercise.
When you don't engage in a meaningful discussion that you can be pretty sure will be meaningful in a negative way and quite possibly harmful to you, you keep your hand on the mental throttle and don’t heat up the engine unnecessarily. You save yourself from battles you will not win, and from the time spent afterward trying to recover from it. Also, you don’t waste space in your brain ruminating on it and building up highly combustible material inside your own being.
People are going to be who they need to be in this unimaginable situation. Some may surprise you with a grace and wisdom you never imagined receiving from them. Others may not be able to offer you anything but their own need for you to make this problem go away by taking responsibly for creating it, and taking responsibility for fixing it. And you can expect to get everything in between those two things. Be a good steward of your head!!! Don’t start your mental engines in an ambush!
Are you ready to give it a go?
After all, what have you got to lose?
In my own life and in the lives of so many of my clients, using scripts to disable the energy of a potentially dangerous conversation becomes an act of self-empowerment. It helps you hang on to yourself and your truth, by recognizing you must be a careful and wise steward of both. By not engaging, you interrupt the cycles of irrational, abusive, hurtful, insensitive, desperate, and inappropriate conversations that participate in wearing you down. These conversations also create and nurture self-doubt about what you know happened, what is continuing to happen and how all of it impacts your life in profoundly damaging ways. These are conversations that create confusion (see last week’s blog).
The next time you think your head will explode, read this again and give it go. And remember, if you need for specific help with specific situations, your story is safe here. Use the trial session. That's what it's for. Diane@yourstoryissafehere.com