In the summer of 2000 in a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, I vented every last thing that my Mr Unavailable of two years had done to piss me off. The hurt, pain, frustration, rejection, humiliation and every damn emotion I had felt during our relationship culminated in a volcanic eruption where his flaws and ‘crimes’ flowed unhindered.
1) He’d hurt me. Badly. (For a recap, this was the guy who told me in our ‘debrief’ that the reason why he’d treated me badly was because I hadn’t explained to him what it would be like to be in an interracial relationship…)
2) He could stand to learn from it and maybe he wouldn’t make the same mistakes in his next relationship.
3) I hoped he’d feel some level of remorse and I was effectively seeking validation.
4) I wanted him to feel as small as I had.
I’ll admit it – it felt good to get it off my chest but even though it was a few years before I’d have my epiphanies and break my old love habits, afterwards I felt embarrassed that I’d reduced myself to behaving that way. As I recalled what I’d said, I actually felt more worried for myself because here I was listing off a litany of relationship crimes yet I’d still been with him for two years.
The question for me was: If he’s that much of an assclown that I could wax lyrical for the best part of thirty minutes about how horribly he’d behaved, doesn’t it say more about me than it does about him that I had that many grievances but I still ‘put up’ with him?
Many of us have listed a partner’s flaws and even more of us have psychoanalysed them, believing that because of our feelings for them, our expectations, desires, and needs, and of course anything that we’ve experienced, that it gives us license to tell them ‘the truth’. As I read through comments on here and Facebook and the many emails, I consistently read tales of people explaining to their partner or ex that:
They’re emotionally unavailable. You don’t think it’s the first time they’ve heard variations of that accusation do you? The habitually emotionally unavailable have danced this dance many times before. What do you expect them to do? Magic up some emotions? Suddenly become available?
They’re a narcissist. If you’ve gone to the trouble of ‘diagnosing’ them as a narcissist, I’m going to assume you’ve done enough homework to know that if they really are a narcissist, the last thing you should do is call them one as they may become verbally or even physically aggressive or do something to ‘punish’ you.
They’re an assclown or an asshole. Golden rule to live by – Even when someone is an asshole/assclown, it’s a rare person that’s going to appreciate you telling them. The great majority of us cannot handle being insulted! Again, like the narcissist situation, be very careful making this pronouncement as they may lash out.
They have ‘issues’ which they need to fix so that they can give them the relationship that they want. Dear Florence Nightingale, it’s not your job to fix/heal/help and they need to sort out their issues for themselves, not so that you can get what you want. If they have so many issues and can’t give you the relationship you want, put your energies into a healthy partnering instead of loving through control.
Now I’m not disputing that they may very well be these things and more, but it is time to start asking ourselves what is the objective of saying this stuff?!
When you seek to Tell Them All About Themselves, you’re inadvertently legitimising whatever negative perceptions that they have of you plus you’re actually being disrespectful. Whether it’s that you list their flaws or their ‘crimes’ of relationship injustice, or you call them names or diagnose them, you’re being disrespectful, hurtful, aggressive, passive aggressive, controlling, and potentially childish.
As I wrote yesterday, as humans we’re taught that when we do bad things we should experience consequences and suffice to say, the first thing someone thinks when you Tell Them All About Themselves is ‘If I’m really that bad and have done even one of these things, why the hell are they with me?’
When you Tell Them All About Themselves, if they have already drawn less than flattering conclusions about what you will and won’t put up with from them and how much self-esteem you have, by telling them their flaws and/or crimes, you end up reconfirming that you’re the type of person that by your own admission would put up with someone treating them without love, care, trust, and respect, because you want them and the relationship or perception of one, more than you value a quality relationship and self-respect.
Just as I have received many comments and emails from readers sharing tales of them Telling Them All About Themselves, equally I’ve received many about the pain and damage experienced by someone else’s cruel assessment of their shortcomings.
While it’s fair to say that the truth hurts, sometimes it’s not the truth. When we’ve had partners and exes make false accusations, distort the truth, outright fabricate their own version, blame us for their actions, or claim that we’ve got issues, it damn well hurts. When someone wants to dodge the responsibility of the pain caused in the relationship and also cause pain at the same time, they will say whatever they need to, to create their own truth.
Likewise, when you engage in the act of Telling Them All About Themselves by listing their flaws and crimes against the relationship, what is at the centre of it is your own pain and ego. It’s you avoiding looking too closely at your contribution and focusing on what you perceive to be their shortcomings and their problems so that you get to be right and you stay in your comfort zone.
This doesn’t mean what you’ve experienced isn’t true but the fact of the matter is that much like in the debriefing situation, you’re trying to push your own truth and get validated. That doesn’t mean the truth isn’t the truth but let’s be real, when feelings and emotions are involved, the truth is what makes it easier to digest the situation. We may leave out things that we don’t want to face. It’s also important to remember that if you’re not bullshitting yourself, your truth is your truth – they can’t take that away from you and it’s no less valid if they don’t stand there while you Tell Them About Themselves and agree to your assessment. You can’t force someone to see your view of things…especially when they really are an actual assclown that gives themselves license to liberally press The Reset Button. When you’re talking, they’re either keeping their finger on the button or plotting revenge while still keeping their finger on the button.
As one very lovely reader recently discovered, telling her ex who she also works with that he’s an assclown proved to have dire consequences. He humiliated her at work showing off out of context emails she’d sent him so that he could ‘prove’ that he wasn’t an ‘assclown’ and derailed the professionalism of their work environment. She had the choice between giving up a job she loves or being forced through mediation with him (she took the latter) because her pain, and yes, even her ego and the relationship became bigger than the reality of what’s really important. I think he has only proved that he is an assclown, but she learned that it’s not her job to teach him to suck eggs and that she doesn’t have to have the last word.
And yes often we do want the last word. We want to be right, we want to be vindicated, validated, and get rid of some of our pain but the lesson we have to learn from painful experiences that detract from us and our self-esteem, is not to go on a quest to enlightenment and teach grown people decent relationship behaviour, but to enlighten ourselves and be accountable for our experience so that we don’t keep throwing ourselves in the front line of pain.
If you have that many things to complain about and they feature things that are red flags of unhealthy relationship situations, it’s time to ask why you’re still there? Don’t be a Stay & Complain type or a It’s Over But I’m Gonna Keep Reminding You Of My Pain Till You Validate Me type.
Often when people find my blog, they’re looking for a solution to their problem, but what’s interesting is that the solution they’re looking for tends to be trying to figure out what their partner’s problems are. While it’s good to understand what you’re involved in, don’t spend your energies trying to play Diagnosis Assclown etc. Even when they are a Mr Unavailable (or Mrs Unavailable), an assclown or a narcissist (they need 5 of 10 possible symptoms to be diagnosed as such) and you list their problems like the alphabet, you need to be asking what it is that works for you about being involved with such a person, not hiding behind their problems.
As I said in my post on debriefing after the breakup,
“The truth of your breakup or relationship] isn’t to see yourself solely as the source of the problems but to accept that they had their part and that you had yours. You don’t need to split hairs and say well he did 76% and I did 24% or whatever – the portion really isn’t important.
What can you stand to learn from your relationship? Relationships and the issues within them don’t happen in isolation. If you stayed in a relationship where there was dubious stuff going down – when you play the relationship back slowly, what do you now see that you didn’t register then? What would you do differently? What have you learned for next time?”
When you have valuable information in your hands that tells you the reality of someone enough for you to be able to go to the trouble of listing their flaws and crimes, do something with the information and ensure that you tell yourself everything you need to, to take action and find yourself in a healthier place. Address you first before you address them – the easy route is telling someone their problems but can you be as truthful with yourself?
Teaching someone who mistreats you that there’s consequences sends a far bigger message than putting them on blast. Let the last word be your actions.
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