Whenever people share stories with me that feature them being told, “I’ve only ever had this problem with you” or “You’re the only person who has ever had a problem with this [what they’re doing]”, I pretty much know how the rest of the story is going to go. If they typically tend to agree with other people’s assessments and struggle to trust their judgement, they’ll take what was said to heart and take the blame for that person’s actions and attitude.
There’s a first time for everything.
We all say and do things at times that on reflection, are not representative of who we are in the main and are more reflective of how we responded in that moment. The fact that at other times in the past we’ve behaved differently, doesn’t negate the fact that on a particular occasion, we took a detour and it doesn’t make it the fault of the person who was around for it.
It’s easier to learn from a transgression when we’re not suppressing who we are. That’s why if we’re being genuine in our claim of never having done it before, we can learn from the insights we potentially stand to gain from this particular issue and get back on track. If we don’t typically have an honest reading on our feelings, thoughts, actions, needs etc, we’ll have been tuning out information that we don’t want to have to deal with, even if it’s unconsciously. Some people are so skilled at dodging responsibility and accountability, that they make sure that they bail and press The Reset Button with someone else. They might even have the brass neck to blame the party in question first, and then bail before that person has a right of reply, leaving them free to keep up the pretense.
When a person responds to you raising an issue with the You’re The First / You’re The Only One With A Problem defense, it’s a responsibility dodging stance that sends a very clear message:
I’m not interested in listening to your feedback or addressing the situation. This is a you-specific problem.
If you typically tend to own your own and let others own theirs, while you’re still likely to be taken aback by their stance, you won’t just agree with their assertions and will in fact, assert yourself by making your position clear. If, however, you’re a blame absorber and typically tend to respond to other people’s behaviour by wondering, What’s wrong with me? and Why aren’t I good enough for this person to be and act differently?, you’ll doubt and/or suppress your feelings, opinions, needs, expectations, and wishes, and then decide that it’s you that’s ‘wrong’. You’ll also try to ‘fix’ you to fix them.
This defense has a similar effect as ‘The Ruse’: When a person tells you that you can ask so-and-so / that they have proof if you don’t believe them, knowing full well that you won’t want to appear as if you don’t trust what they’re telling you.
Even if you ignore the issue you raised, the fact that they would attempt to shut you down or even ‘chop’ at you in a manner that suggests that you either created/provoked the issue at hand, or that you are ‘hypersensitive’ or even making it up, speaks volumes about their receptiveness to feedback and their conflict style.
It’s not that they have to agree with you – remember, it’s an opportunity for discussion where each of you can share your points of view, gain clarity and reach a conclusion / find a resolution – but when we’re able to receive feedback and yes, sometimes that’s in the form of criticism, it’s a sign of humility and a reasonable level of open-mindedness. We are safe enough in our own relationship with us that we hear feedback – even if it’s not true or only partly true, the sky isn’t about to fall down if we hear it.
When they’re claiming that the issue has only occurred with you, it’s a round-the-houses way of saying that you’re the cause of the problem or that you are the problem.
When they’re claiming that you’re the only one who has taken issue with something, they’re basically saying that everyone else is ‘on board’ and that what they’re being and doing is acceptable.
Even if it were true that no one else has said something, that doesn’t invalidate your issue. For a start, they may be surrounded by brown-nosers (harem), Yes People, and those too afraid to speak up. Some people may also be happy to expect less of them. It may be that you’re able to articulate something that others haven’t. It may be that they have worsened with something and that you are experiencing them at that point.
Your experience is your experience. If we all ran around claiming that all of our experiences were the same, we could just close our eyes, not learn a damn thing, and bumble around unconsciously. They can’t make a direct comparison – you weren’t even in the experience that they’re comparing to plus they’re biased!
Ask a woman if she’s ever faked an orgasm and most will say that they have at some point. Ask a guy if they’ve ever had a woman fake an orgasm with them, and most will claim that they haven’t… And don’t even start me on the amount of people who won’t admit that they didn’t enjoy sex because, well, most of us are ‘too polite’ to say so and fear hurting feelings. I remember an ex taking deep offense to me objecting to his jackhammer moves, claiming no one had ever taken issue with it. Yeah, he’d just never seen most of them again and I bet some of them had a neck brace or had to walk with a cane afterwards! Anyway, I digress…
If you get the You’re The First / You’re The Only One With A Problem defense, don’t let it thwart you. You’re not ‘everyone else’, there’s a first time for everything (even though it’s highly likely when someone uses this defense that it’s not the first time), and this is about the here and now and what’s going on between you. Do they care? Do they want to hear you out or shut you down?
You’re expressing how you feel and your perspective and it’s not conducive to a discussion for the other party’s contribution to be the equivalent of, “You’re wrong / You’re the problem / You created/provoked my behaviour.” What kind of conversation can you have from there? Feelings, thoughts, and opinions aren’t facts but the first step in being able to assimilate what’s going on, is having the environment, the safety, and the compassion to do so.
Don’t backtrack, acknowledge what they’ve said, and ask them what they mean by their assertion – this is better than immediately jumping to the conclusion that you are ‘wrong’ etc. Most people when they get hit with this defense, don’t get the person to qualify their statement. If they did, they would get a clearer view of that person’s perspective and what’s driving them. Some won’t even have anything to come back with and some will come back with something that’s actually not comparable. Some will get super-defensive and then you’ll realise that you’ve tripped on their conflict and criticism trigger and that until they’re able to be in the present and listen to you, that they’re going to keep defending without really hearing you out.
If they say that there’s no priors, gently but firmly remind them that you’re not any of those people and that you may both be affected by entirely different conditions. Calmly explain your position – stick to 3 key points and be factual about what happened as opposed to going straight to the conclusion of your feelings or making a statement about their intentions / behaviour. Let them explain.
Don’t be so quick to be shot down or to believe the hype. Ultimately, the You’re The First / You’re The Only One With A Problem defense is flawed because in reality, if a person wholeheartedly believes in their position and is connected with who they are, why do they need to bring all of these ‘others’ into it? They Doth Protest Too Much!