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Boxers in a ringIn our weekly Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

Intro

QUESTION

Dear Sir,

I really hope you could give me some advice on how to break free from a pattern that I’m experiencing in my life. I’m attracting people who are 100 percent different from me!

I’ve lost my job three times because of this! My last three bosses had the same psycho-sociopathic tendencies. They used me (big-time), mistreated me, were highly dark in nature, were animal haters and money lovers, etc. All of them owe me money.

I’ve gone through hell because of them. I have health troubles and I’m afraid to find another job because I have no energy to work for someone like that again. I have to change something and find a normal boss (job!).

I don’t know why I keep making the same mistake over and over again.

I’m highly educated, very loyal and highly responsible, always working through weekends. I’m a perfectionist by nature, an animal lover, very soft and gentle, but my work environment always seems to be a living hell.

I’m so unhappy. I’m suffering because of my situation! Every time, it’s the same story. What I am doing so wrong?!

I’d really appreciate your reply!

Thank you in advance,

Melody, 38, Singapore

ANSWER

Hello Melody,

Thank you for your question. It sounds like you’re troubled by the fact that you seem to repeatedly find yourself involved with the same type of people who use you and ultimately terminate your employment. According to what you’ve written, you’d like to know some possible reasons for your tendency to fall into this situation over and over again.

In trying to answer this, I’m going to make the assumption that you’re developing personal or romantic relationships with these individuals. I apologize if this isn’t the case. The type of profession in which you’re involved may also shed a little more light on possible reasons as well. Nevertheless, we can explore some possible reasons why you continually find yourself in the same situation.

Who are you attracted to?

When I read your question, I was interested in the way you phrased sentences. For example, you state, “I’m attracting people who are 100 percent different from me!” I believe most people have probably experienced this to one degree or another throughout their lives.

There have been times when I’ve been approached by someone I didn’t consider “my type” who was interested in trying to develop a relationship with me. Most times, I was able to communicate my disinterest in a manner that didn’t disrupt a friendly relationship or result in hard feelings—problem solved. Evidently, this doesn’t seem to be the route you’re taking.

From what you’ve written, it appears as if you normally decide to move forward with forming some type of relationship with these individuals. If that’s the case, then we’re not only dealing with the type of people attracted to you, but also the type of people to whom you’re attracted. That seems to be the crux of the issue—for whatever reason, you’re attracted to individuals who have a tendency to use and mistreat you.

Another aspect that stood out to me about these relationships is that all three individuals were your boss, supervisor or employer. Many people consider it an unwise decision to become involved with their boss. However, this situation obviously occurs often enough that most businesses have a policy which states that if a supervisor becomes involved with a subordinate, the relationship is to be reported to the Human Resources department. Following that, the subordinate may be moved to another department to avoid conflicts of interest.

It appears that the type of employment in which you work may not provide this type of protection for its employees. Nevertheless, it stood out to me that you seem to somehow end up in relationships with your bosses. Since this same scenario has happened on three different occasions, it may suggest that you’re also attracted to individuals in positions of authority.

Psycho-sociopathic tendencies

In your question, you state that all three bosses had the same psycho-sociopathic tendencies, that they “used you (big-time),” mistreated you, were “highly dark in nature,” hated animals and loved money. You also mentioned that they all owe you money.

There’s a lot to unpack in these descriptors. First, I’m not sure exactly how to interpret it, or to what degree you imply, when you state that these individuals have psycho-sociopathic tendencies and are “highly dark in nature.” This can mean a variety of very different things, depending on the person with whom you’re speaking.

For me, I’ve trained with Dr. Robert D. Hare, a criminal psychologist who has studied violent psychopaths for most of his career and developed the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is considered the gold standard in diagnosing psychopathy. So my understanding of a dark nature and sociopathic tendencies may be different from yours.

Since these individuals you describe are apparently able to secure and retain supervisory positions, I assume that you mean they lack remorse, frequently lie and use others, may be callous, are probably very glib and charming and have a way of talking others out of their money. However, they may also possess a sadistic streak, due to which they may find pleasure in the pain or humiliation of others. My guess is that these individuals probably also present with highly narcissistic personalities.

What we seem to be looking at is the possibility that you may be attracted to individuals in positions of authority who present themselves as powerful, confident and self-assured, but who are in reality emotionally unavailable and perhaps not interested in any kind of healthy relationship. While anyone can fall victim to these manipulating personality types, the fact that you’ve been in three similar relationships suggests yet again that for some reason, you’re also attracted to these personality types as well.

Identifying as a victim

Aspects of your question can supply us with other potential dynamics that may be contributing to these situations as well.

As mentioned, you state that you’re attracting people who are 100 percent different from you. You elaborate by saying that you lost three jobs because of the wrong type of people being attracted to you. You also state that these people used you, mistreated you, and owe you money. You add that you’re going through hell because of them, have health problems and are afraid to get another job because of them, and are suffering because of your situation.

In your question, you’ve firmly identified yourself as the victim who holds no responsibility for any of the events that have repeatedly occurred throughout your life. This can be a very difficult identity to abandon, but I believe it’s necessary if change is to occur.

I worked with a woman a few short years ago who also struggled with self-identifying as a victim. This woman sought counselling to help her cope with a divorce she was experiencing. This person had been married to a violent alcoholic for nearly 15 years, and he’d physically abused her on a regular basis. While she was going through the divorce, I strongly suggested that she not become involved in another relationship until she could work on her own issues.

About three months later, she came into the office and informed me that she’d met a man at the bar and they were now dating. While discussing her announcement, she also shared that the person drank alcohol every day, they more often than not became drunk on a daily basis and they had a history of becoming physically aggressive when intoxicated.

In response, I nodded to her and then stated, “OK, well, as long as you know what you’re getting into. You’re an adult and even if I don’t agree with your decisions, I’ll respect them. At least you won’t be a victim this time.” That last part caught her attention and she asked me how, if he beat her, she wouldn’t be a victim.

Stepping into the ring

I used boxing and mixed martial arts as a metaphor to explain my position. In these sports, two individuals come to an agreement that when they step into the ring and the bell sounds, they each have permission to hit each other as hard and as often as they can, with the full intention of knocking the other person unconscious, if possible.

Because both individuals have agreed to these conditions, neither one is a victim in the true sense of the word. However, if after a round ends and one fighter starts walking to their corner to rest and get water, the other fighter suddenly starts throwing punches and knocks them out, the fighter who has been struck is now actually a victim. It’s a well-known agreement that fighters aren’t allowed to attack one another after the bell ends the round. A fighter who attacks between rounds has violated the agreement and has victimized the other fighter.

I explained to my client that she had full knowledge that this person was a violent alcoholic who attacked people when he was intoxicated. I stated that if she chose to become involved with this person, knowing full well that he’d strike her when intoxicated, and she was willing to accept the terms of that agreement, then how would she be a victim?

That wasn’t the response she was expecting me to provide and it was apparent that it caught her off guard. The next week, when she came in for therapy, the first thing she shared with me was that she’d decided to end the relationship and that she thought it was probably best not to get involved with anyone at that time.

Abandoning the role of victim

My response to this woman isn’t the response I’d give to a person who’s struggling to get out of an abusive relationship. The dynamics and issues involved in those situations are vastly different from the dynamics that were at work in this particular woman’s situation. In fact, my response to her while she went through the process of trying to leave her 15-year abusive relationship was entirely different from my response to her new relationship—hence her surprise and confusion when I made the statement that I did.

I made this statement for very specific reasons. One of the reasons this woman had remained in an abusive relationship for so long was her view of herself as weak, powerless and victimized. It was only when she started to see herself as a strong, capable, effectual person that she was able to gather up enough courage to end the relationship and start a new life. However, she’d become so accustomed to seeing herself as a victim that she tended to slide back into that role from time to time, which is a completely normal, understandable response.

She was also accustomed to people pleading with her to leave her former relationship. When people did this, she felt cared for and loved. When this client walked into my office and stated her intention to become involved in another abusive relationship, she was hoping to achieve two things:

  • First, she’d be able to move back into the well-known role of victim which she knew much better than her new role as a strong, courageous, capable woman.
  • Second, she was expecting me to plead with her not to become involved in another abusive relationship, thus allowing her to feel cared for and loved, albeit in a very unhealthy manner.

My response impaired her ability to easily and justifiably embrace the role of victim again, and my insistence to respect her decision as an adult reminded her that as a strong, courageous woman, she was capable of making decisions to help foster health and healing in her life. She never returned to her former abusive relationship.

Learning how you play a part in events  

My response to your situation would be in a similar vein. The first and foremost step you’ll need to take in order to change this lifetime pattern of yours is to abandon the role of victim—the role of seeing things happening to you—and begin the very difficult process of trying to learn how you may also be contributing to these events. Through taking responsibility for your behaviour and actions, you’ll develop the ability to effect change in your life, as well as the ability to decline an unhealthy relationship.

Splitting

Lastly, I believe that comparing your descriptors of these “bosses” and your descriptors of yourself may prove useful. In Clinical Psychology, your view of them as “all bad” and your view of yourself as “all good” is referred to as “splitting.”

Splitting is the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. In other words, splitting occurs when someone attributes only negative attributes to another person and only positive attributes to themselves, while also denying or failing to see their own negative traits.

Splitting is most often associated with Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  These disorders frequently produce a desperate need to be regarded as “perfect” (the perfectionism you mentioned)—physically, cerebrally and spiritually. Oftentimes, at the very heart of these disorders is a core experience of shame that frequently develops due to a childhood fraught with confusing messages, neglect and abuse. Those who have suffered such events are often left with a persistent doubt that they are lovable or possess genuine worth.

Explore your issues with a professional

At the beginning of this article, I stated that certain assumptions would need to be made in trying to respond to your question. I apologize if these assumptions were misguided, resulting in information that doesn’t apply to your situation.

Either way, however, I believe that your relationship difficulties and struggle to break this pattern does suggest that certain psychological and emotional dynamics are interfering with your ability to make wise relationship decisions. I suggest that you explore these issues more with a professional so that you can obtain the relief you’re seeking.

image: Samuel John Roberts via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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