“4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner [or friend or family member]. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.
“Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.”
Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.
There are other ways as well: social media is a great place to humiliate your adversary in a public forum and has the particularly favourable aspect that if she doesn’t respond, it looks like she is behaving passive-aggressively, refusing to speak to you. If she does respond, then you both have a forum, with lots of witnesses and sympathizers, for feedback and sympathy later. Add that it is etched forever on the internet, you both can go back to it, ad infinitum, to stoke up your indignance, anger, or hurt feelings and experience it all over again.
As ACoNs we tend towards hypersensitivity. It is a protective mechanism we developed while under the thumb of a despot, something we cultivated to help us keep safe. But we aren’t trapped little kids anymore: we are adults and we have the ability to walk away, so that hypersensitivity no longer serves us. It is like, because we once had a broken leg, we now believe we cannot walk or run or dance. And, because instead of stretching and exercising and using the leg, we have cosseted it, we have crippled ourselves far more than the original broken leg did. When we set ourselves up and then blame something other than our choices for the outcome, the only difference between us and our NMs is that they are hurting others by indulging their chosen lifestyle while we are hurting ourselves by not ridding ourselves of a huge flea.
“5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.”
Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.**
Because we don’t have that inherent grounding is what is “normal,” it can be really tough for us to discern the difference between someone who is actively seeking to hurt us and those who are not. Add in complicating factors like personality disorders, neuroses, and just plain bad manners, and it can be tough to figure out, for certain, what is motivating another person’s behaviour or attitude.
“6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.”
Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.
Most of us surely recognize our NMs in this…shallow and transparent to those of us who know them well, we can see their selfish motives in the blink of an eye. What we may have a harder time seeing, however, is our own hidden agendas in the good deeds we do.
“7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?
“Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.”
Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.
We can easily see our NMs in this one, can’t we? My late husband’s mother and brother fit this point perfectly. At Christmas one year, BIL opened a gift from the NM and instead of graciously thanking her for the sweater she spent time and money on, he castigated her in front of the assembled guests for her execrable taste. This was a man with pots of money, a lucrative business, all the costly toys a person could want…and his sense of entitlement (which he habitually perceived as being unfulfilled) was such that he could not just say “thank you” and then quietly exchange it for something else.
“8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.”
Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.
Nobody likes a wet blanket. There is a difference between rational scepticism and pessimism, just as there is a difference between rational optimism and fool-hardiness. Too few of us, I think, recognize and embrace those differences. Why?
Well, I suspect rational optimism, because it is rational and requires us to do a little research and critical thinking, is work. It also might put a leash on our impulsiveness, something that could lead us to not taking an unwise risk when we really, really want the reward. The same can be said for rational scepticism: if we invest the time and effort to do some research and critical thinking, we may have to acknowledge that our pessimism was misplaced and thereafter feel forced to take a risk that might actually change things…and why would we want to do that and change our comfortably familiar little habitat of misery?
Besides, if we can infect others with our pessimism, we don’t have to be entirely alone in our misery, we can create a little community of fellow sufferers who will pull us back into the soup if we happen to get infected with a little optimism. Misery, after all, does love company. And the foolhardy among us can leap with both feet into the fire, blaming the fire for the burns rather than his ill-considered choice to make the leap, rather like blaming the spoon or the ice cream for our weight gain rather than our choice to eat a two-litre tub at one sitting…
My grandmother, an eminently pragmatic old woman, used to tell me “Plan for the worst, expect the best, and whatever happens, you’ll be ready.” I suspect the old lady was on to something…
Tomorrow: Parts 9 through 11