The new year: i lean towards more silence and pause, more dancing, more storytelling, more dreaming, more moving through the door to you, more letting the hooking places lie at my feet while i hop over, more drawing, more singing, more fresh air and water, more animal and plant things to eat, more dressing up and loving all the colors and all the drape of the world. more reading true things and poetry in this ever giving motherhood. more chancing the upstairs with husband when they are playing downstairs . more stretching slowly towards grief and its nurse, gratitude.
These are my New Year’s Resolutions. Of them all, it is hardest for me to jump deftly over the emotional traps that destructive people will leave in my path ahead. I call these traps “the hooking places” because they are very effective at hooking my strong emotions and launching me into a defensive stance. Three of the most popular hooks include:
-Typecasting. In acting, typecasting refers to when an actor or actress is so strongly identified with a character that s/he can’t get roles outside of that one role. (Think of the actor Peter Falk as his best known character, Columbo; in fact, who can think of Peter Falk as any character other than Columbo? Actors struggle with the limitations typecasting imposes on their careers. (Not all struggle equally. When asked by an interviewer how he felt being recognized wherever he went in the world as his character, Columbo, Falks replied, “Well,
it ain’t cancer!”)
In interpersonal relationships, destructive people will typecast you. And no, it ain’t cancer, but it can hook you into defending yourself and distract you from a centered sense of purpose. It works like this: You tell your partner that you are disappointed that he didn’t hold up his end of an agreement—a minor agreement, but, it disappoints you. His response is to reply, “Oh, God, aren’t you ever happy? You are always upset
about every little thing.”
You have been typecast. He’s painted a picture of you as someone who is always in the role of miserable complainer, implying that your complaint must not have validity because this is simply your role talking, and not an authentic complaint worth taking seriously. In response, it is extremely tempting to attempt to prove him
wrong, by either showing your partner that you don’t care about things you really do care about, or by actively trying to disprove the typecast. Either stance removes you from your sense of clarity and purpose about your current complaint.
-The Warped Mirror. This works like carnival funhousemirrors, minus the fun. Let’s go back to the same dynamic where you are expressing a minor complaint that matters to you. You make your complaint to
your partner and he replies, “Oh, so you are always right and I am always wrong! This is all my fault!” Now, this
is a very sharp hook, because it is commonplace to assume that in healthy relationships, you can equally take responsibility for things going wrong in the relationship, so that it would never be reasonable to assume anyone is always right about something. However, if you have an addicted, chronically immature, or abusive partner partner who is repeating a pattern of behavior that is entirely his responsibility, you really are in just that awkward position of actually being right about it again, and the responsibility being his still. It is pretty close to always being right about the same dynamic. But it doesn’t mean you think you are right about everything. And by implying you believe this about all things in the relationship all the time, he is distorting your complaint, just as a warped mirror distorts your reflection. Another version of distortion occurs when your partner responds to your complaint by saying, “Well, what about when you….!” He has not acknowledged or addressed your complaint, but has instead moved to show you something about yourself—to hold up a mirror in place of receiving your message. What he has to say may very well have merit, but it isn’t the time or the place for you to attend to his
concerns until he has addressed yours. By bringing up his own complaint instead of an answer to yours, he is trying to distract from what you have to say.
-Mad About You This hook is probably most familiar, because so many people struggling with immaturity or other forms of destructiveness use it so often: When you express your upset about something, the other person gets mad that you got mad!
In a fairly predictable pattern, you can expect this hook to unfold in this way: you express upset at something to
someone. The person tells you not to feel that way (perhaps because they don’t want you to be upset or because they didn’t mean for you to be upset) and then gets angry if you remain true to your feelings. Many destructive or immature people will end a relationship at this juncture rather than truly hear your point of view and apologize—they will throw in some Typecasting and Warped Mirror out of sheer habit, too.
In order for us to hop high over these hooking places, we need more of the things that fill our lives with joy, meaning, happiness and flexibility.The more aggrieved and stressed we are, the harder it is to get any height over the hook. Once hooked, we won’t come out of the struggle without emotional wounds that need tending.