This is a game which you cannot win.
Even by playing at all, you have lost. Even if all you want is what is reasonable and fair, you will lose. That isn’t and has never been an option in this game. The harder you try to win, the more you lose.
All you can do is not play the game.
Until you accept and embrace this concept, things will keep getting worse.
The purpose of this part of the book is to illustrate that before you can be effective at dealing with the Self-Absorbed Person you have to take charge of your own thoughts, feelings, expectations and responses so that you don’t become engaged in playing the game.
This involves a lot of soul searching. Everything in our lives is the result of how we deal with whatever life gives us. Consequently we need to do our soul searching to understand what the ideas, beliefs, or agendas were or are which made us vulnerable to such a person, and what our responses were which perpetuated the game. Only when we do this soul searching can we be aware of what our real options and responsibilities are.
Armed with this knowledge and sobriety we can start taking steps to reclaim our lives.
The first is to decide whether or not to stay. Initially we get seduced into relationships with Self Absorbed People because of ignorance, naivety, and hope. Now, if you decide to stay you are an informed consumer and you will have to take very specific steps to protect your rights, needs and even your physical safety.
The second is to have very realistic expectations about what will and won’t work. The expectations we can have in interactions with people who aren’t Self-Absorbed don’t apply here. No matter how logically, realistically, or scientifically you present what you have to say,it won’t work. As I’ve said many times, this is a game or relationship which is set up to provide for only one winner: them. So don’t go into this hoping that what you say and do will change them or result in any kind of long term change in what they do.
All that you can communicate is what you will do, not what they should do. And don’t expect agreement or approval.
For example don’t say “It’s my birthday and my friends have invited me out. Since I haven’t been out in years and I’ve worked nonstop without a break so I assume it’s okay with you.” Their responses could include; “So you are saying I haven’t worked all year?” or “So you want to celebrate with other people, like I’m chopped liver?” or anything other than “I love you and you’ve worked hard and you deserve a break. Have a happy birthday.”
Instead some variation on “It’s my birthday and my friends have invited me out. I’ll be back by ten,” is more likely to work. It still is unlikely to result in sincere approval and good wishes, but at least you are giving them fewer issues to debate about.
The third is to not engage emotionally or verbally. Once you have engaged in the game, you have lost. Not engaging has sometimes been referred to as not taking the bait. That is actually what it looks and feels like. Just stick to the facts, not the game.
An important part of this is to not try to change them, don’t even hope that they will change. Don’t try to punish them because then they can play the Victim role.
The fourth is to articulate and stick good boundaries and don’t change them. Especially in the case of dealing with Self-Absorbed People, boundaries aren’t about telling the other person what to do. They can just refuse, or agree but don’t follow them. Boundaries are about what you will do.
For example saying “I expect you to respect my ideas and opinions” is a waste of time. Instead say “I will share my ideas and opinions if they are respected. If they aren’t respected I won’t be sharing them anymore,” is a better boundary. Remember, it won’t change them: nothing will. But if you stick to your boundaries you might be able to reduce the abuse.
The fifth, always use good social skills. Don’t respond with anger, accusations, or insults. Speak calmly and professionally
Listen to their thoughts and feelings. Paraphrase them without agreeing or disagreeing.
State your position in a clear, unambiguous, behavioral manner. Use “I” terms. Be extremely concrete.
Don’t attack their position and don’t engage in defending or justifying yours. Their opinion is theirs, yours is yours.
When you are done, summarize what has been said and what you are going to do and the discussion is over.