I had a wonderful time visiting with Alise Cortez on her radio show:
Working on Purpose.
To listen to the show: Click HERE
A Quest to Improve the Lives of People Who Have Experienced Psychological or Spiritual Abuse
“Let’s face it – relationships of all types can really be difficult. That’s especially true when we find ourselves living, associating or working with individuals who use psychological or spiritual abuse as a method of harm. A surprising number of people exhibit various personality disorder characteristics that manifest themselves in behaviors toward those closest to them. Our guest in this episode has a unique window on this world in her counseling practice focusing on recovery from hidden abuse. In this episode, we discuss Shannon Thomas’s choice to enter the field, how she developed her career into her own business today, the six stages she uses to guide her clients toward recovery, her perspective of how and why psychological and spiritual abuse occurs today, and the signs we might use to recognize that we ourselves are in a toxic relationship and then what we can do about it.” – Alise Cortez
It’s frightening when someone crosses the yellow line and drifts into your lane; coming at you head-on. This can apply to driving a car or emotionally. Emotionally? Yes. There are people who don’t know how to stay in their own lane of life and they cross relational boundaries. In my company (private practice counseling), I typically write about the experiences of being in contact with clinically toxic people but for today’s discussion, this sort of behavior can definitely take place from folks who are not personality disordered but just good old fashioned, rude.
We all should be aware of our actions and perhaps we have been guilty of swerving into someone else’s life lane when they never really ever asked us to. Definitely use this post as self-reflective but I really intend it as a resource to help us deal with those folks who feel the need to come at us in a way that is annoying, if not emotionally dangerous.
I have found myself murmuring in my own head thoughts like “My goodness, stay in your lane!” or something similar. I assume that if I am frustrated by encounters with these lane changing people, that surely someone else out there has experienced similar life intrusions. I have lately noticed two types of relational bad drivers and wanted to share them with you in the hope that if you encounter these sort of individuals, that you might not feel guilty getting off the same road as them.
The first scary driver is what I will call the Overstepping Their Role individual. This person might be a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or really any level of regular contact with them. Your first awareness that they have crossed the line with you is when you find yourself really irritated and can’t quite put your finger on exactly why. Perhaps you found yourself irritated and immediately knew why. If you encountered an Overstepper, they will have come at you as an expert of your life in some aspect. They may have tried to position themselves in a role of dominance to you or wanted to speak into your life in a way that you never previously opened the door to them. Let me pause here and say that we all need authenticity in our relationships and that includes hearing things that might be hard to hear. However! Those little nuggets of life truths must come from the people that we (and let me repeat WE) have welcomed into our lives in the role of adviser, mentor, leader, confidant or whatever we choose to call them.
The Overstepper does not have the right to position herself or himself in a role that we have not granted them. I highly encourage you to take swift action the very first time that the Overstepper shows their true colors. Sure, you can choose to clear up the fallout of the very first unwanted lane change. This will have you continuing to drive on the same road with them until the next time the Overstepper decides to go for Round 2 of undermining you. For me, I like the saying that says when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. I am long suffering with people who may have had a bad day or are just not themselves for a season but the Overstepper typically has been watching and waiting for just the right opportunity to position themselves in some headship role over you. No. Thank. You. Stay in your lane Overstepper!
The second type of relational bad driver, who likes to target your lane, is the Direct Hit person. Some of the characteristics of this individual include:
- Being the ultimate example of a “Frenemy” or “Famemy” (you know the oxymoron of friend/family and enemy because they behave like both, depending on how it suits their moods).
- Uses triangulation to exclude you from activities with other family members or friends. They get satisfaction from stealing relationships away from you and probably never even noticed someone until you did. Then the gloves come off and they purposefully set out to rob you of your connection with that other person.
- Gloats and gets pleasure from your failings. This is enjoyed by the Direct Hit person because they cannot be truly happy for other people’s successes. They dart over into your life lane with the purpose of knocking out your good things in order to feel better about themselves. They are the equivalent of the school bully but in an adult body.
- They purposefully create situations to make you look bad and then laugh at you in front of others. They have no problem publicly mocking you so others will not like you as much. The Direct Hit person believes this makes them more popular.
- They swing between being nice and a good companion, to hitting you head-on in an attempt to inflict some dings and scratches on your car. Stay in your lane, Direct Hit person!
Some of the behaviors of the Direct Hit person definitely can sound like a personality disordered individual and they just well might be. For the purposes of today, let’s just go with the idea that the Direct Hit person is to be avoided; regardless of any other underlying bigger issues.
Have you been cruising down your own life road and had one or both of these types of people try to cause damage to you? You are not alone. The next time you see the oncoming hit approaching, I highly suggest you flip on your blinker and make a right turn completely onto a new street. As you get away from them, roll down your windows, turn up the radio and sing along to a good song. Life is way to fun to waste time on the Overstepper or the Direct Hit person. Far too many other drivers know exactly how to stay in their lanes. Why continue on an unsafe road with people who don’t have the good sense to know their place in your life? Not a very wise idea for sure.
Happy driving and Keep Dreaming Big!
Our culture has taught us that only rude people set boundaries or perhaps they are only for people who have spent a lot of time in counseling. We have this belief that in order to be a person who implements boundaries, we must do so in some melodramatic or forceful way. We think that people who set boundaries are those that step up on a soapbox, pull out their mega-phone and announce “Hello everyone, please pay attention because I am now about to set a boundary! Thank you for observing this act of defiance.”
On the contrary, setting limits with other people’s behaviors is best done with it’s not shouted through a loud speaker but rather quietly and yet firmly implemented.
Boundaries can be unspoken and steadfast
We don’t have to be aggressive or dominating when we decide to limit the impact that someone’s toxic, or just unwanted behaviors, are having on us. Sometimes we need to simply limit our own role in the chaos and as they say: back away, back away. I am sure we all have had “that” friend who likes to stir up conflict with the people around them. Rather than openly confront the dysfunction, perhaps we quietly put some distance between ourselves and the trouble-starter. Sometimes speaking up is needed but other times it only makes the situation much worse.
I wish I had the boundary skill perfected many years ago. It took me a while to learn the art of the quiet boundary and I was a little more like a soapbox mega-phone shouter. If I had known what I know now, I would definitely have done some relationships differently. One in particular comes to mind and rather than making changes behind the scenes, I chose to openly confront someone who I already knew ahead of time didn’t have the communication skills to handle outward conflict. I was honest with the person about my experiences and the friendship promptly went downhill from there. Now, in my wiser older age, I would not speak up to this person but instead adjust my actions so that my boundaries would still be implemented. Instead of me quietly making changes, the friendship fizzled and was never restored. I had good intentions by trying to clear the air, but because of mistakes in my approach and the other person’s lack of communication skills, it all fell apart. See how unspoken boundaries are sometimes the best approach? We can still achieve what we are looking for and maybe limit some relationship drama in our lives.
A boundary isn’t withholding forgiveness
Setting boundaries can be difficult if we internally worry that we are remaining resentful by setting a boundary. We may even have been told that true forgiveness means having a full restoration in the relationship. Boundaries have nothing to do with forgiveness or resentment but everything to do with the quality of our interactions with other people. We can forgive someone and still not want to be around them or be exposed to their dysfunction. Forgiveness isn’t about returning to the scene of the crime again and again so we can be re-harmed. Forgiveness is something that takes place within ourselves and leads us to a place of peace with our past or present hurts. Boundaries help put an end to or limit the exposure we have to behaviors that don’t work for us.
We have a right to decide who and what we allow into our daily lives. We are the stewards of our time and energy. Some people just don’t need to have access to us or they need guardrails on their interactions. Boundaries help set the tone for what we find acceptable and what we are not willing to tolerate. We have the right to make that choice.
What boundary or boundaries would be good and healthy for you to start implementing? My suggestion is to write it down and remind yourself of your desire to make your life as healthy as possible. Some people may not like your boundaries and guess what? Those are probably the exact same people who need the boundary the most. Ironic, right?
I wish you all the best in making your life as healthy and peaceful as you desire.
Keep Dreaming Big!
You can also view this post at www.plaidforwomen.com
Hi, I am Shannon and I was the Vice-President of the PTA for about 91 days.
When I resigned from my elected position on the PTA, it was in the middle of a swirling vortex of snarky emails, biting texts, lots of eye rolling at meetings and an endless amount of gossip flowing. Those were all MY behaviors! Oh, I should pause here and mention to you that I am the owner and lead therapist of a Christian counseling practice. Yep, the seasoned licensed professional mental health counselor, who also self identifies as a Christian, had become a mean girl.
When I finally sent “the email” that officially pulled the plug on my exceptionally unpleasant PTA experience, I had to sit back and do some serious self-reflection on what exactly had happened to me in the short span of about three months. The normal me is funny, mellow, encouraging of others and happy to be real upfront about my own character defects. I have been a counselor for enough years to know that authentic transparency with ourselves and others is vitally important to our emotional well-being. So what the hell happened to me?!
The bottom line is that our environment greatly impacts us. I started out in the PTA with high hopes that we could make a positive impact on the school that our children were attending. What I found was a seriously dysfunctional version of “Survivor: Elementary School.” Alliances were being formed and flaunted in front of everyone in a show of superiority above other PTA members. A lot of female chest-pounding and primal howls could have been metaphorically heard. I am not good at creating tools out of people and I began to rapidly fall down the PTA food chain.
During one of the Board meetings, it sort of all came to a moment of clarity for me. We held that particular meeting in the empty school cafeteria and I chose to step out of my Vice-President role and silently observe the room from the lens of a therapist. What I saw was the same psychological abuse that middle school girls endure every day but it was coming from twenty, thirty and forty year olds. The room was segregated among alliance pairings and newly formed cliques. The tone of each human pod reflected their particular role within the bigger group dysfunction. One pod was complaining about this and another pod complaining about that. Essentially, it was a human train wreck hidden behind forced smiles and suburban mom attire.
I knew I had to leave the PTA when instead of remaining true to my core values of how mature women should behave, I caught myself jumping into arguments that rivaled the reality TV shows that I truly despise. One good knock down PTA verbal brawl took place in the school library during an overwhelming candy bar sale. Have you been there? Candy bar selling season? It’s precisely the thing that mini-bottles of Vodka were made for. They fit nicely into purses. I am joking! Maybe. Anyways, like I said, I am the owner of a counseling practice and that’s basically code for “If I don’t work, I don’t make money” and since I am an equal breadwinner in my household, being away from the office mid-day had a personal financial impact on me.
On the day I went to help with the candy bar sale, I entered with hopes of volunteering for an hour or two and running back to the office. What I found instead were angry PTA members who needed a punching bag and apparently I looked the part. They immediately made snarky comments about the limited time I had to contribute. What they didn’t realize was that leaving my office to come volunteer literally cost me close to $500 in lost revenue into my business and ultimately my family budget.
I tried to use all my good counselor techniques and defuse the situation but it only resulted in one woman standing up and full on yelling at me about how she had been volunteering so much for the candy sale that she didn’t have time to do her laundry. Laundry?! I sat there exhausted from my typical 12 hour work days and had a hard time finding sympathy that she couldn’t do her laundry while her kids were at school. I usually do laundry at 11pm or on the weekends. This chick was not going to get much sympathy from me and yet, she was truly stressed according to her capacity for a busy schedule. We were at a stand-off of two women truly not being able to relate to one another and at that moment, not really caring. It was out of that lack of empathy that the mean girl behaviors began to escalate.
I had the ability to leave the PTA and not look back. By the way, it was a very hard decision because I felt I was letting my child down but I couldn’t keep allowing grown mean girls to ridicule me and I couldn’t allow myself to become like them. So, what do you do if you can’t resign from the PTA because you’re surrounded by mean girls at work or some other entity you are not willing to leave? I have one piece of advice: Stay true to yourself, your values and your image of yourself no matter what is happening around you. It is hard, I know. If you can be successful, you will have accomplished something I couldn’t but perhaps you will be a part of showing the way for other women who are watching for your lead.
I wish you all the best in your journey to stay funny and sweet, when surrounded by mean girls who grew up and chose to remain mean.
Keep Dreaming Big!