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The Pearly Art of Communication — 89 Comments

  1. Truthy,
    Jenn really sounds like she has terrible boundaries as well as having a drama addiction. Your decision to stop allowing the boundary violation is a wise one because as long as she had you to be her “audience”, she was never going to stop. Well, she may still never stop but at least you won’t get slimed by her performance.

    I think you will have to gray rock the heck out of her though. Her mind needs to be retrained to NOT expect a reaction from you, so that she will eventually find a new stage for her performance.

    • Sky and OxD, you’re both spot-on. I made it very clear, a long while back, that I do not (DO NOT) appreciate when people talk about taking their own lives or “ending it all.” YES, I thoroughly understand this emotional reaction – I’ve felt it, myself, absolutely! But, I know how horrible voicing that feeling can affect another person, so whenever I’ve felt that way, I’ve kept it to myself in the knowledge that it was going to pass, soon enough. But, Jenn was constantly referring to this idealization, and she simply wouldn’t take any steps to help herself.

      Gray rock is the order of the day. I’ve got my own issues to deal with, and this has simply been another lesson (literally) about my own boundaries, and meeting my own needs. I’m not angry at Jenn – I’m irritated with her, 100%, for threatening suicide and hanging up on me. But, I won’t waste my energy on being angry – I need that energy for my own recovery and healing! 😉

  2. If someone repeatedly talks about suicide and ideazation of it, it’s good that you recognize that this is way beyond your capabilities. But you can also always inform authorities about it or agencies that are specialised in this. If she needs help, she’ll get the help then. And it doesn’t require all that much energy either.

  3. While many people legitimately despair and do take their lives, many people, especially toxic people, will use suicide threats as a MANIPULATION TOOL…trying to lay guilt on others for their suicide so that the other person will give in to their demands for “X” (it doesn’t matter what X=s) Many “suicide gestures” (where the person really doesn’t intend to kill themselves but to act like they do to engender sympathy) –another manipulation tool in the Toxic box of tools…

    I ALWAYS take suicide threats SERIOUSLY and my response to a telephone suicide threat is to call 911 and report that they are threatening suicide…

    • PS just to add to my post of July 15 about suicide threats….in case A, where the person really is going to kill themselves, calling emergency services will save their lives. Iin case B, where the person is using suicide “threats” as manipulation tools, having the police and/or emergency service show up on your door step will totally pith them off that you called emergency services on their little manipulation trick, but it will break them from using that “suicide threat” as a manipulation tool with you in the future. Either way calling emergency services is the SAFE way to go…you either save the despondent person who really is going to off themselves, or conversely, the manipulative person gets a lesson in how NOT to try to manipulate you.

      • Oxy!

        That is exactly how I regard and treat suicide threats myself:
        a) if the threat is real, then you take the exact appropriate civil responsibility to help a person in distress in the only way you can… alert professionals.
        b) if the threat is meant to manipulate, then that person experiences more hassle than wanted while you can be in peace with having done the right thing, and chances are low they’ll try it on you again.

        The fact is that even suicide threats meant to manipulate can still be acted out by the manipulator. And though our gut may tell us it’s meant to manipulate, we do not have the professional baggage to make that call about someone else’s life. So the only thing we can do is alert authorities who can make a medical assessment about it.

        • OxD & Jill, spot-on. I should have contacted the authorities, and I will, in the future.

          My personal experiences with suicide have been myriad – my mother nearly accomplished it, several classmates attempted it and some were “successful,” and the first abusive exspath used it as a constant threat. My initial reaction to suicide threats is a feeling of helplessness and paralyzing fear – that’s my problem, and I have to sort that out.

          But, you’re both spot-on. Whether it’s an obvious manipulation, or not, it should be treated as a serious situation because we literally cannot “know” that someone isn’t going to take their own lives. We just don’t “know” that, and I very much like the sentence that Jill typed, “And though our gut may tell us it’s meant to manipulate, we do not have the professional baggage to make that call about someone else’s life.” It’s true, and it’s a fact.

          • Sometimes, especially in Borderline Personality disordered people, they will use the threat to manipulate, but will stage a “suicide gesture” of taking pills or whatever, and sometimes they either actually succeed in killing themselves when they really don’t intend to, just to use it to scare someone…or they end up very damaged by the attempt. I’ve seen the damages multiple times professionally and know the devastation it can cause.

            In my experience most people who actually INTEND to kill themselves don’t spout it and threaten they just DO it. One of my former foster kids killed himself without any warning to anyone. In fact, his bio family and I thought he was doing great! I think actually that his family physician was at fault by giving him antidepressants and not requiring him to go to therapy.

            If a person is VERY depressed and you give them antidepressants it will sometimes raise their energy level to where they CAN kill themselves. Which is why I required every patient that I gave antidepressants to seek talk therapy until it was determined that they were not a suicide risk.

            Truthy, you didn’t call because you didn’t think it was “real” but I missed an opportunity once that I still shudder to think about. I found an INFANT in a car alone on a hot day. I should have broken the window and gotten the baby out, instead I went into the strip mall stores until I found the mother who became IRATE AT ME….now, if I found a baby alone I would break out the window and call 911 I would not go find the parent. So we learn how to handle emergencies. Fortunately in both our cases no lasting harm was done but we did learn to handle things differently if there is a next time.

          • Yes, we all sometimes still will make mistakes. But we are capable to learn as well from our experiences and mistakes.

          • OxD, I think this is the thing that I’m learning about myself, right now: fear of mistakes. “What if….?” And, when we’re talking about Jenn and her talk of suicide (veiled, or outright), I’ve been fearful of taking it TOO seriously and inconveniencing her by calling 911, OR not taking it seriously, at all, and then she actually does it. It’s literally a no-win situation, but the “inconvenience” of dealing with an ambulance and hospitalization might give her a reason to stop, and think, “Do I really WANT to be taken off in an ambulance? Do I really NEED to be hospitalized?” That outcome is certainly preferable to a “successful” suicide.

            Jill, the core of this spectacular article is the art of communication. And, I have never understood true and genuine communication as per my childhood dysfunctions. The “truth” was never spoken – mom wasn’t “drunk,’ she was “sick.” And, when I would flee from my home, in fear of my life, to a neighbor’s house, it was about SECRETS and NOT speaking truthfully about what had occurred. Even voicing my feelings about sadness or fears was dismissed because those feelings brought the reality of the dysfunction into the light of day. So……….there was no discussion of what was true, and what wasn’t.

            SO, I’m learning how to communicate, even with the disordered. No matter how much I would like that I would never have to deal with a disordered person for the rest of my life, that will not happen. There are disordered and very toxic people, EVERYWHERE, and learning how to “communicate” without opening myself up is not only an art (and, it really IS), but it’s a true challenge for someone who has never understood this amazing skill.


  4. I just went back and re-read this article and it is really fantastic and so thought provoking. Jill you have a wonderful way with words. Thanks for this article.

  5. Truthy, sometimes the BEST way to communicate with disordered and/or toxic people is to say GOODBYE. Because there is NO WAY to win with these folks….and I know about not trusting my judgment, for sure. Still have problems with that sometimes, but I do know that when people SHOW you what they are, BELIEVE them the first time. People who continually threaten suicide if you dont’ do X are trying to shame and manipulate you and make their problems YOURS, but you do not have to accept that role, and with people like this it is just best to say “goodbye” AFTER you call 911 to report that they are threatening suicide. For those like the professor who just wants to rub your nose in how much money she has and then tell you how to spend yours, GOODBYE is a great way to communicate.

    If your gut tells you that a person is being manipulative or narcissistic, GOODBYE is the ONLY world I would use. You can’t change them and explaining your own situation to them does not elicit any empathy from them because they are too egotistic.

    Believe me my home used to be THE gathering place for “friends” and the house was always full, but you know, one by one I let go of these people who had nothing to offer me and just showed up for me to feed and entertain. Fewer visitors now, but the ones who do come are FRIENDS not mooches.

    • OxD, spot-on! And, I’m learning how to do this. I am ridding myself of a LOT of toxicity, and people are included in that purge! LOL I’ve been doing a morning protocol to reduce the toxins, and sort of give myself a “ritual” to start the day. Chemical toxins are dangerous to my physiology, and so are toxic people.

      The professor…….I had gotten the picture about her a couple of years ago when I was just starting this journey. At that time, I believed that I “needed” her because I didn’t have anyone that I could trust. I didn’t have anything that she could possibly want, so I believed that she truly cared about me, about my well-being, and about my recovery. Well, I was wrong about that, and I had to learn from her, as well, about the varying symptoms of human toxins.

      There is a lot of room in my psyche for calm to enter, now. And the communication of “GOODBYE” with toxic people within my boundaries is becoming less and less of an anxiety-inducing event. It’s dealing with the random spaths and toxic people that I’m learning to clearly communicate with and STILL keeping me (my inner Self) safe and protected.

      • To clarify about the professor, I was “getting the picture” about her agenda. And, I noticed that any discussion that had anything to do with my current situation would magically (LITERALLY) be transformed into a discussion about her current personal crisis – and, her crises were everyday events that she would go on about for hours.

        Sometimes, she would be informative and helpful in calming me down, but there was always this undercurrent of my being stupid because I wasn’t “educated” and I “let someone take (my) money.” Well………that shiat ended with a SLAM. DOOR IS SHUT. YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!!!! LOLOLOLOL


        • Truthy this woman may not be “evil” per se, but she is obviously NOT a person who is uplifting to you, and that’s what I think we must realize is that not everyone who puts us down, is narcissistic or whatever is a psychopath, but people don’t have to BE a psychopath to be toxic to our self esteem and mental health.

          People like her are a dime a dozen and not unfortunately a “RARE bird.” If we must work with someone like this we just gray rock them as much as we can, give them as little information about ourselves as is possible, and go on, but if they are not part of a forced contact at work or whatever, we SHUT THAT DOOR into our lives and keep them OUT!

          Sometimes I have changed jobs because of someone like this or who was high in P traits, it just wasn’t worth the aggravation of being around someone like that day in and day out…fortunately as a nurse I could find another job in 24 hours, and I k now some people have to put up with it because jobs are scarce.

          Heck I even changed colleges because o ne of the professors that I would have had to be “under” for two more years I knew I could NOT keep her from getting to me, I had seen her drive other students to distraction, or keep them from getting their degree. I couldn’t risk staying around her. She could have had too much power over my nursing program. I am VERY glad that I did change schools as I got my advanced practice license as well. Which stood me in good stead as long as I worked.

          My life is ever so much more peaceful since I have locked the door in the face of toxic folks.

        • Truthy,
          the woman sounds like a narcissist, more than a spath. She sounds like everything she hears, automatically becomes about her. When she hears your pain, she can only think about how she has problems. Then she needs to “blame the victim” so that she can feel safe from ever being conned. These are knee jerk reactions in a narcissist, they don’t do it to make you feel bad, it’s just what they do to make themselves feel better.

          Of course that doesn’t change the fact that they are toxic, but it does help us not to take it personally.

          The spath on the other hand, actually blames the victim as an excuse for aggressing against the victim, himself.

          My exspath once said, “you know, when someone has money and they get conned out of it, they deserve to lose it — for being WEAK.” It was a psychopathic tell that went over my head. He was talking about how he had conned me out of money for years.

          • Yea, ain’t that the truth! we now have 20/20 hindsight! LOL There were lots of “tells” on every psychopath I ever dealt with, and waving red banners, much bigger than flags, and I ignored those tells and banners to my peril, but I’ve wised up a bit now but I must still caution myself not to let flags, banners and tells slip by me.

          • Sky & OxD, absolutely, the gal is toxic. And, I agree that she isn’t necessarily spathy, but it really doesn’t matter what she exhibits – if it’s toxic, it’s toxic. Period.

            At this writing, I still have not heard from her which further demonstrates her toxicity. I didn’t really expect to hear from her once I had set the boundary. My experiences and indigence makes HER feel superior, I believe. So, if my personal matters aren’t open for discussion, she has nothing to work with. LOL

  6. I thought that I would bring this discussion back up because communication is precisely what spaths hate, unless it’s gushing self-exposure that provides them with much-needed personal information about our vulnerabilities.

    True and real communications can include “feelings,” absolutely. But, before we begin announcing our feelings, beliefs, views, opinions, wishes, goals, disappointments, and personal history, it is a survival imperative to stay quiet for a good, long while, and observe. Yes, yes, “Isn’t that what THEY do? I don’t want to be like THEM!!!!” I’ve experienced this argument and/or excuse, before, and the contemplated response to this is that we are not – NOT – “like them,” we will never BE “like them,” and we cannot imagine what BEING “like them” feels like.

    When non-spath individuals learn how to remain quiet and observe (without fear or malice), we are watching and listening for queues, as well, but we aren’t filing them away to exploit them at a later date. Most of us already know how to “observe” because we learned what the spaths that passed through our lives appeared to “need” or “want” from us in order to realize their potential, or whatever altruistic ideology that we developed within our own heads. We “saw” that the spath came from a dreadful family, or had a “hard” life, or some sort of addiction, or whatever the case might be, and we put ourselves AND our good common sense on the back burner to cater to the whims of someone who had never intended to reciprocate, in any manner. Instead, they exploited our humanity as a means of manipulation and control. Because we do not live in “That Universe,” we cannot fathom one human being who declares love, devotion, loyalty, or friendship as being false. It’s just not in our makeup to do those things to others, so we cannot imagine that others would actually plan and execute a betrayal against us for their own gains.

    When it comes to healthy communications, it is to firmly set boundaries without saying, “These are my boundaries, and you may not cross them.” To a toxic or disordered individual, a verbal indication is just a triple-dog-dare for them to discover some way over, under, around, or through that indicated boundary. Practicing “Grey Rock” is one method of this because it gives ANYONE nothing of ourselves back. We can also become VIGILANT with ourselves about what topics are open for discussion, and under what circumstances they are open. I mentioned in another thread that talking with people in the workplace can be very, very dangerous, especially when the position is “new” or the department is “new.” We don’t “know” these people regardless of their own personal disclosures, and this is the first place to lay that thick foundation of boundary: “I’m not comfortable discussing your marital issues with you at work. This isn’t the venue for that discussion.” That’s NOT “mean,” or “nasty.” Nor is it “unfeeling.” Sure, we can “FEEL” sad or sorry for someone who is disclosing personal issues, but we cannot afford to allow ourselves to be drawn INTO other people’s issues unless they have earned out trust over an extended period of time.

    For me, personally, the following topics are NOT open for discussion unless the individual is a trusted friend:
    * religion
    * politics
    * personal history
    * past traumas
    * childhood dysfunction
    * personal sex-uality

    When anyone DOES dance around these topics, I smile and simply say, “I don’t discuss ______ with folks.” No reason. No excuse. I am not obligated to explain myself to ANYONE, and this foundation is unshakable. It is deep, and it is permanent. If someone interprets my response as “mean” or “nasty,” that’s their problem, not mine.

    I began to learn about my lack of boundaries in a big, quick hurry after Chuck left. I know that what he did to me was reprehensible and, in some states, illegal. BUT, I gave him every tool that he needed to lie to me, pretend, and finally defraud me of my finances. I’m not suggesting that I “deserved” what he did, by any stretch of the imagination. But, I most certainly AM saying that I never realized that I was GIVING people (not just him) ammunition to be used against me, later. Now, I understand this precarious concept of communication much, much better, and I completely understand that I have the ability to STOP anyone who exhibits a micro-gram of toxicity in their tracks before they dig themselves into my head like an Alabama tick.

    It’s not an easy task to face this challenge, I assure anyone reading this post! It takes time, patience, practice, MORE practice, and a continuing personal education for the rest of my life. Every now and again, I will catch myself falling back into “old patterns” and I have to be vigilant about recognizing this, or I’ll slip right back into that vortex that spins on the energy of shame and fear.

    Thanksgiving was celebrated last Thursday. I must say that I am so, so grateful and thankful for having begun to learn these lessons, at long last.

    I hope that everyone had a peaceful and pleasant Thanksgiving free of worry, fear, or spaths!

  7. Truthy,
    you’re absolutely right that the art of observation is a challenge. And yes, it takes practice. Meanwhile, that practice can take an emotional toll on us, but really, we have no choice because we must continue getting “booster vaccinations” against emotional abusers if we want to maintain our vigilance.

    When we discuss the practice of gray rock, it might sound like we literally mean that we must keep quiet, like a hermit or a monk. When in fact it really means that the boundaries we practice are on our personal drama. It’s really just a matter of having good manners. As they say, “timing is everything” and there is a time and a place for emotional outlets. We practice by having control over those outlets (weddings, funerals, theater) and not allowing other people to elicit drama out of us.

    I was talking to a good friend about this last week. She has a boyfriend who consistently elicits feelings of anger from her. He says things that hurt her because they EXCLUDE her and include his ex-wife instead. She believes that he just has poor social skills but I believe that he is pushing her emotional buttons because he likes seeing her reaction. It reminds me of so many people in my life, who have done the same thing. At least, they tried to do that to me, but for some reason, I tend to react blankly to that kind of behavior. I act as if it didn’t happen or I didn’t notice how rude it was.

    For example, many men will crane their necks at passing women when they are in the company of their spouses or girlfriends. My ex-spath NEVER did this for almost 20 years. Then suddenly started to do this near the end of the relationshit. Happily for me, I was so confident in his faithfulness that I didn’t even care. I smiled and would occasionally mention how I felt about Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Now I realize that this was not the reaction he hoped for. It was a tell. He was telling me that he was being unfaithful both in his mind and in his body. But then, I’ve never been the jealous type, and he knew that from the very start so I can’t really say what he was trying to accomplish.

    There were other attempts at pushing my buttons. I remember, about a month after our 25th anniversary of meeting each other, he said, “Didn’t we just have an anniversary? Was it 25 years?” I agreed, that we had and that neither had mentioned it. He had stopped remembering anniversaries many years before so I didn’t bring it up anymore. He said, “Aren’t you supposed to get something after 25 years?” He was thinking that I would feel bad because I didn’t get a silver anniversary present, and he was hoping to rub it in. I just looked at him blankly, thought for a moment, and replied, “Parole?”

    The look on his face was priceless.

    He had been hoping to satiate his sadism with the look of despair on my face. Instead, I got a good look at the rage he had been hiding. The evil intent was unmasked. It scared me and I looked away quickly.

    This is the kind of boundary and gray rock that I’m talking about. It’s simply a boundary on the emotions that the spath is hoping to elicit. Responding with HUMOR, is the ultimate boundary and it weakens their power by undermining their confidence.

    Not every drama queen is a spath or has evil intent. Some are just addicted to drama. All the same, we can keep our own drama to ourselves until the moment of our choosing.

    • Sky, thanks for clarifying “Grey Rock” a bit – I didn’t necessarily mean to remain silent and never leave the house, although that is precisely what I did when I was in the first stages of my personal recovery. I sort of chose that option because I needed that time to un-learn old behaviors and learn new ones that were more healthy for me. For me, my use of humor was not only to deflect but to also create a false sense of safety. If someone was laughing, then they weren’t hurting me. Today, I reserve my humor for my own delight, and it’s pretty substantial – I’ve been encouraged (strongly, so) to perform standup comedy or seek comedy roles in movies. LMAO!!!! Hard to imagine, I know, but….yeah…..

      For me, this process of recovery and healing has really helped me to learn nuances and behaviors that I was unaware of. They’re far more healthy and they’re WAY safer than how I once was.

      So, when I suggest that it’s helpful to “be quiet,” it’s not literally silence so much as self-governance. To take control of my own responses with contemplation and consideration, rather than my previous impulse to just react via emotions, only. And, I have found that there is a much higher regard shared when I make it very clear that I won’t discuss certain topics. I don’t have to actually say, “This encroaches on my personal boundaries, so I don’t discuss this topic.” I simply make it clear that I have no response, and that I “won’t” have a response for them.

      It’s quite true that NOT every person out there has malicious or nefarious intent and that is a whole different topic, entirely, when it comes to survival, recovery, and healing from the experiences with a sociopath or psychopath. Drawing that invisible boundary for myself gives me precisely what you pointed out: the ability to keep my own drama to myself until I choose to disclose and IF I ever choose to do that. I no longer feel compelled to explain myself or defend myself as I did for nearly my entire life.

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