Image by zenitmkt from Pixabay When I was about 11 years old, my grandmother gave me a pair of houseshoes to keep my feet warm…
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Do you ever feel like you’re in a one-sided friendship or relationship?
They have glaring faults. Their behavior is atrocious at times. You’ve tried to point it out. But, every time you do, they seem to find a way to get off scot-free while you end up feeling worse than you did before.
It keeps happening over and over again. You let it happen over and over again, thinking, just maybe this time they’ll change. This time they’ll grow into a more mature person.
Yet someday never comes.
Worse still, if you manage to wriggle away from one such person, you find yourself attracting others. You feel like an immaturity magnet.
In this article, I’ll lay out the mechanisms these people use to avoid badly-needed, deep conversations. Then, after you understand how they manipulate you, I have some words of hope.
Let’s start off with the 6 signs someone won’t take responsibility — that they will never be willing to own their own behavior.
I once heard a man attempting to apologize for an angry tirade he’d left on a woman’s voice mail the night before. He said he cared about her deeply and in fact, he was interested in a relationship with her — yet that didn’t stop him from cursing her out for a minute and a half on the phone.
“Look, Sandra, I apologize for what I said last night,” he told the woman the next day. “I know I shouldn’t have said those things, but you need to understand, I was out with some of my buddies and I had 5 glasses of wine. So, that wasn’t me talking. That was the alcohol talking.”
First of all, any time someone’s apology includes the word “but,” that is a huge red flag. It says, I regret my behavior (or really, I regret that you’re unhappy with me because of my behavior), but I’m going to try to push it off on something else. Therefore, I don’t have to be responsible for what I said or did. And that way, I won’t be responsible the next time I say or do the same thing.
As for blaming their behavior on alcohol specifically, here’s a wake-up call. Not drinking is a great way to avoid creating situations in which you later have to blame your behavior on alcohol. If you truly do care about the person you offended, wouldn’t you be willing to take this step?
Other forms of this explanation evoke a little more sympathy:
“That wasn’t me talking, that was the medication I’m on.”
“That wasn’t me talking, it was my PTSD.”
“That wasn’t me talking, it was the chronic disease I have.”
In cases like these, you have to turn to your intuition. Did the person doing the apologizing just have a bad day, as we all do, aggravated by their condition? Or is it something they fall back upon constantly, as a get-out-of-jail-free card for any offensive behavior?
I once had a friend who had a chronic disease. She’d bring it up almost daily. If she was late, it was because of her disease and I should be more understanding. If she snapped at me, that was the disease talking; but if I said something she perceived as even slightly out of line, how dare I talk to a poor sick person that way!
After several years, I realized it was never going to be a fair friendship. I allowed myself to drift farther and farther apart from her, leaving room for friends who could take responsibility for their words and actions.
A proper apology not only expresses regret at the way one acted in the past. It’s a promise to act differently, and better, in the future.
I once had someone come up to me and tell me, “Hey, brother, I owe you an apology. I’ve been a pretty bad friend lately. I should have taken the way you felt into account.”
I offered him a handshake and said it was no problem, it was a misunderstanding and it was all in the past.
He seemed almost flabbergasted, and quite relieved, that I was willing to let him off that easily. “You’re — you’re — really going to shake my hand?”
Every time he saw me after that, for months, he would offer me a fist bump and say, “Hey, man. I’m glad we’re still talking. I’m glad we’re still friends.”
The trouble is, he hadn’t changed the underlying behavior, the one he had apologized for, at all. He simply started hiding posts from me on Facebook so I wouldn’t know.
He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Part of taking responsibility for your behavior is being willing to change it — and words are not enough. Words are hollow without change in actions.
Imagine a husband and wife having a discussion.
“I want to know why you keep your phone face-down on the table all the time, and always have it locked,” the wife says. “What — or who — are you trying to hide from me?”
“Well, I guess if you’re trying to accuse me of not being a very good husband, we can talk about that,” he responds. “But if you ask me, what we really need to talk about is how you don’t make much of an effort to keep this house clean. And half the time, dinner isn’t even ready when I get home. Seems to me the real issue is, you’re not willing to put in the work to be a good wife.”
This is deflection. Let’s talk about your issue (or make one up, if needed) so we don’t have to talk about mine.
If this comes up with your friends, family members, or significant others, stand your ground and don’t let them hijack the conversation. Don’t let them deflect to avoid taking responsibility for the things they say and do.
A few months after witnessing the argument between Mr. “It Was the Alcohol Talking” and his lady friend, I was shown a text conversation between him and another female. This woman called him right out on his behavior. Every time he tried to steer the conversation away, she’d steer it right back.
So he got insulting.
“You know, the reason you’re so angry is that you look in the mirror and see how fat you’re getting,” he texted. “Seriously, how are you going to wear a bikini out to the pool this summer? Everyone’s going to laugh at how fat you are.”
Even that didn’t provoke the emotional response he was looking for. So he got nastier still.
“You’re a piece of sh*t.”
“You’re a you-know-what.”
News flash: Emotionally healthy people don’t prey upon people’s physical insecurities to win arguments.
Also, they don’t resort to calling names.
They just don’t.
They’re running away from the actual issue at hand when they do this.
Many years ago a female friend of mine got out of her college class about 30 minutes early. She drove over to her boyfriend’s house, thinking they could get a jump-start on their evening plans.
She caught him in his bed with a co-worker, a server at the restaurant where he bartended.
She told him it was over and stormed out of his house.
A few days later, they were back together. I was astonished. I asked her why in the world she’d be willing to give him another chance.
“Well, Charles and I talked it over,” she said. “He explained to me that I hadn’t been a very attentive listener, and I hadn’t been into the sex as much as he might have liked. He felt neglected. I was mad at him for sleeping around at first, but Charles helped me understand that he really didn’t have a choice, and that I have a lot of work to do on being a better girlfriend.”
Can you believe this garbage?
But a lot of people think like that.
If someone wrongs you — especially if it’s a big wrong like cheating on you — watch out for them trying to turn the tables and lay the blame at your feet. It’s a sign of extreme emotional immaturity.
Dismissiveness. It’s a hallmark of someone who lacks the ability to have mature friendships and relationships.
“You can make a big deal out of it if you want, but let me tell you something. Nobody else cares.”
“You’re the only one who thinks this way. And really, you look like a bigger fool every time you keep bringing it up.”
“You can sit there and be a Debbie Downer if you want, but I’m not going to let your personal problems detract from enjoying my life and my friends.”
And then they drop the line that is a hallmark of manipulative people:
“I’m not having this conversation.”
Let me tell you something. If the other person truly cares about you, and you let them know that an issue is important to you, it will be important to them too. They will want to work through it with you, not hide in a fog of dismissiveness.
Dismissiveness is a key strategy to abdicate responsibility.
Do you see yourself in anything I’ve described above?
Have you been in a friendship or relationship with someone who’s turned the blame for their bad behavior back on you? Have they dismissed your feelings? Have they blamed the regrettable things they said on a substance or illness?
Have you put up with that kind of behavior over and over again, even though you knew in your heart of hearts it was wrong?
Have you found that you tend to attract the types of friends and significant others who exhibit these kinds of behaviors?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, I have three words for you: You deserve better.
You truly do.
It’s time to start acting like it. Now that you’ve seen these manipulation techniques laid out in the open, it’s time to start calling out the people who use them. Don’t allow them to steer the conversation away from their bad behavior.
If, at that point, they say, “You know, you’re right. I’m sorry for being stubborn. Let’s sit down and discuss this,” then there may be hope for them.
If their behavior still doesn’t change, though, it may be time to block them on social media, to block their texts, to end the arguments once and for all, to move out if you live together. It may be time to cut them out of your life.
I promise you, when you do that, the universe sees it and thinks, “This person is ready for people in his/her life that are more emotionally mature. I better send some their way.”
You’re dealing with an emotionally immature person when you try to call them out on their behavior and they:
Blame it on a substance or illness and say it’s not really them
Issue an empty apology with no desire to change
Deflect it by moving the conversation to a (real or made-up) fault of yours
Devalue you; call you names
Claim that they had to do it because somehow your behavior made them
Dismiss what you’re saying as unimportant; nobody else cares and they’re not having this conversation
You deserve better. Start believing you do. Start acting like you do. Cut people out if they can’t get on board with the new you. Do it and you’ll make room for people in your life who are much more healthy emotionally.
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