Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask, First

If we've traveled on a plane... pretty much ever, we've heard the drill, about "When traveling with a small child, or person who needs assistance, put on your own oxygen mask first, before assisting the other person."

And of course, that makes sense.  If we are dead cold passed out, then who's going to put the oxygen mask on little Jimmy or Grandma?

Yet when it comes to a dysfunctional relationship, our instinct is to do the exact opposite.  We go into therapy, either with or without our partner, and tell the therapist, "S/he's broken.  Fix her/him!"  (Or, teach me how to fix her/him.)

What do they do?  They tell us we have to work on ourselves first.


We may spend a lot of time explaining to said therapist just how screwed up our partner is.  Session after session.  Finally, it seems like they "get" it.

And they return, gently, firmly, to "You have to work on changing yourself."

One of the things that happens in a dysfunctional relationship is our sense of reality gets distorted.  We need to learn to build - or rebuild - healthy boundaries.  We need to rediscover our own truths, instead of bending ourselves into pretzels trying to please or accommodate the disordered person, and coming to believe their truths.  Sometimes we have internalized what we have heard from disordered parents, lovers, spouses, bosses, etc., so long that it feels like this is who we are.


He calls me a fat slob, so I must be one.
She says I'm selfish to want to go out with my friends once a week, so I must be selfish.
He swears and gets upset when my friends call in the evening, so maybe it is intrusive of them.
She says it's lazy of me to want to sleep late on Saturday morning after a 60 hour workweek instead of getting up to weed the garden at seven a.m.
He says we wouldn't fight if I didn't argue with him about everything.

Hey, maybe I am a fat slob.  And maybe that's total BS.  Just because someone says something to us, just because it happens to zing us in a spot where we feel vulnerable, doesn't mean it's true.

We need to relearn what's reality and what's crazythink - like the idea that the order in which one carries groceries into the house is a matter of life or death. 

The only way we can do that is by emotionally taking a step back,  Stop trying to "fix" or "understand" or empathize with our partner.  We cannot do their emotional homework for them, we can only do our own.  Deal with our own issues, become reacquainted with how we think, feel, want... that's putting on our own oxygen mask.

Then, once we have some "oxygen," we can better figure out what we want to do next.  Maybe we will find a better way of living with our partner even if s/he makes no changes at all.

Maybe the changes we make in our own attitudes and ways of dealing with life will make our partner so uncomfortable (or so impressed) that s/he will be willing to work on fixing him or herself.

Maybe we will decide to end the relationship.

Maybe we will try one thing, for a limited period of time, and then another.

I'd already started this blog post, and one of my chat friends posted this, which was so in line with where I was gong that I asked to borrow it. 
Our joint therapist would point out to my ex (the ocpd partner) that his perspective did not change my truth. It was an interesting way to phrase it. He called it denying my truth. It was his rewriting of reality to ease his anxiety by increasing mind. It was so confusing and exhausting.

My divorce attorney gave me several good analogies that I still think of:

She said, if he set your hair on fire and then told you that he didn't, your hair would still be burnt off.

She also said he can call you a giraffe but that doesn't mean you are one and your neck won't get any longer.

from Martin Pettitt at Flickr
The whole point being that we have to heal ourselves and then trust our own strength. This is not an easy task. I resigned the marriage rather than continue to do this 24/7 but I have learned what I need to do for my children's sake.

1 - We are strong or we would never have been their partners.

2 - We are kind, but must remember to be kind to ourselves first.(Remember to place your oxygen mask on first before securing children and others - from pre-flight instructions - OCPD are always crashing so don't go down without your mask)

3 - We are adept at interpersonal communication or we could never learn to speak OCPD.

4 - We are not mind readers and the harder we try the more we will fail - which will be our fault. Do not try!!!!!!!!!

5 - I have learned to pretend that what is being asked of me was asked of another. Such as a solid married couple you know or a sibling that you are close to..... or would you want your child to be treated this way. If the answer is no, then it is not acceptable to you either.
What lessons have you learned about putting on your own oxygen mask?