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Posts Tagged ‘how to have safe relationships’

Switches or Dials

In the psychological world, there is an area of diagnosis called “personality disorders.” These include Narcissism, Borderline, Avoidant, Dependent, Paranoid, etc. There are 10 of three types (clusters).

The American Psychiatric Association describes Personality disorders as “ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”

The pattern includes at least two of these:

  • Way of thinking about oneself and others
  • Way of responding emotionally
  • Way of relating to other people
  • Way of controlling one’s behavior

I have done extensive work and writing on one of them, Narcissism. And, each year when I do training for future ministers, I teach about Borderline. Hopefully, I will be able to write about that material soon, as well.

There is something I dislike about Psychological diagnosis – and that is the false impression of diagnosis speaking identity into people.   At most, any diagnosis is a descriptor, not an identifier… and really all that a diagnosis is, is a shorthand for internal communication.

Medical professionals and insurance companies out there, please refrain from defining, cursing, or incarcerating someone with a diagnosis – psychological or otherwise.

Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, poses near the Wankel T. rex, in Fort Peck, Mont., in June 1990. Researchers estimate the dinosaur weighed between 6 and 7 tons.

Imagine a group of Paleontologists who get tired of saying “Hey, I found another one of those really big dinosaurs with big teeth, little front legs, really big hind legs…” So, they gave that dinosaur a name: T-Rex.

In the same way, mental health professionals got tired of saying “I saw another client today with a poor sense of identity and a sever fixation on abandonment and extreme emotional and relational responses…” and they gave that combination of traits a name: Borderline Personality Disorder.

Anyway, that was my two cents about diagnosis. They are nothing more than useful shorthand.  No extra charge.

Many of us – heck, maybe all of us – have some traits from the lists. The most severe problems come when a single person has multiple of the traits. That is what a personality disorder is.

Pretty much every personality disorder shares a tendency that I think is worth all of us examining in our own lives.

Do we have dials or switches when it comes to our own emotional responses? What about in our relationships?

If you are all-in with a friendship until that person disappoints you, and then you are all out, you are engaging with a switch, not a dial. A switch is either off or on. A dial can be turned up or down incrementally.

If a family member hurts me, I can draw a slightly tighter boundary around the relationship… or I can just cut that person off and stop speaking to them. Dial. Switch.

Dials are generally healthier.

When I hire a new employee, certain that they are the perfect person for the job, I can get behind them, be excited about them… the switch fully in the “on” position. 100% positive.

What happens when it turns out they aren’t the perfect person for the job (because there is no such thing)? A person with a dial mentality can continue to support them at 90% or 70% positive.   A person with a switch mentality is done.

Apply that to friendships and marriage.

I once read that we all marry an ideal person, but turn out to be married to a real person. In the end, we have divorce the ideal and stay married to the real, or we divorce the real and keep searching for the ideal.

But, there is more to come: part II

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