Coercion, Carrots and Sticks – All Get the Donkey to Move But at What Cost?

Tony takes excerpts from David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water,” Kenyon College commencement speech to discuss the need to step outside of our own ego, and experience, in order to understand others He then discusses Russ Harris’s ACT metaphor “Donkeys, Carrots and Sticks” to talk about using love, or coercion to get our needs met/motivate others.

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[00:00:07] Hey everybody, welcome to episode 32 of Waking Up to Narcissism. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and host of the Virtual Couch Podcast. And by way of quick announcement, you can go to Tony Overbay workshop and you can still have access to a marriage workshop that I filmed a couple of weeks ago. It’s a virtual workshop, and in that workshop I do go through what a relationship could look like in a knot. Not saying in a perfect world, in an ideal world. But I really believe as a marriage therapist doing this for a long time, it’s the we don’t know what we don’t know concept. So I lay out all of the attachment and abandonment issues and moving forward into this concept of being codependent somewhat and enmeshed. And then that path of what it looks like to find yourself in a relationship and how to differentiate how to become your own person and be autonomous. And I just threw out all of the therapy buzzwords, but they are absolutely real concepts and they are concepts that I really feel like we don’t even know what we don’t know. We don’t even understand what a real relationship or a healthy relationship, what a healthy relationship can look like if we never saw it modeled and if we’ve never been able to go get help, go to counseling, have a partner that is supportive or on board. And so for this audience, for the waking up, the narcissism audience, I really feel like the workshop is there just to let you know what what you deserve in a relationship and what it can look like to be two unique autonomous individuals coming into a relationship with their own experiences, going from emotionally immature to emotionally mature and then seeing, Oh my gosh, that would be amazing to feel like I am heard and seen and understood and that my opinion matters.

[00:01:47] And then how exciting, how magnetic that would be to then be going through life with this vibe of curiosity with each other and not being told that I’m crazy or that why would you say that or that? My opinion doesn’t matter. So anyway, that’s a Tony over Baker slash workshop and then at Toni over Baker Magnetic you can go there and get on a wait list to learn more about my magnetic marriage course, which Preston, Pug Meyer and I who helped me develop the course where opening up the cart, as they say, we’re launching that course here in a couple of weeks. And if you happen to be watching this on video, it looks like I’m having a very emotional day, but that is allergies. So my eyes are watering profusely and I continue to dab at them with a with a Kleenex. So thanks for joining me. Wherever you are on audio or on video, whatever that looks like. I’ve got a few emails to go through today and I’ve got a couple of thoughts that I just want to address.

[00:02:40] But I want to start today with a David Foster Wallace story. It’s a story called This is Water. And I want to read this and then you’ll see why I feel like this is something that is incredibly relevant to the concept of waking up to narcissism, waking up to the narcissism in a relationship with someone or waking up to your own narcissism, your own emotional immaturity. Here’s the way the story goes, he says. There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, Morning boys, how’s the water? And the two young fish swim on for a bit. And then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, The heck is water. And the relevance here, and I’ve got more to share is I get a lot of questions that just when people say I didn’t even know that this was the thing, that narcissism was the thing, that emotional immaturity was the thing. And I feel it’s because you’re just being you’re just existing, you’re just doing you’re just in water. And so if someone comes up and says, man, I think you’re in a narcissistic relationship or an emotionally abusive or financially abusive or spiritually abusive or sexually abusive relationship. If you just feel like I thought this was a relationship there in essence to saying, Hey, how’s the water? And you’re saying, I didn’t even know what water was.

[00:03:53] So then he goes on to say a huge percentage of the stuff. He says that I tend to be automatically certain of. It turns out to be totally wrong and deluded, he said. Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something. I tend to be automatically sure of. Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us. Deep down, he said, it is our default setting. It’s hardwired into our boards at birth. He said, Think about it. There is no experience that you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of the world as you experience it is right there in front of you or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, on your monitor or whatever. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow. But your own are so immediate, and he’s talking about your own thoughts. Your own feelings are so immediate. They’re so urgent, they’re so real, he said. You get the idea. But he said, Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion and other directness or so called. This is not a matter of virtue.

[00:05:02] It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering. Or getting free of my natural hardwired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. He said learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think it means. Being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how to how you construct meaning from the experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, he says, you’ll be totally hosed. And he goes on to talk about just what day to day life can look like from a self centered lens of Why does that person do that? Or I can’t, that person shouldn’t do this, or all of those sort of things. And he talks about just that concept of being able to what I then say, step out of your own ego to be able to see things from another’s point of view, which is what the foundational principles of empathy are. And here’s what is so complicated about the audience that listens to something like waking up the narcissism. I would imagine now there are people that are hearing this that are listening right now that are saying, Oh, man, that’s what I’m doing, or that’s what I’m expecting of my wife is so am I the narcissist. But what you are literally doing right there is looking outside of yourself and wondering, what is this like? What’s this impact that the way I’m showing up is having on my spouse? And that’s why I like to say that if you are even asking that or hinting around that you’re not the narcissist.

[00:06:30] And I can talk about emotional immaturity and talk about how we all show up emotionally immature from our childhood. And so it is a process of becoming more emotionally mature. So being able to stand up for your rights or being able to stand up for your point of view or wanting to be heard and understood that that is the process of becoming emotionally mature because two emotionally mature adults in a relationship absolutely want to hear what the other person has to say, and it doesn’t even make sense as to why I would feel like I can control you or that I have to tell you how you are supposed to think, feel or behave. And so if you again are showing up that way, but you are listening to podcast, trying to do the work, trying to say I want our marriage to improve. And it’s not just simply saying and in order to do so, you need to have more sex with me or you need to just not ask questions anymore. It is a whole different ballgame that is not looking outside of myself. That is absolutely looking inside of myself for control. I did an episode this week on the virtual couch and I really don’t know.

[00:07:33] I don’t have the data that shows how many people listen to both episodes. So forgive me if you heard this, but I think it’s worth hearing. Again, there’s a metaphor that I shared on my Virtual Couch podcast this week called Donkeys Carrots and Sticks. It’s by Dr. Russ Harris, who is an amazing acceptance and commitment therapy clinician, and he’s written books like The Happiness Trap, The Confidence Gap, and those are some of my favorite books, he says. I’m guessing you’ve got a pet donkey to help you carry your goods to the marketplace. And unless you’ve upgraded to a camel, Russ Harris throws humor in his books. And that’s maybe one of the reasons I really love reading what he has to write. But he said, Now, what is the best way to motivate your donkey to whip it with a stick or to offer it a carrot? Both methods will get your donkey to carry the load for you, but over time, the donkey that is mainly motivated by whipping will get more and more miserable, battered and bruised, whereas the donkey, motivated by carrots, will be healthy and content and have really good night vision. Now, as it happens, humans have a lot in common with donkeys, some more than others. And unfortunately, when we try to motivate other humans to behave the way we want, we often use far too much of the stick and nowhere near enough of the carrot.

[00:08:40] The stick takes many forms. It can include criticizing, judging, demanding, insulting, threatening or intimidating. And it often involves sharing or blaming or evaluating the other person negatively or speaking in harsh words. And I want to press pause right here and say that again. This is why I wanted to share this. After that, this is water story, because so many emails that I get are the kind the pathologically kind person that is saying, am I, am I the narcissist? Am I now the one that is criticizing or judging or demanding her to do this or insulting her because she just said something that made me so frustrated? And the key here is that who you are as a person or is that the way you are showing up in the relationship because you don’t know how else to be heard? If you go about life interacting with all of your friends or you as you entered the marriage, the relationship, and you weren’t a person who all of a sudden flew off the handle and yelled or just outbursts of emotion. Then that is your response to not feeling heard and not feeling understood. So that is not who you are as a person. I would imagine you are most likely someone that would lead the donkey with carrots and not with the stick. But now you’ve been put into a position where you feel like the only tool you have is a stick.

[00:10:03] Because now you are basically. Stick fight, for lack of a better phrase or concept. He says the stick takes many forms. And is this you in your relationship? Are you being coerced with the stick? It can include criticizing, judging, demanding, insulting, threatening or intimidating. It often involves sharing or blaming or evaluating the other person negatively or speaking in harsh words. And it frequently involves deliberately withdrawing things that we know the other person wants, such as affection, caring, warmth, kindness, gratitude, company, or someone to listen. And if this is resonating, this is why I’m going so big on this. And can you see how complicated that is? As I say that if you’re the pathologically kind person you’re saying, Tony, you don’t understand. I do those things I get I must be the narcissist. If you are asking yourself that question, I would guess that it’s things that you are doing in response. You may be withholding withdrawing things such as affection, caring, warmth, kindness, gratitude, company, or someone to listen because it doesn’t work to provide those things to your spouse. And because when you do, you are made fun of you are gaslit and but that is who you are as a person is that you want to provide those things to everyone else in your life, not everyone else not going all or nothing but to the other people in your life. You freely give affection, caring, warmth, kindness, gratitude, company. You absolutely are someone that that wants to listen.

[00:11:20] So if that is only happening in your relationship, then this is where we’re looking at emotional immaturity on the part of your spouse and you are most likely looking at some sort of narcissistic trait or tendency or you’re in a relationship with someone that is extremely emotionally immature, he says the technical psychobabble jargon term for using the stick to motivate others is coercion. We all have a natural tendency to rely on coercion because, he says, the fact is, it often works. Very often when we use coercion with others, we get our needs met. They do what we want them to do. But what effect does coercion have in the long term? How does it affect your relationship with the other person, whether it is your friend, your child, your partner, your employee? The research on this is clear. The more we rely on coercion, the worse the relationship gets, the the more coercive the parent, the more stressed and unhappy their children, the more coercive the manager, the more stressed and depressed their employees, the more coercive the spouse, the worse condition of the marriage. Just as big sticks make donkeys sick and miserable, so does coercion create stressed, unhealthy humans? He said. So what’s the alternative? You guessed it carrots. Lots and lots and lots of carrots. Just like the stick. A carrot can take many forms. Carrots include kindness, gratitude. Thank you. Talking calmly, being respectful. Warmth, openness, caring. Open mindedness, genuine interest in the other person, understanding empathy, compassion, etc.

[00:12:43] Basically the aim is to catch the other person behaving the way you want them to act and actively reward them for doing so. The reward may be anything from a smile, a thank you, a pat on the back. And he goes on to say, Hang on, you might be thinking I shouldn’t have to thank them or smile at them or be kind to them. They should just do it. And he said it’s completely natural to have such thoughts. And if you don’t care about the long term quality of the relationship and the health and well-being of the other person, then sure stay with the stick. But if you want a better relationship and you care about the health and well-being of your friends, employees, managers, coworkers, children, partner, parents, etc. then start shifting to the carrot. The magic ratio of carrot stick, he says, is at least 5 to 1. In other words, at least five times as much of actively rewarding the behavior you like is trying to punish the behavior that you don’t like. This doesn’t come naturally for most of us, but it’s a habit well worth developing. So where do we go next? Let me just read a few emails and then I want to bring all of this together and how do we show up in our relationship? Because if we have recognized that this is water, this is the relationship that is the relationship that I know I this is the water that I’m swimming in.

[00:13:46] This is the air that I’m breathing. Then this is one of those opportunities to truly understand, wake up and recognize that this isn’t how I deserve to live, that I deserve to be heard and understood, not told that I’m crazy. I deserve to have a relationship where someone looks and looks it with me, with curiosity as I look at things with them. Because we’re going through life and we need to be on the same team and being on the same team doesn’t mean that we have all the exact same opinions, thoughts, behaviors, that sort of thing. It means that we are two people, that we are going through life and we’re doing this together and we’re designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human being. And I feel like once you recognize a lot of these pieces, then it’s what do I do with that do? And this is where I go back to do I even have the tools or understand what the relationship can look like? And on the group call, on the women’s group call for the private Facebook group that if you are interested in joining, please reach out to me through my contact form on the website. But in the group call last night, this was a big concept that we were talking about. And I was I found myself continuing to go back to my four pillars of a connected conversation, this framework that I love to talk about with the goal not being that, okay, if I can just step into these.

[00:15:05] Four pillars of a assuming good intentions, or there’s a reason why my partner shows up the way they do, says the things they do, and more. In the world of narcissism. We’re looking at that second piece of that, not just assuming good intentions when they berate me, but knowing there’s a reason why that’s what they do, because they are so emotionally immature and insecure, or they never had it modeled to them of what empathy looks like, or they’ve never saw it modeled of motivating by the carrot and not the stick. That that’s my pillar one. The pillar two. You have to shift my mindset and just not immediately react and say, That’s ridiculous or I don’t believe you, even if you absolutely don’t believe them. And you find that what they are saying is ridiculous. Because the key that I kept going back to in this call last night was when we start by assuming that the person wakes up in the morning and says, here’s how I’m going to hurt my spouse, or we don’t really understand why they’re there doing what they’re doing. We don’t have this concept of what emotional immaturity looks like or what narcissistic traits and tendencies look like, or if we immediately say, That’s ridiculous, I can’t believe you said that. I don’t believe you, that when we go to there, any of these things are going to devolve the conversation.

[00:16:22] And as I like to say, the conversation is going to go out into the weeds so fast. And if the conversation goes out into the weeds, then the emotionally immature person is going to be so far away from any concept of having to take ownership of what they have said or done. And so if you are an emotionally immature person and you have spent your life not wanting to be wrong because that elicits some really uncomfortable feelings. And when you were a child, if you were wrong, then you got in a lot of trouble. Then again, gaslighting is a childhood defense mechanism. So the the four pillars are designed to keep a conversation going. It’s a framework to be able to just have a goal of being heard. Because when we’re so just focused on trying to make sure that improve this other person wrong, then the conversation is going to go off into the weeds and when it goes off into the weeds, there’s not a chance of having somebody have to take ownership or accountability of the way that they showed up. So after those first two pillars, the third one is then asking questions instead of just starting with comments, questions before comments. So if the person then expresses something that they that, you know, is just patently false, but then you just say, that’s ridiculous. Conversations out in the weeds, if they say that you never do anything for me and then you assume, right, there’s a reason why they’re saying that.

[00:17:38] I’m not going to say that’s ridiculous, because you must not even know what all the things are that I do for you. And then that pillar three would say, Man, that would be hard. If you feel like that, I don’t do anything for you. So tell me more about that. Take me in your train of thought. Help me understand. And that’s where I feel like the true narcissist or the emotionally immature person is at that point thinking, Wait a minute, the conversations usually devolve by now. I don’t really have good examples. We’re not saying this out loud. They might even be thinking it. It might even be something buried in the subconscious. So then that’s the part where you might hear things like you just wouldn’t even understand, or I can’t believe you even asking that because the goal of the emotionally immature is to derail the conversation, to get it out in the weeds, because then they never have to take ownership or accountability for anything. So then after that question, before comments, the fourth pillar is to stay present. And that can be one of the most difficult things to do, because by nature, when the narcissist feels like they are being attacked, instead of them looking outside of their ego and being able to say, Oh my gosh, I am really hurting my partner here, that’s where then they are going to continue to push buttons.

[00:18:40] So it is hard sometimes to stay present when you have gotten those first three pillars down, assuming good intentions or there’s a reason why somebody does or says the things they do and not putting out the vibe or message of You’re wrong or I don’t believe you, and then say saying, tell me more about that. Because if you have done these things and you are saying, okay, I’m staying in this conversation, I’m staying present, I’m not just becoming so emotionally overwhelmed that I shut down, then the simple process of staying present is most likely going to get the narcissist or the emotionally immature person in your life. Just start pushing more buttons because they need this conversation to go south so fast because they’re starting to approach these uncomfortable feelings of what is this vulnerability or accountability. So this framework is so important because this is the part where you just want to be heard. If the goal is to be heard and to be understood and not to try to resolve everything, because if your pattern of communication is going to have to end with resolution, then you as the pathologically kind person, you know how that goes. If somebody is going to fall on the sword, if somebody is going to say, okay, fine, I’m going to go run to my bunker now, it’s typically the pathologically kind. So we’ve created this relationship dynamic where you try and you try to express yourself, but then as soon as they push the right buttons, as soon as they can get the conversation to devolve or go out into the weeds.

[00:20:01] And if your goal or your natural inclination. If. The water you swim in is that we’ve got to figure this out. We have to solve this. We have to work to a resolution. Then who is going to acquiesce? Who is going to give in? It’s you and you’re going to give in and say, okay, this isn’t worth it. And maybe I don’t maybe I’m just expressing an opinion that I don’t really care about. So we’ll deal with this later. We’ll deal with this next time. Let me get to the emails that I was talking about earlier. And and I hope that you can see, though, the reason why I wanted to share those stories, the this is water and then the donkey, the stick metaphor, the carrot and the stick metaphor. Because are you now just starting to wake up to this is Maya, the water that I swim in. And have you been in a relationship where the other person has in order to get their way, in order to get their donkey to do the work that they need them to, they have absolutely relied on coercion time and time again. The mean words, the criticism, the devaluing, the degrading, the gaslighting. And if you have slowly started to find yourself and I would imagine some of you were saying, okay, but I don’t have a big bag of carrots myself.

[00:21:08] I’ve got a pretty big stick. But did you have to go find that stick? Are you one that came into the relationship with a bunch of carrots saying, okay, let’s let’s lead with kindness and love and this is going to be the most amazing experience I’ve waited my entire life to have my person, person I can go to and turn to. But then all of a sudden, every time I go to them, or most of the times I go to them and I open up my heart, they take it from me, they look at it and they laugh at me, and then they throw it on the ground and stomp on it because that is continually being coerced. So then if you now are responding by way of coercion yourself, again, if you had to go find a big stick, then that is not I know that’s not who you are at your core. And bless your heart, bless your soul, bless all of you, because I know that’s not the person that you want to be. And that’s the place where so often the people that find themselves in these relationships absolutely say, I have lost my sense of self, I don’t know who I am. And so when you are trying to find your sense of self and that threatens the emotionally immature person and they’re saying you don’t want to do that, I wouldn’t do that or I can’t believe you never said you want to do that before.

[00:22:11] That is not we don’t want you swimming in that water because that is not a healthy place to be. You deserve to be in a relationship where someone is saying you go and do and be whoever you need to be and I can’t wait because I want to do the same thing. And then we can return and report secure attachment of what are you discovering about yourself and what’s that like? And curiosity, because we’re two different people. But I digress. Let me get to these emails and then we’re going to wrap things up from there. As I discovered your podcast about narcissism just yesterday, and I can’t begin to tell you how validated I feel in my life, that has felt like pure chaos and confusion. And they said that they would love to share more of their experiences, but their mind and heart are so overwhelmed with all the revelations and information that they need to sort that out. But they feel slightly less crazy hearing the experiences that I share on the podcast and they say Thank you for what you’re doing, you’re helping people, so continue to send in your messages. But I just wanted to normalize that. A lot of people are picking this up somewhere. I mean, now so this lady talks about finding the podcast yesterday.

[00:23:17] And I think at that point, where do you even jump in? The more episodes that we get out, I don’t assume that people go back and listen sequentially from the start. I don’t think I do that from for podcasts myself. So that is a normal thing. If you are just picking up on the podcast now, welcome. And if you are interested in joining the private women’s Facebook group, feel free to reach out. So I just wanted to normalize that concept of just starting to feel overwhelmed or all of the revelations and information and just to say that that is absolutely normal. Again, this is your journey and it’s it’s going to take some time. And is the time how long is it going to take? And unfortunately, it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take that old cliche. Another person said that they’ve been binge listening to waking up to narcissism and they have become more aware that their partner has narcissistic behaviors, but they feel so validated by the podcast and from the experiences that other people have shared. They said, as if dealing with this unhealthy relationship isn’t bad enough, there are couples counselor for the past several years has largely brushed aside her complaints about his gaslighting, lack of accountability and aggression. And her therapist actually got angry with her once when she shared her feelings about his narcissism and she said, Has he gaslit her? And boy, I’m hearing from a lot of therapists that are listening to this podcast and not saying that I feel like I have everything all figured out.

[00:24:32] But hopefully if you are someone who is supporting someone who is expressing that they are in fear or hearing more about narcissism, I feel like one of the best things you can do is just to say, tell me more about that. Go in with curiosity, whether the therapist, whether you’re the sibling, whether you’re the parent, and hopefully if you’re the spouse. But I just feel like one of the best things we can do is to say, tell me more. There’s a reason this is my pillar, one of a connected conversation. I’m assuming good intentions, or there’s a reason why somebody is asking the things they’re asking, saying the things they’re saying, doing the things they’re doing. So how about we start with curiosity? How about we start with tell me why you feel that way. Or tell me what data you’ve gathered to understand. I had a friend of mine on the podcast on on the virtual couch a long time ago talking about chronic pain. They had written a book called The Mind Flight Journal, and it’s an amazing book. Please go look this up. If you or anyone that is struggling with any kind of chronic pain and the episode is titled I think it’s pots and spoons and something. Oh, my. And it was just a lot of terms for people that are struggling with chronic pain.

[00:25:31] And I remember she said one of the best things that somebody can do if if you are the spouse and you are in pain and you are expressing that to another spouse, and you said, hey, I found something online, or here’s this term that I think that might resonate with me. The best thing you could do is say, Tell me more. How about you go Google it yourself if you’re the supportive partner, because we just want to feel heard and we want to feel understood. So that’s why I thought that that email was pretty powerful. This one about the therapist, she said that the therapist, even what she feels like turning on her and leaves her feeling alone and helpless. So then she just said the podcast is on point and grateful that she randomly found it while searching for Self Help podcast. And I hope that a therapist listening can and I know we’ve got a lot going on. We’re trying to process a lot of things ourselves. You can have somebody walk in one minute that’s talking about suicide, somebody that walks in the next minute talking about depression, and then a couple coming in and somebody throws out the word narcissism. And I hope that even in our field and our world that we are looking at that with curiosity. Another one that talks about parental narcissism, which is just that’s the thing that I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time talking about.

[00:26:30] But the person said that they’ve been listening to this show a lot, and to say the least, that’s been eye opening. They have a mother that is a pathological, overt narcissist. And this is what I think is so powerful about this email. This person says that their mother has learned to hide her narcissistic traits from those who do not enable her and then mercilessly gaslights anybody who speaks in opposition to her mother Theresa like persona. And that’s one of the things I think that can just drive you crazy again. Going back to the heart of gaslighting is if you are the person that is the typical supply for the narcissist, then you are the person that they can go to to get that that bump, that, that rush of control. If that’s that addiction they have to control or to their own validation that who are they going to turn to, that person right in front of them. And being able to put that person down and putting them in a one up position is what gives them that that fix. And so when they turn to someone else outside of that familial relationship and then they get all the kudos and the praise, well, that’s the fix they get there again. Remember, it’s people growing up that never had a sense of self and then truthfully didn’t have that, that secure attachment to a parent. So therefore they are just constantly seeking external validation.

[00:27:39] So the validation they get from their immediate narcissistic supply is to put you down so that they can feel better. And oftentimes the the supply that they get from those outside of the familial relationship is those people thinking that they are the most amazing person in the world. So I just thought this email was just so spot on and just on point. And what was really interesting is this person even attempted to leave her school at a pretty early age and they were successful in it. But rather than the narcissistic mom saying that, that is incredible and what an opportunity, then they said they made it about themselves and the parent then said, I can’t believe that you’re abandoning me. And so that made this person struggle with this even now in their adulthood. As a matter of fact, at that point they said, I’m only now realizing how much baggage I’ve continued to hold since escaping her grasp in the form of complex post-traumatic stress disorder as well as and this is so powerful, the narcissistic traits they say that I myself developed to survive a family structure devoid of healthy emotions, compassion or unconditional love. All of it’s tragic. But finally, I know what journey I’ve been on all along, and it starts with me. Each email that comes in that one talks about the the narcissistic supply, the narcissistic parent who then puts themselves out there as this most amazing parent in the world, which can be so frustrating.

[00:28:53] And I remember talking with my wife at one point where we were learning more about the potential maybe let’s just call it narcissism of someone that we had been familiar with in the past, and their family would see them at church. Their whole family would just sit on this row and just just dead stare whenever their their dad would get up and express himself. And I remember everyone else just thought, this guy is so powerful. And then I remember just something didn’t sit right where I would look over and to see their entire family just shut down and thinking, man, I guess they aren’t really excited to hear their dad and how just how spiritual and confident and commanding he sounds and only to learn years later that some of the narcissistic abuse that it sounds like went on in that family. So that immediate family is the main target. So often of that narcissistic abuse, I think I have one more. See, the person said, oh, they were talking about death by a thousand cuts. They said they started listening to the death by a thousand cuts episode and they said that they listened to a YouTube video with Dr. Ramani, who talked about people who are, quote, immune to narcissistic abuse. And this person said they recognize some of those traits in themselves. And they said, I’m not immune, but I think my nature may have been blunted, may have blunted the effect of the abuse.

[00:30:05] And so this person says the people like this, Dr. Ramani, calls them unicorns. And so they just said that it’s interesting to learn about themselves, gain perspective. And I know that I often talk about the unicorn as the person, the narcissist or the severely emotionally immature person who is starting to have this waking up and awareness themselves. So I like what they talked about that, but I feel like when they said that the are you immune? But typically I feel like it is that you have started to become more blunted or have this flat affect from the narcissistic abuse over time, whether it’s been in the family system or in the relationship. And so when people find themselves just having a completely flat affect, completely blunted, apathetic state of anhedonia, all the other things that I go back to the body keeps the score. The trauma that resides in the body has, in essence just said, what’s the point of trying to even figure this out in the moment when I’m around this person, or why express myself? Because it’s not going to matter anyway. So I feel like if you do find yourself flat or blunted, which a lot of times is some of those symptoms of things like depression, anxiety, is there initially as a protector, anxiety is there to warn you and warn you of potentially dangerous situations. And there’s some really feel that that feeling of severe depression, especially in a relationship, means that your body is trying to get your attention somehow just saying, hey, you’ve got to do something different.

[00:31:27] So let’s sleep this one off. Let’s try this on again later because you don’t have a say or voice or you are being controlled in a relationship. So a lot of times like that’s what that that blunted or flat affect can mean. So one more to wrap this up. The person said that they are fairly certain. They said that they are the narcissist and they titled it Am I a unicorn again? Which I so appreciate these. And they said they’d like to ask three questions and they apologized if I’ve already answered them on the podcast or they just started listening. The first question Can a person gaslight someone and not be aware of what they’re doing? In other words, can gaslighting be unintentional or deep down, do I know I’m doing it? Unable to admit it? Like did I decide to gaslight my husband and then carry it out and forget that I decided to manipulate him along the same lines? Can a person gaslight themselves? And the answer to both of those is absolutely yes. Yes, on all fronts. Can a person gaslight someone and not be aware of what they’re doing? Absolutely. I feel like that is that we’re talking about the Buddha brain talks about this path of awakening or path of enlightenment, where the first step of that is being completely unaware and just not even knowing the right questions to ask.

[00:32:31] Because you’re not aware. That’s something that you’re doing. It’s reflexive, it’s impulsive. It’s just something that comes from the factory or from your from your nature. Or maybe as we learn more about your nurture, if you grow up in and when I continually say that gaslighting is a childhood defense mechanism, it’s because when you grow up, if you didn’t just immediately respond and protect yourself, then you might get in trouble, you might get hit, you might get abandoned, you might get your parents withdrawal from their love or affection. And when you’re a child, then that abandonment equals death. So you will do anything you can to avoid feeling those uncomfortable feelings, guilt or shame or remorse or those sort of things. So I feel like you can absolutely just impulsively gaslight and can you guess, let yourself. Yes. And I feel like it’s that waking up to your emotional immaturity that is starting to wake up to gaslighting myself and. In my marriage course. Preston, Pug and I, we have a accountability module that is so powerful where there’s a couple of questions we ask and one of them is, What am I pretending not to know? And I think that that becomes part of this enlightenment of taking accountability or ownership to go from. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know to what am I pretending not to know that this is not healthy for the relationship or I am not being honest with my spouse or I know that they are right, but I feel so uncomfortable that I just told them that they’re wrong.

[00:33:47] So that is a part of this whole waking up process. The second one, they said they are seeking help from a therapist who would work with their husband, present to keep them honest. And they say, I don’t mean to lie or hide the truth, but I do gloss over details. If I am at fault, I fear if I do therapy alone, it won’t work. My question is this is asking my husband to come to therapy makes sense or my further manipulating him or will I further damage him? Now my I hate to say your mileage may vary, but my gut on this without knowing more of the context, is that it’s best to go in there with this bit of awareness and share that with a therapist who has familiarity working with personality disorders. Because, yeah, if you are asking your husband to come in and say, okay, I need you to keep me honest, it can be powerful if your husband is on board or if there’s I mean, the dynamics are so many variables here because again, where my gut goes is that in essence, you’re still saying, okay, I’m putting this on someone else. So if I don’t change, it’s on them. They weren’t the ones. They weren’t being as honest and therapy.

[00:34:45] They didn’t say the right things to tell the therapist, understand what I’m really like, where if you have this much awareness in a perfect world, I would love for you to go in and just start to really challenge yourself and be uncomfortable. Therapy is the one place that you’re supposed to try and be as honest and open as you can. Because even though you may feel subconsciously like you still want that validation from the therapist, you want the therapist to like you. That is what we do. I talk about it often that my holy crap o meter that I used to put on my shoulder. And when I’m listening to people’s stories, it broke long ago. You can say anything to a good therapist and then feel like, okay, this is the first place I’ve ever expressed that I am not being honest with this person or I don’t. I’m not even honest with myself. I might not even be honest with you. And I want to tell you that in the very moment and what I love is when someone will be in my office and this is the kind of stuff that we’re working on. And then they will say, because they still people will say things that just don’t line up or don’t make sense. And not that again here I talk about a lot of things don’t make sense that we try to figure out in our lives about we chase this certainty. That is not necessarily something that we can find.

[00:35:51] But I’m just saying that there are clear things where if someone is telling me that. I think I’ve given this example before, but I played that play baseball in high school. I tried to play baseball in college, and I move out as a young 20 something year old to California. This person stops by your house, they’re involved with church. They’re there to help us with things. And they say, I think I’m wearing a baseball hat. Oh, they say they asked me if I like baseball. I say, yes, absolutely I do. And they said I got drafted, but I didn’t ever end up playing in the pros. And I am a guy at that point that is literally just finishing up college three or four years out from feeling like I should have. Instead of trying to play at a Division one college, I should have played to, taken a junior college offer and work my way through the ranks and the minor leagues. And and so I’m still young and emotionally immature and feeling like I could have played in the pros. And I have this person sitting in front of me that says I got drafted, but I decided not to play, which is insane, bizarre. I can’t even imagine that. So then I say, Well, hey, why? Why didn’t you decide to play? And their claim was that they had been drafted by, I think, a National League team, and they had just told themselves, if I can’t play in the American League, I’m not going to play at all.

[00:36:56] Which if you are even remotely an athlete or especially a baseball player that was trying to make it makes no sense. I would have played for anyone that would have paid me money to go out there and swing a stick at a ball and run around in a uniform. And that would have been amazing. So that’s the kind of vibe I’m saying that when somebody is in your office and they are telling you stories like that, that is the opportunity for the therapist to say, Let’s talk about that, to find out that maybe they really didn’t even play high school baseball. And then the third thing that they talk about is I’ve taken the online test about narcissism. How accurate are the tests I’m leaning towards? Not at all accurate. Again, seeking real therapy from a human, but curious of my opinion. And also, how do I know if I’m answering the questions correctly? I feel like I don’t know myself. That’s a great question. And boy, here’s a complete honesty. There were it was a couple of years ago on the virtual couch. And I was going to take the I think it’s called the narcissistic personality index or inventory. And I thought, oh, I’ll take it, I’ll take it on the show and then I’ll go over the results and just talk about that.

[00:37:55] And I took it and I decided to be as honest as I could be, and I scored way too high on that thing. I feel like I would have normally taken it much differently, but I wanted to be honest with myself and so I don’t know the efficacy or the accuracy of them, but I feel like it’s not a bad thing. But it would be fascinating if somebody came in and we did that together and maybe that would be a fun episode to do. All the fun is maybe relatively the the word that I’m looking for, but I think that would be something I could do on an episode is go through that narcissistic personality inventory and then just go over the questions. And I think that would probably resonate with a lot of people on either their own emotional immaturity or the traits perhaps of their spouse or partner that they are involved with. There you go. Covered a lot of ground today and I recorded this in two different sittings across three or four days. So I honestly don’t know if this is 40 minutes or if it’s going to be an hour. But regardless, I am so grateful to be here recording this podcast with you, and I hope that I talked about the marriage stuff at the beginning, but if not, go to Tony Overbay dot com slash workshop or Tony or Wacom slash magnetic. To find out more about the marriage course that I have coming up, I will see you next week. Waking up the narcissism.

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