By Carol Grigg (September 2017)
I want to talk about the vitriolic dump. Frequently, either at ASPIA meetings or in personal counselling sessions, partners talk about the catastrophic caustic reactions they get from their partners part-way through an obviously uncomfortable conversation.
It happened to me (in the past) and very recently to someone close to me too. Within minutes the reactor returns to normal as though nothing has even rippled the surface. Like they’ve purged, and the re-set button has been pressed. But the recipient is left dazed, traumatized and shaking, sometimes for weeks.
Perhaps just knowing it is a common occurrence in our AS relationships can be validating. But knowing how to better prepare or prevent this is so far proving elusive.
It would seem that the caustic reaction does provide us with information though. An indication that we have moved a conversation or dynamic onto ground where they have no capacity to meet or match us, and no comprehension to understand or answer, so they have to shut down or sabotage the exchange.
Malicious words, comments and accusations, accompanied typically by intimidating body language including rage, all have the desired effect – to shut us down, dissolve the difficult discussion, put us on the back foot, leave us speechless, and too shocked and wounded to remain in the conversation, or even in the same room.
Success. For them. Torture and confusion for us. They cannot recognise the wounding we take as that would require theory of mind and empathy in the moment. They just know we have stopped, and they’ve avoided another uncomfortable situation.
We tend to go away and analyse for meaning all the horrible things they said. But it’s probably not the meaning of the words that is the point. They have used their intellect over the years to learn what buttons to press (cause and effect) to wound and silence us, and they have this gun loaded and ready continuously for the situations described above. For the purpose of shutting us down. To bring a sudden halt to a situation that is uncomfortable for them.
To them, the words are just weapons. Arrows. Bullets. Discharged to achieve a desired effect.
I know this doesn’t help us heal the awful gashes and slashes to our hearts, but perhaps it can direct our analysis away from the meaning of their words, and rather to further understand and grieve the deficits and lack of capacity for reciprocal conversation and negotiation.
And again, as I’ve gently shared before, try to reduce the exchanges to something succinct, black and white, logical, point form, maybe by text, email or phone, or side by side on the lounge, etc, and factor in some processing time before you expect an answer.
No, we are not experiencing a “normal” relationship. These strategies for communication should not be necessary. But they are. And we need to measure our own worth by all the other “normal” encounters we have on a daily basis, not this one relationship that is the most significant yet the least validating of all.
Thinking of us all.