My narcissistic mother was a screamer. Since my dad was numbed out, she got no satisfaction out of screaming at him. As an only child, I become the object of her screaming. Even though I had learned early to be a very good girl, my mother would scream at me anyway. I could never quite get what I had done wrong, but when she screamed at me, I believed that I must have done SOMETHING wrong.
I wasn’t allowed to walk away when she was screaming at me. Tears would roll down my cheeks, but if I even tried to look away from her raging, she would scream even louder, “Look at me when I’m talking to you, young lady.” Talking? I would have loved it if she had talked to me!
So, of course I learned to stand there and take it. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized I didn’t have to take it when someone was angry and blaming me.
I ended up marrying a man who was angry like my mother and numbed out like my father. Before I realized that I could walk away, I would try everything I knew to comply. I didn’t realize that compliance was a form of control — the same form of control I had tried to use with my mother. My belief was, “Maybe if I try to do everything right, he will love me or at least not be mad at me.” However, this didn’t work any better with my husband than it did with my mother.
Through years of trying to understand how to deal with conflict and what it meant to take care of myself in the face of another’s anger and blame, I discovered that there are only two healthy ways of dealing with conflict:
- I learned the hard way — uselessly complying, defending and explaining — that conflict cannot be resolved unless both people are open to learning about themselves and each other. If I think the other person will be open to exploring the conflict, then I open the door to learning, with an invitation like “I don’t want to be yelled at and blamed, but I would like to understand what you are upset about. Can we talk about it?”
- If the other person doesn’t open, or if I know ahead of time that once this person is angry, he or she will not open to learning with me, then I will say something like, “I don’t want to be yelled at and blamed. Let me know when you are ready to talk about this.” Then I lovingly disengage.
“Isn’t withdrawing from conflict just running away?” you might ask. Yes, it is. But there is a huge difference between withdrawing and disengaging…
Read more: Margaret Paul Ph.D, Huffington Post