Ever get so confused in your relationship that you wonder if you’re losing your mind? Your partner’s words and actions are so inconsistent, you start to doubt your ability to reason. You may even start to feel anxious or depressed. But what is really going on? Are you crazy?
Or are you living in a crazy system?
Today, and for the next couple of posts, I want to explore what it feels like to be married (or related to) someone mentally or personality disordered. When I hear people talk about their confusing, inconsistent and emotionally irregular relationships, I help them gain insight into what is really going on. When they discover that they are not crazy, that they are just living in a crazy system, they immediately feel relieved and empowered.
I recently finished the fascinating Tara Westover memoir, “Educated”. It is a great example of how people with mental or personality disorders alter the dynamics of a system (in this case, a family system) resulting in extreme dysfunction among the family members. The sane people in the system often begin to question and doubt themselves, and even worse, blame themselves for the disordered person’s infractions. Living in a system ruled by mental illness is like living in an upside down world where things have the illusion of normal, but are governed by nonsensical and even dangerous rules.
Growing up in a disordered world, Tara Westover learned to doubt herself. She wanted, like most children, to believe the best about her parents and siblings. Even when their behavior was erratic, dangerous or unreasonable, she unwittingly saw them as faultless, and herself to blame. However, through self-discovery and education, she slowly learned she had a voice and an opinion worthy of recognition. She learned to trust herself and her ability to reason. Once she recognized reality, she could no longer submit to the upside-down expectations made by an upside-down system.
Maybe you can relate.
Hallmark to a dysfunctional system, is its inability to accept responsibility for the dysfunction. When mental or personality disordered behavior continues unchecked, it establishes itself as the norm. Narcissistic, chaotic, perfectionistic, or addicted systems exist in a vacuum of secrecy and denial.
As a result, the people in the system suffer from exhaustion, fear, self-doubt and bewilderment. They are faced with the decision to stop and set strong boundaries, or give up and join the circus. The first, they risk losing the other person. The second, they risk losing themselves.
What should you do if you believe you are in a relationship with someone with a Personality or Mental Disorder? Because this is such a big topic, I’ve broken it down into three posts designed to inform you, empower you and give you some options.
1. Feel Like You’re Going Crazy? Or is it Your Relationship? (that’s this one.)
2. Something is Off: Understanding Personality and Mental Disorders
3. Someone I Love Needs Psychological Help
For now, familiarize yourself with what you are experiencing. You don’t have to be in the business of diagnosing or treating psychological problems to have an informed understanding for practical purposes. If you, like Tara Westover think something might not be quite right, get some help from a professional, and tell them what you are experiencing.
Becoming informed will help you recognize disordered behavior and thinking, and how you can improve yourself and maybe even your situation. Counseling can help you discern fact from fiction, set appropriate boundaries, and make informed decisions.
Need Help Soon? Click here to order my recent book, “Losers, Users and Abusers, and the Women Who Love Them.” This book addresses how you can recognize disordered functioning, how to address it, and how to take care of yourself in the process.
Need Coaching? I offer support through life-coaching and consultation by telephone. So, if you’re newly enlightened about your role in the crazy making system, and you need help setting boundaries and goals, you can set an appointment with me here.