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Running your life like a business

By Ox Drover

Most victims and former victims of sociopaths are extremely capable and smart people, so why exactly did these really smart people go “bankrupt” in their personal lives by letting a sociopath take over? That’s a question that has plagued me since I started on the road to healing.

I’ve always been a pretty astute businessperson and an excellent manager of both personnel and resources in my professional life. Why did I do so well in my professional life and go so wrong in my personal life?

I finally came to the conclusion that I ran my business like a business and I let my personal life be run in a very ”un-businesslike” manner.

I’ll use my farm as an example. I had a herd of cattle that I raised to provide meat, which I sold. So my product was meat, but my means of production was my cows having healthy calves, nursing those calves with plenty of milk, and being good mothers to the calves. If a cow did not have a calf because she had a fertility problem, she was an “unproductive” worker, so I had to fire her. Even if I was attached to her, and she was otherwise a nice cow, if she did not give birth to a calf every year, I could not afford to feed her (or “pay her salary”). If a cow was not having a calf, I noticed her lack of “production” and terminated her without too many tears, because I realized if I had a pasture full of cows that did not have calves, my farm would go “bankrupt.”

Suppose old “Bessie” hadn’t had a calf in five years, but she is so very sweet, and never kicks at me, so how could I in good conscience get rid of her, when she looks at me with those big brown eyes and nuzzles my hand when I go to feed her? Or how about old “Bell”? She has a calf every year, but she has a bad udder and doesn’t give any milk, so the calf always dies, but it really isn’t her fault, she just had an infection that caused her udder not to produce any more milk, and she really is so sweet, so what’s a little more feed anyway?

Or how about that old bull? I really do hate to get rid of him, he is so pretty, but he does tear down fences and go walkabout a couple of times a week.

How long before I would have nothing but a bunch of very decorative live pasture-art? My farm would go bankrupt because I let my emotions and excuses for why those animals were not “carrying their weight” influence me to keep on feeding unproductive stock.

I had little if any problem getting rid of unproductive or disruptive cows on my farm, because I knew that if I kept cows in my herd that cost more than they produced, or caused trouble for me or the rest of the herd by tearing down fences, trying to hurt me, or just in general causing problems, my farm would start to cost more than it brought in and I would go “bankrupt.”

So why didn’t I apply these same principles to my life that I did to my business? Well, first of all I let emotional attachment to “friends” and “family” who were “costing” me more than they produced to stay on my “emotional payroll.”

I had “friends” who only seemed to come around when they needed something, but after all, they really were in a bind, and maybe it wasn’t entirely their fault. I also had friends who seemed to think it was my responsibility to take care of them for the rest of their lives. I had friends and family who seemed to think that I owed them “unconditional love” because I gave birth to them, and no matter what they did, how badly they treated me, or used and abused me, I had to “play nice” with them.

How come if a cow even shook her head threateningly at me she was immediately hamburger, no matter how many calves she had or how fat she nursed them, and I had no problem at all sending her off to the butcher, but I couldn’t stand up to a “friend” or a family member and say, “Don’t treat me like that!”

I knew how to run a business, and I knew what made a business profitable or bankrupt. Why did I not know how to run a life and how to make it profitable and good? I let my life go bankrupt emotionally. Why did I think that things were going to change or get better if I simply allowed more output than there was income to continue? I kept giving to those in my life, but never receiving.

In our lives there are always times we give more than we get in supporting our friends and family, but if this is a continual occurrence, over time we become physically, financially and emotionally “bankrupt.” We must receive as well as give to friends and family.

Now, while I don’t literally run my “life” like I do the farm, figuratively I do. When a person is disruptive to the peace of my life, just like a cow with a dangerous attitude, I terminate them from my “pasture” so that I am not in danger of being hurt. If a person is always taking and never giving, that person is also removed from my “pasture” as unproductive. If a person is always breaking the rules and “jumping the fences” and causing trouble, what do I need that person in my life for? To get me out of bed at 2 a.m. to post their bail? To pay their rent because they can never seem to keep a job?

The people who are now in my life give as much as they receive, show respect for me and for the fences (boundaries) in my life. They don’t stand around waiting for me to bring them a bucket of “feed,” but they get out and hustle up their own, and take responsibility for themselves. I can count on these people to do what they say they will do, and to be trustworthy individuals.

My life is now more “profitable” than it has ever been and that “profit” is laid up as a big “bank account” filled to the brim with PEACE, LOVE and JOY! I am the richest woman in the world.


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Stargazer

Kathleen, that was a brilliant post.

Stargazer

Wow, Kathleen, you are spot on about the narcissistic wounding. I definitely see this in myself, the not asking for what I want and hoping the other person will appreciate me and give me what I want. I was so envious of the young boy that he just went after what he wanted. Yes, it was selfish, and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t be that selfish. I have a lot of this too. But I feel this is changing. I’m starting to feel like I deserve to have a good job that pays decently and a good boyfriend. And I am taking the steps to go out and get those things.

What a brilliant and insightful post. Makes me think about a lot of things.

skylar

Kathleen, you summed it up very well. I’ll save that one for reference for when I get lost again. The word ENTITLEMENT spoke volumes. YES, that is what the narcissist has that I don’t have. A feeling of entitlement. How do I get that?

you said:
After the sociopath, my recovery involved developing those traits that I didn’t have. Getting them out of my shadow self and into the light. Self-interest. The ability to get angry. The capacity to judge without apologies. And the entitlement to make my life what I wanted it to be. I refer to all this in a kind of fondly joking way as my inner sociopath, but it was really me all along. I just had it all twisted up inside of me, because of fear of not being loved or accepted.

Can you give me some concrete real world examples on how to develop these strategies. I know I sound stupid to ask, but just trying to imagine myself doing it is triggering my anxiety and blocks my ability to come up with real life scenarios. My ability to judge whether I’m fantasizing or thinking critically gets skewed when I feel anxious.

Stargazer

Wow, I’m wondering if we get attracted to selfish men because this is something lacking in us? Interesting concept.

skylar

yes, Star, that makes sense. I’m not entitled to anything that I want, but he is, so I’ll make my wants = his wants and he will make sure that we get what we want.

But surrendering yourself just makes us hollow and empty vessels to be filled by whatever comes around.

Strategies to release the inner sociopath. What a cool idea.

The first thing I remember doing was kind of dorky in retrospect. But it really got me over the initial hump. Before I tell you what it was, I want to say something about bringing shadow characteristics into the light.

These characteristics were blocked from further development by traumatic events that caused us to decide they weren’t safe. So when we release that blockage, those characteristics become accessible again and ready for further development from the point where they got stuck. It’s one of the reasons that when we first start accessing our anger, it’s so childish. All that whining and stomping around and blaming without any consciousness of the surrounding circumstances or the value of not speaking or acting on it until it has a chance to process up from the visceral reaction to higher levels of thinking.

As we get more used to feeling anger, our capacity matures. And that is true with all these shadow characteristics. At first they’re very visceral and childish and, if we’re paying attention, we can almost watch that part of ourselves grow up through the practice of childhood, the experimentation with identity in adolescence, and then through all the experiential learning of adulthood. My own experience is that a characteristic that was blocked in fairly early childhood takes about a year to get adult, fully smoothed out and under control in my adult identity.

So any hints I could give you would be geared to fostering this thing up through the early stages. I really can’t remember the first stages of getting entitled, except that I think it’s tightly related to learning how to experience anger. Anger is an expression of entitlement, but it’s very self-expressive and not particularly oriented to interaction. We’re blaring out how we feel and not looking for much back, unless it’s apologies or groveling or some other acknowledgement of how big and bad our anger is. And even that’s not really important. The important thing is to feel it, express it, and to learn there is a un-enmeshed “me” that is separate from the thing that caused the anger.

So, all that said, I remember getting back to some interactivity by playing around with an idea. I gave you all this theorizing about bringing up our baby characteristics, because I wanted you to understand that playing around with ideas like this is a very adolescent thing to do. In adolescence, we try on identities as we’re trying to figure out who (or how) we want to be when we grow up.

Here’s the idea that I played with: “I deserve to be loved.” Now my most important guides at the time — my therapist, my Buddhist friend, and my wise sister — all had the same reaction. “You can’t force someone to love you.” But that wasn’t my idea. My idea was that if I felt I deserved to be loved, and that was the way I viewed myself, then that would also shape how I reacted to what other people offered me. And if it was anything less than recognition, appreciation and something like gratitude for my attention to them, then there probably wasn’t any reason to keep investing time and energy into them.

For me, this happened around the same time that I was trying to figure out what it meant to take care of myself. Other than being defensive — which I could do very well since getting in touch with my anger — I couldn’t figure out what that meant. And I didn’t want to be a walking porcupine for the rest of my life.

So this idea helped me start to figure out how a good relationship might be started, and a bad one avoided. In the case of the sociopath, I might have felt that it was a good relationship in the beginning when he was putting all that effort into learning what I care about and mirroring it back to me. But once he started making all his little suggestions about changes he’d like to see if he were really going to love me, that would clearly be inconsistent with me deserving to be loved for who I am.

As you can see, this is a little klutzy for a long-term life strategy. It’s pretty rigid and doesn’t leave a lot of room for the awkwardness of new relationships, or learning anything new or taking risks. But I realized that later. When I first adopted it as a kind of experimental rule of living, it served a couple of purposes. One was that it helped me judge readily whether I was comfortable or not with what I was getting back from people, and to respond with the expectation of being liked (rather than getting all pissy if I wasn’t). And second, it had the unexpected side effect of opening my heart to myself.

I mean, if there was something intrinsically good and valuable enough about me to deserve love from everyone else, why was I giving so much air time to all those inner voices that seemed to be dedicated to destroying my self-esteem and initiative? All that yackety-yack about how I was probably going to fail, and no one really likes me anyway, and I had to be careful to not get hurt, and look at all the stupid things I’d done, yadda yadda.

I’m making a gradual process very short here, but I eventually had the bright idea of telling them to shut up at least for a minute or two. And in doing that, had the first opportunity in my memory to introduce myself to the me that was not all that yammering crap. Which was a memorable day that literally changed my life. After all those years of looking for something like home in relationships, I finally found it in myself.

So that’s my best suggestion. If something else occurs to me, I’ll bring up the issue again, and tell you about it. I hope this one makes sense.

Kathy

ErinBrock

Kathleen:
“obsessed with one person who we assign all power to make us whole”

HELLLLOOOOOO ERIN!

You are brilliant! Your words, the way you express them in writing…..keep writing girl…..you hit home to so many of us……you writings are like a personal can opener….
So dang insightful! I know you write from your heart and your journey…..thank you so very much for sharing yourself, I personally gain so much from you!
THANK YOU Brilliant one!
XXOO
EB

Skylar, I just saw that you asked for “concrete and real-world” examples. And what I wrote you was really about the inner landscape.

It’s hard for me to get too real-world, because so much of this work is done on the inner landscape. I think I knew that my recovery was really mostly done when the outside world started engaging me more than the inner work I was doing. And that took about three or three and a half years.

But I think that poem I wrote, “The Second Date,” was really about putting this kind of thinking into action. It was loosely based on a real experience, and I was there to have a mutually rewarding chat. When it started to go bad for me, I didn’t second-guess myself. I didn’t like where he was going, and I didn’t like him for going there. So I split.

In situations where I had less absolute freedom, such as dealing with clients, I found myself negotiating the terms of the relationship (which is something we do all the time) with more good humor, rather than feeling angry and victimized if I felt challenged. And I think I wrote something on this thread about dealing with a client that wanted me to do something that was not what I wanted to do. The actual facts were that the direction would have given him bad results and it would have screwed me financially. So I told him no, I don’t work that way, but I work this way or not at all. I held fast on that position, and could have come up with a logical defense if he wanted to push the issue. But just acting like I knew what I was talking about (I did) and I wasn’t interested in discussing it was enough. I was cheerful and positive, and he decided to do it my way.

Clearly this doesn’t work when we’re dealing with a sociopath, because they have to win. But for me, this is also a way to test who I’m dealing with. If I’ve got a sociopath on my hands or someone who is acting that way, because circumstances are burning up their good sense or their ability to listen, then I’m going push back. I’m not food and I’m not going to be a victim of other people’s dramas. It’s not good for me, and I don’t believe it’s good for them either. So I don’t play those games.

And I know I’m getting pretty far afield here from deserving to be loved, but it does pretty much come down to being sensible, once that sense of entitlement has a chance to grow up. We’re surrounded by people acting out their trauma processing and projecting all their dysfunction on the world around them, and mostly unconsciously. (Again, the benefit to me of the relationship with the sociopath was that it forced me to look at behaviors and beliefs that had been running my life since I was a child.) As we become more relaxed with ourselves, we can see this more easily without becoming threatened or involved.

Oh, Frank’s doing his I-have-to-control-everything-to-keep-everyone-safe dance. Oh, Mary’s doing her if-you-don’t-sympathize-with-my-problems-I’m-going-to-become-more-disruptive-until-you-do dance. Oh, George is doing his Machiavellian obliterate-every-living-thing-that-stands-between-me-and-world-domination dance.

We can see it, and make a determination of how to handle it in relationship to our own self-interest. In Frank’s case, we might go up to him and let him know there’s a mess in the corner that he might not have noticed, and acknowledge that we’re a big fan of how much he’s improved things around here. In Mary’s case, we might give her an orgasm-quality serving of sympathy and then put a price tag on getting any more of it (especially if she’s the CEO’s secretary). And George, well George is to be cheerfully watched without commitment or involvement. I tend to greet people like George with “How goes the campaign for world domination?” And they tend to look at me cross-eyed and drift away. I know he’ll get rid of me if he ever wins the throne, but until then, he knows that I know, and that’s sufficient.

See how nice and friendly it all is? And that’s because I’m not looking for trouble, just opportunities to make friends and serve myself. Frank regards me as an ally. Mary’s got a crush on me. And George doesn’t mess with me.

And all that emerges from a sense of entitlement, which has evolved on from deserving to be loved to actually liking myself and feeling entitled to use the resources around me. But doing it in a nice, empathetic way that makes other people feel good about themselves (except George maybe) and helps them along with their own objectives.

Sociopathic? Absolutely, if you define it by using people for selfish purposes. But it also comes with a quality of liking people as they are. Even George is kind of amusing, if you can keep enough distance from him and not get emotionally involved with his victims. But as a matter of environmental hygiene, if I had an opportunity to fatally sabotage him (preferably indirectly so he didn’t know where it was coming from), I would do it in an instant.

So I don’t know if all this is more concrete, or not. I think that one thing we fail to recognize, until we integrate our inner sociopath, is how Machiavellian we were when we were codependent. A life strategy of pleasing people until they give us what we want is not exactly non-manipulative. And when we get a little more direct about getting what we want or need, we actually have a great deal of practice with subtlety in our previous life experiences. We’ve been playing defensive chess, and we can occasionally win that way but it’s annoying to everyone and takes too long. When we switch to an offensive game, we discover that we have been playing strategy games all along, but it’s so much easier, faster and more honest fun when we’re playing to win, instead of trying to keep from losing.

And sure we lose occasionally. But we also win a lot more often, because we’re going after something real — like wealth, power or achievement — rather than hoping someone will love us.

Did anyone see Jane Fonda on Larry King the other night? I didn’t but heard all about it from a friend. It it exists on YouTube or somewhere else, you might find it interesting.

skylar

Kathleen,
Humor! I can do that. I’m good with humor.
Sociopaths don’t get humor.
Thank you for the real-world examples. It really helps me imagine what I want and how I want it. What you’ve basically shown me is that I want to be more light-hearted, not so anxious, more optomistic about reality rather than running away to fantasy land like a narcissist does. I need to be more patient and less controlling, more willing to fail and appreciating the experience rather than needing everything to turn out perfect all the time. Having a sense of humor would do this for me.

I actually already do this, but I usually use humor as a last resort, when things go wrong and I have no more options, I laugh at myself. BUT, if I were to start out with this attitude from the beginning…who knows where I would end up? Rather than being so serious about life, I’ll try this.

Thank you also for the innerlandscape work. Innerlandscape stuff always takes longer to sink in.

Your time and patience with me and my questions is appreciated beyond what words can say.
Kathleen, really, all the things I want to say seem inadequate to express how grateful I am that you are willing to be my guide and hold my hand.

Ox Drover

KATHLEEN: Dear, thank you for that post,

QUOTE: “Oh, Frank’s doing his I-have-to-control-everything-to-keep-everyone-safe dance. Oh, Mary’s doing her if-you-don’t-sympathize-with-my-problems-I’m-going-to-become-more-disruptive-until-you-do dance. Oh, George is doing his Machiavellian obliterate-every-living-thing-that-stands-between-me-and-world-domination dance.”

Oh,yes! and we see this kind of behavior all the time in people we come into contact with outside our little “islands of safety” whether it is a clilent, a co-worker, a store clerk, a neighbor, whoever it is–WE CAN NOW SEE IT FOR WHAT IT IS! AND–we can choose to NOT let it throw us into a tizzy of anger and a dominance contest or otherwise engage in it to our detriment!

THANK YOU so much for this post! ((((hugs))))

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