I know a lot of people who aren’t precisely broken, but they are definitely somewhat dented. A lot of them are dented and re-dented in the same places, for the simple reason that they keep re-playing the same movie. It’s not just the fact that they are not always able to dislodge long-term situations that plague them – which, whatever people who don’t know any better may pontificate, isn’t always easy. Their main concern is that, even in brand new settings, they seem to end up in the same old situations. They date the same problem guys, they fight the same nightmare co-workers, they get exploited by the same one-sided friendships, and so on.
Freud put it down to “repetition compulsion“: “a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again.”
Many self-defence experts put it down to “victim vibes”: people who look or act “weaker” – awkward, meek, excessively eager to please, etc. – are bound to attract the wrong attention.
These problem with these two stock solutions isn’t just that they’ve become dogma, liable to be crowbarred into every conceivable situation by people who may not even know enough to even have the right to venture an opinion. The problem is that they often leave the affected people with no visible way out.
If you’ve got a compulsion to re-create your abuse, what can you do? You’re pretty much left with sucking it up, avoiding certain types of situations altogether, or embarking in years of therapy until the mental bolus that forces you down the same tortuous paths is dislodged. In the meanwhile, you can sprinkle some more misery all over your life by blaming yourself for all your troubles.
If you’re emitting victim vibes, what can you do? Radically change your personality, your physique, or your behaviour? What if you can’t change some or even all of it, or if you can’t change it fast enough? There are things that, with the best will in the world, you can’t just magically alter. I’ll forever be under 5′ tall. Stephen Hawking will always be in a wheelchair. People with social anxiety can’t just shrug it off as if it was an old coat. Yet again, you’re left both stuck and blaming yourself.
Moreover, what if you don’t feel “wrong”, but “wronged”? What if you don’t want to be more muscular, more assertive, or more outgoing? What if you if you actually like yourself the way you are? Are your choices to effectively self-damage, or to be damaged by others?
It could be simply my preference for stupid solutions over complicated problems, but I wonder if we’re not overthinking all of this. I wonder if the problem isn’t our subconscious tripping us up, or a mysterious aura attracting evil people to us. I wonder if the problem is just that we keep making bad choices, and all we need to do is to cut that out.
For example, say the problem is that we repeatedly date narcissists. It could be that a subconscious compulsion make us seek out narcissists from the general community. It could be that we are sending out a vibe attracting narcissists to us. Or it could just be that, when faced with narcissistic behaviours, we don’t kick the bastards out of our lives when someone “normal” would. It could be that everyone on the planet meets precisely the same proportion of narcissists as we do, but they all slam doors in their narcissistic faces rather than put up with their nonsense. So instead of having a tortured long-term connection with the narcissist in question and scars to show for it, they just have an unpleasant half hour they can file under “meh.”
Let me give you an example. Say you go out on a date with a person, and their behaviour is less than appropriate; they turn up ludicrously and unjustifiably late, they ogle the waiting staff, they get plastered and start misbehaving, they stick you with the bill, they push for after-dinner erm erm entertainment, whatever. How about instead of wringing your hands about why you keep picking them, or why they keep picking you, you just don’t go on a second date? Yes, this may leave you temporarily dateless, but it will also leave you narcissistless. Problem solved.
Yes, this is bleeding obvious. But it works, and it works now. This approach gives me something concrete I can do, something that can improve my life right here and right now, and also something I can continuously work on until I’m happy with it, until it becomes instinctual. And you know what? I don’t care if I’m wrong or I’m right, and I don’t care if I’m right for the wrong reasons. I just care that this way works.
….And after I wrote that, someone sent me this. Really really REALLY worth a watch.