Saturday, January 28, 2006

Emotional Dumping Grounds

Joanna from Salisbury writes to ask me why I hate cats. I think she’s referring to a comment from an earlier post where I wrote of the dangers of Kombucha.

I feel I should explain.

I don’t hate cats.

Honestly, I don't.

The issue isn’t about cats. The issue is about how other people behave when they hear that I am a nurse and psychotherapist. You see, people who aren’t my clients or patients tend to assume that I actually enjoy hearing about their problems, their husband’s eternal infidelities, this week’s latest emotional crisis or how the sore on their cat’s ear is doing.

It’s why I never use the canteen or staff areas on my lunch breaks.

As a therapist, the pleasure from my job comes from being able to solve problems and assist people to change, not to listen to drivel for hours from people who have no intention of ever changing.

On hearing of my profession, the other reaction is for people to try to hold me accountable for the terrible way uncle Derek was treated when he was in hospital having his prostate operation; or they demand that I explain what has gone wrong in the NHS; or want to know the latest on MRSA and hospital cleaning staff budgets.


I have one - fortunately remote - relative who regularly demonstrates his complete lack of understanding about health care provision by always telling me, “Oh, I thought you’d be a doctor by now?” and then insisting upon telling me all about the political drives within the NHS before asking me for my opinion on such matters.

(I really don't know, honestly, that isn't what I do)

So whilst it might seem heartless to say that I don’t care about the cat, the emotional crisis or the infidelities, it really isn’t intended as a negative. It isn’t about that.

It is about social survival.

It all started when I learned a valuable lesson when I was 18. Spotty, social awkward and uncomfortable in my gangly limbs that resulted from a late growth spurt, I found myself approached at a bar by a slightly older, yet highly delectable young woman.

“Well, are you going to buy me a drink?” she said looking at me much like a vampire cat eyes its prey.

I couldn’t believe my luck. My anxiously fumbled wallet sprang out from my pocket and a double G&T was ordered faster than you could shout, “premature ejaculation!”

“Thanks,” she said as I handed her the drink. She didn’t say anything else. She just walked off back to her friends and continued to have fun.

I stood there like a dork - dying a thousand deaths - whilst trying to look unaffected and cool.

How is this relevant, you may ask? Well, I noticed a pattern with the “emotional dumpers” – you know, the ones who only ever come to you with the latest crisis, hurt and misery they are desperate to tell at length. You know the ones. They are professionally helpless and lurch from one crisis to another. When one issue resolves, they immediately locate another and they’ll be round again next week to tell you all about it.

I'm not talking about close friends and family here, or other relationships that are multi-dimensional - I'm talking about those helpless souls that only come to you with a crisis. Crisis is how they relate to people. It's their "thing".

I noticed a pattern.

They dump their misery on you – and when they feel better, they go off somewhere else and have fun over there. They never come to you for fun. Oh no. They have other people for that.

They come to you for a misery transfer!

They only come to you because you are the one that plays their misery game.

They get a drink at your expense and then they go off and have fun elsewhere with the fun people. They don't think of you as one of the fun people.

It’s for this reason I’ve stopped telling people socially what I do for a living. Last night was a case in point. I was at a party and I made the fatal mistake letting slip my profession whilst telling a story.

It happened immediately.

A girl within the group hijacked the story – which up until that point was light hearted – and we were all regaled with a 30-minute rendition of the domestic crisis that seems to follow her around everywhere she goes.

And then…..and....... then…… she..... asks……me…....the….. fatal…..question…..

“So, what do you think?”


What do I think? How the hell should I know? My brain went into coma within the first three minutes of her miserable tale of helpless woe. It's a conditioned survival response, I'm sure. But now I have a problem. She wants my opinion and I am now being made into an active participant in her game - if i contribute anything now, it'll surely only encourage her. This situation was suddenly very desperate.

I looked up. All eyes were on me waiting for my response – I could sense the desperation of polite people.

Please, their eyes implored, please do something or please tell her to fuck off or something, help us, please!!

But I didn’t say anything. I just jumped up out of my chair and bounced across the room to where people were having fun. No polite exits - just cut and bounce.

Precisely 45 seconds later this girl was at the bar with her tongue down some random guy’s throat. It’s amazing how quickly people switch their emotional state when no one will play that game with them.

I do wonder if that guy bought her a drink afterwards though.


Anonymous James said...

Andy, Hi. Thanks for writing a great blog.

If you want an alternative hell-on-earth experience at parties, try telling people you work with computers...

Every support problem ever retold in loving detail...

So far I've found telling people that I'm a Tai Chi teacher to be a much better tactic. Usually a few mildly interested comments and then on to the next topic.

4:03 PM  

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