Illness can push people into the paranoid-schizoid position – advice sought..

I think my husband may have this could you offer any advice to me please, especially how to react to it and how to get him some help. 

This came as a comment but I think it deserves a new page.

What is the best way to react when someone you care about has retreated into a paranoid-schizoid position?  This is a very difficult question, and of course there is no simple answer.  I’ve collected a few thoughts which might help – but there are good reasons why counsellors do not give advice; it is too easy to make suggestions which are misunderstood or irrelevant or even make things worse, when you don’t know all the details of a situation.  And everyone’s situation is different.  So I offer these suggestions for you to think about – but please use your own common sense too!

Understanding may help. In particular, understanding their fears, for example, their fear that their life may  be under threat, perhaps through their own fault.  They may also be afraid of the threat to your life, though this may be more hidden.

One husband reacted to a worsening disability by behaving very aggressively towards his wife, so that she often threatened to leave him while never really thinking through the implications.  In counselling she thought seriously about leaving, and came to the conclusion that she preferred to stay.  When she told him this, he changed and it became evident that his aggressive behaviour was at least partially a result of his anxiety that she would indeed leave.  He was perhaps trying to provoke the outcome he feared most, partly because waiting for what he thought was ‘the inevitable’ was unbearable.

Unfortunately, understanding may not be sufficient.  Some people hate being understood.  Some will see your understanding as just another example of something good which you have and they do not, and may react by attacking you again.

Reducing guilt can also sometimes help.  This may be hard if the other person shows no signs of feeling guilty, but you may be able to work out that they might be feeling guilty about something. Finding a way of making them feel less guilty may help, particularly if previously you wanted them to accept their guilt.  Guilt may be inevitable; it may also be shared and blame reduced.

You can ask yourself ‘what does he make me feel?’  When people are functioning in a paranoid-schizoid way they often try to get rid of their own feelings into others – particularly those nearest and dearest to them.  If he makes you feel tired, or guilty or afraid or furious – you can then ask yourself ‘does he have reason to feel tired, guilty, afraid or furious?  Perhaps about the same thing?  Sometimes this helps.

A middle-aged single woman always felt guilty that she didn’t love her mother enough.  Talking this through with a counsellor she realised that her mother perhaps had reason to feel she hadn’t loved her, her daughter, enough, for reasons to do with her birth.  This thought liberated her, she was able to discuss it with her mother (who admitted the problem) and begin a new, much better relationship.

Unfortunately, again, this happy outcome cannot be guaranteed. 

You can seek counselling yourself.  Someone who is in the grip of paranoid-schizoid feelings may not react kindly to the suggestion that they try counselling, but you may be able to find help and support yourself, which, in turn, helps him to feel better.  Counselling may help you to find ways of reacting which lead to better relations. 

Timing:  People do not usually stay in the paranoid-schizoid position all the time.  There may be times when your husband feels a bit better.  If you watch for these you may be able to talk to him about what is going on at these times. 

A young wife complained that her husband never listened to her. It turned out that she always tried to get his attention in the evening when he wanted to listen to the sports news.  She hadn’t registered how important this was to him – to her, it was clear that she should take precedence over sport.  She hadn’t realised she was trying to compete.   Once she accepted that he had an interest she did not share, she found a different time to talk to him and he turned out to be a good listener.

The Harvard Negoitiation Project has published two books which might help:

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In:  Roger Fisher and William Ury (New York: Penguin Books, 1983).

Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most  :  Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen  (Penguin books,1999)

Let me know if any of this helps!

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About thetroublewithillness

I've been a counsellor for people with physical illnesses for a long time now, and learnt a lot about what it's like living with your own or someone else's illness. I want to pass some of this on.
This entry was posted in carers, counselling, emotions related to illness, health, illness, talking about feelings. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Illness can push people into the paranoid-schizoid position – advice sought..

  1. Pingback: Where are our emotional conflicts? | Finding the wiser way

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