parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior

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rtfm

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I am a consultant in a type of work that requires a lot of conversations that can be difficult even in healthy relationships, and the industry I work in draws people with a variety of traits that would be familiar to this board - whether due to fleas or PDs. I am also the adult child of an undiagnosed malignant narcissist and her enabler who has un-addressed PTSD and many PD traits. I was on this board a lot about 6 years ago when I was going no contact with them, and have been so grateful for this community even though I stopped posting awhile back.

The client that I'm about to fire has shown the most aggressive, overt N traits that I've experienced since going NC. Her behaviors have been severely triggering for me, harming my health and mental well being for the last several months that we've been engaged in the project. Stuff like shouting personally insulting things at me when a stressor arises on the project is not uncommon, for example. I have been largely blind to the difference between the normal stress in other client work and the toxic stress this woman causes me, even though others around me have gently tried to point out that something is different here.

Because of the work I do, I am accustomed to giving people a ton of space to process stress, since we create something together that can challenge hierarchies, work identities, and other things that can be seen as threatening if they're not pursued with sensitivity. The majority of people ultimately understand that I'm deliberately creating space for the feelings so we can address them when things are calmer, and re-focus on what we're building together. That approach has its ups and downs, and can be hard for me personally due to my background, but it almost always goes in ways that are within a normal spectrum of emotions and coping behaviors and has been pretty healing for me to deal with conflict in healthier ways.

This client has taken that space as permission to escalate the behaviors to the point that she crossed a line and we are terminating our engagement with them due to verbally abusive behavior. It's quite predictable that there's been a week of "no I didn't / yes you did" back and forth that finally has just resulted in our setting clear, calm, firm and professional boundaries and restating them every time it comes up.

I'm writing for a couple of reasons. First, just to have some community of people who understand what I'm going through. I have supportive friends and colleagues, but of course this is a work thing and to straight out say "my body is telling me I am in life-threatening danger right now so please understand my judgment is a little clouded" is not where I'm at with most people.

Second, as an ACON, my sensors for abusive behavior are totally whacked out - I knew something was wrong with this client, but I react to a lot of stuff and the vast majority of it isn't N behavior or abuse, just poor social skills or something personal to me that's easily and appropriately addressed when I'm calmer.  I was just blind to this in ways that, 6 years of NC and therapy and work later I'm frankly a little floored by and shocked by. Maybe it's because I wasn't expecting such personal stuff at work? Maybe it's because I've trained myself to give a lot of space and ignore a lot of stuff....? Anyway, I'm in a pretty bad place and hoping that someone has some thoughts on preparing for catching this a little earlier in the future and not letting it get so far.

Thanks for listening and thanks for the community.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2018, 05:04:26 PM by rtfm »

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Thru the Rain

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2018, 04:45:37 PM »
What a difficult thing to go through!

Firing a client is so hard! Culturally we have "the customer is always right" drummed into our consciousness. It's hard to break that programming.

I work directly with customers in my job, although it sounds like your job calls for you to get emotionally involved with your customers in a way that I don't have to do (thankfully!)

It's shocking when someone takes off their professional "mask"  at work and acts in ways that are out of line in any context.

Be kind to yourself regarding your reactions. Even after years of therapy, abuse is abuse, and it's hurtful and wrong. In fact, the therapy and work you've done have probably helped you reach the point of firing this client more quickly.

Imagine your reaction if someone physically assaulted you. You wouldn't even consider that your negative reaction was unusual. Verbal abuse is seen as "lesser" in our culture, but as many of us would agree, that assumption isn't true.


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Bloomie

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2018, 12:17:36 PM »
rtfm - I am sorry the professional relationship has turned abusive and grateful you have terminated it. I am also ACON and have been disheartened by how much abusive and unacceptable behavior I have allowed toward myself in a professional environment.

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Because of the work I do, I am accustomed to giving people a ton of space to process stress, since we create something together that can challenge hierarchies, work identities, and other things that can be seen as threatening if they're not pursued with sensitivity. The majority of people ultimately understand that I'm deliberately creating space for the feelings so we can address them when things are calmer, and re-focus on what we're building together. That approach has its ups and downs, and can be hard for me personally due to my background, but it almost always goes in ways that are within a normal spectrum of emotions and coping behaviors and has been pretty healing for me to deal with conflict in healthier ways.

Your strategy of giving time and space for an individual to use their own coping mechanisms to process their emotions and then redirecting the work flow/conversation back to the goal is working for you and has brought healing to you! That is a major achievement and something I hope you are very proud of. :applause:

My guess, there will be other clients that come your way that are high conflict and uPD like your recent experience. I am wondering... did you let this behavior go too far? And if so, how do you build in healthy thresholds for yourself to recognize sooner - before there is personal damage to you - when to step away from an abusive client?

I do recovery work every day. Centering, grounding, inner work is a part of my daily journey because my abuse history leaves me vulnerable in all kinds of ways to all kinds of things. Especially more abuse I have learned.  :'(

It may be something as simple as a short reading from a spiritual or encouraging from a book, meditation and prayer, watching a Youtube vid or TED talk that is enriching and empowering. But, every day I continue to press forward to healing and personal growth because I am determined to be my best self in this life both personally and professionally.

It seems like your job is emotionally demanding and you are especially good at holding space for others. That is a beautiful ability and often takes a toll. Some intentional self care and mindfulness work may be really helpful to you going forward.
Bloomie 🌸

The reality is that you cannot have an emotionally mature reciprocal mutual adult relationship with someone who is not emotionally and psychologically an adult.

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rtfm

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2018, 08:29:23 PM »
Thru the Rain and Bloomie, thank you for the thoughtful responses and kind support.

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Imagine your reaction if someone physically assaulted you. You wouldn't even consider that your negative reaction was unusual.
That is actually really revelatory - my physical reaction was not so different than if I'd been slapped. Since I wasn't, not only did I question my own response, but assumed that others wouldn't support my feeling that the person's behavior had crossed a line.

Which ties into Bloomie's question about whether I let it go too far - yes, absolutely I did. I didn't know how to differentiate between stuff I just sort of react to and let go and someone who has really crossed a line, and that's in part because I haven't done a good job of bringing most of my recovery work into my workplace or continuing to work on it daily. It shouldn't be separate - I'm the same person, after all - but I've kept it separate. And it should be ongoing - I'm not magically healed just because I'm a little better; this is a process. So I wasn't listening to my feelings, seeking what was under them, or doing other pause-and-reflect activities and wasn't taking good enough care of myself to allow for that work to occur.

If I'd been attentive and given myself space to process what had happened, I would've heard much more clearly that my reaction was dramatically different (as if I'd been slapped) the very first time this person was verbally abusive to me, instead of squashing and ignoring it. Normal emotional stuff never feels the same as abusive behavior when I'm paying attention and listening to my physical responses. By ignoring it, I let it happen unaddressed several more times before it escalated into something really bad. By not taking care of myself, I defaulted to "emergency" emotional squashing behaviors and that really clouded my ability to see what was going on.

Thank you for the reminders that healing is ongoing and it doesn't just stop being necessary when I go to work. And for the very practical advice. I'm grateful to you both.


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Bloomie

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2018, 08:52:07 PM »
You have a really  beautiful way of expressing what happens when I dissociate in response to poor treatment here:

Quote from: rtfm
If I'd been attentive and given myself space to process what had happened, I would've heard much more clearly that my reaction was dramatically different (as if I'd been slapped) the very first time this person was verbally abusive to me, instead of squashing and ignoring it. Normal emotional stuff never feels the same as abusive behavior when I'm paying attention and listening to my physical responses. By ignoring it, I let it happen unaddressed several more times before it escalated into something really bad. By not taking care of myself, I defaulted to "emergency" emotional squashing behaviors and that really clouded my ability to see what was going on.
This is a really helpful reminder for me as well. Thank you for sharing your process as it helps the rest of us as well. 
Bloomie 🌸

The reality is that you cannot have an emotionally mature reciprocal mutual adult relationship with someone who is not emotionally and psychologically an adult.

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Griffen

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2018, 12:13:06 AM »
I was on the verge of doing this with a former client when they took the initiative and ended things instead. I work with teens, and one of my former client's moms was definitely NPD - everything had to be about her, her, her. I managed to avoid the worst of it by sticking to email-only communication, but when I got the email saying "My kid doesn't need to work with you anymore," I was relieved even though I didn't agree. I feel like I dodged a serious bullet.

I feel for your situation.
"The people who hate it when you set boundaries are the people who benefited from you having none."

Queer male autistic with a uNPD/uBPD lesbian man-hating mom - gee, what could possibly go wrong?

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Swarley

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2018, 02:41:46 AM »
It sounds like you have a habit similar to mine, which is what I call "picking my battles to death".

Which is basically, I treat this incident or that as "no big deal" or "not that bad" because, mostly, I'm an easygoing person and I don't really want the emotional fallout of confronting it.....until the incidents add up, now it's a pattern and as you've said, the person has taken my allowing this as permission to take that liberty and even more, inch by inch, and I finally hit my limit and say a firm "no" and, boom, now it's a big deal and an issue.

It's hard enough with friends- I can only imagine with clients. I don't have any great answers, just- I get it.

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rtfm

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2019, 12:11:01 PM »
Thanks Griffin and Swarley for jumping in here too.

I am back on this thread because this client won't go away....it's utterly shocking to me that I wrote this first post almost two months ago, at what I thought was the end of an awful saga. It was not the end.

I had some responsibliity in deciding to take this client on, but I had a business partner who was theoretically in charge of sales, as well as the sales manager, all alerted to how bad all of this was. I was encouraged to continue on rather than telling the client to get lost early in the project, and am expected now - that I'm not even at the company any more - to continue to bear responsibility for this. I have stated repeatedly why former company are in no legal jeopardy, and sure, if client wants to start some kind of reputation thing we can't stop them any more than we can stop or control anybody else, good or bad. While the guy in charge of former company agrees that they're in no legal jeopardy, he is fixated on reputation, something I see only in hindsight but so clearly. That fixation was a component in my working 80-100 hours a week for 6 years, "rescuing" other people's screwups or off-the-rails projects. Most of those rescues were successful from the client perspective but led to a complete breakdown for me personally, that I'm not even close to recovered from. And of the few things I do deeply understand and practice daily - I know you can't control how people see you, you can only control the product you create and your integrity in creating it, which I have no concerns with in this case.

I don't really expect any answers here, I just have to process what's going on in a place that understands these dynamics, because I'm yet again being distracted for hours and days at a time away from my real work. Every email brings new compulsive thoughts, racing heart, stomach problems, catastrophizing, full danger-attention-hyperfocus on this rather than the many legitimate things I have to do to build a new life away from the former one.

I do not feel I'm within my rights to say no to continued trauma, because I somehow behaved wrongly by "abandoning" this client (reality check: we fired them for verbal abuse after setting boundaries in writing) and of course because I'm the only one actually responsible for this (reality check: there are many players on both sides of this conversation). Something new came in yesterday, ruined my Saturday night, I was in a tailspin fretting about whether I was overreacting so I decided to let it go, and woke up to an escalation Sunday morning. So I just basically said I'm done here and am now in a total freakout about it.

I read somewhere (about other things I'm trying to recover from) that I am serving a life sentence for crimes other people committed. It feels like so much truth - this situation would be stressful for anyone, sure, but for me it's put my mind and body fully back into the toxic stew that I fought so hard to get out of when I went NC, and it's making me sick, unable to focus on me because this client is loudly screaming demands that she be the only focus in the world, and others are helping her scream it.

Mostly I'm just venting and freaking out in a safe space. I'm holding back some details that could identify me, former company or client so there may be some things I can't really answer in what might seem somewhat baffling, sorry about that. Thanks for listening.

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Bloomie

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2019, 11:01:26 AM »
rtfm - I am thankful you shared the ongoing detrimental impact this person and their high conflict behavior is having on your life. I am so sorry this is continuing and causing you such stress and robbing you of blocks of time and peace of mind.

I wanted to pop a link in to a resource about managing emotional flashbacks by Pete Walker. His work has been really helpful to me in working through the spin cycle I can go into when confronted with a PD person who will not go away is is kicking up dust.

http://pete-walker.com/13StepsManageFlashbacks.htm

To the left of the screen, if you decide to check out the article, you will see a list of other helpful articles that address how to shrink the inner and outer critic and that talks through the four trauma responses many of us contend with when triggered.

I love the reality checks you give yourself and the assertion that you do not have to pay for this person's "crimes" any longer. Peace and strength to you!
Bloomie 🌸

The reality is that you cannot have an emotionally mature reciprocal mutual adult relationship with someone who is not emotionally and psychologically an adult.

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Thru the Rain

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Re: parting ways with a uNPD client / identifying unreconcilable behavior
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2019, 02:34:21 PM »
Just for clarification, you no longer work for the company where this person was a customer - and someone thinks this is STILL your responsibility?

It sounds like it's not just the customer who was toxic - but maybe also the person you worked for?

I would visualize a giant pair of scissors cutting all the strings that tie you to these people.

If you KNOW there's no legal liability here, just drop the rope. Let these people drift out of your life. Think of it as releasing them back into the wild.

I realize I don't have all the details, so I may be off-base. But seriously consider taking any reputational hit as a the price to pay for some peace.