[Personality filter] She is driving me crazy!!!
February 12, 2013 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what is going on with this person and feel some empathy.

I am in a support group where there is one participant who:

-Laughs nervously and very loudly and too long at things that are not funny
-Gets very quiet and hostile when anyone contradicts her
-Occasionally explodes in rage if she is challenged
-Refuses to participate in quiet meditation and passive-aggressively fidgets the entire time
-Is almost NEVER open to new ideas or suggestions
-Almost NEVER opens herself up to vulnerability
-Reports a lot of conflict with co-workers, family, etc.
-But is often self-denigrating in broad ways

Additionally, I'm afraid to confront her about the above issues because I don't want the messy negative reaction and feel like she will most likely bolt from the group, which is tempting but not the ethical solution.

I don't necessarily need/expect a diagnosis, I just feel like if I had some insight, I could better empathize with her but right now, I just wish she would go away and stop inhibiting the group!
posted by Sophie1 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why is it not an ethical solution when the purpose of group therapy is to help EVERYONE? I'm surprised the moderator/therapist of the group isn't saying something. So...either she needs to go or you do. You are not in control of this group nor should you be. If you're not getting anything out of it because of a lame participant, find another group. You need to focus on you, not fixing other people to be a happy place for everyone. She's in therapy for a reason--probably wondering what happened in her life instead of looking at herself and her actions.
posted by stormpooper at 10:43 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm afraid to confront her about the above issues because I don't want the messy negative reaction

If this were a therapeutic support group (i.e., run by a therapist), doing this kind of work would be the whole point, but I'm not totally sure whether that's what you're talking about. Her displays of anger and hostility seem like a likely problem for everyone, and it's a problem that won't be solved if you don't talk to her about it.

Outside of that, it might be that you just don't like her, to some degree. I guess I would ask whether you're sure her other behaviors bother everyone else and is "inhibiting the group." If she refuses to meditate, if she can't accept help, if she doesn't like herself--why are those things your problem? Ask yourself whether they are actually problems for you, because they don't need to be. Holding them differently might make your experience more pleasant.

Whatever is going on with her, she sounds like she is very, very scared and doesn't feel safe in her body or in the world.
posted by liketitanic at 10:43 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

This person sounds extremely insecure and self-conscious—it doesn't sound like she's secure enough with herself and/or her position in the group to take part in a way that's useful to herself or others. Are there ways the group could help draw her out a bit and solicit her opinions and thoughts and/or give her positive feedback when she's contributing in a positive way?
posted by limeonaire at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2013

She's an introvert, big time. She is living in her own head, not picking up on or responding well to social cues. And she sounds very, very unhappy and sad.

You didn't ask for advice, but I'd suggest you do a couple things -- listen hard to her when she speaks and try to respond to that instead of bringing up her behavior or confronting her. And ask yourself what's going on with you that makes her so hard for you. You could just note her behavior and not let it affect you, but it seems as though it is hitting a nerve for you and you may want to figure that out.
posted by bearwife at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry that this is a bit glib, but...she's in a support group because she's having mental health issues, right? So...isn't that why you are all there? I've attended group conselling and I don't believe it's fair of anyone to expect all participants to be exactly delightful given the hardships they are suffering. I don't understand why/how you would confront her. The right thing to do is ask her questions that may guide her towards some personal insight, offer gentle, helpful advice, and let the leader do the rest. If anything, I would ask the group leader privately about your discomfort with her behaviour. Beyond that, I guess if the group sessions are not helpful to you, it would be in your best interest to join a new group.
posted by kitcat at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Don't know how much this will (much of it sounds like nerves or how she processes information), but

...Occasionally explodes in rage if she is challenged....

Is someone moderating or running the group? I would put this on them and talk to the moderator after the group and just say that you don't feel comfortable with how some people respond with rage if he/she is challenged. I'm not even there but I would not feel comfortable or safe attending if someone did this, so you can request this on behalf of a healthy environment for the group. I would not point out how X does it, but as something that you don't feel comfortable with anyone doing. Then the hope would be that the moderator would set it up as a rule or remind people how to behave, etc.

...Is almost NEVER open to new ideas or suggestions....

You could ask this during the group session. I would try to ask in a non-confrontational way in the spirit of curiosity. If she shoots every suggestion down, just ask and emphasize that it is not meant as an attack, but just to help you understand or other people to understand-What does she get out of this and what does she want? It could be asked with the goal of finding her solutions that she wants. But she 1) may have no idea she is doing this or 2) maybe she can articulate if she just wants people to hear her, or whatever it is that she gets out of the group. Then at least you could understand this part of her behavior and the group may be able to help her with whatever it is she is seeking.
posted by Wolfster at 11:13 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

The way for you to cope with this is to meditate on the fact that it is seriously unlikely that this woman engages in any of these behaviors specifically to antagonize you, or anyone else.
posted by trunk muffins at 11:18 AM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

A support group that I attend intermittently appears to be going through some variant of this now. I haven't been in a few months, but the weekly emails from the moderator (reminding of time, any after-group events scheduled, etc.) started as a series of gentle reminders of appropriate group behavior, and have escalated into an ongoing discussion of developing group guidelines. I gather that over the past month or so, the group has been devoting a few minutes of each week to talking through what they would like attendee behavior to be, and writing guidelines together.

Reading through the lines of the emails, I suspect one or two people began to create uncomfortable situations for others and the moderator was asked to try to guide the group through this process.

This is an entirely volunteer-moderated group run by people who have, or have loved ones with, a particular mental health situation. I don't know if this is how it would be handled in a group run by a clinician or some other trained moderator. But it seems like possibly a way ahead for your group - maybe you can agree upon some behavior standards as a group. Exploding in rage? Probably totally unacceptable. Fidgeting while others meditate? I'd have to say that's probably not unreasonable. If the fidgeting consists of something like lots of loud sighs and tapping and rustling around, though, maybe the suggestion could be that anyone who doesn't want to participate goes into an adjoining room for 15 minutes to allow the meditation folks the quiet time they need. Maybe as a group you can come up with some compromises like that.
posted by Stacey at 11:27 AM on February 12, 2013

This is almost impossible to answer without knowing more about the group. Who runs it? What is the goal? What are the rules/parameters you've all agreed on? Can you meet with the facilitator outside of the group setting?

I wonder if you need more insight to empathize with her? What about practicing empathy just because she's someone experiencing problems that have brought her into this group? You may not need to understand her behavior to support her. It may be more profitable to think about why these behaviors grate on you so much. Usually there's a reason for these things.
posted by Miko at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

If this is a self-moderated group, you might consider inviting a therapist to join you to facilitate a few meetings to restore a more balanced dynamic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:38 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work with a woman who could be the woman you are describing. (The nervous laughter, what is that?). I do think she is incredibly self-conscious and has super low self-esteem. Beyond that, it's really hard to tell what's up with her.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:54 AM on February 12, 2013

and by "self-conscious", I think I might mean "self-centered". Everything is filtered through her lens and she doesn't have a lot of self awareness about how she looks to everyone else.

(sorry about the two responses - I hit the wrong button)
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2013

I wonder if she has PTSD, especially complex PTSD, or borderline personality disorder. She may have experienced some really awful situations in the past, especially in childhood. Maybe some of the group content triggers her or causes her to dissociate (or both). It could be that she associates even constructive criticism with a past event or living situation.

That doesn't mean she's a good fit for your group or that it's okay. But you asked about trying to be more empathetic. So maybe read up on those sorts of things and see if it makes sense.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:48 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

She's an introvert, big time. She is living in her own head, not picking up on or responding well to social cues. And she sounds very, very unhappy and sad.

I disagree that any of this means she's an introvert (though she could be). I think she's just a very insecure and unhappy person.
posted by ethidda at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

As an introvert (big time), I take offense to the idea this woman's behavior is due to introversion. That doesn't seem like a reasonable analysis. More generally, I doubt any of us could give a reasonable analysis, given the information provided... which, OP, you seem to recognize.

Does the group have any explicit rules? Or, could the rules be made more explicit? For instance, if there was an explicit rule, "Participants are expected to be quiet and polite during meditation times, in order to avoid distracting the others," that would give you a way to address her passive-aggressive fidgeting. "Woman, right now, please try to be more quiet and polite, because we are meditating. Remember, that's Rule 5."

Granted, she likely would explode or get hostile at the suggestion she's breaking the rules... But at least it would help structure confrontations with her and keep the group going. And, while it may seem to be unethical to kick someone out of a support group for generally being unpleasant, it most certainly is acceptable to kick someone out for failing to follow the group's rules.

Now, if your group doesn't generally function this way, how can you set up some ground rules? Or, if your group already has some on the books that just aren't regularly consulted, how can you start following them again? I agree with the suggestions above that some sort of guide or supervisor could be helpful. If you haven't discussed these issues with the rest of the group, maybe you could suggest bringing in a therapist, at least for a session or two, for advice or suggestions?
posted by meese at 1:17 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

My first few group sessions with mindfulness meditation were awful. I have huge anxiety issues and closing my eyes in a group situation, and not monitoring everyone's movements via noise obsessively was incredibly difficult. I am sure I fidgeted annoyingly those first few sessions, and I know one of them it must have been horribly disruptive (the tape we were listening to was a man's voice and I just. could. not.) so there's that. I have/had GAD and something like PTSD (diagnosed by a counsellor though) so there is that. Telling me I was disruptive wouldn't have helped because I had to get through that to get to a point where I could.

That said there was another woman who was incredibly difficult about a lot of things but we were there because shit was difficult for us. I'm grateful that I was able to eventually deal with my issues an participate without panic attacks/flashbacks. It was obviously harder for her and even if that difficulty is her refusing to open up, that's for a reason, y'know?
posted by geek anachronism at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2013

Try imagining them as someone with a beartrap around their leg which the rest of the world can't see. This is a person who is trying to cope with pain by using short-term fixes (yelling at people who say hurtful things) that cause long-term damage (being unable to receive helpful but painful advice) and they are miserable as a result. This is a cloud of misery that they see the world through, and they may very well imagine that everyone else is as distressed or that the entire world is angry and painful. Their behaviour has very very little to do with you, even when it feels directed at you. It's the beartrap.

You should talk to the group organiser about the dynamics so they can tactfully get the group to agree on guidelines, but in the meantime, go out of your way to find one positive thing to think about her and if you can, to mention to her even if it's trivial like "I appreciate how you always help set up the room for our group" or "That's a really nice cardigan, the colour suits you." If you're stuck with her, you need to stock a mental bank of positives to draw against when she irritates you.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:48 PM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm going to challenge you and ask - why do you care? It sounds as if you are hyper-focused on this person and their reactions. Is there a reason that you are paying attention to them and not to the reasons you are participating in the group? She sounds awkward and uncomfortable, maybe self-conscious and out of place, but honestly, I find this question unkind.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:53 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

From what the OP says above, it sounds like she cares because this woman is inhibiting the rest of the group.
posted by 41swans at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2013

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