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Redefining personal/relational reality to suit their view of themselves

This is a section of a longer paper. There is a roadmap for the entire paper, and you can download the PDF.

Not only do those who exhibit SBCMB tend to describe morality primarily in reference to themselves (see above); it seems that they also often redefine personal/relational reality to suit their view of themselves. That is, their conversation and statements often suggest that their understanding of the truth about any personal relationship—how it is currently working, how it has worked in the past, and how it “should” work in the future—is significantly distorted and out of step with reality. It appears from their behaviour that they have a “reality” in their minds that is not the same as actual reality as it would be recognised by most other people. They seem to have constructed a view of personal/relational reality that revolves around themselves, and their relationship with others involves getting those others to live in their world, and not vice-versa.

This means they can sometimes display a disconcertingly loose relationship with objective truth when it comes to describing the past and present of their relationship with you. Their words—and seemingly even their thoughts—do not necessarily match reality in this area. Furthermore, they seem to change their memories of past exchanges with you—even exchanges in the recent past—to fit the reality that is in their minds. It’s difficult, and perhaps impossible, to work out whether they are deliberately lying, since they seem to firmly believe their own self-constructed reality. Nevertheless, the effect is the same as the effect of actual lying. They cannot be relied on to have a true view of reality when it comes to personal (and professional) relationships. Hence, normal categories of relating to a person—things like assuming truth, coherence and consistency in making promises and remembering to keep them or in describing past conversations—don’t necessarily apply. You can see how thinking the best of them and taking them at their word just doesn’t work at this point.

This is one reason that relating to a person exhibiting SBCMB can end up feeling like being gaslighted. Because they appear to be so firmly convinced of their own distorted reality and self-modified memories, you yourself can end up being seen as—or feeling yourself to be—the crazy one, just for trying to be consistent in your own patterns of relating and memories. And the closer you are to a person exhibiting SBCMB, the more serious the effects on you may be.

I (Bronwyn) prayerfully wrote a letter to a dearly loved person in my life in which I laid out significant areas—along with specific examples—in which their relational behaviour towards me had affected me in deeply negative ways. The person acknowledged that they had heard me, expressed sorrow, asked for forgiveness, and expressed a desire to relate well in future. I joyfully forgave them, but for some months they continued to exhibit exactly the same kind of behaviour that I had pointed out was problematic in the letter. When I briefly raised the same issues again, the person justified their behaviour as simply a “natural” way to communicate, implying that I was being inexplicably unfair and should try to relate differently myself. This response seemed only to have in mind my most recent (brief) communication. It was as if the detailed letter I had previously written, along with their own strongly-worded expressions of acknowledgement, sorrow and a desire to change, simply did not exist. The relationship felt like it was only happening “in the present” with no reference to anything in the past—even though it was the recent past. Reality was being modified in “real time” to suit the person’s view of themselves in the moment.

So far we have described two broad patterns of SBCMB: defining morality in terms of themselves, and redefining personal/relational reality to suit themselves. These broad patterns can be better understood by describing more specific patterns.

Read the next section: Some specific features of SBCMB

Copyright © 2021 Lionel and Bronwyn Windsor

Note well: Because of time and energy constraints, we’re not personally able to respond to any queries or comments about this paper. So please realise in advance that if you send us a message about this paper, you are unlikely to receive any response from us.

To read the whole paper: Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours

Slow-burn crazy-making behavioursOnline: a roadmap for the entire paper Download the entire PDF

You may also like: Lift Your Eyes

Lift Yours Eyes is a series of 70 reflections covering every sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It’s also available in audio podcast format. You can see all the posts in the series, and connect to the audio podcast using the platform of your choice, by following this link.



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