Sunday, November 29, 2015

Part Two: Some Call them "Whiners", Drawing a Picture

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I think that at times in my life I have battled my own tendencies toward being a challenging temperament...a little. But I'm generally a very mellow person, quite low key. In my family growing up, some major people in my family are people who are of this temperament, challenging. Now with my daughter being of a challenging personality temperament, I'm the dang sandwich generation. 

No wonder this personality type has been the bane of my existence and the focus of so much of my energy and thought. Both my mother and my daughter mean alot to me and my relationship with each of them requires that I spend time contemplating situations: what is going on? What is hidden? What is being communicated? What will help the situation that my challenging one has created? What part have I played? When do I need some space? What is unsaid in this situation? 

What exactly do I mean when I talk about a challenging temperament? Let me describe the type of things you might notice in a person. But the truth is, I'm just flying by my own experiences here; your post might read differently.

In some families the challenging person is very often misunderstood and maligned. They are often called whiners, complainers, killjoys, bitches, and more. This person has exhausted people. These people may complain and be negative so much and so often that they push people away from them. Many people choose to stay away for the cycle of negativity that a person of this temperament might bear with them. I guess you can figure out your challenging person by how exhausted you feel after an interaction with them.

In my case, I generally see some of these things:

  • This person is inconsolable. Their problems are larger and worse than yours.
  • This person vacillates between depression and anger and feeling simultaneously powerless and at fault.
  • When confronted, this person will reveal a complex morass of confusion and anger that doesn't seem to be based fully in reality.
  • This person is convinced that no one can understand how difficult their life is.
  • This person tends to react in fairly large ways because they are convinced that their emotions are far too large to contain. Additionally, they are convinced that they have every right to express those emotions freely and without check.
  • Understanding and investigation happens second: reactive explosion happens first.
  • The complaints are ongoing and seem to reflect obsessive thinking, or an inability to see beyond their own situation.
  • This person may have frequent minor physical complaints and require special care.
  • This person will explain why their issues are endless and will up the ante if you attempt to bring in a larger-world perspective.
  • This person finds a certain amount of comfort or familiarity in their depression or sad state.
  • This person might seem to be seething much of the time.
  • This person might seem to resist intimacy while simultaneously crave it.
  • Any attempt to be solution-focused is met with frustration, indignation, or exasperation.
  • This person may feel defeated by life in general and alone in their battle with it.
  • This person's reactions to seemingly small things reflects their perception that the world is unfairly stacked against them.
  • And this person is completely unaware of how difficult, dramatic, and unrealistic their reactions are to handle and they seem to operate from a position of expecting to not be liked or loved.

Truly each challenging person has their own constellation of provocations and characteristics. Probably the threads running through many of these folks is the certainty that their conflicts are harder than most people's, that no one understands or appreciates their challenges, and that they don't have good self-soothe skills. Also, please note that these characteristics are listed from an outsider's perspective and not from the perspective of the person in question.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have I caught the essence of you or of your loved one? If so, please stick around. I have devised some efficacious actions and interventions that might be useful to you to explore and to understand.


In my third post of this series I plan on talking about what works if you are a challenging person or if you have a challenging person in your life. And the fourth and final post will talk about additional ideas and suggestions.

Figuring this temperament out has been an important goal in my life, yet I'm sure my efforts will fall short. Not only is my own beloved daughter of this temperament but others in my family as well. If you are of this temperament or if you love someone of this temperament, stay with me. 
I hope you will share your thoughts on this series of posts as well. I'm not a scientist, but I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this and I'd love to hear your thoughts, struggles, and insights as well.


  1. Sounds a bit like borderline personality disorder which I struggle with as well as various members of my family (since there is a genetic component to it). It can be hard but I have come a long way in the last almost 3 years since starting treatment for it. I still have some struggles but one thing I have noticed is I have more of an ability to pause and think and not just react. I also am noticing far more often my happiness and not the sense of empty darkness I used to have in the past. Still have a little ways to go on things but I'm working on it. Teen years, I remember, were really rough though.

    1. I'm quite familiar with Borderline Personality Disorder (I'm a former LCSW and I've worked in the mental health field for many years) and I have thought about that. But there is a focus on interpersonal relationship instability and volatility as well as issues of personal identity that don't seem to come into play with my daughter. But you are on the right path with the suggestion that there is seems to be a definable set of characteristics.

      In my family this temperament is quite common and yet does not have a dx. I might be the first one in the history of the world to identify this temperament. ;) LOL
      Perhaps I should give it a name; I think I will call it hashtagunfun


    2. Looking at your next entry, I suspect that the fact that she IS validated and you do work so hard to have that validating environment for her helps a lot. Borderline needs both the sensitivity and extreme emotions as well as an invalidating environment. The invalidating environment, I suspect, tends to push the interpersonal relationship issues more and probably the personal identity issues.

      I am most definitely borderline having both the sensitivity, the extreme emotions, and past invalidating environment (and some now). My behavior towards others was absolutely awful when I was angry because that was the only way I could be heard. It has improved massively with DBT.

      In your next entry, you do do a lot of things that those of us in DBT learn to do in as far as coping skills especially for regulating emotions (distraction, self-soothing, etc).

      I'm seeing a little bit of the sensitivity in both of my girls and am trying to be more aware of how I can help them with their emotions. My husband is not always the best help though because he tends to scoff at anything regarding emotions (why I'm still somewhat in an invalidating environment myself). But at least having been in the program for almost three years now, I'm much more able to regulate my emotions and be aware of how I'm feeling without reacting.

      But boy, could I have used this back when I was a teenager! Would have made such a difference!

    3. You know, you are on to something here.
      Maybe this is what you get when you have BPD propensities and you live with people who are loving and caring and truly on your side.

      Thanks, Janeen. :)

      OH, and an additional point, at this point of her life, a doctor would not use a diagnosis of BPD because she is still too young and, therefore, still processing and maturing, and learning patterns and whatnot.


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