Monday, January 17, 2011

Demand Resistance

For some reason I keep coming across a concept called 'demand resistance' these days. I don't know quite why I'm seeing it everywhere lately, but I figured I'd take it as a sign or lesson from the Universe. Heaven knows you don't want to ignore those kinds of lessons; after all the Universe has ways of making you pay attention.

I suppose I should explain it first. Demand resistance is when someone asks something of you and your inner two-year old automatically screams NO!! Or, in more sciency terms: demand resistance is an unconscious chronic negative response to obligations or expectations.

I was horrified, absolutely horrified, to read about it. Because when someone asks or expects something of me, yes, it's true, my first thought is always, No, don't! It's a trap! Or something like that. At any rate it's something bad, and means that somebody wants something from me, which is never good. And then I thought, Oh no that makes me a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person!

But then an adult level of reason and common sense kicked in, and some kindness for the self, manifesting, as usual lately, in anger.

So I went and looked it up, via Google, to get the official definition and maybe some of the why of it. And lo and behold when I started typing it into Google look what it prompted me to complete:

Why look at that. Second one down. That's right; it just so happens that demand-resistance is characteristic of OCPD, or obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Further research tells me that the term comes from a book called Too Perfect: When Being In Control Gets Out of Control, by Dr. Allan Mallinger and Jeannette DeWyze, about 'obsessive' personalities.

Gosh, guess who had obsessive compulsive personality disorder? As I've been fond of repeating round these parts, my hoarding father had OCPD in fucking spades. He was severe, and absolutely textbook, by which textbook I mean of course the DSM-IV. Oh not that he was ever officially diagnosed; that would have required him to be in some kind of therapy, and there was nothing wrong with him, oh no of course not. It was everyone else in the world who was wrong.

It's all so circular, you know? Oh I don't suppose it's much better with other personality disorders; part of the problem is that it's all perfectly good and normal to the person with the disorder. But part of OCPD, specifically, is the need for control, and the stubborn pathological insistence that one is absolutely perfectly right all the time.

Although the term 'demand resistance' seems rather inadequate when describing my father. If asked to do something, even something he said he'd do, his 'resistance' was out of all proportion. He'd start yelling pretty much first thing, and go off on how everyone (okay, usually my mom) was always nagging him, or why he couldn't do it right now, or how didn't he have any rights too in this house and it was SO UNFAIR! And then he wouldn't do it. Ever. You could, if you were insanely patient, and, as someone who attempted to practice this approach, let me tell you 'insanely' is the correct word, you could maybe, if you were lucky, if the stars aligned, if he was in an inexplicably and completely unpredictably decent mood, get him talking, a little, about what you wanted, no, usually, to be honest, what you desperately needed him to do and which he adamantly would not let anyone else do, like, say, fix the faucet so it didn't drip so he could turn the water on to it again, or, say, install the water heater that's been sitting there for years, or, fix the car so there was less possibility of it quitting so that Mom could go somewhere in it by herself and didn't have to take him along, which, let's face it, he didn't want to do either, or... well, I'm sure you get the picture. Pretty much anything and everything regarding basic household maintenance. Or, for that matter, getting him to clean up the damned yard with the several score junk cars in it. Ha. Ha, ha. Hoo boy. There was a useless conversation.

So anyway, any request, no matter how politely framed, no matter how much generous lead-up and sympathy with the Hard Job of Being Him you gave him, was refused, resisted, denied, dismissed, said to be absolutely impossible, and spoken of with pretty much contempt. So yes, I think the term 'demand-resistance' doesn't quite cover it, does it.

But anyway there I was recognizing those traits in me.

Now. There is this other idea I've heard floated about when dealing with healing and coming to terms with childhood, well, abuse: fleas.

What 'fleas' are are bad habits picked up from the abuser or dysfunctional family member(s). They are not ingrained traits of the person who has picked them up. I mean it makes sense: if you are brought up within dysfunction, you learn that that is normal. If your mother, for example, is a narcissist, you may find yourself in horror acting like a narcissist sometimes. Of course, the fact that you are horrified should clue you in; a real narcissist can't conceive of being horrified at such behavior. But the important thing to remember is that it's learned. And so it can be unlearned.

So there is probably some of that. I've simply learned that when someone asks you something, the normal and usual response is to say no. Though strictly speaking that's just mimicking my father's behavior. There were also the constant negative reasons he gave, the things he said about the people or things making demands: taxes were always too much and unfair, the probate court always takes your money so never have anything to do with them ever!!! people had taken advantage of him in the past and so no one ever could be trusted, mom was just a nagging unreasonable bitch (though he didn't use that word as swearing was one of the things that set him off, hoo boy he sure didn't like it when Tara, who has a much shorter temper than I, occasionally used the f-word). That gives the reasons, the why behind automatically refusing, which reasons of course I took into myself as simply How The World Works. It's what you're taught, you know?

But then there's this.

What he expected of us, the rules and the conditions that he subjected us to, that he demanded that we abide by, were completely unreasonable. No, not just unreasonable; sometimes harmful, even dangerous, though of course he saw it as nothing, no big deal, nothing to complain about. Stuff like keeping the thermostat low in the winter; sometimes you could see your breath in here. I can't imagine that did my health much good as a kid, and I remember I was prone to colds. Or, come to think of it, the fact that he (and mom, too) didn't think having a horrible raging head cold ever warranted staying home from school, or that there was even such stuff as medicine that could alleviate the symptoms. I remember being howlingly angry when I discovered, in my twenties, that there were such things as cold pills, that, though they couldn't actually cure colds, at least lessened the misery of the things. Or having no hot water for years, really, from the time I was about six to sometime in my thirties, I think, though I'd moved out by then if I'm remembering aright, because he couldn't get around to installing a water heater that someone gave him for free. Somehow I don't think carrying pans of boiling water up a flight of stairs and through several rooms was exactly the safest thing to be doing as a teen, now was it?

So, in other words, I grew up with someone who made unreasonable, even dangerous demands of the rest of us. And when that is the case, resisting those demands is a sign of health and self-preservation. It is a sign of sanity, to say, no, I will not do that. And because those demands are constant, and nearly to a one, flat out crazy, of course the response of NO!! becomes automatic.

That is a good thing.

And now I find that, surprisingly, I am not ashamed of that automatic response: instead, I am grateful.


The Writing Goddess said...

Gotta admit, your demand resistance fleas are much more reasonable than my time fleas.

People who shake their heads and ask, "How could you not know that was abnormal?" - how would you KNOW? If you grew up with pink skies, you'd think that blue skies were kind of freaky. Did you & Tara KNOW that other families had things like hot water in the bathroom, or was it like me thinking only the rich kids had their own swimming pool?

Thalia said...

I still think only rich people have swimming pools. That's not true?

We did know that other people had hot water (and were ashamed that we didn't; I never had friends over for a sleep-over); what we didn't understand was why we didn't. Because my father's behavior was normal, right? It's only very very recently, like in the last two years, that I've found a name for what he had. Before that, I knew it wasn't quite right but I was completely baffled. To the point where I couldn't even explain it to anyone.

NanaR said...

Thalia, I read this several times yesterday and wanted to comment but didn't know what to say. Your self-awareness astounds me. Many people live to be old and gray without ever seeing themselves and their families so clearly.

I applaud you!

Ruth in Kentucky

Rosa said...

Everything your parents do is normal.

At the first meeting with our son's psychologist she asked "any history of mental illness in the family?". My partner said "Nope, nothing..." I looked at him in disbelief and he said "well, my mom is bipolar, but nothing else." And then the shrink asked him some leading questions ("how was that for you growing up?" "did you ever wonder about that behavior?) and he just shrugged. It was fine. Fine. Never noticed anything weird.

Also, my mom this year: "Your dad isn't an alcoholic, he's just an asshole." Aha. Also she was totally never codependent and never pretended bad shit was normal and fine.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for your's going to keep me thinking for the rest of the day lol. No is my favorite word...and I understand a few of the reasons for that..although I never really associated it w/ my father and the abuse. But then I've never understood what his mental issues were..he died in a ditch at age 32 and I'm just grateful.

And I remember in mabye 2nd grade realizing that not all fathers were like mine..that not all kids were terrified of their dad. At 37 I'm still in awe of those who can speak of their parents w/ love and respect.

Congrats on recognizing it and accepting it I still have a few "fleas" or ticks as I call them that I am working on eliminating for myself.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

"Fleas" -- what a PERFECT word for that concept!! I've scratched a few in my time too. Now I've got a name for them!

Anonymous said...

One of my father's favourite sayings was, 'lie down with dogs, get up with fleas' - my father was not so different to yours: he just had less acreage on which to hoard his crap. Demand resistance, from my perspective, is a bloody healthy response: an indication that you have healthy boundaries and are able to assert, enforce and patrol them. I think demand resistance is what survivors of a parent/partner with OCPD develop as protection, while you are delousing yourself.

Anonymous said...

I can sympathize with almost everything you have written about. My mom is an indiscriminate hoarder, trash & other stuff strewed throughout the house, garage, yard, no attempt at organization or like with like, but luckily no big heavy cars & metals.

I've known she has had control issues, paranoia (supposedly schizo) & the hoarding, but never really associated the hoarding with MOST of the control issues per se.

At least you got as warm as 55 degrees. We had NO heat for most of our childhood & even in Alabama it gets colder than that. Having no AC was unbearable summers. (We had one window unit we weren't allowed to use, but we learned to run it a while, shut it off & let it hotten back up before she got home). We couldn't call anyone. She was charged for outgoing calls. We had hot or lukewarm water, at least as far as I recall. We couldn't flush unless we peed in it about 10x or had pooped before doing so. No locks or any privacy except her bedroom door. Couldn't change a tampon with any privacy let alone poop or shower. We had the inevitable leaky tub faucet, which lead to rotted wood in the wall between it & our hall, and ultimately the floor. We bred AKC pups & one fell through the floor (hole) to the basement, hitting a pipe on the way. He was a little slow afterwards. She just passed it off as the runt, which it was. When our 70's furnace died, she wouldn't let anyone in to fix it. I used to sleep in my clothes for the next day or dress under the covers. Sis used to dry off with a hairdryer. Food. Whole other story. Mom worked 2 FT jobs, not because we needed the money, but "to buy more things" (that we never saw; we also were not on welfare, food stamps, or free lunches, though she was raising 4 girls on her own). She eventually quit buying groceries (she didn't cook em anyway), & what few non-perishables she did buy, mainly her diet pepsi & Little Debbie cream pies were locked in her bedroom. (Same as your cookies, except we liked those). If she got mad at us, there went our TV, clothes & favorite things in her locked room too. Bc my older sis spent her lunch money on junk food, when I got to middle school, I didn't get lunch money. Then my older sis had a job & I had to steal her money to buy my lunch. Our clothes washer died & I had to wash my clothes (around age of 13?) in the tub. It was my job in the summer to clean the attic "junk room" (where the hoarding started); again w/ no AC, no ventilation or windows & not even a fan. I had to step outside just to breathe. I couldn't throw anything out which I did & then faced her wrath. As my grandparents got older, she moved in with them, abandoning the old home. Sis tried to clean it, but I guess abandoned it. Not sure what, how much they salvaged or moved. Mom sold the house (for the land obviously) w/out even telling me & by the time she let the secret slip, it was bulldozed, rebuilt & on the market. Had to have a realtor friend show it to me. Good thing there was no good childhood memories to lament (mom was abusive in EVERY sense of the word as well as neglectful), but still, it WAS my childhood home. Now my grandparents house is as bad or worse. None of us have been allowed (as if we'd want to) to step in or stop for 9 yrs, 6 months after our grandmother died & she moved in permanently. She's never in her life apologized to anyone for anything. She hoards emotions as well. She's said I love you to me once. Ever. Love was a 4 letter (bad) word in our house.
You two could be my long-lost sisters!


Thalia said...

Holy fuck, B. So sorry we have so many similar experiences.

There is a really really marvellous Yahoo group for children of hoarders, have you seen it?

You know I don't know if it'll cut off that url, so here's an html'd link:


If you haven't been there, the people there are very very smart, and can not only commiserate, but can offer lots of practical advice too. I can't recommend the place highly enough.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you and your sister lived this nightmare while you were growing up. You're about my age and I'm from Massachusetts; you could have been my schoolmates, and I never would have known. My family has its own issues, but not hoarding, and nothing like you've described.

Re: parents with control issues - reading some of your blog entries makes me think of the short story "Disneyland", by Barbara Gowdy. It's told from the perspective of three sisters, whose controlling fathers tells them he's taking the family to Disneyland for two weeks then, six months later, at vacation time, says the family will be spending vacation underground in the backyard bomb shelter instead. Horrifying, hilarious, and poignant. I think some of the best humor is fueled by underlying anger being processed.

Keep on processing.


Thalia said...

at vacation time, says the family will be spending vacation underground in the backyard bomb shelter instead.

Oh yeah a bit of recognition there manifesting as a surge of murderous rage. Well. It sounds like a good story, but I'm not sure I could handle reading it!

Anonymous said...

>>...a bit of recognition there manifesting as a surge of murderous rage>>

Oh, dear, maybe sometime in the future. With a pitcher of margaritas close at hand, or at the very least, excellent chocolate.


Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post...but some of your demand resistance, esp. if a demand from your father, may come from the fact that his requests may not be reasonable.

If it was "you have to alphabetize the cans" or "turn the radio off in the car before you turn the engine off" or "use a new towel every shower" or whatnot you may have had reason to say "NO!"