Testing - Repeatedly forcing another individual to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.
Pop Quizzes of the Heart
Many people with Personality Disorders frequently test the love, commitment and emotional state of mind of those closest to them. The behavior goes hand-in-hand with traits of Low Self-Esteem and Fear of Abandonment, which cause people to feel unsure of their worth and lovability.
When any of us feel unsure of something, our usual instinct is to try to figure out what is real versus what is not. The issue with people who suffer from Personality Disorders is that their feelings may swing up and down dramatically, and when they feel particularly low, they may begin testing those around them as a means of soothing their pain and fear.
What it Looks Like
- A man tells his wife “if you really loved me you would quit your job and stay home and take care of me.”
- A mother tells her children “If you loved me you would want to spend more time with me than with your friends.”
- A woman destroys a wedding keepsake and watches to see her husband’s reaction.
- A man refuses to come out of his bedroom and waits for his wife to coax him back to a more normal state.
- A teenager overdoses on sleeping pills then tells her parents what she did.
When tested, Nons are often required to demonstrate their love in inappropriate ways - such as giving up valued relationships, isolating from family and friends, sacrificing careers, wealth or treasured possessions, or giving up hobbies, healthy habits and recreational activities. This sacrifice of self is a “Test” which demonstrates they are putting the Personality Disordered individual first in their lives.
How it Feels
Testing can be frightening and confusing for a Non, and also simultaneously irritating and threatening. On the one hand, if they ignore the problem, they may fear being judged for being insensitive, uncaring, negligent or selfish. On the other, if they respond to the test, they may fear that they are encouraging or enabling the behavior and possibly collaborating in their own abuse.
Testing is a classic No-Win Situation where you may feel “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
How to Cope
When faced with Testing there are two common responses:
The first is to refuse to take the test and to justify your position - to argue that you shouldn’t have to take the test, to remind the person with the Personality Disorder of their own responsibilities, their own shortcomings and of your own worth, the unfairness of their position and the merit of your own. That will typically result in a long, Circular Conversation.
The second is to try to pass the test. This may be easy or difficult, depending on the nature of the test. It may be merely to say “I love you” or “I care about you”, a requirement to validate the person’s feelings. Or it may be much more difficult - like give up your career - or sacrifice an important relationship - or spend money or time on something that doesn’t have value to you. The problem with trying to pass those tests is you will have to do something you don’t want to do or which is unhealthy for you and your level of resentment will rise. You may have to repeat the sacrifice, and the level of difficulty may also escalate. You are also highly unlikely to receive a reward commensurate with the level of sacrifice.
What NOT to do
- Don’t take the test or give in to unreasonable demands. Accepting the test is a form of enabling that can hurt both you and the person testing you.
- Don’t try to justify your position or argue why the test is unfair.
- Don’t talk about it for more than a few minutes.
- Don’t isolate yourself - you need support at a time like this.
- Don’t feel guilty for not appeasing the person who is testing you. You are doing the only loving thing available.
What TO do
- Say once - and once only - calmly and respectfully that you will not take the test.
- Say that you will talk again when you are no longer required to take it.
- Respectfully end the conversation and leave unemotionally.
- Stay away until the test - or any consequences for refusing to take it - are over.
- Get support - tell others who understand what you are going through what happened and let them validate you.