The other person is kind, loving, funny, caring...most of the time. The rest of the time you wonder why you're even there.
I'm not sure if there's a word for this sort of thing, so I'll just describe it - I'm talking about a relationship with a parson who has to find some way to put you down to feel better about him-or-herself.
Like a light that can only be measured by the amount of darkness around it, this person has a constant need for comparison. It may be direct, it may be indirect, but sooner or later you're used as the ego's punching bag.
And it can hurt.
Why do they do it? usually, it's because of a self-image that was damaged, not too badly, as a child. Their hurt is just sever enough to make them want to cover up the gaps in their own capabilities, and the easiest way is to ensure that they shine brighter than anyone around. Easiest way to be bright is to toss mud on everything around you.
What to do?
Assuming that terminating the relationship is not something you want to do:
- Fight back - return insult and put-down one for one. This may, in some cases, not be a bad idea. If the person you're dealing with grew up in a large family, or came from a background where this was learned behavior, fighting back may hep to establish a 'pecking order' and a degree of familiarity (which may be subconscious). As long as you can keep it controlled, and keep the situation from escalating into name-calling and baiting, this solution might not be too bad. But you have to keep a degree of dispassionate remove that would be worthy of Mr. Spock.
- Parry the thrusts, but don't return them - as long as the put-downs and insults are even slightly unjust, you can try contradicting them. This is probably the weakest way to go, because you're always being reactive. You can never lead the dance, and you can find yourself led around by the nose. You also have to focus on your own perceived weaknesses, and you'll easily find yourself spending too much time building imaginary responses to imaginary arguments. The worst part of this method is that it doesn't work; your 'opponent' is looking for something beyond a mere exchange of facts, and a rational counter won't supply that.
- Just take it, Method A - just put your head down in ox-like stolidity, and accept what's happening. This works wonderfully if you're an ox. If you're human, not so much. The probable outcomes are a) an internalization of your own hurt, and a gradual emotional withdrawal from the relationship, or b) a buildup of anger that will one day find an outlet which will not be pretty. Neither helps the situation.
- Just take it, Method B - just put your head down, let the insults roll off, and remember that you're helping someone you like or love by simply being there. This is the 'high road' BS that TV preachers like to talk about at 3 AM, but unfortunately...it is the Christian way to go. It would be wonderful to get the person over whom you're tearing your hair into therapy, but since you're not the therapist, the best thing you can do is effect some positive control over the situation until professional help might be an option. To do this, you have to keep a very tight vision of your own self-worth, and a cool rein (calling Mr. Spock!) on your anger. But the payoff is this - if you can outlast the slings and arrows for just a minute, the other person's equilibrium will be shored up, and the GOOD things about the relationship will come out.
There's nothing easy about any of this, and it's really more a challenge for the ego-warrior than for you, because he or she will always have an unquenchable thirst, which can only be temporarily slaked with an almost vampire-like assault on another.
Your friend, or spouse, or sibling didn't ask to be this way - but the big question is one for you:
Can you offer a little bit of your blood, from time to time, as a sacrifice to keep them happy?
After all, someone did that for you, about two thousand years ago.