The Outlier is the Story

The Outlier

The Outlier

When I was working as a scientist, we would discuss outliers in the data. An outlier is simply a data point far outside the expected range. Here is what happens with outliers and why they lead to discussion- you have to ask yourself- is this point simply an anomaly or is the outlier really showing us something that we did not expect and need to account for- maybe the outlier is the story.

I saw it work both ways in the lab. Sometimes we understood the outlier was simply some strange glitch, other times it helped point us in a new direction we would have otherwise overlooked.

I thought about outliers yesterday when a situation unraveled. My husband’s ex-wife called him about their son, “Henry”. Apparently, things had gotten fairly ugly between she and Henry.

She called my husband 4-5 times at work, stating that she and her boyfriend could no longer handle Henry.

I was not surprised by these calls. Heck, these were the data points that had all been lining up in a neat, linear row for some time now. No need for statistical analysis, P value was less than .05. She and Henry had been escalating things and she was losing control.

It was eventually decided that Henry would spend the night with us, so everyone could have a cooling off period. The Mom and her boyfriend went to the cabin for the weekend, and Henry walked on over to our home.

Point- point- point— with little deviation. I had actually filed this under “well every parent has breaking point with kids, etc.” (not that every parent then decides to continue with vacation plans, but hey, to each his own).

And then, “plunk!” the outlier landed.

Rather than my husband’s ex- calling him and saying, “Wow, Henry and I really got into it. We both have things to work on.”

She thanked him for taking Henry, but then she said, “Just so you know, Henry will LIE about everything that happened today.”

Outlier point taken- she was already spinning the story, not only blaming Henry, but clearly, clearly setting him up. Whatever he was to say about the situation, we were to understand (in her mind) that he was telling a lie.

There was no space or concern for Henry- of his trauma and fear that things had gotten so bad his Mom left him. Nope-
only a simple, whispered outlier that told us the story.

To his Mom, Henry’s experience didn’t even exist. It was all a “lie”.

And that was the only point I needed to understand what was going on.

I write this for any of you in a situation with a hurtful, toxic person. Our natural state is to connect the dots of any story or situation and create a sense of familiarity and points of relating. This does not work with narcissistic, damaging people.

Oh, they may be lining up their story points all in a row, wanting you to follow along, but often, there will be an outlier- a moment that causes you to pause and go “Huh?” that does not quite seem normal.

That, my dear friend, is the key to your data. NOT the pretty points that are lining up all in a pretty row. That is the creative spin.

Ignore the spin and follow that outlier- it will tell you all you need to know.

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8 thoughts on “The Outlier is the Story

  1. It’s been a few years since I’ve ‘followed’ you, but it seems as though everything is still more or less the same. In some ways this is good, in some ways not.

    I wouldn’t say that the ex-wife’s behaviour is an outlier, as it seems to be pretty consistent for her and this particular behaviour is common enough and even across people that are more worthwhile. But, let’s just say that this behaviour is an outlier and go from there. This data point seems to indicate a wider array of fairly gross behaviour and that’s pretty damn telling. In this case the outlier is perhaps the first point that will begin to plot a broader field of behaviour, a more complete showing of narcissistic behaviour.

    When it comes to irrational people in my own life, I recognise that these outliers are indicative of either a new pattern of behaviour or one direction that their behaviour can switch to at a moment’s notice. With irrational people, no matter how well one knows them, it’s the case that their emotional state will swing their behaviour in unpredictable directions -and often on a subject/area you have seen them act a certain way, positively or negatively, 9/10ths of the time.

    The ex-wife seems to me more rational than the people I’ve forcefully cast out of my life, but I think that the point still carries. Here’s to hoping that sole custody is a thing that will happen.

    • Thank you for this insight. I had not thought it in that context. I guess I was shocked that she just left and didn’t bother to contact her traumatized son. And then, she undermined any sense of his experience by saying he would lie.

      In so many ways, you are right. This is highly predictable – I just did not let me mind “go there”. Thank you for your words and support.

  2. “Ignore the spin and follow that outlier.” Great analogy! Yet most people totally miss it, especially family. Narcissists are good at steering people away from the real issue, which is usually them.

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