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Showing posts with label manipulation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label manipulation. Show all posts

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Gaslights: Not just on our streets or in our yards, but in our society.

A number of years ago, I was talking to a friend and he referenced the term 'gaslighting'.  I'd never heard the term before and of course was intrigued.  My understanding was that it is a psychological tool by which someone tries to covertly manipulate another into doubting themselves such that they gain some sort of advantage over the other.

Wikipedia describes it as this:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes such as low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

I've seen this in relationships and at times wondered if this was present in my family of origin.  The following are ways I see it differently than "garden-variety" or simple manipulation.

Simple Manipulation
  • You want your way, but aren't trying to disable or shutdown the other person in the process.  In other words, not purposely abusive.
  • It may be overt.  It can be subtle, but it can be blatant too.
  • It can be done out of fear or self-protection, but not usually out of downright contempt or throwing responsibility on the other.
  • The focus of it is usually shorter term. 
  • Examples
    • Your significant other or child being all nicey-nice when they want you to do a favor for them.
    • Your child or significant other whining when you ask them to do something they don't want to in hopes you'll drop it.
    • A friend badmouthing a restaurant when what they really want it to have somewhere else chosen.

  • Used to disabled destroy or otherwise render the other person more compliant with little regard for the other's welfare.
  • This is usually covert or subtle manipulation, meant to keep you from picking up on it.
  • This is usually done with disrespect and/or contempt towards the victim of it.
  • The focus is usually longer term.
  • Examples
    • You are the problem:  When you call and complain to a company about observably poor service or quality and they say "we are sorry you feel that way".  As if the real problem is that you are upset or calling out the problem.
    • You can't do or say anything right: You are always challenged by parent, friend, child or other on your actions or take on everything (and it is clear that they aren't just trying to learn).  See the 98% rule: someone has to take blame...  Sometimes, it is just your opinion, take or feelings, but the other person seems to always take the alternative position.  When called out, they may claim that they are "playing devil's advocate"
    • It's just your imagination: When you bring up a common experiences from years ago and they act like it never happened (and you know they don't have a bad memory or dementia).  Or someone gradually and inconspicuously lowers the lighting, the cooling or the warming and you say it is dark, cool or hot in here and they say act like you are crazy.
    • If you are wanting a lifeline, go to someone else: When you speak on something that is pretty common knowledge and struggle to get your precise words out and they look at you like what's wrong with you or I have no idea what you are talking about.  That is it should be obvious from context what you mean, but they look at you like you are speaking an unknown foreign language.  This can either be to subtly mess with your mind or a form of contempt whereby instead of tossing you a lifeline, they walk away and let you fall on your face.
    • Of course you did well, but what about him/her:  When you do well and the other party acknowledges it for a moment but then puts their focus on those who did better without acknowledging the shift in focus.

Whether it is simple manipulation or gaslighting, it is a control issue.  Gaslighting is just usually a form of manipulation that is more subtle and more malevolent.  If you get anything from this post, please read the following that touch upon the subject of manipulation and control.

98% rule: someone has to take blame...
Giving in relationships: Controller rescuer, fixer rescuer, useful partnership OR healthy supportive?
How to Save Yourself Without Drowning Others
Boxing others into our expectations
Control Freaks: Top down vs. bottom up.
Art of the Apology: Saying sorry without meaning it.


I will make one caveat.  I think sometimes, when defending themselves, that people sometimes do what looks like gaslighting in a bid to protect themselves.  That is change the subject and 'talk about their concerns about you' to get the focus off themselves.  If done defensively, I'm not sure I'd call it gaslighting, but rather self-preserving manipulation. 

So next time you have a legitimate complaint and the other party says, "I'm sorry you were offended or feel that way", make sure to remind them that the subject of the complaint is the issue, not how you feel.

Just my thoughts,

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Observations on shame: Shame and codependence

In my previous entry on shame, Observations on shame: "The Shame Cycle", I touched upon a destructive force called shame and how it keeps us in a negative rut or cycle.  In this entry, I will again talk about shame, but I will focus on a particular effect of shame in our lives.

We look at this cartoon and we laugh a little bit about how absurd it is.   The kid in this cartoon blows a small mistake--dropping lunchbox on the way to school--out of proportion.  Instead of just accepting that he made a minor flub, he takes on the role of the black sheep of the family over it.  In other words, he makes it about his role in the family.  His own personal shame is causing him to view the situation improperly.   In AA, this would be considered or referred to as a form of "stinking thinking". In other words, he is viewing the situation through the lens of his role in the family due to his own unspecified personal shame.  The irony is that his counselor, Dr. Baer, probably picked up his lunch and is laughing about this small incident has thrown him into a crisis of codependence.

The panel above in black in white we see as absurd codependence based on shame.  However, when we go through our everyday lives without truly having processed our history, are we that much different than the little boy who 'disgraced his family' by losing his lunchbox?  I contend that many of us, if confronted with in black and white with our own words and behaviors would see codependent behavior fueled by shame.

So what exactly is connection between shame and codependency?  I will first digress and differentiate between shame and guilt.  From the May 30, 2013 Psychology Today online article "The Difference Between Guilt and Shame" comes the following:

Guilt: a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.
For the sake of discussion, I will refer to shame and guilt interchangeable as each can be equally disabling.   Anyway, the connection.

Shame --> Damaged Self-Esteem or  Doubt --> Strong Need for Confirmation and Approval  --> Doing What it Takes to Get or Retain that Approval = Codependence which manifests itself in basing some or part of our actions and behaviors on fulfilling that need.

Examples of shame/guilt leading to codependence:

Example 1:
You go through a divorce and in the process, cause pain for the children.  You feel shame or guilt over a failed marriage and the hurt that is causing your kid(s).  This is especially true if your kid(s) are acting out.  You know from your religious/moral background and upbringing what is acceptable behavior for your children.  Also, you know on some level what boundaries they need.  But your guilt or shame bleed into the situation, leading to lowered esteem or doubt and you begin to question what you 'know' or were taught.  Kids are very intuitive and they can sense this and they start probing for weak spots.   When they find the weak spots, they exploit them, often with questioning of authority and misbehavior.  This doubt on the parent's part and adjustment to settle down the situation.  Hence, the divorcing parent becomes embroiled in codependency with his or her kids.

Example 2:
Someone close to you--mom, dad, brother, friend--dies at an early age or commits suicide.  On some level notice he or she was having problems beforehand, but it didn't necessarily click the magnitude of the problems.  In hindsight, it seems as if warning signs were there.  When we are trying to get by everyday, not everything is clear.  Someone says they are unhappy or aren't feeling good.  But, we know like with cold, the appearance of  'symptoms'--such as tiredness or slightly irritated throat--beforehand doesn't always portend a cold.  Similarly, if the loved one had sent such signals beforehand and pulled through, it is easy to see the sickness or depression as just another bump in the road.  Anyway, guilt over "not being there" the way we THINK we should have can be very disabling.  This can spill over into other areas of our lives.  Well-meaning family can give us 'advice' going forward and being in a weakened state and feeling bad, we may seek their validation or approval and it can be easy to slip into a pattern of orienting our actions to please them, rather than doing what we need to for ourselves.  This is especially true if the family member(s) are opinionated and tend to be controlling.  In other words, they use your shame or guilt against you.

Anyway, the keys to keeping shame or guilt from bleeding into codependence can be found in answering the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself extensively stressing over whether the other party(s) approve your choices/actions.  That is to say, are you more focused on whether a choice or action is the best or most logical choice OR are you focused on defending the choice or action to others?
  • If saw this exact situation playing out with strangers would how would you assess or advise in the situation?  If your assessment or advice is different than that which you'd give yourself, then chances are you are blocked by your own self-doubt.
  • Are you willing to do the unpopular thing, which you 'know' to be the right thing, or does the fear of being 'unloved' tend to get in the way?

Shame can keep us from making or repeating bad choices.  Guilt, when not displaced, can also redirect us to doing the right thing in the future.  In and of itself, neither is necessarily a bad thing.   However, each can be a destructive feeling or force if they bleed into our relationship with others.  While each can give us guardrails in our dealings with others, they shouldn't control or interfere with how we interact with others.  It is important to look beyond them and look to what specific circumstances and dealings with others dictate.