12 October 2008

Testing, Testing - A Non-Enabling Response

In my previous post, I noted that abusive people often 'test the waters' of recovery groups, online and in realspace, for enabling and gullibility among the participants.

They do this by announcing that they fear they may be abusive or otherwise pathological, then waiting to see if total strangers, who know nothing about them, rush to reassure them that they can't possibly be any of those things [merely because they have asked if they might be].

While this is almost always - in my experience - a ploy, there are definite cases in which a target of abuse has had 'abuser' projected onto them - by their abuser - with such force and consistency that they do indeed question their own integrity as a result.

This is one form of abuser gaslighting, where the abuser's negative attributes are projected onto the target. You, in other words, are accused by your abuser of doing to them what they actually do to you; you are accused of being the type of person that they actually are. Narcissists are particularly likely to do this, but other abusers will as well.

In this situation, it is still not helpful to tell X that they can't possibly be abusive merely because they've asked a group of total strangers if they might be.

There is, however, a non-enabling response to this question, which will offer help to gaslighted targets, and will not give an opening to abusers seeking fresh prey.

The non-enabling response goes something like this:
"Well, with the best will in the world, we don't know you - you've just arrived here.

Of course, we don't want to think that of you, just as you don't want to thiink it of yourself. We can't tell you if you are or not, because we don't know you. But, we are beginning to know what characteristics abusers have, and if you know yourself, you will know if you actually have these characteristics. Often, if someone bullies you, they will groundlessly accuse you of them.

These are some red flags you should be aware of, in your own behavior or in theirs.

How do you react to gentle, appropriate criticism [based in reality, and without name calling or other putdowns]?

How do you handle frustration and disappointment? If you have plans for the evening and find a crisis when you get home, how do you react to that? Do you pitch in to help, or do you find some way to 'take it out on' whoever is having the crisis?

Do you retaliate against people when you feel that they have slighted you in some way? What kind of treatment do you think of as 'slighting you'? Can you handle it when others receive the lion's share of attention for awhile? Can you tell the difference between appropriate inclusion of others and someone monopolizing a conversation?

How do you feel if someone you dislike experiences either great misfortune or great success? What, if anything, do you DO in response to this?

Do you enjoy gossip? Do you enjoy it more if it's about the bad qualities of whoever you're gossiping about? Do you like to start gossip? Do you like to tell A all the bad things B has said, then tell B all the bad things A says in reaction?

How do you feel about being asked these things here, by us? Were you expecting a different response?

We do care, but we have also learned that we must be care-ful. We hope this won't put you off, and we're sorry if it does; but if you can answer these questions about both yourself and whoever has accused you of being abusive (narcissistic, sociopathic), you should have the answer to your major question, based on your own experience and self-knowledge.

And that's going to be much more solid, much more worthy of belief than the opinions of people who have only just met you.

We can't tell you if you're abusive or not. We don't know you. But you can tell for yourself, if you consider these things. And we will be happy to sit with you while you consider them - that, we can certainly do for you, so you don't have to do this alone."
Then watch what happens.

If X has approached you in good faith, they may be a little surprised, but they'll think about what you've asked. What you are doing is (a) refusing to take their inventory for them, (b) asking them to do so, and (c) showing them what is involved in taking an honest inventory about this issue. You've also offered to remain with them while they do this, which is really what any healthy support group is for.

In other words, you have shown them what they are responsible for, and what you can do to help them meet their responsibilities; and the comfort you offer is comfort based in reality, rather than enabling.

They may ask questions, they may share information, or they may be put off by this. If they're put off, however, it will be because they're not yet at a stage where they feel comfortable taking their own inventory. In that case, they'll hopefully return at a point in their own journey where the group can actually help them.

But if X has approached in search of easy prey, they are going to be quite surprised by this response. You may well experience a hostile, shaming, blaming response from them, in an attempt to force the group into enabling.

If X explodes in rage, threatens self-harm, or attempts any other form of emotional blackmail in response to being asked to take their own inventory, these are manipulative and controlling responses, and you have the answer to their question. They have provided it, there and then.

[It is wisest to resist the temptation to point this out to them. If they are not acting in good faith, they already know it.]


Blogger Cinder Ella said...

Thank you for gathering all the pieces together. Having belonged to several on-line support groups, I've seen this sort of stunt more times than I care to count. I knew the person was trolling, seeking a response from people who had no way of knowing, and often received it from naive, well-meaning people. I hadn't seen it as a ploy to seek other to exploit.

I like your suggested non-enabling response. I think you're right, most people seeking a response will be taken aback with it. It would be interesting to see how the other people providing enabling responses respond to it and the troll's reaction.


23 October, 2008 11:31  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks Ella.

The odd thing is, the non-enabling response is really - when you think about it - the only possible honest response.

When someone first shows up on a Web site or in a realspace support group, the only thing you can honestly say that you know about them -- is that you don't know anything about them.

Over time, you're likely to learn a few things about them, based on the way they react to various events etc. - but it takes time.

Refusing to enable someone [especially when they appear to be trolling for it] doesn't make you cold or uncaring. This is usually the reaction of dedicated enablers, by the way: you're labeled unfeeling if you don't join in the enabling.

Nope. You're not unfeeling. You're just aware, and therefore, a little bit harder to fool.

25 October, 2008 20:50  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home