30 October 2008

Testing, Testing - Parting Thoughts

Some final thoughts on the 'Gullible Goodwill' test.

The test relies on a charming, but sadly inaccurate, myth that is all too popular in recovery circles, which goes something like this:
If you are wondering if you have 'X', you can't possibly have 'X',

because nobody who actually has 'X' ever wonders if they do.
This would be very comforting if it were true [and, it would be an infallible basis for avoiding scoundrels!], but it is in fact untrue on at least two fronts.

The first front is something I'll call The General Theory of Selective Emotional Blindness. It's the notion that people who have an emotional problem are somehow blinded to that specific problem's existence by the problem itself.

By this reckoning, it should be completely impossible for anyone suffering from depression, or bipolar disorder, or PTSD, or any other psychiatric disorder, to ever fully consent to enter treatment.


Because, if this fallacy were true, none of these people could ever imagine, let alone ever be brought to believe and understand, that they are suffering from the disorders that they in fact do suffer from.

And therefore, their fully informed consent could never be obtained - because it is impossible for them ever to be fully informed!

There certainly are people who are too emotionally fragile, too vulnerable, to be faced with a specific diagnosis directly. Having their particular problem named to them could do them far more harm than good, and a caring professional will find other ways to bring them into treatment with minimal trauma and maximum understanding.

But it's also pretty obvious - I hope - that there are plenty of people on the planet who can perceive, perfectly well, that they suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, etc.; and that many of these people are doing all they can, with all their hearts and souls and minds and strength, to seek and comply with an appropriate treatment plan, because they do not want to suffer from untreated depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

So the General Theory fails PDQ.

The second front is something I'll call the Special Theory of Selective Emotional Blindness. This is the notion that people who have a personality disorder that renders them inimical - i.e., the well and truly nasty who dwell among us - are somehow incapable of figuring out that
[a] the General Theory exists,
[b] it's hogwash,
[c] but a lot of people believe it,
[d] and therefore one of the easiest ways to locate promising targets is by
[1]stating that you are afraid you might be whatever you know perfectly well you actually are, and

[2]waiting to see who insists - categorically - that you can't be, merely because you just asked them if you might be.
I am afraid that just about everyone who has read this far knows this is false based on direct experience. Predators have not only figured ALL of this out, they've written an entire playbook to take advantage of it.

Now: in place of the General and Special Theories of Selective Emotional Blindness, I'd like to offer The Stormchild Theory of Human Psycho-Predation.

[1] Human predators exist; they are not rare; their prevalence is such that most human groups and organizations will unavoidably include one or more, often in positions of dominance.

[2] Most human predation is psychologically based, at least initially.

[3] Most human predators know perfectly well that they are predatory, and they start young. [This is one of the reasons it is unwise to ignore or trivialize childhood bullying. It gets a lot bigger and meaner when it grows up.]

[4] Astute human predators also know that the best way to get close to prey is by pretending not to be predators.

[5] One of the most effective ways of disarming prey is to exploit the two myths referenced above: the predator announces that they are 'afraid they might be' what they know perfectly well they are.

Think of [5] as psychological camouflage, because that is exactly what it is. It disarms the prey both cognitively and emotionally: cognitively by exploiting the myths above, which compel the prey to reject any possibility that the predator could be a predator - precisely because the predator says they might be!and emotionally because it includes the 'pity ploy', a la Martha Stout:

"I am afraid [that I have X]. Pity me. Reassure me. Abandon critical thinking and all other forms of self-protection to 'rescue' me."

Don't do it. Resist the siren song. Offer an honest, caring but non-enabling response when invited to play the predator's game.

Your psychological safety is worth it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You and I must be reading the same blogs lately.

I find its not just 'do I have the disease of the day' which provokes this rush to gush, but any self-doubt or dare I say it, self-pity.

Others will fall overthemselves to defend anyone who dares to question themselves. Its a common form of feminine group dynamics I have found, and it is akin to the 'learned helplessness' that you have talked about on this blog.

We women seem to think that only when we come across as weak and pathetic will we get attention and sympathy from others. There are also many many people online and in real time, who are so co-dependent that they can only gain identity from 'helping' others. I have also been there and only lately recognised my own fault in this.

I have found that amongst other ex-cult members. The almost universal cry after coming out of the cult is..."I just want to help others", often only weeks or months after emerging, victims of abuse want to put themselves in the position of giving support and advice. Its completely ridiculous. Nobody seems to want to stop, take the time to examine what happened to them, adjust their thinking, allow themselves to heal, recognise the work they need to do in their own lives etc. The assumption is that they have a 'duty' to run around 'helping' others, when in actual fact, its all about escaping their own pain, and refusing to deal with what happened properly.

It appals me that others consider themselves 'experts' before they have even started to recover from the trauma.

While there is absolutely no doubt that abuse and trauma survivors can assist each other, it is likewise doubtless that they can also inflict the most apalling wounds on each other because of their own lack of wisdom and insight.

If we just stuck to talking about what we have learned from our own life experiences and stopped assuming the role of 'advisor', we would be offering the greatest thing we could...the opportunity for others to assume responsibility for their own lives.

It has taken me four years to understand what happened to me, and I am still learning.

Blogs like yours have given me so much encouragement and advice, but only because you freely offer information, and don't try and assume that you can fix my problems.

31 October, 2008 19:14  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg

Would you believe, the main event prompting this post was a quiet evening spent - in part - thinking about various recovery groups [live and online] that I've participated in or observed for the past 20 years, and obstacles to real recovery that I saw, or was affected by directly, in them. [Fortunately the rest of the evening was spent reading Terry Pratchett; best antidote for existential angst ever invented.]

You've brought another memory to light for me - thank you!

~ 20 years ago when I began my own recovery, by trying to figure out how to relate to a multitude of apparently active alcoholics & 'dry drunks' - at work and in other interactions - I stumbled across something from Melanie Beattie, I think, to the effect that the single biggest obstacle to recovery for many alcoholics is their co-dependent spouse!

In fact, if I remember correctly, this pattern of spouses sabotaging recovery [!] was one of the things that led to the recognition of 'co-dependency', and to the realization that alcoholism and other addictions are actually a 'systems' problem.

System homeostasis. "Change-back". Don't rock the boat. You have to stay 'worse than', so I can stay 'better than'...

What you've said about the rush to reassure may, at times, fall into this category - the recovery-sabotaging category, I mean - too. It can definitely be an attempt to 'take charge of helping', just as you describe; I have also seen it used as a way to 'shut down' any further real thinking on the subject.

Preventing others from thinking about their situations [& the possible damage done to them] is a tidy way of preventing oneself from thinking about one's own.

Avoidance while appearing to be responding constructively.

I don't think this is often conscious and therefore it's hard to call it 'deliberate'... but it's certainly there.

And I have definitely seen situations in which a non-recovering alcoholic actively, consistently shut down any 'threat' of reflection or self-assessment by members of a recovery group [who didn't know that this person was alcoholic, let alone non-recovering, until much, much later].

Their preferred method of stifling the process? A combination of anxious reassurance/projection [you're fine, just fine, we're all fine, we're great, the OTHER people have the problem] and distraction [so what do you think about X, Y, Z, the annual rainfall in Madagascar, my great-aunt's pet Quaker parrot?]

So sometimes it is deliberate, too.

Thanks for your thanks. 'Fixing' never works, but it's amazing what can be accomplished by understanding...

01 November, 2008 20:47  
Blogger CZBZ said...

"nobody who actually has 'X' ever wonders if they do."

Yea, right....dangerous assumption to make about folks who manipulate their way through life!

Educating others and ourselves about Pathological People is a learning curve. We start out with a shallow understanding of narcissism and hopefully, probe deeply enough to differentiate between pathology and personality traits.

If we don't dig deep enough, it's a fair bet to say we'll get another opportunity to dig deeper.

I never met a narcissist yet who didn't depend on people believing their self-revelation and preoccupation meant they were SAFE people.


07 November, 2008 13:58  

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