11 October 2008

Testing, Testing

In her book, "The Sociopath Next Door", Martha Stout explains that there really is a Dead Giveaway that tells you, without question, that you are dealing with an abuser.

It happens when a person who mistreats you also seeks pity from you.

The reason that we don't recognize this as a Dead Giveaway - which she also explains - is that when we pity, our judgement is suspended; our detachment goes to heck in a handbasket.

No surprise there. That is what pity is for. It's designed to take us out of ourselves, to cause us to put others first long enough to give them the help they need.

It is the deliberate playing upon pity, the deliberate exploitation of pity, by someone who quite calculatedly is using it to disable us - in order to make us easier to prey upon - that is reprehensible.

I would like to share a variation on this Dead Giveaway, one that I find particularly popular in support groups, both in realspace and cyberspace. I call it the Gullible Goodwill Test. It's not quite as stark as Dr. Stout's Pity Ploy, but anytime you see it, you should be very, very cautious about proceeding further until you've learned more about the person who is using it.

The Gullible Goodwill Test works like this.

X appears for the first time either online or in the realspace group, and 'presents' [as they say in the trade] as distressed and overwrought. This may be real, or it may not be. The source of the distress emerges spontaneously - X does not wait to be asked, but is eager to volunteer.

You see, X has learned about sociopaths / abusers / narcissists / etc. and is horrified to think that they themselves might be one.

Almost every time I have seen, heard, or read this, it has been a ploy. X is performing a little test, trolling for enablers.

The fact of the matter is that nobody in that room / forum / chatspace has any idea who X is, or what X is like. If online, nobody has any idea if X is who and what X claims to be in any aspect whatsoever. If in realspace, the people in the room can venture a reasonable guess at X's age, gender, educational level, and probable socioeconomic status, and any really obvious health problems may also be apparent. But that's all, folks, and not even those things can be assessed 100% accurately on first glance.

There is no way to tell, with zero actual information, what kind of person X really is. The only way to know what kind of person X is - is to see how X behaves over time.

Let me repeat this, because it needs repeating.

There is no way to tell, with zero actual information, what kind of person X really is. The only way to know what kind of person X is - is to see how X behaves over time. How does X react when criticized, when disappointed, when frustrated, when they don't get something they want, when they dislike someone and that person suffers misfortune - or enjoys great success? Does X mistreat one or more of the people around them, while appealing to others to pity them?

Now remember, X has just appeared. Nobody knows the first thing about them.

Despite the impossibility of knowing X at all, at this juncture, what usually happens in response to X's disclosure is a stampede of reassurance.

People who could not swear in a court of law that X is not an axe murderer will invest hours of time and effort frantically reassuring X that X is definitely not a sociopath / narcissist / abuser, that they could not possibly be, that they should be embarrassed and ashamed for even entertaining such a blasphemous thought.

Why couldn't X be any of these things?

Because X has raised the issue.

This is misunderstanding elevated to the level of tragedy.

One of the most common tactics used by bullies and abusers to disarm their targets is a false show of repentance and remorse. Read Lundy Bancroft [Why Does He DO That?], or Tim Field [Bully In Sight]. When cornered and confronted with their behavior, abusers will try denial; they will try going on the offensive; and when these don't work, they go for the pity ploy - they dissolve into tears, proclaiming their wretched pitifulness, throwing their accuser a completely unexpected curve ball.

And the ploy almost always works. It keeps battered women thinking that their batterer really does have the kind of insight into the situation that leads, eventually, to repentance and change [almost never true]; it keeps targets of other kinds of abuse feeling sorry for the abuser, rather than focusing on the abuse.

It should be no surprise, then, that skillful emotionally manipulative abusers would lead with this, testing the waters to find out who will rush to offer pity and support to someone they know absolutely nothing about, merely because pity and support are being solicited.

Don't fall for it.

Keep a polite distance from any X who tries the Gullible Goodwill Test on you, and keep a close eye on them.

And make note of those who rush to offer X succour, because no matter how much you may love them, you need to face the facts.

They're rushing into a situation they know nothing about, and enabling a person they know nothing about. They've made a choice and taken X's bait.

And sooner or later, if and when X abuses you, whether slightly or savagely, they'll feel terrible about the situation, and they'll be overwhelmed with pity and support --

for X.


Blogger CZBZ said...

Great post, Stormchild. I read it last night and linked it to a message on WoN already!

Thank you!


13 October, 2008 11:49  

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