27 November 2008

Wrong Answer

Abusers tend to telegraph their punches, and quite often they will tell us exactly what they are, very soon after we meet them.

This isn't a tactical slip. It's a test, and it's also a setup. We're being tested to see if we know enough about abuse and abusers to recognize the signs.

If we do, we'll take steps to avoid further interaction, and the abuser hasn't lost anything; in fact they've gained, since the space and time we occupied is now freed up for a more promising target.

If we don't, then our response will reveal that. And by the abuser's predatory 'code of ethics', we've just made ourselves legitimate prey. He or she warned us, right? And we didn't take the warning. So it doesn't matter what they do to us from here forward: in their minds, we have just volunteered for it.

That is how they think.

In a few recent posts, I've discussed one variation on this theme, which is how abusers approach recovery groups and online discussion groups to screen them for targets [and as possible places of residence]. This is usually done by 'presenting' in a seemingly harried, frantic emotional state, apparently desperate for reassurance because they've just discovered Condition X [narcissism, sociopathy, borderline PD] and they're terrified that they have it... The appeal to pity [a classic Karpman Victim stance] calls to the Karpman Rescuer in most people [myself included, which is why I understand it]. It will, without fail, lure out the non-recovering or not-yet-recovering enablers in any group, PDQ. And the abuser then knows exactly where his or her next meals will be coming from.

A different approach is taken when screening individuals. This is when it's important to be mindful of 'red flags', or, to borrow a term from Gavin de Becker, 'Pre-Incident Indicators'. Because they will be there; it's part of the test, part of the game that abusers play. And it's actually fairly easy to recognize them; the greatest obstacle is, as with the Karpman Rescue Invitation above, learning to override our programmed enabling responses.

Sean, 16, is talking to Sally, 15, at the school bus stop; she has her clarinet case with her. When he asks what it is, she tells him; when he asks if she's taking lessons she says she's trying out for the marching band. He responds that the marching band is stupid and full of losers, and she ought to be trying out for the orchestra and playing for the musicals.

Wrong answer.

Very wrong answer.

Even if the marching band IS full of losers, it's still the wrong answer.

Even if Sally's talents are much more suited to Benny Goodman than John Philip Sousa, it's STILL the wrong answer.

The right answer is something along the lines of: that's interesting, I was thinking you'd try out for orchestra, we're doing Guys and Dolls this year. How come marching band?

Or suitably sixteen-year-old words to that effect. Followed by respectful listening to Sally's response.

This conversation, in various forms, could be taking place between two people of any gender, at any age, in any relationship.

Sean, 46, is talking to Sally, 38, about the high speed printer; Serge, 27, is talking to Sully, 34, about the Fermilab cyclotron; Suzette, 59, is talking to Harry, 33, about the price of eggs.

The minute one of them puts down the other, or puts down anything the other has expressed an interest in, or a need for, or any form of curiosity about...

Wrong answer.

The minute one of them ceases to listen to the other, and starts talking over him or her...

Wrong answer.

The ultimate red flag, the first and foremost Pre-Incident Indicator, is the disrespect that is inherent in that behavior.

Abusers are very quick to reveal their disrespect. We make allowances for it, make excuses for it, rationalize it, 'forgive' it, decide to 'be bigger than' it, decide it's 'not worth worrying about', at our peril.

I'm not saying, here, that we need to make a Federal Case out of the co-worker who never lets us finish a sentence, or that Sally should have offered Sean an opportunity to become intimately physically acquainted with her clarinet [i.e., a ' clarinoscopy ' ] in response to his snide put-down of her interests.

I am saying, though, that we need to notice these things. When they happen. And we need to be sure that our response to them is one that the would-be abuser can't easily construe as an invitation to continue the abuse.

The next time that co-worker starts talking over us, we can stop, extend a hand palm out [in the universal Traffic Stop signal], give them a level stare, and say, "Let me finish speaking, please." And when Sally's interest in marching band is met with snide putdowns from Sean, she can say, "Well, I don't think they're losers. Fortunately it's me trying out, not you," or suitable 15-year-old words to that effect. Or, we can take steps in future to reduce or minimize our exposure to the rude co-workers, and Sally can keep any further discussions with Sean minimal and superficial.

Of course, abusers don't stop abusing merely because we ask them to. Refusing to accept abuse may - initially - result in more overtly abusive behavior being directed at us [a Change-Back reaction, basically an attempt to bully us back into accepting abuse.] But that response simply proves that what we saw was real, that this person is abusive, just as we had surmised; and if we're in the earliest stages of an acquaintanceship, this behavior isn't likely to persist.

Other targets are likely to prove more enticing; we're likely to be obnoxious and frustrating and difficult to fool or cajole. Unwilling to cooperate.

We've proved it. We've given the Wrong Answer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had a phone conversation with my son's english teacher about 8 months ago. I was put through to her accidentally and didn't know who she was, she didn't introduce herself either. She happened to be checking my daughter's school diary (for homework and such) and began asking me why I hadn't signed it every week. I was affronted by this sudden attack, and asked her who she was (politely), she didn't tell me, just said 'Oh, I am just helping the teacher with the diaries'. So I assumed she was a teacher aide. She then started attacking me about my responsibilities as a parent of a high school student. I had no idea who this woman was, or why she was suddenly using this aggressive approach to a complete stranger, but I gave it right back to her. Who did she think she was attacking me like this? I was a parent of two kids already in high school and knew my responsibilities thankyou very much, and much more. She became incensed at this, and said 'Well, that's good for you then isn't it!" and slammed down the phone.

After this, I found out this woman was my son's English teacher. Every time I have had any further communication with her, she has been similarly aggressive, confrontational, and frankly bullying.

Finally, after 8 months of lobbying the principal, we had a round table conference with her. You should have seen the song and dance. Her best defence was 'I don't remember' but the classic line was 'I don't believe I would ever have done something like that'.

She tried every manipulators trick in the book, from shaming (She couldn't believe I had carried this offense for 8 months - a variation of 'get over it'), to blaming others, to accusing my husband of being overly emotional and finally 'IF I did that, then that is terrible and I am sorry'.

None of which amounted to recognising her error, or making any sort of restitution. At the very least, the principal is now witness to an unbelievable display of denial and manipulation which he is not able to brush away.

But you are right Stormchild, the signal I got right from the first get-go was unbelievable, no wonder no other parents have never complained about this woman, they are all terrified of her though.

As is my wont, I made excuses for her. I have a son with Asperger's Syndrome, and alot of her behaviour really did look like his. People with neurological disabilities often act in offensive ways (no empathy, don't understand personal space, can't connect emotionally, think along completely different lines) but her behaviour the other night at the conference put paid to all that. If she has a neurological defect, she has surely learned to cover it up with a great deal of mental dexterity. It was like nailing jelly to the wall!!!!

28 November, 2008 18:23  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg

I'm having two competing reactions here: I'm appalled at the brazenness of this chalkboard bully & indignant on behalf of you & your son, but I'm also cheering for you, especially for your recognizing all her maneuvers and ploys while they were going on - that is power, and it's something no bully can take away.

Yes, she gave herself away at the conference. But you know she gave herself away at the outset. By refusing to identify herself, attacking you 'from cover' as it were, she revealed herself at the very beginning as a liar, a cheat, and a coward.

I don't know how it works in your part of the world, but I'd like to think you now have very good grounds for requesting that your son not be instructed by this person anymore, ever, and for challenging any poor marks she might try to inflict on him by way of retaliation for being 'outed'.

I think most people are paralyzed by fear in these situations because we're so socially conditioned to believe the best of everyone - and - we don't have a repertoire of responses for behavior like this [because we've been taught not to anticipate it!].

Hopefully as more people become aware that this kind of casual, drive-by abuse is real, and that many people make a hobby of it, there will be less tolerance for it -- simply because people will know they have other options.

28 November, 2008 19:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your concern Stormchild.

The Principal has promised us that my daughter will not have this woman as a teacher next year, and I made the point of explaining what happened to my son and daughter so they know not to be afraid of her.

I am finally coming to the conclusion that some christians will fall under the 2 Timothy 3 definition of 'from such turn away', but I am convinced that there are very few who understand their right as Christians to rebuke bad or evil behaviour and to stand their ground against it. We have been taught to be politically correct, and lukewarm, and as a result we have 'a form of godliness but deny the power thereof'. I firmly believe that blogs such as yours and Anna Valerious' are beacons in the night to all of us who are waking up and recognising our God-given right to defend the truth.

God bless you!

29 November, 2008 18:04  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Hi Meg,

Glad to hear the principal is being appropriately responsive to the situation, at least insofar as allowing you to protect your children from her.

We certainly do have the right to stand our ground ['and having done everything, to stand']. Thank you for your kind compliments; your blog is also light in the darkness.

There are such lights burning all across the world; people are waking up to the reality of abuse - and the reality that it's not something that is fixed by ignoring it, or something that we are always forced to tolerate.

God bless you too.


29 November, 2008 19:07  

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