When verbal abuse is covert or may not sound like verbal abuse ...
Today I am going to tackle a very tough area and I may range around a bit at the start - but I hope by the end you will have a clear view of some ideas I have been wanting to share.
I want to start with another type of defense that you may come up against ... but first I should share that the aim of these articles is not to judge anyone but to help you start to become aware of defensive behaviour in yourself and others and continue practicing ways to bring each of you back to feeling safe enough to express your authentic self.
I will call the type of behaviour I will talk about in this article "hiding with the herd", but sometimes you may also hear it referred to as "rigid" defense. As with all the other defenses we have dealt with in this series (sulking, self righteous wrath, 'lights on but no one home' and 'the talker') the behaviour I am about to describe is simply a reaction to fear. There is no shame in this because we all use defenses now and again, because as humans we all sometimes feel scared.
Unfortunately however, acting defensively may become a habit and a person may in fact be acting scared all the time. The real cause of what made them scared in the first place may have in fact moved out of their life years ago and their own defensiveness may now be what is attracting the very behaviour they fear.
I have mentioned this problem before, but let's refresh ourselves on this subject and look briefly at a few more examples of this ...
- The fat person who fears humiliation who eats to feel better - bringing themselves further humiliation.
- The person who is scared of being bullied who "zones out" with their head back and eyes glazed looking arrogant and hence attracting bullies who want to hurt them for being so 'stuck up'.
- The person who is lonely and fears abandonment who acts clingy, needy and desperate and so scares people away.
- The person who fears betrayal and so acts controlling and dominating so that they end up inevitably being betrayed.
And with herd defense we see the person who fears not being believed or validated and so tries so hard to be 'normal' and perfect and 'just like everyone else' that they end up coming across as fake (and so are not validated or believed).
The problem with defensive behaviour is that it not only hurts the person who is acting this out but also the people who end up becoming involved in the dynamic.
So learning to disengage from (and if possible disrupt this pattern) without pulling away from the very people we want to get closer to will accomplish quite a few things ...
a. People's authentic self is much more pleasant to be around than their defenses.
b. We may learn to help them stop attracting the very things they fear.
c. We may prevent ourselves from experiencing the pain, guilt anger and confusion of being unwittingly drawn into a "play' where we are 'tricked' into hurting someone we didn't want to hurt (by playing along with a learned pattern of behaviour that is outmoded and not serving anyone anymore).
'Hiding with the herd' is tricky however because this person really isn't doing anything overtly abusive or wrong (they are extremely careful about this in fact) but you can tell they are still not being real with you and this still can still hurt and cause a lot of friction, chaos and pain.
So this is just one way that covert abuse can happen and I will try and give you a better look at some of the ways this may affect you and hopefully some ideas of what to do that might help ...
1. The herd follower is always looking for what is normal and 'standard' behaviour because this is where they have decided they are safe. When they told their parents as a child that they saw a UFO or dragon in the backyard they learned very quickly what happened if you told "tall stories" IE. you were disbelieved and treated like a silly child. Now to stay safe they may unwitting do the same to anyone who is sharing anything too subjective for them to feel safe about. Anyone who behaves outside the 'norm' may be treated in a slightly condescending manner in a number of ways ...
a. The follower of the herd will use manipulation to bring your 'out of the norm' behaviour back in line. This may include ignoring you, changing the subject or redirecting the conversation, or even scoffing or scolding you in a mild way. This may work in the short term but may leave you feeling devalued and put down, The message you get is that you are somehow a bit weird or "too much" and that you have been judged inferior to the herd follower who feels they need to manage you and not communicated with you truthfully 'on the level' about what you have to offer or your ideas. This may be subtle but can be very hurtful. Even though herd followers may not a have a huge number of friends it can feel that they are showing you that they feel they are superior to you and have a right to judge that you are really not a totally acceptable part of the herd.
b. They may give you a lot of compliments but leave you feeling a bit queasy about whether they are sincere. Again the compliments can be a way of avoiding honest communication.
d. Herd followers may or may not be serial daters or change business partners regularly but if this is the case, then jumping from one partner to the next with no real regard for their last partner's feelings can cause people who wanted to get close to them a lot of pain. This especially when they never had the courage to have an authentic exchange about their need to move on and the other parties feelings about this. The herd follower may seize on something the last partner did that they feel was clearly wrong as their excuse for terminating contact without any honest discussion or chance to 'reframe' the relationship.
e. In organizations herd followers may succumb to some of the worst kind of office bullying (because like smoke you can't grasp it but it can still kill you) where people who don't quite fit in with the herd when it comes to the 'culture' or normal standards of behaviour don't ever stand a chance to defend themselves as they find themselves judged and 'managed' with no room for honest discussion of whether there is even a problem or not. More than ever these days creativity is reflected not just in the health of a business but also in the bottom line and for creativity to flow some unusual behaviour and conflict must be tolerated. No new idea every came to be without some disagreement and honest debate (conducted on the basis that each party are equals). So as innocent as the perfect standards and behaviour of the herd may look, herd followers can really damage a business as well as the within it whose not so 'out of the box' ideas may have in fact been just what was needed to improve not only the bottom line, but safety, efficiency and sustainability as well. In this way if we are not careful the cautious behaviour of the herd may in fact lead our species to extinction if R&D, creativity and innovation continue to lose out to the corporate status .
2. Herd followers tend to be good listeners and ask a lot of questions and it is tempting to try and 'expand their minds'. This can be a mistake however because all you will probably find yourself doing is putting yourself more firmly on the outside of what they feel comfortable dealing with - which isn't much. Like the other defenses, what is actually needed is really the opposite of what your instincts will probably tell you. Remember that anyone in defense is trying to get you to play their game - but the game is a hurtful one and it in fact needs to be disengaged. If you fall for trying to open the herd followers mind you may simply find yourself feeling stranger and more of a misfit than you ever suspected you were, while they shy away and feel less and less validated because you - like the many other people they tried to get close to - are always trying to give them a 'new reality' as if theirs did not really matter or exist. For this reason it is best if you can try and ask the herd follower questions and do your best to validate whatever they have to say. As you get them to open up slowly over time, hopefully you will get the chance to validate some stuff that is their own opinion and not just that of the herd.
This doesn't mean you have to agree with them when they are wrong or going to do something disastrous (as following the herd will often lead people to do). It will help if you even just make an effort to listen and catch any little authentic feeling you pick up from them and try and forgive and ignore what sounds too cautious or false.
3. Herd followers need hugs. Most of us like hugs but herd followers don't usually get their fair share. Ironically it is people who are a bit overweight (and usually very conscious about being touched) who get the most hugs while the ones who really want and need them miss out. Next time you see your friend who reminds you a bit of a teddy bear maybe think twice about the hug - unless they offer it - and instead give it to your friend who looks like their schedule revolves around tennis, business networking and the gym. On this point 'lights on but no one home' folk need a lot of hugs as well.
You may be surprised that they really like the hug and realise they don't think they are so superior to you after all. A good way to realise they really do want affection is by noticing how close they stand next to you when you talk.
OK so that was a tough one but I hope I have given it justice. Next article I will be discussing another form of covert verbal abuse which will lead right to the heart of co dependence (emotional dependence) and what needs to be faced for it to heal.
I know these ideas can take a while to get clear on so I might try and find some pictures next time of what different kinds of defensive behaviour looks like. For herd hiding - you only need to look at the behaviour of most show hosts on TV.
Hang in there!