Gas Lighting – Vice-Signalling And A Lack Of Self-Respect

There is an innate tendency for people to seek out information that validates their beliefs and to resist information that does not confirm what they believe to be true, and when given access to all of the information of the world via the Internet, there is no reason for someone who is motivated to believe something to ever to be exposed to anything that contradicts it.

The truth does not matter when it can be ignored.

Author Reading Blog Post

The concept of gaslighting was first introduced in the 1938 play “Gas Light” by Patrick Hamilton, which was made into a movie a couple of time. The story is set in 1880 when houses are artificially illuminated with candles for the lower classes and gas for the middle and upper classes. The husband and wife, main characters, live in a big house that is lite with gas. Their relationship is not a good one. The apartment above remains vacant after the murder of a rich lady who had a lot of expensive jewelry. The husband spends the evenings searching an upstairs apartment for the jewels but he doesn’t tell his wife where he is going or what he is doing. Of course, he uses the gas lights when he searches the upstairs apartment, which causes the lights in the rest of the building to glow more dimly. His wife hears sounds coming from the apartment and notices the lights getting dimmer but when she asks her husband about these things he tells her that they are not happening. He does it so frequently and so convincingly that she begins to doubt her own experience of reality and starts to question her sanity.

This is the origin of the term “gaslighting” and it is a powerful way to manipulate other people. It is a long game and it tends to work more effectively on people who have a connection to or a reason to care for manipulator. The effects are cumulative and will only occur after repeated exposure. In general, it works because someone lies so convincingly and so consistently about a subject that the victim begins to doubt their own experiences. It will not work when the person knows that they are being lied to, either because they have proof of the lies or they have other social proof that their experience of reality is actually true, and it cannot be said that a person who is motivated to believe the other persons lies is suffering from gaslighting.

Recall or consider the Asch conformity experiment that asked subjects to answer a question about line length. Subjects were placed into groups with other people who were, unbeknownst to them, confederates and working with the experimenter. The group was shown two pictures, one with a single line drawn on it and one with three lines drawn on it. They were then asked to select with line in the second picture matched the length of the line in the first picture. When the subject answered first or when the previous answers did not agree, they would always answer correctly. But when they answered last and there had been complete agreement on a particular line, they were more likely to offer-up the same answer. This is not a case of gaslighting even though most of the subjects did, at least some of the time, go along with the answers the rest of the group gave. These subject consciously made the decision to conform and give the same answer as the rest of the group members. At no time did they question their belief that the group was answering incorrectly. They simply made the decision to go along with the group to avoid the negative feelings associated with standing alone. This is a critical distinction because it illustrates the importance of the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In Asch’s study, the subject doubted the sanity of the other group members, with gaslighting, the victim doubts their own sanity.

The play came out in 1938 and for a few decades nothing much came of it other than it being a moderately interesting evening of entertainment and a decent thought experiment in terms of “what would you do” in a similar situation. However, during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, the term began to build-up steam and started to take root in mainstream consciousness to refer to any deliberate actions that were taken to undermine someone’s perception of reality. It is now widely accepted as a manipulation tactic used by narcissists, sociopaths, and people who wish to destabilize another person’s view of what is real.

The timing of this is not much of a surprise either. We are now living in what many consider the post truth era. This is a time in which the truth is much less important than being right or being believed. It happens to coincide with the elimination of tight social groups and the formation of virtual social groups that coexist around a shared interest in a particular subject or way of viewing the world. This creates a powerful selection bias effect that convinces each member of the group to believe that their point of view is much more common and much more significant than it actually is. Consider the current political climate. While it may seem like the world is very polarized, it is about as polarized as it has ever been. The distribution of political leanings maps perfectly onto the normal distribution curve that is highest in the center and drops off on either side. Most people are moderates and are very tolerant of the other moderates. They just go about living their life and accept that other people will have views that are different from them. Those who do not agree are not wrong, they are just people who have a different perspective. If we assume that the middle is made-up of the one standard deviation above and below the mean, we need to accept that this will amount to 68 percent of the population. If we assume that it is made-up of two standard deviations above and below the mean, we need to accept that this will amount to 95 percent of the population. Either way you look at it, the middle is MASSIVE while the fringes are tiny.

However, our large population and the Internet has given us the ability to seek out, find, and connect with like-minded people about any subject, regardless of geographic location. The ability to broadcast anything in real time has given the small numbers of fringe members the ability to echo and amplify their message creating the illusion that there are more of them than there are. Compounding this illusion is the relative ease at which people can disregard information that does not support their point of view. There is an innate tendency for people to seek out information that validates their beliefs and to resist information that does not confirm what they believe to be true, and when given access to all of the information of the world via the Internet, there is no reason for someone who is motivated to believe something to ever to be exposed to anything that contradicts it.

The truth does not matter when it can be ignored.

This was not the case until very recently. When the population was low and the ability to find and connect with people who shared your particular perspective was severely limited, we had no choice but to listen and coexist with those who were near us in a geographical sense. Our views were balanced and tempered by the exposure to other people who held a slightly different perspective of the same subject. We needed to get along with them because they lived close to us, so we learned how to tolerate other points of view and likely learned things from the people who differed from us giving us a better understanding of facts, evidence, and the truth. Gaslighting was rare when we were exposed to a variety of people who had a diverse collection of perspectives.

Gaslighting has really taken off over the last 10 years because the ability to self-select the information we consume and the groups to which we identify as being a part of. And it is a real problem.

In fairness, I don’t really care what adults do so long as it doesn’t impact the freedom, safety, and liberty of other people. My view is that the human brain is an amazing thing that has a massive storage potential in terms of memory and it is innately coded to assimilate sensory information in a way that allows it to create mental processes to perform powerful and arbitrary tasks. The world would be a much better place to live if everyone used their brain to its potential by bringing in the most accurate information available and then allowing it to write the code to handle the process of living more effectively, but this isn’t what people are going to choose to do. If you’re over the age of 25, there is still hope for you because the brain maintains its powerful abilities for the duration of life, but you are your own problem now. You are an adult and you have every right to choose the life you are going to live.

It is a problem for the people who are not adults because they are in the process of learning how to be adults and they have always existed in the post truth world that favors virtual interactions with little social cost over the face to face interactions that reveal other human beings to be a slightly different version of the same thing they are.

Gaslighting in this context is much easier to accomplish and a lot more damaging in terms of long term consequences. Younger people do not have the life experience that contributes to knowing much about anything. Most of their time has been spent getting up to speed with the skills most of us take for granted – the 80% of the skills that all human beings have in common. Moving, talking, learning how to read language, learning how to interact with the physical objects in the world, etc. consume much of learning opportunities in the early parts of life. Young people are also much more open and just accept what they hear as being the truth because they don’t have a choice. Their lack experience with almost everything means that in order to learn anything they have to assume that what they experience is the truth and are at the mercy of the intention of the people they encounter.

In a way, this is worse than conscious gaslighting. With gaslighting the person knows the truth and is being manipulated into thinking that maybe their view of reality is suspect. It’s not a great situation because being taught to doubt your experiences of reality can create a habit or behavioral pattern of doubt. However, the cause of the problem is the misplaced trust in someone who is willing to weaponize this trust as a way to take something that they want. With young people, there may not be any knowledge or notion of the truth. Their first experience with the truth will be the implantation of a lie that serves only to manipulate them and to give-up whatever the liar wants from them.

Consider what gaining knowledge about a complex subject is like. Imagine the totality of what is known about something would fill-up a fifty page notebook – both sides, single spaced, in the times new roman font at a size of 11, with one inch margins top, bottom and sides. This is about 70000 words assuming 1400 words per page – 700 on the front and 700 on the back – and is a considerable amount of information and it will take a number of years to learn.

Now think about what happens to the person on their first day when they are exposed to the subject. There is a moment when they go from not having the notebook, meaning they do not know that there is a subject, to them getting the notebook. This moment is important because it serves as the introduction to both the fundamentals of the subject and the fact that the subject is a thing that can be known that they do not know much about. They are very vulnerable at this point because all they have is an almost completely blank notebook with very little typed-out. It might have a title and a few sentences, but most of it is empty and there are no page numbers. There is no way for them to know how long the book is because they know almost nothing about the subject other than the title. At this moment in time, and for a few pages at least, they have no choice but to type-out EVERYTHING they hear about the subject and commit it to memory because unless they start filling-up the note book, they are never going to know anything about it.

This empty notebook phenomenon isn’t isolated to young people, although it is much more prevalent with them. We can be exposed to a completely new subject at any time in our life and when it happens, we are just as vulnerable as the young person is to disinformation, lies, or biased / unbalanced information. There will be an almost complete transcription, word for word, of everything that is said for a few pages and this information will make-up the foundation of the persons understanding about the subject. Ideally, the authors of these foundational sentences will be honest brokers of the truth and will make it clear that what they are sharing is only a tiny portion of the totality of the subject. This was much more likely in the past, when the teacher was someone from the immediate community and the information was shared or taught via a face to face interaction. There was also a long term relationship or connection between the student and the teacher meaning that the teacher would likely play a long lasting role in the process of education about the subject and if so, they would be around to see the positive outcomes or the consequences of what they taught. When dealing with smaller social groups, there is a cost to lying or setting out to manipulate and that cost is paid by both parties creating a disincentive for the teacher to act selfishly.

We now live in a world that looks nothing like that. Balance doesn’t matter because of the size of the population. Interactions are transactional and manipulation frequently goes unnoticed and even when it is, it is very often unpunished. People can get away with saying whatever they like, with little disincentive for deviating away from the truth and the potential for big reward by presenting biased, incomplete, or wrong information as fact. The inevitable outcome to this is an abundance of people who have the first 20 pages of their notebooks filled with garbage, propaganda, or conditional facts, that serve only to benefit the person who exposed them to the stuff in the first place. This leads the owners of the books to be certain about things that are wrong, and to contribute to the potential gaslighting of the people who are close to them. This isn’t exactly their fault, they have never been exposed to both sides of the story and since they do not know enough about the subject to know how long the book is, they have no basis for believing that there is a lot of stuff that they don’t know and have yet to learn or that what they have been taught was bullshit and existed only to control them in some way.

It gets a couple of steps worse though. As much as I have contempt for people who manipulate others just so they can get what they want, I can at least understand their motives. It’s sneaky and awful, but their intentions leave clues and are very simple to figure-out once you start to consider the possibility that they are not acting selflessly. The moment you begin to follow the money or the payout, their reasons for doing what they do are obvious. These folks are bad, but they are predictably bad and bad in very specific ways. The people who cause me the most consternation are the ones who are gaslighting but for no reason obvious reason. These are the ones who could and should be acting differently but are just not taking the time to be careful or educated enough to actually be helpful to other people.

If it isn’t clear the type of person or things I am making reference to here, consider what gets posted to most twitter accounts that is of a derogatory nature. Almost everything that anyone does makes logical sense to them, although it may not be based on reality. If someone doesn’t have the right information, there’s a much better than random chance that they will get something wrong. But having the power to broadcast is much simpler than the world is, leading everyone to have an almost equal voice. Most of what people say is going to be wrong under certain contexts and anyone who understands the subject only under those contexts has the power to point out just how stupid the person is for making their statement. The truth is that both people are correct, except person A doesn’t have the same content in the first 10 pages of their notebook that person B has, and neither one knows how long their notebooks are. All they know is that what they know is all there is to know so anyone who disagrees with them is insane.

There is no possibility for balanced perspective or for learning. The only thing that comes of it is an argument or fight between two people who know only enough to be dangerously ignorant and absolutely certain that their point of view is infallible. The only thing that stops it from being gaslighting is the complete lack of respect or connection between the two people who are trying to convince the other that they are wrong.

The collateral damage is anyone who happens to respect and trust one of the participants who doesn’t share their point of view. These people end-up getting steered away from their perspective as they become convinced that it is incorrect REGARDLESS of how they came to hold the point of view. Without realizing that they are being impacted by someone who has very little understanding of the subject, they flip the switch on what they know is fact and turn it into fiction. They have learned a new piece of disinformation and the wedge of doubt has been hammered into their level of certainty that the person who taught them the thing in the first place was correct or that they should be trusted in the future. This has potential long term negative effects in that it can whittle down the number of people that the young person considers sources of truth.

Again, when this concerns adults, I don’t care all that much. Everything I am saying here is well documented and available to anyone who cares enough to seek it out. For adults in western society there is no longer such a thing as ignorance, there is only willful ignorance (a legal term) or ignorance through laziness (a narrative colloquialism). They have the opportunity to acquire whatever information they need to make an informed and well educated decision, so any failure to do so is purely the result of an unwillingness to put in the effort.

Willful ignorance in contemporary law, and its historical counterpart willful blindness, refer to the action of deliberately not learning the facts in an effort to avoid future accountability or prosecution. For example, someone agreeing to drive a car across the border only to claim that they didn’t know that there was contraband in the trunk. While it may very well be true that they didn’t know that there was anything illegal in there, they are still responsible for crossing the border with it because it is reasonable to expect that someone should know what is in the car they are driving OR that they should have been suspicious about the request. Willful ignorance is also one of the main reasons why there are so many signs at airports telling you to NOT check any luggage that you did not pack yourself.

Not knowing something, when you reasonably should have known or when you actively avoided finding out, opens you up to criminal prosecution. It is very serious and on the same level as having taken the actions with full knowledge – the willfully ignorant is as guilty as the person who planted the drugs, the main difference is that the person who planted the drugs isn’t sitting in the police station or border security holding cell. The only possible defense to willful ignorance is plausible deniability which holds that the person was far enough removed from the information that it is not reasonable to believe that they would have actively had to take steps to avoid knowing it. Consider a long haul truck driver who has picked-up a sealed load at a distribution center that turns out to have drugs hidden in the cases of coconut milk. It is not reasonable to expect them to check the entire load, particularly when it has been pre-cleared and has a customs seal.

This concerns gaslighting because gaslighting is intended to make the victim doubt the validity of what they know to be true or to doubt what they believe about reality. While lying will be a component to it in most cases, the perpetrator does not necessarily need to lie or to even know what the truth is. All that is required is the intention to cause doubt or psychological uncertainty and to take actions to create this outcome. This is important because honesty and truth telling are the antidote to gaslighting. The truth is the objective definition or description of reality, therefore anytime someone tells the truth, they are making factual claims about what is real. Someone who consistently tells the truth can be counted on when doing an ecology check to vet the quality and accuracy of another’s assumptions or claims. Truth teller will shamelessly state that they do not know when they do not know. In fact, their locus of control is completely internal meaning that they care a lot less about being believed than they do about telling the truth OR NEVER telling a lie.

This is the essence of my beef with the post truth era and with people in western society who say things that are not true. It isn’t that they are making their own lives more difficult, they are adults and are responsible for making their own decisions, and I don’t care all that much about their experience of life. It is that they are making other people’s lives more difficult. They are, by my thinking, willfully ignorant and therefore a step above complicit in allowing the truth to fall by the wayside; particularly given the ease at which the truth can be uncovered via the Internet.

This begs the question, are they gaslighting? Well, consider the fact that telling the truth is the antidote and the only way to immunize others from it, anyone who is lying might be gaslighting. It then comes down to their intention when they talk – are they saying what they are saying to cause the listener to doubt their view of reality? The answer here is less straight forward, but in a world were learning the truth is a matter of putting in a little bit of effort and were avoiding the telling of a lie is simply a matter of saying “I don’t know,” we’d be foolish to extend any charity towards someone who is willfully ignorant and vocal. They are choosing to lie when saying nothing, admitting that they do not know, or when finding out the correct answer are available options.

It comes down to why someone would do this, and this is why I consider it to be gaslighting. They want other people to believe that they know what they are talking about and that they know the truth. Neither of these things is true, therefore they are trying to convince the listener to believe that reality is different from how it actually is. When they could simply announce that they do not know or that they are putting forward a guess or an opinion, or when they could hold off on saying anything until they know the answer, they are making the decision to speak in an attempt to manipulate the person they are talking to.

It is dangerous because it might work. The listener may view them as an expert and a source of truth. They may start to disbelieve something that is true. They may even stop listening to someone who is an honest broker of the truth simply because the other person doesn’t soften any of their statements with words like “opinion” or “I think.” And any of these things make the future of the listener much more difficult because they have promoted a gaslighting liar into their circle of influence and demoted a mentor or truth teller out of this circle. The only possible outcome here is a degradation in the quality of their view of reality.

Again, NONE of this is necessary. All of the answers are available to anyone who is willing to put in the effort to find them. Yet it is happening more now than ever before which is making a lot of things worse for young people and the adults who are afflicted with this pathological and chronic willful ignorance.

The Internet is both the cause of and the solution to the pandemic of gaslighting. The truth is out there, readily available to anyone who is willing to take the time to find it. But there is less of an incentive to put in the work to learn how to get along with people we do not agree with, now that we can self-select our social groups and the information that we consume. We are beginning to see the negative outcome of this now that people who are less tolerant to having their ideas challenged and are less willing to value different opinions have a platform for vocalizing their disdain and irrational phobia of the people who hold incompatible perspectives.

My view is that gaslighting is an indication of a lack of self-respect and it amounts to vice-signalling. Laziness is a vice, so anyone who is willing to avoid putting in the effort that is required to find answers in favor of saying whatever they feel like is making a strong clear statement about how much they value their brain and their wisdom – not enough to do an Internet search and manage their way through whatever discomfort new information triggers inside of them.

Reasons To Not Be Afraid – Post Revisited

About seven years ago I wrote what I still regard as the most honest, vulnerable and personal thing I have ever posted. The title of the post was Reasons To Not Be Afraid and it represents as close to bottom as I hope I ever go.

At the time, it had been about six weeks since my father had died and after taking the month of February to rot, drink, overeat, smoke, and basically spiral down, I had a moment of clarity. It was around 4:55 AM on the morning of Wednesday February 29. For some reason, probably because my brain had stopped enjoying the experience of being inside my body, I was snapped awake with the realization that my dad was dead. While this was obvious and something that I was clear on, given that he died on January 29, a part of me had been pushing it away. But through the fog my brain was able to do its thing, reconcile all of the sensory information, interrogate my long term memories and force into my consciousness the painful reality that he wasn’t on vacation and that he was never coming home.

I lost my shit! Waking-up angry is one thing, this was an entirely different animal. My body was already filled with a chemically induced rage courtesy of my medulla dumping the previous months share of adrenaline into my blood stream a few moments before my eyes opened. The worst part was that my eyes opening was not the first action I took that morning. My body had been up and moving around for a while before I joined the party and it was my joining in that slowed everything down; not right away though. I was along for the ride watching my body wrecking things as I tried to get a handle on a tsunami of grief, a growing pain in my right foot and the feeling that something should be ringing in my ears that people get when they are smashed awake by a threateningly loud noise.

There were a few things wrecked in my room, nothing of much value and nothing that was ever missed, but destroyed nonetheless. A fan, a pair of old headphones, a plastic water bottle, stuff that had been near my bed when my hands decided that those items needed to be as far away from me as possible and the rest of my body agreed. The predawn peace had been shattered by things exploding against the wall that had done nothing but try and hold up the house. Its answer? Make sure everything stayed on the inside of the room by providing the perfect surface to convince a few million molecular bonds that their partners were not worth holding on to. It was the noise of their scream as they let go that was responsible for waking me up.

Oh, and I had kicked something.

What does bottom look like? Well, it depends on the person I suppose. For me though it was kind of unremarkable. Bottom was sober. Bottom was clear headed. Bottom was a profound sadness. There wasn’t regret, my dad and I had been very close. His death wasn’t the shock that him getting cancer had been. When someone is given 6-12 weeks to live you know full well what is in the mail.

I was just tremendously sad.

Hitting bottom didn’t look anything like the view on the way there either. And in fairness, even the journey there wasn’t something that would make anyone shake their head in disgust. In the month between his death and me finally accepting it there had been a lot of drinking, over eating and too many cigarettes. Too much sleeping and too much time spent by myself working on a Morrissey flavored depression that was equal parts self indulgence and self pity. But there had been a lot of writing, a lot of insights and a lot of unconsciously coming to terms with the reality that my life was unworkable and had been for a very long time.

With my dad gone, I needed to grow-up – I needed to grow-up anyway, his passing must forced the issue. And as I lay on the floor of my room bawling that morning I accepted that my journey had begun.

Writing the “why’s” and “what ifs” lists in the Reasons To Not Be Afraid was good therapy advice that I had been putting off because the thought of the pain looking that deeply at my life might cause seemed too much to bare. This was an inflection point, a moment when the polarity reverses and the pain of continuing along a path becomes greater than any conceivable pain that would come from seeing what I had made of my life. While I didn’t particularly like what I saw and I detested the fact that I had become someone so afraid of the world that I was compulsively avoiding it, I knew that these were just feelings. If things were different, I would probably feel different.

That was the switch flipping. I had no idea if the future was going to be better, if I would attack the world with confidence and become a man of powerful and pragmatic action. That post, and the lists contained within it, were a reflection and the manifestation of untested beliefs. By doing different things, I would be able to find out if the beliefs were accurate and I would be able to feel something different. That was enough for me. It was clear that I was the one who had been making the decisions and choosing my actions, so I was free to make different decisions and choose different actions. And that is what I did.

Life got better, much better. It turned out that I had been living a lie. While the world is every bit as bad as I thought it was, living in it and being a part of it is a lot easier than avoiding it. While the “why’s” list did contain some accurate reasons, it also included some ad-hoc justifications for indulging in compulsive escapist behaviour. We’re all very good at coming up with reasons to support doing whatever it is we think we should do. The gold though was in my lack of imagination in the “what ifs” list. I was right about most of the things. As I changed my behavior, life got easier and it changed for the better. But I had been negligent in my consideration of the outcome of sustained small actions. Any action taken eliminates an almost infinite number of potential futures while simultaneously creating the possibility of an almost infinite number of alternative ones. It wasn’t just that I would no longer be hiding away from the world, it would be that I was actually engaging it, and that meant doing things, things that I hadn’t even considered being things before let alone things that I would be doing.

Seven years on the only thing that I would change about the post is the last line “I’m not necessarily afraid, but I am anxious,” which was more wishful thinking about the future than anything else. It was too early to make a definitive call on what the experience of change was like. The truth is that I am both afraid and anxious of doing new things and of the unknown in general. And I think I always will be. Life doesn’t start being less scary. There isn’t a desensitization effect as a result of doing stuff.

The main difference now is that I accept that I am afraid and I do it anyway.

Responding To Criticism

There is a saying “to escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing,” but I have a feeling that you’ll still have your critics because people are outstanding at taking their critical eye off of themselves and casting their judgmental gaze upon others. It’s what a lot of people do.

There are a number of different approaches when it comes to these people shelling out their opinion but how you engage their words will be basically the same. You hear what is said, you consider the words without allowing the tone to taint your understanding, consider the information that is being given to you and the actions it helps you take or avoid, you then consider the source of the criticism to determine the amount of value their words should be given and then you make whatever changes you need to based on the merit of the criticism. And if you don’t know what to do or what you think, you simply just wait until you do know what to do.

This approach is effective because it makes the initial assumption that what the person is saying *may be* valid so you do not waste good feedback because of the source; good advice or criticism is good regardless of who says it. Don’t miss out on a gem of wisdom simply because it came out of the mouth of someone who doesn’t like you.

Some examples:

“You are a complete asshole” – this type of criticism isn’t helpful because it reveals nothing about WHY the sayer believes you to be an asshole. There are no clear actions to come out of it. They are likely trying to hurt you for something or number of things they believe you have done. It doesn’t matter who says this, it’s not worth engaging. Probably the best reply is “thanks, I’m lots of things!”

“When you raised your voice, I thought you were going to hurt me” – this is very helpful because it reveals the emotional state of the sayer (fear) and it introduces the catalyst for their emotional state (your action of raising your voice). It is reasonable, regardless of who says this to you, that you can avoid this person becoming fearful by not raising your voice. It reveals a lot about their past, likely that they’ve been exposed to yelling in a caring environment that was supposed to be safe and nurturing.

“When I was with you, you never knew what you wanted” – this isn’t very helpful or actionable because it reveals opinion and it is passively blaming. This isn’t the type of criticism that is very useful on it’s own and, given that it is reports about something in the past, it isn’t actionable. Your options here are to engage the person in a conversation to find out what they are trying to say or just thank them for their opinion and move on. It may be worth considering off-line, but if they are in your past consider just leaving them there.

“Well, I wouldn’t have done X if you didn’t do Y” – this is fantastic criticism because it reveals a lot about the sayer and it provides you with the framework for preventing X in the future by avoiding Y. All is well until we consider the source, then it should be rather scary. If you doing Y makes someone do X, you have a surprising amount of control over them; you don’t actually so there’s a very good chance that you are talking to someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for their actions.

Now, the best part about criticism is that when you have some for someone else, you can be very confident that you have the same criticism of yourself.

My LandMark Forum Part 4 – Day Two, Part One

I did not sleep well, which is to say, I had the most magnificent dreams and was so excited and glowy all night that I didn’t really get more than 30 minutes of sleep in a row. The alarm when off and sprang-up, showered, got dressed, did more of my homework, made lunch, went shopping for food and drove into Toronto.

I was tired, but not drained. The truth is, I had found a source of energy that I couldn’t adequately explain. It was a contained, calm but focused energy that hasn’t left me and that I have come to describe as the vitality of living in the moment – I get very little sleep now yet have this same energy when I am in the moment and feel as tired as I am when I’m off purpose or out of the moment.

Admittedly I was a little cocky. I felt fantastic and completely connected to most of the people. I was beaming, smiling and saying hi to people and, with each person who said hi back I felt more alive and with each one that didn’t I instantly saw their past, the life they had lived and the fact that I was either scary, dangerous, both or they were afraid. I cared enough to feel sad that they were not as happy as I was, but knew that I could help them if they were open to it. I said hi to the leader asked him a question which is answered with one word and turned away.

I felt sick, put right off. “What the hell was that?” I thought. It was kind of rude and since my cheque had cleared I had been anticipating something different. “I really don’t like that guy at all” was my thought as I took my seat.

Things began and I honestly have very little recollection of what was going on for the first part of it. I had been gamed or something and was wildly unsettled. We reviewed our homework and it was about making peace with someone in our past with whom we had allowed our lack of authenticity or a racket to leave things incomplete. At it turns out, most of the people in the room had issues with their parents or an ex. Okay, that’s bull crap, they had issues with themselves, specifically their lack of responsibility and their need to blame others for their place in life. This was a decent section for me, I had made peace with everyone in my life and all but one person had accepted my apology and given me forgiveness. Des has encouraged me to consider steps 8 and 9 of AA Twelve Step Program at the beginning of March to help me move on from an slightly tangled past. I accepted that rejecting forgiveness is a keen way to say locked in the past and made the decision to leave them there.

The sharing during this portion was me thinking stuff that was almost completely over the top. Still ringing in my head was the “I don’t want to make you feel better, I want to set you free” comment from the night before. I listened openly to what the people were saying an instantly heard the child in each of them. It was sickening the lack of responsibility that some of these people were taking for their own lives. This is common so the leader asked everyone who was 23 or younger to stand-up. There rest of us were then asked to look at them and, as we did, the leader said “this is what most of your parents looked like when you were born.” I broke-down. I’m almost 20 years older than my mom was when she became a mom, am 15 years older than my dad was, and I have been a complete asshole in some of the things I have thought about my parents. A complete judgmental asshole. I’ve had the luxury of spending 15 years reading, learning, and living life while my folks would have been raising Des and me. He sealed the moment with “if you are here it is because your parents were successful. Their job is to keep you alive until you are an adult.”

The sharing with partners began and I listened to someone bitch about their mother and younger sister for 2 minutes, when it was my turn I asked her to continue, which they did and, with about 30 seconds left I said “can I tell you want I’m hearing?” With their permission I unloaded the truth and did not make someone feel better. I told them that ignoring her mother for 3 months is the best way to let a parent know that they did a shittie job, that her younger sibling mistreating her mother was likely learned from the older sibling (her) and that, if she really wanted to feel good about herself that maybe she should call her mom, and apologize for acting like ungrateful child, poisoning the families sense of love and having the nerve to blame it on her. “You’ll be free the very minute you ask her for forgiveness, say I have no idea what it would be like to have your oldest daughter ignore you and then listen to her tell you what it was like. You’ve screwed up pretty bad here and if your first call at lunch isn’t to your mother it’s now on you because this is the way the world is.”

At lunch I called my mom and asked her when was the last time I told her that she and my father had done a great job with me and my brother. “The other morning” was her reply. We were both smiling and she told me she loved me and hoped I was having a good weekend. I didn’t call my old friend because I had already talked to her and didn’t see any value in repeating myself.

Transactional Analysis – Part 2 – The Games We Play

In Transactional Analysis – Part 1 – Laymans Introduction we covered the social and ego / psychological states – those of child, parent and adult, and Child, Parent and Adult – that we learn through observation and which then become hardwired into our brains. The interplay between these social and psychological states occurs during social interactions (transactions) involves the currency of strokes. The end goal of TA therapy is to coach the client into engaging others and themselves with their Adult psychological and social states.

Stable interaction occur when all parties are interacting in complementary states e.g. one is Parent, the other is child, both are Adult, or both are Child in a state of play. Unstable interactions occur when both parties are NOT transacting in complementary states – one is Parent and the other is Adult – or when the social and psychological states do not match.

Now the most important part of it from an analysis / therapeutic point of view, the games we play.

In general, games are needed because life is a social thing. Most of the games don’t really matter as they are just ways of filling time. Many men and some women will play the game “the sports” were they interact with each other taking turns taking about their team, their QB, their whatever. No one lives or dies because of these transactions and nothing really happens. It’s a bit of fun allowing for some chirping, trash talk and a general discourse about something that doesn’t have much impact on the world. The social and ego states of this game tends to be complementary.

A similar game, but one with actual consequences is “politics.” This game is a little more insidious as those who play it tend to hold a particular position of rightness (they judge their opponents) and will usually alter their ego state during the conversation to in an attempt to win or prove a point. The transactions are mixed such that the adult social comment “it is important for the liberals to understand who is paying for everything” is actually a Parent comment directed towards their opponent implying the liberals are not wise enough to realize the money comes from all the tax payers. When their debate partner replies with “it seems like conservatives don’t have a very good understanding of how enlightened liberally minded thinkers are” it is presented as Adult, but it’s a Child-like rebuttal of “you’re stupid.”

So those are two simple games that people pay. Not really a big deal given that most people don’t spend a lot of time talking politics with people they are attempting to foster high quality relationships with.

Given that the goal of TA is to help coach the client to engage others as both a social and psychological Adult, knowledge of these games and ones role within them is critical in correcting their maladaptive behavior. And this is where the challenge begins given that the Child and Parent states are biologically hardwired and can be triggered very easily simply by having someone engage you in one of the complementary states. For example, your boss makes the Adult statement “have you completed the report?” and this triggers a latent feeling from your childhood when a teacher asked the same question. Instead of saying “yes” and handing it over, the reply is “why don’t you ever think I’ll anything you ask me to do?” a Child reply. Effective bosses will reply with an Adult statement like “I just need the report so I can secure the funding for the budget” ignoring their Child like reply and not altering their ego state to match the shift that just occurred when their employee reacted like a child.

So that’s how the games work. There’s a formula for which people end-up winning and it’s a pathological mess when the dynamic becomes obvious.

Here are a few of the games that I find to be the most damaging:

“Now I’ve got you, you SOB” – A wants something, to end a relationship with B for example. B wants something, to spend time with A. B asks A to go out somewhere and A agrees. Adult : Adult on a social level, but something else on the psychological level. Upon arrival, A notices a car in the parking lot that looks like one that belongs to a friend of B. A realizes that they now have the evidence they need to “legitimately” end the relationship because B didn’t want to go out, they wanted to hangout with someone else. The switch occurs when A engages B from Parent and B responded as Child. In this case, A says “you weren’t honest with me about why you wanted to go out, just asked me for a ride so you could spend time with someone else” with B replying “no I didn’t.” This cross-up leaves B disoriented because they didn’t anticipate the switch and if they had real feelings towards A, they realize that they have been played. The payoff for A is feeling justified in their actions dumps B and moves forward from a superior position.

This is a very common one in dead relationships or marriages were one party will ask the other questions saying “I won’t be upset, I just need to know what’s going on.” Once B replies, the switch occurs and A attacks B for their lack of morals, lack of character, etc…. B feels stupid because they’ve been had again and A feels justified in their negative feelings. This likely is related to Negative Love Syndrome in that A has created an environment by with compassionate love is used against their partner.

This game is run aggressively and in many cases, the decision to feel a particular way has NOTHING at all to do with B. A just has some reason for not being an Adult and makes the decision to manipulate so they don’t have to be up front about it. In a lot of cases, it has seemingly decent people doing things that are horrible, but the reality is, A isn’t an Adult and is locked in their Child ego state.

“If it wasn’t for you….” Many people seek out of relationships with people who they view as controlling and will facilitate the behaviors by which B will begin to act like a parent or offer coaching as an Adult. Once these behaviors begin to be displayed, A will then feel and claim that B is trying to control them and act like a child and say “if it wasn’t for you I would be doing …..” the notion is that B is preventing A from achieving what they want. The irony is, B is helping A achieve what they want – which is the feeling of being controlled.

This games sucks because A doesn’t have the awareness to see that their actions are creating the response in B. For example, A tells B that they bounced a check or couldn’t buy something that was needed because they didn’t have enough money. B compassionately tries to offer some help – points out ways to save some money, suggests a budget, or something similar. What B didn’t know was that A wanted to bounce the check or not have the money so there could be some social gain; possible a feeling of being unfairly done by or a reason to complain. The switch occurs when A proceeds to tell B that they are trying to control them and that their help is uninvited and unwelcome; possibly going so far as to say that B doesn’t even follow the same advice. The gain for A is the creation of bad feeling towards B, a superior position and likely the end of a relationship / friendship. B just feels stupid for being gamed.

There are many games like this, check out Eric Berne — “The Games People Play – The Psychology Of Human Relationships” for a startling list of the ways people will manipulate others. I regard this book as a user manual for ruining other peoples lives and creating toxic relationships with people who are prone to being worked over. As a general rule however, reading it and noticing the way people engage you, and being aware of how the switching from Adult to parent / child feels will disarm even the most skilled manipulators. Once you feel it happening, point it out to them and watch them squirm.

Let’s be fair though, all of this is possible because people feel compassion, which is a great thing when it isn’t being used as a weapon.

Why We Don’t Ask For Help

Was having a chat with a teacher friend a few weeks ago and I asked her what she was grateful for that day. Her reply “I asked my VP for help on a project.” “Cool” said I, then “is that something you would normally have trouble doing?” She’s really driven so I knew the answer and was just fishing, she indulged me with “yeah, a lot of people don’t like asking for help.” “Why do you think that is?”

“Because they are afraid they won’t get it.”

I think I levitated, as one would when they get a solid kick to their understanding.

A few things registered with me. First, she’s a teacher, so she coaches, teaches and helps for a living; help and guidance are the currency of her profession. I’ve asked her for help and she always gives it. She doesn’t solve the problem or fix anything, she just provides some info or whatever is needed and lets me take care of it myself. When she asks me for help, she gets the same from me. It’s symbiotic so I was shocked at her answer.

Next, the fact that she was so relieved was astounding to me. It is her boss and they have a vested interest in helping her be more successful. What must have happened in her past to believe that she wouldn’t get the help she needed? We didn’t talk about this, I was just too floored at her answer to be of much use. I was still floating.

The final thing I thought was “do I think that?” I’m not sure I do, but I’m not sure I don’t either. I’ll ask for help from people I know can offer it. Sometimes they’ll give it to me, more and more often I get coaching to help me help myself.

It’s an interesting topic that has shifted recently for me because of the intensity in which I engage people. If someone asks for help or tells me that they want something, a switch flips in my head and I set out making it a reality. Things get cloudy for me only when the nature of the request isn’t completely understood. If someone is truly asking for help nothing goes wrong. But if they are looking for someone to agree with them about something being too hard, unfair, is someone else’s fault or is simply looking to have someone listen to their complaint, I tend to misunderstand the nature of these interactions. They are looking for a child child transaction and I unconsciously switch it to parent child then quickly to adult adult without getting the agreement from the other person.

I do this automatically now because I have a really tough time listening to people complain about their position in life without taking responsibility for it. There are very few cases when someone is really a victim and even fewer when making them feel better is a better course of action than setting them free.

I’ll add something to my teacher friends comment – people don’t ask for help for two reasons, the first is that they are afraid they won’t get it, the second is that they are afraid that they WILL get it but don’t actually want it.

My LandMark Forum Part 3 – Day One, Part One

There were a few really big moments during the weekend that rocked me hard. A lot of them were unconscious at the time, but revealed a lot of information that I was not able to flush out in the moment.

The first was immediately upon getting off the elevator. I was there to learn and the staff was there to guide me. My cheque cleared so the roles were very clear to me. I was an authentic student with an open mind and gave into the notion that they were authentic coaches / teachers / guides. Most of them were distant, guarded and lacked something that those who suggested I would gain from attending possess in abundance – authentic fearlessness. Frankly, I got the sense that most of the staff was scared crapless of me and I couldn’t push away the feeling that I was actually there for them.

In the waiting room I chatted with some people and asked them what they were hoping to get out of being there. The participants were nice, some were complete phoneys that made my skin crawl, some seemed to be missing a critical piece of the puzzle and it was evident that many were guarded. I did what I do which is effectively be different from everyone else. I turned and opened up and started mining people for their stories.

We all went into the large room and I took my seat in the front row and engaged the two people who were on either side of me. It is impossible to include everyone when you are in a line so I sat on the stage to form a triangle (a circle that just happens to have 3 straight lines forced into it). The group therapy had begun. It’s easy to notice that no other line of people was doing this. The three of us were special. The leader walks in and the session begins.

After some introduction stuff, the leader asks “when someone gives advice to a group, who do you think they are giving to?” There were three answers, silence, “other people” and mine “me.”

Hmmmm….. if I hadn’t yelled “me” I wouldn’t have thought much about it, but there I was, a student who was there to milk the hell out of whatever anyone was going to say or offer. Alone, fearless and authentic. I started to levitate and a lot of what the weekend was about transformed in that instant (not accurate, but for all practical purposes how it was).

People asked some question and when the leader was asked about himself and I got up and left. At the moment I thought it was because I had to go to the bathroom and possibly eat something, but as I walked out of the room I realized it was because I didn’t really care to listen to his answers. It really didn’t matter to me. While some may consider that rude, knowing too much about a possible flash bulb mentor can weaken their position. He had effectively told us that his entire presence was contrived so what’s the point in listening to someone continue to manufacture context?

So, the first thing I realized that I wasn’t being the same as most of the other people there. I was being me, manipulative, controlling, and authentically consuming whatever anyone was willing to give me.

First break and I head across the street to get my lunch out of my car and find somewhere to eat it. There’s a grocery store with some chairs in it and I see a bunch of my fellow participants. All of the tables are being used so I sit on my cooler and begin to use a free chair as my table. A guy says “hey, you want to sit here” pointing to the empty spot at his table. I do. We start the small talk and it turns out he’s one of us, both in terms of a participant and outlier. He leaves and after a few minutes I notice that his jacket is still on the chair. After I finish my lunch I bring the jacket up to the room and go outside to put away my lunch. I see him and say “hey, did you leave your jacket?” and he says kind of avoidantly, “yeah, it’s upstairs.” And I say “it is now, you left it at lunch. It’s under the table where we leave our drinks.” He doesn’t believe me but says “thanks” to a lair who is trying to get credit for doing something they didn’t do. I smile and float away having read his mind.

I get a decaf coffee and head back. As soon as I get into the room, he walks up and I point to under the table where his jacket is, he’s just come from his chair where his jacket isn’t. There’s a look in his eyes that wasn’t there before, the guard is down and he is not afraid of me anymore. He says thank you and sort of outlines the consequences of what would have happened if it was lost because he didn’t remember wearing it when he left for lunch. I say “no, thank you for leaving it. Normally I would have just left it there for the person to come back for. You have given me a gift by providing me the possibility for a different future and then for me to make that different future.” I hug him and he hugs back – two strangers, men in their almost 40’s hugging because of a shared sense of gratitude seeing the gift the other has given to them.

I found my seat for the next session and sat behind one of the greatest people I have ever know. A member of the unawakened walking dead. That’s when things really began to get interesting….

NOTE – any one I mention in these series of blogs has given me permission to talk about our experiences.

Negative Love Syndrome – Revisited

A few weeks ago I blogged Negative Love Syndrome – It Can Stop Here. If you didn’t read it give it a read now, and the Hoffman .pdf. I’ll wait for you to do that before I continue.

Great, now we’re on the same page.

Okay, I don’t disagree with the article or the concept of Negative Love Syndrome (NLS) but if you’re reading a self-improvement / self-awareness blog it’s pretty clear that the concept isn’t flushed out. I had a feeling there was an emptiness to it when I read it the first batch of times but didn’t figure it out until this weekend while I was at the Landmark Forum.

Here’s the deal with it:

Your parents create you and those who surround you are the ones who teach you most of what it is to be alive – survival skills, the skills of intimacy, and how to engage others. Good, bad, whatever. For example, if a mother used alcohol to cope with missing her family overseas, the child may learn to avoid getting close to other people to prevent what they judge to be a wrong type of behavior. If a father yelled because he never learned how to express his emotions his children may learn to avoid saying no or try and avoid disappointing people by never expressing their organic feelings. This makes sense. While not the same thing, both are a manifestation of a lack of authenticity which is the origin of negative love.

The concept is complete only when the individual identifies and addressed their responsibility in the existence of their NLS. Believing that your parents or caregivers did something wrong is a compelling slap to their face. Occasionally someone will do a horrible thing, but in many of the cases the parents were just people doing the best job they could, the only way they knew how. It’s nice to blame them for not doing what you believe would have been a better job, but chances are that they were younger than you are now when they did the things that shaped your NLS. If you are an adult and still blame your parents you are still a child. If you are a parent and still blame your parents you are lowering the potential for unlimited success and joy in the life of your children because you are a child raising children.

A parents role it to keep you alive until you are able to be independent. That’s it. Take responsibility for your place in life, your decision to transfer blame for your life onto them and others and get out of the past. Thank your parents for a job well done and ask your parents for forgiveness for being judgmental for their actions. If you don’t you are going to remain exactly the same as them.

Make no mistake about it, they feel it and believe that they have failed as a parent. Man-up, and let them know just how successful they were because you are alive. Let yourself be beautiful, vibrant and joyful. You don’t just owe them that, you owe them EVERYTHING.

My LandMark Forum Part 2

I’m an analytical manipulator with an empathetic kind heart. It’s good to know this because my jobs all make sense now. Goodness, my entire life makes sense from the seemingly random series of relationships to the self loathing and escapist behavior. When someone tries to sell me something or tries to manipulated me, I feel it in my stomach. I finally realized this fact this weekend. I’ve been hating myself because I am the very thing I hate. Except for one critical thing, I’m now incapable of lying to serve my own selfish ends so now that I see that I can make people think and feel things, I don’t make myself sick anymore.

The sharing session were me turning to my partner and saying “tell me about you” and when the leader said switch I’d say “no, we’ve got great flow here, we need to keep going, it feels like you are onto something”. A few of the people I talked to had never had anyone tell them the actual truth before in a way that made them see it, realize that they had created it and that there was a very simple course of action to a better life.

Over the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that am the architect and engineer of everything in my own life so nothing is in it or out of it by chance. You can imagine the sense liberation and power this information has made me feel – accepting that when I am just being, my manipulation is going to be honest and empathetic. I don’t feel any shame for this anymore, and it’s part of why I haven’t ever really felt like most other people. I’m not like most people. I’m out for humanity not for myself. I can’t lie to people. And I can get them to think and feel things.

The biggest impact on my life has been that I DESPISE manipulative people, so I’ve spend a lot of time hating myself. It’s silly really because I’m not the type person who takes from others. I see or hear someone say they want something and I set out fixing it. The only people it ends up hurting are the ones who were lying about what they want and they hurt because they feel I’ve run a game on them. And they should hurt because they haven’t been feeling bad about running the game on other people. They’re not necessarily assholes, they’re just may not be self-aware enough to realize they want to bitch and I can’t help but try and fix them. That isn’t evil, it’s actually kind of nothing.

I’m A Performance Coach – It Isn’t Personal, It’s About Your Potential

Shamelessly I will push people towards what they say they want. Sadly some will walk away from me because they don’t want what they say they want. This is not my fault, my problem or my issue. Being authentic is our own responsibility so if you tell me you want something and I push you towards it, don’t try to blame me for your discomfort. It isn’t about manipulation unless you really didn’t mean what you said. Just be honest with yourself, you might already have achieved all of the potential you want.

Change is not easy, it requires effort, introspection and likely a lot of tears. You are sweeping your past away in order to see and accept your decisions and then to forgive yourself for them. You wouldn’t need someone like me in your life is you were doing this on your own.

My performance coach team obliterates my understanding of the world constantly because I have forgotten what it means to act with accountability to myself. That is their role. They aren’t my friend when they are my coach, they are there to guide me towards a truth that I have been fighting the acceptance of. They aren’t my parent either, my folks did their job and became friends with me so they didn’t have battle my childishness anymore.

What I see is different from what a lot of people see. When I observe people, listen or experience them, it is from a place of perfection, THEIR perfection. Each of us is perfect already, we were born perfect, even if we are not like others, we are perfect at birth. I know this because I am a human being and compassionate people see the potential of others. They do not see themselves in others, they do not see their own past in others and they do not see the mistakes of life in them. We see perfect thoughts, actions, patterns and an existence that is good and pure.

The role of a performance coach is to help the person see the fog of unworkability that is layered over the beauty and order that exists already. We help them peel away each shell of action / behavior / thought, leaving only that which already exists within them. Once the stuff that doesn’t work is gone, the individual is left stripped naked, perfect, uninhibited and free.

Some in our field work hard to change people, I work hard to keep them the same. Each of us have the answer to all of our questions, they are just waiting for us to be able to hear them. The noise of life, the mind, implied obligations and antiquate ways of being sit as rot on human potential. A performance coach, therapist, or good bar tender understands that some of the most effective medicine comes from mold and will help their clients / patrons use it to cleanse their life.

Like a world class athlete who has had every less than ideal movement trained out of them, each of us has the same potential for perfection. We achieve this by stopping all of the things that aren’t working effectively. When we’re out of things that don’t work, the universe is yours.

Again, no one has to accept this fact and are free to see only the things that aren’t working for them as all that they are.