Toxic People – Controlling Communication = Control

A common experience reported by individuals who are in abusive and toxic relationships is that of a strong effort by the abuser to control the communication that the victim has with their friends and family. Often disguised as a sincere attempt to protect the victim, the abuser will subtly imply that a friend or family member isn’t exactly as the victim believes they are – the suggestion of a questionable work ethic may come-up, questionable morals, or a general statement of disgust or just “not liking them”. This is great ammo for toxic people as victims in these relationships are prone to believe what the abuser says. It’s a war of attrition and over time it’s the small things that help to give an erroneous or controlling notion traction.

The abuser does have a lot to lose in that their illusion of control may hang in the balance; at the very least, the abuser will need to escalate their manipulation attempts once the victim begins to talk to other people usually starting with stronger efforts of character assassination once the victims communication with an objective outsider increase.

What is the abuser afraid of? Simply put, they KNOW there is something not entirely right about the relationship dynamics and they know that in a group of two, their influence has at least 50% of the impact and more likely much higher than that given their overbearing, controlling and manipulative nature. They are also aware that adding a third perspective into the mix can dramatically reduce the level of control they have as this will dilute their influence, particularly when the opinion goes against the abuser – check out Solomon Asch experiments on conformity – were one person agreeing with the victim is often enough for them to break free from the grip of the abuser.

Speaking to other people also affords the victim an opportunity to clearly define what is going on, and this is often very effective at helping someone see what is happening in their life. Friends and family tend to ask lots of questions about things that don’t make any sense so the practice of explaining these can help add some objectivity to an unclear situation. Objectivity is NOT what abusers want so they will often try to limit and control the communication of their partners.

People in healthy relationships do not fear their partners talking to other people because they have nothing to hide. If you find your partner, or yourself, trying to control the external communication, you should take this as a warning sign that the motives may not be as pure as they should be. Take some time to examine the reasons given for discouraging the communication and make whatever adjustments you need to in order to address the situation appropriately.

Toxic People – Controlling Partners

Even in healthy relationships, there will be a time when one partner needs to control the behavior of the other – usually in times of crisis when the objectivity of one is severally impacted. In a true partnership this is what needs to happen – we table the decision making process to someone who will look after our best interests when we are not able to see the world clearly. When I heard about Natalie dying, I immediately called my father to tell him because I felt that I only had a few minutes before I lost perspective and I knew my father would look out for me better than almost everyone on the planet. It was tough on him, but he held it together, he held me together and he worked with my mom and my brother to help me through it. I handed responsibility for me over to him so I could just fall to pieces. The thing is, he didn’t try to control my actions very much. He just needed to be sure I didn’t do anything rash that I would come to regret or worse, die from. I think he and the rest of my family did a great job!

So that’s the ideal, an empathetic and compassionate partner who guides you through a crisis without projecting their will on you. They help you objectively engage the world in your terms. So, in this regard, there is rarely a time when a partner should try to control your behavior.

Sadly, this isn’t the case in number of couples. Drawn to me are a lot of people who are in controlling relationships with partners who lack the awareness to objectively observe and control their own experience of the world. Given the dissonance these individuals experience between their understanding of the world and the objective reality of the world, and their inability to see that through effort they can alter their understanding, the only form of reconciliation they have is to force the world to conform to their world view. This is impossible given the size and interdependent nature of the world so they are only able to control a few things about their immediate world and most often it will be their partner and their children.

Controlling the actions of someone who loves you simply because you do not wish to put the effort into learning how to see the world objectively is immoral because it causes suffering and drastically inappropriate because it uses ones love again them. Because they love you, they give you the power to hurt them and because you have very little self awareness, you use this power to make them feel something unpleasant (hence the term toxic) that isn’t actually there.

The common scenario has the abuser (the immature control partner) feeling out of control when it comes to their partner’s actions or thoughts. Since they don’t want to put the effort into transcending their lack of understanding – or even put some time into considering that they may be able to adjust their understanding or that their understanding is based on something other than reality – they set about to create guilt within victim so they feel bad and motivated to change their actions.

Guilt is very effective only because of the compassionate love the victim feels towards the abuser. It doesn’t work with people who don’t care about them. Statements like “you are breaking up our family” or “I am going to kill myself” don’t have any impact on people who don’t care about you. But if you care about the person who says it, you are sure as hell going to feel something horrible. Toxic people are really good at making compassionate people feel badly about their benign actions.

Cycle Of Abuse

I was chatting with a friend the other day about the cycle of abuse. There has been a shift in her thinking about a few people in her life recently and as the world changes, she is seeing things a lot more objectively. She’s seeing abuse were previously she saw herself as the cause of the actions of the abuser.

The theory isn’t entirely comprehensive but it does an effective job at describing a lot of abuse situations. There are 4 stages that those caught in abusive or conflict prone relationships will cycle through at various speeds:

  1. Tension building phase – communication is starting to breakdown, the victim begins to modify their behavior in an effort to avoid triggering their partner to act abusively.
  2. Acting-out phase – the abuser does or says something that hurts the victim physically or emotionally. It could be a punch in the face, the threat of violence or a manipulative technique. The goal of the abuser is to control the thoughts, emotions or actions of the victim.
  3. Reconciliation or honeymoon phase – this marks the end of the abusive behavior and the start of the apologies. It is paradoxical in that the abuser is trying to control how the victim feels in order to restore the relationship back to *normal*. The abuser will often be extremely nice, apologetic and kind during this phase, or they can use psychological manipulation to win back or coerce the victim back into the relationship.
  4. Calm phase – this is the phase between the acceptance of the reconciliation and the start of the tension building phase.

This isn’t entirely earth shattering, but it is a fairly good model for what happens in a number of abusive relationships.

The conversation moved towards the calm phase and how it never seemed to last very long. In fact, my friend had noticed two disturbing things about the temporal nature of the cycle.

The first is that over a period of a few years, she noticed that SHE never really entered into the calm phase or the honeymoon period either as she could never get past what had been said to her by someone who apparently loved her and she couldn’t understand how the abuser had put it behind them so quickly e.g. “how can he not still feel horrible about saying or doing that to me?”

The second was that the calm phase was getting shorter and shorter as she related her awareness of the cycle to her partner. He didn’t respond well to being made aware that the behavior was automatic, as he claimed to have no awareness that is was happening and objected to her suggestion that he was in control of his anger as it was clearly a response to something she was doing. The thing was, after the acting out phase, he always apologized and admitted that his behavior was out-of-line. She was able to circumvent the honeymoon portion and the calm phase and go directly to the tension building phase simply by letting him know which state they were in.

I’ve yet to meet someone who was caught in the cycle of abuse who was able to stop it; this isn’t to say that it can’t be stopped, just that I haven’t met an abuser who as objective enough to see the cycle for what it was and be willing to see and take on their role in putting an end to the pattern. Which does, sadly, make a lot of sense given that objectivity is needed and in partnerships of abuse, it is sadly lacking. I have met a lot of ex-abusers who are filled with remorse for throwing away relationships, children, friendship and a lot of good times because they didn’t see the cycle until it was too late.

In the end it works out though. They learn their lesson and take care of their next partner while their previous partner moves on to deal with the residue from being treated like a psychological punchbag for years.

Testing Your Partners – Vetting Their Quality

I’m all for testing. When you have a need to for a highly qualified person to fill a particular role, you have an obligation to make sure you find a suitable candidate. The costs of not doing this can be dire if a critical skill is required and the chosen individual does not possess this skill. This applies to work, social, romantic and mentoring relationships. There’s a lot at stake, so you’d better be sure to find the right person.

But this only works if you have the ability to create a test that uncovers the critical skills you are seeking or require for the role. If you don’t possess these skills, your test is to validate something else, most likely your unconscious view of the world.

With professional endeavors, if you run a successful business you likely possess many of the skills needed to identify the ideal or a suitable candidate. If you are looking for your first employee, there’s a good chance that they will need to share some of your entrepreneurial or enterprising spirit. They will need to be hard working, committed to developing a successful business in spite of the slow return or no return on work effort and a strong ability to let go of that which no longer matters and move towards the new goal without taking anything personally. If you can find someone like that as your first hire in a start-up environment, you may just have found the second millionaire your company will create. And you likely have the skills to identify them because you already possess these skills.

But the vetting of suitable candidates is much tougher with romantic or life partners because, if you are looking for one of them, you HAVEN’T been successful at finding one of them and have no experience at creating a long lasting relationship. If you find yourself needing to create tests to vet your girl or boy friends, you may need to accept that they have already failed to prove themselves worthy of you. If you need to create a test, you already know there is something not fitting about them. Go with your gut and cast them away. They aren’t what you need if you are already setting up tests for them to pass or fail.

A friend recently admitted that they created these tests to find out how quickly their boy friends will cave to their demands. We didn’t get too deep into it, but at the time she seemed sad by the constant failure of almost every guy she tested. The test was simple, she would act in a way that was inappropriate and incompatible with a healthy relationship – tell them that they couldn’t hang out with their platonic female friends or she would connect with new male friends (in an equally platonic way). This created a double standard which forced the guy to do one of two things; tell her that he was going to keep hanging out with his friends or tell her that she needed to limit her contact with her new male friends. This twists how the guys would engage her as it creates a situation that doesn’t spontaneously come about.

3 outcomes are possible, the probable was that they would stop hanging out with female friends and let her hangout with her new male friends. These guys were weak but not controlling; not great choices for life partners but you can do a lot worse – she viewed them as losers though and she stopped respecting them but didn’t get out of the relationship. The second option is that the guy would keep hanging out with his female friends and this would make her angry, lose focus on what she was supposed to be dealing with and then shift her energies to making the boys life around his female friends as tough as possible. These guys passed her test as they remain strong in spite of her wishes, but she took their decision to not cave as an indication of them not loving her as opposed to them being strong and unwilling to have someone control their life. So these guys passed the test but in doing so, effectively killed the relationship. The third option was that he would stop hanging out with his friends and demand that she do the same, which she wouldn’t because “a life partner shouldn’t tell me how to behave, he should just accept me”. They failed the test too.

This pattern of behavior is self defeating because it sees one attempting to force their will onto another person. If they accept it, they fail her test and she is unhappy because she won’t leave them and if they reject her will she is unhappy because they don’t love her. We were too busy at the time to get into the unworkable nature of her vetting approach and  I have no reason to believe that she will change anything about it.

When it comes to long term partnerships, it is important to align yourself with the best candidates and it makes sense to use some form of testing to help identify the best people. But make sure your tests can actually reveal the best people and make sure you can end up with a win:win situation. Anything other than win:win, if it continues, is just fail:fail.

See The Patterns And Start Seeing Yourself

Note: This is a republishing of a pulled article. It turns out that some of the facts were not accurate when I posted it initially, but I feel that there is a lesson about patterns and accepting the outcome of your choices when you make the decision to avoid seeing a pattern.

A close friend called me in tears last night because their computer crashed and they lost a very important essay. Normally I am sympathetic but last night was different. I simply said “that sucks, I guess you need to start writing it again”. They replied with “thanks a lot” and hung-up.

I cared a little, that they hung-up on me, but very little that they had lost their essay, one that they had spend almost a month working on. I hope we don’t chat for a while so I’m able to NOT say “I told you to back it up in 3 unique places, I told you to email the essay to your gmail account a couple of times a week, I told you to burn it to disk every few days”. I don’t want to say these things because they are not helpful and because saying them would move the conversation away from the fact that it seems that this person is engineering a reason to fail.

It sure looks that way. Simply put, you do not, at an age greater than 15, have any excuse for NOT backing-up your critical computer files – particularly the ones that are needed for you to graduate. The only reason for repeating this pattern is that you want to have an external reason for why a failure was not your fault – although no one in the world is going to accept that a computer failure as anything other than an excuse.

I hope they are able to recover from the loss. Barring that, I hope in time that they are able to see that they did it to themselves because they don’t want to be successful. It wasn’t the first time this has happened, it’s the fifth or sixth; each time before they were able to recover the documents. I recall the last serious episode – a frantic 1:30 AM panic which had a successful ending and the promise that back-ups would be performed. Well, they weren’t and all I can say is that I see the pattern, this is their nature and this is the way it’s always going to be for them until they see it for themselves.

The sad part, final year of a time critical program. If the essay isn’t completed there are huge time and money expenses to get back on track. All avoidable if their nature was different or if they say themselves for who and how they are – someone searching for a reason why the world is out to get them and so keen to find it that they’ll engineer their own failure – or if they cared enough about their stuff to look after it

UPDATE: it turned out that partial back-ups had been made in the form of sectional draft emails to an adviser. The person was able to recreate the paper for the most part and did end up getting a very good mark. We never chatted about the crisis again so I’ll assume the lesson was learned this time round.

Nothing Worse Than Good When Good and Bad When Bad

Been doing a lot of listening to my clients recently because we’ve been working together for long enough that I don’t have to coach them as much.

One of them blew my mind when he mentioned that “there is little worse than being around someone who is great when things are good but horrible when things are bad”. I laughed because it didn’t make any sense but he is right. “You are always going to be a punching bag when things go bad because that is the persons coping mechanism.” It’s kind of frightening because it’s an obvious pattern that I had interpreted as the exact opposite.

It’s easy to be a pleasure when times are fun and easy. It’s very hard to be a pleasure when your world is falling in on you. The issue is that life is tough if you are trying to improve it and as an enlightened or challenging seeking individual you are ALWAYS going t try and improve it therefore times are not always going to be fun and easy.

The lesson is to not be mean when times are tough. Try to avoid lashing out when you feel your actions do not seem to be moving anything forward. If you feel victimized by someone you are close to when their life is tough make them aware that you feel they are doing it and allow them to make the decision to either change their approach to you or keep it the same. If it remains the same and you don’t want to be a punching bag when they feel challenged you will need to change the situation.

What To Do When Someone Calls You TOXIC

When someone calls you toxic you first need to figure-out if they are correct. This is very simple if you are self aware and are able to observe your actions. You’ll see very quickly that you are trying to influence their emotional state to gain advantage or favor. If they are accurate, you need to make the decision if what you are trying to gain is worth losing the person. If the answer is no, stop doing it and lower your threshold for identifying your manipulation attempts so you are able to stop your behaviour before it becomes toxic. If the answer is yes, consider getting a good self help book, set up an appointment with the therapist or start going to a life coach to create a plan for you to achieve the desired goal independently. If that is impossible, and it really shouldn’t be, ask the person directly for what you want vs. trying to game them into it. They may say no but at least they won’t tell you to get out of their life.

If you are not self aware, it’s a little trickier because you won’t have any idea the you have control over your behaviour and therefore your world. You first need to accept that the person cares about you – or else they won’t have responded emotionally to what you said; this is a good thing because it means that even if they do not give you what you want, they are likely going to be able to offer some support to help you through not getting what you want. It’s great to have friends and it’s even better to have friends who are able to see the truth.

Once you have accepted that you are loved and that you may not get what you want using the method you have, you need to make the decision if what you want is actually that important. If the answer is no, don’t think about it anymore. If the thing is that important, you need to find a direct way to get it. Ask the person for it, ask them for help in getting it, ask them for advice on how to get it. Figure-out how you are going to get it without involving anyone else or without using manipulation and guilt to get other people do to it for you.

Once you’ve achieved it, moved on from it or accepted that you won’t be getting it, you need address your toxic nature.

Step one, accept that you love yourself and believe that you have the right to have nice things and to get your way.

Step two, accept that other people love themselves and believe that they have the right to nice things and to get their way.

Step three, accept that other people have an experience of reality that is unique and separate from yours. This is absolutely critical and it should be taught to people in school because so many go through life using other people as objects in their life vs. automatons (to say the very least about ones experience of reality).

Step four, accept that you learned how to manipulate and use guilt to get what you want and that this approach will keep you from ever being complete and independent. Think about it this way, if that is your tool to get things, you will always need other people in your life because you will not possess the necessary skills to get what you want on your own.

Step five, make the decision that you don’t want to be toxic and invest in going without some of the things you like unless you are willing to get them yourself. If you cannot accept this, stop reading now and prepare for a life filled with lots of people, lots of shallow interactions with these people and an existence of co-dependence on people who are too weak to kick you to the curb. Frankly, if you can constantly control another person you likely don’t want them in your life anyway because they aren’t going to help you grow. They will enable you every step of your unsatisfying and distraction dependent live.

Step six, take the time to create new strategies to get what you want and need. Hard work is a good way to achieve this. Changing your priorities is another effective way at eliminating the need for stuff. Admitting that you need help and asking for it is another way to free yourself from the manipulation of others.

Step seven, be aware and always cautious that you have a skill that is useful but very damaging to the quality of interactions with others, particularly the people who care about you the most. Always remember that you are one manipulative effort away from having one less friend. Before you set out to get someone to do stuff for you ask yourself the question “is what I’m trying to achieve worth losing this person forever?” The truth is that if it is worth losing someone forever they will help you if you ask. If it isn’t, they could drop you like garbage and, frankly, if you are trying to manipulate the people who love you, you are either a child or garbage.

We create the world we live in using our thoughts and actions. If yours is a toxic waste land of short term friendships, x partners who don’t want anything to do with you and a feeling worthlessness, it’s time to create a new world based on honesty with yourself, with others and the awareness that your primary coping tool may be the very source of your unhappiness.

Blunt Force Drama – When Friends Get You Down

Do you have one of those friends who always seems to have bad things happen to them? No matter what is going on in your life, there is something worse going on in theirs. Any joy you try to share with them is beaten back with another story of their victimization. It’s constant drama about stuff you didn’t even know existed let alone mattered. It isn’t just boring, it’s depressing and it’s a tax on your happiness.

If you said yes there is a good chance that you have a few of them. If you have a few of them, maybe it’s time to start looking at your own behavior to see why these people are flocking to you. It may be tough, but you need to consider the fact that people do what they feel comfortable with and what they can get away with doing. In the case of your drama-prone friends, you are enabling them at best, and at worse, you are one of these people. If you are one of them, you are giving others the permission to do the same thing. It’s an ugly thought that you might be manufacturing the victim role just so you can perpetuate a sense of suffering but you need to consider it because if you are doing it, you are really hurting the self-development of you and those around you..

What are the benefits of viewing oneself as a victim?

  • It frees them of responsibility for their place in life. It’s a life preserving fiction that ensures the ego remains intact because they never actually try anything. One never fails because they never try. Never failing is a good thing because only failures fail.
  • It frees them of the need to expend effort – since they are a victim, failure is going to be the outcome regardless of their actions. This learned helplessness ensures that they conserve energy because they’re smart enough to know how things are going to go.
  • It frees them of having to think up something useful to talk about. Nauseating as it may be, people who view themselves as victims always have something that they can talk passionately about.
  • They never get caught up in self improvement project or pursuits. Guess why? Because they know they don’t work. Something is going to come along and ruin their efforts.
  • They will never be alone because misery prefers miserable company and perceived victims are execeptional at passing along this characteristic to the people they engage, including their children.
  • It is very easy to sustain the victim role because, if you are already playing it, it is a part of who you are. Playing it is effortless, changing it requires effort; first in identifying and accept the fake role you are playing and then in the actions you take to make things better.

Wait a minute you say, these aren’t really benefits at all. Good sign, you may not be a victim so you can use this list to help you identify the drama people in your life. Have you heard any of this defeatist talk coming from any of your friends?

What do you do with drama friends?

You have a couple of options and your course of action will be determined by the quality of friend that they are. For really good friends and family members you have two options:

  1. Blank face conversations – just start to withdraw from the conversations about their victimization by blank facing them. Give them nothing in terms of body language or words that they can take as incentive to continue sharing their misery. People will stop talking very quickly when they get no validation from you in a conversation.
  2. Try and help them see how they are behaving – this one is a lot tougher because you are not just trying to stop a behavior, you are trying to change one. It’s a lot of work to get someone to see that things are not the way they think they are and they need to be open to change. But, like most interventions, hearing it from a loved one is likely going to have a bigger impact than hearing it from someone else.

For other people, you have three choices, blank face them, try to help them or get rid of them.

  1. This blank face can have contempt in it because you probably care less about their feelings and more about getting them to stop being a big downer. You’re not looking for their happiness, you are looking for their silence.
  2. You are welcome to try and help them, but be warned, it’s a poor investment of time. The chances of success are very small in relation to your almost certain vilification. If you do try be sincere about it, at least you’ll know you tried to do the right thing when they lash out at you.
  3. You can remove them from your life completely so you don’t have to deal with their drama anymore. This can be as simple as just not communicating with them. If you’re lucky it just ends, it can be that simple some of the time. But most of the time, it’s like pulling off a band aid. You are, in essence, breaking up with someone. It’s an interpersonal conflict. It isn’t likely to get ugly but it can be uncomfortable. But just pull fast and get it over with. It’s better for everyone, mainly you, because your life will immediately get better. Again, try to be decent about it because something has happened to make them this way. Just because you don’t care enough about them to try and help shouldn’t mean you deliberately try to hurt them. You have no idea where life will take you so be genuine and fair.

If you are not a drama person, you really have no business hanging out with drama people because they will ruin your happiness, they will chew up your free time and they will add very little to your life. By continuing the friendship you are killing your chances at happiness as well as making sure they don’t get any better. Do the inventory and set free anyone who keeps you bogged down with their drama.