Archive for September 23rd, 2019

Meet the Author:

Steven Wolhandler, JD, MA, LPC is a psychotherapist, mediator, arbitrator, custody evaluator, national consultant and retired attorney. He has decades of experience dealing with, and learning from, difficult and manipulative people, and helping their victims with penetrating insight, effective solutions, warmth and humor. He lives in Colorado, consults
with people internationally through website.

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Self-victimizing Beliefs that Leave You Vulnerable to Emotional Predators

                Sometimes the stories you tell yourself about who you are and who you must be in order to be a “good” person can trap you and leave you undefended.  Usually without noticing, we all inhabit stories about who we have to be in order to be lovable, valued and safe with others.  When these stories put us in a one-down or vulnerable position in relation to others, I call them our “self-victimizing beliefs.” Self-victimizing beliefs make a person low hanging fruit for Emotional Predators.  Chapter 4 (Step 2 of protecting yourself) of my book introduces some of these stories, and Chapter 5 (Step 3 of protecting yourself) revisits some in detail to look at protective alternatives.

One self-victimizing belief many of us are familiar with is the belief that “I’m not good enough.”  This mistaken belief is an expression of perfectionism.  A perfectionist believes that if she isn’t perfect, everything is her fault.  Like focusing on bad things or on good things that are missing, instead of being grateful for good things that are present, perfectionism depends on the perspective you choose.  Put another way, the perfectionist hasn’t learned that “good enough” is good enough.  She mistakenly sees herself as a slacker for whom “good enough” is not good enough.  It isn’t hard to see how an Emotional Predator could use your beliefs about not being good enough or needing to be perfect to induce guilt and shame to get you to comply with her agenda.  He would let you know that you could be good enough (he may even say “perfect”) if only you would do what he wants, dangling the carrot of approval just out of reach.  But you’re good enough without him; you don’t need his unattainable approval.  If you’re a perfectionist, let yourself off the hook of perfectionism and know that “good enough” is actually good enough.

Another self-victimizing belief is a martyr complex in which we believe we have to suffer in order to feel worthy of love (or anything else we want).  A martyr type finds it easier to focus on other people than on himself – and an Emotional Predator seeks out targets who’ll focus on her at the expense of themselves.  A martyr type believes that he’ll be appreciated and valued for his sacrifices and that the person he sacrifices for will naturally want to reciprocate; he gives in the hope of getting back what he’s giving.  This makes him an ideal target for Emotional Predators (who are takers).  If you recognize martyr tendencies in yourself, work to replace them with appreciation of your intrinsic and inherent worthiness, a worthiness that exists without needing to make sacrifices.  Then choose to make sacrifices only when you know it’ll be a two-way street and the other person gives as much as you do and doesn’t just take.

Closely related to martyrdom, confusing enabling with helping is another belief that leaves us vulnerable to Emotional Predators.  Enabling is taking responsibility for something another person is responsible for.  It allows the other person to avoid the negative consequences of their poor choices.  An enabler makes excuses for another person’s bad behavior and believes the fiction that these excuses “help” the other person.  Twelve step addiction recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous advise that, in order to help someone let them suffer the consequences of their own choices and find their own bottom, and to do otherwise is dangerous to them and you.  Standing firm and not making excuses for others or taking up the slack when they slack off doesn’t mean being harsh or unkind.  Being kind doesn’t mean tolerating abuse.  Being a good person doesn’t require being a sucker.  But an Emotional Predator will work hard to convince you otherwise, playing on your conscience and guilt to get you to enable them.  Try to help only people who take responsibility and have already done all they can for themselves.

People-pleasers are a type of enabler.  They live by self-victimizing stories that put them in the role of making everything all right for everyone else.  Roberta, a client of mine told me, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, “I’m really good at figuring out what other people want and giving it to them.  That’s how I get everyone to like me.”  This sounds like what an Emotional Predator will do.  The difference is she did this at great cost to herself, not to her own benefit, putting everyone else’s needs ahead of her own.  In therapy, Roberta worked hard to change this story about what it takes for people to like her.  And she wrote herself a new story that it’s okay for her to pay attention to the cost to her of the things she does for others.  Her new story didn’t make her selfish, far from it.  When self-sacrificing people first move a bit away from self-sacrifice and toward self-care, they often feel like they’ve become a selfish monster.  But it only feels that way in comparison to their prior overly self-sacrificing ways.  If you’re a self-sacrificing people-pleaser, shift your focus away others and give your own feelings and needs more priority.

One sign of people-pleasing is feeling like you have to explain or justify your boundaries and needs.  Another is easily yielding to social pressure.  Another is always playing the clown or entertainer, or always diffusing tensions.  People-pleasers relentlessly avoid conflict.  Conflict avoiders believe a story that conflict between people is always bad and they’ll always back down and accommodate, and if necessary, take blame, regardless of the cost to them.  All these things make people-pleasers easy targets for Emotional Predators.

A few other commonly held beliefs – myths of our culture – that can be self-victimizing bear mentioning.  It’s widely believed that we can cause other people to feel the emotions they feel.  This belief is embedded in our language.  We regularly say, “You make me feel” this or that.  But this isn’t true.  The emotions a person feels are generated by that person out of the assumptions and interpretations he makes about the meaning of events.  Two people faced with the same circumstance can have opposite emotional reactions: one laughs while the other cries.

For example, a stranger yells at two people standing at a bus stop minding their own business.  One of them bursts into tears because he interprets the yelling to indicate something bad about himself.  He believes that people don’t yell at others without good reason, so when he’s yelled at he concludes that he must’ve done something wrong or there must be something wrong with him.  He assumes he must be at fault because a stranger is yelling at him.  But the other person bursts into laughter, not tears, because she interprets the yelling to indicate something bad about the yeller.  She assumes there’s something wrong with a person who yells at a stranger.  Each person’s feelings are generated by how they choose to interpret events; they aren’t caused by someone else.  Emotional Predators will use guilt to manipulate you by telling you that you’re “making” them feel bad.  Don’t believe it.  Act responsibly and let others take responsibility for their feelings.

Another culturally popular self-victimizing belief is that altruism toward all is always a good thing.  An altruist meets someone else’s needs without regard for her own; she selflessly puts the other person first.  Altruism is one of the most noble and valuable capacities of human beings.  But it’s a disaster to be altruistic toward an Emotional Predator.  An Emotional Predator will take advantage of an altruist in every imaginable way, and will present false needs and plays for sympathy to keep the altruist giving, giving and giving, while getting nothing back.  I’ve never met anyone with an inexhaustible capacity to give without getting anything back (although martyrs try).  Exhausting your altruistic instincts on an Emotional Predator means you have less resources left to altruistically give to genuinely deserving people.

Another self-victimizing cultural myth that opens the door to Emotional Predator abuse is the belief that good things happen to good people who work hard.  This is a very commonly held belief, with roots in the protestant work ethic and capitalism.  This meritocracy myth burdens its believers with unnecessary guilt and shame from its unspoken inverse; if we believe that good things happen to good people who work hard, then bad things must happen to bad people who are lazy.  When we believe the meritocracy myth and a bad thing happens to us, we assume it’s because we were bad or lazy or both.  Buying into this myth leaves you open to Emotional Predator manipulation through guilt and shame.  She’ll create problems for you, then blame them on your supposed inadequacy.

In fact, life is much more random than we want to believe.  Sometimes, bad things happen to good people who work hard and good things happen to bad people who are lazy.  This doesn’t mean life is completely random and beyond control.  You can increase probabilities of good outcomes by working hard and being good, but you can’t guarantee them.  And being a good person with a work ethic yields internal rewards apart from external outcomes.  But when bad things happen to you, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or you deserved it.  And as I explain in my book, if the bad thing that’s happened to you is being targeted by an Emotional Predator, it means you are an exceptionally good person because that’s who Emotional Predator’s target.

Freeing yourself from self-victimizing beliefs insulates you from Emotional Predator abuse.  When you’re more insulated a few things happen: it becomes easier to conceal the emotional reactions you do have and to respond strategically, and your inner resources are less drained – all of which makes you a less inviting target.

You have much more power over your emotional reactions than you might believe.  One person’s disaster is another person’s learning opportunity.  Natural disposition, temperament and personal history no doubt play a part, but your choices of interpretation, perception and attention play the decisive role in determining whether you’ll cry or laugh at the same thing.  Let go of your self-victimizing beliefs and more control over your emotions will follow.

To spot our self-victimizing stories, notice that what we believe others require of us is usually a projection of what we require of ourselves.  When you believe you have to be perfect before someone else will love you, you’re really expressing that you believe you have to be perfect before you will love yourself.  If you believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, you’re really expressing that you want to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  If you believe you should try to see the good in everyone, then you’re really expressing that you want to see the good in yourself.  If you make excuses for others, then you’re really expressing that you want to excuse yourself.  If you make exceptions for others, then you’re really expressing that you want to give yourself a break.  The defense against all kinds of self-victimizing beliefs – the way to re-write self-defeating stories – is to deliver to yourself the things you believe others require from you and that you mistakenly seek from others.  That isn’t selfish.  That’s balanced and mature.  If you deliver to yourself the things you mistakenly seek from others, then Emotional Predators can’t manipulate you by pretending to offer those things to you.

So if you recognize any self-victimizing stories in yourself, or negative self-talk or other unpleasant things, don’t attack yourself for them.  Smile at them, thank them for getting you through earlier struggles and let them go.  When you treat yourself poorly, you signal to others to do the same.  Instead, try turning the Golden Rule inward and treat every aspect of yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly – the way you’d like to be treated, and certainly treat yourself as well as you treat anyone else

Please freely copy and distribute this post, but be sure to include that it was written by Steven Wolhandler, author of Protecting Yourself from Emotional Predators.  (It’s copyright, Steven Wolhandler, 2019) Thanks!


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