By Ox Drover
After reading Steve Becker’s article yesterday, I commented that most of the articles here on Lovefraud that could be entitled “1001 Things I Did Wrong in Dealing with a Psychopath” were the ones that applied most to my own dealings with them.
That was meant as a joke, but after I left that comment for Steve, I got to thinking about how right-on it was, joke or not, because I have done so much wrong in dealing with these people. I got my self deeper and deeper into trouble, doing the wrong things in interacting with them. Not that I was intentionally doing something mean or “wrong” per se, but I didn’t make choices that led to positive outcomes in dealing with the psychopaths in my life.
One of the reasons I did 1001 things wrong was that I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I thought I was dealing with people who had good intentions toward me, just as I had good intentions toward them. Boy, was that a wrong thing to assume. But because I assumed this error in fact about their intentions, I tried to “be reasonable” with them. That sure didn’t work. They broke their word to me time and time again. It took me a long time “to get it through my thick skull,” as MaryJo Buttafuoco said in her book, and then, when I did get it through my thick head that “Person A” couldn’t be trusted, I didn’t “generalize” that knowledge to other people who also broke their words to me over and over and over again.
Learning to generalize
Even animals can learn to generalize. A friend and I trained steer, getting them used to “something that rattled.” It didn’t matter what rattled; we would use plastic milk jugs with rocks in them, and tie those jugs to their tails so that every time they took a step, this “rattling monster” attached to them would make noise and follow them. For a little while they were scared and ran from it, but eventually they got the idea that the “rattling monster” wasn’t going to be outrun by them (it always kept up), and it wasn’t actually going to hurt them. Eventually they decided anything that rattled and made noise was harmless.
With one set of young steers my friend trained though, if you got them used to a white jug with rocks in it, and they weren’t afraid of it any more, if you used a yellow jug, they would go back to SQUARE ONE PANIC AGAIN, with each tiny change in the “monster.” They didn’t “generalize” very well and were always hyper-alert and on guard. He eventually got them so they were “dynamite proof,” so he could take them out in public without being afraid they would panic at the first sound they weren’t used to, or the first loud retort from a fire cracker, but he and I both thought for a long time they might not ever generalize enough to be safe from panicking and running away out in public.
I think in a way I also didn’t “generalize” the abusive behaviors of the various psychopaths I encountered. When a boss would be dishonest and verbally abusive to me, I was upset and “panicked” at the unexpected behavior, trying to figure out how to not get hurt, but when a relative would do this same kind of behavior I, again, panicked and didn’t realize that the “rattle” was just the same kind of “monster” that I had encountered with the other psychopath. Of course I didn’t realize then that the psychopathic “monsters” had a name or that their lack of empathy and their damage was definitely destructive, unlike a milk jug with a few rocks in it.
I not only tried to be “reasonable” with the psychopaths, but I also tried to placate them, to make them see, by being extra nice to them and not “bowing up and fighting back,” that I wasn’t trying to hurt them. I wanted to be “friends” and get along.
Of course, when a prey animal tries to get along with a predator animal we know what happens, don’t we? The prey animal gets the worst end of the deal. Yep, I did get the worst end of the deal trying to “make nice” with the psychopaths, but again, I didn’t learn that a psychopath is a psychopath is a psychopath is a predator! Rather than generalize this hurtful behavior to a class of people, I saw each one as an individual person with “reasons” and “excuses” and the “potential to change” and “see the light” when there was no chance that they were going to have any empathy, much less sympathy, for the pain they caused me or anyone else. They didn’t give a hoot how badly they hurt me as long as they got what they wanted.
Wanted to get along
I also didn’t really see what it was that they actually wanted. I didn’t want to cause anyone any pain, I wanted to love people and get along with them and share good things and help folks out. This is what I thought that everyone wanted. What they actually did want, however, was to control me, humiliate me, and to get me to provide them with their own twisted idea of a relationship—all take on their part and all give on mine.
Just like the hyper-alert steers, I didn’t feel comfortable, and was always jumpy, expecting something to hit me, but I wasn’t sure where it would come from, so each time a psychopath lied to me, stole from me, took advantage of me, I was totally surprised again and again.
Eventually that young pair of steers got to where they were not surprised by anything in the way of a loud noise and they calmed down and became a reliable pair of working steers (oxen). But it was only because they learned to move from the individual to the general concepts of what would or would not hurt them. They learned that a little yappy dog running at their feet was not a danger, but that a large aggressive dog was something that they should kick at or hook at with their horns. They learned that the sound of a fire cracker or a car back firing, or a cannon shooting at a historical reenactment, wasn’t going to hurt them and they didn’t need to pay it any attention. They learned to distinguish between harmless noises like people yelling or laughing and their drover saying “get up” and meaning it!
I’m not sure why these particular steers were so difficult to train. Perhaps it was because the breed was the wilder Spanish cattle from Mexico whose ancestors that had not jumped every time there was a noise in the brush had been taken out of the gene pool by the wolves, coyotes and mountain lions, so only the “jumpy” ones were left.
Changed my response
I’m also not sure why I didn’t generalize from the abusive behavior I endured over and over, or change the failed attempts to get it to stop by doing repeatedly something that had not worked. Someone once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I sure did enough of that for two lifetimes. Now I have changed the way I respond to abusive behavior. I am learning to distinguish the difference between “harmless rattles” and “real threats” from predators.
I have made some general “rules” to guide me in my differentiation of what is “harmless” and what is “threatening.” First off, it depends on how close to me the threat is. A rattle snake at 10 yards from me is no threat at all. I know he could hurt me if he was closer, but I will not let him get close enough to strike me, so I don’t have to fear him. If that same rattle snake is 3 feet from me, I take a different view of the potential for harm from the same snake, and react in a different way than I do to the one who is 30 feet away.
If a person who is not “close to me” lies to me, it probably isn’t going to be much of a danger to me, unless it is a big business deal. I don’t fear that lie from someone I don’t really have any connection with, I just notice (like with the rattle snake at a distance) that the person is dishonest, I don’t want him to get closer to me.
If a person who is “close to me” lies, that has a much bigger potential for harm to me, both emotionally and otherwise. Therefore I will move away from that dishonest person, put some distance between me and them so that if they do strike, they won’t be close enough to hit me or do any significant damage.
Threat or benign
Once I have determined that a person, animal, or object is a potential threat rather than a benign creature, I will keep a wary eye on it. I won’t make excuses for the potential damage, and once it has tried to hurt me, it won’t have another chance. I no longer trust anything or anyone without assessing the potential damage that could be done.
Cynical? No, I don’t think so, just cautious. I don’t venture into the world like there are no dangers out there, no evil people. I do know now that there are some evil creatures in the world, some potential threats to my life, sanity and health. But I no longer walk in terror, because I have realized what the evil creatures are. I am no longer terrified of the “rattling milk jugs,” but I give a wide berth to the “poison snakes.”
I’ve finally personally learned from the “1001e things I did wrong in dealing with psychopaths.”