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A woman told me said she received two emails from her parents. She said she felt attacked by them. She also felt defensive. Feeling defensive is, of course, a natural survival response. But this woman, who I will call Katrina, realized that these defensive feelings were causing her stress, taking mental energy and keeping the battle going between her and her parents. For several years she has been trying to get her parents to show her more respect and to admit that they made some mistakes in how they raised her. Her parents, though have also been feeling attacked and defensive. They respond by telling her that she is the one who has problems, that it is not normal for daughters not to want to talk to their parents every week, that she has mental problems and that she should go see a psychologist.
I asked Katrina what would help her feel better -- that she can control. She decided it would help her feel better if she did not feel so defensive when they attacked her. She said on this day she felt attacked 7 and defensive 7. We agreed that it would be good if she could feel less defensive, even when she realized that she was feeling attacked.
We also agreed that when she reached the point in her personal growth where she felt more secure about herself, she would probably feel less attacked by similar letters. I told her how I can sometimes realize that I feel attacked, but yet not feel defensive. The example came to mind of a strong man who is being physically attacked by a young child, but who does not attack back because he feels confident and secure about his own strength.
I also remembered a scene from the movie Gandhi. It is the one where a line of Indian people were being beaten to the ground, one by one, by the British officers hitting them with clubs. Yet the Indians did not fight back. The Indian people knew they were right in wanting their freedom and independence. They believed it with all their hearts and minds. Because of this strong belief, they did not feel the need to defend themselves or attack the British. Their faith in themselves, in their cause and in the truth gave them this inner strength.
Through experience I have learned to be a little more careful about when, how and if I give people feedback when I sense they are feeling defensive. I don't know if this is more of a skill or an art. It may also be related to how secure I feel about myself. For example, the more secure I feel, the less I feel a need to let others know that I know how they are feeling better than they do, or that at least I think I do!
On one occasion when I could tell a fairly good friend was getting defensive I said, "Maybe I am just taking things the wrong way, but I sense you are getting a little defensive." She replied to me that I must be taking things the wrong way then, because she certainly wasn't defensive, and that there was "no reason for her to feel defensive." She then proceeded to list all the reasons why she had no reason to be defensive.
In an earlier stage in life I would have spent considerable time and energy trying to prove to her that she was, in fact, feeling defensive. This time though, I just listened and said, "Okay." Still, this incident changed our relationship. We are more distant now. I am afraid to tell her how I really feel about things and what I really think, and she is probably also afraid of what I might say or think. We have talked about it a little, but from my side, I haven't felt as close to her since that day. Often, I try to keep quiet when I disagree with someone, but in this particular case it was something I felt very strongly about. I suppose it is good to know who can acknowledge their own defensiveness, but I feel discouraged when I think of how few people I have met who can do this. I am not sure I can do it myself actually! But at least I know that it is a good quality to possess or to develop.
Bitterness might be thought of as misunderstood pain. Because a person doesn't really understand why they were hurt, and they have not learned something positive from it, they feel bitter. I say "something positive" because often people take away a negative lesson like "I will never love again" or "I will never trust another man" etc.
Thanks to Tatiana for inspiring me to write this.
When we feel uncomfortable, it is a sign something is wrong. The sooner we acknowledge this feeling, and either take action or communicate the feeling, or both, the sooner we can feel comfortable again. Telling people when we don't feel comfortable, by the way, is one quick way to find out who respects our feelings. If they do respect our feelings, and thereby respect us as individuals, then we won't need to tell them a second time. Nor will we even need to give them an explanation.
Here are some stories about feeling uncomfortable
The language of defensiveness
Well, how was I supposed to know!
Well, of course, what did you expect?
Let me tell you something...
Here are a few notes on manipulation. They are based on the work of Ernest Swihart and Patrick Cotter. (note)
from a book I picked up. They might help you realize when you are feeling manipulated.
1.Manipulations avoid change, work pain, loss of control of a situation...
2. Manipulations are reciprocal: A manipulator's ploy is enabled by a complementary avoidance behavior.. In order to be successful the manipulator must discover and use what the person he is interacting with wishes to avoid.
3. If a manipulation fails, a manipulator will usually resort to a cruder and more coercive ploy.
4. People who use manipulation often see the world in black and white terms...Strong judgmental, stereotyped labels pepper their speech...
5. The earlier in life the manipulative behavior was learned, the less aware the manipulator will be of his behavior.
6. More complex learning environments produce more complex manipulative behavior. Bright and learned manipulators are more difficult to discover and treat because of their subtlety and social sophistication.
Write down the manipulative behaviors.
Try to figure out what the hidden agendas are. For example what the manipulator really wants or is trying to avoid.
Tell the person "I feel manipulated." They will probably attack you in some fashion, but just stand by your feelings. "Z", one of the volunteers at EQI, said that when she was a teenager and realized she was being manipulated by her grandmother she simply told her over and over each time she felt manipulated. Eventually the grandmother learned that what she was doing wasn't working anymore and she stopped the manipulative behavior.
By the way, I have a theory that emotionally intelligent people from dysfunctional families learn to be expert manipulators. Because they were never able to get their needs met simply by asking for things when then needed them, they had to learn to manipulate people to get their needs met. Because they were emotionally intelligent they learned how to use guilt, threats, bribery, coercion etc. to manipulate the emotions of others just so they could get their basic survival needs met.
This is one of the "dark sides" of emotional intelligence. It is simply the natural result of a combination of high inate EI and an emotionally abusive or dysfunctional environment.
Note - The authors wrote a book on children in which they blamed children for being manipulators. I disagree with their believe about where manipulative behavior comes from, but I did agree with much of what they said about the manipulative behavior itself. They seem to think some children are born manipulators and they have to be broken from this with very strong arm tactics. For example, they give this example.
Child: I hate swimming; I already know how to swim."
Parent: You do not know how to swim. And how can you say you hate swimming? You love to be in the water."
The boy started to cry. His mother finally decided not to push him. The authors criticizes her for this. They say the mother "lost the opportunity to take a real step towards independence..." They said the mother was protecting her son from "an imaginary risk." By this they meant damage to his psychological development. p 30 They probably don't see any connection between invalidation and depression, self-harm and suicide.
On p 39 they criticize "children" who say they feel suicidal. they accuse them of using coercion to get attention. they say "children" need to learn to adapt to the "real world."
On page 40 they write: "Coercive tacticts often involve asking the parent the question "why?" This opening gambit leads to a game of explanation, denial, guilting and shaming, threat of withdrawal of love.. "Why?" on the surface seems reasonable, but under this veneer hides a person determined to get his way... p 40
I strongly disagree with this. All children want and need to understand things, especially the more intelligent ones. Giving a child or teen reasonable explanations is a clear sign of respect. It also helps them learn to think logically, think ahead and take responsibility for making their own decisions instead of just blindly obeying or obeying out of fear.
Katrina went to visit a friend she has not seen in several years. When she arrived, her friend Marcos told he he had made plans them to do something that evening. But Katrina was tired from the long train ride. She tried to explain this to him but at first he did not accept her explanation and tried to convince her why she they should follow his plans. The next day it was a similar thing. He had made plans for them to do this and that in the morning, then see some friends of his in the afternoon then go to a discotheque at night. Katrina could not understand why he did not ask her what she wanted to do before making all of these plans. Whenever she tried to tell him she would prefer to do something else, he keep trying to convince her that his plans were the best. Once she would say something like, "I would rather go to quiet place and talk." He replied, "But everyone else who has come to visit said they liked the discotheque. Everyone else has liked all of the plans I made for them." He implied that she was not normal and that there must be something wrong with her.
After several days of this, Katr
he didnt ask what she liked to do.
You have upset all my plans.
Katrina has gone to Denmark to visit her friend Marcos who she had not seen in several years. She finds him to be defensive about things which have nothing to do with him. Here is one example. (True story.)
Katrina: Oh, it is so hot. I get headaches in the hot sun.
Marcos: Well, I didn't promise you that it would be cool. You should have brought a hat.
She said he never accepted her personal comments and perceptions. He couldn't just let her have own opinions. He always wanted to have the last word and made it seem like his opinions were the absolute truth. She said after a few days of this type of thing she didn't know what she could say and what she couldn't.
One of the things which helped me most in my early work with on understanding on emotions was to connect everything to the survival instinct. For example, I realized that when we felt attacked, it was natural for us to feel afraid, defensive, aggressive, etc.
Once during a class on relationships I asked a couple to describe a recent conflict.
Once I asked a 16 year old how she felt when her mother was yelling at her about being on the computer too long. She said, "I felt attacked."
Here are some thoughts...
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