Tuesday, 27 March 2012
I remember every time a question or statement like that was made – in all innocence, of course, because they were only trying to understand the unthinkable truth – I felt the emotional blows to my chest and my stomach as if they were real. Over and over, the shame and guilt would be relived as people screwed up their faces trying to make sense of what I knew to be the truth “but surely, Mel, a bright and intelligent person like you, surely you must have known something was going on?” “How can anyone tell so many lies for so long – it must have been exhausting!” Many times I felt like screaming out loud… although on most occasions I decided that calm responses would serve me better in the long run! Yes, I am bright and intelligent (although there were times I began to wonder whether perhaps I might have been better understood had I been deemed slow and dim-witted!) and yes, lying is exhausting for the likes of normal people. But as everyone here knows, we’re not dealing with a ‘normal person’ – these people simply don’t tick the way we do!
We’re NOT All The Same!
As is often discussed here on this site, we don’t know what we don’t know… and the fact is, in order to learn new things, people need to find something – anything – to connect with something they already know. It’s like finding a foundation stone, or a solid piece of ground from which to start…. The difficulty with explaining the psychopath, though, is that while they may look like us and often come across better than many normal people, that is where the likeness ends. So people who are doing their best to understand, automatically link the appearance of a normal person with what they know to be the behaviours of a normal person – specifically themselves, or people they know. And unless someone has already been targeted by a psychopath, the idea that such ‘creatures’ exist and influence others in such a negative way is often pooh-poohed as being far fetched. As if such a notion is as ridiculous as early childhood fears about bogeymen and monsters under the bed.
I remember many times feeling certain that well-meaning people were quietly calling my own sanity in to question “well, you’ve been through an awful lot – perhaps you’re over-reacting a bit? It’s understandable, of course… I’d do the same… but perhaps, you know, it’s not as bad as you think…?” I knew at the time that they meant no harm. That their kind eyes and hugs were meant to reassure me… but each time I heard words like that, it would be another kick in the teeth and I’d shut up and hide myself away even further – becoming more and more determined, absolutely resolutely and passionately determined, that some day I’d tell every detail of my story so that I would be heard and believed. Certain that in doing so, not only would I vindicate myself, but that my actions would also provide others with a platform to identify with and make sense of their own experiences. I’m coming to realize, though, that this is just the start.
The Parasitic Predator
In my professional career, I work in the field of leadership development. This means that I am regularly exposed to top-level directors and managers within large organizations. According to Robert Hare and Paul Babiak’s recent study of more than 200 executives, nearly 4% scored at or above the traditional cut-off for psychopathy. Dr Babiak uses the phrase ‘parasitic predator’ to describe corporate psychopaths, saying “They are parasitic in that they are looking for a host to support them. A big company is an easy place in which to hide” Couple that with the fact that many leadership skills can arguably be translated in to psychopathic traits, it makes even more sense that this level of professionals could indeed include around four times the number of psychopaths than research suggests we should expect to find in every day life. In the corporate world where profit is king and ruthless decision-making can be viewed as a positive if not necessary attribute for successful leaders, it makes perfect sense to me that psychopaths should be attracted to this arena.
It also makes perfect sense to me that, with an increasing awareness about psychopathy thanks to the work of people like Dr Robert Hare, and the growing audiences on sites like Lovefraud and I Am Fishead, people are finally starting to wake up and smell the coffee. Not as much as I’m sure most of us here would like – but it’s a start. Take for example the scathing resignation letter by Greg Smith, the executive who worked for nearly 12 years at Goldman Sachs. Whatever the gentleman’s reasons for writing the letter, he clearly stated the existence of unethical, immoral and callous tactics that he alleges were used by employees of the firm. Regardless of where the ‘blame’ lies, I for one am pleased that truths like these are being aired – allowing people more opportunities to vote with their feet, and also to become curious as to what is meant by a bad or ‘toxic’ culture. Along the old adage that no publicity is bad publicity, I buy into the idea that the more these issues are talked about, the more people can choose to find out more – and that, surely, can only be a good thing.
Because it’s a tough job getting people in senior positions to understand and accept exactly how damaging continuing actions of some of their peers can be – to the staff, to the culture and ultimately to the business. I came across a specific case last year, where it was perfectly clear to me that one particular senior person was creating havoc within her department. She was one of those people who knew all the right things to say and could turn on the charm at any given moment. Her bosses adored her, believing her to be the best thing since sliced bread, and her peers admired her business knowledge (marveling at her experience and buying her rather off-the-wall strategy for the business). Her team, though, was terrified of her. When I asked them on a confidential one-to-one basis how they would describe the culture, their eyes would dart around the room, they’d shift in their seats and they’d ask me how confidential their answers were going to be kept. After a great deal of reassurances, I got the truth – both barrels. As these people talked, words such as “fear-based” “abusive” “bullying” and “controlling” came out time and time again.
That, in my opinion, was bad enough. But when the performance of this particular department was actually scrutinized for factual proof of performance, it turned out that the results had plummeted since this lady had taken over – despite her consistent and eloquent affirmations that her plan was working! I found it baffling to understand how she was able to maintain her position – and what was stopping her peers and her immediate bosses from seeing through her performance. Until, that is, I started talking with them and really hearing what they were saying.
I Thought It Was Me!
Yes, they’d heard the rumours and had of course realised that the figures were not stacking up to the original plan. They also knew that it was difficult to stand up to this person in meetings, as she would shout people down and baffle them with long-winded justifications about what she was doing and why they need to stick with the plan. The entire team, not just those who worked under this person, had learned to walk on eggshells around her. This had been going on for so long that many of them had simply given up any idea of questioning her tactics – because it had become just too draining and too much hard work. “And anyway” whispered one of her peers when the truth started to emerge “I thought it was just me! I thought I was the one being stupid! I thought that I just wasn’t bright enough to understand the plan!”
It was a Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment for me. Well of course people are going to find it hard to stand up to people who are highly likely psychopathic – in exactly the same way it was difficult for me to break free, or even realize what was happening. Even after the truth became clear, there has still been (and continues to be) a long journey back to health and self-respect. So I can fully appreciate that it may seem the ‘easier’ route to just let things continue, particularly in the workplace where (in many cases) you can leave it all behind when you leave at the end of the day… better the devil you know eh?
Well no actually. The devil you know is certainly not the best option in my opinion. Because if we don’t stand up and do something when something is clearly wrong, well then we’re giving the message that this kind of behaviour and culture is ok. It’s in these kind of places that the good people tend to walk away when they realize what’s happening. These are the kind of places where the workforce that is left is emotionally shut down and just there to get through the day rather than being there to develop enthusiasm and passion for the business.
But you know what I’m realising? I’m realising that when people begin to understand and consciously embrace positive team and leadership behaviours, the ‘devil you know’ is suddenly left out on their own – because they can no longer thrive or manipulate when their peers and bosses are learning about honest and open communication. When the team trust each other enough to say “no” whenever inappropriate behaviour creeps back in. When they are confident enough to ask each other to explain the detail when something is not clear. With those behaviours becoming second nature, the psychopath’s manipulation and mind-games are suddenly ineffective – because fear is replaced with trust, silence with questions, and uncertainty with passion.
And I’m learning that there is no need to point the finger or even use the word psychopath – which, in a corporate environment can create some pretty big responses. No. The fact is, the more we as ‘normal’ people learn to step up and say “yes” to the good stuff (the things we like, that are healthy, that enable us to grow as individuals and as a collective) and say “no” to the bad stuff (fear, control, manipulation and deliberately confusing word-smithing) the less psychopaths will be able to thrive among us.
And you know what? It only works
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Well, I’ve been given the opportunity to find out for sure. Four weeks ago I discovered a rather suspicious lump just under my left arm. Hot and cold shivers shot through my body the second I found it, instantly triggering memories of my mother who died from breast cancer at the age of 44. Luckily, I happened to be on the telephone to a friend when I found it. A friend who witnessed my shock and also recognized the fear in my voice. A friend who let me know that it was real. That I wasn’t imagining it. And that it was something I couldn’t ignore or pass off as being just something I’d made up – I couldn’t kid myself that it was nothing to get excited about. Nothing to worry about. It was a red-flag, and this time (unlike so many other kinds of red-flags I had pushed aside or explained away when I was married to my ex) I was jolly well going to do something about it.
Having a real-time witness to my shock discovery played a huge part in what happened next. Looking back, I believe now that the very fact that another human being heard my instinctive response at the very moment it happened, helped me to stay focused and real and do something about it. Because regardless of whether or not the lump was anything dangerous, the fact that I was scared was enough to prompt action. I went to the doctor the very next day.
This made me think about how different my actions had been when I was living and believing the lie. Each time something shocked or hurt me, I would argue in my head that it was nothing serious – repeating the same old excuses that “He didn’t mean it” “He’s stressed and tired” “This isn’t what he’s really like” and probably the most harmful excuse of all “You’ll be ok, you can handle this – you’re fine, it’s nothing, ignore it”
The thing is though, whenever anything like that happened it would always be in private. Or if in public, the put-down would be so subtle that nobody else would notice, and I would question whether or not it had actually happened in the first place! I became used to rolling with the blows – emotionally and spiritually, I never had to deal with physical abuse – and numbed myself to the shocks.
I believe that for a long time since discovering the truth, I still kept myself numb. It was a useful survival tool. “Comfortably numb” became a way of ‘being’ that got me through the bad days and gave me the strength to fight the never-ending stream of seemingly impossible battles. Without him in my life, though, the numbness was helpful and directed purely at finding a way through for me and for my son – when I lived with him the numbness was, quite literally, senseless.
Over recent months I’ve sometimes wondered whether I’ve lost some of my fighting spirit. I seem to buckle and smart at the smallest things that in previous years I would never even have noticed. I am much more willing to start a conversation and raise my point when I feel hurt or upset. I am also paying much more attention to the way I respond to situations – and asking whether it is a real or learned reaction. Do I reallymean that particular response? Is it a genuine emotion? Or is it just because I’m afraid, or unsure?
What do I mean? Well, for example, I sometimes find myself prickling or bristling at the tiniest innocent comment – only, incidentally, when the comment comes from a close friend. So then I start to wonder whether I’ve become a big softy? Have I become too vulnerable? Have I just lost the plot when it comes to reality…? No. I think the answer is something much simpler than that. I think the fact is that in the wake of the sociopath, my inner guidance system is now so highly tuned that I pick up on the tiniest words or gestures that could possibly cause upset. In the ‘bad old days’ I would have deliberately ignored those signs. These days I’m acutely aware of so much more – and far from being a bad thing, I think it’s a very good thing indeed. I believe it’s another step in the healing process.
Because, if something ‘prickles’ now, I have choices that I never allowed myself before. These days I can decide whether or not the gesture/comment was deliberate. If it was, then I can choose whether or not to highlight it and talk it through with the other person, or work it through myself. If it wasn’t, I can decide whether I’m actually ‘upset’ by what happened, or instead perhaps just feeling fearful that another person is so close to me that a tiny thing can cause me to recoil? Does that level of closeness and trust make me once more vulnerable to the deliberate manipulation that my ex used against me? No, of course it doesn’t – because first of all my ex was nothing like any of my friends. They are real, he is a sociopath. And secondly, because now I am so keenly attuned to what helps me grow and what squashes my soul, I’m sure I will never again succumb to the ways of anyone who wishes me harm.
As I’m sure you can imagine, the past four weeks have provided a wonderfully fertile ground for seedlings of doubt and fear to take root. And this time, rather than push them away or ignore them, I decided to share them with people who were around me and who could help. I also chose to share my discovery with my son – thanks to the advice given by a very wise friend. I hadn’t wanted to tell him anything, on the assumption that the lump would turn out to be nothing at all. “And then what?” she questioned gently “Do you want to do the same thing to your son as happened with your mother? She kept it from you until it was too late. I think you’d be wise to trust him and share your concerns”
Share The Truth
So I told him. We hugged. We cried. We said it would all be ok. And we also acknowledged the fact that the truth was out. Nothing was hidden and the trust between us grew even stronger.
I’ve learned that it’s ok to share feelings. It’s ok to share fears. It doesn’t pay to keep things hidden away. I’d done that for far too long. There is far more peace in just being real.
The medical examination was on Friday of last week. Regardless of the results, I’d decided that we would have a celebration in the evening. A delicious meal with family and close friends, to celebrate the next part of this adventure called life – whatever it may mean.
At just gone 16.30hrs I received the news I’d been waiting for. The lump is benign, and I am clear and healthy. Tears of relief rolled down my face, and my shoulders finally relaxed. They, along with my neck, had been held tight over the previous few weeks – more so than I had realised. Now I could let it all go… and I did.
My son? Well, along with the huge bear-hugs and tears, he thanked me for telling him in the first place, and for giving him the opportunity to share and to care.
I’m truly blessed to have such wonderful people around me. I am lucky to have so many opportunities to grow my spirit. And now, now that I have another ‘all clear’ I feel lighter and clearer than ever before.
Have I lost my fight? No… far from it in actual fact. Now there is no need to fight – in it’s place there is a desire that I now know for sure springs from love and acceptance. It’s a desire to reach out and to share. To join with others who have survived their own battles. To say ‘enough is enough’ and to slowly and gently move back to authenticity. Slowly and surely shining as each of us reclaim our loving, beautiful, innocent selves. After all – that’s who we all really are, isn’t it?
With extra love, blessings and gratitude. Thank you.
Tuesday, 6 March 2012
The thing that really struck me, though, was a quote from one of her victims who was 15 or 16 at the time. Gemma was 18, so legally an adult. Saying that she felt “repulsed and dirty” after learning that the boy she loved was actually her female friend, the victim goes on to say
“Nobody understands what it’s like to be told that the person you love and want to spend the rest of your life with isn’t real. It’s like you have disappeared. I just want to stop hurting” She also asks the poignant rhetorical question I know many of us will have asked ourselves: “What did I ever do wrong to you?”
It’s heart-breaking isn’t it? The shame of deception runs deep. Left untreated it can grow, multiplying like a cancer in the soul of those whose only crime was to love someone else. People who trusted what they were being shown, and treated the other person with care and compassion – while the other person just looked on and laughed. While in some cases there may not be any physical scars, the emotional and spiritual damage hits hard in every case. It is far more damaging – and can last so much longer.
I would have hoped that in this day and age, perhaps there might be a little more understanding and compassion for people who have been duped. After all, there are plenty of stories. Accounts from people who have been deliberately deceived and misled. People who, like us, gave all we had to people we believed and loved with all our heart.
You know what, though? Reading through some of the comments that have appeared online after the article, I am disheartened that so many still seem more focused on blaming the ‘stupidity’ of the victims, or urging us to ‘take pity’ on the person who deceived the girls. For many people, I know it may seem hard, almost impossible to believe that someone can get away with such a deception. But for those of us who’ve been there, once we work through the pain and shame, we know we were not to blame! We know we were not stupid, gullible, needy, blind or any of the other stinging veiled questions that stab at our soul as we try to make sense of what has happened.
It’s not just deception in romantic love that causes the pain. The hurt of betrayal can hit just as hard when it’s about relationships of trust between friends and family, or perhaps misguided loyalty to bosses or colleagues. Whatever the connection, when hit with the cold hard truth, the horror can be almost overwhelming.
And… in the same way that I had absolutely no comprehension of these sorts of behaviors before it happened to me, I guess the question is how on earth can we reasonably expect other people who haven’t ‘been there themselves’ to have any level of understanding? Well? It’s a reasonable question…. But then, in recent times I‘ve realized that our natural propensity to be reasonable and understanding is just another of the ways people are exploited while predators continue to thrive. It’s by thinking “Oh, they’re just under pressure!” “Well, you know, we all make mistakes!” or “It’s ok, I know they didn’t really mean it – I won’t say anything it’s not that important” that the abuse is allowed to continue, right under the noses of ‘reasonable’ people who just can’t begin to comprehend that the attacks are deliberate!
It’s the same reasonable, caring approach by ‘normal’ people that keeps these heartless creatures free to continue what they are doing. It’s also the thing that hurts the victim time and time and time again – because there is no reason behind why these predators do the things they do. There is no explanation. They’re just like that – and they’re darned skilled at what they do. And that’s all there is to it.
So, these days I’m becoming stronger and more determined in what I am now beginning to see as a crusade to educate and help others. Yes, the numerous judgments and barbed comments from people who don’t know what they’re talking about can grate and often rattle me. But you know what? I’ve also decided that there is little or no point in getting frustrated at those people. It’s fair to say that we don’t know what we don’t know…. It’s also fair to say that I now have an unreasonable passion to do something about it whenever I come across a situation where people are being hurt and the perpetrators are getting away with it. I’m determined to help people remove their blinkers and recognize that yes, there is such a thing as ‘bad people’ who live among us. It’s tough. Because it means inviting people to consider that they have been conned. That they, too, have been taken in by someone who tells lies as easily and effortlessly as you and I breathe.
The more I get to understand this subject, the more I believe that the self-righteous outpouring from people who have never been in that situation, stems from fear. The fear that perhaps, in the same shoes, they may not be quite so streetwise as they’d like to think. Perhaps they are not as invincible to the surgically accurate deceptions of a person who does not have the same emotional wiring as we do. A bit like children hiding under the covers when they’re afraid, it’s a good short-term fix but it doesn’t get rid of the bogeyman!
The thing is, though, hiding away or going in to denial will never get rid of the bogeymen – or women. All of us here know that from our own experiences. I’m determined to do all I can to ensure that ‘first hand experience’ does not remain the only way to be certain that the person who is causing the harm is usually a harmful person. I know there’s a long road ahead – I also know it’s a road that’s well worth travelling.