Still I can vividly recall the hot flush of guilt any time I'd feel something to be wrong. Because it meant I was judging - and that's not right. Right?
I remember many evenings my guardian coming home from work. Often we would have had something to laugh about, and would be smiling comfortably together. I'd hear the front door slam, wait for the rattle of keys as he hung up his jacket, and then feel my tummy churning as he slid in to the kitchen - dreading the all too familiar tightened smile and cocky bounce. Because that meant one of us would be in the line of fire - at best humiliated, at worst sent to bed crying. I realise now that I lived with an overwhelming duty to protect, and I'd trained myself to be on guard for the unexpected. I felt it my obligation to rescue the situation, with humour, deflection or what I call 'dancing to please'...
It seemed I was the only one who could actually see what he was doing - how he deliberately deflated our fun and put us down, whether with looks, words or actions. Diminishing others was one of his favourites - particularly close relatives. He'd encourage his young children to practice short impressions of them, deliberately designed to embarrass and belittle. I'd see the whole game playing out - us trying be part of the 'fun' while his eyes flashed with enjoyment as his targets squirmed (and still laughed along) as they were ridiculed.
I felt so bad. So often. Bad because I could see the bad stuff happening. Therefore, surely that must mean I'm bad because I'm seeing my own reflection? Or is it as my guardian said I'm 'uptight' and can't take a joke. Perhaps I should lighten-up. Perhaps I should just join in the sarcasm and barbed humour. But I couldn't. Why? Because I knew. And yet at the same time I was riddled with doubt.
People regularly told me how lucky I was to have been given such a lovely home after mum died. "Such lovely people, such a lovely family! You really are very lucky Melanie, it could have been so much worse!" They'd come to the house, and smile and chat with my guardian. They seemed blind to the pain that both my sister and I were suffering. They were equally blind to the lies and covert bullying I saw happening in plain sight! Why couldn't they see it happening too?
So I began to believe that I must be the one with the problem. That my churning tummy and feelings of discomfort were all because there was something wrong with me. So I pushed down my feelings, ignored the churning, and instead focused more and more on trying to fit in, to please, and to be accepted.
I followed this path for an entire lifetime. I bought in to society's broadcasts that say put the other person first. I swallowed the fairytale that if I love someone enough, they will heal. I happily put my faith in the forward-focus of goals and planning... and bit by bit, day by day, I numbed my true-self in to a comatose existence.
Pleasing others, accepting who they are, flexing my behaviours to suit, and pouring more care and attention in to every situation, I was slowly killing myself in the process. And the crazy thing is? I didn't even realise it was happening...
Today of course I real-eyes that there was nothing wrong with me - there never was. What I witnessed was the truth. And when I stood up to protect, to fight for what was right, I was the one that was made the black-sheep. It's only in recent times that I understand why. I've finally 'got' the bigger picture. It's all finally clicked in to place.... Let me explain...
I was talking with a beautiful lady just this week about this subject of judgement. She, like me, had bought in to the idea that if we notice 'bad' in a situation, it's a reflection of the 'badness' that's in us - which is actually as nonsensical as the whole original sin idea that's pushed at us through many channels. Like many of us before, she'd been accused of being too needy when she'd asked for validation that what she was doing was right. This wasn't in a relationship. This was in the workplace.
My experiences with sociopaths - personal and through the many targets I've worked with since the publication of my book, have opened my eyes to the fact that this is a perfect cover that allows manipulators to destroy people in front of others, because they just can't see it happening. Speak up they say. Own your feelings. Get real about what's going on for you! Yet if I dare to question something because it's somehow not quite right, or I'm just not getting the answers I'm looking for - then of course I can be pilloried as the one who is at fault. I'm over emotional, and clearly I have more work to do on myself in order to heal these feelings of inadequacy. You know that judgement is such a nasty trait.... so yes, there you go Mel, you've noticed what it is you need to heal! Well done. Now off you go and work harder on yourself, you've a long way to go.
Leaving the people around marvelling at the wisdom, while the manipulator rubs his or her hands, and keeps strengthening their skills of hiding in plain sight. The target, of course, is left bewildered and believing once again that they are wrong. Clever eh? Yes. And it's going on every day and in every walk of life.
This is how it's happening my friends. This is how so many of us, striving to be good people (because that's what we are) end up being whittled away to nothing - while the other good people around us are oblivious, because while they continue buying in to these rules, they're also being numbed down as well.
Judgement is absolutely a right thing! It's our inner guidance, our sat nav, our instinct, our core, our soul... it's nudging us to say that something's not right, or could be improved. If we ignore, dim down or lose our sense of judgement, then how on earth are we ever going to know what's right or wrong for us - as individuals, teams, businesses and nations? And, for those of us who know what it's like to be sucked dry by a sociopath, without our judgement in tact, surely we're leaving ourselves open to be duped again?
Let me just be clear here - I'm not saying that everyone who talks about judgement as a bad thing is a sociopath. Neither am I saying that the intention behind what they are saying and the advice they are giving is anything other than honest and caring. No. That's not it at all.
What I AM saying, is that there are numerous 'rules' we buy in to and happily engage in with innocence... and it's these rules that provide shelter and nourishment to manipulators.
They're subtle. They're clever. So understated that the vast majority of people don't notice what's happening. But I do. I always have done. And many others do as well.
My work now is about honouring intuition, recognising feelings, and increasing our own power to detect the truth and make judgements based on that truth. Without fear of guilt, shame or "not being good enough". That's the way we'll all see the manipulation for what it is, without having to go through the years of pain so many of us have suffered - and the minute we see what's happening, it loses power. That's the way we can live in openness, authenticity and love.
It's about learning first to trust in ourselves, and then in others - because then we'll know for sure the difference between truth and lies. I grew up in a world that taught me to do it the wrong way around... I'm here to set the rules straight.