Every one of us, I’m sure, has been on the receiving end of a variation of this kind of complaint: “Why did you tell such and such about what happened at Starbucks last Tuesday? That’s MY business!”
Some of us might have felt, upon hearing these words, duly chastised and chagrined, not realizing that what we had just been the victim of was really an attempt at mind control. No, no, I am not overreacting! Think of this on a large scale.
Let’s look at say a cult. It’s pretty easy to understand that in order for an abusive group to control the thinking of its members, it has to retain control of the information that is disseminated. Apply the same rule to any person with nefarious intentions, such as a group like a corrupt political organization or governmental systems engaged in criminal activities, and one will arrive at the same conclusion. In actuality, if done consistently over time, this rule applies to all abusive/dysfunctional situations – abusive families, spiritual groups, work places, and individual relationships. Information affords a person the ability to make decisions while hiding information prevents sound decision making. Once information can be controlled, thinking processes can be impaired. Once the thinking process has been impaired, manipulation tactics can be utilized to force compliance, loyalty, and devotion. Now maybe you understand why that woman has been married to that man for so long!
The primary concern of a dysfunctional system (person) is image consciousness. The church leader does not want to be considered an authoritarian. The father does not want to be known as an abusive husband. The boss does not want to be seen as a dictator. Character flaws, mistakes in judgment, and abusive behavior must be denied or covered up. Outsiders must only be shown the positive image. Secrets must be kept. Information controlled. There can be no open discussions about behavior or the effects thereof. There can be no probing questions or individual conclusions. Thinking for oneself is frowned upon and openly discouraged in a dishonest fashion. One is not told that they should not think or should not talk – one is instead told that they cannot think properly or should be ashamed for talking.
Now it is not an easy task to control the spread of information within a system. In order to prevent a possible leak of the truth of what is really happening in their “system,” a group leader, group members, family members, a husband, a wife, or co-workers must lay claim to the thoughts in another person’s head.
So how is this accomplished? I can clearly identify and articulate the process. For the sake of this piece I will refer to the offending party as The Accuser. Remember this can occur in a system, a group, in a relationship between two people, in a parent/child/sibling relationship, between the siblings themselves, or even amongst friends.
The Accuser claims ownership to all information related to him (her/they) as “my business” (or “their business”). Now let’s look at how incorrect and false this claim is. In a family, for example, if there is abuse going on, everyone is affected. I know of one husband who insisted that he would never go to therapy because he didn’t want anyone in “his” business. But his actions were affecting everyone in the family! Therefore, the effect of his actions was everyone’s business! There was no way that they could talk about the effect of his actions without referring to the actions themselves. However, arrogantly he lay claim to his actions as solely “his business.” Delusionally, he reasoned as a man who was an entity unto himself, an island which affected no one. What he was silently saying through his refusal to disclose “his business” is either that his actions had no effect on others, or if there was an effect, it didn’t matter.
It’s very easy to see how outrageously narcissistic and arrogant this thinking is. Imagine watching a news program at noon. Over lunch, the conversation turns to something that brings to mind one of the stories you saw on the program. You start speaking about it when the news spokesperson who reported the story appears out of nowhere and cries out in fury, “How dare you talk about that story! Why, that’s my business! You have no right to talk about your opinions of the story, how it made you feel, or what it brought up in your own mind. As a matter of fact, you have no right to mention it at all!”
Pretty ridiculous, huh? But that is exactly what is being said when the outrageous claim of spreading “my business” is made by a system/person.
So let’s look at this monumental task. How do you get another person to give up claim to what is going on in their own head and allow you to have power over it?
It is worthy to look at the methods, because an Accuser can and often is successful in getting other people to remain silent. It is this rule of silence that is the corner stone of all abusive systems. Once the word gets out as to what’s really going on, the possibility of change becomes a reality. Change is the correcting agent to dysfunction. When we understand this, we can see that what the Accuser engages in is “survival warfare” to protect the dysfunctional system.
SURVIVAL WARFARE TACTICS OF DYSFUNCTIONAL SYSTEMS:
Accomplishing the task of mental coercion takes manipulation and subterfuge. The Accuser must be dishonest, conniving, and arrogant. The Accuser must first convince their target that he/she has done something wrong. Blame will take care of this quite effectively.
The simple act of accusation, no matter how outrageous, will catch a normal person off-guard and put them on the defensive. I often use this test as a barometer of an abusive personality. Most people, when something goes wrong, will initially look to themselves for a reason. If a person slips on the floor, for example, they might first look at their feet to see if they misstepped or the floor to see if they’ve stepped in something. If something is on the floor, they might preliminarily either assume they didn’t see it or that they weren’t paying attention. An abusive personality immediately looks around for someone to blame: “Who put that banana on the floor?!” This question will be asked with indignation, even if the person is carrying a case of bananas.
Once an accusation has been made, then the victim must be made to feel responsible. Shame will come in and make short work of the victim’s self esteem. He or she will be called names, their character will be called to question, their motives, their intentions, their past behavior. Anything that will help groom the victim to accept ownership of the accusation will be utilized, even if the information has no basis whatsoever.
The Accuser will threaten to ostracize their target from the folds of the group as a consequence of their behavior. Being singled out and used as a scapegoat, for example, when there is a family problem is an extremely heavy burden. This remains true in all collective groups. Standing alone against an Accuser who is backed by a large group is a very lonely, isolating position. The Accuser banks on this feeling of isolation to accomplish his final goal.
THE FINAL OUTCOME:
The final and ultimate goal is to make the victim doubt their own mind, take responsibility, apologize, and fall back into the fold (be silent and behave themselves). Outrageous accusations having no basis in reality whatsoever can have an amazing effect on a person’s sense of self. Such an accusation from a person who one should trust, a loved one, or a person in a position of authority, someone who has the responsibility to tell the truth, can be so traumatizing that a normal person will find it very hard to see what it is really happening. This is especially true if the person has no support system that can mirror back a clear, unbiased view of the events. Beat down from the tag team attack of blame and shame, most are unable to withstand the pressure. They capitulate with apologies and excuses. In the end, sometimes a person will actually feel wrong.
Imagine a WWF wrestling match with blame and shame suited up and ready to fight. Just as one has finished beating on its opponent, the second is tagged and jumps in relentlessly continuing where the other left off. Just like wrestlers who have signature moves, the “blame and shame” technique utilizes predictable tactics. Let’s look at two of them.
The Accusation of DISRESPECT:
An Accuser will pull the disrespect card when accusing someone of leaking out “their” information. This claim of disrespect speaks to the arrogance that can be found in the person’s belief that they have the ability to lay claim to the information in the first place. The person wants their victim to respect them even though they’re lying about their motivations and intentions, which is to control and dominate. The Accuser cries foul and claims that he/she has been disrespected when what he/she (or they) really feel is out of control. If the system, group, entity, or person could be honest, they would more appropriately say, “You have defied me!” but of course saying this would point to the truth of their intentions, which utilizing the methods of doublethink, they avoid admitting. Doublethink is a phrase coined in George Orwell’s classic cautionary tale of world domination, 1984. In the book, he defines it as such:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
Amazingly, the Accuser may even make the claim that the person is trying to control the family, the work place, the church, whatever system it is. It is any one’s guess whether the Accuser even believes this. However, through doublethink it is most certainly possible. Psychologically, projection – a defense mechanism in which one attributes one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts behaviors and/or emotions to another and so sees that person as guilty of the very behavior in which they are engaged – can also be the offending factor. The person might very well believe that the victim’s intentions mirror their own, that the victim is in fact attempting to accomplish a coup d’Ã©tat by spreading negative information that will hurt the system (person).
The concept that information can be controlled or belongs to one person is a fallacy. Everything we say and do effects the people around us. Everyone has a right to talk about what they’ve experienced, disclosing all the information relevant to that experience. Another person with the intention of altering reality or maintaining an illusory reputation based on lies will most often do whatever they can to control the information that is accessible about them. But remember, no one has the right to control what is going on in your head!
What if someone has entrusted you with information and asked you not to disclose it? Whenever I have this discussion with someone, whenever I refuse to agree to “keep a secret,” I am always inevitably asked, “Well, my God, can you even be trusted? What about holding someone’s confidence? Isn’t that something that should be expected amongst friends?”
I will discuss trust in the second part of this piece, because it is a relevant and important question. For the moment, I will say no one can impose morality. Even if you’ve been entrusted with information, you still get to decide whether you are going to keep that information to yourself. If a good friend was to disclose to you that he had molested a young girl and asks you never to tell a soul, would you keep that secret?
If a woman beaten beyond recognition is in your home broken and in tears but asks you to promise not to call the police, would you honor that promise?
If you’ve signed a confidentiality agreement with a company who is now attempting to screw you out of your pension, will you not consider doing whatever you can to protect yourself? Would you honestly consider yourself beholden to that confidentiality agreement?
What do you think about secrets and requests to promise not to tell? How do you feel when someone accuses you of spreading “their business”?
My position is at the end of the day we all have the right to choose. Others may cry foul; they may become upset and accuse us of being untrustworthy, but here is the first and foremost obligation: Before we commit ourselves to anyone else, before we agree or promise another anything, we must remember: “To thine own self be true!”