Hey, That’s MY Business! Information Control.

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!

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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.

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 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’état 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!”

20 replies on “Hey, That’s MY Business! Information Control.”

I like the way you broke this down and I think its really true when you think of people or organizations who are trying to make people think of them a certain way. I guess that’s the criteria, right? What’s the intention. If a person wants to control how other people see them or doesn’t want something about them to get out and they ask another person to lie for them or hide something then I don’t think it’s healthy. I can see a person wanting to keep things to themselves but I can’t see this being true for a company or group and it being a good thing. Even if we choose people to share things with, we don’t know if we can trust them completely all the time. So I can’t wait to read what you have to say about trust. Besides we can’t always control who will “know” things about us. Like a friend of mine who is gay but qwasn’t ready to come out, he was at a party or something and some friends from his hometown ended up there, and he was frantic calling all of them, telling them not to tell his parents who they saw him with. At the end of the day, it probably would have been better for him not to even bother going out at all because he was just sick over who would know. I mean he had the right to tell his parents when he wanted to but he couldn’t really control who ten people spoke to about a party they went to and what they’d say. It’s just unrealistic IMO and a whole lot of work.
What you’ve written makes me think of religious groups especially! What is there to keep secret? Some churches have all these secret rituals. When I was younger my parents belonged to a church and they’d have secret meetings with the “elders” of the church and you weren’t supposed to tell anyone but word always got out and you know what would happen? If a person became included or approved to “know” then they became elevated in their own eyes and in the eyes of thechurch and other people in the church ended up having this crazy desire to get that status too. To me, it’s all very dishonest.

I think when it comes down to it, if we don’t want others people to know certain things if we’re being honest we got to ask ourselves why and then pick who we’re going to tell but if it’s public we can askpeople not to tell all we want but it still might get out so in the end it may not really be up to us unless we live in a hole in the ground :) .

I think it’s really sad that we see this kind of behavior in religious groups, because people go there thinking they can feel safe. I think you’re right that when it comes down to it we have to ask ourselves questions about why we confide in others and who we choose to confide in, and that’s what I talk about in the next part of this article.

I agree that information control is often used by abusive people in the way that you’ve described; I grew up in an abusive household where we were told that it’s not good to ask for help.

At the same time, I like to keep my personal information private, particularly my past family life and theoretical private/dating life and have asked people to not tell others about it. Perhaps much of it has to do with trust issues. However, asking people not to talk about those issues to others is … easier. For example, a former friend used to use other people’s pasts against them, especially when she was jealous (e.g. “did you know XYZ pretty and fashionable person used to be fat? That’s why she has so many boyfriends, she has low self esteem and can’t be alone.”), or an outsider saying that had I “must have done something” to deserve ABC.

Great post, btw!

I’m a private person in general (except for my tendency to shoot my mouth off on the internet), so while I generally don’t tell everyone what’s going on with every detail of my life, if I tell someone something, I don’t expect that information to necessarily be kept secret (though I appreciate all you good people at Persephone not releasing my email to spam-companies). What I trust people with isn’t usually information, but myself – I trust my friends and loved ones to act with my (and their) best interest in mind.

To be fair though, I don’t think anyone’s ever told me that I’ve been spreading their business because unless something big was going down, I’ve got enough of my own business to be worrying about. Perhaps I am too self-involved.

I think your point about information control is really interesting. I knew someone who used to do this a lot in her personal relationships, and it took me years to realise that she was controlling everyone around her by withholding information and then making her friends feel wrong for wanting to know (‘it’s my life, it’s my business’). A lot of it was stuff that she had no reason to lie about. In the strictest sense these bits and pieces were often only ‘her’ business, but I wound up in a lot of really awkward situations because of her secret-keeping and the random lies she would volunteer (like, before anyone pried). More than once, she used my ignorance as cover for her own dodgy escapades; if even I, one of her closest friends, didn’t know about something she was doing, then clearly she wasn’t doing it, right? And she was exactly the kind of person who’d first demand to know who put the banana on the floor…

Maybe it’s just not in my instincts to play my cards close to my chest, and of course I’m not saying there are no legitimate reasons to withhold information. That’s quite a difficult line to walk. It was just interesting to me, how recognisable that pattern is now that I’ve realised what my former friend was up to all those years. I don’t think she even did it consciously, that’s the worst part!

Seems like you’ve run into a person who uses withholding and lies to control her relationships, which is abusive. And yeah, it’s worst if it’s not even conscious. I see you wrote “former friend” so thank goodness you got away from her. People like that are toxic.

Yeah, I got away as best I could (we have some mutual friends so I kind of know what she’s up to second-hand, but I don’t have any contact with her if I can help it). I’ve never had a ‘friend breakup’ before and it was kind of traumatic. The hardest thing is that a part of me still thinks she must be right, and I must be over-reacting. She’s that good. It’s not even like she’s some kind of pathological liar to everyone in her life. It was all little stuff, but purely designed (whether consciously or not) to control me, specifically because she knew that I’m sensitive about feeling like everyone else knows stuff that I don’t (this based on the fact that our entire friendship was formed at a time when she was keeping a massive secret from me and using me a bit as a shield to cover her own ass). It’s like she knew exactly how to keep me in line.

The funny thing is, I have another friend who never tells anyone anything, but I don’t have the same feeling about her at all. I think she’s just really private, and while it makes me sad that she doesn’t trust people, she never uses information as a weapon like this other girl did. I do think there’s scope for difference between people who withhold information because they’re uncomfortable with others knowing their thoughts, and people who withhold information as a means of controlling others. Though I don’t know how to identify the two types other than ‘I know it when I see it’!

You know what I think it is? At the end of the day I think it feels different. When someone is using you it feels different than someone who is just private. I also think people who are controlling gravitate to people who are sensitive and care about others because that’s who they know they can have influence over. A selfish person will pretty much go tell them to go F themselves! :D
It’s really not only about withholding information to me as much as it is demanding that other people withhold it with you or …ARRRRGH brain lock. :D I think Sabine did a good job of explaining it!!!! Much better than I could!

I dunno…I think there’s a difference between being annoyed when someone repeats a private conversation word-for-word to other people and a cult. People who have so little going on in their own lives that all they do is talk about other people’s private affairs are rightfully obnoxious and damaging.

Did you tell them NOT to tell, and they told, or did you leave it up to their discretion.

Either way, YOU get to decide who you confide in, and once you make your choice, you can’t blame them for exercising their right to talk about what they feel. You can only chose differently.

Of course people can talk about what they want. I, consequently, have the right to judge people for having bad social instincts. I really don’t think, say, who I have sex with is worth a whole argument about information control. If you repeat things that most people assume are private, you’re the one who’s screwing up. It’s not about the right to say what you want. It’s about WHY it would occur to you to talk about those things. Let’s not jump off a bridge about access to bits of information that aren’t state secrets.

what difference does it make why? Everyone gets to talk about whatever they want and are you saying they need to get approval from other people (you) first? If you say, don’t want people to talk about who you’re having sex with, (ha, ha, maybe why is important. :P why don’t you want people to know? what are you hiding?) then don’t tell anyone or keep it a secret :D (if you can).

I’m not saying that someone needs to get permission. I guess I’m just wondering why Sabine is working so hard (INFORMATION CONTROL rhetoric; comparisons to cults) to justify the technical logic behind doing something that she nonetheless knows would upset a lot of people. Again, If I were to have a conversation with you about the various minutiae of my life, why on earth would you turn around and tell someone else about it? Why not talk about that person WITH that person? Why not talk about yourself? Why not talk about news or other issues. It comes down to the reality that…I wouldn’t want Sabine as a friend if she thinks it’s her right to indiscriminately repeat everything she hears. It is within my rights to make this decision, and this elaborate defense of saying whatever you want about whomever you want makes me wonder if Sabine has gotten flack for this in her real life recently.

Respectfully, if you have a question to ask me, please just go ahead and speak to me.

This conversation sounds/feels unnecessarily adversarial, and I don’t get that, unless it touches a nerve, which might be something you want to look at. Your choice. I’m just presenting my POV, which is that people who take this position usually are hiding an agenda.

Personally, I have no interest in being friends with a person who wants to dictate to me what I can and can’t talk about, and in my experience, the controlling people I have dealt with usually hate my desire to think for myself.

I actually hate gossip, and I find that people who do the whole “don’t talk about my business” thing are usually the Queens/Kings of gossip; they love to talk about other people but want to control what others say about them. So I stay away from people like that.

I have a right to talk about whatever I want and if a person cannot trust me then that is their loss. I don’t want to be micro-managed and have zero interest in dealing with people who cannot trust.

Seriously, your responses are kind of bizzarre. I read this article as comparing behavior that we find in all sorts of groups (even in close relationships) and peeling back the layers to look at why. Some people like myself have experienced it and have said yeah, I see where you’re coming from so what exactly is your problem? You’re trying to make the point that what?
Other people should make sure they make you feel good by never telling a soul about the things you choose to confide in them. Do you even have a point because I don’t get it. Why don’t you think about choosing better people to confide in if this is even a problem for you because I’m not sure it is. I just think you have a problem with the fact that Sabine doesn’t agree with you. You gave all these suggestions of what people can talk about(as if its even up to you) other than you, but you tried to get me to talk about Sabine right here on her article instead of addressing her. I guess you were trying to prove the point of why people talk about people behind their back. What is your bone to pick here, really? Did you even bother to read the second half of this, which is really good by the way.
My guess is that you have issues with trust and you don’t want to admit it. Seems like you’ve been triggered you are being kind of nasty and unreasonable rather than thinking about what has been written. Sabine makes some great points and I think both parts of the article are good pieces. You obviously don’t so why don’t you go ahead and find something else to read.

It varies, but on the whole I think the idea of “my business” is relative, but on a whole, when people use it, its usually in a manner that really isn’t about “them”. I’ve been told to “mind my business” when I forced a guy to stop hitting his girlfriend on the street ( note, she was on the street lying down and he was punching her ) . Mind your business. I’ve been told to “mind my business” when I’ve heard people say offensive stuff on the subway. So I do agree, I think there is a bit of fear around being a snitch or being nosy, because somehow thats the absolute worst thing you can be.

But I also see mind your business as a thing of live and let live. I dont know if you saw this, but several months ago there was a video of a woman eating spaghetti on the subway and this older woman sat across from her and kept shaming her for eating on the subway. The woman eating replied ” I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten all day, mind your business”. The other woman went from shaming , to yelling to calling her an animal, to ” you people are all just animals”. Yea, eating on the subway is gross. Yea, you can tell someone that. But to a degree, its not really your place to force them to not eat on the subway, much less use your privilege to isolate her as the bad one and then refer to her as an animal.

But I’m interested to see how the next piece goes too – i think this is something that people, especially myself, have qualms about.

I’ve been told to “mind my business” when I forced a guy to stop hitting his girlfriend on the street ( note, she was on the street lying down and he was punching her ) .

Seems like he wanted to continue to hit her and didn’t want anyone to tell him it was wrong. In this case were you trying to control him? You saw it and now felt it was your business. You wanted him to stop. But you feel you were right to do so, right?

I’ve been told to “mind my business” when I’ve heard people say offensive stuff on the subway.

I’m assuming someone said something you thought was offensive and you told them to stop. So again, you saw it, felt it was your business and were trying to control them, right? But again, in this instance you thought you were right.

People who try to control others always think they’re right to do so. Sometimes they have good intentions and valid points; sometimes it’s all about abusing and putting someone down to elevate themselves.

Several months ago there was a video of a woman eating spaghetti on the subway and this older woman sat across from her and kept shaming her for eating on the subway.

Shaming/blaming. This is a little different then having someone ask you to be ashamed for sharing your thoughts, though. In this case the old woman wanted the woman to be ashamed for being hungry and blamed her for doing something about it on the subway.

Did she have a valid point? Maybe, depends on how you feel about it. But since there’s no law against it, the older woman had no right try to get the other woman to stop. She was trying to control her.

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