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While manning our advocacy group’s booth in November, one of our team members handed me this book and asked if I’d write a review. At the time I had a stack of books I was trying to get through. I finally finished this one and now believe there are millions of people who can benefit from it– not just victims of narcissists, but those who often enable narcissists by falling for their act.

The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist: Recognizing the Traits and Finding Healing After Hidden Emotional and Psychological Abuse was written by Debbie Mirza. Mirza clearly knows what it’s like to be taken advantage of by these self-serving, mask-wearing abusers. The deeper into the book you read, the more empathy she expresses towards those whose lives have been altered by this type of abuse.

We are all familiar with the traditional definition of narcissism, which includes largely obvious attributes such as arrogance, entitlement, and an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Narcissists are more special than you– and they let you know it. They should be the most admired, the most desired, regarded as the most brilliant. Their time is more important, their needs and wants should take precedence, they should be the first ones in line, in the lifeboat, getting the promotion.

Narcissism stems from a distorted sense of self and a lack of empathy for others. Seeking to fill the void inside them, and achieve this status they believe they should have, they use other people as fuel for their egomaniacal furnace. They can be particularly attracted to high empathy, caring, considerate humans who have many of the traits they lack. Sandra L. Brown has written extensively about this dynamic including in her books Women Who Love Psychopaths and How to Spot a Dangerous Man.

The Mayo Clinic reminds us that:

Symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and how severe they are can vary. People with the disorder can:

  • Have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance and require constant, excessive admiration.
  • Feel that they deserve privileges and special treatment.
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements.
  • Make achievements and talents seem bigger than they are.
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
  • Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people.
  • Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important.
  • Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them.
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want.
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them.
  • Behave in an arrogant way, brag a lot and come across as conceited.
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office.

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they view as criticism. They can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special recognition or treatment.
  • Have major problems interacting with others and easily feel slighted.
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle other people to make themselves appear superior.
  • Have difficulty managing their emotions and behavior.
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.
  • Withdraw from or avoid situations in which they might fail.
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection.
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, humiliation and fear of being exposed as a failure.

Mirza acknowledges these symptoms and then says, “but wait, there’s more.” Having worked with many people traumatized by narcissists, she recognized that there is a much less obvious type of narcissism. A covert passive aggressive narcissist is much more selective about who they show their true colors around. To the rest of the world, they may appear to be a warm, helpful, fun to hang out with, ideal partner, relative, or coworkers, the kind of person who is lauded for their generous, go-getter attitudes. To their selected targets, they are someone else entirely– abusive, insulting, demeaning, demanding, dishonest, immature, entitled, sadistic.

What makes this one of the best books on narcissism that I’ve read, besides being well-organized and understandable, is that Mirza tells us exactly how this victimization unfolds. If you have been through the hell of narcissism, you might have a “eureka!” moment as you recognize that this mirrors domestic violence regardless of the type of relationship involved. The parallels are real.

Mirza notes that whether this process begins in a romantic relationship, family relationship, friendship, or in the workplace, the covert passive aggressive narcissist starts by buttering you up. Initially they mirror you, so you can’t believe how alike you are. You let your defenses down as you find them so relatable, so outgoing, so easy to get along with. In reality, they are gathering information and probing for weaknesses. You also feel for them, because they tell you personal details that will elicit sympathy. You feel like you want to do extra to help them because of all they’ve been through.

But then the criticisms and jabs begin. This may be almost imperceptible at first. You may start to believe that you’re not helping them enough, or being a supportive enough player in their life. They begin to “teach you lessons” and show you how you’re allegedly inadequate. You will be given “the look” and be at the mercy of their moods. They may “reward” you with some buttering up still only to knock you back off of your feet as they create an increasing amount of drama.

Before long, the victim becomes the one holding up the relationship. As they struggle to keep the peace and reignite the positive aspects of the relationship that seemed to be there in the beginning, they are increasingly demeaned and devalued. Worse yet, the covert passive aggressive narcissist appeals to others’ sympathy, enlisting their help in targeting the victim. These accomplished liars are adept at convincing those around the victim that the victim is doing something wrong. The narcissist projects their own demons onto the victim and others believe them. Soon there may be a whole gang within a victim’s social circle, family, or workplace defending the narcissist and gaslighting the victim.

At some point, the narcissist will reject their target, tossing them aside like a piece of garbage. The victim might struggle to maintain the relationship, but that horrible realization that they’ve been used will start to sink in. The truth is, there is no genuine relationship, they don’t really care about you, and you’re just a means to an end. You were just the stairs they climbed to attain a higher status or achieve a goal. Learning the truth can ruin a victim’s life, making them feel unworthy, unloved, even suicidal. But it should be a reflection upon how depraved the narcissist is, how far they’re willing to go to feel powerful, loved, capable, successful.

After describing this process, Mirza delves into the traits that covert passive aggressive narcissists have. She then details their control and manipulation tactics. You will see how both fit into the previous process– and why this is so insidious compared to our average definition of a narcissist. While their tactics may be painfully obvious to their targets, they are highly skilled at convincing others they’re the real victims. Because they are so “wonderful” to others, maintaining the appearance that they are gracious contributors to the greater good, their targets’ experiences are minimized. “Surely the dynamic PTA mom or the gregarious advertising executive couldn’t be guilty of that.” The trauma the victim is suffering may be used to justify the narcissist’s claims that they are unstable/emotional/mental.

Now that I’ve touched on the horrors that this type of narcissist commits, I’ll leave it up to the author to detail the rest. Mirza spends the next part of her book discussing why narcissists might do it and how all of this plays out in parenting, dating, and marriage. A good portion of this book is dedicated to healing as well. While easy to read, these parts of the book should be digested slowly. The way Mirza approaches these topics can completely expose the web of lies targets have been entangled in– and how to shed these sticky strands completely.

An extremely valuable part of the book is where Mirza teaches survivors of covert passive aggressive narcissistic abuse to trust their guts in order to recognize it for what it is. She teaches the reader in simple terms what’s healthy and what’s not. These are concepts that should be taught to human beings from childhood. Yet many adults are unequipped for real love, or healthy work relationships or friendships, making this book all the more valuable. Mirza believes that survivors can heal and offers additional resources at the end of the book.

A wide range of people would benefit from this book. While much of its content is geared towards narcissists’ targets, this book is a great way to learn how NOT to be used by them. It helps readers discern when they’re being played and why they might be susceptible to it. All in all, this is a great read, another weapon in an advocate’s arsenal against the dangerous abusers among us.


©2022 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com

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Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Yesterday the face of the cowardly alleged murderer who took the lives of four young people in their beds was revealed to the world. The 28 year-old suspect in the Moscow, Idaho killings was taken into custody after fleeing across the country to his parents’ home (that speaks volumes right there). His mug shot radiates a smug insecurity.

Curiously, many media outlets did not instantly refer to him by first, middle, and last name as they do in most spree or serial killing cases. That practice unfortunately feeds a serial killer mythos, rewarding murderers with a special kind of notoriety. It seems to reward some of the worst criminals, making their names more memorable as if they’ve joined an elite pantheon of evil.

I won’t use his name. Not in this piece. Anyone who finds pleasure in premeditated brutality against others, who feels powerful by attacking and killing people in their sleep, is a coward. Pure and simple. This is someone who doesn’t even have the stones to take himself out, instead projecting whatever injustices he hasn’t processed correctly onto human beings who didn’t cause them.

There’s nothing about these crimes that will be remembered as “brilliant” or have people saying “what a mastermind.” As investigators said early on in this case, you can’t commit such a violent crime and not leave evidence behind. They were correct. It sounds like the suspect’s DNA was found at the scene. His car was captured on video. This was far from meticulous. It strikes me as someone who believed they were smarter than everyone else, a legend in their own mind. This isn’t the 1970s, an era before all of our modern technology and resources.

The suspect’s education is similar to my own. Unless the curriculum has changed radically since I graduated from the same school of criminal justice and criminology, students spend a lot of time studying older cases, “pre-CSI” cases. I have a master’s degree in forensic psychology, something he had an interest in, emphasis on psychology, not science. People often say, “Forensic psychology– oh! Like a CSI.” No. It’s psychology within a legal framework, not intensive crime scene investigation.

There was an absence of sexual assaults in this case, which could have left more evidence, but the act of killing itself can be its own high for this type. His fellow students are now speaking out, saying he was more engaged and outgoing after the murders. Clearly, if he is indeed responsible, he went on with life as usual, returning to class and going home for the holidays.

If he thought that getting an education along this track would make him a better killer, or help him commit the perfect crime, that’s illogical. Acquiring the mindset of a killer through studying other murderers may actually give you a false sense of your own confidence and skills. In this case the education was likely used to enhance feelings that were already there. Worse, he likely felt that taking others’ lives was justifiable based on his own adverse life experiences. Or even that people who “had it better than him” or he saw as “lesser” than him deserved this.

Earlier this week I told someone that the Moscow suspect is like those firefighter or fire investigator arsonists who set fires themselves and watch as others respond. Or they respond themselves and are lauded as the “hero” because they happened to be in the area, responded first, saved someone from it, or “solved” the case. They gravitate towards the profession due to a love of power and control. Having the uniform, the degree, the professional acclaim, the authority can be a powerful narcotic for those predisposed to a “little g” god complex.

Already accounts from fellow students and former friends are noting a pronounced degree of narcissism in the suspect. One said that she ended the friendship because he would chide her that she wasn’t as smart as him. She seems to have recognized that she wasn’t in a friendship, but a toxic put-down relationship which he used to feel better about himself. He’s worked as a security guard in a school, which in context could support his power and control issues. I’ve had the thought that perhaps he even planned to sail in with the “solution” to the Moscow murders as if his alleged brilliance had solved the case, probably thinking he’d be hailed as the next John E. Douglas.

Washington State is known for its serial killers and many are familiar with the narcissism involved in some of them. Quite often in conversation, we Washingtonians find that we know someone involved in the case or know someone who knows someone who knew the killer. They note, in retrospect, red flags that something was wrong. A high school friend of mine’s mother, for example, counted Ted Bundy among her neighborhood playmates. She said that even as grade school kids he always had to be the “in control” figure when they played together, including an oddly macho version of Superman.

Robert Yates, the so-called Spokane Serial Killer, targeted prostitutes, who to him were disposable. He had that all too-familiar “I’m so intelligent and everyone else is an idiot” complex. I believe he even had a bumper sticker to that effect. He was so self-confident that he buried some of his victims next to his house where his wife planted flowers and his kids played. There are other local examples. Sometimes their arrogance is their downfall.

I offer these examples to illustrate such narcissism is common among those who feel entitled to end others’ lives, not to classify the Moscow suspect with Bundy, Yates, etc. There are differences. Underneath them all, though, you will likely find a deeply insecure person who has been rejected, bullied, or who feels different, who tries to hide a fiery rage against the rest of humanity. As a person of faith, I note that allowing yourself to irrationally project your rage onto others means you’ve fallen for the original lie, that you shall be as gods. It creates portals into your soul where dark forces take refuge.

We live in a society in which it’s increasingly common for those who feel wronged to kill others. Look at how many people, mostly women, are killed by their partners every day. Look at how many school shootings we’ve had. There are up to 50 serial killers on the loose in the U.S. at any given time, although they are responsible for just a fraction of the times people choose to rob others of their lives. As we collectively more towards living our own truths and away from a more universal concept of good and evil, we are developing young men and women with an inability to resolve conflict, who see murder as an acceptable solution to their own inner pain.

We’ve heard of the term “thrill kill.” Some have wondered if this was purely such a type of crime. Others have speculated that the killer was sexually frustrated and/or may have had a fixation on or was stalking one of the victims. This is all possible. I don’t doubt that at minimum he chose his targets and planned this. He might have had this fantasy brewing for a while. His social media posts networking with convicted killers for a study he’d planned could well have been intended for his own schemes.

He probably spent a lot of his time alone with his own thoughts, playing out various scenarios. Also, who or what did he practice on? Has he done this before? Would he have done this again? We may learn more as he’s extradited to Idaho, where he will receive an objective trial, but the collective, righteous rage of the community should not be underestimated. It will lead to positive change and a powerful repudiation of this evil.

These are not people who have been cowering in fear. These are men, women, adults, teens who have been working together to improve each others’ safety and minister to each others’ needs. Out of this incident fierce advocates for others are arising, who are not only going to speak out on behalf of others, but whose advocacy is going to save lives. The suspect’s classmates who are currently stunned by learning the killer was in their midst will go on to serve others, to educate others, not to kill others. In time they will overcome their trauma and shock because they will seek appropriate resources and heal through connection with others.

Murdering four defenseless people in their beds was not a dazzling act of brilliance. It does not display a mastery of anything. To some it may be surprising that a criminology and forensic psychology student is responsible. But some know or know of people who are attracted to related professions for the wrong reasons, so it isn’t a huge surprise. These murders are actually a supreme act of cowardice.

While the suspect may be convicted, file appeals, and fight the legal system for decades believing that he can game it, there is a point at which he will have to give an account of himself before the Creator. While an increasing number of people don’t believe in God, and therefore have no regard for the rules he set for human behavior, I believe in both a love and a justice infinitely more consequential than anything humanity can mete out. If this killer does not confess and cooperate, he won’t get away with this forever.

May love rule.


Please visit the University of Idaho’s memorial page to learn how to support the victims’ families and scholarship funds established in their names. You may also contribute to a fund that supports students in crisis.


©2022 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com

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Wow! This video, posted online by the advocacy group Dignity Together, is the best summary of workplace bullying that I’ve seen. The target of the bullying is not the problem or the solution, yet employers often treat them as if they’re responsible for the abuser’s actions. Without intervention, the problem will get worse, and there is real psychological and physical suffering that results from the torment.

I often point out the parallels between this and domestic violence– both are driven by power and control. Both are motivated by a sick need to make others feel small and by those who find pleasure in making others miserable. We must stand up to this and educate others as to what workplace bullying is and what to do about it– please pass it on.

(8/3/22: Please note that the original video was removed, so I’m substituted this.)

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angel-1

We often feel that we get what we deserve. The basic law, “the wages of sin is death” is operating. We think that if we are not loved, it must be because we did not earn it. The truth is, we can’t earn love. It is just something that someone decides to feel toward us. We can earn approval, but not love. We don’t deserve it, we don’t not deserve it. Deserving and love are unrelated. –Henry Cloud

It starts when we’re children and we’re cut and bruised until we scar. We’re bullied at school. A parent takes their dissatisfaction with their own life out on us. Someone violates our trust. Some shallow person breaks our heart. So we grow up with a warped self-image, eventually, at least to some degree, succumbing to the abuse so that we believe no one could ever truly love us the way we want to be loved.

We feel unworthy. We’re vulnerable. We associate with people who injure us, but we’re so used to it we make excuses for the abuse and largely overlook it. When we inventory the internal hurts and wrongs along with our own bad or desperate choices, we decide to lower our expectations. We think that no one could ever love us if they truly knew us or if they knew what has been done to us. We settle.

Life goes on. We wash, rinse, repeat. We might be attracted to those who seem exciting and daring only to find that their lows are dangerously low and their highs are exhausting. We might try to turn off our emotions and just go have our fun only to realize that it rots our souls. Perhaps we finally escape. But in that solitude and freedom, those original feelings of rejection and unworthiness have a peculiar way of festering unless we truly begin to understand who our Creator made us to be.

When you’re alone, do the words that abusive people said to you come back? You’re not good enough. You’re too this. You’re too that. No wonder that happened to you. Who could ever love you? And you wonder… if someone ever really knew you, could they truly respect you? Could they understand? Could they overlook past transgressions or see beyond how you were wronged? What if they found out about that time? What if they disapproved of that decision?

Maybe you’re not willing to try again. Perhaps you just want to keep someone at arm’s length and stay at the fringes of a relationship. That’s up to you. You will know when you’re ready to try again and no one should deprive you of your free will. Good things can take time too. But the strong caution I want to issue tonight is this: do not let your past, even what happened yesterday, define your future. To do so could be to miss out on life and even your divine purpose.

As the author of the Boundaries books alludes to above, you should not reject love on the basis that you don’t “deserve” it. Love is a gift. You could try your entire earthly existence to rack up enough brownie points to “deserve” to be loved the way God intends you to be and not succeed. When the real deal comes knocking, open yourself to the possibility that the way you originally envisioned love is still possible. Don’t start counting all the reasons they shouldn’t love you; acknowledge that someone sees you as your Creator intended you.

You’ll know the real deal when it happens. It’s exactly that–real. Not phony, but raw, honest, and deeply desiring to get to know your whole person, strengths and weaknesses alike. There is a mutual give and take as the relationship develops, with truths and fears and hopes and dreams being woven into the developing tapestry. It’s work, yet it yields great rewards and deep intimacy. It can be terrifying to let another person into that part of yourself you’ve had locked off for so long. But once you crack the door, you’ll find that parts of yourself you thought were long dead start to come alive.

The real deal treats you with respect, doesn’t try to control your life, and builds you up instead of tearing you down. It acknowledges that there will be ups and downs, yet deals with them in an inside voice. It stands with you regardless of what life throws at you and stays with you through both tragedies and victories. The real deal wants to do life together as a team and together grow into the people God intends for you to be, realizing that you can accomplish more together than apart.

But, you say, but you don’t know my past. You don’t know what was done to me. You don’t know how I’ve suffered. You don’t know the choices I’ve made. You’re correct. I don’t. But I know that your Heavenly Father, Love Himself, paid for all of that one hellish day in 33 A.D. outside Jerusalem. Everything our race had ever done wrong, everything we would do, was carried on those bleeding shoulders. He gave us a blank slate.

Once we say, “yeah, I believe You are who you say You are, and I’m sorry for the wrongs I have committed” He gives us a fresh start. Why, then, do we keep crucifying ourselves for times gone by when it’s done, finished, over? That is a complex question and we each have our own reasons for playing the tapes of our past over and over in our hearts and heads, often unresolved trauma. We might need professional help working through that. There’s no shame in that and I recommend it.

In order to truly escape our abusers and demons though, we need to cut loose from the identities they assigned to us– the ones that say we’re ugly, stupid, unworthy, ridiculous, damaged, and all the other concepts they projected onto us when their real issues were with themselves. Think about it. Healthy people don’t take such delight in putting others down and trying to manipulate everything they do. Unhealthy people often torment others by blaming them for what’s wrong with themselves.

When you think of yourself as undeserving of love, you are choosing to live by those false identities, those forced masks that bullies made you wear. In a sense, you are even choosing to identify with your abusers. I’m not saying you don’t have issues to work on. Maybe you have some things to clean up before you can reciprocate and be an equal partner in the real deal. I am challenging anyone struggling with the idea of being loved to not allow voices from the past to dictate their future. You are a beloved, purposeful creation of God, unique and specially gifted to fulfill a purpose. You are a child of the King.

There will always be negative voices in life trying to tear you down. Shut them up. Shut them out. Look up. Keep your eyes on the One who made you, who knew every one of your days before you came into being. The enemy of our souls wants to keep us groveling in subservience to our former masters: fear, anger, loneliness, unkind words, hate, violence, jealousy, exploitation, betrayal, heartbreak. When we stay chained to those evils we fail to grow into true relationship with God and others. We feel unworthy. We stay vulnerable. We get hurt again. We lower our expectations. We settle…

Enough is enough. It’s time to say goodbye to the masks, chains, and voices. When they say hello, quote scripture to them because it is in the Manufacturer’s Handbook that we find our true identities: I am more than a conqueror. I am a light-bearer, not one who hides in the darkness. I was created to do good works. He said I will do even greater miracles than He did. I no longer have a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I am a victor, not a victim. I am empowered by the One who spoke the universe into being and designed to love deeply, fully, selflessly, passionately, with reckless abandon. I am not going to allow my yesterdays to dictate the way I love.

It takes practice. But the more you realize that you are who God says you are, the more able you are to give and receive genuine love. You are free to flex the muscles of your true self, the one you used to have to hide to keep the peace or survive. No more hiding. No more kowtowing, placating, or dumbing yourself down to try to please someone. As author John Eldredge said, let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it.

You get one try here on earth, one chance to determine your station in eternity. Don’t waste it being who other people say you are; be the you that you’ve always known you are. The you that wanted to be an astronaut when you were four years old. The you that felt weak in the knees when she walked by your locker in middle school. The you that could see him kneeling in the drizzle under a golf umbrella as realize what he’s about to do. The you who heads up a team of relentless do-gooders making a difference in the world. Don’t you think these sensations and dreams were put there for a reason?

Deep down, you know that you are called to greatness. Even deeper, somewhere in the infinite depths of your heart, you know that you still desire that forever love, that fusion with an equally flawed human being who just has that undefinable, intangible something… Yes… it’s still there. Despite all your efforts to board up the windows and barricade the doors, there is still a spark, a kernel of hope, a seed waiting for the flood.

It’s your choice. It’s always your choice. No one can take that from you. There are benefits to being single and there are benefits to being part of a team. But that spark, that kernel, that seed was planted for a reason. And when the rains come, will you push it even farther down or will you slowly open up your arms and give it a chance to flourish? Will you acknowledge that this is not about what’s been done to you or what you deserve but that someone loves you for who you are? That it is a gift, not a contest?

My friends, do not let dark forces and selfish, insecure humans rob you of love the way God meant for it to be experienced. Do not live your life in slavery to the past. The debt has been paid.

Tonight, as you sit in your chair and for the millionth time run through all the reasons that you keep your heart in a box on the shelf, consider the possibility that all of those reasons are now irrelevant. You are free. Real love will enhance that freedom and respect and protect you. It will help you become the you God has intended for you to be all along.

Then it hits you. You breathe in sharply. Could it be…? 

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Other than heaven, the only place where one’s heart is completely safe from the dangers of love is hell. –C.S. Lewis

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©2016 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Bullying at Work: Workplace Mobbing is on the Rise | World of Psychology.

Over on PsychCentral’s site, Australian psychologist Dr. Sophie Henshaw has posted a must-read on workplace bullying. The article begins:

Mobbing is “bullying on steroids,” a horrifying new trend whereby a bully enlists co-workers to collude in a relentless campaign of psychological terror against a hapless target. (more…)

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Children with Food Allergies Targeted by Bullies – FAAN.

People with food allergies are often the targets of bullying, discrimination, and domestic violence because of their medical condition. This should not be tolerated. FAAN has issued a press release about kids who’ve been bullied for their diets.

GFGC

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