First aid for your soul
You in a home or workplace setting. You are a timid individual or a bit too perky for others’ convenience. You have never challenged others’ opinions before or they have usually accepted what you do. You have never encountered a hostile situation before.
One day you question something someone (in authority) did. Or you expand your sphere of activity (as a natural part of growing your space) and trample on someone’s toes or insecurities.
Suddenly, you find yourself in the midst of a toxic environment. Everything you say is considered wrong. Everything you do is considered blame-worthy. There seems to be nothing you can do right. You find yourself constantly on the defensive — not just against a single person, but an entire group.
The above phenomenon is similar to gaslighting, but a bit more overt in the sense you become aware of the hostility behind it. Gaslighting typically occurs one-one but groupthink can have the same effect, as outlined below.
What doesn’t work:
- Fighting back: The more you argue, the stronger the arguments that are thrown back at you. You begin to feel drained, and lose your self-esteem.
- Walking out cutting off all ties: Difficult, especially if you are dependent on them for home for food, clothing, shelter, education and the like. You might need to rely on them for some more time, or risk ending up penniless on the streets.
Behind the scenes:
You need to understand the dynamics of what’s happening to help you handle such a situation:
It is okay to have and challenge others’ opinions:
- It is not wrong to have an opinion, but if you go by what your audience says, you will start believing you are wrong all the time (which is statistically improbable). Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. What is being established by your toxic attackers is called black-and-white thinking — implying there is only way of being right, and all other options and opinions are wrong.
- In reality, we operate in shades of grey. You are not wrong if you turn off the stove when it is 84% cooked. You are not a failure if you don’t get through your first five interviews. You are not a bad parent if your baby slips through your fingers when startled by a vehicle backfiring. If you start absorbing your attackers’ statements, you will lose all self-esteem and you will start seeing yourself as 100% wrong, instead of 70% or even 40% right. Keep your self-esteem locked in a safe place inside you.
Your past mistakes do not mean future incompetence:
- You may have made a hundred mistakes, but that is part of growing up. Babies don’t walk unless they fall down a million times and cry. They get up and people clap when they do. If you keep shouting at a baby each time its bottom touches the floor, it would never walk. Mistakes are normal.
- Good judgment comes from good experience. Good experience comes from bad experiences. Bad experiences come from making mistakes.
You are being forced to see things through a distorted filter:
- The people around you are doing a compressed-analysis of your life like a movie trailer or sports highlights. Every life (and movie or game) has good and bad parts . The problem is, the people around you keep replaying only the bad highlights to show you are flawed. They are not wrong (yes, you may have done all those things), but their depiction of you is incomplete. So if you argue back using denial, they will simply show you proof that all these incidents did indeed happen.
- If you have 70% good inside you and 30% bad, and I replay only the 30% bad part, I can easily make you look and feel like a low-life. So, hear what they’re saying but remember, 70% of your (good) life may have been edited out in the final cut they’re showing you about yourself.
They are trying to drain you of your energy:
- If there are multiple people (ex: 5) fighting against you, they have to generate 1 argument per person in say, 5 minutes while you will have to generate 5 counter-arguments in your head in the same 5 minutes. This will exhaust your energy rapidly (at 5 times their rate) and put you mentally and physically under their power.
They are asking you to give them control:
- If and when you lose all confidence in yourself, you will start relying on them to know what you should do. At this stage, it turns into gaslighting. After showing that you are unable to handle your home or work, they nudge you into giving them your life’s remote control so that they can manage your life, its direction and decisions. After all, if you are not 100% right, and they are, it is more efficient for them to manage your life.
They are right 100% of the time because they’re evaluating themselves by their values, and evaluating you (also) by their values:
- The main intent of such behavior is to make you the defendant in a highly biased court martial. The beautiful thing is they become all three — the prosecutor (accusing you of the crime), the jury (evaluating your arguments) and lawmakers (the parliament or senate, defining what’s right or wrong). You are left alone to defend yourself, without a lawyer.
- Guard your self-esteem. Lock it somewhere safe inside you.
- Remember you are the driver of your life. If you ever move to the passenger seat, others will start driving your life. Stay in the driver’s seat, even if you are very, very bad at driving.
- Live life by your own values. Don’t allow anyone else (except the Supreme Court) to decide the laws you are subject to.
- Lower your expectations — it is okay to be your average instead of someone else’s perfect. Average is not wrong, it is just another part of the spectrum.
- Choose your battles wisely. Don’t let your ego get in the way. You might have to lose this battle to win the war.
- Keep your head low, while you seek alternative options (home or work)
The above is not intended to escape self-awareness or feedback. Our deepest wounds have the potential for the greatest healing and wisdom. It is however important to differentiate between the pain caused by others’ insecurities and our own.