Monday, June 16, 2014

Psychological Socialism: Manipulating through Equalizing Blame

Psychological Socialism: 
Manipulating through Equalizing Blame

What is “psychological socialism”?  I’m so glad you asked!  It’s a term I coined a few years ago as rough concept after reading a friend's Facebook status (more on that later). Since then, I’ve done a lot of research on abusive and unhealthy interpersonal dynamics.  What I’ve read about and heard from others is enough to make my hair stand on end, but it gave me a lot of material to finally write this article!  

I use the term "psychological socialism" to describe a kind of blame shifting in which a person attempts to equalize responsibility for poor behavior when in reality there is notable difference in guilt levels. Share and share alike, right? We're all to blame, aren't we? Not so fast.

Typically, the line of reasoning goes like this. In an average conflict, it is rare that one party is the complete villain and the other is the complete saint. We all make mistakes, and we should all take proper responsibility for our share of the blame. However, that does not mean that the two people are equally guilty and should bear equal responsibility. Unfortunately, this “we all sin” concept can be an excuse that is used to manipulate and abuse. One person tries to justify seriously bad behavior by pointing to a more minor flaw or mistake by the other, and thus attempts to deflect blame by counter-blaming. This blame equalizing can also be done by a third party, such as a counselor.  Here are some statements you might hear in a variety of situations, along with my gut-level mental response to them…

* Note: trigger alert for discussion of sexual and physical abuse *

“We are both guilty, so why are you getting on my case? Why don’t you take the log out of your eye before you go gouging around for a speck in mine?” (You are being held responsible for something much more serious. Someone does not have to be perfect in order to correct you.)

“You act like I’m a horrible monster, like I was molesting my kids or something.  You think you are such a perfect angel, but you are just so self-righteous it makes me sick.” (You are using hyperbole so she will have to back off on her assertions.  She never said what you claimed she said. You are essentially demanding that she assure you that you aren’t really that bad. You are trying to make her feel guilty for setting boundaries.  Because you are claiming something that is false, you are also "gas lighting" her.)

“I had an affair because you weren’t paying any attention to me.  If you were being a good husband, I wouldn’t be forced to look for affection from someone else.” (You made the choice to break your marriage vow.)

“If you didn’t want to do it with me, you shouldn’t have worn that tight shirt and short skirt when we went out.  I couldn’t help myself.  When you dress like a slut, don’t act so surprised when you get treated like one…” (She said NO.  What you did to her was not consensual.  It was rape and that’s illegal.)

“Mom, I know I got a little tipsy last night at the party, but you kept nagging me about homework and chores, and I just had to escape for a while and have a few beers with my friends. You’re just so strict!” (You are under the legal drinking age, lazy, and on the path to potential alcohol addiction.  You need to grow up and take responsibility.)

“That greedy brat wouldn’t share with me, so I had to grab it away from her. It’s not my fault that it broke, and I’m not going to pay her back for it.  Aren’t you going to punish her for yelling at me?”  (It was hers. She did not have to share, even if she was acting selfishly. You broke it, and you need to make restitution, even if she wasn't patient.)

“You are just too fearful, just because I was a little rough once in a while. Making me move out of the house isn't fair. You are trying to ruin my relationship with the kids.” (You have exhibited a strong pattern of aggressive behavior as a husband and father. Your estranged wife is showing plenty of courage standing up to you.  She has a legal responsibility to protect the children from your abuse. You are lucky she hasn't filed a domestic violence injunction.  Yet.)

"I would have let you out of the room if you would have just listened to me for once!" (An adult blocking the exit to a room to prevent another adult from leaving is false imprisonment, which is illegal.  The exception, of course, is when you are preventing a criminal from escaping the scene of a crime.)

“I don’t know why you kept going on and on at the counseling appointment about how nasty I am to you. I should have told her what a mess the kitchen is. And she should have told you to respect me and keep the house clean.  She’s such a feminist male-bashing counselor. Sure, you can waste my hard-earned money and go be brain washed again. Something around here needs to be washed!” (Like a busy mom of toddlers deserves all that cussing and raging because she didn’t do the dishes last night?)

“Well, sure your husband needs to stop beating the kids.  But if you wouldn’t let them waste so much time with video games, he wouldn’t get so angry. I’m just trying to help, but if you aren’t going to listen to me, then you won’t see any progress in your marriage.” (She is paying you $150 to hear you blame her for the child abuse while her husband smiles and nods? Does the word “enabling” ring a bell?)

“Your husband said he’s sorry. You aren’t helping the matter by refusing to forgive and trust him again. By the way, you are looking depressed today. If you would just take meds for your depression, maybe you wouldn’t be so stressed out and you could deal with your life better.  Here, let me write you a referral to a psychiatrist.” (This woman has endured years of verbal abuse.  She has every right to be upset and not trust her husband. She is depressed because of the circumstances that he has brought on, and you are making her feel even more inadequate. Pills are not going to help much.  Neither will your shaming.)

“You are such a whiny #@#$%@ brat!  If you don’t want me to scream at you, then you should shut up and stop pestering me.  Look, there aren’t any bruises!  I didn’t know you were going to trip on that broom when I gave you that little push.  You shouldn’t be so clumsy.  Go to your room and think about what you have done.”  (You just abused your child verbally, physically, and emotionally.  There is no excuse.  You are the mom and you are supposed to be mature enough to deal with childishness.)

“You are just bitter and angry.  After you deal with that sin in your own heart, you can come back so we can talk rationally about why I, as the pastor of this church, made that policy.” (You can’t dismiss a valid complaint because of the tone of voice someone uses when he is frustrated.  You are accountable to your church members anyway, especially since they pay your salary. A church is not an autocracy.)

“I’m the leader of this house, and I will make the decisions for this family as I see fit. You are being so disrespectful in the way you bring it up. You just don’t like to submit to me.  You’re such a rebellious wife. Quit nagging me.  How can I lead you if you won't listen to me?” (Leaders listen. You haven’t. Submission does not mean silence. You are being a chauvinist.)

“OK, so I spent over $500 today on a shopping spree. But you never want to do anything fun with me, so I had to go do it by myself. What's a girl gonna do?” (A bit of passive aggressive punishment? You can have fun without blowing the budget. It may be legal, but it’s stupid.)

“I borrowed that equipment from the company without permission because you didn’t give me the raise I deserved, and I had to make some free lance income.”  (You stole it. Thieves deserve to be fired, not promoted.)

Is that enough now?

I’ve been meaning to write this article for a few years, ever since a friend wrote a Facebook status along the lines of, “Whenever you have a conflict with your husband, look at your own heart. You are just as guilty.”  

That sounds so pious, but it can become so twisted. How do you know that one person is just as guilty as the other? Sure, in a normal healthy marriage, with both spouses trying hard but making mistakes, that may not be too far off. Yeah, we should be patient, not demand perfection, live and let live, yada yada. 

Unfortunately, that line of reasoning has silenced countless true victims and made them vulnerable to even more mistreatment.  

What's the point?

What to do?

If you are being unreasonably blamed…
  • Do not bear the guilt for the misbehavior of others. Just because they claim you are just as guilty, that doesn’t make it true or fair.
  • Take on your own responsibility, but don’t grovel. Acknowledge it simply, and don’t let yourself be manipulated.
  • Don’t get sucked into a long and heated argument to prove your innocence.  If this isn't just a normal conflict, give it a pass. You can’t reason with irrational people who don’t want to take responsibility.  They aren't interested in being fair.  They just want to be in control, no matter what it takes.
  • Disengage from the pointless conversation and move along with your life. You may even need to end the relationship, or at least distance yourself from the damage with healthy boundaries.
  • If this is a serious on-going issue, seek help from a trustworthy counselor or friend.

If you are the guilty (or guiltier) party…
  • Stop minimizing valid complaints.
  • Stop excusing and counter-accusing.
  • Stop the victim blaming and shaming.
  • Stop the crazy making.
  • Start apologizing for your manipulation.
  • Start taking responsibility for good choices.
  • Start repenting and making restitution.
  • Start being a safe and healthy person whom others can trust.  If you can't overcome your behavior by yourself, seek out a counselor and be ready to work hard at change.
Thanks for reading!  I'd love to know what you think, so please leave a comment.  You might also like these closely related posts:
Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Follow the Way of Love

    "Follow the way of love
    and eagerly desire 
    gifts of the spirit, 
    especially prophecy." 

    I'm studying and journaling through 1 Corinthians now. This verse fascinated me as I started chapter 14. "Follow the way of love..." What is love? That's what chapter 13 is about: patience, kindness, humility, protection of the innocent... Chapter 14 is about life in the church: why we should prioritize mutual edification rather than individualistic displays of spirituality.

    "But the one who prophesies 
    speaks to people for their 
    strengthening, encouraging
    and comfort." vs 3

    As I thought of how people lead and service in churches, Christian organizations, and families, I mused that the way of love is about serving authentically to bless others and draw them closer to the real Jesus. 

    Being a loving leader is not about seeking to become a famous celebrity, founding your own movement, showing off your power, demanding compliance and conformity, or pulling rank. It is not about racking up attendance numbers or using ministry to make big money. It is not making a huge fuss about visitors ("love bombing") but then ignoring their real needs once they are regular attenders. It is not taking advantage of the time, money, reputation, or bodies of vulnerable people in the name of ministry.  It is not covering up evils that need to be properly exposed and routed out, just so that "the ministry" (or your own image) can continue untarnished by shame.  It's not rising through the ranks by pushing others aside or down. That's not love.  That's not leadership. That's all arrogance and selfishness. That's what drives people away from churches and Jesus.

    So what is following the way of love?  It is looking for the needs of others, and finding healthy ways to meet them - not to feel special or look good, but to genuinely care for others no matter who reciprocates or even notices.

    Of course, prophecy isn't the only way to strengthen, encourage, or comfort our fellow believers.  You don't have to wait for that special supernatural gift in order to be worthy of reaching out.  If you are a believer, you have the Holy Spirit in you, and he has given you unique gifts to share.

    How about these ideas?

    • a warm hug or a shoulder to cry on
    • an impromptu prayer and continuing prayer
    • an affirming comment on a Facebook status
    • a plate of cookies or a meal delivered
    • an understanding ear - without judgment? 
    • the gift of an inspiring book or CD
    • a pretty card with a Bible verse that isn't trite or inappropriate for the situation
    • celebrating an accomplishment of someone who is outside the core group and rarely gets noticed
    • a visit in the hospital or prison
    • a safe place to stay for a victim of domestic violence
    • a thank you note for even a small thing
    • a ride to church, just once or week after week
    • telling your pastor how much the sermon blessed you 
    • reading a Christian picture book with your child
    • taking photos to show forth the glory of God's creation
    • writing a testimony of God's faithfulness in a blog post 
    • designing a web site to facilitate ministry
    • singing for an elderly shut-in
    • volunteering to teach Sunday school 

    When you do any of these actions from a heart of true compassion, you are following the way of love.  Do you want to lead?  Well and good, but you must first and always be a humble follower of Jesus.  Listen, and do just what he tells you.

    While we're on the topic of authentic love, I have a few more thoughts about chapter 13 from my journal.  Again, thinking of ways that relationships can become twisted in the name of God, I realize there should be healthy boundaries.

    • "Patience" should never enable destructive behaviors or just plain laziness.
    • "Kindness" should not become coddling or favoritism.
    • "Is not self-seeking" does not mean you should neglect your own legitimate needs. You can't effectively serve when you are running on empty.
    • "Protection" should not over-shelter children in a way that prevents them from learning how to survive and thrive in the real world. It should also not cover for someone whose behavior is risky or sinful. In addition, protecting others does not mean you should neglect protecting yourself from others.
    • "Trust" does not mean attributing trustworthiness to those who have a pattern of breaking trust. It is also not too permissive for the situation.
    • "Keeps no record of wrong" does not mean letting crime (in the church or family) go unreported.
    • "Rejoicing in the truth" does not mean gloating over winning an argument at the expense of a relationship, or feeling morally superior to the heathen masses outside your church doors.

    Those are all childish responses to the command to love. In the extreme, those are also all ways to abuse or be abused. Instead, we need to heed verse 13:11 which says, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."  

    We shouldn't be naive in our relationships with others, and think that we are loving them or that they are loving us when it's an illusion. So I ask myself, "In what ways do I still act like a child and not a full grown woman? In which areas of my life do I need to grow out of my impulsiveness, immaturity, and insincerity?  In what ways do I need to prudently protect myself or others? In what ways do I need to prepare my children to love wisely and well?"

    Let us all follow the way of love and grow together in Christ.

    You might also like these closely related posts:

    Virginia Knowles

    P.S. I already wrote enough this evening, so I'm not going to take the time to look up related Scripture passages about love and leadership. If you can think of one, or want to research this a little more, please share in the comments!