Lately I have started to pay attention to dominance games played by other people. I have noticed on text messages that people post on social media and also in talking to women how in their initial interactions with men, the men will many times post or say something critical (appropriate or not) to see how they react. My theory is that this is the first step in gaslighting that person. Manipulative people (not always men, we will get to the women shortly) will often set up the manipulation by playing off someone else’s courtesy. They say or do something at a time when it would be awkward for the other person to react appropriately so the recipient blows it off which just encourages the manipulator.
“Suspension of Disbelief” is when you suspend your normal perceptions to accept a book or movie based on an unlikely premise, like Star Wars for example. The manipulator plays off this because when they do or say something, it takes the other person a moment to comprehend what just happened and have it go through their head “did they really just do that?”. It’s a way of keeping people off balance because at the least, it’s unsettling.
In my own life, this happens or is attempted with me on a pretty regular basis. The usual instance is another male, usually someone who is insecure (another attorney perhaps, under 6 ft tall or out of shape or both). They will make a comment under the premise of giving me a hard time (“how about those tweets”) and I just fire right back at them, (“No matter how many elections I lose, you’ll still be 5’9”) and then it stops. You just have to be ready to hit back and it helps to know the person so you have something good. Sometimes it happens out surfing (I may need to devote a whole post to the sociology and hierarchical nature of surfing) where younger surfers feel that if they are the “better” surfer, it entitles them to more waves. I generally pick a spot and stay there with occasionally paddling to compensate for drift. A younger surfer will do this thing where he paddles and sits close to me, sometimes right beside me or sometimes just a bit farther out. It is implied that if he paddles for a wave that I am somehow obligated to move out of his way. I have learned to hold my ground. Most of these guys are 140-160 lbs and I am a solid 6’2″ 220 lbs. They are aggressive enough to paddle close to me but not run me over. When I don’t move or actually paddle behind them, catch the wave and call them off (the rule is the surfer closest to the peak has priority and you can catch a beat down if you cut someone off when they had priority) they learn and move on.
The most disturbing instance of it happening to me is with my own spouse, who we will call H. I have written before about H’s anger issues. She also feels male/female relationships are a power struggle. I have noticed that she will refer to me publicly to other women as her “walking ATM”. A good example of what she does happened yesterday. One Sunday a month we go to our local Elks Club (She is an Elk, cheap drinks and close to the house, yeah I know…) for Music Video Bingo (actually kind of fun). She went early and I was to arrive later with my boys. She said we needed cash to pay for the bingo right before she left so I made sure I had some. I also remembered that the Elks Club has an ATM on premises. I walk in to the Elks with the boys and immediately notice she is at a table with no room for the kids. While I am taking all that in and deciding whether or not to just get a separate table, she tells me, loudly and publicly, “I need Cash”. As I am reaching into my pocket, I also tell her “There is an ATM right over there”. She then hisses, calls me an asshole (in a loud stage whisper) and says that the ATM charges (side note, in addition to her $30k salary, I pay her $300 a week as an employee of the law firm, I pay all of our fixed expenses) and then also says that I “yelled” at her. This was a loud room and I spoke in a normal tone. I also do not yell at my wife in public and only at home in response to being yelled at. I have learned that I cannot “out anger” her so I don’t diminish myself by raising my voice. My own anger is a quiet anger, you can tell I am really pissed when I stop talking. Our conversation made me want to get up and leave (that’s what manipulator’s want, for you to be unsure how to react). Then I calmed down and actually enjoyed the rest of the time there. When I thought about it later, I realized that every time we go to the Elks or are hanging out with certain people, she does this, hmm… Now that I have figured that out, I will be ready for it next time which means I will not rise to the bait because rising to the bait is what they (or she) is looking for. Or maybe next time I will get up and leave. There should be consequences to bad behavior. If I were meeting someone socially and I treated them like this, I would not expect them to hang around.
Have a great week and don’t be afraid to walk away from the manipulation.