14. Snakes in Suits: “Personal Self-Defense…

How will you protect yourself?

I almost didn’t post anything from the last part of Snakes in Suits as it’s not strictly about psychopathic behaviors at work; however, it’s fairly pointless to try and bully-proof someone at work, if, they have someone elsewhere in their life who scores high enough on the psychopathic checklist, to be of concern! Aside from the fact that lesser types of manipulators will use some of the same ‘games’. I don’t want to make people paranoid; the vast majority of people you meet will be nice and have positive agendas. However, in making you aware of the worst types of manipulators, when you come across lesser forms, you’ll be able to take them in your stride.

“Over the years, we noticed that, much like psychopaths who operate through a parasitic-predator model.. of [assessment-manipulation-abandonment], the target… themselves seemed unwittingly to share a parallel response pattern….We will attempt to outline the development of the psychopath-victim relationship in such a way as to enlighten the reader to traps and pitfalls. We believe the best defense against the dark art of psychopathic manipulation, is to understand fully how psychopaths operate, and to take every opportunity to avoid them.

But First, A Word of Caution

In all cases…we suggest that you resist the temptation to label your antagonist a psychopath, especially if you lack formal training and qualifications to conduct psychological assessments. (The only exception might be when speaking with your lawyer, but we hope that you will not have to go down that road.) Clearly, it is ‘never wise to poke a snake’! The term psychopath has many negative connotations and once used, has a tendency to stick. Careless or inappropriate application of the label would be unfair and might….lead to lawsuits and other forms of retaliation (especially if your ‘diagnosis’ is correct). Therefore, for most practical purposes, it is sufficient to be aware that a given individual appears to have many of the traits and behaviors that define psychopathy and act accordingly.

Learn All You Can About Yourself

‘Know thyself’ is perhaps one of the wisest bits of advice ever spoken. Self-knowledge will strengthen your immunity against psychopaths’ games; it is crucial for your psychological, emotional, and possibly, physical survival. Psychopaths feed on what they see as naivete and innocence.”

…Many avoid asking for psychological help as “…they fear they will learn something uncomfortable about themselves…Psychopaths are well aware of these concerns and capitalize on them. In effect, a perceptive psychopath may know you better than you know yourself. The more you know who you are, the better able you will be to defend against psychopathic influence.

Understand your own utility to psychopaths

…The most common types of utility attractive to psychopaths are money, power, fame, and sex, but in organizational life, this list grows to include access to information, communication, influence, authority, and so forth. Psychopaths target not only the rich and famous but also others with more subtle value.

Psychopaths use various tactics to get you to share your assets with them, preying on your generosity, trusting nature, or sense of charity. They will play on your sense of pity if that feeling gets you to help them in some way

…A good defense is routinely to apply some common sense to social interaction, particularly those that involve people you do not know well. We all like compliments, but there is a difference between harmless social stroking, and oily flattery designed to ingratiate and manipulate. The problem is that we do not always notice the difference, particularly if we do not have a realistic picture of who we are, and if we are dealing with a psychopath skilled in painting the sort of picture we would like to see of ourselves…Ask yourself, “What does this person really want of me?

Hot Buttons

Hot buttons are those things that provoke an automatic, emotional reaction from you, set you off (negative hot buttons), or get you excited (positive hot buttons). For example, you may react with envy and depression when the company promotes your colleague or with sudden frustration and anger when someone cuts you off in traffic, gets credit for your work, or is critical of the way you dress. You may react with pleasure… when your political candidate is ahead in the polls, or when a player on your team scores. Hobbies are often hot-buttons…Likewise, passion for one’s work can provoke intense energy and excitement, especially when someone takes an interest in what you do for a living.

When someone presses one of our hot buttons, two things happen: our attention shifts away from other, sometimes more important things, and the triggered feelings color our perceptions of the immediate social environment. This reflex-like tendency is not lost on the psychopath, who will push your buttons to stimulate positive feelings toward him or her and negative feelings against others. Another more insidious misuse of your hot buttons is to trick you into ‘acting out’ (particularly negatively) in front of others.

It is difficult, except in the most blatant situations, to tell whether someone has purposely pushed your hot button or has inadvertently done so without any particular intent to manipulate or use you. In fact, many legitimate friendships start when someone has pushed a hot button in a genuine effort to befriend you…If you challenge a psychopath’s attempt to use your hot buttons against you – for example, to make you lose control in front of someone of importance – he will quickly label it a mistake. You may even receive an apology. However, if the psychopath’s goal was to embarrass or humiliate you in front of others, then the damage to your reputation, in the eyes of observers, has already occurred.

Often, the psychopath will press your buttons privately, convincing you that she understands and shares similar feelings – a ploy to build rapport. For example, you complain that another employee has irritated or hurt you…The psychopath need only say, ‘Oh, my God. She didn’t!” and you will begin to feel that the psychopath understands and possibly even shares your feelings… The astute psychopath will then listen to you, let it all out about things, events, and people, thereby ingratiating himself with you and providing information that can potentially be used to manipulate you later in the relationship.

Learning all you can about your hot buttons is a first defense against having them pushed unscrupulously. Unfortunately, it is far easier to become aware of one’s hot buttons than to learn to control them. Feedback from others including family members, close friends, or professional colleagues is invaluable and with the assistance of a trusted friend or professional coach, you can learn to control or at least moderate your reactions. Eventually, you will improve your ability to recognize quickly a hot-button reaction as it starts, allowing you time to put on the brakes and to regain control of your reactions.

Weak Spots

Like all predators, psychopaths perceive the weaknesses in potential victims…We will focus on three common categories

  • Flaws. What is wrong with you – too heavy, too thin, or too shy?  We often see flaws in ourselves that others do not see. Some are real, but many of these exist only in our imaginations. Psychopaths are adept at identifying those things that you like least about yourself, and then using them as levers or hooks to manipulate you…A psychopath will try to convince you that he accepts you as you are, despite any flaws you think you have. This is a very powerful and reassuring message for someone to hear and is the foundation for the psychopathic bond. Then the psychopath will ‘reveal’ that he shares the same flaws with you, deepening your sense of connectedness and anticipation that a strong personal relationship is in the works. Having a realistic picture of your flaws is important for your defense against psychopathic manipulation. This usually involves paring down the list in your mind to those that really matter, and then challenging those that remain on your list. You may decide to improve some and accept others. Once you make these assessments and decisions about your flaws, it becomes more difficult for others to manipulate you through them.
  • Lacks. What is missing in your life – self-esteem, love, understanding, excitement, or a sense of purpose? Believing we have less of something than we should influences our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; we often resent those who have more than we do. We begin to doubt our own abilities to provide and achieve, conclude we are failures, and desperately feel the need to fill the void, sometimes at any cost. Craving things that we lack leads to a vulnerable state, psychologically, emotionally, and sometimes physically. In this state, thoughts, and dreams of fulfilling their desires consume some people, making them easy targets for psychopaths who are all too ready to ‘help.’ For example, promising to make you rich – but with no intention of delivering – is a common technique used… Most economic scams lead you to believe that you can make a lot of money, but you usually lose everything before realizing how gullible you were.  In another example, a psychopathic puppetmaster may entice you to join her in a criminal act to help pay a debt or get even with someone. The crime may involve stealing money, supplies, or trade secrets from your company; damaging property belonging to others, or even hurting your own family members. This is especially seductive if the psychopath convinces you that you never will be caught and that the victims are only getting what they deserve. If you succumb to this ploy, you will be forever indebted to the psychopath, plagued with guilt, and perhaps do prison time!

In general, it is good to understand totally your personal needs and wants and to have a realistic appreciation of what steps it will take to achieve them. A good counselor or life coach sometimes can help. However, the best advice is age-old: ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.’

  • Fears. What are you afraid of – intimacy, loneliness, of speaking in front of a group? All of us have fearful moments,  times when we are plagued by questions and doubts. If these thoughts are not debilitating or they do not intrude in our day-to-day lives, they are within the range of normalcy. Yet our fears, once identified by the psychopath, provide clues as to how we will react in certain situations…and thus become potent tools for manipulation. Defense against this use of our fears is difficult, for they are the product of both nature and nurture, and therefore not easy to modify. A counsellor or mental health professional may help you understand your fears and help you adopt protective strategies.

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