One important step in my healing process is becoming wise about human nature. It has meant changing how I view the world and my relationships. There were so many untruths from my childhood I have had to discard and see situations realistically. Rather than, through the child-like naivety of seeing the ‘goodness of every human being.’
I have had to acknowledge the fact that there are selfish, mean, evil people in the world. They will deceive and hurt with impunity. That could send you back to the hell-hole you worked so hard to extricate yourself from.
Our relationships can make or break us. Interpersonal neurobiology is a proven fact – our brain is shaped by our close relationships. This in turn affects our health and quality of life. Staying on the path of wellness means no longer being suckered in by the manipulations of others.
Protecting ourselves means learning the skill of discernment – separating the wheat from the chaff. Who are good for us, who are bad, and more critically the dangerous ones. Replacing innocence for a healthy dose of cynicism.
Neuroception and Childhood Trauma
Neuropsychiatrist, Stephen Porges, known for the polyvagal theory, coined the term neuroception. It is the subconscious ability to scan one’s environment for safety or danger. However, for those of us who grew up in dysfunctional homes, this innate skill has been damaged. We were groomed to accept toxic behaviors. For us, red flags don’t feel off, they feel normal.
According to studies on traumatized kids it is discovered that their neural networks develop in ways that don’t process risks the same way that kids who haven’t suffered trauma. Child abuse/neglect damages our threat detection system.
Basically, our perception and evaluation ability gets skewed. Moreover, being so desperate for love we tend to overlook and tolerate even obvious disrespect and misbehavior.
Behavioral Pattern Repeat
This sets us up for years of numerous pattern repeats. We usually end up with people who share similar traits and behaviors of our toxic caregivers – that’s our comfort zone.
Additionally, we are so unused to being treated well that we are unable to effectively switch from defensive to social engagement mode. It all depends on the type of survival strategy one adopted – freeze or fawn. Though, one could alternate between the two, depending on who one is dealing with or the circumstance.
Most freezers will lock out people while fawners will keep on trying to go over and above to fix things. Codependents are the outcome of the fawn response. As a fawner, one is more liable to be taken for a ride unless one learns to be aware of our encoded relational program – how we reflexively respond to challenging situations.
Any change requires awareness, not just about other people’s personalities but also about our own feelings, needs and longings. If we fail to acknowledge our innate drives are we will unconsciously zone onto people/scenarios that meet that need.
I got into a relationship with an older man because of my own Daddy issues that I was unaware of. In my mind I expected him to be the father I so longed for. While he was looking for easy sex. And so the outcome of our relationship was disastrous, to say the least.
Knowing thyself in tandem with the intentions of the other person will in the long run save one a lot of heartache.
Our Past Controls Us
Sometimes you need to follow your head not your heart while often you may need to follow your gut/intuition. It takes work to learn how to negotiate the tricky landmine of human relationships.
However, those of us who grew up with abusive, neglectful, dismissive, or invalidating caregivers have a distorted blueprint of what a healthy relationship truly is.
We learn to put up, tolerate, over-accommodate, and in general dismiss our own needs. Erroneously living in hope that by pleasing people we will get them to love us. We live in the oxytocin bind of desperately craving connection at any cost.
Nonetheless, true healing happens when we become wise about human nature – our own and that of others.
1) We Need Love and Attachment
All of us crave a loving connection to another human being. It is what drives most of us. To be loved is a primal need. The root of most mental illnesses is a lack of loving care and nurturance in our childhood. How our caregivers nurture us, shapes our identity and our worldview.
Even personality disordered people want it, but try to get it through perverted and damaging ways.
2) But You Cannot Buy Love
Love cannot be bought by money or over-giving. It happens in the warm understanding and acceptance of each other’s uniqueness. We cannot make someone love us by trying to please them and doing things for them without reciprocal input.
People-pleasing may allow you to get one foot in the door but that’s all. Don’t think by over-giving, you will be getting any gratitude and loving acceptance from unaware people. You will only end up being used and abused leading to deep resentment within you. A healthy relationship has to have equal serve-and-return.
3) Money Talks, Power Roars
Money and power are inextricably linked – having money mean having the power to shape your reality to a huge degree. People look upon you differently when you have money though it has nothing to do with your intrinsic worth.
Nonetheless, do not be overly swayed by this fickle illusion. Having money does not make someone better than you but it does give him an edge over you. Being financially independent is the best way to avoid being manipulated by other people.
4) Looks, Do Matter But…
Looks and beauty do affect our earning potential, mate selection, and general success. Recent research has shown that even newborn babies prefer to look at attractive faces. However, don’t be too swayed by the handsome dude or the pretty damsel. Neither, should you build your life around your own good looks.
Beauty fades and after a certain age. And then, even the once most alluring is on equal footing as the ordinary-looking folks. Don’t base attractiveness as the hallmark of good character, neither should it be the basis of your self-worth.
5) Tolerating Bad Behavior Means It Is Acceptable
When you allow other people to treat you badly, you are effectively sending the message that it is acceptable. Forgiving without calling out shitty behavior further exacerbates the toxicity. If you cannot fight back, move away, keep no contact. You don’t have to stay in a situation that demeans your personhood, rights, and feelings.
Manipulators, particularly the sexual predator will subtly check your tolerance level. That’s part of their grooming strategy to rope in innocent prey.
Allowing someone to lord it over you by acting superior will make you feel inferior. In unequal relationships, the dominant person’s brain will entrain that of the subordinate partner, whose brain will synchronize with it. The longer one stays in this dynamic the more it becomes fixated on our personalities and our thinking pattern. ‘I am inferior, not good enough’ belief system gets installed.
For years, I accepted my inferior position in my toxic family dynamics. My scoliosis was the outcome of constantly bowing down to the wishes of those up the hierarchy.
Just because someone is charming, talks well, makes you laugh, or showers you with compliments, does not mean he/she is a good person. Many psychopaths also tend to be utterly charming initially.
Be aware that it could be a front and a gateway to seducing, manipulating, and exploiting you. When someone is trying to win favor too fast or too soon it should ring alarm bells.
7) The Sometimes Good, Sometimes Bad Jerk
Tolerating inconsistent behaviors can keep one trauma bonded to a person. You are caught in a love-hope-anticipation-disappointment state. Inseparably, hyper-tuned into the other person’s state, wasting effort and energy trying to elicit their beneficence.
Intermittent reinforcement messes up our minds. We learn to be grateful for crumbs whenever they are thrown our way. This confounding behavior keeps our nervous systems in a hyper-aroused loop. And deeply affects our self-worth and self-esteem.
8) Narcissistic do-gooder – Always Look A Gift Horse In Its Mouth
The narcissistic do-gooder preys on susceptible and struggling human beings. Social work and ministry are filled with these types. Altruism to them is about superiority, control, and personal gain.
They are skilled actors appearing oh, so loving, caring, giving, and supportive. Initially, they lure you through their incredible selflessness and generosity. Naively, one gets snared in their trap – the trap of indebtedness.
One aunt, in particular, was adept in this manipulative act of benevolence. I washed quite a few dishes at her home and was her unpaid therapist during my most vulnerable period, post my mother’s death.
In my experience, the most ‘helpful’ people are often covertly abusive. Their ‘help’ was really a form of control.
9) The Sarcastic Bully
Sarcasm, when it targets you on a personal level, is not funny – it’s hostility disguised as humor. We tend to overlook this subtle form of bullying often used by passive-aggressive people to tear you down. If you don’t cut them short and fight back they will continue to wilfully shatter your self-esteem.
One uncle was highly accomplished in this tactless behavior. He’d throw some insidious barbs like, ‘what a dirty dress you are wearing,’ your hands are like a man.’ What was shocking was it began only after my mother died. Before that, he was quite okay. Imagine what this does to a pre-teen who just lost her mother. It changed how I viewed myself.
Being verbally mauled by our parents/family, gradually makes you internalize the message, I am flawed. You don’t have the maturity of verbal expression to counter the insults.
Research has proved that verbal abuse destroys the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the bundle of nerves that connects the two sides and integrates the emotional and cognitive aspects of our existence.
10) Whiners and Guilt-Trippers
It is one thing to be empathetic to those truly suffering. But there is a whole breed of people who will suck the life force out of you by their constant griping and whining. They are forever blaming and projecting without taking any concrete action.
Don’t waste your precious energy on them. They will trauma dump their shit and feel a cathartic release while you could end up feeling rotten. If they are family or friends stay away or keep contact minimal.
11) The Gossipmonger and Tattler
Though initially, it feels good to be privy to someone else’s private information, in the long run, it leads to ruined relationships. Remember, if someone is regularly feeding you stories of others, that person is definitely discussing you behind your back. What’s the point of associating with someone whom you have to always watch what you are saying.
Furthermore, the gossip grapevine does not always have the real facts. This could lead to us misunderstanding a situation or person.
Don’t encourage the gossip if you cannot keep them away.
12) The Instagram Perfect Gal/Guy
No one is perfect. And when you see someone oozing perfection it only means disingenuity. Pretending to be something requires lying and deceit.
Moreover, since it is an act, the mask will eventually come off. What often lies below is just an ugly, hollow shell of a human who will eventually blame you for his/her faults.
You Can Never Really Know People
People change over the course of their lives. And depending on their circumstances will go up or down the good-bad spectrum. My brother who was the best brother turned into a real meanie under the influence of the pedophile cousin.
People behave better when they know someone else is watching, like when my mother was alive most of my maternal side of my family treated us quite well. And then post her death, they were totally different characters. It still confuses me to this day.
Or people change their behavior depending on who they are with. Some narcissistic parents act so lovingly in public while in the confines of their own homes are real monsters.
Then there were the Nazis who were real monsters but were good fathers to their kids. It scrambles your head when you see your mean uncle behave so compassionately with his kids.
Not to forget, those Catholic priests who portrayed the epitome of virtue, yet sexually abused innocent kids. I still cannot fathom how they could maintain this utter deceit of their existence.
Human Nature and Your Three Faces
People are complicated, and much of what makes us who we are is hidden beneath the surface. As we interact with different people, we reveal different layers of ourselves. The same is true of your character—it will express itself differently depending on the people around them.
Only someone who is fully self-actualized is steadfast in every kind of situation and treats people equitably. According to the psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the founder of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, very few people reach this level of maturity in their lifetimes.
To be honest, you can never tell what a person is really like. The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.
Many manipulators are mind-blowing impression managers. They know how to schemingly charm, seduce, and cultivate allies and flying monkeys. That way, whenever they face exposure, their faithful minions jump to defend them. It is not uncommon for people to believe these master deceivers than the abused victim.
Believe When People Show You Who They Are
Writer Maya Angelou once said,
‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.’
This is wise advice indeed. Often we waste so much energy making excuses and giving second chances for people’s crappy behavior.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell, nevertheless, one needs to learn to pay attention when something feels off. Stop, think, analyze, and proceed with caution.
It can be exhausting to have to constantly be on guard. But one must in order to protect ourselves.
Our Relationship Bottom Line
Most importantly, one has to be clear of a relationship’s bottom line. Bottom lines are boundaries or limits within relationships. According to Virginia Satir, the pioneers in Family System Therapy our bottom line is what/how much will we tolerate.
State your bottom line loud and clear to your partner, friends, colleagues, and family, and stick to it. Furthermore, once you have made it clear what your bottom line is, be prepared to act on it if it’s crossed. In all likelihood, it would mean the end of that relationship or stepping back from it.
There should be no second chances when it comes to the violation of your bottom line.
You have this one life, learn and evolve, Protecting yourself from abusive people and situations should become your priority if you want to maintain your mental and physical well-being.