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  • Esther Ruth Friedman

Self-Empowerment - Defining Your Terms of Engagement

Good morning Readers,

Thanks for visiting post #2. In my first post, Signals & Signs, I discussed tell-tale red flags as outlined by Dr. George Simon in his book. I've added three more to that post.

Now, what to do? If you're feeling angry or hurt, those feelings are signaling problems. Do you see red flags-a-wavin’? If yes, step away: Assess your needs. Call a friend. Take a walk. Scribble in a journal. Steer towards clarity. Most roads lead back to one headline: Healthy Boundaries.

Healthy people respect boundaries. Manipulators do not. If someone is trying to steamroll you, Dr Simon's tips will help you to Redefine the Terms of Engagement:

Start by developing insight into yourself. If you ...

1) Extend the benefit of the doubt, first ...

2) Find it inconceivable that some people operate out of calculated selfishness...

3) Are overly conscientious, taking more responsibility than necessary...

4) Lack self-confidence...

5) Overly-intellectualize, working too hard to understand, "Why does he (or she) do that?" ....

Watch for red flags! Manipulative people sniff out kindness and will take advantage.

However, these classic Gentle Soul traits reflect your values. You don't have to change who you are. Opt to protect those proclivities, instead! They are gems of compassion in a callous world. Consider this: those who misuse your attributes, don’t deserve them. Instead, extend that compassion to yourself: Value your time, focus, thoughtfulness, empathy and energy.

On the other hand, assess your personal agenda. We are all driven by unconscious motivation. If, for example, you need to feel needed, manipulators will sense that and use it. And, Dr Simon wrote, "You can expect manipulators to throw at you whatever it takes to gain advantage ..."

But you can take charge, by Defining the Terms of Engagement: 1) Memorize the tactics described in blog post #1: the sooner you recognize a pattern, the sooner you begin to say, 'No thanks.' 2) When Seeing Red Flags, Step Back – Take note of how someone reacts. Do their demands notch up? Untrustworthy people will fight boundaries. Gather the data. Notice how you feel? Steer towards calm and clarity.

3) Assert & Act for Your Best Interests – While you are aiming for calm and clarity, a manipulator aims for control. The Good News: You aren't obligated to engage. When you choose not to, you save energy and feel increased mental clarity and confidence.

Dr. Simon wrote, that when his clients "...experience the first small victories that come from conducting themselves in more effective ways" they start valuing investing in themselves.

4) Accept No Excuses – Actions expose intent. Empty words expose lies. If the behavior hurts you over and over, and doesn't change, excuses don't matter. As Dr Simon wrote, "The ends never justify the means."

The self-empowering response to hurtful acts: this doesn't work for me. A healthy person will respect that. A manipulator will try to convince you otherwise. His or her disrespect exposes motivation.

5) Don't Overanalyze - Many Gentle Souls over-think relationships; we try too hard to understand the why behind the repeated behavior. The why no longer matters. The self-empowering response, again: "This doesn’t work for me."

About this, Dr. Simon wrote: "If you over-intellectualize, you'll likely have trouble accepting the simple philosophy that there are people in the world who fight too much, fight underhandedly, and for no other purpose than to get what they want."

Those who overanalyze, tend to over explain. A well-intended person won’t misuse vulnerable information. A covert-aggressive personality gleans material for future attacks. Really, for you, less is more. 6) Build your self-confidence & self-trust muscle – For many Gentle Souls, self-confidence is a practice. You'll be counteracting a lifetime of people telling you that your thoughtfulness and empathy are weaknesses. But you build confidence by trusting your perceptions and confidence makes life easier. It is the foundation of real freedom. Trust yourself. You know more than you believe that you do.

Yes, you are risking mistakes. I'm asking you to take the risk. Believe that your own, honest, well-intended mistake, is better than being hijacked by someone else's selfish agenda. If you make a mistake, you'll learn something that will inform future decisions. I’m willing to bet that your instinct will be on target, most of the time.

7) Be direct and specific and require a direct and specific response -- Dr. Simon urges using I statements - "I need ...", "I don't need ..." "I want you to...." or "I don't want you to ..." or "I need you to ..." He wrote, "If you don't get a direct, reasonable response to a direct reasonable request, you already know that the manipulator is fighting with you ..."

I statements empower. Position yourself to meet your needs; then stand behind them. Again, those who try to deflect, blame, convince you otherwise, or come up with a number of other creative tactics, expose themselves as disrespectful and untrustworthy.

This is valuable data. Is the dynamic tolerable? Or is it a deal breaker?

8) Focus on the present -- Manipulators distract. Take note instead of taking the bait. Stay focused on your present needs. Dr. Simon wrote, "... genuine change in the behavior of the disordered character always takes place in the moment their usual tactics are confronted."

9) Focus on the aggressor's behavior, don't respond to their character attacks - Gentle Souls often try to keep the peace by taking more responsibility. This only feeds the beast. Instead, Dr. Simon recommends this: keep asking, "What will you do to change this harmful behavior?" If he or she responds by attacking you, changing the subject, whining about being victimized, bringing up the past, etc., the behavior probably won't change.

10) Aim for calm and focus - If possible, vent emotions before engaging with this person. Manipulators use raw emotion as character assassination material. Express your feelings with a safe person (a therapist, or trusted friend, a journal, or through physical exercise). When you are confronting directly, focus on that person’s behavior, its impact on you and on your relationship. Less is more -- short, calm and simple.

11) Act quickly -- Dr. Simon writes that "... aggressive personalities lack internal brakes..." Think of a freight train charging downhill, flattening all in its path. You'll want to set boundaries earlier, rather than later.

At the same time, most of us don’t recognize manipulative people right away. They are charming. They love bomb. No one teaches us how to identify & manage this. Typically, this tough lesson chooses you when you recognize intentional mistreatment.

But it’s never too late to start. Every time you honor and protect yourself, you self-empower. When you do that, over time, you feel better. You elevate your baseline and stop tolerating the intolerable. You'll recognize the signs and stop participating sooner.

12) Win-win proposals -- Dr. Simon wrote, "...make agreements that are appropriate, reliable, verifiable and enforceable." The realistic win-win proposal, "... puts to constructive use the aggressive personality's determination to win." Manipulators only see 4 acceptable scenarios: they win, you lose; you win, they lose; both parties lose; or both parties win.” The aggressive personality will do almost anything to avoid losing. You position yourself well when offering them a win. However, if their win is at your expense, it's not tenable. Sometimes disengagement is your best defense.

13) Prepare for fallout -- while manipulators are hard wired to win, Gentle Souls are hard-wired to keep the peace. People who do anything to win, regardless the impact, are untrustworthy. If that's the case, you limit your contact to only what is necessary.

So, these tips feel counterintuitive, yes? Gentle Souls want to believe in humanity's goodness. But remember, if you’re dealing with someone who is pathologically self-serving, they see other people and think, “What can I get?”

Most people aren't this selfish. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably dealing with someone who is. Your self-protection comes first.

Often my clients worry, "What if I'm the narcissist?" Ironically, true narcissists don't fret about being selfish. They feel entitled. Most narcissists believe that everyone else needs to change. Your perception of "selfish" might be … skewed. Try being "selfish" for an hour. Does it make you feel better? If yes, does it hurt anyone else? I'm guessing not.

Try expanding "selfishness" into two hours. If you feel calm and clear keep it going. If you keep steering towards what you need to feel calm, calm and clear will become your baseline functioning, That will build confidence. Confidence will become your foundation.

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