From where I’m sitting, while typing this…I can spy on my neighbour. He’s putting up a sign outside of his property for some local event.
He’s a retired. Retirement was boring the fuck out of him, so now he’s involved in lots of things locally.
He used to be a prison officer.
On first impression he looks like he could be on the other side of the bars of that type of establishment… at least if you’re basing your impression on Hollywood’s version of criminals, and the physical appearance of the actors who get cast in those roles.
He’s got a lot of tattoos, he’s muscular, he’s tough looking – the sort of person you don’t want to mess with and whom you hope never has to mess with you, mess you up because the boss isn’t happy about how you haven’t paid your gambling debts on time.
He’s a really nice guy. Friendly. Will go out of his way to help you.
The first time I met him, he was helping another neighbour catch an escaped farm animal – we never caught it, it took us all on a merry ride through nettles, brambles, thistles and ditches filled with murky water, it escaped into the woods and was free at last!
The next time I met him, he’d knocked on my door to say “Hello, welcome to the neighbourhood… and I’ve noticed you’ve been doing a lot of DIY on your house, I can help with that.” – the latter bit was because he was going stir crazy being retired.
He’s one of those people who can afford to be kind, because they know they can turn on a dime and beat the shit out of you with their bare fists if needs must. They probably warned you several times before they did that because they don’t actually want to hurt you… but you just had to push and push and push, crossing their personal boundaries further each time, trespassing, not being respectful, so now you’re getting shoved back.
Why am I telling you about my neighbour?
Well, Melanie of Sparks From A Combustible Mind, asked an interesting question in her latest Share Your World – Do you feel you’re a strong person character-wise?
Which I was pondering when I spotted my neighbour and spied on him wondering what he was up to. The local event is an arty thing.
And since I’m the sort of person who connects random dots, views everything as intrinsically linked to everything else, and sees answers as being attracted to questions…
His sudden appearance while I was pondering the question seemed like an answer.
He’s the sort of person who I would consider to have a strong character – if he didn’t have one before he started working as a prisoner officer, he’d have been pushed to develop one during the course of his many years in service… or the system and all the people in it on either side of the bars would have made mincemeat out of him.
He did mention that the job was incredibly stressful. But he seemed very relaxed when he said it, probably because he no longer does it, but some people can’t put the stress down once it’s over – he obviously could and did.
Which reminds me of that Zen story:
Do I think… I mean do I feel… that I am a strong person character-wise?
Usually when it comes to those kinds of questions I tend to defer to others to answer them, not because I don’t know myself and think others know me better than I know myself (people who have tried convincing me that they know me better than I know myself end up having a nasty surprise of the you really didn’t know me at all did you kind), but because it’s very easy to delude yourself – that’s why it is also easy to get an inaccurate result from a personality test which relies on you answering questions about yourself.
Yes, yes, of course I’m empathic… answers a narcissist while taking a personality test… I’m the greatest empath in the world! No one is as empathic as I am!
A narcissist would also say: “Yes, of course, I am a strong person and have a strong character! Compared to me everyone else is a weakling!”
And others might agree that the narcissist is a strong person character-wise… at least to the narcissist’s face, because they’ve learned from experience that if they disagree with the narcissist they’ll be subjected to a character assassination, brow-beaten, bullied, screamed at, shamed, belittled, smeared publicly, have rocks thrown at them.
What the narcissist has is a “domineering” personality, they want to dominate, which may appear to be a strong, give the impression that they have a strong character/personality, but is actually not as strong as it appears to be.
They’re basically roaring like a lion, wearing a lion’s skin as a facade, to protect and hide what’s underneath which makes them feel vulnerable, weak, afraid… the more they roar, the more vulnerable they feel… and they’re hoping we’ll all be fooled by the appearance, the performance, be frightened, in awe, impressed, and not look too closely, be too intimidated to question them, double-check, challenge them – are they really a lion or just pretending to be a lion?
One of the simplest ways to test the character of someone who appears to be a strong personality, to find out if they really are strong and not hiding behind the facade of strength is to just say “No” to them when they want a “Yes”.
Of course that can be risky… so a safer way to go is to examine how you feel about disagreeing with them – Does it feel safe or dangerous to do so? Do you feel nervous or relaxed about sharing your perspective, opinion, views, thoughts and feelings with them?
Do you find yourself bracing yourself for their reaction? Are you internally debating whether to speak your truth or lie, tell them what you want to say or instead tell them what you know they want to hear and will make them purr rather than roar?
According to some of the online articles weighing in on the signs and traits of a strong character, those with strong character are good listeners – they want to hear what you have to say, can handle criticism, opposing views, disagreement without flying off the handle, in fact they appreciate the feedback. They don’t mind being wrong or making mistakes, owning up to an error, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, fears, because they view it as an opportunity to grow, develop, improve, learn from experience – which includes the experience of others.
They will give credit where credit is due – this is something I actively seek in others because it touches upon a sore spot for me, one passed along to me by my father.
Do I give credit where credit is due? I think I do… I do sometimes give credit to others for something I did, an idea I had, but that’s part of my process of figuring things out, going to extremes, making mistakes, cursing myself out for being an idiot – although it isn’t always an idiotic thing to do.
One of the articles did a comparison between Dominating and Strong personalities which was interesting:
“When people encounter someone with a strong personality, they don’t understand the kind of person they are dealing with.
Some people think you dominate. Some just think you are rude. But none of these are the truth. These words actually do not reflect your personality at all. In fact, strong people are often kittens on the inside. It’s just that people with domineering personalities just give you a bad rep.
Strong people do not have to win, they just are not willing to let other people walk all over them on the outside.
Sure, some people might be afraid of you. But that is only because they do not understand how you can be so comfortable with yourself that you do not need anyone else to validate you.”excerpt from 8 Signs You Have A Strong Personality by Michael Prywes
I’ve been told that I’m intimidating… usually by those trying to dominate me, and I’m refusing to be dominated like a good little person. So they switch tactics, and suddenly the narrative changes to – I’m the one trying to dominate them, and it’s intimidating them, boo hoo, so I should stop doing that and do what they want me to do.
One of the most fascinating interactions to observe is between a Dominating/Domineering personality and a Strong Personality/Character.
You can sometimes watch those happen on TV – in debates and interviews, and not just the political ones.
The news is also a good place to see those in others. Two different news stories caught my eye recently.
One is very prominent at the moment in UK news (I’m in the UK) because it’s causing some friction between the USA and the UK about “Diplomatic Immunity”.
An American, while living in the UK, drove on the wrong side of the road and killed another driver. The US citizen admitted to their part in the accident. They told the police that they would not leave the country, but they did. And since they happen to be married to someone who has diplomatic immunity, and diplomatic immunity covers the family, they are using it to avoid facing the consequences of their actions.
They’re causing a diplomatic mess with their use of diplomatic immunity.
Their name was kept anonymous until the other day.
The other one is the inspiring story of Chanel Miller who was also involved in a serious crime – she was the victim.
The trial is most well known because of her victim-impact statement which went viral. It’s also well known because the man who turned her into a victim of a serious crime was treated leniently by the judge, was made out to be the victim of his victim, and got off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
Her name was kept anonymous, until recently when she came out because she has written a book about her experiences – Know My Name.
To me, Chanel Miller is the epitome of a strong person, mentally, emotionally, of personality and of character. She had to become and be strong in the face of tremendous stress, adversity and trauma. She is awe inspiring.
The other person… may think they’re a strong character because it takes quite some big balls to do what they did and are still doing. And now that their name has been released, they’re going to be put under even more pressure and stress. What happens next, what will they do? Will they keep hiding behind the lion skin that is made of diplomatic immunity and their country? Would they be willing to let the two countries go to war over it?
The latter won’t happen, but what if it was a possibility?
Both situations are very different yet similar in as much as the personality and character of the people involved in them were put under extreme pressure, push-push-pushed until they shoved back.
One shoved back by running away – flight.
One shoved back by standing their ground – fight.
We don’t always know which one we’re going to do until we’re in the situation, the scenario.
When reading or hearing about what others did in those scenarios, we may say: “I wouldn’t have done that” or “I would have done this”.
“People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
It’s a bit like answering questions about ourselves on a personality test – we have this imagined version of who we are, it may be who we are or it may be who we’d like to be which we hope that we are.
Our self-esteem, self-perception, self-narrative, may take a blow when we don’t live up to who we’d like to be and hope that we are, who we say we are when taking a personality test or answering a question like – Do you feel you’re a strong person character-wise?
We may say “Yes, I do feel that I’m a strong person character-wise” because we’d like to be, and we may recall those times that we have been in situations when we were under pressure and stood our ground, didn’t break, buckle, cry “Uncle” – shoved back when pushed.
My mother, who loved her anecdotes, used to tell me about little me (I think I was supposed to be about 18 months old, maybe 2 yrs old) being shoved and knocked over onto the cobbled drive by a slightly older boy whom I’d only just met. I got back up and glared at the boy. My mother was pleased that her never-cry training had succeeded which is why she told this story over and over again. The boy apparently didn’t like being glared at by little me and ran crying to his daddy.
I think that last bit may have been a fanciful flourish on her part, but the little boy was Italian and Italian children can be very whiny – even Italians think that, there are many names for it in Italy (ie. gnagnare, which is a slang version of lagnare – to whine, whinge, which is pronounced nyanyareh and sounds like whiny kids whining – they might be called a gnagnarello/gnagnarella) and it’s a common trope in Italian stories (at least the ones I watched on Italian TV as a child).
I quite liked that anecdote, it was one of the better ones about me which my mother told… I have no idea if it’s true, my mother often made shit up while believing her own fictions, but considering my own memories of child-me, it’s probably true.
I once took a slap to the face from my father when I was about 5 or 6 (I had kicked him in the shin under the table, so I wasn’t totally innocent), didn’t cry, just glared at him. My father didn’t usually use physical violence, that was one of the rare times, even though verbally he threatened physical violence frequently – “I’m going to hit you so hard your head will end up on the Moon.” My head stayed on my neck… guess it wasn’t a hard hit.
I have many memories of standing up to bullies, not just the bullies known as my parents, but also other adult ones and peers at school.
However I also have memories of being a coward and bully myself – my parents were narcissists, narcissists regularly get their minions to fight their battles for them, attack an enemy – I’ve been a flying monkey.
I’m not proud of it, I use those memories to remind myself of just what a weak person of weak character and personality I have been and could thus can still be. I also use those memories to inform myself, understand others who may be behaving like that.
The times when I’ve worn a lion skin, been dominating/domineering are the times when I’ve been afraid, felt vulnerable, weak and couldn’t admit it to myself, definitely didn’t want anyone else to see it, so I had to put on a show of strength.
I’ve said and done some really stupid, crappy, horrible stuff to people during those times. I’ve done gaslighting – convinced someone they were wrong, mistaken, imagining things, when actually they were right and I was wrong and adding more wrong on top of my wrong, piling more mistake on mistake.
And once you get going on that road, get into that flow, enter that mode… it gets harder and harder to stop, turn back, get off the ride.
Some researchers define gaslighting as a deliberate attempt to make people not trust their intuitions. I think that’s misleading. Gaslighting is often simply an attempt to make our intuitions prevail over other peoples’ intuitions, which happens a lot. We all engage in what I’ll call “everyday gaslighting,” an attempt to cast doubt on other people’s intuitions so that ours prevail.
Is our goal making others wrong? No. Rather, that’s a side-effect we find perfectly acceptable in our campaigns to prevail.
Consider a parallel: When someone tells you, “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t find it acceptable to hurt you in the service of some other priority. We might not go out of our way to hurt someone, but could still be perfectly okay with hurting them if they’re in our way.
Likewise, someone might say, “I don’t mean to make you distrust your intuitions,” and still be perfectly contented to have you distrust your intuitions in the service of making their intuitions prevail.
This puts a burden on me that I am happy to bear. If we all gaslight, what distinguishes a gaslighter? Similarly, if we all lie (and we all do) what distinguishes a liar?
To me, the key difference is a question of degree. A gaslighter gaslights absolutely. Their gaslighting is a symptom of their absolute narcissism. A narcissist can stay on top two ways. One is by elevating themselves; the other is by diminishing others. A more accurate term for narcissism is sado-narcissism. Elevating themselves or putting others down—either way, the sado-narcissist can feed their addiction to gloating.
Everyday gaslighting only tends to corrupt but absolute gaslighters corrupt absolutely.
How, then, can you tell if someone is an absolute gaslighter? Technically, you can never know for sure. Still, you can make educated guesses. If in every exchange, a person employs automatic gloating about their rightness and your wrongness and if they do so with reckless disregard for consistency, you’re probably dealing with an absolute gaslighter.
If you point that out to them, they’ll make you wrong about that, too.excerpt from A New Tool for Getting Better at Spotting Gaslighters by Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D., MPP
However once you learn how to stop, it gets easier and easier to stop doing that and going there.
It also makes life a whole lot easier… no more making life and relationships more complicated for yourself by all the ass-covering you forced yourself to do and all the ass whoopings you gave to others to cover your own ass – and you wonder why they don’t like you when you see yourself as such a nice person because your “good person” narrative says you are, and so do all those personality tests you took.
How do you stop?
You have really want to stop.
You teach yourself to be okay with admitting you’re wrong, you’ve made a mistake, you were being an ass, a bit of an asshole.
It hurts the lion’s pride to do that… until you realise just how liberating it is and that you can receive a different and more satisfying version of pride for being truthful, honest. The pride of having integrity.
You’ll slip up sometimes, because life and people poke you where it hurts, where you’re vulnerable, anxious, afraid, weak… and it takes time and effort, and humility, to gradually become and be strong… stronger than before.
The trick is to be okay with slipping up – admit it, embrace it. You’re human. It’s part of being human…
And there’s a big benefit with slipping up every now and again, it reminds you that you can’t and don’t always have to be strong, and helps you to remember that others slip up too, and can’t be and aren’t always strong.
And you don’t have to be ashamed of having been one of those who hid beneath a lion’s skin… learn from it, and use the knowledge the experience gave you.
The best ‘tool’ to use for getting better at spotting gaslighters is those times when you were a tool and were a gaslighter. It gives you insider knowledge, which includes what’s probably going on underneath the gaslighter’s strong domineering character facade.
“In fairy tales the evil characters disappear or die, in reality, evil spreads while you wait for your hero on a horse, only to realise the sword to save yourself was always in your hand…”
― Seja Majeed, The Forgotten Tale of Larsa
I like that quote above.
However in reality many of the “evil characters” whom we encounter aren’t “evil”, they’re just like you and me when we’re afraid, feel vulnerable, weak and want to appear strong, invulnerable, bold and brave.
They put on a lion’s skin and roar.
The roar works to frighten what and who seemed like a threat, it protects the sensitive areas… and so the faux-lion keeps roaring every time it is afraid, needs to defend itself against all the villains out there, and may not realise that everyone out there views them as the villain.
The “evil” which spreads is the passing on of fear… which tends to make us all pretend to be who and what we are not, worried that others will attack us, who and what we really are, if we show it.
The problem is… if we’re wearing a lion’s skin and roaring, we may attract others who are wearing lion skins and roaring too, rather than those whom we hope to attract, those who make us feel safe enough to take of the lion’s skin, stop roaring, and reveal who we really are behind the strong, domineering facade.
We’re all rather beautiful when we’re naked, real, raw and… it’s time we let ourselves be beautiful as we are.
I’m going to end this post with some links:
One of which is to the blog of a new WP blogger who impressed me in the way they dealt with me coming on strong, roaring a bit at them:
They left a comment on one of my posts which was just a link to their blog and a request for me to follow them. They didn’t “Like” the post, say anything about it in the comment, nor did they Follow my blog – but I was supposed to Follow theirs because they asked me to. It annoyed me. I was going to ignore it, not approve it, because it’s a type of comment new bloggers sometimes do, which older in blogging years bloggers consider to be “spammy”. But then I decided reply, giving them a piece of my mind and because I did check out their blog and it seems good, I shared a link to an old Daily Post entry:
Calling Emily Post: A Blogging Etiquette Roundup by Ben Huberman – which gives lots of advice to new bloggers, including how not to be “spammy” when introducing yourself to others on WordPress. And it’s by Ben, I miss Ben Huberman’s Daily Post posts, he was such a philosophical soul, a gentleman, and treated bloggers like people not stats.
Afterwards I thought: “Oh dear, I probably should not have replied like that…”
This morning I found a reply from them which was very gracious and once I’ve published this post I’m going to follow their blog. They won! They may regret winning me as a follower, but hey… 😉
Next up, Melanie again, but a different post of hers, which I loved (and not just because she linked to my blog in it, although that is pretty cool – bloggers love that, unless I’m the one linking to their posts in one of my posts then they tremble. Am I joking?):
It’s a journey of a post, which is my favourite kind of post, which will take you if you’re willing to go on a ride through Melanie’s experience of reading other blogger’s posts, finding pieces of her personal puzzle in them and connecting them to herself. Awesome! Insightful! Powerful!
Next next… Rory’s It’s About Time! No More Twisted Knickers – A Guy Called Bloke
Rory also linked to my blog in his post because a comment I made on one of his posts a while ago poked and prodded him. It’s a great read, another journey of a post, which will take you on a ride through another’s personal puzzle being solved, and links you to other bloggers too.
And then there’s a behind inside the scenes poignant perspective of anxiety by Maria of Doodle Scribbles: One day at a time, anxious person
I know anxiety well, and the never good enough narrative, it used to be the god of me.
I came across this post while taking a ride on WP’s “Recommended Posts”:
Andreas tells the story of a journey with a friend in Belgium, and the journeys within the journey, hitching lifts, meeting strangers, learning about lives… it’s brilliantly told, and I loved the reading trip:
That’s it from me…
No wait… one more thing…
I saw this film last night:
It’s a wonderful play on the time travel genre… it’s about learning from making mistakes and making more mistakes while trying to undo mistakes, about all the lives we go through in a lifetime, all the selves we create along the way, who live within us, with us, beside us, whom we occasionally pass by, and figuring out the puzzle that is being human.
It’s also about how we react when push comes to shove…