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Sunday, September 18, 2016

How to debunk a manipulator

They are everywhere. You might be working with one, a friend of one, living with one, or one yourself... They are categorized among "toxic people" which include narcissistic, controlling, abusive, extremely critical... They are usually hard to detect, because they have elaborated a highly complex attitude and approach. 
To set the records right, we all act as one somewhere in our lives. But some of us become manipulators for life, in all kinds of relationships.
It takes years to know you are dealing with one, unless you've had previous encounters, and elaborated clever detectors.

    The reasons behind a manipulative acting person are numerous, highly complex and belong to the personal psychological history and approach, which isn't my specialty, and not the subject of this article.

N.B. Throughout this read, keep this in mind: we are not therapists. We are barely regular human beings trying to have normal and healthy relationships. I say this because I know whoever is living with a manipulative person tends to play the role of the therapist at a certain point. Wrong, wrong.

My first advice to you if you meet a manipulator would be: RUN! Run while you can as far as you can! For your sanity, and your well being: RUN!

But we both know, keeping distance is sometimes a luxury you cannot afford. When your parent, your spouse, your companion or your boss is manipulative, running away is not an easy option. 
So you stick there, you fight your day-to-day relationship, you are eaten alive, you smooth edges, you cultivate guilt, shame, hope, despair... you live on a roller coaster of emotions. 

Soon you find yourself abused, numb, desperate and captive of this vortex, where there is no way out.
It gets on your well-being, your mood, your mental health, your physical health, your friendships, your relationships outside the spiral.

You become the perfect victim. Every manipulator's dream.
And you believe you are only the victim. While truth is, according to experts and specialists, you also play a role in this vortex.

But before getting there, how to debunk a manipulator while you still can?

1-How they appear in the beginning of a relationship:

Manipulative people are VERY attractive in public. Great speakers, charming and friendly. They might be the center of discussion, they have a lot of acquaintances they call friends. They are social, talkative.
They might be over caring. They might shower you with gifts. Heck they might also seem selfless and helpful!
At the beginning of any relationship, they might be kind enough to praise you in public: "you are awesome! You're exceptional!". Not after a while. Every sweet word must come with a rude underlying or open one. 

Does this mean one has to suspect all kind-looking people? Surely no. But keeping an open eye is never wrong.

A friend once told me about her partner reply to a person who complimented her :"Yes, she rocks over her 50's." The startling underlying rudeness is that she is 45.

What to do?
-If you are good in depicting and reading eyes, always focus on them when looking at a person you suspect of being manipulative. The eyes are mirrors of the soul. Do you feel like the eyes are not truly reflecting the sweet words you hear? Do you see sparkling eyes, or just focused glass like ones?

-Do not offer them the free gift of showing your weakness! They are skilled at using it against you. Show your strong side. Protect yourself.

2-How do they manipulate?

First, remember: we all manipulate somehow to meet our needs. Because we are afraid of not meeting them if asked openly sometimes.  
But here, we are talking about manipulation on the next level, that include shaming, aggressivity, discussions always turned against you, feeling that real cause of conflict has never been addressed, rather turned and put aside... We are talking about a passive aggressive attitude making you responsible or ridicule all the time.
According to researchers, therapists and experts, manipulators are masters in the following:

-They make you do things you don't want to. Example: pressure you to have sex using all imaginable reasons. Or drag you on your holiday to the office. Or make you work overtime without any intention to pay you (usually it is always your fault, or responsibility for the extra work you "must" do). And you do it because you are ashamed, or pushed to feel guilty, or don't want to sound do it for any reason they push you to believe.

-They convince you to take a part of yourself in order to serve their self-centered interests.

A friend was manipulated to leave her professional life, bribed with a steady income, pushed to leave all her friends and focus on her partner's needs, for years. Until one day, he left the house and filed for divorce. One thing he said she will never forget: " I will make you starve". 
-They show no interest in your feelings, emotions and needs. They are self centered, and lack empathy. If you need a clarification, they will make fun of you. If you suffer emotionally they will minimize the cause putting the blame on you, because you are the reason for anything bad.

-Once they succeed taking advantage of you, they will repeat it over and over again.

-They are skilled at knowing to what extent they push the limit. Just enough to keep you there, not totally broken.

-They are skilled at making you feel guilty. Even when you act according to your values (because your values don't matter to them).

-No matter how hard you try to explain what you think is a misunderstanding, a manipulator will always bring you back to his assumptions, even if they are wrong. Because manipulators are lousy listeners, and want to have the last word.

-They excel at taking responsibility away from them. They are never wrong. you are or the world is.

-They want you to feel sympathetic for them, to get your guard down for further manipulation.

"You still want to marry this girl! You have no mercy on me. You will kill me. You don't care for me. After all the years I spent raising you. You are just a self centered selfish man! I did not raise you like that! What is she doing to you? Do you see how you've changed?"

-They love to play the victim role, to use your empathy against you.

- They fabricate, exaggerate, trivialize or distort the truth, for their own benefit. 

-They snap you when alone, with no witnesses. And they are bullies.

3-How to stop them?

If you can stay away from them, or keep a safe distance, do it.

If not,

Please know your rights! 
And know when they are being violated! 
Know your values, and know when someone is trying to undermine them.
As humans, we all share basic rights we should cherish and value: 
*To be treated with respect
*To set our own priorities
*To say "no" without guilt or regret
*To disagree with respect to different opinions
* to take care of and protect ourselves from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally
*To freely express our feelings and needs 
*To live a Happy Life.

Ask yourself:
-Am I treated with respect?
-Am I the only "giver" in this relationship?
-Is the other person's demands reasonable?
-Am I feeling good in this relationship? 

"I am dreading the moment she gets back from work every day! The whole atmosphere of the house becomes tense. I am not happy around her anymore."
Learn to ask probing questions, 
Or questions that make them think, and cut the aggressive cycle of the moment.

"Are you asking me or ordering me?"
"Can you handle my opinion?"
"I have my word in this too you know, are you willing to listen?"
"And what do I get out of this?"
"Are you manipulating me?" 
"Are you trying to take this discussion somewhere else? Please don't it bugs me." 

Usually, similar questions are like mirrors, they force the manipulator to withdraw.

 Withdrawing  momentarily with an excuse, is also a good response to manipulative situations. If you feel you are pressured in the now to respond to their demand, you can say: "Let me think about it, and I will let you know." Time is always an ally in similar situations, so use it.

Learn to say "NO"
Learning to refuse what you don't feel like doing is learning to communicate constructively. It is also learning leadership. 
By being a leader, you immediately send the message: "I am not your victim".
Ask yourself: do I want to be part of this cycle? If not, then I will not play this game.
Your no does not have to be rude (rudeness triggers manipulators even more). Rather firm.

Reach out.
Reach out for people around you. If you are not sure you are manipulated, ask friends, professionals, family. Tell the situation, and see if they too, feel it is not normal. Try to make tough discussions in front of witnesses, for support, not alone with manipulators, so they won't be able to lie later or manipulate you more. 

Offer help
If you really care about your relationship, you can always try to tell the manipulator he/she is hurting you, and seek help both of you. Go to counselors, to therapists, to a person of trust.
I left this option to the end because it is the toughest one to achieve, since manipulators are usually in denial and do not take responsibility for their acts. But who knows? It might work!

And remember this: The battle some people are fighting is not  with you, rather with themselves.

Recommended read: "In Sheep's clothing, Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People", by George K. Simon Jr.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One click away from being famous

Every now and then, we get a wannabe star video on our feed, a person dreaming big, with little assets, a cheap video with sexual allegations gone wrong. 
We are triggered, we immediately share our disgust, or our amusement, we tag someone, sometimes write aggressive comments, and after some hundreds and thousands of clicks, without it being our intention, we make a buzz, and make this person a sensation, even in the negative way.

    It never fails. We always fall for the trap. Then,we are puzzled to see them famous, sometimes infamous. 

Our indignation grows, and with it our frustration. 
They take the moment of fame, do more videos, upload replies. 
We share again, becoming more aggressive. 
Their pages get hundreds and thousands of likes. 
Some users get compassionate over the growing hate, and become real likers and followers. 
Give it some time, these same wannabe soon become famous. 
We get bored with them, used to their attitude, and move to a newcomer.
And there is the pattern we inadvertently draw over and over again.


    To answer that question we have to understand why we click in the first place, why do we love social media so much, why do we share so much. What is the psychology behind our glued eyes on those screens.

    Luckily, some studies emerged especially aiming at understanding users to better make profit.

    The New York Times Customer Insight Group conducted a fascinating study, that discovered five key reasons behind our sharing with others:
1-To bring valuable and entertaining contents to others.
2-To define ourselves to others.
3-To grow and nourish our relationships.
4-For self fulfillment.
5-To get the word out about causes, brands...

    If we look closer to those reasons,  we always find a need for connection with others. Because we are social creatures, and by being social, we need to share our emotions: our joy, our fear, our anger, our sadness, our disgust... We feel the urge to share information because whether we admit it or not, we seek connection in all we do.

Sharing is just a natural human behavior, and it is emotional.
Social media answers our emotional needs.

    So our first drive is the need to share and connect. And now it is just a click away. Made easy and quick.

    But on our way to answer a beautiful need (connection and sharing), on our way to be the first to tell our friends about this wannabe, or this new brand, or this info, or this adorable cat, or this weird fact...we rarely check with ourselves before hitting that button.

    As a matter of fact, even in our real life, we rarely check with ourselves before doing many things. We are in such a rush that even mentioning the word "Check" sounds awkward. 
We have been raised not to check with our underlying needs, or underlying needs of others while communicating.

    What I mean by "checking" is, asking simple questions: why do I want to share this content? What is the need I want to fulfill? What is my intent? What effect will it have on others? Am i sure it is true?

Intent is crucial, because we always have an intent. And our intent always has an effect.

    My answer could be: for fun (need: fun), to get attention (need: attention), to inform (need: information, sharing, knowledge), because it is beautiful or uplifting (need: sharing beauty, inspiration), because I am angry (need: empathy, connection, understanding, compassion)...

The same questions could be asked regarding the post I am reading:
Why did they share this content?
What is the need they want to fulfill?
What is their intent?
What is the effect on me? (Am I triggered? angry? frustrated? happy? seeing this?)
Then comes this very important decision:
Do I want to answer their needs? does answering their needs makes me happy? (yes, happy!).

By reading these questions in details here, they sound too much to do before clicking "share" or "retweet". But in fact they take less than a minute if we make them a habit. 

    Let's put that into practice with our wannabe famous individuals with their triggering videos, or Tweets, or Statuses:

"When I see/read this post, I feel angry/triggered/amused... I need connection, harmony, love, understanding...
I wonder what is their need to share something similar. Are they seeking attention? are they seeking stardom? Are they looking for clicks? Do I want to give them that? Do I want to play the role they want me to? Does that make me happy?" (takes less than 30 seconds).

When we get our satisfying answer, we will totally own our effect on our readers and followers, and take responsibility for our action. Be it by sharing, or not.
Because we do have the choice of taking part of the pattern, or not, if we just take a deep breath and those few precious seconds and CHECK our emotions and needs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nagorno Karabakh, Armenian identity forever

    Suddenly, the world is following Nagorno Karabakh news again. This small land is only seen when soldiers and civilians die. And too many have died already. Too many young lives have been stolen defending their identity and existence. This time, it started with the killing and mutilation of two elderly villagers close to the Azeri borders. It comes after 22 years of ceasefire, and during a troubled period of history, while maps are loudly being revisited and reshaped at least in reports, where old dreams of annexation or independence sound feasible.

    I had the opportunity to visit Nagorno Karabakh and its capital Stepanakert, back in December 1996, as a reporter with MTV Lebanon news department, after the ceasefire with Azerbaijan. We were the first Arab TV and news team to set a foot there.

    I still remember the local visa we got in Yerevan, Capital of Armenia, to enter Nagorno Karabakh. A visa everybody smiled at, knowing it is only a formal procedure. And the long trip of over 14 hours in the Niva mini bus, with our translator, a Syrian-Armenian who moved to his motherland after the independence ; our guide a wonderful soul, history teacher with knowledge to fill an entire encyclopedia, and our lovely and funny driver.
    Fourteen hours trying to cross the only road that sometimes ends on cliffs, because it has been bombed. Several times we found ourselves waiting for the road to be rebuild bit by bit. A road leading to the mountain, up there, where clouds seem to stop and hold their breath. Majestic mountains, and small houses like a broken pearl necklace, small clothes hanging to dry outside, children running safely on deserted roads, giggling and curious to see what the car carries for them.

    Same Armenian local language and accent as Armenia, same tradition, same food, same hospitality as the one we got in Yerevan...with one little difference: here, you step back in time. You feel you're in the early 20th century. Everything takes you back in time: the houses, the streets, the cattle here and there, the colorless clothes like an old picture, the very small number of old Russian cars passing from time to time to break the persistent image of early century.

    Nagorno Karabakh declared president was Robert Kocharian, later to become the second Armenian president in 1998, considered our crew as his guests. We even had our breakfasts and dinners at the government's building. A surreal situation where one feels free to ask for more of the exquisite Armenian Cognac found everywhere on Armenian soil.

    The story of ongoing hurt in this land is due to a decision taken by Staline in 1921, with a pen and a map: he annexed Nagorno karabakh to Azerbaijan, with Armenia annexed to the U.S.S.R. little was the capacity to seek independence. That was until 1988 where massive demonstrations took place in Yerevan asking for recognition and regain of land. Clashes erupted, and lasted until an international ceasefire in 1994.
     Nagorno Karabakh was never an Azeri land. 94% of its residents are Armenian. Its culture, cuisine, history, purely Armenian. The churches, the rocks, the mountains, the cemeteries, all talk about their Armenian legacy.

    The war has left a big scar in the local culture. Thousands of young men and women have lost their lives, churches have been transformed into Azeri weapon arsenals in Chouchi for example, before they were regained again.
    The traditional Armenian Duduk became more melancholic, the Qamancha, or violin took another role on weekends: post-mortem concert in the cemetery for the young lost souls, by the only violin teacher at the local conservatory, as a life engagement and tribute.

    But these people are Armenians: they just dust away the rubles, pay tribute to their victims and martyrs, and rebuild their lives, homes and cult places, with a smile on their faces, and a stubborn will that no one can break. They rebuild Armenia or Karabakh over and over again if they must.

    Chouchi church is a loud example of Armenian spirit... A demolished church, and one old man. He left everything in Yerevan and decided to rebuild it with his bare hands. Soon his story became famous and many joined. I met him, and I know how the church was rebuild even better, and features today on most pictures of Nagorno Karabakh.

    This is Artsakh, Nagorno karabakh, the old DADIK, BABIK (grand-father and grand-mother) statue that sums it up : "We Are Our Mountains"...

 Here are some pictures of our unforgettable encounter with Nagorno Karabakh.

DADIK BABIK : "We are our mountains".

A man crying his son fallen in the battles of Nagorno Karabakh.
Rehabilitating Chouchi church in Nagorno Karabakh (1996).
The sad music of Qamancha (violin) in a silent walking concert at the local cemetery (Stepanakert).
That beautiful smile despite the constant threat (Mountains of Nagorno Karabakh)
Armenian child on the streets of Nagorno Karabakh.
Stepanakert-Nagorno Karabakh.

Among roses, rest young men and women fallen in battles.
Where time stops.
This Stepanakert conservatory teacher took a pledge, to visit the cemetery every Sunday, and play music for each martyr fallen in the battle.
Nagorno Karabakh.

Capturing faces of joy
Interviewing the president of self declared independent state of Nagorno Karabakh, Robert Kocharian
Our beautiful guide.

With Nagorno Karabakh president Robert Kocharian, later to become the second president of Armenia (1998)

Chouchi village. Where memory is only about war.

He left Yerevan, his home, his business, his need to rest at his age...and went to Nagorno Karabakh to rebuild Chouchi Church alone, but not for long. He have been joined by many.

Reporting from Chouchi church. Turned into an arsenal by Azeris. Rehabilitated in 1996 by Armenians.