Saturday, November 22, 2014

Staying Safe in a Predatory World

The world has changed significantly and if we do not change how we approach life, we stand the risk of being perpetually victimized.  For most of us, this idea is difficult to comprehend or accept.  We continue to view people as safe, unless they prove otherwise, and expect that those we meet will operate by the same set of rules that we observe.  Sadly, this is not the case.

According to Dr. Anne Salter, each of us operates by a set of positive personal illusions.  These illusions include a common tendency to "soften the world, ignoring and minimizing its bad aspects and overgeneralizing its good ones." (Salter, p. 160).  Positive personal illusions are the truths we tell ourselves about others that provide us with a feeling of personal safety.  They include a naive acceptance of what individuals tell us as absolute truth.  Some of them might include:
  • Bad things happen to people other than me--people of color, people who live on the wrong side of the track, people who like XYZ, people who are ABC, people who do MNO, etc.
  • People are basically good and are trustworthy.
  • I'm a good deception detector.
  • What you see is what you get with almost everyone.
The tendency to live in a rose-colored world puts us at risk and most importantly puts at risk those we love the most, including our children.  How often have we heard about yet another person acquiring access to children in order to molest because the parents trusted the man with the clerical collar, the family-oriented neighbor or the energetic teacher, coach or family member?

Approximately 25 percent of the population are sociopaths, that is they do not have a conscience.  For those of us who do have a conscience, it is unfathomable that individuals could lie without batting an eye, use and abuse people, including children.  The inept ones are already incarcerated but that doesn't mean that we are safer.  The really competent sociopaths are still walking among us and we have to become more aware and practice defensive living.  Part of our defensive living strategy should include:
  • Suspect flattery: "Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere.  In contrast, flattery is extreme and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways."  Predators will use flattery to lower your defenses and gain an entrance in order to exploit.  "Peek over your massaged ego and remember to suspect flattery." (Stout,  p. 158)
  • Avoid conscienceless people (i.e. sociopaths):  Avoid him, refuse contact and above all, don't worry about hurting his feelings.  "Strange as it seems, and though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any such feelings to hurt." (Stout, p. 160)
  • Don't pity too easily:  pity should be reserved for "innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune."  The predator will "campaign for your sympathy" but is engaged in a pattern of hurting people. (Stout, pg. 160)
  • Do not be afraid to be unkind or even unfriendly:  predators often are void of conscience and are incredibly dangerous.  They do not respect boundaries and they do not take "no" easily.  Be kind and friendly to people who deserve that treatment.
  • Do not try to redeem the unredeemable:  conscienceless individuals are unredeemable!  If you are dealing with a predator, cut your losses and walk away.
  • Do not fall prey to the "you owe me" guilt-inducing tactic to ensure your silence:  Predators will do their best to silence you; to guilt you into letting them off the hook.  "'You owe me' has been the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite literally, and is still so." Another perfect line they commonly use is "You are just like me."  You are not--don't forget it! (Stout, pg. 162)
On the bright side, positive personal optimism offers a sense of personal control and confidence.  It is not a denial that bad things might happen but rather a belief in one's ability to make meaning of whatever life experiences we are confronted with.  While positive personal illusions put us at a greater risk of exploitation, manipulation and deception, positive personal optimism engenders a sense of personal resiliency and strength.  Personal illusions create a rose-colored view of the world; personal optimism removes the rose-colored glasses and while the new view may be frightening, chooses to move ahead with faith, determination and purpose.  And maybe that is the best offense against the bully, perpetrator or the sociopath--a sense of empowered living rooted in a realistic view of the world around us, including the people we meet.  Maybe this makes us less of a target.

Two excellent resources quoted above:
  1. The Sociopath Next Door, Martha Stout, Ph.D.
  2. Predators Pedophiles, Rapists & other Sex Offenders, Anna C. Salter, Ph.D.

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