Monday, November 1, 2010

Lovely Bones, Lovely Manipulations

*Spoiler alert

In The Lovely Bones, the evil guy manipulates his victim through using social/relational norms.   Those rules that we humans tend to follow and expect others are following because those rules are encoded in us both genetically and culturally. In fact, as social animals, our survival has depended on these rules.

When evil guy makes initial contact with the victim he utilizes the rule of "respect for adults" and plain old friendliness that demands return. Though Suzie doesn't really want to talk to him, she is compelled to because he is talking to her and he is an adult. It would be rude for her to not converse back on at least two levels.

Then when she politely refuses to come and look at something he's made, evil guy manipulates social/relational norms some more. He suggests that other kids in the neighborhood are going to like it, which peaks her curiosity, AND offers her an opportunity to feel special by being the first to see it. He also uses guilt, the suggestion that she is making him feel bad/sad because he was excited and she's rained on his parade. We all know, as Suzie does, it's not right to make someone feel bad when they were being nice and generous.

When evil guy has Suzie in his trap, she experiences increasing anxiety over the situation and him, and wants to leave. At that point he pulls out all stops and directly says to her, "Be polite!".

And every single time I see a situation like this, every time I read about how narcissists, psychopaths, sociopaths, etc manipulate their victims, I think of addict behavior. Because really?  It's the same.

Addicts use the same tactics to protect their active addiction. Are they as evil as evil guy? No. They are more a victim of their own addiction, and the part of their mind that is willing to break all the rules to keep getting the high.

Those in society who need to break rules, either because they're evil or ill (depends on your perspective), find it most effective to break those rules without getting caught by manipulating others' adherence to those rules, as well as manipulating our deep belief that we are all operating by those rules more or less because we are human. It's in our bones.

This is why I have a problem with the concept of codependency. I'm not sure how much I can buy into this hogwash (which there is little to no clinical evidence for, and has been critiqued as having such a broad range of symptoms that it is rendered meaningless). The concept of codependency is that we were just as sick as the addict coming into the relationship, and that's where I'm stopped cold.

Because to believe that is to ignore my instinct that it's wrong, and that is the very same thing my addict wanted me to do - ignore my instinct. And I no longer trust anyone or anything who demands me to "be polite" and listen to them rather than myself.

Maybe in the end I'll find out I'm dead wrong, but as far as I'm concerned I can no longer toy with this one life I have and I'm just not about to spend a bunch of time sitting in a room where I'm told that being lied to, manipulated, mind-fucked, deceived, gaslighted, blamed, shamed, and told I'm crazy/overreacting/illogical is a) somehow my fault, or at least 50% my fault and b) something I can make peace with and c) something I shouldn't feel resentful/hurt/tired/etc over.

Because no matter what angle I look at that from, it stinks so bad of victim blaming that I have to sit on my hands and bite the inside of my cheek so hard I see stars to keep myself from standing up and loudly pointing out "THE EMPEROR IS BUCK NAKED FOLKS SO LET'S ALL STOP PRETENDING!" I'm just not going to swallow this fucked up, Bill Wilsonified, version of my experience.

This doesn't mean that I don't think I have to learn new methods, because regular methods don't work with this shit. It also doesn't mean that I don't fit some of the criteria for the faux designer disease of codependency. Low self-esteem? Right here. Self-doubt? Yep, me too. Thinking I know better than the addict and can fix this whole mess if I just find the right way to explain it? Here. Have a tendency to end up in relationships with men I can feel morally superior too? Guilty.

But this is also true of many people in relationships that are working and where addiction is NOT present. In fact, if you've ever studied the DSM (and I have) the first thing you realize (and it's both comical and disturbing) is that you can easily diagnose every person you come in contact with with a major or minor mental illness.

But please, let's just lay this out in the open. The stuff that addicts do is destructive and it hurts and changes those who love them.  It is confusing, and the skillful manipulation makes it all the more confusing and crazy-making. We are not wired to comprehend that another human can break social rules with such facility, so it is much easier to believe we are wrong, because we know something IS wrong. And if you spend enough time in a crazy-making situation, guess how it makes you feel? Crazy. And it doesn't take a dramatic low self-esteem to get caught up in this web. It takes only the smallest willingness to question yourself when the addict demands you question yourself even though something about it doesn't feel right.

And really, when you think about it, it doesn't even take low self-esteem to feel compelled to follow the social rules when someone tells you to "be polite" so that you'll sit still just long enough for them to get away with murder.


  1. I loved that movie and, though I was disappointed that he got away, I loved the ending a gazillion times better than what I wanted to happen.

    Hmmm...sounds like something I could apply to my life, word for word. Goodness.

    I like the idea of not ignoring our instincts, regardless of what someone is telling us. Our instincts and intuition are there for a reason, to protect us regardless of what other sources are saying.

  2. Great blog. I think you make a lot of good points here. You might also enjoy a funny blog called It's a humorous blog about learning to accept yourself – lumps, bumps, flaws, wrinkles, bad attitude and all. The blog author promotes a positive self esteem, especially after discovering your husband is a sex addict.