In this post I will describe self-destructive things I have seen in other people, not to build myself up, but because I know I have these blind spots and you probably do too, and these stories may help us better understand each other. We all seem to have difficulty seeing our own weaknesses and destructive habits.
One of the most damaging weaknesses of the human species is our inability to see ourselves from another person’s subjective viewpoint, which makes it difficult to understand what is really going on.
All you can do is imagine how others see you. And as you imagine how others see you, it is easy for your imagination to develop damaging delusions. This apparent inability to see one’s self is a major contributor to a host of social ills. Let me give you some examples:
If you’ve ever dealt with a Type A alcoholic you know they have amazing powers of delusion (or denial). An alcoholic can lose his job, his money, his family, his friends, and his health, and still not be able to see that the problem is his own creation, while everyone around watches in utter horror and sadness as he destroys himself and everyone in his path. Everyone watching the alcoholic sees that he is harming himself, but the alcoholic sees others harming him. This can hold true for any addiction – gambling, sex, drugs, food, shopping – you name it. This immense power of delusion and denial is passed on in alcoholic families and manifests itself in family members that have never even had a drink.
The above is an extreme example, but I believe – to some degree – all of us suffer from the inability to see ourselves as we appear to others. We tend to dig in and defend our poor decisions, our self-imposed labels, our controversial opinions, and our nasty habits even when they are clearly causing us and others harm. Most of us feel that other people cause all the harm. But remember, other people feel the same way. Someone’s actions are causing it, right? So as long as we keep passing the buck nothing will change.
Earlier this week I was talking with an old friend who was recently fired from his job.
His story :
A co-worker challenged his authority and he had no choice but to defend himself or lose respect within the organization. Everyone took the co-workers side, conspiring against him and treating him unfairly until he was finally let go. He had no part in causing it; other people were to blame.
What I saw:
His slide started months ago when there was a conflict and he refused to back down and concede that the other person may be right. Since no one took his side, he began to believe everyone was gunning for him and he became defensive about everything. He lost all support from his co-workers and management. Eventually it was impossible to work with him and he was let go. He wasn’t fired because he was incompetent, he was the most qualified, responsible, and productive employee in the organization. He was fired because he became poisonous to the organization.
How he caused the problem…
When the conflict occurred, he drew a line – a black and white division. He then asked, are you with me or against me? Other people didn’t see it in black and white and no one joined him. Since he created an us vs. them conflict, he began to believe the people who didn’t join him, were against him, and developed a persecution complex. Based on his belief, he acted differently, becoming defensive, imagining slights, and he began to compare himself with everyone else. He noticed that people were treating him differently than they used to, which further entrenched his persecution complex. Eventually he became so defensive that he was impossible to work with and management let him go.
It isn’t just individual people that do this to themselves… families, departments, companies, and whole nations can dig themselves into a hole with black and white thinking.
I know another man whose spouse said, “I don’t understand why no one will talk to my husband anymore. He keeps losing his friends. Even his family seems to be avoiding him. I just don’t understand it.”
Both Christine and I know why. Everyone who knows this man knows why, except him and the people who are really close to him. They can’t see him the way everyone else does. He lectures everyone about controversial issues, painting them black and white, and then labels anyone who disagrees as an idiot. Who wants to listen to that for hours on end? Only an idiot.
But I know his viewpoint; I’m prone to the same behavior. I’m kinda doing it right now. He’s just trying to save us from our own stupid selves. If we understood, if he could reach us, if we’d accept his righteous indignation, then we’d see the light. He’s only trying to help.
But since he can’t see himself, he doesn’t understand that after a couple of hours of lecture, most people just want to run away and hide. No one likes to be lectured for hours about how screwed up the world is. It makes them feel depressed. Since no one wants to tell him what the problems is – his style, tone, subject matter, and opinions make people want to vomit, so people avoid him and he doesn’t understand why. He can’t see what he is doing to himself.
I used to work with a woman everyone avoided. She was always creating an “us vs. them” scenario.
Whenever someone tried to help her, she took it as an accusation of incompetence. She seemed to think that someone else’s intervention, good idea, or helpful hint threatened her, and she retaliated with accusations of persecution, unfairness, and conspiracy, so people quit helping. They began to avoid her. As she dug in deeper, she became more isolated which reinforced her fears that everyone was arrayed against her. So she tried to build allies, but no one wanted to go to war. They just wanted to get the job done. She found no allies for her ‘side’ and her area of influence withered while the rest of the company improved. Since she couldn’t see herself, she never understood that she was causing the problem. No one could tell her that she was the problem, because that would have only resulted in greater conflict and further defensiveness. Since the company leadership was unwilling to deal with her obstructionism, the rock stars left the company, and it never became the great company it could have become.
I know another person who has burned through six serious relationships, three of them marriages, and he doesn’t understand why he is so unlucky. But from the outside looking in it is obvious why he loses his relationships. He sets each one up exactly the same way and it unravels exactly the same way. I can see it and he can’t. But I certainly won’t tell him. Even if he asks, it is dangerous ground. It is dangerous to say – you’re doing this to yourself. You keep dating similar women and you have the same delusional expectations from them. The only way to change this pattern is to change yourself.
It seems so easy to see this in other people. You can watch them make foolish decision after foolish decision until they eventually crash and burn.
But how do we use our high powered perception of others and turn it inward, so we can see ourselves as we are and make substantial improvements to our lives? It seems like a much better use of our mental faculties, because I can’t change anyone of these folks I just described. I can only change myself. So how can I see myself? How am I sabotaging myself, my goals, my relationships, my family, my health, my environment? Where am I being unreasonable with others? Where have I thrown down the gauntlet and created a black and white conflict?
I’ll explore this more in upcoming posts. If you are interested please Subscribe to this feed.