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AVE, LECTOR.

One last serious post for a few days.   And this one’s a humdinger.

Today we’re going to talk about dominating behavior.

Now, before we get started, it’s important to nail down exactly what I mean by that, and to lay out the vein in which we will proceed.  I know that when I say ‘dominating behavior,’ the thoughts of some of you might move in a kinky direction, but you would be mistaken.  I am not writing a book review of 50 Shades of Grey. If that’s your deal, go to Tumblr.  You’ll find links to much higher-quality stuff.    Although admittedly not on my Tumblr.  I am still inexperienced in the ways of the Tumbling.

But enough deferral of the unpleasant. Let’s set this out.

When I refer to ‘dominating,’ I’m referring to a learned behavior pattern.  It can be acquired from a young age through interactions with an authority figure, usually one who demonstrates similar behaviors, and essentially becomes the standard peer-to-peer interaction.  Were we to make such crude value judgments, we might say it is what happens when someone learns how to relate to other people incorrectly.

But that’s not the purpose of this post.    This is not a rant.  Well, it is, but not an angry one.  There is enough anger on the internet.  What I provide is a catalogue.

Not even that, for a catalogue is supposed to be absolute.  What I provide is a field guide.  Things I have seen. Things I know.  I show them to you, internets, that you may incorporate my observations into your own, if you so wish, and perhaps that may do a little good, no matter which side of this subject you are on.

For there are not merely two sides.

These are behaviors that everyone demonstrates to a varying degree, and with a varying degree of consciousness.  Their presence is not a harbinger of evil.  My beliefs on evil in human form are rather more subtle and deserve a longer post later, but this subject hardly enters in.

This is a habit, as has been said, and changing it is as difficult as speaking another language.  Changing it can be unsettling, can be challenging, can be frightening, even.  Letting go of such long-learned patterns can be incredibly hard.  But it can be done.  You can break it.

Breaking free of these dominating personalities can be a task of years.  Sometimes it can be a task of days.  Never is it a simple thing. But again, it can be done.  You can get away.

And raising this subject is not an easy thing.   Oftentimes it is the hardest part.  But, again, that too can be done.

But enough.  Let’s get to the task at hand: A description of the problem, and four symptoms.  Keep in mind that what I provide is an impression, a reaction generated in me by the world.  It is not at all condoned, certified, or official.  If you think you can refute, clarify, or expand upon it, then by all means, comment.  Email me.   Text me.  Tie a letter to a piece of gourmet cheese and throw it through (or at) my window.

Dominating or controlling behavior is, in a sense, a relationship strategy.  Much like affection and intimacy, it is directed toward sustaining a relationship on some level, be it filial, parental, or romantic.  However, this behavior leads to an unhealthy imbalance, with one individual striving always to be dominant, to be the better of the two people relating, to hold the moral high ground.  The ultimate goal, of course, is to keep the target there, to preserve the relationship by any means possible.

This is a learned pattern, I want to emphasize, twice, and frequently an unconscious/emotional pattern.  Individuals are usually not conscious of it, even while they propagate it.  This is how it spreads—because it’s so insidious, and so very, infuriatingly effective at sustaining unhealthy relationships.  Unhealthy, I should add, to both sides.

(1)

Let’s start with humor, because it’s the easiest place to start.  More specifically, teasing.  Now, we’ve all been in this situation: someone does something silly.  Not on purpose.  They drop a glass and make a strange face, fall off a balance beam, mispronounce a word.  What’s the focus of humor in this situation?  Obviously the action, right? The silly thing, the thing that’s out of the ordinary?

Not in this case.

In this example, the humor comes at the expense of the person, a direct conflation of the person’s strange action with the strangeness of the person themselves.  In other words, the opposite of what I mentioned in my previous post on Self-Worth.  Their specific failure becomes their personal failure, letting the dominant individual in the room elevate themselves.  They have no such flaws, and would never do such a silly thing.  The value and self-esteem of the one being mocked is thus chipped away, and the instinctive reaction is defensive–at which point the battle has already been lost.  The teaser can feel superior, and will continue to unless derailed.

An alternative version is one wherein dominance itself becomes a running gag.  The physical, emotional, or financial superiority of one party (or inversely the dependence or weakness of the other) is trumpeted seemingly in jest, but always with the undercurrent of a reminder.  It’s not wholly a joke: you’re supposed to remember who’s in charge.  There is a class of athlete that engages in this frequently, utilizing it to place themselves in charge of their social situation, but it need not be simple physical strength or martial prowess that is touted.  Financial power, social superiority, even (in immature adults and teenagers mostly) something as simple as the lack or possession of a driver’s license.

In both these situations, these actions are disguised as humorous.  Hidden behind the cloak of a joke, these barbs belittle their target and continually remind them of their dependence—a dependence that is sometimes wholly imaginary, but can become wholly real with prolonged exposure.

Moving on.

(2)

Obviously, we couldn’t talk about domination without control.

Be it financially based, socially grounded, control of a means of transportation, or some fourth thing I haven’t even thought of, this particular aspect of control is one that the would-be dominant uses to their utmost advantage.  It is both carrot and stick in one, a reminder of the dominant’s higher moral ground and simultaneously their higher standing.  Selfless self-aggrandizement.  It will be randomly withheld to emphasize that it is given only on the sufferance of the one who controls it, and often its acceptance will come with invisible strings attached, and only with a laundry list of conditions that must be met.  Favors will be asked at some later date, and if they are not,  the deed itself will often become a weapon, an “I did this for you.”

In extreme situations, such as where one individual in the relationship pays the majority of rent or owns a car that both share, the threat of removal (and thus the ruin entire of the other’s independence) may in itself become a bludgeon to enforce compliance.

(3)

Next in this parade of unpleasant things is the idea of ‘doing just enough.’

When the situation comes to a head, when the ‘weaker’ of the two parties either recognizes the situation or rebels unconsciously, a final and subtle method of maintaining control is compliance.   The dominant caves in, often following a confrontation, and cedes control without relinquishing the moral high ground.  Victory is granted—but a conditional, partial victory.  A good deed may be done.  For a little while, the ‘weaker’ individual might get their way…but the old habits die hard.  Often, the ‘victory’ will fall through in bits and pieces, fragments too small to be seen as objectionable, until soon enough things have returned almost precisely to where they stood before.

(4)

Finally, we have volatility.

No one questions Cesare Borgia.  Even the slightest hint of an attack, even an imagined one, brings on a furious response, goading and jabbing until the ‘weaker’ individual ends up in a debate that slides rapidly toward the exchange of personal insults.  And never is the high ground ceded by the dominant.

Always they were the one attacked, a fact repeated so often that they might even come to believe it.   This deliberately brittle calm quells and crushes any potential objections, dissuading the contentious through fear or simple unwillingness to endure the seemingly endless, endlessly tiresome stream of rage.

Laid out here, these things seem obvious, clunky, easy to spot.  In real life they’re not so easy to pick out.  Laid out here, it seems incredulous that anyone would ever fall for such an assault.  Outside of the internet, (and even on it), people fall prey to these things all the time.  Pickup artists, in particular utilize some of these strategies, generating an unconscious desire to please and to prove self-worth.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction, to want to disprove those who doubt and belittle us.

Now that I’ve laid out this cavalcade of the distasteful for you, one might well ask where I’ve seen these things.  The answer I can give is the world.  Growing up, I had no concept of such things, and coming out into the light over the last few years has been…educational.  Seeing these behaviors perpetrated and reinforced across the social landscape has also been a source of almost unending frustration—a reaction that my father shares—and so I create things like this list, like my post on self-worth.  Rather than fume out my anger into increasingly impressionistic poetry, I create blog posts with ideas that (theoretically) can blunt or wholly turn the barbs of the would-be dominant personality.  I try to send shout-outs to the world that such things are not normal, that subtle currents underlie the surface of human interactions.  Some of them are riptides.  And like riptides, they’re easy to see if you know they exist.

Of course, the same might also be said of psychological disorders, which is why the DSM-IV should never be used as light bedtime reading.  And it’s entirely possible that I see these things only because I’m looking for them.  I don’t myself subscribe to this possibility, mostly because I’ve seen these cycles play out too perfectly.

I suppose at this point I should offer some kind of advice, suggestions on how to deal with this.  I haven’t got much.

But first and foremost: Be strong in yourself.  Your sense of worth as a human being is the first thing the would-be controller will attack, and for this reason their prey is often found amid the insecure and the uncertain. It is on this sort of behavior, too, that the ‘pick-up artist’ relies, securing subtle dominance over a situation by manipulating the feelings of emotionally unstable individuals.  Against this sort of behavior a well-adjusted emotional center is both sword and shield, for this sort of thing generates an instinctive feeling of wrongness.  Such things are unhealthy.

Second:  Cut loose.  The dominant seeks always to preserve the relationship, because tied into the relationship is their dominance and (subtly) their own sense of self-worth.  The moment they realize you cannot be controlled is the moment they lose interest, or at least lose enthusiasm.  The solution: find a way out.  Live your own life.  If it’s a romantic relationship…think twice.  And steel yourself. And then think about it again.

Third: Don’t let it get to you.  Sustain your own confidence and self-assurance through any means possible.  Find friends, retreat to family, find a strong social group to support you, but do not become dependent upon anyone. The more secure you feel in yourself, of yourself, on your own, the less their barbs will find any hold to draw you out.

And this is just general advice for dealing with annoying people: don’t rise to it.

Also, one final point which I will not end this post without.

Imagine for a moment that this is the only way you know to relate to people.  That the only way you can feel secure with someone is if they are so enmeshed and entangled in a web of your weaving that they will never leave, regardless of how they feel toward you.  Imagine for a moment that the only way you know to form a relationship is with anger and fear and control, lashing out preemptively to keep the world from striking to the heart of you, beating down anything that might force you to face yourself.

What’s the point of this point?  Simple.  There are no bad guys here.  This self-perpetrating cycle is one of uncertainty and sorrow, not one of anger or malevolence.  Understand that, if you understand nothing else.

And now I’m out of words to say.

So that’s my take on this.  Does it strike you as right or wrong? Does this post strike you as right or wrong?  I’d be interested to hear your reaction, internet.  TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK.    Am I delusional? Well, I know I am, but ON THIS SPECIFIC ISSUE?  More to the point, are my delusions incorrect?  If so, why?  Use your anonymity: What advice to you have on this topic, reader?

Also, DANNNNG these last few posts have been FAR TOO SERIOUS.  I think it’s time for something more relaxed. Which brings me to my very last piece of advice, and this is just general advice:

There’s never a wrong time to be happy.  Enjoy life.  Carpe Diem.

…if someone says #YOLO I will literally beat them down with a crateful of Ke$ha albums. We’ll run down the list.

Some Citations and Further Resources to Investigate On This Topic:

http://www.drirene.com/control.htm

http://www.abuseandrelationships.org/Content/Behaviors/subtle_control.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healthy-connections/201007/help-my-controlling-behavior-is-ruining-relationships

http://www.menstoppingviolence.org/docs/Controlling%20Behavior%20List.pdf

http://www.positive-parenting-ally.com/controlling-behavior.html

Some Music and Links to Brighten Up Your Day Again After This Terribly Depressing Subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKdNDepvh7Y

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/science/space/curiosity-rover-lands-safely-on-mars.html?_r=1&hp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MejbOFk7H6c&feature=related

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/westboro-baptist-church-protest_n_1745260.html

http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/most-adorable-pictures-on-the-internet

http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/wed-august-1-2012-john-grunsfeld

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