September 21, 2020

Dear Drama Observers,

A columnist was being interviewed once about his years of writing. Early in his career, he asked a mentor how he’d be able to find a fresh topic to write about each week and was given this piece of sage advice (I’m paraphrasing): “Every week, something will annoy you. Write about that.”

I think that’s largely how I come up with topics for these weekly letters. It’s not that I’m annoyed necessarily, but I do write about themes that seem to emerge as I meet with clients dealing with Drama People. And Drama People are, well, annoying.

A question I’m frequently asked in my office is, “How could I have been so stupid?” They’ve been burned by a manipulator—perhaps a friend, a co-worker, a spouse, or a family member—and wonder aloud how they got duped. The character defects so abundantly evident now were not so clear back then. They’re kicking themselves for overlooking that which now seems so obvious.

I fell prey to an internet scam once, so I understand that exasperation. Even though I got my money back, I just felt like an idiot, particularly given the fact that I speak and write about, of all things, manipulators.

Here’s an excerpt from another writing project in which I’m currently involved:

Manipulators are like pickpockets who pick our pockets while we fail to realize our pockets are being picked. They’re skilled impostors who conceal their real selves behind masks of mendacity. They’re charlatans, demagogues, or snake-oil salesmen who promise big but deliver small. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. Like dexterous slight-of-hand magicians, they get us looking over there, so we won’t notice what’s happening over here.

We’ve all seen the picture that, at first glance, appears to be a white vase against a black background. But a lingering look reveals that it’s actually two faces looking at each other silhouetted against a white background. The image creates a visual illusion in which our minds naturally gravitate toward what we most expect to see. Manipulators exploit that cognitive tendency and pretend to be the people of our expectations. But the jig is up when the wolf’s hairy legs are spotted beneath the wooly costume it wears.

Yes, there are times when the assessment of personal stupidity is warranted. If you ever get held at gunpoint by a hitchhiker wearing ankle chains and an orange jump suit and has a picture of Charles Manson tattooed on his cheek, kicking yourself for the stupidity of picking him up would be entirely appropriate.

But manipulators are rarely that obvious. Like what’s described in the paragraphs above, they’re stealthy creatures who prey upon unsuspecting others. More often than not, the awareness of who they truly are is an after-the-fact realization.

So, I’m often tasked with helping my clients shake off the false guilt of stupidity. There was simply no way to know then what they know now. But what they can do now is to learn from the experience and try not to make that mistake again. Having this thought in mind, someone once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

The true guilt of stupidity comes from disregarding the lessons of the past and repeating them in the present.

But beware, even that’s sometimes hard to avoid.

Till next week.

4 replies
  1. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    So easy to see in objective situations. The difficulty lies in detaching enough emotionally to see objectively. I guess that’s where wisdom must enter the scene. Noted. Also difficult when the wolf is disguised as a wounded sheep. Gotta keep eyes open for those hairy legs! 🙂 Always enjoy reading your letters.

  2. Adele
    Adele says:

    Encountering and getting involved with someone who is a master manipulator acting as if they are a charming wonderful person teaches you to be aware that people are not always what they seem.

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