Emotional Self-Defense: Tougher than it sounds

We all like to think that we’re strong, that we’re not susceptible to the mind tricks, manipulation and blackmail that are so often employed by prospective sellers, relatives and love interests around us. But the truth is that not even the best of us are completely immune to an emotional attack.

What exactly is an emotional breach? Firstly, we all strive to live with an emotional equilibrium – a state where we want, but not need another person for emotional stability. A state where our decisions and opinions are relatively objective and unbiased, where our selves are in an ideal divide of a 1:1 ratio between social acceptance and individuality. An emotional breach happens, no matter how small, when our opinions and decisions are influenced by someone else’s opinions and decisions, when we start to seek validation for our own actions from someone else, and when our emotional stability starts to depend on someone else.

In today’s world of unlimited options, everyone is trying to sell you something. It may be something as mundane as Colgate toothpaste, to something as complex as emotional security. How does someone sell you something? Not through complex marketing models and intricate advertising plans. That comes later. They simply appeal to the very basic demands of human nature. Take the case of Colgate toothpaste. The very basic demand? The need for dental hygiene. Why? Because the consequences are dire otherwise (as depicted through the rotting teeth animations throughout). Next step – Why colgate? This is where Robert Cialdani’s principles of “Social proof” and “Authority” come in. Social proof says that if something is being pursued by a large number of people, it gains validation (notice the “Bhaarat ki 90% janta ne maana Colgate ka kamaal!”) and Authority says (I’m deriving) that if someone in a position of perceived authority claims something, it must be true (“Bharat ke top dentists ke dwara verified!“)

Selling emotional security offers a far greater challenge. Maslow placed it right in the middle of his pyramid because it’s what we need right after our instinctive needs are satisfied. Our parents and immediate family offer us that security until a certain point of time. We are brought up to believe that parents are going to be a permanent part of our lives until they die, hence it is unfathomable for us to perceive and comprehend the concept of “branching out”. For us, parents and family symbolize safety, security and comfort. But that, in our social context, is an ideal situation. “Perfect parenting” is an utopian concept. There is always some form of dysfunction that exists in every family. It can be abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), addiction, dishonesty, financial co-dependency and unavailability. This dysfunction affects kids in more ways than we can see. What is also does, is create a void, which demands for someone else to come and fill it.

This is where a prospective partner comes in, promises to fill that void and offers the emotional security that was absent previously. When you form a bond with someone not because you want it, but because you need it, it becomes a ‘toxic relationship’. This dependency can then be manipulated by the other person to get you to do what he wants, or lead to abuse in all it’s forms. This is probably what the typical ‘playboys’ or ‘Casanovas’ pry upon – a woman’s need to feel ‘loved’ and ‘special’. They use principles like “liking”, “scarcity”, “reciprocity” and “commitment” to manipulate. At the outset is the ‘charm’ factor which acts as the ice breaker. It attracts you to him, holds your attention. He seems to be smart, handsome and respectful. At first you’re only attracted, but as you let him ease his way into your life, you also provide him the power to affect your decisions. Once you’re hooked, he knows you will do anything to keep him in your life. Because that’s how he’s manipulated your need. That’s how he’s customized his behaviour to fit the vacuum perfectly.

“Scarcity”, as a principle, is used by businessmen to create a sense of urgency among their buyers to buy their product. They send out a message of the product not being available in higher quantities or for too long, which makes the buy invest in it regardless of it’s utility at that time. It is also used by people in an unfair power equation to wield control over the other person. Say, a very popular girl, loved and sought by a lot of guys, gets together with an average looking boy, who isn’t too popular. She can use the “I chose you, even though I could have chosen so many other better looking boys over you. I can just leave right now” card with him to get her way. This makes him feel as though she is a prize he ought to cherish more than anything, or else he will lose her. She’s not ‘available’ for him to be with her when he wants.

This situation can also be viewed from the perspective of the “reciprocity” principle. When a person manipulates you by making you feel like you ‘owe’ them something, it’s known as reciprocity. People in toxic relationships often fall victim to this tactic. In the above mentioned case, the girl is also making the boy feel as though he ‘owes’ her something because she sacrificed other prospective choices for him. This is also most commonly seen in our society in general, especially during weddings. If someone gifts you something expensive at a wedding, you automatically feel ‘indebted’ to return the favour the moment you get a chance.

‘Money’ is a major parameter used to judge others in our society, especially North India. It plays a major role in defining someone’s opinion of you, in deciding the power equation between two people and consequently their behaviours. If someone lends you a large amount of money, you automatically become indebted to that person, not just financially, but in every way possible. The word ‘No’ is pushed out of the relationship. The dowry system is a prominent example of reciprocity. Ours being a patriarchal society, getting the daughter married is much more important than getting the son married. Hence the girl’s family feels indebted to the boy’s family for being so generous to them. The dowry system worked for as long as it did simply because of the unbalanced social (and power) equation. Not to mention that it still does not flourish, but under other names like “gifts” and “help”.

This is how emotional breaches happen. Every single time a decision you take is even slightly influenced, you have lost your emotional equilibrium. The key step to defending yourself against such breaches, is recognizing the manipulation from the word go. If someone is constantly harping on about how much he does for you, he is manipulating you. The technique of PROI (Prediction, recognition, observation and Intuition) is extremely helpful in strengthening emotional self-defence. Your insight and judgement needs to be strong enough for you to predict X’s behaviour, recognize the harmful and manipulative elements, observe the behavioural patterns and pay attention to your instincts. One of the major mistakes people make while either buying a product or buying someone’s offer of ‘love’ is ignore instincts. If you feel, in your gut, that something isn’t right – it probably isn’t.

At the end, I would like to reiterate that everyone is trying to sell you something. It’s up to you to recognize whether you want it or not.


6 thoughts on “Emotional Self-Defense: Tougher than it sounds

  1. physiology is a great insight into the brain yet the science of understanding is a game of assumption and predictability .
    We often forget the purpose because we think of too many noble things, one wants to do! would u follow the right or the heart? is my question to you šŸ™‚ .

    • Assumption and predictability? they’re both variables in a vast equation called relationships, but I don’t see how you specifically mentioned them.

      I would follow the heart unless it tells me to go murder someone, rob a bank or do drugs.

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