It’s not that we heal and then we start living again, it’s that we make thedecision to start living again, and that’s when we start to heal.
In Out of the Fog, licensed psychotherapist, Dana Morningstar compares and contrasts healthy and unhealthy behaviors, strategies for getting out of the fog of confusion in abusive relationships, and into the clarity of building healthy relationships. Dana does a great job comparing and contrasting what a good, normal, healthy relationship is and what crazymaking, abusive, manipulative relationships look like. If you have been in a relationship with a narcissist, psychopath, sociopath, and other personality disordered individuals, you would relate to most of the behaviors and characteristics of the emotionally manipulative.
The “FOG” is an acronym for fear, obligation, and guilt, and was coined by Susan Forward & Donna Frazier in their book Emotional Blackmail to describe the emotions most commonly used by emotional manipulators to gain and keep control over others and over certain situations. When these emotions are being exploited, a “fog” of confusion sets in, and the person in the fog has a hard time sorting out what’s really going on and who has the issue—and, most importantly, what they need to do to get out (and stay out) of this fog.
FOG is an acronym that stands for “Fear, Obligation, and Guilt.” These three emotions are often at the core of manipulation and are often how narcissists, sociopaths, and other types of emotional manipulators go about controlling their targets.
Well-Intended Bad Advice
For many targets of emotional manipulators, the emotions of fear, obligation, and guilt are only part of the fog of confusion. And emotional manipulators are only some of the people that are FOG-inducing. The FOG can also come in the form of well-intended bad advice about commitment, family, and friendship from pretty much every- one: friends, family, therapists, culture, religious leaders and texts, and society as a whole.
The FOG is one of the main reasons that people stay “stuck” in abusive relationships for so long, why they continue to get involved with abusive people, why they feel that they are the problem, and why they tend to feel that the abuse is somehow their fault.
This type of bad advice is not only prevalent, but it’s oftenpassed off as good advice and is just as insidious and destructive as abuse itself.
When a person is being manipulated they have a hard time figuring out who has the problem, what is normal, what is problematic, and if their wants, needs, and feelings are valid. The disastrous effects of being lost in the FOG are confusion, crazymaking, people-pleasing, and erosion of boundaries. What makes this well-intended bad advice so damaging is that, on the surface, it seems like good advice–especially if it’s coming from people who seem to have our best interests in mind, such as friends, family, church members, support group members, or a therapist.
The well-intended bad advice that comes from other people include: “Who are you to judge?”, “No one is perfect.”, “You need to forgive them.”, “She’s your mother, you need to have a relationship with her…she’s not getting any younger you know.”, “Family is forever”, “It could be worst, stop complaining.”, “Commitment is forever.”
A thought hole is to our thinking what a pothole is to our vehicle, Meaning, if we hit one, it can cause a lot of damage, leaving us stranded along the road to health and healing and stuck in an emotional fog. What makes a thought hole so hard to see is that they are everywhere, and the worst ones tend to be hidden in the thickest emotional fog out there. Because they are so hard to see, we often don’t realize we’ve hit one until we are much further down the road—and worse, we don’t know how to stop hitting them if we don’t realize they are what’s causing us so much damage. We all go through life hitting these “thought holes” until we experience enough pain from the damage that we realize what we’re doing isn’t working and that we need to do something different.
The Wakeup call
Our spheres of influence shape our thinking, feelings, and actions. They shape our morals and values, feelings and actions about ourselves and about others, and the way we interact with the world. Because we all are our own baseline for what’s normal, and because it’s human nature to befriend and be around other people who are similar to us, it often takes a tremendous amount of pain for us to have a wake-up call that perhaps our thinking and actions, or the advice that we’ve been taking from those closest to us is all a big part of the problem. It’s like the saying goes, “the last thing the fish notices is the water” and it often takes a person decades to realize they’ve been swimming in a sea of dysfunction and dysfunctional thinking.
If a person’s behavior is problematic for you then that’s worthy of being a deal breaker. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is telling you it’s not a personality disorder or is somehow workable or even normal—if it’s a problem for you then it’s a problem. It’s sort of like trying to determine what kind and how much poison is in the water you are drinking when the reality is poison is poison, and any amount that you are ingesting is going to be harmful to you.
A Partner vs. A Target A Partner
A partner is someone who is ready, willing, and able to work together as a team towards some sort of shared goal. Some examples of shared goals might be: to be happily married, to raise children into healthy, responsible adults, or to have a certain degree of financial stability. When two people with a true team mentality come together as far as dating, marriage, friendship, or in a work environment, they create a partnership.
To be a target means to be someone who has been selected to be on the receiving end of some sort of attack, whether that at- tack is to be abused, used, exploited, or neglected in some way. Narcissists often form dynamics with people whom they have targeted as a source of “supply.”
Abuse is about Control and Power
Most people tend to think that anger issues, poor coping methods, ineffective communication, addiction, or stress are at the core of abusive behavior. While many of these behaviors and issues go hand-in-hand with abusive behavior, they are not the root cause of it. The core of abusive behavior is the desire to get and keep power and control over others and over situations—and this need for power and control comes out in seven main ways: verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, spiritual, and/or physical. When abuse is present, it is very rare that it’s only one type of abuse.
Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength.
Normal vs Abuse Relationship
The most important difference between a normal relationship and an abusive relationship is that an abusive relationship is a one-sided relationship where one person has all (or the majority) of the power and control and is focused on what they want—especially when the other partner isn’t looking—and feels entitled and justified in treating others, their partner, and their relationship however they want. And generally, the other one is either scared to leave, focused on keeping the relationship together at all costs, or is forever trying to figure out how to “fix” their partner’s behavior.
Normal Problematic Behavior vs. Normalizing Problematic Behavior
“Normal” problematic behavior in a relationship depends on what the person is used to experiencing. It may include abuse, addiction, adultery, or to being lied to, manipulated, deceived by a partner, belittled, degraded, yelled at, or to feel ignored or ground down—or to be treated in any other ways that show a lack of respect or regard for your feelings. While these things might be “normal” they for sure aren’t healthy—which is why I’m not a fan of having “normal” be a measurement of what’s workable.
Normalizing problematic behavior
Normalizing problematic behavior is what we do when they try to justify and minimize (normalize) problematic behavior (generally some form of abuse, addiction, adultery) and try to convince ourselves that what our partner is doing is somehow justifiable and workable. The first sign of problematic behavior is always confusion. We are confused not only because we are being manipulated, but because on some level we know what we are experiencing is a problem, but we don’t want to believe it.
it’s a mistake to expect loyalty from someone who won’t even give you honesty.
Gut Instinct vs. Hypervigilance
Our gut instinct speaks to us through our emotions, which we often refer to as “red flags.” These red flags serve as an early warning sign of potential danger, and, unfortunately, are warn- ing signs that many of us ignore. When we ignore a red flag, it’s generally for one of five different reasons:
•Red flags aren’t seen, they are felt, and because we don’t see anything obviously wrong, we feel the need to stick around until we have more proof and are actually proven right—that this person or situation is indeed problematic.
•We don’t want to be seen as over-reacting if we take action without an overwhelming amount of concrete evidence that points to there being actual danger.
•We don’t want to be embarrassed or seen as rude, weird, “difficult,” or over-reacting by others if we don’t have proof that something is wrong.
•We aren’t taught to give red flags the significance that they deserve; instead, we are taught that they are more of a “vibe” or feeling and to not make decisions based on feelings.
•We have an emotional investment in staying in the red-flag situation.
Hypervigilance is the feeling of being continually on edge. It is part of our fight or flight defense and is a healthy and normal response to problematic behavior. When it becomes unhealthy or problematic is when we can’t turn it off and remain in a state of cat-like readiness, ready to run at any time. It is normal to feel on alert and on guard around people who are acting in “squirrelly” or suspicious ways.
Like being in a cult
It’s a lot like being in a cult. The trauma and confusion of all that doesn’t end when the person leaves the cult—they have to untangle the dynamics of how they got sucked into one, why they stayed, reexamine their belief system, sort out how they were being manipulated, and learn to trust again. It’s a lot to go through, and this takes time.
Cognitive dissonance is the mental distress we feel when we have two conflicting thoughts about the same topic at the same time. The reason this is distressing is because we all need our thoughts to line up with our actions. If they don’t, then we are acting in a way that doesn’t make sense. So in order to ease that mental distress, one of two things needs to happen: we either need to change our thoughts to match our actions, or change our actions to match our thoughts. This mental distress starts off as a feeling of confusion, and over time it progresses to feelings of mental anguish, anxiety, depression, anger, and rage.
Setting healthy boundaries and standards
Outside of identifying our vulnerabilities and being familiar with what manipulative and abusive behavior is, the other big thing we can do is to make sure we have healthy boundaries and deal-breaker behavior and make sure that our choices in people and in situations are filtered through those boundaries and standards.
Healthy boundaries and having deal-breaker behavior will get the wrong people out of your life and they take practice. Be kind to yourself during this process, as it’s a lot like learning to ride a bike: odds are you will fall and get scraped up, but it’s part of learning. Keep at it, and you’ll get the hang of it.
All trauma is transformative, and it can either make us or break us, but the good news is we don’t have to wait around passively and see how the chips may fall. We can decide that we are not going to let this destroy us; and that instead, we will squeeze out as much personal growth from this as we possibly can.
Love is based on honesty and trust and involves a person being treated with dignity and respect. Love is a feeling of safety and security. Love is knowing where you stand and knowing that the other person is on the same team as you. If these elements aren’t present; then it’s not love.
Toxic is Toxic
Let me be clear; toxic is toxic, and either situation is problematic and not worthy of your time or energy. You don’t owe a toxic person one more second of your time, you do, however, owe it to yourself to have peace in your life. You do not owe anything to a person who continues to cause you hurt or heartache. It’s okay to cut ties and never look back. It doesn’t matter if they are a friend, a former spouse, a coworker, or a family member. And it doesn’t matter if no one else agrees with your decision to cut ties with them. It’s not being mean, and it’s not lacking compassion—it’s self-protection, and other people don’t get to set your boundaries for what you want in your life, only you do.
Post Traumatic Growth.
Post Traumatic Growth is the growth that can only come from trauma, as with great pain can also come great transformation. Life after abuse can leave a person feeling incredibly angry and overwhelmed by all the damage and destruction that has happened and at a loss as to where to begin picking up the pieces. Please know that the up side to having your whole world blown apart, is that you can now go about consciously choosing the pieces with which you want to rebuild.
You get to choose who and want you want in this next chapter in your life, and you can get rid of all kinds of limiting beliefs about who you are and what you are capable of. This takes work, but it can be done, and it starts with making small, empowering decisions about who and what you let into (or keep) in your life on a regular basis.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.