Cyberspace is an amazing place. Relationships are microwaved on high speed. It's as if deprivation of body language, emotional nuances, voice inflection, and intonation increases our imagination about 'who' the other person might be. There's a lot of projection going on in cyberspace. We can learn about ourselves, projections-and-all, when we form cyber-relationships. Some of that learning will hurt like hell and I can say absolutely and positively that my emotional reactions to cyber-betrayal mirrored my emotional reactions to betrayal in a face-to-face relationship. There wasn't any difference. In fact, I probably took it harder because the 'cyber friendship’ was limited to my head. And my head is a fantastical place with good witches and fairies and chubby gnomes welcoming everyone to Lollipop Land.
I didn't know that about myself until a cyber friend sneered, "I'll get you, my pretty, and keep my little dog, too!" That's when I ran to my closet for ruby slippers to take me home to Auntie Em before I’d be forced to douse my friend with a bucket of water to keep her from petitioning flying monkeys to finish the job she’d started. She was one excellent delegator. I oughta know.
Well, like I said earlier: cyberspace is an amazing place. What might remain between two chickens beak-to-beak becomes a virtual hen-pecking contest to see who has the most feathers when the keyboarding stops. Emotions choose sides and mob rule overrides logic. As long as everyone is picking and pecking together, no single chick is responsible until the Red Hen is standing naked, stripped of her elegant plume. Woe is me! I lost my tail feathers in a barnyard fight and it's taken five years to grow 'em back. But I wouldn't give up those five years for anything in the world, not even for a fifty-pound sack o’ hard white wheat. I learned valuable lessons about myself, about cyber-relationships, about golden eggs, and of course: a lot about fowl play.
Here's how it all came down according to my recollection of events and don't assume I'm projecting blame on anyone other than my own ignorance and incompetence:
I, the little Red Hen, was strutting around the chicken coop one day, checking nests to make certain there was enough straw to cushion golden eggs, when a puppy dog entered the yard. Not just any puppy dog either. A pedigreed puppy dog that several people had donated a week’s worth of groceries to buy so they could show a cyberfriend their gratitude. That didn’t set right with me you can be sure---playing on people’s tender mercies and charitable hearts! So I chased that damn dog out of the yard and set about resolving the mystery. Whose bright idea was it to let a dog loose in a henhouse anyway?
It didn’t take long to put two-and-two together and when everything ‘clicked’, I took action. That meant making the decision to act on logical reasoning putting principles ahead of personalities. What I discovered was hard to accept because a battle of conflicting wills had begun long before I knew another hen was vying for my position as head chicken. Emails flew to my in-tray like carrier pigeons bearing the bad news of a pending assassination…of my character. Animosity escalated. My cyber-character was in shreds and my reputation insufficient to protect me from allegations. This is a lot for a big chicken to absorb when she’s recovering from a rooster’s infidelity. (He promised to only cluck with me; and yes, it takes time admitting to being cuckolded when the undeniable fact is that I married a handsome clucker and what can a chubby hen expect?) Besides, getting back to cyber projection in particular, we imbue our friends with the same intentions, values, and beliefs as ourselves. Otherwise, why would we be friends in the first place if we didn't reflect similar goals and principles? The backstabbing had been done in secret while maintaining a smoochy relationship with me: the little Red Hen who believed what she saw and she only saw what she was allowed to see. Oh, those clever manipulators! They squawk with forked beaks!
Her behind-the-scenes campaign had forged alliances with disgruntled people. A flock of allies guaranteed a successful ambush since I was preoccupied baking bread to feed everyone including myself. I had my marching orders, you know and God bless my pea-pickin’ heart: I love to please. I’m telling you how busy I was, not as an excuse for my negligence but as a description as to why people-with-noses-to-the-grindstone don’t notice trouble brewing on the horizon.
In a recovery forum where people's emotions are looking for a reason to exist, there's a ready supply of frightened people who aren't sure whether to believe their own perceptions or the mean-chick-pretending-to-be-a-victim. I don't fault people for being caught up in the confusion or wanting to defend a friend who insisted the Red Hen was...well, I'll leave the expletives and psychopathic diagnoses up to your imaginations, dear readers. Imagine the worst person you can and you’ll be close enough to what I’m thinking to say you read my mind.
The ambush escalated to death threats from people who ought have known better but were somehow convinced my kindness was a 'ruse'. That underneath my veneer of love for community was a ruthless woman motivated by power and control. Now you may think this sounds like a preposterous exaggeration but let me remind everyone that people’s fearful feelings were already there. People were looking for a reason for having those feelings and unfortunately, scapegoating is a handy outlet. When one person with authority is targeted, it’s hard to resist the chance to dump pent-up anger and aggression.
(Bring in the violins now…I’m imaging my story in episodes of black and white with a musical score rising and falling in concert with the drama.)
Alienated from my former support group (cyberspace is such an uncertain place, I get that), people I counted as friends went No Contact. They were terrified. One cyber-friend feared I’d track her down and kill her since she had told me where she lived. She heard right from the chicken’s mouth that I was a predator. Another woman I cared for deeply remained silent, accusing me of being a liar. She knew the real me behind my kind personality because mean-chick-pretending-to-be-a-victim had called her on the phone and told her I was a cold-blooded liar. So much for our friendship. She didn’t think it wise to associate with the likes of me.
A telephone Distortion Campaign had been in the works for months, while maintaining a close friendship with me. Though I had never spoken on the phone with mean-chick-pretending-to-be-a-victim (my boundary, not hers) she still managed to contact other people and give them the inside scoop.
If someone was my friend, they were targeted; including people I had known online for a couple of years. Suddenly, reality was upside-down and backwards with people going No Contact lest my predatory character ruin their lives. Imagine! Imagine this happening when the only crime you committed was being too trusting, too accommodating, and ignorant about pathological women because the only pathology you’d studied was based on narcissistic roosters.
If you've never encountered a character like this, my story might sound in-credible which is why I rarely write about the crazy people I’ve met in cyberspace. Enough years have passed and people have moved on so perhaps it’s safe to write from a distanced and anonymous position. I hope so.
Now, what do you do when you suddenly realize the person you called a friend is a meanie-weanie who has forged alliances with mutual friends who choose to believe her accusations? I don't know the answer to that but after two or three barnyard fights defending the character I’ve been working on for sixty years, I hope to prevent future pecking contests. I kinda like my tail feathers. The new feathery growth came back 'cute and curly', not straight as an arrow like it was before.
Smear campaigns pale in comparison to Distortion campaigns
What I experienced was a Distortion Campaign, similar to the Smear Campaign with an important caveat: with a distortion campaign, the projector believes her cognitive distortions are true. She displaces her animosity onto others, perceiving in a perverse way, that kind people are opportunists, liars, and backstabbing manipulators with mercenary hearts. In her mind, underneath the façade of compassion is a deceitful person planning an ambush as soon as everyone’s guards are down. “Just look at her apron!” she warns! “Don’t be fooled! That’s not a rolling pin. It’s a machine gun! Heads up everybody! I loooooooooooooooove you!!!”
The Distortion Campaign is defined by the insistent and persistent belief in one's perceptions being irrefutably true, despite contradictory evidence.
With a Smear Campaign, the malice is evident. It is conceived, contrived, and carried out as an intentional means to destroy a perceived opponent. A smear campaign may also be a way to 'level' the pecking order, far more schadenfreudistic than malicious.
But remember: Pathological personalities are unaware that their 'thinking' is distorted and therefore, a smear campaign may switch to a distortion campaign. The impact of this is that other people WILL BE bamboozled by the pathological's unabashed duplicity. The pathological person is so convinced their cognitive distortions are true, that other people are eventually persuaded by their emotionally-evocative sincerity.
Only in the aftermath have I sorted out what happened and it behooves anyone in the support world to educate your self about projection, projective identification, scapegoating, and splitting. You see, some people are prone to splitting reality. One day you’re their best friend and the next day you’re their evil enemy. When you tire of the emotional whiplash, they’ll turn on the charm. “Smooch!” You may believe they are reconciling, when in fact, they are hoovering: making sure you don't leave before they’ve gathered enough weapons to annihilate your feathered ass. When their psyche splits, forcing you to split (as in run the other direction), you will be accused of egregious wrongdoings---wrongdoings, which make no sense and have no valid basis in anyone’s reality other than the splitter’s. And neither you, nor a witness of angels will change their minds.
Pathological personalities are unaware of the deep fissure within themselves splitting reality into dark or light, bad or good, fertilizer or horseshit. In their perceptions of reality: You are horseshit until proven otherwise. And nothing you do will prove otherwise---your positive attributes will be twisted into evil things until you won’t even recognize yourself.
Oh, those KIND People!
As I wrote in my last article about Smear Campaigns, the honest person finds herself stuck between a rock and a hard place as to whether she ought defend herself or ignore the insanity. People believe what they want to believe and sometimes, they resist believing a nice person is as nice as she appears. They look for an angle, a hidden motive, and a reason to justify the hyper-vigilant feeling that everybody is out to get ‘em.
In the case of a pathological personality, other people are targeted to carry their projections rather than realizing they’re initiating the distortion campaign themselves. They honestly believe their distortions are true. Pathological personalities cannot understand people being kind without having underhanded motives. Why not? Because they suspect kindness to be a manipulative maneuver since manipulation is how they do life and thus assume everyone else does likewise.
On recovery forums though, some people are frightened of kindness, having had their tenderness trampled by a person they trusted. The next time around, they are too smart to fall for “The kindness tactic!” You aren’t gonna fool them by being nice!
What a sad state of affairs it is when kindness triggers fear, increasing defensive and offensive behavior.
The Distortion Campaign
While you're getting your bearings on what just happened, the police might show up at your door. Or the armed forces. Or a band of vigilantes seeking revenge because you were so vicious to mean-chick-pretending-to-be-a-victim. She has convinced the troops you’re Darth Vadar, emperor of the Dark Side; maybe even persuading YOUR allies and friends that there is nothing redeemable about anything you've ever done. There is no ‘dusk’; no 'dawn' to your character...you are devoid of light like a soul-sucking soldier for Satan.
You will be treated like a pariah without any credible evidence whatsoever. Even by your so-called friends.
Need I reiterate that the pathological person’s accusations are convincing because SHE is convinced she is the epitome of lightness-and-truth, the victim of your darkness-and-lies. Take note of the splitting, the harsh judgments, the lack of integration for both good and bad in people, her desire to overcome evil with her empire of flying monkeys. She chants her siren call to fellow fowls, who rescue her the way they wish someone would have rescued them.
(There is no blame here for people’s reactions. We’re all learning about pathology. I include myself in the flying monkey brigade. It was a learning experience and maybe that’s the wisest thing I can say at this point: whatever you’ve done or had done to you, consider it a ‘learning process’ and seek meaning from the experience.)
Pathological characters defend cognitive distortions with vilifying lies, dissociations, destruction of your affiliations and bonds, accusations of mental illness, abuse, warning others about your online predation and calumny. This is easily accomplished if people perceive you as an evil authority, and the light-and-goodness-victim as a damsel in distress. This sort of thing happens frequently with women who cry abuse if public perceptions view men as strong and women as weak/vulnerable.
Be careful of anyone promoting victimization to garner your pity, sympathy, or trigger your rescuing tendencies. Real victims are too busy getting off the ground to think about inciting troops and capturing enemies.
Where did I go wrong?
The flaw in my thinking was that people would know me well enough to laugh at such in-credible allegations. I assumed bystanders would tell the Damsel she was full of chicken shit and horse piss and she oughta find another barnyard to strut her stuff. I hoped people would give me the benefit of the doubt.
I believed and falsely, that logic would outweigh emotional reasoning.
It has taken years to recover from this Distortion Campaign. I can verify that when we have connected to a group, even in cyberspace, our emotional reactions to betrayal and mobbing are no different than had our next-door neighbors hung garlic on our front door or burned a cross in the front yard or any of the other things people do when they act on hatred. The good thing about cyberspace is that it’s much easier relocating your ‘home’ than it is moving an entire household.
Victim chicks will ALWAYS collect allies. Your friends, preferably. Watch for that in cyberspace. Hell, watch for it face-to-face.
When an angel who cannot fight the dark force without your help is recruiting you, please reach for the light switch in your brain and turn it on. I suffered the Distortion Campaign once; I don't want you to experience the same thing nor be caught up in a destructive cycle that leads to self-blame and excruciating chagrin.
It took awhile restoring my belief in the goodness of all God’s creatures including meanie-weanies. Fortunately, my belief in human kindness is so deeply embedded that not even a flock of chickens can rob my golden egg. I laid it with my own hard labor and I ain’t about to let anybody steal it out from under me. Not even a mean-chick-pretending-to-be-a-victim.