March 07, 2010

Chickens in Oz: the Distortion Campaign

Chickens in a Farmyard by Edgar Hunt, 1926

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 projectionprojective 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 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.



  1. Hello lovely CZ, as you know, I met that particular doggie in the hen coop and I too suffered from its nips and yaps. And, I gotta tell ya' honey -- I'm better off living outside the hen coop flying like an eagle!

    See, that's the thing about them coops, they want you to believe you're a chicken, just like them when in fact -- we're eagles born to fly!

    I love how your wings have spread wide. I love how your tail feathers glisten in the sun when you soar above in the wild blue yonder. and if sometimes you drop a little eagle shit on a chicken or two.... well I'm not gonna tell!

    Love you whole bunches CZ. You are one of the most amazing women I've met in cyberland and I am grateful for your friendship and light in my life.



  2. Hello back, lovely Louise! I am so grateful we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Even remaining friends through the thick and the thin of it all. It’s difficult creating space for yourself in cyberland. Friends come and friends go and we may never know what happened to someone we connected with. That’s the downside of cyber-relationships.

    This post about what I jokingly call ‘Puppygate’ has been a long time coming. I was confused because nothing made any sense at the time. Kinda like battling an invisible foe, finding yourself on the front lines of a battle you never saw coming---and not knowing who initiated the war you never signed up for.

    Finally, a few folks decided to talk openly with me (and God bless them for having done that). Now things fall into place though it's taken a few years for people to trust me enough to speak honestly.

    This is the kind of serious damage pathological people do to a 'targeted' individual AND a community. The deception is almost impossible to believe which is why writing about Smear Campaigns and Distortion Campaigns may be valuable to people who have been targeted, scapegoated, and maligned---left in a daze.

    There are connections between the Distortion Campaign by someone who believes their perceptions are true and the Smear Campaign which picks up where the pathological left off. I hope to write more cogently about this in future posts. I’m still connecting the dots myself.

    The Smear Campaign many of us face with a narcissistic individual who intentionally maligns our character to make themselves feel superior is very different from the Distortion Campaign. When someone has convinced themselves that what they think and feel is TRUE, even the ‘targeted’ individual doubts her or himself!

    Well, the past is past but I’m one of those people who never lets sleeping dogs lie. And I do mean ‘lie’.


    Thanks for commenting. I hesitated writing about this experience but you made me feel all kinds of better about having done so!


  3. It is such a pleasure to read your posts, regardless of how long they are.

    This did happen to me once--not on that level, but at the time it was upsetting enough.

  4. This is an extraordinary story and I think I may have spoken to you before regarding our experiences with a forum which imploded for exactly the same reasons as you have outlined here, but probably by a different online name.

    Why is it that these people act the same way every time? And why is it that we who are experienced in this sort of traumatic situation are taken by surprise every time?

    You seem to have overcome remarkably well. You write extremely well, with such intelligence and grasp of what has happened. Have you ever considered becoming a psychologist? You certainly have the wherewithal and experience to help others 'officially' if you know what I mean.

    Thankyou for sharing this, it is a terrible terrible thing to live through, and I am truly amazed that you have managed to come out of this with as much chutzpah as you have. it's good to know others have experienced this and lived to tell the tale.

    Good on you.


  5. Hi CZ,
    A sad story, a great post, a powerful lesson. Not that this is the only thing I picked up on (I picked up on a lot, not only in relation to your recent article on splitting but also in relation to the most recent cyberspace-skirmish-which-shall-remain-nameless), but your thought about people who don't trust kindness is so true, and so tragic. It made me think of all the people who go to the likes of Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil for help, so they can be shamed into realizing how bad they are and how desperately they need to fix themselves. I have always wondered about that dynamic, and I think you nailed it for me here. So thanks for that.

    I'm glad you've got all your lovely feathers back, and have lived to tell the tale!



    1. Hi Kitty! I re-read that long story, reliving the anxiety of being targeted by a group of mean women. It was, to put it mildly, traumatic. If I weren't such a hard-head, I'd have hung up my keyboard forever. That's how vicious these attacks can be.

      Other people might minimize the whole thing, never empathizing with the victim. But I will never forget and that is why I never stand by when someone is being attacked online. You wouldn't think it but in a way, it's worse than being 'smeared' face-to-face.

      Your connection to Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil is very intriguing!! I hadn't thought of that, Kitty. Please write a post about this. I detest 'shaming' reality shows and really detested Schlesinger with a mad passion. hahaha

      If I had been a bitch, a real hard ass with forum members, they'd have been my loyal admirers. Isn't that interesting to think about? That what people profess to want is compassion and kindness but when they get it, they don't trust it, so they ruin it.

      Love back,

    2. Hi CZ, I wish I'd read this one a year ago!! What a great distinction between "smear" and "distortion." Sometimes they run together, though, the former leading to the latter to reduce cognitive dissonance. Boy, between this and your plagiarism post today, you've got my mother's M.O. covered. That you stuck your neck out to help me with my own bout of being bullied is all the more admirable given that it took you five years to get free of the distortions and smears. love CS

  6. I just have to say I just read your essay "Chicken in Oz" and I can't thank you enough for sharing your experience. Over the years I've been the victim of this mobbing behavior in different situations and I've wondered what was wrong with me! What is especially painful is imagining nobody would believe you. The allies in these situations that I loved and trusted ultimately abandoned me and it hurt so much. Is there something that predisposes you to being singled out for this kind of treatment? Is there anyway I could write you personally and discribe these situations. I don't know if this pain will ever go away. I feel like I have post-tramatic stress from these experiences.

    1. How did this comment go unnoticed? I love talking with people who take the time to read my essays and I've very sorry that I missed your comment!

      Take care,

  7. well....this is what i have to live w/ everyday w/ my narc. mother and her family. i only consider them relatives, never family ever again. is it that theyre brainwashed or...are they just like the mob, defending their own? my mom's family know how she is....and yet they do have narc. tendencies like her but she is the only out-and-out narc i think so i guess they defend her because they are similar to her? or is it that she's pretty and they are defending their queen from my dad's side of the family, and they cant stand my dad really (they also feel its an insult for me to say i look like my mother a little because my dad's side is so ugly, so how DARE i say i look like her, her own daughter?!)
    idk...all i know is that when a narc distorts, yes its true they DO, they truly DO believe their own lies and distortions and their fervor is sooooo great and compelling that gullible people cant help but be caught up and believe them! whereas i....teh daughter of a narc who cant trust herself because of a lifetime of gaslighting and other evil tactics, i always second-guess myself not confident...and of course we all know people, especially non-thinking emotional people, respond primarily to relentless confidence, it makes them feel safe...
    and yes people dont generally trust kind people, they are always ready to say "A-HA!!! i KNEW u were too good to be true!" and u always have to be on point, proving urself to them that u are kind...a never-ending feat! where ur pure intentions are never believed, not truly...but a narc? they always get the benefit of the doubt, and its the matter how many millions of cruelties they perpetuate, deep down theyre "good" people amirite? human nature, gotta love it huh?

    1. Gotta love it? ha! I understand what you mean by that...what can you possibly do when logic and memory are defended against, turning YOU into a liar or an opponent. You eventually figure out that people believe what they want to believe and they'll lose their last value to defend their beliefs.

      AND, it's useful to know that Dr. James Masterson says pathological narcissists have "swiss cheese brains"---lots of holes where memories should be. It's maddening to try and deal with someone who only remembers what SERVES THEM BEST. ARGH! I sure wish I'd known this sooner in my life.

      People who align themselves with narcissists (for whatever their reasons may be and oftentimes it's "pity" or "sympathy" for the N's sob story), can pick up "fleas" themselves. From everyone's experiences, we know that non-narcissists can mirror narcissistic behaviors without realizing it. Eventually though, non-narcissists will do something that surprises themselves because their action contradicts who they perceive themselves to be. Or maybe they feel guilty about some of the things they've done (orchestrated by the N, of course). Conscience is the great moderator in civil society. Most Ns never change (lack of conscience? Inability to introspect? Inability to tolerate guilt and remorse long enough to become humble?).

      And once again, you've reminded me that people "distrust" trustworthy people. Maybe it's because they feel inferior to a "good person" and tearing them down is a way to restore their self-esteem. Lousy thing to think about but I'll bet it happens more often than we realize!

      Nice to hear from you! Hope things are better in your life...



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