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Psych Your Mind: Lost in translation

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | March 19th, 2012



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Ah, the art of conversation. If only it were as easy to navigate as it is to define: simply, two or more individuals engaged in dialogue. The problem is that people don’t always express what they’re truly feeling; worse (and what seems to be an ongoing occurrence in my life), some seemingly deliberately attempt to mislead you. Allow me to explain:

A number of months ago, I found myself in a very unfortunate conflict with an individual who is significant in my partner’s life. I dislike being in arguments with anyone, but it adds a whole other realm of complication to the mix when your partner feels like they’re being torn between two people they really care for.

For obvious reasons, I’d rather refrain from getting into the nitty gritty of our falling out. What I’d like to focus on instead is everything that unfolded after our initial disagreement, which only proved to escalate the situation to ridiculous proportions.

To reiterate, I sincerely dislike fighting in ALL capacities. However, I am a very confrontational person by nature. That may sound like a contradiction to you, but what I mean is that I don’t like pussyfooting around situations. I believe in being honest, upfront and trying to solve things as soon as possible, as I know from experience that the longer you leave things unattended, the more they simmer and have the potential to lead to clouded, resentment-filled bitchfests.

With all of that said, as soon as the proverbial shit hit the fan between me and this individual, I immediately tried to diffuse things. I explained my side of the story as I felt my intentions had been misinterpreted and I tried to display empathy toward the other person’s case. Despite being told directly by the party in question that everything would be resolved if I’d just “be myself” and “be honest,” I was accused of using “psychobabble” and being condescending and disrespectful.

The first thought that crossed my mind, of course, was, well, I do have an Honours degree in Psychology so I kinda have a natural inclination to analyze situations and people’s motives in order to gain a better understanding of this crazy mixed-up world we live in... but I digress. Beyond that, I couldn’t help but feel both offended and extremely confused. I mean, in my mind, I gave this individual EXACTLY what they asked for, AND YET somehow doing so made the situation worse?!

Now this is classic passive aggressive behaviour: seeming to play nice only to pull out the claws when you least expect it, and honest people who take others at face value, such as myself, fall for it EVERY single time. Passive aggressiveness commonly develops in childhood in reaction to overbearing/ controlling parenting and is ultimately rooted in feelings of EXTREME insecurity.

Three key behavioural characteristics displayed by those who have taken on this form of maladaptive coping are: victimization, blaming and hypocrisy. It is the latter of these qualities that is of our interest today.

According to Dr. Michael J. Hurd, Psychotherapist and Personal Life Coach, “Hypocrisy is a symptom of intellectual dishonesty.” In other words, hypocrisy is rooted in the inability and/or unwillingness to practise introspection. Hurd goes on to elaborate, “An intellectually honest person, confronted with a gap between what he thinks/preaches and practices, will immediately hold a meeting with himself: ‘What’s wrong here? Is there some mistake in my idea? Or am I simply not walking the talk, even though I can?’” Given this interpretation of hypocrisy, it’s not surprising that pathological lying is frequently another symptom of passive aggressiveness.

In his article, A Mind Designed for Hypocrisy, Moral Psychologist Dr. Robert Kurzban takes the argument one step further. In his view, “Our minds are designed to identify and even point out other people’s moral failings while, at the same time, pursuing our own interests even if doing so means violating the very same rules we want to punish others for violating.” Hypocrisy, therefore, is “just one way that we (as humans) try to gain strategic advantage in the social world; pursuing our own interests while at the same time trying to stop others from pursuing theirs.” So perhaps it all comes down thinly veiled insecurity in the form of “power plays” and bullying yet again? In support of this hypothesis is the fact that it has been noted by many that there is a distinct parallel between holding feelings of superiority/authority and displays of hypocrisy, in that the higher up you are/you perceived yourself to be on the feeding chain, the higher likelihood there is you will engage in hypocritical behaviour.

It kinda makes you wonder whether honesty is truly valued as an admirable quality or rather we just “say” it is. Maybe this calls for a social experiment. The next time you find yourself in one of those daily “hello, how are you?” interchanges, answer the question unabashedly. You’ll know by the other person’s reaction whether said query was purely propositioned out of obligation to honour what society prescribes as “polite conduct” OR, worse, if they only asked you so they could be asked in return and have the opportunity to proceed in bragging/ranting about their own current affairs.

In other words, this week’s lesson: psychological maturity is neither selfish nor self-serving. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And don’t initiate a dialogue if you’re really only interested in listening to the sound of your own voice.

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