Emotional Levers: Fear

Fear can be a lifesaver. It operates faster than thought to increase our heart rate and and prepare our muscles for action. These physiological responses are outside our conscious control—a fact which leaves us vulnerable to manipulation. For, example, the “fear-then-relief” technique releases hormones that make a person more compliant and cooperative in the first moments after a threat has passed. The threat doesn’t have to be real, it just has to seem real. The anticipation of future danger causes the same physical symptoms as a real and present danger. To further complicate matters, the hormone adrenaline is triggered both by fear and by romantic attraction. [Read more…]

Emotional Levers: Guilt


A man calls his mother in Florida.  “Mom, how are you?”

“Not too good,” says the mother. “I’ve been very weak.”

The son says, “Why are you so weak?”

She says, “Because I haven’t eaten in 38 days.”

The man says, “That’s terrible. Why haven’t you eaten in 38 days?”

The mother answers, “Because I didn’t want my mouth to be filled with food if you should call.”

Emotional manipulators use guilt-aversion as a lever to control the behavior of others. In the joke above, the mother has many options for dealing with her lonely empty-nest feelings. She could reach out to other empty-nesters, or make herself useful to friends and neighbors. When she wants to talk to her son, she can call him. She can give him incentive to call her by being pleased and happy when he calls: “It’s great to hear your voice! How are you? What’s going on?”—courting his attention as she would with any valued friend. She might even open up and confide to him that she’s having a hard time moving on to the next stage of her life.

The mother doesn’t take steps to solve her problems because, subconsciously, she believes she needs those problems as levers of control. Guilt mongers tend to view themselves as uninteresting and unloveable. Their only claim to fame is that they’ve suffered more than others and so deserve extra consideration. Therefore, they need to preserve a veneer of misery to use whenever they want to wring something out of someone. They are “victims with intent.” [Read more…]

Dealing with Shame

Emotional Levers — Part One:   Today’s post begins a series about the emotional pressure points used by Aggressive people to manipulate the behavior of others. We who want to live assertively need to stand our ground and pursue our missions undeterred by manipulative tactics.

The children’s book Ramona the Brave opens with an insightful portrayal of an experience of shame. Six-year-old Ramona hurries home from the park, eager to tell her mother how she stood up to the big boys who were teasing her sister. As Ramona launches into her proud description, the older sister, Beezus, interrupts to say that Ramona’s tirade embarrassed her almost to death. The book describes Ramona’s reaction:

She felt as if she were standing aside looking at herself. She saw a stranger, a funny little six-year-old girl with straight brown hair, wearing grubby shorts and an old T-shirt, inherited from Beezus, which had Camp Namanu printed across the front. A silly little girl embarrassing her sister so much that Beezus was ashamed of her. And she had been proud of herself because she thought she was being brave. Now it turned out that she was not brave. She was silly and embarrassing. Ramona’s confidence in herself was badly shaken.

[Read more…]

Assertive or Aggressive?

The words “Assertive”  and “Aggressive” are sometimes used interchangeably, but we shouldn’t ignore the profound differences between them. As far back as the 1920’s (according to my dilapidated Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) the verb “assert,” meant  ”to affirm, state positively,” or “to maintain; vindicate a claim or title to.”

By contrast, the verb “aggress” meant, “To commit the first act of hostility or offense; begin a quarrel or controversy.”

In recent decades, the field of psychology has adopted “Assertiveness” as the label for a confident style of communication that neither dominates others nor surrenders to aggression. [Read more…]