Nice People Need Hard Rules
I was talking to a friend last night who'd been railroaded by a cluster B girlfriend of his - a girl with borderline personality disorder (he hadn't realized until years in), which, if you're not familiar with it, is a real crazy-making personality profile that makes the affected individual completely mistrusting of everyone, causing her to undermine her long-term relationships by focusing on getting concession after concession after concession, wearing down the people around her and inflicting a reverse-winner effect on them that depletes their testosterone, willpower, and energy reserves and causes them to crash emotionally.
The silver lining of being around people like this, though, is it makes you realize exactly where your weaknesses are: it shows you the chinks in your armor that others can use to gain leverage over you, to whittle you down, and to take control of you in ways you didn't realize you could be controlled.
I've gone through it, and it's been among the most educational periods of my life - because what was previously a vague awareness that you were just a little "too nice", a bit too much of a softy, and a little too much of a pushover, suddenly gets thrust into focus as exactly how dangerous small weaknesses like these can be around people determined to get things from you.
And, eventually, it leads you to the ultimate realization that nice people need hard rules.
I was never a "nice guy." I wasn't a pushover with women who let them walk all over him and friend zone him. Even when I sucked with girls, if we weren't going on dates or more, and it wasn't moving forward, I punted and went and did something more interesting with my life instead.
However, for a long time I was aware that I had a weakness of not knowing how to deal with especially pushy people. Usually I just steered clear of them altogether, because I knew I had a weakness here; the few times I went against my better judgment, I'd invariably end up getting burned. That only reinforced the need to create distance with people like this.
I hadn't grown up around them. I hadn't been exposed to people like
that at all throughout most
of my life. And when I met them, I felt like a bunny rabbit crashing
into a rhinoceros. It wasn't very pleasant.
After I graduated from university, I began to surround myself with increasingly aggressive, pushy people, because I wanted to learn from them:
- How were they so certain in pushing for (sometimes crazy) things?
- What were the specific techniques they used to GET these things?
- How did they convince other people to give them what they wanted?
- What did they do if things didn't go their ways at first?
- How did they deal with various kinds of resistance?
- What MADE them so pushy and demanding?
... but I still kept clear of the real hardcore manipulators.
The ones I could just tell when I met them that they were pulling strings and making people dance like puppets around them. I knew I was going to get slammed even just letting them into my life a little bit.
And one day I sat down to figure out why.
Emotional Profiles and Hazy Boundaries
One of the things I realized about myself was that most of my decisions were made by following my gut. Very few of my decisions were rule-based "I should do X in Y situation because I know this leads to Z, while NOT doing X leads to ABC bad thing" decisions.
Most of them were just, "Hmm, I don't know... okay - let's do that, I guess."
But when I looked at things I was good at, all of those decisions were made with clarity and certainty. I was confident, sure, and very decisive.
So, to stay safe, I mostly kept myself around people I knew would not try to take advantage of me, and who had similar moral / ethical frameworks that I did:
- They believed in building for the long-term over getting in the short-term
- They valued loyalty and friendship over wins, money, and immediate gains
- They experienced guilt, remorse, and weren't the types to screw people over
... and I had a few low- / no-empathy people around me, but they were not "extractor" types, and were, rather, more long-term-focused low-empathy people who were professional, upwardly mobile, and ambitious, as opposed to scrapers and clawers who viewed everyone as either a mark or a competitor.
I noticed that during the occasions when I came into contact with the scrapers and clawers, I'd always come out with scrape and claw marks, because they had very clear ideas about what they wanted from me... but I did not have clear ideas about what I wanted from them.
I'd be there, thinking "Maybe I can learn something from this person..." and they'd be there trying to work themselves into a chink in my armor and find a way to start sucking my time, money, or energy out.
They just worked differently than I did... thought differently... saw the world differently.
And until I understood it, and built up some reference points around it, I knew I was always going to fear it, and be vulnerable to it - perhaps at times in the future when would be least convenient for me, too.
Rules: The Moats and Fortifications Around Your Castle Walls
Having rules that you strongly believe in, and ferociously adhere to, protects you from those who would use emotions to sway and control you.
Everyone around you is using emotions to sway and control you:
- Your family
- Your friends
- Your girlfriend
- Your teachers
- Your bosses
- Your priest
- Your colleagues
- Some girl you meet at a bar
- The girl who's friend zoned you
- The girl who's chasing after you
Heck, every article you read on the Internet - including this one, and every other one from me - is designed consciously or subconsciously to push at least a few of your emotional buttons.
This is because emotions are a shortcut to another person's decision making.
The decisions you make are truly made unconsciously. One of the more Twilight Zone-like findings of modern neuroscience has been that your conscious mind does not become aware of a decision you've made until as much as 7 seconds after the decision is actually made:
What you think of as "you" (your consciousness) is, in fact, little more than observer and interpreter of what the REAL "you" (all those other cells in your brain) is doing.
And conscious you doesn't have a very good grasp on how the REAL decision maker in your head (subconscious you) is making its decisions.
The fact is, subconscious you is very influenced by emotional arguments - especially ones it doesn't have good refutations for, or solid evidence or emotional arguments against.
Subconscious you is also easily preyed upon by those who know how to hack emotions, wear down resistance, and create doubt and uncertainty.
Of course, if you're in a clearly-bad-for-you situation, you can always just leave (and probably will, or probably will not put yourself into that situation in the first place).
However... if you're a little bit ambivalent about it... if you're a little bit unsure... that opens up the door for someone with more solid frame control to come in and use that little bit of uncertainty as a wedge to get in and direct your decision making in a specific direction.
And because when that happens you effectively end up relinquishing control of your decision making to another individual, if you're not being extremely careful about whom you relinquish control of your mind and decisions to, and you don't have hard rules in place to override your emotions and protect you from letting the wrong person hijack your brain, you can quickly end up with a pillaging horde walking right in through the front gates of the castle that is your mind and life, and walking back out again with well nigh anything it wants.
Realizing that you need rules to keep you from being taking advantage of by the completely unscrupulous is one thing; recognizing what those rules are, and, then, believing in them enough that you adhere to them no matter what, are something else.
Sometimes people who are looking to take advantage of you are awkward strangers you get a bad vibe from, and you know to stay away... sure. That happens. Just listen to your gut here.
But more often, they're people who come across as very charismatic... charming... worldly. They take an authority-figure like "don't worry, I'll look out for you" vibe, or, alternately, a "oh woe is me, life is so hard, won't somebody please just save me?" vibe - either of which can lower your defenses (depending on your emotional disposition), and get you thinking of this person as either a protector, or someone in need of protecting.
Then, look out - you've just trusted the care of your life and your resources to someone who wants to take and has about as much concern for your future well-being as he does his worst enemy's, or you've taken on a new "project" to help and save, who is, in fact, a bottomless pit of temporal, financial, and emotional neediness.
And then you, my noble friend, are thoroughly hoodwinked.
It's Not Easy Sticking to Rules
The major problem with hard rules is that if you haven't been burned repeatedly before, it's hard to really adopt rules like this. Knowing what rules to follow is useful; but putting your foot down hard and refusing to budge from them takes a certain amount of past pain to motivate you.
Otherwise, you're likely to experience the doubts that those who want you to do as they say are likely to inspire you in you; you'll say "Well, I know usually you're supposed to follow this rule, but this guy is my friend" or, "Yeah, but she's my girlfriend; SHE certainly wouldn't..."
The problem with this is that, as Drexel pointed out in his article on cluster B disordered women, the kind of people who will do this to you do NOT think like you do. They're not following the same value system.
And that's largely because of a lack of empathy.
So, while you may be thinking, "Okay, well, if *I* did this, I'd feel a moral obligation to make sure X; therefore, I think it's safe taking Y risk that my friend is pushing me to take, because he'll make sure if he puts me in a bad situation that he helps to pull me out."
Someone who's low empathy, though, if you end up in a bad situation, it doesn't matter how you end up there - if you aren't useful to her, even if she's responsible for you ending up in stuck in the quicksand, she's just going to leave you there, disgusted at your weakness and uselessness, or totally having forgotten about your plight and happily having moved off in hot pursuit of her next emotional, sexual, or financial payday.
Crazy people don't care if you're in a bad place because they put you there. The fact that you're in a bad place and need a lot of help is just off-putting, or makes you boring... now it's time for them to move on and find someone more useful and interesting to take your place.
However, should you get yourself sorted, they'll be more than happy
to come back and act as if nothing's ever happened and you were always
#1 to them.
People who will take advantage of the empathy you have and they lack are not playing by the same rules as you are... even if they will try very hard to appeal specifically to your empathy harder than anyone else, using arguments that work with you that'd never work with them in a million years because you and they are on a one-way street.
Here's how you know if you should abandon rules or not:
If it feels like something is wrong - it is
If a friend is pushing you into something you would not push someone else into
If there is clear gain to the other person from you complying, even if he/she repeatedly shifts the spotlight away from this and/or adopts moral indignation if you bring it up ("How could you THINK such a thing?")
If you are being constantly reminded of good deeds and how good this person is for your life (if you have to say it, it isn't true; if she's working hard to remind you that she's a good thing for you, she probably thinks/knows she's the opposite)
If he is so intent on winning no matter what that at no point does he ever back off completely... he must get a win, no matter how small
If you see any of these signs, break out the rules, no matter how close to a person you feel or how awesome he or she seems.
It's very different between, say, a friend inviting you to go skydiving, which scares the heck out of you but you know is good for you and you know the friend has no ulterior motive, and a friend telling you to invest a lot of money that you don't have with him because he's a brilliant businessman (Look! Here's all the evidence!) and you'll be a fool if you miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - and he won't listen to your objections or give you any kind of reprieve.
The Hard Rules
Here are the rules I've learned to follow, religiously, with ALL people, no matter how wonderful they are or how close we are:
Never make a remotely important decision tired. When you're tired, run down, exhausted, or burned out, and someone's pushing hard for you to make a decision, refuse and leave. "Sorry, I don't make decisions when I'm tired," you can say. Then refuse ALL efforts to get you to decide on ANYTHING.
People who are skilled at finding the chinks in your armor will look for the smallest hole - they'll just try to get you to agree to the tiniest thing they can ("Okay - well, just agree that you're going to think about this hard tonight and have an answer for me tomorrow, okay?"), and use that as leverage to open the discussion back up into driving toward getting what they want ASAP. Give them no satisfaction, no closure, and no agreement - you make NO decisions when tired... none. No exceptions. Sorry. Come back tomorrow and if I'm rested we can talk.
Never agree to last-minute changes without taking things back to square one. One of the most insidious negotiation tactics I've encountered is people like this waiting until a deal has just been made, the contract's being written up, and everyone's in signing mode, and then they ask to slide in one last term - often something highly favorable to them, and highly not to everybody else. The instant anyone does this, throw everything out and go right back to square one. Start all over again.
The individual in question is counting on you being tired of haggling and ready to get it over with to just fold and accept this new term. Instead, you must throw out the existing agreement and go right back to negotiation, from the top, as if no agreement had been reached at all. Or, better yet, recognize that someone doing this is far more interested in putting together a win-lose agreement than a win-win one, and just call the whole thing off.
Use time limits. Whether picking up a girl for that night, going on a date, or negotiating an agreement, anything where you are trying to achieve a certain outcome with people who may or may not be interested in achieving the same outcome, I recommend you use time limits to prevent yourself getting dragged into a war of attrition, which is usually favorable territory for practiced manipulators. Someone who's good at bending others to his will is very careful about always staying on the offensive, which is mentally taxing to the opponent, but has few cognitive costs to him.
It works exactly the same way with girls who are "not sure" about you much of the time, too - some women who really want you as just friends or biding your time in the boyfriend prospect bin while they date around with more sexually appealing options will deliberately slow things down and seed confusion and doubt to trip up your progress toward a sexual relationship and put you into the defensive position of trying to make sure they "like" you (rather than trying to make tangible forward progress with them).
Instead, get in the habit of having time limits in mind for all important things you do, e.g.:
Move a girl within 5 to 10 minutes of talking to her
If you're going for phone numbers, grab these fast, then move on
Kiss her within 10 minutes of getting her home alone with you
In a contract negotiation, have a one-hour time limit, let the other party know it, and at one hour EXACTLY, pick up and leave, no matter how "close" you seem to be - you can resume it the next day and take another crack at it (or not, if you don't really care)
... essentially, anything where there's any risk of bad things
befalling you by letting your time be wasted and dragged out, use time
limits, and be non-negotiable on them. People who benefit from delaying
and foot-dragging and slowing you down are not people with the same end
goal in mind as you - and they're not the ones you want to be spending
your time on. Give them a time limit to get with the program, and
bounce if they won't.
Toss emotions and focus
solely on results. Your emotions will lead you down the
garden path much of the time, by telling you it feels like something is
"close" or "good", and therefore it must be this. That's how you end up
in situations where you're caught up on some girl you can't stop thinking about for
far too long, despite the lack of tangible progress, and how you end up
with people who are value suckers around you who keep trying to tell
you what great additions they are to your life, despite the lack of
You need to have an idea about
what "tangible progress" and "tangible gains" look like FIRST, of
course. If your idea about women's sexuality is one of "girls
will only have sex after extended, 6-month-long courtship periods, and
only with men they think are great guys who they trust completely and
know would never hurt them", it's understandable why you'd be willing
to stay on the hook not getting anything for a long chunk of time.
You must be focused on results, but if you have a poor mental model about how something really works, what it takes to get results, and what those results will look like when you have them, you'll need to spend some time studying the thing first to learn this, before you're able to know what results to expect, and demand them.
Don't suffer projection.
One of the most confusing and bizarre things people like this will do
is project themselves onto you. Because they lack any real empathy,
they figure that their disadvantages are others' disadvantages, too:
they expect that even when you protest you're telling the truth, you
must have some ulterior motive, and that it must be every bit as
difficult for you to get inside of their and others' heads as it is for
them - that the world must be as confusing and nonsensical a place for
you as it is for them.
A major reason why empathetic people get caught in bizarro land
with unempathetic people is that they try very hard to see the world
through the unempathetic person's eyes, and the world seen through the
eyes of an unempathetic person is a very crazy, upside-down,
impossible-to-understand place full of cruel, heartless people whose
plans cannot be fully understood, but rather only reverse-engineered as
best possible, yet who no doubt mean to use the unempathetic person, and
thus must be used themselves before their evil plans can be hatched. An
unempathetic person basically views himself in a constant race to use
others before they use him - a sad result of projecting his own
manipulative tendencies onto others that becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy as he turns friends into enemies again and again.
The moment someone begins accusing you of things you know are
not true, get very suspicious
- it's very often projection.
And projection is always a very bad sign. Call it out when you see it - then get away from the person who's guilty of it.
Help and "save" people by
giving them things to do - not by doing them yourself.
When you're high in empathy, it's easy to fall into the trap of trying
to be the savior, and lift heavy boulders and move mountains for those
poor suffering souls around you. The needy and the unscrupulous will
use this tendency of yours to enslave you to them, constantly
suffering, and constantly in need of your work to make their lives
better. You will never be free of them, and they will never be "saved."
There's a line at the start of the movie The Incredibles about this; Mr.
Incredible is opining on the fact that every time he saves the world,
it falls into danger again - sometimes, he says, he'd like it to "just stay saved." Yet, we know this
isn't true - he needs to be a hero every bit as much as the world needs
to be saved.
If you want to be a hero, that's noble; but the only sensible way to do it is to give people things to do, and tell them to go do it. You cannot FORCE someone to lead a better life. You cannot live her life for her. You can only give her tools, and help her come up with goals, and after that, it's got to be on her. If you use this way of helping people, you can help as many people as need your help, without burning yourself out, because you're just providing the insight, and they are doing the work. If you try to do all the backbreaking work yourself though, the only thing you'll do is break your back. She will continue to need saving, even after you've give it everything you've got.
When all else fails, replace - don't chase. We talked about this rule quite extensively here: "I Don’t Chase 'Em, I Replace 'Em."
So - when should you make exceptions to your hard rules?
Never. Under no circumstances. For no one.
Why? Aren't there exceptions to all rules? Certain people to let across the bridge and over the moat?
Okay, first, understand this: no rule is perfect. And if you've reached a point where you don't need a rule, you can throw any one specific rule out.
For example, in Cody's article "How to Take Girls Home with You", he discusses a very slow seduction process whilst alone at home with the girl - something several other of my friends employ as well. Cody most definitely does NOT follow any time limits that say he must kiss a girl within 10 minutes of bringing her home - because he doesn't need them.
I'd wager he probably still has some subconscious time limits, like, "Start playing with her in bed within 30 seconds of climbing in with her," or something like that. Whatever his rules are, they're adjusted for what he needs.
However, when you have rules - until you throw a given rule out altogether (in order to adopt another approach you've decided might be more effective), you cannot violate them.
Why not? Because the people who push, ask, compel, and inspire you to violate these rules are almost always the very people you have these rules in place to protect you from.
That's right - the same people you're using these rules to guard against are the ones who make you feel like you don't need to use these rules with them.
Therefore, no exceptions. Even if you want to because you feel bad
for the person, or because he or she is such a great [whatever]. Find
another solution that doesn't involve you violating one of your rules
You can throw a rule out if it no longer works, or if you want to try something different.
But make sure that's a logical choice made freely and independently, and not one made under the pushing and prompting of someone who wants to make you think your rules are silly... and anyway, hey, come on, we're great together! We don't need those rules!
There's a reason you need them if you're an empathetic person - and it's to protect yourself against the people who want to break down your defenses and rob you of whatever value of yours they see and covet.
How Much Protection Do Good Rules Offer?
The right rules, religiously adhered to, can offer you a lot of protection from people looking to use you as their personal handkerchiefs, ATMs, or gofers. The better your rules are and the more strictly you follow them, the more you'll find you're able to be around these people without being sucked into the black hole.
That said, do not underestimate people who are looking for the chinks in your armor. If someone is determined enough, unless you are exceptionally experienced with everything she's doing and are constantly five steps ahead, sooner or later she's going to find something you haven't seen before and use it as her "in".
And once she's in, she can start whittling away at you... a little
bit at a time... a little bit at a time... until there's not a whole
Get good rules in place, and follow them unerringly.
Even still, when you find yourself around people you can tell use others around them without a shred of remorse, start creating some distance - because no matter how good you are, the closer you are to them, the more you are always in their sights as a big, juicy target - just as soon as they can find a way to get to you.
A final caveat, before I send you away from this article all paranoid and
Most people are not like this.
Most are good, ordinary, normal, empathetic people, who feel bad
about hurting other people and will not do so.
Your hard rules are simply there to protect you from the people who are like this. They're few and far between, but they've got a sting that hurts.
Make sure you carry around some antivenin.
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