Emotional Sharks: How to Avoid becoming a Prey

People who prey on other people, to abuse them for personal benefits and gratification, can be labeled as “emotional sharks.” But in reality, they are worse than sharks.  Animals are without much choice over their actions. They have an instinct to eat and survive.  However, Emotional Sharks CHOOSE to manipulate, hurt, and do whatever it takes to “win” at the expense of others.  

Luckily, there are things that you can do to reduce the chances of becoming a victim.  I say “reduce the chances” because whatever you do, there is no guarantee that you will not fall for one.  However, one can and should try to protect self from these dangerous predators that live among us and unfortunately their numbers are on the rise.

One way to protect self is to be more emotionally independent.  It is normal to want support from others.  Who does not? But like everything else in life, there are extremes in depending on people emotionally.  One should try to be more self reliant.  Meaning, try to generate your own happiness and confidence.  This is doable with ample practice.  

So what are the things that can help you bring happiness from within, without relying too much on people? Prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, exercise, healthy lifestyle, discipline, and healthy routines (like cleaning chores, cooking, etc.)  Even breathing right can help you produce your own positive reinforcement.  These techniques are hidden treasures.  Many shrug them off saying they do not work.  But actually they need practice and patience for them to work.  Do not assume that your first practice will be a mind blowing experience.  These things take time.  


Regardless of the level of emotional independence one has, it is bound to happen: You will encounter the “Emotional Sharks.”  It can be at work, at home, or among friends and relatives.  What to do then? Of course you have to defend yourself.  Now, if you are confident in your abilities to fend off the attack, then you can stand your ground, and push the shark away.  However beware!  Few have the expertise and the abilities to do so.  It also depends on the type of the predator and on your emotional state.  Some sharks are masters in their game of manipulation.  They catch you in your low emotional state.  As if they smell it.  You are lucky if you can spot the manipulation.  Sharks are very subtle, and hide behind circumstances, so they are seldom caught.  They attack you but without you knowing where the attack came from.  They might even look innocent and helpful, when they are attacking you ferociously.

To spot the manipulation one has to be “in tune” with emotions and feelings.  Observe how others make you feel.  Some people make you feel uncomfortable.  You do not know why.  They are kind and nice, but you do not feel comfortable after sitting with them.  You have to do a check on your emotions and see why this is happening.  I am not saying dismiss people right off hand just because you were not feeling comfortable during a single conversation.  Sometimes what is causing the feeling is shyness on your or the the other person’s part.  Maybe you or them are preoccupied with something else.  Sometimes, the person brings up a painful experience you have had because of her demeanor or looks.  The mind works in strange ways.  So, be in tune with your emotions, and accept them, rather than try to suppress them.  However, If someone, CONSISTENTLY, makes you feel inferior, not worthy, or make you feel less confident of yourself, this MIGHT BE a sign that you are dealing with an Emotional Shark.  

Another word of caution, sharks look calm and non threatening all the way until they make their attack.  So, be careful of people who seem so kind and considerate, until they are provoked.  Then they attack you with personal insults and hurtful comments and behavior.  After the attack they usually come back and apologize.  Again, you need to be aware of consistent behavior.  Some have a rule like the “three strikes you’re out”; they would not  let hurtful action from someone hit them more than three times, then they start building their defenses not to be hurt from that person or action again.  Some major attacks need to happen only once for you to decide to retaliate, or to stay away.  You have to decide what works for you and nothing can replace human judgment in these cases.  The important thing is not to doubt yourself and observe your emotions.

Sometimes you have to live among sharks.  Meaning you cannot get away from them, or fend them off, because of a binding relationship or obligation.  Of course everything has a limit and nothing is black and white.  So, even the strongest of relationships must be broken when hurtful action becomes abuse that seriously affects your health.  However, in some situations, you feel you have to stay in the same area with the shark.  Especially if they are a relative, or a colleague at work, and you are able to manage the relationship without being permanently or seriously scarred.  Then you have to cope.  I have a few tips on how to deal with these predators in a couple of YouTube videos.  The first is on how to deal with difficult people (Click Here to Access Video 1).  The other is on how to deal with cunning deceitful manipulators, who have gone beyond difficult into becoming dangerous predators or sharks (Click Here to Access Video 2).

Finally, an important point to think about: just because there are predators out there should not prevent one from mingling with people and have trust in them.  To the contrary.  Most people are not predators.  Most of them are trying to get by, and do their best. So, secluding self from others is not a solution.  It actually might make one more of a target;  Usually emotional predators prey on lonely people.  Just like a shark, they target the secluded prey, as it is easy to hunt down, without it ever getting help from anyone. So,getting involved with people and surrounding self with friends is a better approach to prevent being preyed upon.  Remember friends do not have to be perfect.  But at least they have your best interest on their radar, and are willing to extend a helping hand when you need it.  More importantly they might alert you if and when you become victimized by an emotional predator, and become your supporters during such ordeals.


Are you being Gaslighted?

Most have experienced it at different levels of severity, but most are not aware that it is a sickness and a type of mental abuse.  Gaslighting is a new term to me, even though the behavior is all too familiar to most of us; Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse, where someone intentionally, maliciously, and continuously  tries to make you doubt your own judgment, using lies and deceipt.  In a way, they are trying to convince you of a lie about yourself.

Another name for gaslighting is Ambient Abuse.  Let us use a simple example: if you have a good taste in clothes, and your abuser knows it for a fact.  If he says something like “Sami the other day was joking about your outfit.  He felt it did not match and out of style.  I told him, regardless, you have the right to dress any way you want.  But seriously, what makes you pick such styles?”  This statement is ambient abuse IF the person saying it is maliciously and intentionally doing this to put you down, AND he knows that there is nothing wrong with your style in clothes.   So, if someone is making statements, or doing things for the sole purpose of discrediting you, to gain real or mental advantage over you: This is gaslighting.

Who are the culprits? Some do it when they feel insecure around someone.  However, gaslighting is usually a recurring trend aimed at specific person or persons. The most professional in doing it are the most sick among us: psychopaths and covert aggressors. They do it to confuse the victims, and break their self confidence, so they get away with their abuse.

Gaslighting has been coming under the light in recent years in cases of domestic abuse.  However, it can and does occur everywhere. Unfortunately, many in the society are living with these abusers and not even aware of it.  It is sad.  Many victims live with their abusers for decades before they understand that they have been living with a sick person.  Most victims think that they are the problem, and never doubt the perpetrators.  Victims might suffer from gaslighting whether they are wives, spouses, children, friends, family members, colleagues at the workplace, subordinates, or neighbors.  I worry a lot about children whose parents or close family members are mentally abusing them, under the radar, and getting away with it.

I am not an expert on the subject, even though I am interested in it.  A good video I have seen on the subject is by Sam Vankin, who also wrote a book about the subject, titled “Malignant Self Love.” Here is  a link to the video and I advise seeing it and showing it to others you care about.  This is because this phenomenon seems to be on the rise, and many are not aware of it.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is often disguised under more benign names, like “I am just teasing you,” or “relax, we are just joking around,” but there is a big difference between joking around and abusing someone mentally.  Abuse is no joke.  Also, predators will try to accuse you of the problem by telling you that “you should not be so sensitive,” or “you are making a big deal out of nothing,” all of that to subdue you into more abuse.

Mental abuse is not a strength, but a sign of weakness and insecurity, disguised by inflicting pain on others, to feel superior. This behavior is of a psychopath.  Some argue that psychopaths are not even human, literally, not as a figure of speech.

Some do this for fun, and believe it is a joke to inflict harm on others.  This is a sickness.  A disease.  It is not a joke.  Those with this sickness cannot be cured, for the most part.  Some do this because they were taught by others to do it, not because they themselves have the disease.  Some are sick where they cannot stop.  The only way to tell is to try to stop.  Psychopaths cannot stop.  They either ridicule the whole concept of ambient abuse as a silly notion, or they believe they gain power by doing so, and want to keep that power.

Finally, please do not become paranoid, or use the words mental abuse lightly.  Some tell you things that you do not like as a matter of honest opinion.  Just because someone tells you that you are too sensitive, or that he did not like something you did does not make them mental abusers.  It is easy to blame people and label them when they have a point of view different than yours, so be careful.  Mental abuse happens when the intent is to put you down, and feed you lies, so they become superior or gain advantage.

Remember when…

There are times when one feels at peace.  In that moment, dealing with a difficult person becomes a “no thing” and so easy, it hardly requires any effort.  Every person must have had this feeling of peace at one point or another.  Usually it occurs when feeling grateful, or happy to see someone or achieve something.  That moment.   That feeling.  In that “zone” no person can take away from you that peace no matter what.  To the opposite, others might be touched by that peace and either choose to stay away, or become peaceful themselves. This high moment, is not to be confused with “ego induced highs” or drug induced highs.  The latter highs are short lived and can be followed by painful periods of “low.”  Ego induced highs are short lived and come from the ego telling one how superior they are, how great, how invincible, compared to others, and comes from win – lose scenarios.  There is a big difference.  The feeling I am talking about is more of gratefulness, love, and comfort in being who you are, including your vulnerability and all that is in the essence of you.  At that moment, everything around you, you accept, as is, and even love and be grateful for it.

When you are in that moment that is so hard to describe, no difficult person can shake you out of it: the manipulators, the liars, the hypocrites, the abusers, no one.  Whoever felt this moment, and most do at one point or another, will know.  Albeit, some will experience it more often than others.

But why? Why, in those moments of peace, do we become so comfortable  with ourselves? I am not sure.  However, if we can simulate that feeling whenever we encounter a difficult person, or better yet, get ourselves in that mood beforehand in preparation, it will make these encounters much easier.  There are some people who are able to experience these moments more than others.  The important question is what do they do differently?

I have been reading a few new books on the human psyche, and it seems if you choose to, you can trick your mind into anything.  Your true self can over power and beat your mind hands down, without any struggle, but by choosing to be present and accepting.  Many experts claim that you can imagine yourself in that moment of peace to get the feelings that you would if you were in it.  For example, think of the last time you had this peaceful feeling.  bring it into memory.  Remember how you felt, how you must have looked, and then be.  Tell yourself, “if I was in that moment, how would I react to this conversation or situation?”  then act accordingly.  Then, you ARE in that moment.  This is not hard, but what is hard is making that choice to accept those feelings and be in that moment.  Even though, ironically, one IS already there.  Such an irony.  It is so funny, yet so sad.  Sometimes our ego fights so hard to keep us in pain, as if that proves its worth and the need for our mind to think more.

My words are those of a novice, like a child who just found out that there is more to the world than his crib.  Even though his parents have always told him this, but still is at awe of the experience.

Has Narcissism become an epidemic?

It is all about the “i”; the “me.”  Nothing else matters.  Wherever one turns, this behavior is becoming more and more prevalent.  This is at the individual level, organizational level, and even national and international levels.  Where is this narcissism taking us?

Here is how narcissism goes.  It starts with what I want.  Then I justify these wants, because I want them.  Not because they are right, not because they are good, but because I want them.  After wanting them, I have to find a way to justify this want by having an excuse for it.  Since I want it then it has to be right.  Right?  So, if I step on others, hurt them, it does not matter.  It is about what I need and want and let everybody else suffer; family, children, friends, neighbors, and everyone else in the world.  Actually the more people I can suppress and surpass to get what I want only shows how powerful I am.  And that feeds the “me” in me even more.  It is all about me after all.

The dangerous thing is that the ones plagued with this narcissistic mentality are the ones most driven to get what they want, and because they will use anything and everything to get what they want, they usually get it.  So, the world ends up with managers, leaders, parents, teachers, that are narcissists.  And we are seeing the results everywhere.

When countries live lavishly at the expense of nations in dire poverty.  This is narcissism.  When top executives get bonuses when fired from their corporate executive positions, and get bonuses and golden parachutes, when their employees are being laid off in masses, this is narcissism.  When personal image, wealth, convenience, power, of leaders becomes more important than the people who voted for them, this is narcissism.

I am an optimist.  I believe fairness, love, selflessness, kindness, and everything we love in humanity will prevail.  Have you noticed that some look at these virtues as too “theoretical?”  As if they are definitions that belong in a textbook, not a way of life?

There are people out there.  Making a difference.  Contributing positively.  But one cannot help but be saddened by the level of narcissism that is out there in the world.

I am still optimistic and hopeful.  But even hope, for some, has become a textbook definition.

Can I take your word for it?

Some take their word more seriously than others.  Some think this is about telling the truth or lying.  But it is much more than that.  

Some are careful with the promises they make.  Others can easily go back on promises just on convenience basis.

Some are concise.  If he says it is true, then it better be true.  Others will shrug and say: “sorry, I thought it was otherwise.”

Some will only say something that will contribute positively to the situation.  Others say things for fulfilling the ego.  To feel superior; better, stronger, faster.  It is always a comparison, and a race: About money, fame, possessions.

Some are careful about what the effect of their words have on others.  Others will say the first thing that comes to their mind.

Some pick the words carefully, so they do not take them back, or regret saying them.  Others will let anger and fear take control of their words.

No one is on one side all the time.  We are humans and we are affected by our surroundings.  However, there are norms and averages.  On average, where is your word?   Are you on the “some” side or the “others” side? On average, can I take your word for it?

When Societies Lie Collectively

When societies engage in lying,  usually the lies are more dangerous than when individuals lie.

“Collective lying,” (not a formal term, but used for lack of a better term) is a problem common in many social structures:  families, organizations, departments, communities, countries, etc are all forms of social structures.  When societies lie, each individual in the society feeds on the lie and are more inclined to believe it.

This is common in many organizations: “We are doing a great job!” says the whole organization in unison, from the top manager to the new junior employee.  One might ask how they came to that judgment, the rhetoric starts pouring in.  When asked for evidence of the claims of grandeur, more false statements are given as evidence.  How can anyone face an organization (or any social structure) with the bitter truth when they are unable to face themselves with it? Every type of social structures has its own lies; societies, communities, even families.  Some  social structures are deep into lies.  Some lies are used as an excuse for complacency.  Other lies are used for convenience, material gains, and sometimes honor.

It is puzzling not being able to find much research or information on this subject.  Especially that humanity has suffered a lot because of mainly collective lies, and societies choosing the easy route of believing them, protecting them, and even dying for them.  History is filled with examples of attempts to cover the truth.  Ironically, many of the collective lies throughout history where also made in the name of religion. It is ironic because the most profound examples of leaders, who went against the whole world in refusing to run after lies, are prophets: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed (peace be upon them).   All of them questioned social norms and lies of idolatry, discrimination, unfairness, and greed.  The Quran mocks those who blindly follow their elders and leaders: [But when Moses came to them with Our signs as clear evidences, they said, ‘This is not except invented magic, and we have not heard of this [religion] among our forefathers.’] Qassas:36.

So, how can one be immune from these social lies? There is no immunity.  The only solution is to honestly seek the truth, without prejudice or fear of being wrong.  So, one should dare to listen to all sides of the story, even from those termed as “evil” or “bad.” Just because the majority casts an “evil” label on someone does not make it true.  Another good place to start is to avoid the naive assumption that “since ‘I’ am on this side of an issue then it must be the ‘right’ side.”

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” ― Bertrand Russell

When feeling drained at work…

Most are tired and feel drained after a day at work.  But what is it that makes most tired? is it the work itself? or the stress? Some talk about the negative energy they get from getting exposed to negativity of managers, employees, customers, etc.  Others talk about the effect of the “negative work environment” as the culprit.   A Gallup Poll study from 2012 shows that roughly one in 3 employees are dissatisfied with the level of stress they face at work.  A trend analysis form the last three years shows that level of dissatisfaction going up.

When it comes to stress, it might be a good idea to look into the factors that drain someone from energy at work.  This might be done by observing closely personal mood, emotions, thoughts, and physical signs as the work day progresses.  A friend of mine told me that he tried to do just that, and he was amazed by the results: “It is almost never the level of physical work that makes me most tired.  It is my negative emotions.”  He even tried to track his negative emotions to see where they originated and to him they were in reaction to something happening at work.  Many with office work might experience the same situation.  Ironically, those who work clerical jobs have higher levels of stress than blue-collar workers.  This is according to a 2002 Gallup poll titled “Job Stress, A Price of Success.”  Experience proves this.  My inquisitive friend says that “there are days when I stay at the office a bit later than usual and come in a bit earlier than usual.  It is not so bad.  However, sometimes an hour of “negative” interaction requires hours of rest afterwards because of how tired it makes me feel.”

Negative energy is acknowledged in science as in religion as a major cause for fatigue and stress.  Some call it energy, others call it atmosphere, whatever it is called, it is not good at all.

When feeling tired at work, it might be a good idea to observe the cause of this feeling by observing one’s level of energy throughout the day.  Then find out what drains one most.  this might require constant checking, maybe every hour, to see how one is feeling.  It also requires checking how one is feeling performing different activities throughout the day: working on computer, in meetings, on phone calls, in discussions, negotiations, etc.

Stress is a personal experience and different people are stressed by different things at work.  However, the following four factors might play a role in draining one’s energy at work:

1) Trying to convince someone of something while he is resisting or refusing to listen.

2) Listening to constant negative criticism (like someone trying to put another down, or implying it).

3) Getting frequently exposed to people who lost faith in humanity: These are the people who put lots of effort into trying to convince you that people are wicked, lazy, and selfish.

4) Constantly being around pessimistic (not skeptical) people who do not appreciate what they already have and insist on nagging about what they do not have.

An important point to remember here is that turning these situations into stress is a personal choice.  So, no one can blame another for being stressed, even if it is the action of others that triggered the stress.  It is healthy to remember to take responsibility for how one feels and not lay blame on others.    However, one owes it to self to know what makes a person “tick.”  I talked to someone who did lots of study and research on the subject over the years and she warns from three personal emotions that lead to the negative energy:

1. Feeling responsible for how the other party thinks or feels.

2. Trying to influence others into thinking the way I am thinking

3. Trying to protect myself from the negative feelings / statements

Luckily, to combat these feelings there are techniques to experiment with.  They are not an exact science so they might work for some and not for others, and they might work occasionally or all the time, it depends on the person and the situation.  Here are four simple techniques to consider:

1. Relax and allow people to think differently and be negative if they choose to

2. Use “you could be right” statement more often

3. Silence and listening

4. Let things be without having to make a statement or change anything

No matter how skilled one is in preventing negative energy from getting to self, it is bound to happen.  When it does, some experts advise taking a break from work for a few moments and doing one of the following:

1. Breathe slowly and drive the breath down to your belly, not the torso.

2. Take a short walk outside

3. Do some stretching

Again, sometimes that might be enough other times it is not, and that is the way it is.