Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not All Families Play Nice - more on Put-Downs

In my last post I looked at men having their character tested in a dating environment, and also in a work environment. In this post I thought I’d look at something that's applicable to both men and women... being tested in a family environment.

It’s not something that happens in all families, but when you have a group of people in one place, it’s not uncommon for some individuals to try and assert their dominance over others, and raise their social status. It’s a primal thing!

In these situations a psychological put-down (a sh!t test) could come from a sibling, or from a relative who has a similar position in the family as you do... or from an older relative who is used to being at the top of the food chain.

And so they test you... to see how much sh!t they can put on you... but always in a joking way of course. And if you don't stand up for yourself, then you'll slide down the family pecking order and be the brunt of more 'jokes' in the future.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if you’re getting tested by someone from your partner’s family, you may not always get the support you expect from your partner. Why not? Because your partner has most likely been subjected to years of social conditioning, especially from the older relatives.

In short, they’re been conditioned to behave in a certain way… and that’s often hard to change in the short term.

This is something that husbands or wives might experience when a mother-in-law or a father-in-law tries to assert their dominance over the new family member. So in the beginning you may be on your own in handling this kind of put-down. 

Here’s an example story. Matt is ex-Army Recon, and now works in Aviation. He is also a black belt martial artist .......

Throughout my younger years I had no idea I was being tested by girlfriends… and because I was a ‘nice’ guy I would fail dismally and have no idea why.

When I started seeing my wife I actually handled things a little better, but it was still a learning process. I was more mature by this stage and I had developed the ability to make people laugh. I had also learnt to apply the tactic of Agree & Amplify... in fact I still use it now when my wife tests me.

To give you an example of what that means…  I was late coming home one night and my wife said “Out with your other girlfriends eh?”  And I responded with, “Shit yeah, it’s no wonder I'm so freaking tired all the time!”

She is used to this kind of response from me, and she'll usually say something like “We'll as long as you know who the favourite is!” <Sh!t test - Passed!>

My mother-in-law also used to test me quite a bit - to try and assert her dominance.  Over the years she had beaten down her husband, and the poor man was now just a shadow of his former self.

Since the birth of my son my mother-in-law has challenged me even more... and my wife as well. She basically puts me in a position where I have no choice but to challenge her back, or lose face.

But ironically, because I won’t be walked over, she has gradually come to respect me, and my role as a husband and a father.  End.

Keep in mind that put-downs can come at you from male or female relatives, and at any time. And if you don't stand up for yourself, you will have adopted a submissive posture (psychologically)… and the person testing you will treat you as a low-level member of the family from then on.

So to defend yourself against this sort of test you have to :
  • expect that it’s going to happen from time to time
  • and immediately respond with a funny put-down.
 You certainly can't afford to :
  • believe that it's all just a joke (and submissively take the put-down)
  • or try to be nice about it (with the expectation that the others will be nice if you're nice).
Remember, if you want respect from family members then you have to stand up for yourself. But if you’re not naturally funny, just memorise a couple of funny put-downs, and remember to always deliver them with a smile.

Finally I thought I’d explain the Agree & Amplify tactic that Matt mentioned in his story. Basically it involves agreeing with the barbed comment, but then deflecting the hostility by amplifying the comment with either self-deprecating humour (which shows humility)… or you can turn it back around onto the person. And as soon as everyone laughs at what you’ve said, you’ve won, so walk away and go somewhere else for a while.

 It's a Primal Thing.


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