When I blog about human eccentricities, I generally try and cobble together a body of anecdotal evidence, pertaining to other people aside from myself. It’s hardly science, but it does mean I can form a broader perspective. The pattern I want to comment on in today’s post isn’t one I’ve knowingly seen happening for anyone else, so if you recognise it, feedback would be especially welcome as there’s a lot I’m still figuring out. This is a pattern I’ve experienced repeatedly when dealing with an array of people over a period of years.
The essence of it goes like this. A person will accuse me, publically, privately or to others, of being something terrible. This is the ‘demon’ role. That I’m bullying has come up repeatedly for me, and is something I’ve done no small amount of soul searching over. I am, I have been told, demanding, unreasonable, unfair, a liar, a manipulator, a user. The same person will then expect me to behave like an angel – to be kind to them, patient, generous – perhaps do some free work for them, or keep doing the same things despite them having a go at me. I must not inconvenience anyone by expressing distress or resentment over the accusations. I must take it on the chin and be an angel.
Alongside this, where I’ve called people out for behaviour I have a problem with (often but not always the same people) my expectation is that they won’t be grateful for the feedback. One of the things I learned in a support group for domestic abuse survivors, is that abusers are abusive, and thinking they are going to change just gets you more hurt. Faced with someone I think is a liar, manipulator and so forth, I move away, because I expect them to repeat the behaviour. I’ve no experience of telling someone I think they are dreadful, and then being able to use that as leverage to change their behaviour to better suit me. Only someone whose inclination is to be kind and co-operative can be manipulated into giving more of themselves by being told they are awful. People who enjoy causing distress won’t be moved to change tack. It raises the possibility that people who cast other people in an angel-devil role are doing so for manipulative reasons.
I have my share of normal fallouts with people I care for, and I’ve worked many of those through over plenty of years. There are normal patterns to discord – often deriving from innocent misunderstandings. No one is being terrible, it’s just a case of figuring out what went awry, and fixing it. This is my default starting place, and I tend to find that when trading explanations with people who like me, all manner of things can be resolved.
Of course if you start from an inclination to blame, solving things is hard. It may be that those who want to cast me as both demon and angel simply want me to take total responsibility for what’s going on. I am the demon so it’s all my fault, I must fix everything and be the angel. In matters of honest human cock-up, even if the balance of responsibility lies with one party, the other party can do a lot to help by explaining clearly and listening, and engaging actively but without too much blame, in the process of figuring out what went wrong.
There’s a vast giving away of personal power once you start casting people in angel-devil roles. The person who is both devil and angel is the only person in a scenario who can fix things – I wouldn’t much fancy being the person who thinks they have an angel-devil to deal with. The person who steps up to work on resolution has far more power than simple blame can ever give them. However, if all you know how to do is give away power by making others responsible, it would (I speculate) be easy to then hate and further blame the person you’ve decided has all the power in a situation.
I must note this is not the same as a situation of genuine power imbalance – teacher/student, boss/worker, matters of financial control, or controlling behaviour. I have certainly seen people who had definite power in a situation treat the person they have power over, as the one in control, and that creates some very strange dynamics.
I have no great insights at this stage. What I do know if that a person thinks I can be both a devil and an angel, they don’t know me. They aren’t dealing with me as the human (flawed and striving) that I am. They are dealing with something they have imagined and wish to impose on me, and with the best will in the world, there’s not a lot I can do with that.