From 2016 onwards, I have become increasingly aware of people feigning subservience, humility, woundedness, and adoration for less-than-aligned purposes. These performances are designed to elicit sympathy and gain more intimate access to someone they see as resourceful, authoritative, or influential. This makes them an easier target to manipulate or hook.
Before I (and many others) became aware of covert and communal narcissism and the dangerous intersection between them, this kind of behavior was utterly baffling. There were no real conceptual frameworks to make sense of it all.
I’m not perfect at spotting someone using these covert tactics to elicit sympathy and access – but I have gotten better at spotting it and detaching myself from it. There is nothing you can do about the people who operate in that way except not to feed into the dynamic.
Unearthing this dynamic and learning to spot it has also meant a complete overhaul of my life. I’ve had to redefine who I am, what I do, who my real family is, what are my goals, dreams, visions, and beliefs.
Caroline Myss’ ground-breaking concept of woundology also helped me see understand how woundedness can become addictive and weaponized to reproduce itself.
Those terms are not hers but mine as I see a powerful intersection between interpersonal, national, temporal politics, and spirituality. You can read more about the original concept in Myss’ book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.
While there are so many out there who are genuinely suffering, a small percentage uses their suffering to hurt others and stay wounded themselves. Within that sub-set, some people are manipulated to re-create the wound by external influences beyond their control.
Telling these different expressions of woundedness apart and understanding their causes has become one of the defining pillars in my own practice. And to help people who are ready to understand what is going on in ways that empower them. It is why so many people come and keep coming back.
It is painful to even consider this for someone who is naturally empathetic. Yet, it is an absolutely necessary skill in these times.
From a spiritual perspective, I try not to judge people who do this as that doesn’t help. I try to understand what energies move through them as they engage in such behaviors if it is right for me to engage.
Sometimes it’s not in their control. People who hook others in this way are not always manipulating every step consciously. Sometimes they are influenced by external factors that prey upon a sense of self under-developed through a lack of self-love.
Sometimes it’s fueled by a biochemical imbalance or a history of mental health issues. Sometimes they’re just crude, petty people. Sometimes it’s astrological, sometimes it’s energetic, sometimes it’s ancestral. There are all kinds of reasons behind such behavior.
One thing I have realized as a facilitator is that working with these cases will never give you a rosy, happy ending. You’re always going to be drawn into some strange game of projection and attempted hookery.
My approach is to do what I can and leave it at that. And move on.
It reminds me of scenes in movies like ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘ The Rite.’ The priest advises his associate not to listen to anything the possessed client says during the ritual. It’s not even real and is just a means to thwart his focus by getting him to take things personally.
It’s taken me years to wrap my head around his, but it’s been extraordinarily useful. And no, it’s not always that dramatic – sometimes it’s just a person’s ego trying desperately to deny or delegitimize information that will make it feel vulnerable.
Of course, there is always room to improve oneself but know that not every message you encounter is in your best interest when dealing with situations like these.
I have also encountered this intensely focused, alternating pedestalization-devaluation behavior amongst former fans.
They micro-analyzed everything I did or said and in ways that honestly felt quite scary and invasive. And they were just too eager to tell me all about why and how they were victims and oh how powerful and strong I was.
(Many people suffer in this world and genuinely seek to improve their lives without harming others. I’m talking about the sub-set of that group who uses their pain to harm others.)
The hidden agenda amongst these ‘ super-fans’ came out when I said something that did not fit their sense of self. Association with me was, by reflection, a point of pride and status as opposed to any real or meaningful engagement. You can imagine the level of cognitive dissonance and projection that ensued when that self-image was challenged.
(Honestly, I find Facebook as a platform encourages such behaviors – my life has been so much simpler since I left!
It is one reason why I am so vocal and uncompromising on my political stance as part of the work. Saying words like ‘ alignment ‘ and ‘ discernment ‘ mean absolutely nothing when people use them as shields to justify cruelty and toxic behavior.
I am totally cool with people who have a deep love, excitement, trust, and respect for the work done here, but panderers are a no-no for me.
I remember how unsettling it was to see these people who kept trying to follow me repeatedly and convince me that I was wrong and oh so wonderful.
Let me give you an example:
These bizarre dynamics emerged when I took a strong stance on conspiracy theorists who dehumanized Greta Thunberg. If you’re calling a teen with autism a ‘ robot ‘ with no feelings because you can’t read her emotions … just go.
I work better with people who do not target and bully teenagers trying to do good in the world. And no, I’m not going to get into an argument about how Greta and the Parkland shooting survivors were ‘ paid crisis actors ‘ or worse.
The same applies to Quaden Bayles, an indigenous Australian child born with dwarfism. He wanted to die because he was bullied. And people rose up to support him, including celebrities like Hugh Jackman. People became resentful, petty, and cruel – claiming he was an adult actor. Video footage of him as a baby on national television easily discredited that idea. But still, the family receives death threats.
Witnessing this kind of behavior in a so-called spiritual community and staying silent is something I don’t abide by. And so, I spoke—as I did when the same energies came up around Greta. And then came the hate.
People observing these reactions were just as baffled as I was. It wasn’t just about their comments on Thunberg but equally the incomprehensible tirades directed at me that alternated between extreme pedestalization and hate. Sometimes in the same paragraph.
So I tried to make sense of the dynamic … here’s some rehashed material from an article I wrote four years ago.
In it, I talk about the two poles of such behavior as expressed in the teacher-student, client-facilitator, victim-supporter dynamic, and so on.
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There are many forms of self-pedestalization, each expressed through a different kind of mask. Some hide behind tall pedestals built with feet of clay and others through the performance of submission and false humility.
Each refers to an archetype that a person chooses to locate themselves in, often to obscure their actual agenda and energy.
The classic form is that of the False Prophet / Narcissistic Teacher. The one who assumes Omniscient Knowledge (as if such a thing existed) and lords it over all else.
MY LIGHT WILL GUIDE YOU!!
There’s also a second type of performance in the domain of self-pedestalization: The mirror, or antipode to the False Teacher if you will. It is by no means a happy mirror, or a neutralizer or balancer.
It is a more passive-aggressive variant of narcissistic behavior.
I call it The False Student / The Passive Aggressively Humble or Submissive archetype. If you know a better name for it, let me know.
(Edit: I know the right words for it now!!)
The False Student / False Victim / False Fan is a projection of selfhood crafted as a means of taking energy, authority, and power from those seen as teachers or authorities or viable energy sources.
This is probably as common as the more visible teacher-on-a-pedestal, but less hard to call out – as it masks itself in its ‘humility’ or in self-professed mediocrity.
And, have we not been taught to honor the meek, the humble?
And to fear the outwardly powerful?
Probably why it’s a very successful – and hard to pinpoint model of behavior.
To some extent, it seems counter-logical to call someone who insists on their external performances of humility and openness as someone seeking to control or manipulate.
But from the energy perspective, that’s precisely what it is.
Interestingly, both False Teacher and False Student dehumanize the person they’re projecting on.
That seems to be a common feature in narcissistic dynamics, irrespective of which role is played out.
Some of the scariest teachers I have met often wear the mask of false humility well. They assert the rightness of their views because they’re oh so very humble… What they teach is wrapped up in a performance that seeks to grant them greater moral legitimacy.
I’ve seen students who deeply resent the teacher’s authority and knowledge but outwardly claim their respect and love. They seek to erase the teacher’s humanity and project their own ‘ regular ‘ life and experiences as something the teacher does not have; therefore, the teacher is false!
In a dynamic between two individuals, the False Student archetype can play out as the friend who pretends to know less than you do and/or profoundly resents your knowledge on something. The moment you’re shown to not know something yourself, that’s when the hooks come out.
Ah, but you thought you were better than us?
Ah, but you thought you knew better, didn’t you?
Welcome to our world, you privileged so-and-so. (And at the same time … )
How did you dare you to claim to be better than me/us?
You lack humility! And now you must have it! *evil laugh*
Haha, I am the real Teacher .. not YOU!!!!!!
(I have literally seen paragraphs of abuse hurled at me in exactly that tone of voice – sometimes lasting for hours … )
These pedestalized, performative expressions center themselves on a false, inverted binary.
Teachers will always come across some students who want to be them but resent them and want them to ‘come down to their level.’
Students will always come across teachers who fear being outgrown and want their students to ‘stay down and obey.’
Neither is great. Both must be observed, acknowledged, and addressed. Be cautious of falling into the trap of projection and counter-projection.
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For some reason, I felt like sharing this today. Perhaps it will help someone somewhere.
The Sky Priestess
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© Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2016 & 2020. All rights reserved.