She just behaved very badly. She had fought to get her way on something, but because she wasn't able to get her way, she had an adult version of a huge temper tantrum. Unfortunately for her she had a witness to the scene...a witness not entirely under her power. She is in a jam because this person's opinion of her matters to her a great deal. Her usual tactic of having a rage just won't work in this situation. She must do something much more artful.

This situation calls for the full on wounded act. She gets her target alone with just her. Her voice quavers. She takes on the look of complete defeat. Copious tears. Sighing and crying she is angling for her target to agree with her that she has been treated unjustly. She is making a play for the heart. A calculated grab for pity. While explaining how unjust the treatment of her was she looks tiny, pathetic, broken. She pretends to feel badly for the small little thing she did wrong while exaggerating and lying about how the other person reacted and treated her. The target feels their heart being wrenched in their chest with the desire to comfort her even while they logically know that they just saw her being a complete spoiled brat and a bully. The target starts to feel confused by these conflicting realities. The desire to comfort the pitiable creature standing in from of them is overwhelmingly compelling.

You've been invited to the Pity Party. Your host tonight: the conscience-impaired. (In this story, my mother.)

I'm about half way through the book, "The Sociopath Next Door", by Martha Stout, Ph.D.

"How can I tell whom not to trust?" is a question Ms. Stout has often fielded from her patients. She asserts that one of the best clues that you may be dealing with someone who has an impaired or absence conscience is the pity play:

"...the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy...More than admiration--more even than fear--pity from good people is carte blanche. When we pity, we are, at least for the moment, defenseless..."

You know this is true. How many times in the movies has this tactic been used by the evil villain? Innumerable. We are screaming at our TV screens, "Don't fall for that!!" as we see the camouflaged evil villain lure in the good guy by appealing to the good guy's intact heart and conscience with a convincing act of being wounded, pitiable, defenseless. If the good guy believes the act, he is the one rendered defenseless. This allows the bad guy to kill him or make an escape. This scene happens over and over again in movies because we all recognize it to be a common tactic of evil people, and we all recognize the good guy's vulnerability to such a tactic. His decency is what sets him up for the fall. We find ourselves wishing that the good guy could be just a little less decent for a moment so he can avoid what we can see is coming...his annihilation.

Do we have to lose our decency to insure we don't fall for such a ruse? No, I don't think so. We just need to pay attention. Don't assume that anyone who seems pathetic and pitiable is automatically going to deserve your compassion or pity. Remember that giving sympathy to evil doers is no virtue. If you want your compassion to be virtuous be sure to give it to the truly deserving.

Stout gives us some guidance on how to decide who is trustworthy and who is deserving of your compassion:

"When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person's forehead as you will ever be given."

"I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him."
The Sociopath Next Door, pg. 109.

The devil does exist. Boot his or her sorry ass out of your life.

[icon by scarymime]

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