Upcoming goodies!

My new book is coming out shortly.

Apparently I’m supposed to do something called “marketing,” so people not only know that the book exists, but are whipped up into a frenzy, barely able to contain their anticipation.

Unfortunately, I’m temperamentally unsuited to that kind of thing. This may go some way towards explaining while, although I’ve already written a book, I’m still working for a living. I’m going to try, though. So what you’re going to get are snippets from the new book until the release date. I would very much appreciate it if you could supply your own frenzy. I can’t be doing everything here.

And now, just to whet your appetite, here it is, in all its glory: THE COVER.


cover copy



Burning down the house.

I once sat and listened to a guy moan about how badly his father was mistreating him. The gist of his story was: he’d been hired by his father to house sit for a defined period; instead of house-sitting, he’d sublet said house against his father’s expressed wishes, as well as illegally; the tenant had managed to burn half the house down (literally), with his father’s possessions still inside; now his father was refusing to pay the agreed house-sitting fee for the period between the house burning down and the end of their agreement.

Yes: the dude wanted his father to pay him for sitting a house that couldn’t be sat because he’d caused it to get burnt down.

He was entitled to the money, because that’s what he’d been promised. Yes, the house was no longer there, but that wasn’t his fault. He’d gotten a tenant in because what he was getting paid to live in a house rent-free was not enough. His father had been mean in not facilitating the tenancy, so who was to blame if the insurance didn’t cover the damage? Yes, he had been specifically told not to use the wood burner, but was it his fault if the house was unsafe? His father should be glad he wasn’t there so he didn’t get hurt, instead of bitching about it. He could have died, and his father fussed about his stuff instead! Now, because he didn’t have the money that was rightfully his, he was forced to stay cost-free at his father’s new house. And he didn’t want to be there, because he didn’t like it, and it was all unfair.

Note: the dude was in his late 30s at the time.

I absolutely believed that the guy was being genuine with me, which got me thinking about how the rest of his mental landscape must look like. What must life be like for him? What must life be like WITH him? I mean, the episode in question was pretty extreme. If he could maintain his blamelessness faced with a smouldering building, could he ever feel responsible for anything? It may go some way towards explaining his recurring problems with his partners, children, friends, customers, officials, etc. Is there any aspect of human interaction that wouldn’t get messed up by viewing life through such a filter?

I sat and stared, and stared, and then stared some more. I made some noncommittal noises. I had precisely 0 idea how to respond to the guy. What do you say to someone who believes that he is the injured party under those circumstances? I couldn’t agree. I didn’t see any point in disagreeing. I didn’t think my reality and the guy’s overlapped enough for us to be able to communicate meaningfully. Also, I didn’t want to shake up a can of crazy.

My non-reaction did nothing to convey my thoughts on the subject. I don’t know how the guy interpreted it, but I’m pretty sure I must have confirmed his original views; I was either agreeing with his position on the subject, or being yet another unfeeling asshole, hence agreeing with his view of the world. I wonder sometimes how many of us end up in that situation: so far gone from a certain aspect of reality that nobody bothers to try and bring us back.


In response to this blog, Mary asked THE important question (she has a habit of doing that, our Mary):

“But to go to such extremes as to have people in your life that don’t want you there?”

I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ll probably be thinking about that for a while yet. Mary’s right: the whole thing is screwy. Most of us don’t operate like that. We want people to be around us because they want to be. We would be fairly horrified if we realised that people endure our company, rather than enjoy it. We absolutely wouldn’t contemplate artificially creating an environment where that would be the case.

Way I see it, there could be several reasons why someone would prioritise your presence in their life over your feelings about it:

  • They have no empathy. They lack the ability to experience all or some of your feelings, so to them those feelings just don’t register. This may be because they lack the ability to feel certain things; for instance, if I’m incapable of love, I won’t understand your grief at the loss of a loved one. It could also be because they can’t perceive people as really real. Every person in their life is merely a tool designed to provide a resource.
  • They have no sympathy. They can understand your feelings, but they don’t care about them. This could be because they discount the validity of your feelings (your feelings on the subject are wrong because you’re not thinking right), or because they discount your validity (why should your feelings on this subject matter? How dare you try to make them relevant?).

People falling into the first group have a pathology. I don’t know if it can be overcome. I do know that they can be dangerous to be around; they can act like those children who open up a hamster to see what makes it go.

People falling into the second group… well, I consider them pathological too. Pathological assholes, to be precise. I don’t know if their responses are caused by nurture or nature. I don’t much care if they can be fixed. I just don’t want them around me. The only way to get along with them seems to be to completely discount your preferences and feelings in favour of theirs, or to engage in pitched battles over the slightest clash of interests. They can’t negotiate. They are like toddlers who can’t understand why they can’t have whatever they want whenever they want it, and their emotional reactions reflect that attitude.

Not everyone who doesn’t care about people is pathological, though. There is a large group of people who are able to experience your feelings and genuinely care about them. The problem is that they don’t care enough. Their relationship with you isn’t based on wanting your company: it’s based on needing it. The need doesn’t have to be real; as long as people believe that they need something, they’ll fight for it. The more desperate the need, the more people may be willing to sacrifice in order to get it met; and, while that may push some towards self-sacrifice, it pushes others towards sacrificing those around them.

People in desperate need may resort to tactics they would not otherwise consider and think that it’s ok, because “desperate times call for desperate measures”. They may also coolly and calmly evaluate their needs as more important than your wants. It’s genuinely unfortunate that you don’t want their company… but they need yours, and that’s what matters most.

I’m now toying with the idea of a new pyramid. Alongside Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there could be a “hierarchy of neediness.” The level of your self-perceived neediness would determine how low you’re willing to sink to meet that need, and how much you’re willing to hurt people in the process.

It’s not me, it’s you. All of you.

I recently learnt the term “Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED). I wasn’t unaware that the beast existed; I’ve seen it; I’ve felt it. I didn’t know, however, that it was a thing, officially recognised by people with letters after their name, with a proper posh label and serious articles written about it.

PTED is a right bastard. Affected sufferers not only focus solely on the negative things in life, but also tend to seek those experiences that confirm the accuracy of their negativity, whether it’s in real life (e.g. only dating certain awful people) or in the media (e.g. only reading certain awfulising papers). The combination of negative mindset and terrible life choices means that their lives become indeed miserable. Not only this sucks for them, but it sucks for anyone around them. As a result, it is very easy for them to end up either utterly alone or surrounded exclusively by those enablers, parasites, and predators who can benefit from their weakened, miserable state. Neither result is conducive to finding happiness.

The thing I find really interesting is that the T in PTED is kind of an optional extra. The original research on this phenomenon stemmed from PTSD research, but clinical observations suggest that the underlying cause of PTED is not a physical threat to life, but threats to one’s basic belief system:

“From our own clinical observation comes a more specific model, which stipulates a violation of strong ‘basic beliefs’ as the cause for a pervasive mood not of ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, but of feelings of injustice and ‘embitterment’. Basic beliefs can be conceptualized as value systems that are learned in childhood and adolescence. They encompass religious or political beliefs and values as well as basic definitions of oneself and one’s personal goals in life. They are needed to guide coherent behavior over the life cycle of an individual, and even over generations for groups and whole nations. This makes them resistant to change, even when confronted with opposing evidence. (…) It is hypothesized that the core pathogenic mechanism in PTED is a characteristic mismatch between basic beliefs and critical event, so that the event activates this particular, deeply held belief and the associated emotions.”

This obviously applies to people whose basic beliefs did not encompass the possibility of interpersonal violence – and, whaddayaknow, I’m writing about it in my new, upcoming book… which will be out in April… on the Kindle and in print… end of shameless book plug.

However, just because there’s a “T” in the label, it doesn’t mean that the same phenomenon doesn’t come into play in non-physically-traumatic situations. The critical element here is that our basic beliefs come into attack, and plenty of stuff can do that. In fact, the more disconnected from reality our beliefs are, the more likely it is for us to experience events that will shake them.


I know a lot of people for whom certain things “always happen for no reason.” They always-and-for-no-reason get fired, or dumped, or assaulted, or thrown out of public establishments, or or or… It’s always something that happens AT them. There is never any legitimate cause for it. It is a heinous behaviour they are continually being put through by something (e.g. The System) or somebody (e.g. All Women, All Men, All Bosses).

When they go through one of these events, they often turn vitriolic. For instance, their contract does not get renewed, so they endeavour to sabotage their workplace as much as feasible on the way out. They give no thought to how this behaviour not only burns bridges, but proves their ‘enemies’ right. They also give not thought to the possible future impact of this behaviour; to how much harder it can be to find jobs, friends, or partners if your reputation for spitefulness or imbalance precedes you.

Some of them even engage in pre-emptive revenge. They know their partner will dump them eventually, so they might as well cheat all the way through their relationship. They know their boss will fire them eventually, so they might as well steal from work. They know strangers will attack them for no reason, so they might as well throw the first punch.

In all this, they are utterly incapable of seeing their contribution to their own problems. They just can’t see it. And I reckon there’s more than a smidgeon of PTED in this.

Some people’s inner identities have very little connection with the identities people around them experience. They are utterly convinced that they are Nice Guys, Perfect Girlfriends, Hard Workers, or Creative Geniuses. What the public actually experience are Manipulative Assholes, Obsessive Neurotics, Pedantic Workaholics, or Useless Parasites. People think that their lives are living manifestations of worthy qualities, e.g. Rejecting The Artificial Demands Of The System. What the public is subjected to is very different, e.g. Someone So Dirty You Can’t Taste Your Own Food Over Their Smell.

(Seriously, that happened to me. I sat across a table with a dude so intent on telling me how vastly superior he was to most humans for making his own path in life and sticking it to the man, that he couldn’t notice that I wasn’t touching my food. I couldn’t eat because all I could smell were his feet. And when I eventually told him, because I had to leave or throw up, he interpreted that as a sign that I was a slave to the system, and needful of a lecture about it. Because Hygiene Is An Imposed Value.)

For many of us, the reality of our inner identity is a very critical belief. Anything that threatens to crush it can become anathema. When that anything is a certain group of people (for instance, our preferred dating pool), having to constantly battle to defend our inner identities against their onslaught can embitter us against them. An embittered attitude can make us act like righteous asses… and round and round it goes.

How to lose friends and alienate people.

I couple of weeks ago, my mom rang up and pretended she’d had a stroke. She didn’t say it out right (that’d be gauche); she just mush-mouthed and feigned aphasia. It was a very convincing performance and I would have been extremely alarmed, if it wasn’t for three things:

  1. It seemed unlikely that someone with that level of sudden brain damage would be dialling an international phone number, code and all. (No, she wouldn’t have me on speed dial. Technology = witchcraft.)
  2. I’m pretty sure that those problems don’t generally evaporate when the people affected start talking about something they are interested in.
  3. Most importantly, she’s pulled this sort of stunt before.

She has been doing this sort of thing for as long as I can remember, to the point that I can’t remember. I remember some her most ridiculous alleged illnesses, or the ones that had the greatest impact on my life. The bulk of them, though, have been thrown into my memory soup under “crap my mom pulls when she feels lonely.” And I know she feels lonely, and there is nothing odd about that: she is alone. Alas, one of the causes of her aloneness is that she’s the sort of person who is cool with scaring the crap out of people in order to get their attention.

Most people don’t put up with that kind of behaviour; not only they respond badly to the tactic in the moment, but they actively shun people who believe it’s an ok thing to do. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any other arrows in her quiver. So when she’s lonely she resorts to the only strategy she has, which pushes people away, so she’s lonely, and round and round it goes. Yet none of this seems to register with her. She is blind to the part she’s playing in the process.

But this blog is not about my mum; it’s about those awful online dating threads that keep popping up. And for those ladies who think this is a gender issue… read this too.

Each thread is unique, like a car crash, but there is a recurring pattern:

  1. Person A makes a real or imagined faux pas, often minor.
  2. Person B responds by saying some kind of no – changing the parameters of a date, cancelling dates, or rejecting Person A altogether.
  3. Person A responds by running through every tactic listed under “how to lose friends and alienate people.” Emotional blackmail, accusations, insults, threats, boasts, pleads, ignoring nos, loansharking, typecasting, something‘s gotta work! And if nothing’s working, do it harder!
  4. Person B runs for the hills, never to be seen again.

This kind of interaction is far from uncommon, and seems to be on the increase. It’s also not unique to online dating. I’ve had perfect strangers who wanted to be my bestest ever friends go completely untogether because I didn’t feel the same.

When something like this happens to me, I am genuinely thankful: I’m relieved that I’ve learnt how the person in question responds to minor disappointments before getting close to them. I sure as hell don’t want to see how they respond to major disappointments. Familiarity and intimacy only tend to exacerbate these kinds of behaviours. For these reasons, Richard Grannon recommends testing new people with small”nos” before getting involved; if they go bananas, that’s a red flag.

From the point of view of the people who rely on those awful tactics, though, it must suck. It must suck to give everything you got and constantly fail. It must suck when the only solutions you can muster are worse than useless; when they are, in fact, creating the problems you’re struggling with. And it must really, really suck to be unable to see that; to be constantly battling what must seem like inexplicable, uncalled-for rejections and never be able to overcome them, because you’re carrying the seeds of rejection inside you.


Woke up to be greeted by this message:

“See? This is what your page does. It brings a conservative Orthodox Christian and a polyamorous feminist together in harmony!”

And it had. I’d gone to sleep while a conversation about the perils of modern dating was unfolding on my page. Overnight, two ladies had ended up comparing notes. One was looking for uncommitted play partners; the other for a committed monogamous relationship. On the surface, it looked as if the only thing they had in common was that they were struggling to find what they wanted, but that is far from being the case.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important trait they share is that they can play nicely. Although their religion, politics, lifestyles, interests, goals, etc. are completely different, they can be courteous to each other. It’s a trait they share with all of the people who hang out on my page, and that’s not a coincidence. It’s the direct result of me not being very nice.

I block people all the time. It’s hardly ever over what they are saying, though a very polite rape apologist did get defenestrated. The problem hinges on how they say things. It’s an issue of etiquette, basically. It’s so out of character it’s almost embarrassing, but I am apparently blessed with an inner Jane Austen heroine, and she can’t abide rudeness. People who act like boors on my page are shown the door. I don’t care if they’re well-informed. I don’t care if their views match mine. I don’t care if they believe that the sun shines out of my rectum. If they can’t play nicely, I don’t want them around.

This isn’t a reflection of my sensitivity; I’m roughly as fragile as a rhino. I don’t silence people who disagree with me because I’m scared of contrasting opinions. It doesn’t hurt my ego to realise that not everyone agrees with my views. I am not against free speech, even when it causes people to make giant fools of themselves in public – in fact, I see that as saving me a job. It’s purely a practical call: I can’t get what I want by allowing people to play nastily in my space. I enjoy being able to have informative, courteous conversations about controversial subjects. In order to be able to have them, those who don’t behave courteously can’t be allowed to participate.

You only need one troll on your page to stop everyone else playing nicely. Boors and trolls have huge tactical advantages over nice people. Not only they are willing to play dirty, but they often have all the time and energy in the world to dedicate to their bugbears. Nice people, on the other hand, won’t resort to certain strategies, so their arsenal is reduced. Moreover, nice people tend to have, well, lives; the amount of time and energy they are able or willing to sink into pointless squabbles is limited. If every conversation on a site ends up degenerating, nice people are likely to realise that their time there is wasted. Yes, they could stand and fight for what is right… by why should they? Why should they waste their precious time having unpleasant interactions with disagreeable people? They are far more likely to go looking for more conducive environment.

Trolls, on the other hand, relish rolling around in dialectical poop. The dirtier they can make an environment, the happier they are. Allowing them free reins results in an environment that will attract more of them. Sooner or later, you’ll end up surrounded by trolls and trolls only, and any attempt at a civilised conversation will invariably fail. And here’s the saddest  bit: if the original goal was to allow for contrasting points of view to be expressed, it will have failed spectacularly. That type of environment selects for extreme viewpoints expressed in extreme fashions. Everything else is drowned out or chased off.

It is technically possible for a dedicated person to do damage limitation on trollish behaviour, but it’s exhausting. It requires constant monitoring and clearing up and pacifying. It’s an endless, joyless task, and its only upshot is that it allows the trolls to carry on trolling.

I’m a lazy person. I favour a harmonious social environment. I guess I’m a self-serving hypocrite, too, because I prefer the company of people who are ultimately nicer than me. But it works. It works so well that I can go to sleep during a conversation on a potentially sticky topic involving people with widely different backgrounds, religion, ethics, lifestyles, politics, and an age range of over 30 years, and have no concerns whatsoever that it might go south while I’m not watching. It allows me to wake up genuinely looking forward to seeing what has come up, what I might learn from their interactions. And if that’s not a good result, then I don’t know what is.

Just chill, dood.

Related to my last blog post.

Once upon a time, when I was a student, I lost a 20 pounds note. I went back looking for it everywhere I’d been, but – unsurprisingly – I never found it. That’s roughly $30, which, even back in the days, was not a huge sum. At the time, however, it was two week’s non-essential money for me. I had paid my rent and had a food stash, but that loss meant that if I needed or wanted anything for two weeks – a chocolate bar, new shoes, a book for school, a new tyre for my bike, plasters, anything – I could not get it.*

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, I was doing something I loved and felt incredibly optimistic about  but I had very little money, blah blah. That’s not the important bit. The reason this story matters to me is that it highlights a serious problem in how people measure other people’s stress levels, and evaluate their reactions to events.

When judging the ‘correct’ reaction to an event, people have a terrible tendency to ignore the impact the event actually had on the person who went through it. They look at the impact the event would have on them, in the situation they are in. This can cause them to grossly underestimate the cumulative stress impact of an event on other people.

I could lose £20 now and literally not notice. I am not rich, but I’m comfortable enough that the impact of that loss would be negligible. Back then, though, the same loss had serious, potentially catastrophic repercussions. Same event, different impact. Lo and behold, my stress levels resulting from the event reflect that.

The more complex the aftermath of an event can be, the more ramifications it carries, the worse this misunderstanding gets. People for whom the event would be insignificant are often blind to its potential fallout. So not only they don’t appreciate how big a stressor the original event was, but they can’t perceive the additional stressors it results in.

I know people whose entire life fell apart because of a motoring offence. They got a fine they couldn’t pay on time, so the amount they needed to pay got bigger and bigger, and they definitely couldn’t pay that, so they lost their car or had their wages garnished, so they lost their jobs or homes, so their partners left them, and so on and so forth. And yes, the fact that the original event could impact them that badly might have been the result of some pretty poor adulting on their part. (Why were they so under-resourced? Why was there nobody in their life who could help them out?) Sometimes, though, shit just happens. If enough of it happens to a single person in a short space of time, things can get very serious very quickly.

You could have an individual whose life hangs in the balance as a result of an event, and whose stress levels reflect this, yet the people around are completely clueless as to what is really going on. So not only they don’t offer any practical support, but they make the person feel worse by constantly banging on about how they’re ‘over-reacting.’ This haranguing is another stressor… and on and on it goes.


*Yes, I could have got it by getting in debt, either with my bank or from friends. But debt has a way  of escalating, and I was too poor to afford that.

Survivor’s Head Space – Ongoing Stressors.

The more people I talk to, the more I realise that there’s often a real lack of awareness of the potential physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual long-term impact of violent incidents. And it’s not that people are callous or impatient: it’s that they genuinely can’t empathise or sympathise because they just don’t get it. They haven’t experienced certain situations, so they can’t put themselves in the head space of the survivors. I’m going to be writing a few blogs presenting some of the main disconnects.

Ongoing stressors. 

Survivors may be a bit more tightly wound than normal for an extended period of time. This is often seen as related to the impact of trauma and people’s varying abilities in processing it, but this is not necessarily the case. The issue can have less to do with the survivors ability to handle stress and more with the sheer number and intensity of the stressors they are subjected to.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale provides a handy guide for calculating the level of stress someone is under based on the stressors they are subjected to. Interpersonal violence is not listed; however, some of its resulting effects are.I believe that the way many people deal with survivors would be instantly improved if they took the time to go through the list and tick the relevant stressors before passing judgement on a survivor’s coping abilities.

Let’s take something light and jolly: a domestic incident in which Partner A is violently attacked by Partner B. Partner A defends him/herself and in doing so causes the death of Partner B. S/he claims self-defence but is jailed pending trial. The possible resulting stressors and their intensity are:

1 Death of spouse (100)
4 Jail term (63)
6 Personal injury or illness (53)
8 Fired at work (47)
16 Change in financial state (38)
21 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30)
23 Son or daughter leaving home (29)
24 Trouble with in-laws (29)
28 Change in living conditions (25)
31 Change in work hours or conditions (20)
32 Change in residence (20)
34 Change in recreation (19)
35 Change in church activities (19)
36 Change in social activities (18)
38 Change in sleeping habits (16)
39 Change in number of family get-togethers (15)
40 Change in eating habits (15)

This gives us a total score of 556, which is insanely high. And, although it is a pretty bleak worst case scenario, it does not take into account the psychological impact of the specific event, the absence of certain potentially traumatic experiences from the list (e.g. battery, court attendances, medical procedures), or the fact that each separate event should be counted individually.

Even events in which one is found completely innocent and is free of legal repercussions may have fallouts that take months or years to resolve, if they ever do. For instance, after a sexual assault it takes 3-6 months to find out if it has resulted in an HIV infection. If the result is positive, that is something that will have to be handled for the rest of one’s life. In domestic situations a violent partner may have a huge amount of control over capital and financial resources, or ongoing visiting rights over children. The survivor may have to manage contact and all associated risks for years to come. And, lo and behold, guilty parties who are being punished can be particularly non-cooperative towards the people they consider responsible for that punishment.

All too often onlookers tend to think that a violent event is over when it ends, completely disregarding the aftermath. They expect survivors to just put the event behind them and carry on as normal, or see a failure to do so as a result of personal weakness. No consideration is given to the fact that survivors may still be dealing with very real, practical, and measurable stressors.


I have been playing with a project about low-level creeps. I’m talking about the sort of vermin who get their kicks by doing stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable or threatened without ever actually doing anything that is actually actionable or reportable. They might stand too close, but never touch… They may touch, but always engineer situations to make it look like an accident… They may seek out situations where touching is appropriate (such as dancing, or self-defence training), but carry it just a little bit too far… And so on, and so forth. They are clever little bunnies, really, because they elect to get their pervy bennies without taking hardly any risks. They’re still despicable, but clever.

They’re also ubiquitous. I strongly suspect, though I have no proof other than anecdotal evidence, that they’re probably the number one self-defence concern for women in this time and place. Although being physically attacked is obviously infinitely more dangerous, having to deal with creeps is infinitely more likely. (Men are also affected, but the frequency of the problem seems to be far lower.)

I was trying to list the basic principles of self-defence that can help people successfully deal with creeps. I worked at it for a while, then had to give up. The answer seems to be “most of them.” Peyton Quinn’s ‘Five Rules’ about violence? Check. Othering? Check. The impact of adrenalisation? Check. The Gift of Fear? Check. Rory Miller’s Logic of Violence? Check. The Triune Brain? Check. I could have carried on going, but it was getting silly.

When I thought about it, I realised that it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that the principles of non-physical self-defence should apply to errrrrrrrrrr non-physical self-defence situations. What can I tell you? I can be a bit slow on the uptake.

It seems that I’m not alone in this, though. This kind of situation seems to be blithely disregarded by most self-defence instruction (shameless marketing plug: if you want a seminar on this subject, I’m very happy to work for money). I could try and embark on a rant about sexism in self-defence, rape culture, and so on… but I’m positive that if someone has not already done so, then they will.

The thing that really bugs me is the waste of opportunity. Self-defence skills, physical or mental, benefit from being practised in real life. Most people lack the opportunities to get much of that practice in – which is a good thing. It means our world is reasonably safe. However, it does leave students in limbo; they might have read volumes about the whys and hows of certain skills without having ever applied them. Until they need them, how can they know if they really have them down? And if it turns out that they don’t, how high will the cost be?

That’s where the creeps come in. Instead of ignoring them because they are not serious enough opponents, why not encourage our students to use them as experimental subjects? After all, they are crawling all over the place, taking up valuable oxygen. They may as well be put to good use.

Students could practise their non-physical skills in the real world, yet largely safely. They could also do so without any compunction; does anyone care about hurting the feelings of low-level creeps? On the contrary, this practice would be practically a social service. (Personally, I also find tormenting creeps infinitely entertaining, but I’m mean that way.)

I can’t believe we’re missing this opportunity.