One of the worst aspects of being the target of a creep is that it is often very hard to convey to other people what the problem is, or even that there really is a problem. Creeps thrive by hiding within social scripts. They push boundaries, rather than overtly break them. Unless they get cocky or stupid, or they are in a creep-supportive environment (and there are PLENTY of those), they avoid doing anything that could get them busted. That way they get to do it all again tomorrow.
It is is very hard to articulate this kind of issue. In fact, it can be hard to the point that some targets can’t even explain the problem to themselves. There is nothing tangible going on, just icky feelings and not-quite-right non-events. It all feels unpleasant, but it’s hard to explain why. That puts us in a very uncertain situation, and human beings tend to dislike uncertainty.
Because the issue is so undefined, many targets end up breaking one of Peyton Quinn’s ‘Five Rules’ for dealing with violence: “Do not deny it’s happening.” It’s often easier to bury the unpleasant sensations, to tell ourself that nothing untoward is taking place, not really, than to face an uncertain situation. Unfortunately, denial not only doesn’t make the problem go away, but it can make it worse.
First of all, once we start lying to ourself about that kind of sensation, we are effectively gagging our intuition, in the DeBecker interpretation of the word. Although our intuition can be corrupted by a number of factors – past experiences, cultural indoctrination, prejudices, etc. – there is no upside to shutting it up. By ignoring our intuition we can fail to read critical signs, which can put us in serious danger. By paying attention to it – not necessarily immediately acting upon it, but acknowledging its messages and investigating them further – we can help improve both our intuition and our ability to interpret it. It’s not about letting vague feelings lead us blindly by the nose; it’s about learning to pay attention to ourselves and the world around us in order to allow our intuition to inform our decision-making.
Secondly, once we decide to bury our intuition, to silence it to prevent it from sending those unpleasant feelings our way, we can end up looking for the wrong kind of evidence. “Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” Once we decide that everything is ok, we start looking for evidence that everything is ok, and ignore any evidence that things are not ok. Creeps are masters at putting out confusing evidence. By focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative, we’re actively helping them fool us.
This combination of denial and confirmation bias pretty much destroy our chances of being able to articulate our problem. How can we articulate a situation when we’re refusing to look at it? How can we gather evidence to help us articulate the IMOP of our creep, when we’re busy proving to ourselves than nothing is going wrong?
Sometimes we give ourselves very good reasons for ignoring our feelings. Mustn’t judge. Can’t jump to conclusions. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Innocent until proven guilty. They probably didn’t mean it. It’s all in our heads. There is so much wrong with this, that I struggle to disentangle it.
First of all, if it’s so important to respect people’s feelings, that should include ours.if we’re burying our feelings to spare other people’s, does that suggest that we are lesser people, or non-people?
Secondly, we seem to be confusing acknowledging our feelings and apportioning blame. There is a world of difference between saying “I feel creeped out by George” and “George is a creep.” There may be a myriad reasons while I’m feeling creeped out by George that do not in fact involve any intentional creepiness on George’s part – but I AM feeling creeped out. That sensation is a valid data point.
But no: we prefer to cling to some kind of notion that acknowledging our negative feelings towards someone will somehow hurt them, our group, or our social standing. As if they could read our minds. As if thinking less than well about someone must necessarily translate itself into less than good behaviour on our part. As if lying about how we feel was ever successful at making our feelings go away, rather than making them pop out unexpectedly and uncontrollably at inconvenient moments.