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Fighting Dirty: The Element of Surprise

Updated on January 25, 2020
Running With Scissors profile image

For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. -Proverbs 8:7

"Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across."

— Sun Tzu

What does conflict look like?

  • Angry spouse just learning of an affair
  • Two girls fighting on a school bus
  • Office Queen Bee covertly torturing a subordinate until the threat is neutralized
  • Facebook debate on Politics, Religion, or "adopt vs buy from breeder"
  • After 10 PM on the eve of a holiday, wedding, funeral, or other event typically requiring extended family to congregate in close quarters coupled with alcohol and expectations, and lasting for more than a few hours

If you are blessed (and cursed) with the double-edged sword of ranking high on the empathy spectrum, you likely know what it's like to feel conflict in your bones. Whether directly involved or silently observing, conflict can be suffocating for everyone in close proximity.

Contributing Factors

There are a few tactical maneuvers that are sure to catch your opponent off guard, while also improving your overall mental health and longevity. We will get to those shortly.

Contrary to popular belief, fighting does not have to be present for conflict to occur. Some of the darkest psychological manipulation tactics often occur under the radar and may even present as love, concern, healthy competition, sarcasm, or accountability. On the other hand, what starts as a simple bargument (bar argument) could easily end up bloody and lacking a full set of teeth.

First, let's think about how conflicts begins and why it escalates.

  • Misunderstanding: gossip, rumors, poor communication, jumping to conclusions
  • Betrayal: backstabbing, lying, cheating
  • Jealousy: downward envy, grass is greener, green-eyed monster
  • Projection: unresolved anger, insecurity, blame-shifting
  • 1st Amendment: Uneducated people with unlimited access to social media and a lack of breeding restrictions (applicable but not limited to the United States of America)

The list above is not exhaustive and I am not a licensed psychologist. I'm strictly speaking from 35 years of awkwardly observing people, or rather, what motivates people to act.

Strings Attached

Puppet Masters: Empaths and Narcissists

People are puppets, and I do not mean that in a negative connotation. If we listen closely to what a person says, how it’s said, in what context, and the events just before, during, and after, it’s not difficult to identify the person’s core needs and motivations to act. As humans, these needs and motivations are tightly bonded to our actions- ergo my reference to puppets. Directly tugging on these needs and motivations triggers the person to react, somewhat like a puppet.

Sometimes it’s easier to recognize the needs and motivations of others, more so than recognizing our own (cue the Empaths be Narcissist overview).

People with a high level of empathy and/or sharply tuned intuition can easily identify the needs, motivations, and desires of other people- I call these people Puppet Masters.

Two groups of people are the ultimate Puppet Masters:

Empaths: People high on the Empathy spectrum; intuitively drawn to broken things with an intense desire to solve problems and/or heal other people that often leads to self-sacrifice due to lack of realizing healthy boundaries

Narcissists: People very low on the Empathy spectrum (little to none) and highly intuitive, seeking personal gain at any cost

Narcissists and empaths are often considered 2 sides of the same coin and dangerously attracted to each other (more about that another day). They both poss unparalleled and almost identical ”senses“ when it comes to other people, and both have very strong agendas. The difference comes down to their intentions- which are polar opposite.

Narcissists will identify others’ core needs and motivations, and pull on those “strings” to make the puppet dance in circles of confusion for entertainment, fuel, and personal gain. When the puppet is exhausted, dependent, worn thin, and all resources are exhausted, a Narcissist cuts the strings, leaving the puppet lifeless and unable to stand on his or her own.

An Empath uses the same knowledge to tug on others’ strings in order to boost confidence, provide clarity in the midst of confusion, get people back on their feet, and hold them there until they are strong enough to stand in their own.


Wife that has repeatedly said she needs help around the house, the kids are driving her crazy, she's exhausted, and doesn't like her butt.

String 1: Reserve a hotel room (or air b-n-b)

String 2: Pick up the children, take them to a movie and dinner, and hire someone to clean your house

String 3: Leave a note on your wife's pillow of a fresh made bed with the following message:

Dear Wife,

You work harder than any woman I know. I love your smell, your smile, and the way your butt looks in jeans. You are a machine and the backbone of this family. I appreciate the way you _____, ____, and _______ for the kids and me. You deserve a break tonight. Be ready at _____PM. A car will pick you up. Take clothes for the night. I'll hold down the fort. (Optional: Take this credit card and do not come back without new shoes.)



String 4: Have massage therapist set up with a table and wine at the hotel. Tip someone to have a soundtrack of her favorite songs, or songs that mean something to the two of you, playing throughout the massage. When the message is over, have room service ready to bring up her favorite meal and her favorite movie cued up. If she has a best friend, tell the friend to deliver more wine and be prepared to either stay or go, depending on wife's wishes.

You have now attached a string to all major appendages and pulled. When your wife returns, watch her dance stronger, healthier, happier, and revitalized. (PS. There is a good chance you will reap some major benefits of this as well, but that should not be your underlying agenda- it should be a bonus no expectations.)

We are all puppets, with delicate and easily detectable strings that are deadly in the wrong hands.

Identifying our strings and only allowing access to those proven trustworthy to hold us up physically and/or in spirit, should that time come, is essential to our survival and at the very least our mental health and well-being.

Puppet rant over.

Stay with me.

Element of Surprise

When it comes to resolving conflict, the dirtiest tricks and most effective strategies are simple, but not always obvious or easy. Timing and presentation will make or break these maneuvers. It's best to practice frequently so you are prepared to hurl that at your opponent's face when the opportunity presents.

1). Forgiveness

2). Kindness

3). Active Listening (google it)

And if you really want to blindside someone-

3). Hit them with an apology

Sorry Not Sorry

The title of this article may have been slightly misleading. I said we were going to talk about fighting dirty and catching your opponent off guard- the strategies above will do exactly that (especially if you are known as being a prick). These "tricks" are much more powerful than my dry humor does justice. Resolution is not about being right. Resolution is about mutual respect and collaboration.

If the you are looking for a How-To guide on forcing an angry person to admit fault, see your point of view, or admit defeat- see my next article: Waterboarding for Dummies.


Conflict vs Abuse

There are times when extreme measures are warranted. Until now, I have strictly been speaking to conflict and/or fighting. If someone (or something) is repeatedly manipulating, bullying, harming, or targeting another person or group of people for personal gain or sabotage, that is not conflict. That is abuse. When those boundaries are crossed, the rules of engagement change.

David vs Goliath Financial

There is a time to go to war. When that time comes, there may be no precedent to follow. No rule book. By that time you may be physically and/or mentally weak, beaten, and broken. If you are in the United States, accessing the legal system is not easy or affordable. There is a way out and it starts with educating yourself.

I am currently in a David vs Goliath situation that's coming to an end. The one thing I wish I would have known sooner is how to identify and set those boundaries. If there was ever a time to be proactive, it's when conflict is escalating and you sense something isn't right. Start educating yourself on your resources and engage people experienced in the type of abuse you are facing. Once the power imbalance is established and playing against you, it's virtually impossible to carry on life as you knew it. It doesn't end until something causes it to end. There are resources and ways out, but you must make it a point to educate yourself.

I will be writing a series over the coming months on my experience with politely forcing a covert workplace bully, my supervisor, into submission, along with my Fortune 500 employer that attempted to cover it up. I took a different approach when I realized what was happening and was fortunate to be able to take time off and get strong while I learned everything I could about my options and resources. I also learned that I wasn't alone, and that is how I found Hugpages.

If you have suffered abuse from an employer and see a psychologist, it's likely you will get diagnosed with some form of medical condition that will may qualify as a disability. Make your disability known, get familiar with the law, and ask for accommodations that will help make your job easier, especially if your workplace has 15 or more employees. If one letter of the law is broken according to the laws you have become intimately familiar with, report it to your company HR, your supervisor, their supervisor, possibly an attorney, and the EEOC. Site the specific law that was broken and as many factual details as possible (date, time, emails)., Make sure the violating party knows you escalated the issue and call it what it is- Discrimination.

Now, chances are good that you are in a protected class. I advise engaging legal council early if you start down this route, and a psychologist experienced in workplace stress, burnout, and discrimination.

Brace for Retaliation- it will happen, it will be ugly, and it will likely be very illegal. Familiar yourself with all of the covert acts that are considered Retaliation and stay strong. When it happens, document every occurrence, and there will be more than one. Be warm, be kind, and document everything in a fixed handwritten journal to supplement every email. I read somewhere that covert bullying and discrimination is like a million needle pricks that amount to a mortal wound (or something like that). Sad but completely accurate. One single act will likely not be enough, but over time, you can paint a very telling picture. When the time is right, let it be known!

PS. A miniature horse can count as an Emotional Support Animal. Check out the Job Accommodation Network and the Workplace Bullying Institute for more information.

Disclaimer - I am not an attorney and this article is by no means meant to be legal advice. I am simply encouraging victims to get help, educate themselves early, label acts of abuse, and if you are going to fight, learn your resources.

If you are in a similar situation, I invite you to comment below and keep in touch. I also advise you to follow FlourishAnyway for insights and articles you will find comforting and educational.

-Running with Scissors

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Running With Scissors


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