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Is there anything more crazy making than when someone starts wriggling out of their responsibility for things… You KNOW what they are doing but somehow it’s convincing… You even start doubting yourself…. It can happen in our relationships, it can happen in politics, and we can even do it to ourselves!

Let me introduce you to Syke’s and Matza’s techniques of neutralisation… tools people use to deny and minimise the impact of their actions. It’s a useful piece of knowledge to have – both in calling out your own bullshit AND in spotting when others are trying to do it to you.

  • denial of responsibility

In other words… It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do it. Someone else did it. My actions didn’t cause this. Etc etc. This one is especially useful when there are a lot of possible causes. We can just pass blame to one of these other factors instead of examining our own contributions. Easy. But ultimately completely untrue.

  • denial of injury

Ok ok so I DID do something BUUUUUT it didn’t actually cause any harm. Is that thing really so harmful? You’re exaggerating. That’s not really such a bad thing to happen. No harm, no foul, mmmmkay?

  • denial of victims

Ok so I DID do it and it DID cause harm BUUUUUUUT that person isn’t really a victim. They kind of deserved it. They are a BAD HUMAN. They had it coming. Who cares about them anyway? They’re not so innocent themselves.

  • appeal to higher loyalties

I DID do it and it DID cause harm BUUUUUUUUUUUUT I had to do it because of something more important. Something super lofty and high value at that. So it’s not my fault really is it? Collateral damage.

  • condemnation of condemners

Why does it matter to you so much eh? You’re just meddling! You’re so dramatic! You are only pretending to care out of self interest. How DARE you have a go at me like this?! I don’t like your tone! You’re so uptight. etc etc etc. (this one is all over social media…).

All of these techniques are smoke and mirrors that divert us from seeing things clearly. If you find yourself arguing against them (or buying into them as platitudes) then be aware that something important about the whole picture is probably getting lost…

Clients may well use these too when appraising their lives and their actions!

Which one do you find yourself getting sucked in by? I am often convinced and distracted by an appeal to higher loyalties – particular when using these tricks on myself! Gotta watch out for that one…

Dr. Helen Johnson

Dr Helen Johnson coaches creative, complex thinkers, and leaders in their field to challenge themselves, be more effective, and lighten up. Through her group programme, Deeper, she offers a way to hone your coaching and personal development skills while also doing the powerful work on yourself.

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