Perhaps someone at work has sidelined you by creating an ‘in crowd’ you’re specifically excluded from? They all go out at the weekend and make sure they spend a lot of time talking about it on Monday, knowing you can’t join in with the jokes and asides.
Perhaps there’s someone in your family who tells tales about you behind your back but, to your face, they’re all hugs and smiles.
Perhaps you’re at school and there’s a group who single you out for ‘special attention’. You’re targeted at break time. They undermine your confidence by criticising what you do, your family, your hair or your clothes. When you walk past them, they whisper to each other and laugh. You feel lonely and isolated.
Chances are, if this is happening, you will be experiencing some very uncomfortable emotions. These fearful or angry feelings are actually trying to help you get your innate human needs met, by prompting you to take action to resolve this situation.
Some of our primary needs include those for safety, friendship, status and autonomy. We like to feel we are the authors of our own life, that the pen is in our hand to write the next chapter. We love independence and control yet, paradoxically, we also love to be part of the crowd.
Human beings are hardwired to connect with other human beings. Historically it served us well to be in a group rather than isolated on the outside, where we could be picked off by the wild animals of the Savannah.
When we group together and work together towards a common goal, we are capable of amazing things. However, when we become a tribe, we are also capable of some pretty horrible things too, as recent events have dramatically shown on a world wide scale.
The rise of the social terrorist
The neo-tribal society we now find ourselves a part of has also seen the evolution of a subtle yet frightening phenomenon; the social terrorist, whose relational aggression can be played out on both a micro and macro level, either face to face or via social media.
Relational aggression, as the psychologists call it, certainly has its roots in tribalism. When we form a group, it is inevitable that we create a ‘them and us’ situation. You are either on the inside or on the outside. It’s all about power and control and can be very destructive to individuals and to the wider community too, just like any other form of terrorism.
Often the central figures are highly skilled in the dark art of sabotage and deceit. They may initially take on the role of friends then go to great lengths to fabricate stories and twist reality about those they decide to prey on. The social terrorist will sit back and watch, having lit the detonator, and wait for the inevitable explosion of bad feelings that follows.
This type of behaviour can be very subtle. We learn from a very young age that when we create ‘exclusion’ we also create ‘inclusion’. It often begins at school where cliques of a social elite ‘it crowd’ create a dynamic which has nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with power and control.
How to identify the social terrorist
As with most things, knowledge and information helps to reclaim control. Learning to recognise and name the behaviours will give you an early ‘heads up’ that can help you navigate safely through some dangerous social territory, avoiding the relational land mines along the way.
Just like the violent terrorists who operate on a grand scale, the social terrorist will try and exert control by:
- Creating a group or ‘in-crowd’ and excluding specific people or groups
- Assassinating someone's personal or professional reputation
- Using mental coercion
- Intentionally stirring up feelings of disgust, fear, panic or chaos
- Intimidating by blackmail
- Being emotionally violent or using mental oppression
- Spreading false or fabricated information
- Attempting to manipulate public opinion
- Spreading feelings of hatred
- Mentally or physically bullying
What we can you do to defeat the bullies
The antidote to all this is honesty and transparency. The social terrorist hates to be called out or exposed for their covert behaviour. You can take back control by:
- Cultivating positive friendship groups, surrounding yourself with ‘radiators’ rather than ‘drains.’
- Creating an environment of inclusion and empathy
- Using emotional intelligence to identify, name and call it out if you see someone being bullied
- Standing up for those being targeted. It's important to be strong and defend others.
- Spreading your social network to meet new people
- Never accepting bullying behaviour as ‘just the way it is’ or the status quo
Never turn a blind eye. Never accept rather than challenge.
We're better than that…….or at least, we should try to be.