Warning Signs
by Jarandhel Dreamsinger

Originally posted to operation_stormwatch@yahoogroups.com on 12/25/2003.

The world is not a safe place. That's a given. Guns, violence, robbery, murder... these are the things we live with each day. It is part of our reality, and we must cope with it as best we can. So we develop strategies, rules of thumb that keep us safe. Many of them we don't even think about anymore. Don't walk down a dark alley alone late at night in a bad neighborhood. Don't take candy from strangers. Don't trust anyone who reminds you of your cousin Larry the used car salesman. Simplistic rules... but they keep us safe.

The otherkin community is not a safe place either, though many like to think that it is. But acceptance and safety are not synonymous. There are dangers here as well. Deception, manipulation, verbal and emotional abuse... these things are far more common than we like to admit. But we can develop strategies to recognize and combat them here as well. From my own experiences, I have found several key indicators that now serve as red flags for me that the person or group I am talking with might be dangerous. I'd like to share them now.

The first sign I tend to notice when talking to people is when they start telling me things that they have no reason to tell me. For instance, it is unusual for a person who has just met you to spontaneously open up and start confiding in you things that they would not normally tell to a relative stranger. This is generally a sign that someone is trying to engender a closeness with you, and is not willing to wait for such closeness to occur naturally. They are often taking you into their confidence in an attempt to get you to take them into yours. The personal details or secrets that they tell you may be much more public knowledge than they would have you believe, and it is probably wise to wait and get to know them before telling them things you would not want to become just as public. However, there are some circumstances in which this is not a warning sign. Bartenders and others with similar occupations are probably well used to people opening up to them about things they would not tell those they are close to. And at times when first finding a community which is accepting of things they have previously been forced to hide, people may have difficulty understanding the difference between hiding something and merely treating it as a private matter, so they'll talk about it more than someone more experienced might. Therefore, this should not be treated as a conclusive sign, but merely an early warning signal to start watching for the other signs.

The second sign I've seen is very similar. False compliments. Generally given by people under the belief that flattery will get them everywhere. Take these with a large grain of salt. I know it's easy to just bask in a compliment, especially if you'd like to think it's deserved, but at the very least think about whether or not it makes sense for the person to be giving you that compliment. For instance; if a person has never seen you use a particular skill, even one that you also think you're good at, you should probably be more than a little skeptical of them complimenting you on it. I know that sounds like an extreme example, but I've actually had that happen to me in the kin community, and in retrospect I am very glad that I took it as a warning sign. As in the previous sign, the person who gives false compliments is likely trying to get close to you. People naturally warm up to those who compliment them... hence why flattery and dating have long gone hand in hand. But equally old is the advice that one should not suffer idle flatterers.

But compliments are not the only thing to beware of. False criticism can be just as much a warning sign. Particularly if it is made out to be criticism from other people. When someone starts to tell you that other people have been saying something critical of you, it's generally best to go to the supposed source and find out if they actually think that before you get upset with them. Sometimes, it's just someone trying to lower your self-esteem, thus making you more vulnerable, and at the same time isolate you from the very friends which might help you recognize the liar for what he or she is. Likewise, be wary of people telling you that you are bad at things when you know it's not true. Especially if they are things you enjoy and have been complimented on by others before. For instance, if someone is constantly telling you that you should shut up because you can't sing, when you have been given starring roles in school musicals before based in part upon your ability as a vocalist, you really need to think twice about believing the critic even if it seems like there would be no reason for them to lie.

Another danger sign that I look for is most visible on lists or other discussion forums. It is the person who freely gives advice, but then refuses to discuss or support their views if someone else challenges it. This is a fairly major warning sign to me, since it shows me that unlike the other members of the mailing list who are there to discuss the subject of the list, this person is only there to espouse their own views and is not willing to consider the viewpoints or arguments of others. This is someone who would like to be seen as a guru or mentor because of their answers, and reacts best to those who simply thank them and accept the answer without challenging the reasoning or views behind it. I personally generally handle this by calmly, politely, and logically debating with the person for just long enough to make the fact that he or she cannot handle opposing views readily apparent. This usually isn't very hard, as even if the person was not of this type I would have started a calm debate anyway if I disagreed with the reasoning behind an answer given on a list. That is, after all, part of any mailing list's purpose... to let people discuss subjects and reconcile differing viewpoints.

The last sign is the most major one that I routinely watch for, as it involves a violation of your personal boundaries that is actually a negation of your identity. It is when someone starts to tell you who you are, or what you feel, rather than asking you about yourself and your feelings. This is a sign of a very dangerous mindset, as the person displaying it actually believes that they know more about you and your feelings than you do. This is actually a very prevalent mindset in the community, unfortunately, with people telling you what your trueform is or telling you who you've been in past lives where they believe they have known you. In then end, it makes no more sense than a stranger coming up to you on the street and telling you that you are a natural- born poet. Even if he happened to be right, it would not be because of any real insight (which could only come from having read or heard your poetry) and to let his words define you would be a very dangerous first step towards letting him control you. To simplify the matter further... if you were at an ice cream parlor with a longtime friend or lover, would you let even someone that close to you order you a flavor of ice-cream you don't like, over your own objections that you would prefer a different one? Most people would take this as an affront to their dignity, and they would be right to do so. For obvious reasons, this sign is the one that worries me the most, and with rare exceptions I immediately break off contact with those who display it. And even when I do not, I correct them as firmly as possible and will not tolerate a repeat of the same behavior.

Those are the main signs that I look out for on a regular basis. Hopefully they'll help you too. Maybe you even have some of your own to share. I encourage everyone to do so, since the more strategies people have available to them for coping with this kind of behavior, the less power the trolls and abusers in our community will have.