Dominance, Boundaries & Violence-capacity
Reading this chapter will be a paradigm-shift for you. Once you finish it, you will not see interpersonal dynamics in the same way again. In the school of thought known as “The Manosphere,” a collective of bloggers, public speakers and activists of which I am proud to be a contributor, there is this notion of “The Red Pill.” The term is borrowed from the popular film The Matrix, in which the protagonist, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is given the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill represents the false comfort of living in willful ignorance. The red pill represents accepting the truth, no matter how painful. The truth is hard to swallow at times, but if there is any hope of salvation at all, it can only be found in the truth.
The truth is that we human beings are hierarchal. To this point I will happily point you to Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules or Life, specifically the first chapter, entitled Stand up Straight with your Shoulders Back. Peterson establishes that it is a fact of our evolutionary biology. All animals establish dominance hierarchies. You and I are no exception.
Another universal issue that I see my coaching clients struggling with is drawing boundaries with other people. “I always feel like a doormat,” they say. “People are always taking advantage of me, making fun of me, or otherwise showing me disrespect.” You’ve heard all of the traditional modes of advice. “Stick up for yourself, it’s the right thing to do!” Advice like this rarely seems to impel you to action in the moment in which you need it. Why not? I think the reason is twofold.
1) If you don’t understand the underlying reasons why people do such seemingly cruel things to each other, you will have a hard time doing anything about it. Learning any skill requires that you understand both the theory and the practice. Many times, knowing the theory behind why something happens can help inspire you to action. The world will make more sense to you, and you will feel more confident in your actions when you understand the truth of things.
2) You have anxiety issues. Men who were chronically shamed, ridiculed, smothered or otherwise abused as children will not feel confident when it comes to drawing boundaries with others. Oedipal mothers thrive on forming enmeshing bonds with their children and in violating their boundaries as developing young men. Direct confrontation can trigger an emotional cascade that dates all the way back to childhood. As adults, we react as if we are as powerless. as when we are still children. Calm down, take a breath and take the situation as-is. Very rarely does anyone have the power to physically hurt you, but your inner child (your emotional self) acts as if it is so.
So, we have men who are finding themselves the brunt of everybody’s jokes, the boss’s bullying tactics, or otherwise are everybody’s personal doormat. The inability to establish clear boundaries and demand respect from others is a serious form of dysfunction that needs to be investigated and corrected, preferably under the care of a licensed therapist. However, what many men do when faced with this dysfunction is to turn toward Eastern or New-age spiritual practices and philosophies. I am not saying that these philosophies are entirely false or have no value, but there is an error in how these systems are interpreted by long-suffering Nice Guys. It is much easier to embrace a problem and rationalize it rather than face the problem head-on. People are mean and nasty at times, and that necessitates that you will sometimes need to be to be mean and nasty in return.
Men who have had their masculine potential stunted by means of abuse are often confused and befuddled when people do not treat them with the respect they deserve. Nice Guys like to misinterpret New Age and Eastern philosophies so as to give themselves an excuse for not establishing clear boundaries or learning how to do it in the first place. “They’re just ignorant, evil people,” they say to themselves, “they’re unenlightened.” This kind of pacifism is anti-masculine and deeply problematic. It is a feature of life that you will need to establish boundaries with other people. Men who cannot do this become dysfunctional and ineffective.
We can’t have formed a civilization if men acted in this way. The greatest of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle knew and understood the value of the military and of defense of home and country. If we all acted like pacifists, your home and your city would be overrun by criminals and gangs. Pacifists are complicit in violence and destruction because they do not use pushback or even violence when it is warranted and necessary to do so.
The Nice Guy approaches all of his personal interactions as an open book. He wears his heart on his sleeve, trusting the wrong people over and over again, and gets burned over and over again in the process. He mistakenly believes that if he treats everybody in the way that he wants to be treated, then karma necessitates that they treat him the same way in return. If they don’t, they must be “mean people” or “unenlightened people” that don’t deserve his time. The great self-help author and speaker John Bradshaw defined “dysfunctional” as something that “doesn’t work.” Therefore, a behavior is dysfunctional because it simply does not work properly in the life of the person doing the behavior. Pacifism is a dysfunctional belief system, its adherents believe that it is the morally superior path, yet it simply does not work – therein creating a double-bind of failure and moral conviction that keeps Nice Guys stuck in the same pattern of behavior.
Now for the ultimate Red Pill: human beings get a serotonin boost out of dominating other human beings. When people speak harshly to you, or make fun of you, I want you to remind yourself that you are participating in a dominance-battle. Standing your ground in these contests does not, and should not, necessitate overreaction. As the old saying goes, “the punishment must fit the crime.”
Let’s say that a couple of your coworkers are gently teasing you. If you overreact, that will be a sign that they “got to you,” and you will lose their respect instead of gaining it. Now at the other extreme, if you’re walking down a dark alley at night, and a thug pulls a knife on you – by all means crush his throat with your forearm. All of these actions, whether it’s your coworkers teasing you, or a criminal mugging you at knifepoint, exist on a continuum or “spectrum of violence.” The dominance hierarchy applies to all manner of human conflict, from the mild to the extreme, and from the verbal to the physical, and everything in between. In all cases, a hierarchical relationship is established whereby one party dominates and the other party submits.
DOMINANCE AND SUBMISSION
Ninety-nine percent of the boundaries that you will have to draw will be conversational and on the nonphysical level of interpersonal communication. Very rarely will you need to approach the level of physical boundary enforcement, in which your life or physical wellbeing are in any physical danger. However, it would be a very positive thing if you were to prepare for such an eventuality. Men who train in firearms and martial arts are getting in touch with their own masculine nature – which (remember?) is defined by the capacity to do violence. Note that this is not an injunction to actually perpetrate violence in an unlawful manner. However, getting in touch with the “killer in you,” or your “dark side” is an essential part of exercising and expressing your manhood.
Recovering Nice Guys struggle with conversational boundaries. They will often say things like the following, “it’s like the insult goes right over my head. I don’t know that the insult has happened until it’s too late... maybe later that night is when I’ll get angry about it. Why isn’t my anger there for me when I need it? Why can’t I catch the insult when it happens?”
I will bullet-point for you below the reasons why I think this happens.
- The Abnormally “Long Fuse”
- Households that were toxic, in which a child’s boundaries were not respected by means of abuse (including Oedipal abuse), cause boys to develop an excessively high tolerance. They “go along to get along.”
- As an adult, we act this wounded-child coping mechanism out when we don’t have to. A massive component of your healing will be to realize that you are not powerless and that you do not need to reenact the same “go along to get along” script that enabled you to survive as a child.
- If you allow verbal insults and other slights “whiz over your head,” chances are you are not mentally or emotionally present enough to catch them. This is a dissociative defense-mechanism and has deep-rooted anxiety at its core!
- When you have integrated your ‘dark side,’ meaning, when you understand that human interaction is often based on dominance and submission, you will be aware of this dynamic when someone is trying to dominate you. This means that interpersonal dominance-battles will no longer mystify you.
- Anxiety-led reactions
- All of the above has a single core issue: anxiety. This in-the-moment anxiety is what causes you to react rather than respond.
- Take a deep breath in any situation and reassure yourself that you’re a grow-ass adult man that can open some whop-ass on anyone, in any way, shape or form!
That’s enough of the theory of interpersonal dominance such that I can begin explaining to you how to put it into practice. First there is a certain baseline attitude or presence-of-mind that you need to establish, which simply means that you expect that your boundaries will be tested. This is what Jordan Peterson meant when he advises you to “stand up straight with your shoulders back.” By carrying yourself more confidently, speaking in a lower tone of voice, and standing with an upright posture, you will let would-be challengers know that you are not to be messed around with.
If you want to correct a lifelong issue that you have with drawing boundaries, you have to kill that boyish naiveté in you. People are not always nice and often times respect has to be earned. You should approach people with an attitude of pleasant neutrality rather than instantly giving your warmth and kindness to anyone and everyone you meet.
I’ll share with you my own personal story about how my own Oedipal mother caused a severe deficit in my ability to establish boundaries with others. When I was growing up, my father was remote, neglectful and abusive. My mother turned to me to get her emotional needs met. We confided in each other and often cried on each other’s shoulders (quite literally). This clear violation and erosion of boundaries between myself and my mother caused me to expect that all of the women I dated would be like she was.
All of this was quite unconscious, emotional and very much “under the surface.” It took decades of failed dating attempts before I realized that women can be absolute snakes and that I had better take my time with someone before I open up to them emotionally. I used to lead with my heart on my sleeve, get burned, and then blame the girl for being “unenlightened” or “mentally ill.” In fact, I was responsible for my own suffering – as are you. If we take responsibility for our suffering, then that means we can do something about it.
RED PILL #2: RESPECT AND FEAR ARE THE SAME THING
You would never tell your boss that he should “go fuck himself” every time you’re upset with him. You bite your tongue and play-nice with him because you fear him. He has the power to fire you and cause you financial harm. Regardless of the circumstances, you tend to act respectfully to your boss. Fear and respect are the same thing, meaning that respect is earned by means of causing others to fear the consequences of violating their boundaries. When I was learning to ride a motorcycle, I bought a 300cc bike instead of a 1000cc bike. I did so because I respected the discipline of riding and the dangers involved (personal boundaries or limitations), meaning that I respected the power of a 1000cc bike – I feared that I would kill myself on a motorcycle by getting on a bike that was beyond my skill level to handle. Fear and respect are the same thing.
In the realm of day-to-day interpersonal dynamics, all you need to create is a mildly unpleasant experience for the boundary-violators. “Hey guys, seriously, enough with the teasing. I’m not in the fucking mood for it.” Between friends, coworkers and acquaintances, this is often enough to get the behavior to stop permanently. When I first started establishing such boundaries with people, I used to think that I was appealing to the best and most rational parts of them. I now know this to be false. Instead, it is the negative association that your attackers have to the experience that causes them not to act up again.
When people tease you and you give it back to them, or stick up for yourself in other ways, you turn a pleasant experience for them into an unpleasant one. That should be your goal, to make your attackers fear the consequences should they violate your boundaries again! When they stop doing it, they respect your boundaries, proving once again that respect and fear, at least in the realm of personal boundaries, are the exact same thing!
As I said, the punishment must fit the crime, and so escalations are often necessary when dealing with more determined opponents. The theory, however, remains unchanged. I have had experiences with bullies in grade school that refused to stop pushing me around until I dealt them a few black eyes. This is often what cures most bullies of their behavior. They push and hit other kids because it never occurred to them that they might get hit back. Once they do, they realize that their own submission-point is far lower than they thought it would be. The bully doesn’t like the pain, so they back off and never pick on you again. Again, respect and fear are the same thing. Bullies pick targets that they think will not fight back – the dominance hierarchy hard at work.
A responsible use of power would be to escalate only when appropriate and only when milder methods of drawing boundaries have failed. The thing to keep in mind is that your goal is to flip the dominance-submission balance in your favor. When the other party apologizes or backs down, you got them to submit. When you punch a mugger in the face and he runs away, he submitted. Other attackers won’t stop until they’re forced to submit – your attacker submits when he is no longer conscious or dead. It’s all the same theory across the entire dominance-submission spectrum.
A TALE OF TWO WORLDS
Did you know that we live in two worlds at the same time? What I mean by “two worlds,” is that all of us humans have to contend with a split, twofold nature. On the one side, we have those behaviors and attitudes that are good for society. This side I call our “Egalitarian Nature.” Whether you believe in equal outcomes, basically the stuff of socialist/utopian fantasies, or you believe in the much more libertarian concept of equal rights and different abilities and outcomes, there is still a sense of duty to some form of social equality.
Now for the other, much older and darker side of human nature, The Law of the Wild. The Law of the Wild doesn’t give a shit about “equal outcomes,” nor does it have the legal or moral structures to support the notion of “equal rights!” In the Law of the Wild, might makes right – period.
Each of these systems has its own moral code. We humans are left to contend with each system, and often times we are left internally conflicted when these systems contradict each other.
Let’s go back to the example of the schoolyard bully. Everyone knows that the only way to get a bully to stop shoving you around is to give him a punch in the face or the stomach. However, if you were to run to the school principal or a teacher for help, you would be labeled a “snitch,” a “pussy” or worse. In this way, the schoolyard code is much like the code at work in prison yards. The instigators of violence tend to get away with it, and it is the victim’s job to nut-up, stand up for himself and prove his mettle against his attackers. If the victim goes to the authorities for help, he gets the blame!
But why? Why does the victim get blamed and judged poorly in these situations? This is the Law of the Wild at work. It is the ugly, primal side of human nature. When the schoolyard wimp or the prison yard bitch gets picked on, The Law of the Wild says, “it’s the victim’s fault.” If the victim delegates this role to the authorities, he’s escaping back into Societal thinking, the other side of the coin – the Egalitarian Side. Those who are on the Wild Side judge this as further evidence of the victim’s lack of virtue – so he deserves to be picked on again and even more harshly.
There can be some incredible turn arounds when you accept The Law of the Wild, however. When the victim muscles up and topples the bully, he is cheered and celebrated as a hero. This is the Bible story of David and Goliath, as well as every mythological tale about heroes ever written.
The bully must be confronted. To do so is considered virtuous, or man-like (the Latin root word “vir” means “man,” so the word “virtuous” literally means, “manly”). The fact of the matter is that to be a man, you must learn how to contend with the Wild Side of human nature as well as the Egalitarian Side.
Herein lies a powerful truth. The Nice Guy or “beta male” only believes in the Egalitarian Side of human nature. He puts all of his faith in socially acceptable laws and conventions. “Why don’t women like nice guys,” he whines to himself. “Why does my girlfriend disrespect me all the time, we’re supposed to love each other, aren’t we?”
The Red-pill aware man knows how to walk the line and live in the Wild Side when necessary. He knows when the dominance and submission game is being played. He knows when to call the cops and when to take matters into his own hands. The Nice Guy Syndrome is what happens when men are overly socialized. They believe in playing by the rules of society, and delegating power and enforcement to the authorities. Of course, there is a definite need for that. Without it, we would have no civilization to enjoy at all.
However, there is also a side to human beings that is worth noting, because we are not able to fully escape it. When women throw themselves at muscular guys, it is because those men are displaying their physical capacity to do violence. Women are also attracted to men with dominant personalities, aggressive tendencies, and take-no-bullshit attitudes for the same reasons. If there is any part of our human nature that obeys the Law of the Wild, it would be our sexuality. When Nice Guys complain that all of their college pedigree and rule-following fails to get them laid, they would do well to read this section again.
All of this fits neatly into what I said earlier about dominance and submission, and social hierarchies. None of this dominance/submission talk has much of a place in a civilized society. However, if you don’t believe that it exists, you are setting yourself up for a life of misery and frustration. You will not be able to establish clear boundaries or earn the respect of others because you won’t be able to recognize what is really happening.
Let’s take another look at a social situation in which someone is judging you harshly or is insulting or mocking you. It would be a mistake to simply focus on the content of their insults rather than the intent behind them. “Why are you making fun of my pants?” You say, “What’s wrong with my pants.” Of course, odds are there is nothing wrong with “your pants,” but rather this is an excuse that your bully is using to dominate you. In such situations it would be useful for you to recognize that The Law of the Wild is at work here, and not the equalist rules of a gentle and fair civilization.
In this way, the words we use are a cloak or subtle disguise so as to conceal our true intentions to dominate and undermine other human beings. Language and content are socially acceptable means of engaging in covert means of playing The Law of the Wild. This is why Nice Guys are so perplexed by these situations and why they struggle with earning the respect of others and in drawing boundaries. Often times they feel as if they “have a target on their heads.” One potent solution to this is for Nice Guys to stop being naïve and ignorant about The Law of the Wild. Sure, it would be nice if everyone said what they meant and treated all other human beings fairly. However, it is important to recognize when the dominance game is being played. It is equally important to know how to play the dominance game yourself.
In closing, drawing boundaries is not about getting a result, not an understanding. When you appeal to someone else’s good nature, you are hoping to get an understanding out of them. Sadly, this rarely works to influence their behavior. Thus, if you beg your girlfriend to quit nagging you, you are obeying the Law of Society and equalism. She says she’ll do her best to try and stop nagging you, but of course it never changes. If, on the other hand, you walk out the door the next time she nags you, that will cause a fear in her that you will abandon her if her behavior continues. Fear equals respect. She doesn’t have to understand why you did it in order for you to achieve the desired result. In the Law of the Wild, actions speak louder than words.