Creative Counselling: Cry Wolf
Marie Bruce joins us for another instalment of Creative Counselling, shedding light on the toxic duo of truth bias and traumatic bonding and the lessons we can take away from a familiar childhood tale.
Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing… Don’t stray from the path… Be careful who you trust… Never let your guard down – and so on. Little girls are taught from a young age to be careful of the people they trust, for they may not be all that they seem. Whilst the fairy-tale Little Red Riding Hood is a parable designed to teach us this early on, it often seems to be the wolves that get our attention first as we grow up.
I have a tendency to see the best in people. While this sounds like a great virtue there have been occasions where it was my biggest flaw, meaning that I trusted the wrong people and failed to recognise those who would manipulate others to serve their own agenda. Like many, I have been deceived in the past and have failed to recognise when I’ve been under the influence of two phenomenons that psychotherapists call truth bias and traumatic bonding.
Put simply, truth bias is when the facts are staring you in the face but you just don’t allow yourself to believe it. Instead, you believe the word of a liar – because you love the person who is being dishonest. In that moment, it is easier to accept a lie than it is to deal with the reality of the truth. While your instincts might be telling you that your partner is being unfaithful or your child is using drugs, you believe their lies instead. Truth bias is a twisted form of self-preservation – believe the lie and kiss and make up; believe the lie and go on as before; believe the lie and avoid change. At the time, change seems more painful than acknowledging deception.
Likewise, traumatic bonding is when you find yourself in a relationship that is not actually of your choosing, but which instead seems to develop during a stressful time in your life. If you’re dealing with illness or bereavement it can be difficult to see when you are being manipulated and drawn into a relationship against your better judgment. There are some people who would take advantage of any situation – even things like funerals or serious illnesses – in order to compromise you and take advantage. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They look like good guys, they act like good guys, they might even be in a profession which garners automatic trust, such as a doctor. Yet, they are acting from their own selfish agenda – and you have inadvertently become their latest little tidbit.
“No-one finds it easy to admit that they’ve been manipulated, taken advantage of and fooled – so they carry on as they were.”
Unfortunately traumatic bonding and truth bias frequently go hand in hand, meaning that you can become blind to the situation you’re in. No-one finds it easy to admit that they’ve been manipulated, taken advantage of and fooled – so they carry on as they were. Eventually, though, you become so broken by disappointment and so let down by your day-to-day life that you stop caring about anything at all. Believe it or not, this is the turning point!
At this stage, an influence far older, wiser and deeper than either truth bias or traumatic bonding steps in and takes over. Your survival instinct kicks in, rips the blinkers from your eyes and gives you the strength you need to move on. At least to yourself you can finally acknowledge that yes, someone did try to take advantage of you; yes, they did offer silver-tongued empty promises to be there for you, to catch you when you fell, to care for you or any number of other promises – and then promptly left you to fend for yourself because you failed to meet their demands in some way, or ceased to be convenient to them. Someone did try to reel you in at a traumatic time not because they had any genuine care or compassion for you, but because they viewed you as an easy target. When you start to see the truth and accept that it is the truth, you can begin to deal with it.
This kind of epiphany can be very painful. It is usually identified as the moment you say “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” Frequently it leads to positive changes in your life, but there is often a time of instability and upset to get through first. Counselling can help as you begin to forge a new path for yourself. It can teach you how to better assess your relationships in the future, and how to ask yourself the right questions.
Just because someone claims to have your best interests at heart does not mean that they do. Ask yourself “Is this a treat or a threat?”, “Is this a show of support or a strategic seduction?”, “Is this a friend, or a fiend?” At the end of
the day you will be stronger for surviving the disappointment, and you will have learnt to look beyond that which is being presented to you. You will have learnt to see the deeper truths lurking beneath appearances, making it less likely that you will be manipulated in the same way again. Truth bias and traumatic bonding are certainly life lessons from the school of hard knocks but in the end, you will graduate with self-honour.
Marie Bruce x
Find out more:
Marie Bruce Dip. T.C. MBACP is a qualified psychotherapist and a best-selling self-help author.
In this monthly column, Marie offers simple tools used by therapists to help clients and readers improve their mental well-being.
Marie’s books are available on Amazon UK, in digital and print formats.