So, about that boy that I was iffy on, and G was defending? Expelled for bringing a weapon to school.
We were right on the gut read.
We also took the opportunity to teach G about emotional grooming. I did some research, wrote it up for him, and let him read it. We talked about it a little - that someone doesn't need to do ALL these things to be grooming you for emotional or social or physical control. Just one is iffy enough. At the same time, many of these behaviors are things boys and girls in high school do to each other constantly. Especially in relationships.
These techniques are ways to evade consent conflicts, in advance of the situation. They encourage consent even against better judgment.They're how abusive partners take control. They're how date rape happens and the person raped doesn't really understand how things got that far. They're even some of the techniques for how sales people and commercials get you to impulse buy. And also some are how politicians and political ads convince you to vote for their candidates, even. The techniques are the same. It's a good idea to know how to spot them.
Spotting Emotional Grooming
Emotional grooming is actions intended to establish control of another person’s actions, authority, power, identity, reputation, physical body (for sex or participation in violence), etc. The primary driver is to create a sense of being in control for the groomer (of their life, of their social world, etc.) by subtly controlling the actions of the target.
Tools of a groomer:
- Jealousy/Possessiveness (Acting possessive, being jealous of time spent with others or elsewhere or with family, belittling those close to the target such as parents or siblings, or suddenly removing attention to trigger jealousy and initiate a desire to regain the previous level of interaction, asking for actions – say or do - as proof of friendship)
- Insecurity (Acting uncertain, self-destructive, tearing self down, lauding the skills/abilities of the target over own abilities, being negative about self recurrently – in order to get a response from another person: hoping for a responsive ‘building up’ denials (‘no you’re not, you’re a great friend!’); change of target’s actions; change of target’s choices ‘I guess I’m not good enough to be your friend’ to get the target to spend more time with them or allow access to more information; ‘I’m not very smart’ to get the target to spend time helping them, ‘I probably deserve (bad thing), I always screw things up’ to get attention or more time with target. OR can reverse to be playing on the targets insecurities, ‘nobody really wants to be friends with weirdos like you, except me’.)
- Intimidation (Trying to control or own the actions of the target, veiled threats, suggestions of instability that might lead to violence against self or others. Conversations or actions that make the target vaguely or directly uneasy or uncomfortable, while leaving the groomer in full control. Groomers will gradually increase the level of scary in their tactics to see how much the target will tolerate, and will continue to escalate gradually, incrementally moving up until they have achieved control. They do not usually go to all out scary at once, or they lose access to the target. They also incrementally move up the topics to more and more extreme actions and thoughts to desensitize the target to their topics, so the target will not notice when a line is crossed into active life threatening danger or actions that jeopardize the target’s life choices/goals in favor of aligning them permanently with the goals of the groomer.)
- Anger (Expressing anger inappropriately, at self or at others, outbursts directed internally (aggressive negative self-talk) or externally (cursing, crowding in, bumping, pushing, etc., in order to make the target uneasy or uncomfortable, with a goal of getting the target to make accommodating actions to avoid further outbursts).
- Accusations (Using false or exaggerated accusations to frighten, threaten, or socially or emotionally control the target. The intent is to use peer process (accusing publicly as escalation over accusing privately) to publicly control or humiliate the target into siding with the groomer, doing what the groomer wants regardless of family or internal rules and ethics, or defending the groomer publicly or to family and friends.)
- Flattery (Using positive phrasing and praise to get the target to behave in certain ways – such as seeking them out, spending time with the groomer, or helping the groomer with an activity that gives the groomer access to the target.)
- Status (Using positive or negative status as a lure or promise to the target, to get them to do or say something they otherwise would not do or say.)
- Bribery (Giving in order to get something from the target. This can be giving to get the target to stay under the groomer’s control, to participate in activities the groomer wants to pursue, or to overlook an opportunity to notify someone of the grooming,
- Control (Groomer checks in on target out of context, follows or shows up at unexpected times, calls or texts to check up on what the target is thinking, reading, or doing, or to ask where they are or who they are with. Groomer indicates how target should dress, who to spend time with, what to spend money on and when. Groomer makes demands, or gives orders. Groomer tries to get target to keep the friendship secret from people who care about the target. Groomer uses explosive or no-warning anger to get target to change choices, actions, or words. Groomer refuses to listen to or show respect for others, especially others who have relationship authority with the target. Groomer attempts to keep target away from family and/or other friends. Groomer gives gifts or provides access to things that are otherwise not available to the target or approved of by the target’s friends and family. Groomer spreads rumors about target. Groomer threatens or implies harm to self including suicide.)
Groomers do not feel they are in control of their actions or feelings, lack discipline and self-control. They either don’t understand their feelings, or blame them on outside agency, or that they ‘just happen’ or ‘come out of nowhere’. Groomers do not wish to be in control of their emotions, and set up back stories and scenarios in which others will not expect them to take responsibility for themselves, either. Groomers separate their ‘good’ self from the social story of their ‘bad’ self so that people will continue to like the ‘good’ version of them and dismiss or forgive them for the negatives they refuse to claim or own responsibility for. Groomers believe that “The Devil Made Me Do It” is a rational position. Groomers will blame divorced parents, bad teachers, spiritual interference, and bad luck.
Groomers intend to create a false sense of trust. They say what the target wants to hear, and tune closer and closer to what gives them the results they’re looking for, both refining for what gets them the response they’re seeking, and what will desensitize their target to the action they want them to take.
Groomers usually DO NOT know they are grooming, and will deny it and take evasive or controlling action (spreading rumors, threatening target, threatening target’s family or friends, threatening self) in response to accusations. If a target tells a groomer that they are spotted as grooming, manipulating, etc., they will either increase the behavior to get control back (anger or insecurity techniques), or they will apologize profusely for the misunderstanding, act contrite and appalled that they could be so badly misunderstood, and back off the grooming either permanently or for a while, then restart with a more subtle approach.
Stages of grooming:
1) Identifying target (by look, by whether they are already hanging with a peer group, whether family is nearby; those who do not ‘fit in’ are immediate targets)
2) Information gathering (asking about family, beliefs, using the control techniques above to test the target’s tolerance, creating sympathy for overbearing parents/family/religion/society/school in order to extract more information/detail, identifying insecurities to either bolster or exploit).
3) Lowering inhibitions (exposing to terms, ideas, or access that they would not normally have access to, showing them weapons, drugs, or violent or sexual materials in an increasing manner, initially remote/images/ideas, increasingly setting up situations in which the target will feel uncomfortable telling parents or others what they did or talked about, either to not betray the ‘friend’ (groomer) or to not lose access to the attractive items/options, or out of shame or guilt or fear of repercussions.)
4) Initiating abusive power (initiating ‘iffy’ or gray-zone unethical but not illegal actions, and progressing to unethical or illegal but not overtly harmful activities such as breaking/entering or graffiti, using forbidden or dangerous weapons in a ‘safe’ place and way; increasingly engaging in other actions that the target will not willingly confess to a parent or authority, and which can then be used for threat of exposure control to increase the level of power… which then feeds in a cycle to increasing levels of danger and risk, giving the groomer increasing sense of power and control as they get the target to do things that are completely outside what the target would have previously considered ethical, appropriate, safe, or sane.)
Months have passed now. G has settled in a little more, and has found some friends who are worth his energy and attention, kids whose parents invite me to talk to them, who welcome me into their home when I pick G up, who stand on the front walk and talk. Kids who behave well when out at a restaurant with me and G, who get excited by G's wild plans and ideas and try to help him make them real, who talk with him about dating, and siblings, and life. Smart kids with dreams and plans and geekdom galore.