A conversation with a harmful human (short version):
John Doe to Putin, "You are invading my space in a violent way."
Response from wicked person, "If you keep saying harmful things to me, I will have to put you in your place. All I've ever done is supported you!"
Has a conversation ever gone like this for you (tongue in cheek of course)? If so, you might have been dealing with someone who is harmful. If you try to engage someone with harmful traits the way you do with an average Joe (defined as the 'garden variety sinner' in Adam Young's podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves, Episode #93), you will keep running up against a wall, at best, or feel crazy and lose your sense of self, a dark tactic used by these types of people. Let's further break down a harmful person into two subtypes, a wicked person and an evil person.
You can say to the wicked person, 'Ouch, you hurt me.' Jeremiah 8:6 is clear on how a wicked person might respond, "'No man repents of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?'" The key factor for the wicked individual is his inability to take responsibility, show empathy and dialogue about how he has hurt you. He might use tactics of scapegoating, gaslighting and subtle threats to avoid his guilt.
The evil person goes a step further. Her intention is to humiliate, make fun of and mock her victim. She doesn't feel guilt for making someone suffer and almost (or does) enjoy it. Now let's make the connection to the War in Ukraine and Putin's tactics. He uses deceitful maneuvers to blame Ukraine for Russia's invasion. He engages the psychological weapon of deception with intelligent words to rationalize the brutal attack of an innocent country. Here are 5 of Putin's reasons for the invasion of Ukraine (businessinsider.com, 2022) and a practical tip to hone in on this type of behavior in everyday life.
1. Concern over NATO's eastward expansion.
a. Making this practical: if a controlling, harmful person senses or sees you in relationship with healthy people who will protect and love you well, he might try to isolate you and keep you away from those allies.
2. Putin blamelessly claims Ukraine is committing genocide against ethnic Russians.
a. Making this practical: An evil person will blame her victim for the very thing she is doing to them. This is a power move and a way to rationalize her behavior.
3. Putin falsely says Ukraine isn't a real country.
a. Practical: A wicked person might use shaming tactics to attack his victim's identity. This destruction of sense of self crushes the soul's desire to stand up and fight (a tactic not working against the strong people of Ukraine).
4. Dubious concerns over nuclear weapons.
a. Practical: The harmful person might use scapegoating to blame shift. Isn't it interesting that Russia is a nuclear threat, yet Putin is using language of 'concern' that Ukraine is a threat?
5. Putin may want to build back a Russian empire
a. Practical: The history and childhood of a narcissist (possibly Putin's diagnosis?) is typically one of profound insecurities, a lost sense of self and sometimes a 'small man complex' to make up for what he senses is lacking in himself. He'll use his victim as a narcissistic supply, to fuel his ego.
Now let's get even more practical and answer two questions: How do I engage a wicked person? What does reconciliation mean with this type of person?
To begin to answer the first question (this is by no means an exhaustive answer), you might start of with a question, 'Jane Doe, are you willing to hear a way you have harmed me?' This takes away the wicked person's power, a key factor in controlling the conversation so she does not take over, which plays into Jesus' words, 'Be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves' (Matt. 10:16). If her heart does not soften and instead hardens towards you, then clear boundaries, courageous consequences and insightful preparation for future conversations is a loving way you can engage this person.
Is reconciliation possible? Of course! But let's remember that forgiveness does not equal reconciling. You can forgive and not be reconciled. In other words, release the anger, resentment and debt this person owes you and work towards more positive feelings, with God's help and grace. However, to reconcile, 3 dynamics are needed from the repentant person: acknowledging the harm they have caused without blame shifting, feeling heartfelt sorrow and pain, and choosing to rectify by taking steps to change. This is a whole brain approach by engaging the faculties of their intellect, feelings and will to risk enough, to be vulnerable enough, to transform enough, in order to be safe again.
On the macro scale, Russia has a long ways from being safe again. Maybe this is why we are called to pray for them, a request made by Our Lady of Fatima. We can pray AND hold them accountable for the wicked, technically evil, ways they are ruining lives in Ukraine.
On the mirco scale, if you want a comprehensive discussion about 'How to engage someone who has harmed you,' see Adam Young's podcast, the Place We Find Ourselves, Episodes #93-98. Prayers of courage for your journey.
Michael Ciaccio MS, LPC, SATP