November 2014: Real Life Object Lesson
I had a most surprising day yesterday—much of which went well. A significant part did not go well. I will share the latter part with you, so you can learn as I go!
It was an object lesson in psychological abuse tactics.
Two weeks ago the local Dodge dealership got into the Halloween spirit by playing a trick on me with my truck repair that didn’t happen; then charging me a crazy amount of money for accomplishing nothing. After reviewing my bill over the weekend—without any clear explanation of what I was charged for—I sent an email to the person I had been dealing with. At the time, I felt he had provided excellent customer care—treating me very well in the shop. A week went by without a response. I forwarded my email to the general manager (their flyer in the mail conveniently provided that information). Yesterday morning I received a phone message that the original person wanted me to call about my email. I left a voice message that I was in town and would stop by before end of business day should time allow it.
When I showed up, said person was out on a test drive of some sort, but that he should be back momentarily. Several minutes later he’s back in his office—and proceeds to ignore me standing at the counter: makes phone calls, walks right by without glancing my way. I call his name. He glances up—and invites me into his office with a jab about not being sure I would show up (I had stated it would be near end of business day, had an hour to spare yet). But his office? Why would I need to go to his office to have my bill explained to me? Warning flags!!!!
Well! What happened next could have been a case study in one of my psychology-related books. I can’t imagine having the conversation I did without the knowledge that I have acquired. By the time I was back in my truck, I was in tears! And so very confused. What had me so very upset?
As I mentally reviewed the conversation, I was able to identify several psychological abusive tactics: contradicting, correcting/chastising, projecting, imposing (telling a person what they should or should not feel or think), ignoring, blaming/not taking responsibility, evading, denying, negating, interrupting, implied insults, power differential/control, finger pointing (intimidating gesture), just to name a few.
When I expressed feeling taken advantage of, he openly denied this. No such thing had happened.
When I challenged the clarity of my bill, he pointed at the ‘answer’ on my bill where two names were printed (not associated with anything else on the page). From that, I was expected to deduce that I had been charged 1 hour of labour for a technician, and one hour of labour for the shop foreman (double the rate of the technician). This had not been cleared with me. No one called to ask if I wanted to pay that much for a repair they couldn’t perform. But I didn’t even get a chance to express all of that. Example of implied insult to my intelligence and negating: what I was saying was inconsequential.
When I asked why the bill wasn’t clearer (with suggestions of how it could be so), he blamed the computer system which “wasn’t theirs.” Wasn’t theirs? What does that mean? He claimed they couldn’t enter the information I required (deflecting). When I expressed seeing the technician type into the system as I pointed at the sheet of paper, he interrupted and tried to deflect/distract by repeating what he had just said about not being able to change things in the computer and pointing elsewhere on the page. And yet, what was on the paper was what I had asked them to check! How would the computer system know that without someone typing it in? But I didn’t get to ask that either. Abuse of interrupting, distracting/deflecting, blaming, repeating instead of answering the next question.
When I expressed frustration that he wasn’t listening to me, he pointed his finger at me as he emphasized that I was the one not hearing him! Projecting the issue back on me with an intimidating gesture.
When I expressed frustration that they couldn’t even fix the problem, he replied he thought it had been fixed (denying, negating) and blamed the used part (couldn’t guarantee the work therefore charged whatever time it took to figure out there might be a glitch with the part or the system). This is inconsistent with the research we did which I attempted to share with him—and he denied of course—and didn’t even allow me to finish (interrupting—this he did whenever I attempted to state my case).
Counter arguing (contradicting) every point I made is another form of abuse—never actually giving me time or space to fully express myself (controlling the conversation). And he was surprised I was angry? I think not.
When I pulled my bill away and got up to leave, he addressed me like I was being unreasonable—he was after all going to refund me the full amount (not just one of the hours of labour as I had requested). He really did not get that it was more than just the dollar amount. I was done with being mistreated.
But when I sat down again, he proceeded with more abuse, not simply the refund—which had to be done in the shop. If he was so prepared to refund my money, why the continued song and dance in his office? Why didn’t he just get up with me and proceed to the shop to refund my money? Evidently he had a point to make which I just wasn’t getting (aka not accepting). He evidently felt it incumbent upon himself to chastise me for choosing a used a part and hence blamed me for the amount of time it took and hence the high fees. No guarantees. It was insinuated that I was being unreasonable by not accepting the bill and for choosing a used part in the first place (implied insult). And here I’m just expecting common decency and respect. I can handle that it couldn’t be fixed. I’m having issues with the way that it was handled and invoiced.
When I asked why he hadn’t just explained the fees in an email, he said that my email had gone to his spam folder; and so he didn’t know about it until the General Manager asked about it that morning—hence my morning phone message. That still doesn’t explain the song and dance. He still could have sent an email with the explanation. Evasion. Another abuse tactic.
This guy was slick, I tell you. When we went to the garage for the refund, he acted like raised voices had not just happened seconds earlier. All sweet as pie. I thanked them for the refund and left. There were witnesses after all.
The part that gets trickier for me was the intense emotional response. I was not in tears simply because someone had been ignorant toward me. I was in tears because this was not my first time. This is what’s called being triggered—a present moment is triggering unresolved issues from the past. I have a long, complicated history of being treated in this way.
It is simply that my strong emotional response was layer upon layer of my personal experience of being treated like I don’t count, that I don’t matter. It became normal for me to be treated thus. So I didn’t even recognize it as necessarily harmful when I began counselling—just par for the course. As I have worked with many women (and men too) in abuse recovery coupled with my own abuse and trauma recovery, I have become very familiar with the insidious and pervasive nature of psychological abuse. I now recognize what even I don’t want to see. Doesn’t make it less painful—to hear about or to experience. But I can recover—each time.
I think I was also shocked to experience psychological abuse in a professional setting like that. Without my past history, it wouldn’t have upset me as deeply—or I wouldn’t even have bothered to address the situation—or I would have quietly gone along with whatever was said to me—or I would have walked out and not gone back for more. Learning experience.
As I type this, I can recognize that I have come a few paces along my healing journey. There was a time when I wouldn’t have addressed the situation for fear of upset; or I would have gone along with it for fear of rocking the boat. I have yet to learn to call a spade a spade and walk out. My personal sense of self is worth far more than any unreasonable bill paid to a dealership.
I do count, I do matter. Regardless if I’m treated that way or not.
May you take to heart that you do count, that you do matter. It will change your world.