Rationalizing as a Manipulation Tactic
Rationalizing for wrongful behavior is nothing new. But some folks rationalize more than others. In fact, some have raised excuse-making to nearly an art form.
Professionals long viewed rationalization as an unconscious defense mechanism. We thought folks did it because they felt horrible. They wanted to assuage a mound of guilt. so, they had to talk themselves into believing something they did wasn’t so bad. Moreover, we thought they did all this unconsciously – without really realizing it. But making excuses to justify oneself and to disarm one’s accuser is something different. That kind of rationalizing is a manipulation tactic, pure and simple.
Rationalization as a tactic has a simple strategy. Get someone to buy into your seemingly reasonable “explanations,” and your behavior takes on a whole different light. Your intentions look less sinister. And you don’t look so bad in character. Wow! Do bad things, and look not so bad doing them! That’s quite a feat. No wonder rationalizing is such a popular and effective tactic.
Accepting No Excuses and Judging Behavior on its Own Merits
Conscientious folks try hard to understand. And, because they’ve been conditioned to do so, they concern themselves too much with intentions. But when it comes to harmful behavior, the reasons for it are fairly irrelevant. And when someone makes an excuse for it, you know they aren’t serious about ever correcting it. So, there’s a simple way to deal with someone’s excuses: don’t accept them.
Accepting no excuses is a powerful empowerment tool. So is judging actions, not intentions. (See: pp. 145-148 in In Sheep’s Clothing.) Besides, only when someone accepts the wrongfulness of their actions, regardless of their intentions, can they possibly find the motivation to change their ways. If you buy into someone’s excuses, you only enable their character dysfunction.
I’ve written before on the power of judging behavior on its own merits. (See the series on Judging Character.) And it’s important to remember that past behavior is the single best predictor of future behavior. For a person to truly learn from their mistakes, they must first accept them as such. That means honestly reckoning with one’s wrongdoing. Rationalizing gets in the way of that. It obstructs proper course-correction. And it keeps a person’s already underdeveloped conscience from maturing. That’s why in Character Disturbance I describe rationalization as not only a manipulation tactic but also a responsibility-avoidance behavior.
Growing in Character
People grow in character when they stop making excuses. What we do matters. How we treat others matters. Respecting that and doing our best to do the right thing builds integrity of character. In fact, you can define character deficiency as the absence of the desire to do this. Disturbed characters are the penultimate excuse makers. They always have a “reason” for every harmful thing they do. And the reason is always irrelevant in the face of the injury their behavior may inflict. So, until a person reckons with their behavior and its impact, they’ll neither change nor grow.
Now, caring about and reckoning with the impact of one’s behavior requires empathy. And as you know, many character-impaired individuals are empathy-deficient. But you can’t grow in empathy capacity unless you faithfully reckon with the consequences of your actions. And to do that, you first have to stop making excuses.
We’ll talk about a couple of the other common manipulation tactics and how to respond to them next week.
Character Matters should air live April 8, 2018. So, I can take your phone calls. Tune it at 7 pm Eastern (4 pm Pacific) and join the conversation!
The first of the 2018 workshop schedule has been posted on the Seminars page.
As always, thanks sincerely for recommending my books and this blog to others.