I recently chatted with Lindsey who feels caught between a rock and a hard place: she wants to break away from the person who has hurt her but she feels that No Contact would be “too harsh” because he’s her “best friend”-cue my raised eyebrows and a side-eye. Curious as to what qualified this person to have best friend status, it became apparent that this was a friendship that had initially appeared to be above board. He’d sought her out for advice because it’s the field she works in and she’s very bubbly, helpful and she admits, rather naive. Because he’s married, she automatically relaxed and assumed everything was above board. She relaxed even more when it turned out that they had mutual friends and that their families knew each other. Feeling safe in his company, she confided in him about her shady pest of an ex and he played knight in shining armour and told the ex to back off. She, still thinking that he was being friendly, and with her wanting some insider info on what it’s like to be in a relationship, asked him about his marriage, to which he replied with grumbling about his unhappiness and how it was breaking down. Sympathetic, she provided a willing ear and still didn’t register that maybe this wasn’t really a friendship and that there might be ulterior motives behind him confiding in her. Of course it became an affair which is now over, but it never occurred to her that the writing on the wall for that happened much earlier on in the proceedings.
The basis of her trusting him was social proof, so taking the fact that others who she knew appeared to like and trust him, and then following suit without establishing personal reasons for that trust or at the very least rolling back her trust levels when it became apparent that he was saying and doing things that really weren’t all that friendly.
When we are unsure of ourselves and feeling particularly vulnerable, we often look to others to direct us, even if it’s in an indirect way, so if we know that Tom, Dick and Harry also like Pete, and we like that group of people or consider them to be an authority, then even if we have some misgivings about Pete, we will assume that we must have it wrong. If Pete gives us an increasing number of reasons to feel uncomfortable, even though we might be tempted to tell Pete to jog on, we’ll doubt our instincts and even wonder if it’s our fault that we’re experiencing a different version of Pete. We’ll want to ‘fit in’ and may feel that calling him out on his actions might threaten our secure seat in the group.
It might not occur to us that how liked or trusted we think a person is might be us projecting our perception of them or that these people might not know this person in the context that we do.
Let’s be real: there are countless examples in this world when a group of people have known about someone’s shadiness but said or done nothing about it and kept up the facade. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to think that this person is powerful, better etc, or that there’s no point in saying anything because we think, Well, who will believe us?