Posted by jeremy on February 1, 2011 9:29 pm.
After several weeks or months of manpower-intensive organized harassment, it’s likely you’ve been treated to repeated signs of break-ins or vandalism that only happen behind your back1, as well as obvious shadowing / observation2. The previous psychological messages will reinforce a new, very threatening message: that large numbers of people are being informed about everything you do, even in private; and that they find your activities ridiculous, even hateful.
Mirroring, or the simple mimicry of your private life in full public view, turns out to be surprisingly effective at getting this message across, and hence it’s frequently used.
Why mirroring works
1. You notice it.
Mammals have an innate ability to imitate others of their kind by mirroring their actions, which helps with the acquisition of complex skills. Humans (and some higher animals) are not only able to imitate others; they’re able to tell when they’re being imitated.3
Mirroring or imitation of a person’s activities or habits, at the street level, will be immediately noticed by that person.
2. Nobody else notices it.
If the activities being imitated are private, others who witness the message won’t understand what they’re seeing.
3. You don’t notice that nobody else notices it.
Because your attention is grabbed by a mirroring episode, you don’t notice whether anyone else in the area is paying attention. You may imagine that you’re being publicly humiliated. This perceived humiliation would cause you to isolate yourself, or even become angry.
The sensitization phase
There seem to be two general approaches in which a target of organized harassment is introduced to the notion he’s under some form of community surveillance, and that the watchers don’t like what they see.
In the first approach, the target is first provided with a few memorable and unmistakeable displays of hostility. Three convincing types of messages that can be used:
- Aggression from someone the target knows, and has reason to be in a fight with. This will lay the foundation for the target to believe that this person is the one who started it all.
- In the wake of shadowing/observation tactics, a total stranger shouts obscenities at the target, or makes an obscene gesture at him, without provocation. This is the sort of thing that most people won’t do without a good reason, so the target will imagine that the aggressor is in league with the followers, and hates him.
- A group of people act in a very unusual (and therefore, memorable) way showing that they are aware of each other and their relationship to the target, and are hostile to the target. One frequently reported approach is to form a human wall (either on foot or in vehicles), side-by-side and staring straight ahead while approaching the target.
In the second approach, the conspicuous surveillance comes into the target’s life for “no reason”, and gradually settles in. The tactics only take a turn for the worse if the target acts out.
Some common tactics used to deliver messages of covert surveillance and aggression
- Strangers, adversaries (the ones you believe are behind it all), or even friends or family members may repeat unusual phrases from private discussions, word for word.
- Closely related, these people may make knowing remarks or start conversations referring to details of your private life in your presence.
- Caricatures of the target or significant persons in the target’s life may wander by and catch the target’s attention. They may mirror episodes that happened in the target’s life recently; this is a form of street theater.
- Noise campaigns, synchronized with the target’s private activities. The noises should be loud and distracting - alarms going off, gun shots, explosions in the distance, and so on. This may serve as sensitization to more subtle noise campaigns later.
- Visual stimuli, again synchronized with the target’s private activities: a car that seems to have been waiting for the target to notice it before delivering a message (such as brighting) and driving away, for example. These displays may also be sensitization for more subtle stimuli later.
Accusations of mental illness
As with all the previously described tactics, these tactics seem ripped from the pages of mental health manuals. The most obvious symptom of mental illness you might get tricked into reporting is delusions of persecution4. In addition, reporting events around you that seem to refer to you (without mentioning you directly) supports a diagnosis of delusions of reference4.
The tactic of dispatching lookalikes/caricatures of you or significant others turns out to be taken from the pages of mental health manuals, as well. For example, people in your vicinity who look like you correspond to subjective double syndrome5, and people imitating others in your life correspond to the Fregoli delusion, in which a single person keeps reappearing in different disguises6.
Finally, reporting covert hostility from friends and family members supports a diagnosis of Capgras syndrome, in which people close to the target have been replaced with identical-looking imposters.7
Related to the idea that ‘everyone knows everything’, is a more sophisticated mental model (which many targets adopt) involving imagined smear campaigns, snitches, blackmailed/threatened friends and relatives, and so on. Discard this model, for the moment. You don’t know for certain that this is what’s going on behind the scenes, and nobody else in your situation does, either.
What you’re being led to believe is that everyone around you “knows everything” and is hostile to you. It will help a lot if you think of them as acting on a need-to-know basis; all these people don’t have the time to track your every movement, so they must be instructed - somehow - to take actions that are psychologically significant to you.
Street theater seems especially disturbing because it seems so obvious. You might think: “How could anyone else not see this happening - they must be in on it!” But in fact, the performance you watch is at the center of your attention. Others nearby may think it’s strange, but they don’t understand its significance, and you aren’t paying attention to how they react.
The people speaking about or acting out details from your private life might not know the significance of what they’re doing, and they might not even know that you’re the intended audience. Strip away what you imagine they’re doing, and just focus on what they’re actually doing to your face, and you’ll realize they might have no idea what they’re up to.
Don’t overreact; just treat the peculiar happenings as nothing out of the ordinary, and deflect any unwanted conversational paths with light humor, or shift the focus onto the person you’re talking with8. Act as if you still have privacy, even if it doesn’t seem that way, and don’t let conversational partners draw personal details out of you, even if it seems like they already know those details. The people you interact with aren’t nearly as knowledgeable as you think they are.
Your mind is the target; protect it
As these tactics progress, you’ll start being offered negative feedback on everything you say, and do; you might be tempted to stop saying or doing anything. Keep your mind occupied with things you have expertise in, or hobbies, instead of retreating to a bubble – as you’ll eventually find they can get to you inside that bubble. It’s your mind that’s the target of this negative feedback, so you must protect it by keeping your thoughts on things that help your mind (like useful/enjoyable occupations) instead of things that hurt your mind (the things they’re trying to get you to worry about).
Build your awareness of how you’re being manipulated by these displays of aggression. You’re going to need it.
- ^ V.S. Ramachandran. Neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind 'the great leap forward' in human evolution; Edge Foundation.
- ^ a b Andreasen, Nancy C. (1984). "Scale for the assessment of positive symptoms"; The Movement Disorder Society. (local copy)
- ^ Christodoulou G. N. (1978). "Syndrome of subjective doubles"; American Journal of Psychiatry, 135(2), 249-51.
- ^ Mojtabai R (September 1994) "Fregoli syndrome". Aust N Z J Psychiatry 28 (3): 458–62. doi:10.3109/00048679409075874
- ^ Hirstein W, Ramachandran VS (1997). "Capgras syndrome: a novel probe for understanding the neural representation of the identity and familiarity of persons". Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 264: 437–444. doi:10.1098/rspb.1997.0062.
Footnotes and further reading on this site
- ^ “Behind your back: the psychological impact of unseen attackers”; January 2011.
- ^ “An unhealthy interest in you”; January 2011.
- ^ Turning the subject of a conversation to your conversational partner is a winning strategy, in general; people love talking about themselves.