Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to rationally respond to betrayal?

I am making this posting to learn the rational ways to respond to betrayal. I define betrayal as intentional actions attempted to harm someone (say "X") by those persons whom X helped a lot in the past.
Paul Hauck has written in "Overcoming the Rating Game" (page 67 to 94) that "If people do something bad to you intentionally, then do something equally annoying or discomforting to them". He says that we get the behavior we accept.
Carl Sagan refers to Robert Axelrod's related work involving continuing round-robin computer tournament (Chaper: "The rules of the game" in his book "Billions and Billions"). He concludes that the most effective strategy is "Tit-for-Tat". Tit-for-Tat is defined as "you start co-operating, and subsequently you simply do what the other person did last time".
If direct speaking doesn't work and if it is clear (even to outside observer) that the actions are intentional, is it better to use indirect actions to employ the strategy of Tit-for-Tat?


David said...

What you mean by indirect actions?

Gayle said...

Steve, I'm not sure what you mean by "indirect actions" either. But I have used the tit-for-tat strategy, also known as prisoner's dilemma game strategy, in my political work. In that arena, members of the opposition frequently intend to inflict harm on their opponents. But I don't consider it betrayal. We had no trust and no friendship to betray. We are, by definition, adversaries. Even if we work cooperatively at times, it doesn't mean that we're friends. If there's any trust at all, it's of the vigilant variety.

In the game, as described by Sagan, the players all started out equal, with the same opportunities and the same resources. The game is used by the state departments and war departments of various countries -- if another country refuses cooperation, then the most likely way to bring them to the table is to meet their lack of cooperation with equal lack of cooperation, right down to killing people. I wouldn't suggest that in civilian life. Before using tit-for-tat, a good analysis of your power and resources in comparison to the opposition can give you and idea of whether or not it's a good strategy.

I wouldn't suggest using it when the power and resources are unequal. Tibet vs. China, instance. Or as one of my old mentors said, only an idiot would say power comes from the barrel of a gun when the other side has all the guns. One has to wonder what Saddam was thinking when he postured defiantly against the Bush administration. Ghadafi in Libya saw what happened to Saddam and immediately changed his strategy to cooperation because he saw he could be next.

That's how tit-for-tat works when it's used by governments who are willing to kill people to achieve their goals.

I do not use tit-for-tat with individuals with whom I hope to have a personal or friendly or loving relationship. If I'm tit-for-tatting you, it means I don't consider you a friend, strongly prefer to not have you as a friend and my goal is to win without necessarily grinding you into the ground. Tit-for-tat allows a win-win for both sides, although most of the political opposition I work with are thoroughly committed to zero-sum-games, where someone wins everything and the other side loses everything. Tit-for-tat can make politics the art of compromise.

I do not and would not use tit-for-tat in my personal relationships. For me, that kind of behavior in a friendship or loving relationship would be intolerable.

There's a part of your question that intrigues me ... you mention betrayal by people you've done a lot for in the past. This sounds personal. I have known betrayal. If it can't be worked out through talk, time and forgiveness ... and a cessation of the betraying behaviors ... then I will do what I can to detach myself with as many of my resources as possible and that will be the end of the relationship.

If you're looking at a marriage or business partnership, or Al's relationship with his board of trustees, you can see it can get mighty complicated and turn into a huge power struggle. Perhaps Al would have been wiser to use tit-for-tat early on, but, in truth, his attentions were focused on recovering from his near fatal bout with intestinal surgery. His physical frailty meant his resources had become suddenly limited.

Tit-for-tat has worked for me in the political arena because the power is not totally lopsided, thanks largely to our system of government and my access to print media. In a different system, I probably would have been crushed by superior forces long ago.

So, my best advice to anyone thinking of using tit-for-tat is to carefully analyze not only your power and resources vis-a-vis the opposition, but the system in which your encounters will take place. Then ... and this is important ... don't lose your sense of humor in the process of meeting non-cooperation with non-cooperation. Tit-for-tat can bring out revenge tactics ... as I think we've seen in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Indirect action may be "not co-operating in other future interactions with the person who has betrayed you till that person realises the mistake (betrayal) and changes the behavior".

Gayle said...

Depending on the situation, indirect action -- as defined above -- represents a suitable tit-for-tat response. But it depends. What do you consider betrayal and what do you consider an appropriate level of direct or indirect response? That's complicated.

In my own life, if I felt betrayed I would forcefully ABC my own beliefs, thoughts and feelings. If the problem is my hurt feelings, maybe the problem is that I'm upsetting myself over trifles or maybe I'm behaving in a demanding way because I'm MUSTurbating and awfulizing. I'd look at myself first.

And I'd also forcefully analyze the behavior of the person who I thought had betrayed me. Is this a one time deal, a matter of human fallibility? Is it a big deal or a small deal? Is there a pattern of betrayal and abuse?

I would then probably do a rational cost/benefit analysis, asking myself How much am I willing to take from this person and how much does it cost me emotionally and how much does the relationshop benefit me.

If I find myself having to behave strategically with a friend (tit-for-tat is a strategy) I'm probably going to decide that the cost of the relationship is more than the benefit. I strongly prefer friendships and love relationships that flow from authentic feeling. Sometimes they flow over rough patches. When that happens, I'll usually try unconditional acceptance as a way of dealing with the problems. For me, tit-for-tat is a business and political strategy.

I suppose I can imagine a personal situation where I was calculating an inheritance or divorce settlement and I'd be willing to behave in a cold, strategic manner. Gosh, I hope not! I would really dislike that. But people do find themselves in such situations. Tit-for-tat is designed to bring people back to a state of cooperation. Britney Spears' ex-husband's attorney is playing really good tit-for-tat. Britney acts out; she loses contact with her children. Britney plays nice (and pays up) she gets to see her kids.

I would strongly -- strongly -- prefer to never find myself in such a situation with someone I cared about. This is not theoretical for me. I've had at least two situation with extended family members who behaved very badly. I chose not to play tit-for-tat with them.

In How to Live With a Neurotic, Dr. Ellis asked, "How do you expect a neurotic to act, if not neurotically?" Their neurotic behavior is not a betrayal of me; they're just acting in accord with their neurosis. I may view their actions as a pain in the backside, but usually not as a betrayal.

In my case, I decided to not play any kind of game with their neurotic behaviors. I detached myself emotionally and I stopped trying to control their behavior. I used the principles of REBT to do that.

Had I tried to play tit-for-tat with their neurotic behavior, I'd probably end up behaving neurotically myself. Not a great game plan! In my experience, people who act neurotically on a regular basis tend to have a lot more stamina for game-playing than any non-neurotic person. I strongly advise using REBT to avoid being lured into playing games with the neurotic in your life. Save tit-for-tat for politics, lawsuits and business disputes.


Sanjay said...

Dear Gayle,

So many thanks for your previous and this comments. I learn a lot from your every comment and I am immensely grateful to you for them.

I am reading "Ask Albert Ellis" and found Al's reply to a similar question (page 44). Al says, along with other valuable advices:

Stop idiotically telling yourself,
"My betrayal absolutely should not have happened!"
"It's awful and terrible that it happened!"
"My betrayer is a totaly rotten person for betraying me!"
Then Al tells us the importance of Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA) and how it will enable us to "undisturbedly and productively get on with our own life".

Thanks again and best regards,~Sanjay~

Steve said...

Once again Dr Ellis spells it out succinctly…

In Sanjay’s original post he quoted from Paul Hauck’s “Overcoming the Rating Game” which I also have on my overcrowded self-help shelf (feeling frequently like the man who has a library of cookery books but still can’t boil an egg). I had a look at the pages Sanjay referenced and didn’t much like what Hauck was saying here. It could be crudely summed up as: if somebody messes with you twice, cold-bloodedly clobber ’em anyway you can. This didn’t seem to me a great philosophical contribution to the royal REBT road to world peace. At some point we have to step off the treadmill of abuse and revenge, attack and retaliation. Of course there are times when assertion seems the only choice, but we don’t have to be tied and bound to the assertive option under all circumstances. And as Ellis provocatively asks: why shouldn’t you be betrayed?

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

I practise REBT. By all means, use rational thinking and Other Acceptance. However there comes a time when High Frustration Tolerance is and could be mistake by the perpretator of aggresive/vindictive acts as being a push over. We cannot be bhuddist pacifist monks if our goal is to stay alive for long and be relatively autonomous and indepednent in our environment. SOmetimes, tit-for-tat is needed. I had to think twice about Haucks comment, but within reason, it is for the best. Some people cannot be reasoned with and only know a "spade is a spade" to use a English, Yorkshire phrase of speech.