Monsters inside us

Friday, October 30, 2020 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

“I bring out the monsters in people,” I said, trying to drown my shame with a glass of wine.

I had just told a friend about a young man almost half my age who had somehow played out his stalker tendencies on me with my unwitting permission. Yes, there's a lot to unpack in that sentence, which I shall do later... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

My friend smiled at my declaration, in part because she sympathized, but mostly because she thought I was giving myself too much credit. “The monsters have always been there, Stef. You did not create them.”
black and white
Just because they've 'been made', as the slang expression goes, does not mean I made them. Ah, pun of the year.

Maybe so, I thought, but I definitely attracted them. I did not feel as innocent as I wanted to think I was.

It was starting to become a pattern. I realized I had turned into a magnet for people looking to prey on women in different ways.

But this guy was different. He was a pleasant person. On Facebook, he would show his indignation towards oppressive viewpoints; on Instagram, he would share pretty pictures of the food he cooked.

Ah, food. My eternal Waterloo. You see, food was the Trojan horse this person used to breach my emotional defenses and win me over. At first, it started innocently enough, with him proposing to cook for me on a special occasion, which I was then asked to reciprocate – and I found no reason at the time to decline. I quite enjoyed the idea, in fact, because he had a reputation of being a good cook.

It turned into an enjoyable habit. He offered to send over food occasionally – something I always looked forward to, as much as I hated to admit. But even then, months before he shed his fake skin and showed his true colors, I knew something was amiss. Perhaps that was why I always wanted to treat his food as barter items instead of unconditional gifts: I would send food back to pay what I made clear was my “food debt”.

I don't know at what point I started noticing the red flags. Perhaps it was when he first said something to the effect of, “You are the only one I can talk to this way.” In itself, uttered by someone I barely knew, it might have been awkward yet benign, but the fact that he had a girlfriend sent horror-movie goosebumps up my spine.

Did I set him straight and tell him off? No. I wanted to believe he was an innocent young boy, perhaps a little out of his element, who found himself in need of new friends as he tried to find his footing in a city not his own.

Perhaps, I should have set clearer boundaries when he said, “I just might stutter when we finally meet.” But I didn't. I was flattered – did this boy have a crush on me? – and tried to dismiss the alarms in my head, because as someone in a relationship, he couldn't possibly be trying to get me to like him.

Right?

Mr. Harmless


Who would be so boldfaced to even try with me? He knew who I was even though I knew nothing about him. Based on how he described me, even going as far as to tell me what I was wearing months ago when he saw me at an event, I wasn't some random person to him whom he just recently saw online. He told me he had been reading my comments on Facebook long before we became friends.

Instead of scaring me, his small, seemingly innocent confessions that reeked of high school infatuation made me feel... special. I was aware of the potential threat, but that seemed minuscule compared to the free food and the shower of attention he had been love-bombing me with.

Imagine that all this happened without me having met him in person yet. But things changed when he came to my apartment unannounced.

Does his girlfriend know?


I'm a doctor with a special interest in psychiatry, thanks to my father's mental health condition. I then know that the way Hollywood portrays predators tends to be on the extreme end: They're always killers or malevolent stalkers. That's understandable, because who wants to see a boring film about a social predator who doesn't act like a nefarious villain?

In real life, however, men with predatory instincts don't always go for the kill. They test and sample, walking away when the threat of exposure is too big, or when they eventually get bored. They forge friendships with different people – and, as is the case with the guy who used pasta and dessert to lure me in, his friendships were predominantly with women.

The clues are always there if you're willing to spot them, even with the cunning ones. The red flags are always glaringly the color of blood.

But it will always be hard to admit that there's someone in our midst who is capable of harm, even if this harm is not of the serial-killer variety.


The guy in this story? Hmm. I wonder if his girlfriend has any inkling as to what he has done. I wonder if he told her that he came to my home uninvited. I wonder if she was also a victim of his manipulative personality, which was why she was still in a relationship with him.

Not once did he mention the name of his partner to me by the way because, let's face it, that would have just humanized her and broken the spell he was trying to cast.

But what exactly did he do to me? You might ask. Well, that's the thing. Even if his messages were creepy, I did allow them. Even if he wanted to come to my room to allegedly clean it – an odd thing to say because I had yet to meet him in person – I just laughed and even returned the perverse jokes, like some gullible child being groomed into accepting one increasingly inappropriate advance after another.

I legitimized his pursuit because of my welcoming, reciprocating behavior.


Obviously, he didn't kill me. He didn't rape me. He didn't even try to steal a kiss. All he did was practice his baiting skills on me and act out his stalker fantasies. For many predators, sex is just a tool – not a necessary outcome – to achieve the ultimate goal: a sense of control and power.

He then withdrew his affection without explanation when he realized he was not the apple of my eye.

“Favorite Person”


People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tend to “split people white and black” – that is, they tend to idealize and eventually devalue others, their "Favorite Person" included.

They don't get to choose their Favorite Person. Unfortunately, I got the feeling I became one.

While I did have a working idea of what BPD was, my conscious mind wasn't ready to accept that the new friend I made was showing signs of it. My subconscious mind, however, was more than happy to catch me up.

split imagery
Splitting, or all-or-nothing thinking, is common among people with Borderline Personality Disorder.

At around the time this man started trying to lull my mind into a food coma, I started posting split imagery of myself. It was something I haven't done in the past – I had no previous inclination to mirror-flip my own photos and put them side by side in one edited image – but all of a sudden, I found myself doing it more and more.

It was as if my mind knew that I had just met someone who had started splitting me white but would in time also split me black. Those images were like a warning to my conscious self about what would happen, a warning I recognized when it was already too late.

Lucky


By the time I realized my own lapse in judgment, I had already been split black. It was almost anti-climactic: There was no outright violence – no chasing, no fight scenes, no running away from someone trying to kill me. Well, there was his spiteful attempt to paint me the villain in front of his clueless friends whom, ironically, he has ridiculed behind their backs as stupid or incompetent even as they ran to his aid. 

split image
All the photos used in this post are examples of split imagery. They are the very images I uploaded during the time I subconsciously expected to be "split black and white".

I escaped, not because I knew I was in danger, but because he probably found it insulting that I fancied someone other than him. I was discarded – luckily – and was deprived of the friendship of someone who would have wreaked more havoc in my life had he decided to stay.

And what does this say about me? Hindsight has rendered me guilty of not having pulled all the stops before everything teetered out of my control. However, my guilt does not wash his hands of his own.

What scares me now is that he is just getting started. He is young and angry, and I bet he feels invincible. I was probably one of his first experiments. He is perhaps still in the process of sharpening his proverbial knife. Without professional help, his behavior will only escalate.

Not all monsters look the part


To this day, I don't know if I should call him a predator. I am in denial that I live in a world where people can manipulate their way into someone else's life, if only to make a mess as some sort of domination demo. I find it frustrating that someone like him can remain in good standing in society, unless he turns into a Ted Bundy.

However, let us be clear: He is a predator. Perhaps not a sexual predator, but an emotional one. He derived pleasure from controlling me, even making up arbitrary rules which I was required to follow after I opened up and allowed him to draw closer.

Why is there even a need to determine whether or not a person is a predator? Why the fixation on labels? Consider this: The most menacing facet of predators existing in our midst is their capacity to blend in because they escape identification and remain unlabeled.  

And he's not the only one. There are many more out there, some of whom are too young to realize who they are growing up to be. Some of them are perhaps only faintly aware that they're budding experts at manipulation and deceit. They will continue to look around, wondering who's the perfect prey without realizing it.

Some of them are quite possibly people we look up to. Some do give off a creepy vibe, but maybe we aren't keen on severing ties with someone who hasn't done us harm. Some of them use sob stories to gain our confidence and say things like, "You're the only one who knows this about me" – a line this particular predator used on me, by the way.

Some of them will pretend to be victims, or perhaps have been actual victims of violence in the past, and use their stories to gain sympathy. Some of them will use "positive imaging", a type of virtue signaling meant to add credence to their fake personas. For instance, the guy who took pleasure in preying on me seemed like a good person, despite the obviously vile things he spouted on social media whenever his mask slipped. And yet, people – including me, up to a point – remained unaware of the monster living inside of him.

Unlike what we see in Hollywood movies, these predators won't always be unmistakable monsters. There won't always be horrific bloodshed or dramatic screams of terror. Sometimes, all that remains in the aftermath are people like me clucking their tongues – really spooked, really embarrassed Favorite Persons who learned their lesson just in the nick of time.

To slay a monster


Nothing is constant. We sometimes slide up and down the spectrum of good and bad. However, we often stick to a range in that spectrum, and knowing where we are is the first step towards sliding in the right direction.

I share this story not to kill a proverbial monster and ruin the life of the individual wherein it resides, but to show everyone how I encountered a person whose hidden monster I had the unique and unfortunate chance of meeting.


You see, there are monsters inside all of us, some more hideous than others. But that isn't all we're made of. And that's why I share my story, told through the lens of my collective life experience, so that others don't have to learn the hard way – and so that we can learn to recognize and vanquish the monsters inside us before they take over.

Therefore, do not ask me the identity of the persons involved. I have no intention of destroying anyone's reputation despite their possible attempts to do exactly that to me. Even if I do have a monster inside of me who has the power and the cunning to lord over theirs, I will not unleash it just so I get to win, because then, I would already have lost.

We have what it takes to slay monsters inside others. But first, let's learn to slay our own.

If you think you have BPD, know that it is treatable. Here's more information.

If you're having problems with a person with BPD, here's an interesting perspective about the "Favorite Person" phenomenon as written by someone with BPD. (Also: 5 Things to know about being a Favorite Person.)

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!

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