Charlie’s Patterns (Part 2 of 2)


Charlie’s Patterns Part 2

A Table of Contents for all posts by Charlie’s pod, including the dates each article was published and a brief description of the contents of each post, can be found here.

(This post was written by the accountability pod members and primary consultant in collaboration with a ghost writer. This is the second part of the post, and you can read the first part in Charlie’s Patterns Part 1.)

Through the narrative collection form, reports from community members, and observations by pod members and the consultant (here referred to as the “team” for brevity), the team has identified and addressed — to varying degrees of success — several problematic patterns in Charlie’s behavior. Some of the at-length examples given here are focused on more recent instances of the patterns and what we have consent to share. For more details about the original harms that prompted this process and accounts from those harmed parties, please read: Narrative Collection — Summary of Harms.

Here, we will describe:

  • What patterns have been identified
  • Some examples — note, this is not an exhaustive list — of how these patterns have come up in the reports of those harmed by Charlie and in his accountability process
  • How we’ve worked with him to practice better behaviors
  • Where he is with this work now*
  • And how others in his community can better detect and address these patterns**

*For where Charlie is now, we can only speak to what we have seen and experienced, and we acknowledge that change and healing are not linear. Charlie’s patterns have shown up in professional settings, his social circles, his intimate relationships, and the accountability work itself, and it’s possible that Charlie’s changes will vary or be harder to uphold in different settings. This is why we explicitly encourage ongoing attention to this document and community engagement around support and reducing harm.

**None of these suggestions for the community should be interpreted as absolving Charlie of responsibility or putting the onus on others. These suggestions come from the knowledge that we all have duties to help create safe communities, and that there are always multiple points of possible intervention.

Content Warning: While all identifying details have been omitted, the following post includes examples of inappropriate, manipulative, abusive behaviors, as well as themes of sexual manipulation.

Pattern 3: Convenient “forgetfulness” and “misunderstandings”

Behaviors: Slipping through loopholes in his own commitments and agreements, denying that things happened because he doesn’t remember them, forgetting (or appearing to forget) information and obligations related to his accountability process.

How this pattern has shown up: At the beginning of his accountability work, Charlie agreed that he would refrain from teaching and speaking, yet he continued appearing on podcasts. When confronted about this by the team, he claimed he didn’t realize such appearances counted as speaking and teaching. Charlie also lacked many records of interactions he’d had with people during the time he began receiving calls for accountability, as well as media appearances he’d made during the accountability process. Even when records were present, he was sometimes reluctant to access them, sometimes put up excuses, or even did not apply the same thoroughness we have seen him apply in other settings or contexts to find the information. Whether conscious or subconscious or a mix of both, the impact was that many of the people on the team — especially the consultant — ended up having to pull out a lot of their own documentation, receipts, and collateral material at various times to confront Charlie or move the process along.

This also relates to patterns of weaponized incompetence that are very common with cis men. When asked to change his social media to take off information about speaking and teaching, he changed his Facebook and website but claimed to forget about LinkedIn and Twitter. At times, when people have confronted Charlie about things he didn’t remember, he has denied their experience, sometimes couching his response in counselor-like language. Relatedly, sometimes Charlie would mostly shift blame onto the team for some of these “misunderstandings” or gaps in his behavior or information rather than accepting his own role in all of it.

Work done around this pattern: The team has done several deep-dives to help Charlie examine his motivations for his forgetfulness, misunderstandings, and unwillingness to keep track of his interactions, however subconscious they may be. Some of that has been direct confrontation, while some has been more gentle guidance and support. This has given Charlie opportunities to live through, over and over, situations where the people around him have documentation of his behavior, have critiques about it, and have an ongoing relationship so that he can get more skilled at confronting, admitting, and addressing his avoidances.

This work has brought him into an understanding that an omission is a form of lying, that poor record-keeping is ultimately (at least partly) a choice, and that he has responsibility over his own accountability (read: we aren’t babysitters or parents here!), and that denying that something happened just because he doesn’t remember it is a form of gaslighting. We have also thoughtfully considered the angles of this that may relate to mental health, overwhelm, poor work structures, and more — sometimes just naming that, and sometimes offering suggestions or fixes for things like better record-keeping and navigating digital documents.

Further work around this pattern came up when Charlie disclosed to the team after several confrontations that he had a critical data loss in an email account in early 2017, and also admitted that he wasn’t consistent with categorizing engagements with searchable keywords. In response, the team had Charlie create a comprehensive spreadsheet of his past media appearances and keep it updated so that he has no excuse to forget about any of them. Lastly, pod member Sarah Sloane guided him in a review of his online presence to ensure he’s aware of everything he’s put out there.

Where he is now: Charlie is more able to take a step back when confronted with something he doesn’t remember and say “let me investigate that,” rather than denying the other person’s experience or shifting blame. One major breakthrough for him was to realize that keeping track of public engagements is a kind of insurance policy — an effective way to maintain awareness of his actions without relying solely on his memory. Charlie also responds differently to call-ins regarding aspects of his online presence he was unaware of. While he more often previously said things like “how could I have known?” or “you should have brought this up earlier” or “I totally forgot” or “this is unnecessary,” he’s now more likely to say, “how can I change this?” and take faster action. Although he is partly motivated by the desire to demonstrate how he’s living up to his commitments, he’s also showing more concern for honoring the spirit of the commitments, as well as the people his actions may impact. We hope these skills will continue to hone and develop in other settings that may be more challenging or differently fraught.

How the community can address this pattern: If community members see Charlie denying something a person or collective experienced, they could work to name it in the moment and say something along the lines of:

  • “You’re denying my/our experience, and what I/we need right now is for you to [listen/take stock of your behavior/etc.]”
  • “I feel like you’re being defensive.”
  • “My/our experience of this is not up for debate, even if I/we acknowledge you may have a different experience of it” or even present evidence of what they’re discussing.

It also may be helpful to disengage with Charlie and say, “follow up with me when you’re ready and have time to think about it.” Sometimes, Charlie needs time to let feedback seep in and think through it, and while he is responsible for his own emotional regulation around this, it’s important to remember that even people who have behaved in harmful ways need time to process and incorporate new understandings so that change can take hold.

This is also where record-keeping and digital footprints are valuable, too, so we encourage community members to — as best they can — take stock of what they notice and save it for possible future reference or to directly intervene with Charlie. Not in the spirit of vengeance or threat, but in the spirit of not allowing valuable experiences and data to get lost or murky, or leaving all documentation efforts in the hands of someone who has been known to struggle with honesty and engagement around documentation.

Pattern 4: Evasive apologies and communications

Behaviors: When asked to apologize for behaviors of his, Charlie has at times apologized for the impact of the behavior, another “easier/less harmful” behavior, or an intentionally vague type of behavior, effectively creating false targets instead of owning his actions directly. He has also responded to conflict or calls for accountability with faux validation when confronted, leading into deflection or explanation rather than direct and engaged acknowledgment. He has sometimes used epiphanies or realizations about his reactions or traumas in ways that deflected, redirected, or muddied his accountability. Finally, Charlie has used the passive voice, euphemisms, indirect language, and other linguistic dodges, rather than directly naming his actions.

How this pattern has shown up: Despite his agreement to cease teaching and speaking, Charlie responded to a third-party email introduction suggesting to an organization that they hire Charlie as a teacher. Some of the organization’s leadership was not aware of his accountability process, so instead of disclosing that he wasn’t teaching workshops in the email thread, Charlie suggested getting on a call with them. One of the accountability team members was part of the organization’s leadership and found out about the communication. (The organization didn’t hire him and halted communications.) When confronted by the pod and consultant about this, Charlie apologized for causing undue stress and additional labor, but not for violating the agreements of his accountability process. He also tried to downplay this action by saying his intention was to “share more information about the process” on the call instead of via email. This catalyzed further discussions about his pattern of funneling people to more directly connecting with him as well as avoiding sharing details (often under the guise of “to not overwhelm or over-explain”) that would give greater context to others’ actions toward him, making himself look like the harmed party or avoiding responsibility.

Charlie has also said things to the team and to community members who have confronted him about harm such as “I can see how you would feel that way,” then focused on soothing those feelings rather than looking at how he caused them. This has happened even in some of our circles and meetings and has been directly named by members of the team who weren’t the target of the behavior in the moment (e.g. “you’re not addressing this person’s concerns and are instead focusing on their feelings. Can you take a step back and try again?”). Because some of these meetings were recorded, we could all go back and rewatch how things played out, and encouraged Charlie to look at his own behavior after that fact as well as how it rippled through the team in the meeting. This was especially helpful in moments where Charlie and/or others were triggered and memories of what happened in what order felt cloudy or were ripe for manipulation.

Sometimes, he has represented his behavior as “acting out” or “being out of my integrity” without specifically naming how and why. Other times, he has expressed realizations loosely related to his harms, forgetting the original point brought up, or using his trauma to excuse abusive behaviors. These surprises or epiphanies (some of which seemed authentic albeit cyclical, and some of which seemed more feigned or repetitive) required “more exploration and work” and ended up sometimes halting, sidetracking, or altering the initial request for accountability or even his own suggestions of how to move forward. These would often get very intellectual, wherein he would start quoting passages from books he’d read or spend time exploring therapeutic or psychological concepts rather than be present with the moment.

He also has focused at times on how his negative impact was that people “spent time and energy” on him or apologized for taking up people’s time and energy when they were specifically naming other issues or behaviors. This behavior can be thought of as a “false-target maneuver,” where a person fails to understand the wrongness of their behavior but knows an apology is needed, so they apologize for something else in an attempt to assuage the harmed party and avoid taking full responsibility. (To learn more about this behavior, check out this post.) The latter pattern happened both with the team and with multiple people in the community who tried to talk to Charlie about his harms before the pod was formed. Some of these folks shared their experiences and even direct, full conversation archives with the team or individual members of it, which helped us better see the scope of this behavior as well as its manifestations.

Work done around this pattern: In October 2020, the team arranged a more formalized, caring confrontation with Charlie around this pattern, where they identified and explicitly named the issues around his lack of disclosure. The team has done writing exercises with Charlie to help him understand why he had difficulty admitting he’s caused harm. This led to a total overhaul in how he communicates with individuals and organizations. We challenged and invited him to do a deeper inquiry as to why he felt the need to change modes of communication and “hop on a call” in response to emails. Part of this work resulted in him collaborating with the team and other professionals in his circle to create a robust disclosure of his accountability process and the harms he has caused when onboarding new clients so they can make an informed decision about working with him. He will use those skills to create a disclosure process for any future organizations or events he may engage with in the future, if he returns to teaching workshops or speaking.

We’ve also had him do audits of his initial written reflections and statements (both public and private) about the accountability process, as well as posts on his own blog about consent, power, and abuse, to identify where he’s used evasive language and rewrite them through the lens of what he has learned about better practices. Most of these rewrites have been internal documents, but eventually, some may be published to share his evolving understandings and provide a record of his shifts and where others may still identify gaps. We also worked with him to tune into how his body feels and incorporate breathing breaks when he receives difficult feedback about his behavior.

Where he is now: Charlie has been doing a better job of identifying the root of the harm, acknowledging the impact of his actions, and taking ownership of what he did. He is more comfortable being transparent, making meaningful apologies, addressing the “why” behind his behavior without leading with it, and building a path to repairing the damage. His ability to hear out someone he has hurt and sit with that information has increased. There is certainly still work to be done here, though. Sometimes, old patterns rear their head and Charlie starts with his own experience rather than listening, uses vague language, or falls into faux validation traps. Again, this is ongoing work.

How the community can address this pattern: Community members can name Charlie’s evasive apologies and language when they notice them, express how it feels to have incomplete acknowledgement of behavior or harms, and then, depending on comfort and relationship, either sit with him or step away from the conversation and offer to revisit it in the future. If things feel murky or vague, it may be useful to check in with friends or other support people and evaluate the interactions while not directly engaging with Charlie. Given the ways controlling communication patterns sometimes lock together with other people’s conflict avoidance or people-pleasing tendencies, breaking Charlie’s momentary sphere of influence and giving a situation room to breathe can be clarifying. If you or a friend or colleague interacts with Charlie, especially about a hard subject, you can ask yourself the following questions afterward for discernment:

  • What was my original issue/complaint/concern?
  • Did it get addressed? If so, how?
  • If not, what got addressed instead?
  • Do I feel differently about that interaction now than how I did before or during it?
  • If so, what are those differences?”

People can also question Charlie’s requests to move communications to voice or video and inquire about his motivations, then set boundaries accordingly. Internally, we created a “vibe-checking cheat sheet” with a list of Charlie’s patterns and examples of each that we could have open for reference during meetings or interactions. (That formed the basis of this meatier document!) Otherwise, it could feel challenging to name and bring these things up on the fly, especially if any of us on the team were caught off guard or triggered ourselves. These patterns aren’t unique to Charlie, so they should also be useful with other people and good to keep in mind overall when interrupting harmful communications and situations.

Organizations and event hosts can also help foster a healthier culture by asking questions about consent practices, harm, and an educator’s ability to take accountability for critical feedback during vetting and/or booking processes.

The larger community would benefit from conversations about what meaningful, thoughtful apologies look like and from greater normalization of apologizing. This means reducing stigma around needing to apologize and accepting that meaningful apologies, and changed behavior, may take time. For a helpful reframing of apologies, we recommend the book Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner, PhD. Other resources include the book I Love You But I Don’t Trust You: The Complete Guide to Restoring Trust in Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum as well as these blog posts by Mia Mingus:

The Four Parts of Accountability: How to Give a Genuine Apology Part 1

How to Give a Genuine Apology Part 2: The Apology — The What and The How

Pattern 5: Deflecting responsibility

Behaviors: Relying on others to regulate or manage his trauma responses, blaming intimate partners, peers, and community members for his abusive patterns, deferring to pod members to decide for him whether to take on engagements or clients.

How this pattern has shown up: When discussing problematic things he’s said and done while activated, Charlie has mentioned people around him “not helping” instead of taking responsibility for his own actions (and inactions). At times, he has asked pod members for permission to do things he already knew he shouldn’t do — for instance, giving the team information about a documentary he was asked to appear in and asking whether it would be OK, rather than acknowledging his agreement to refrain from speaking and teaching. Sometimes, the latter would be done under a banner of “asking for feedback” but without presenting much (if any) of his thought process around it and how he saw or didn’t see the opportunities fitting into his values, agreements, and so on.

Work done around this pattern: With regard to the “asking for feedback” decision-shifting pattern, this was directly named and called out both via email threads and in group meetings with the entire team present. To support change in this arena (and also prevent possible avoidance of “well I didn’t know what to do instead”), team members directly named what happened, refused to take on his responsibilities, suggested different language he could use in these conversations, gave clear feedback on how to ask these questions instead, and more. This was done consistently and repeatedly, without much space for thoughtless evasion, though it was all certainly an imperfect process. When some members of the team lost sight of these or other patterns, other members of the team stepped up to intervene and name the patterns as such. Slowly, this began to sink in, and over time (though with relapses too!), Charlie got better at not shifting responsibility for certain decisions to the pod. Instead, he began making more decisions on his own and transparently sharing his thoughts and suggested courses of action with an openness for feedback rather than a demand for it or a shifting of responsibility for setting boundaries around his work and behavior. We also collectively clarified when there were questions — either authentic or feigned — from Charlie about our individual and collective roles in this process, or questions about who held what power.

When Bee and Rachel began the process of confronting Charlie with his harms as reported in the narrative collection process, they used “call-in” techniques by mindfully planning and curating difficult conversations and preparing Charlie with general themes of what he was about to hear. They started by talking with Charlie about things they believed would be easiest for him to receive and built up to the most challenging harms for him to confront. They also interspersed their feedback with positive reinforcement and checking in with Charlie throughout so that he didn’t become defensive or shut down. After about a year, they began confronting him about his harms without using warnings so that he could learn how to take feedback without hand-holding. The team as a whole also reminded Charlie of specific somatic practices to regulate his emotions so that he did not rely on others to do so. Charlie previously asked pod members to check in on him during discussions if he was showing signs of activation or distress. They gradually stopped doing this or did it only sporadically, instead encouraging Charlie to explore mindfulness practices and learn to do this on his own.

Where he is now: Charlie is still working on his emotional regulation but is less reliant on others to help regulate his emotions for him or avoid telling him things that might trigger him. Team members less often feel pressure from him to curate critical feedback; when they introduce triggering topics, he may say “give it to me straight; I’m ready” or “I’m starting to get activated; I’m going to take a breath.” Charlie is also becoming more skilled at holding space in the moment for others who are activated or triggered by his behavior, holding himself accountable, processing his feelings on his own, and following up to clear any unresolved concerns. It does seem likely that some of these responsibility-shifting maneuvers will still arise at times, so it’s especially important that people around Charlie have clarity on these patterns and the ability to name them, too.

How the community can address this pattern: Ideally, people in Charlie’s life will refrain from agreeing to help him with things that he can take care of himself, or from taking the reins he offers when responsibilities should be squarely his. If it’s unclear whether your help is needed or in what capacity, you can ask him what his underlying needs or motivations are. If it’s unclear whose responsibility something is, taking a pause to reflect — and maybe even step away or check in with other people about the situation — may be valuable. It’s possible he may indeed need extra support, but the onus is on Charlie to regulate his reactions, choices, and/or behaviors. Some questions that may be useful to ask are:

  • “Are you wanting me to do this for you, or are you asking us to do this in partnership?”
  • “How can this be a partnership?”, or “What can we do to care for each other’s well-being in this situation?”

This is also where clearly stating the pattern or situation can be useful:

  • “Hey, this is a decision that’s yours, not mine.”
  • “You’re asking me to make a decision for you that should instead be in your hands.”
  • “You’re using the language of [asking for feedback/asking for help/etc.] in ways that seem avoidant.”

Once this is stated, it helps to follow up with a relevant boundary:

  • “I’m happy to help you think through this once your own thoughts are more articulated.”
  • “I can’t help you figure this out now, but I can [insert what you can do here],” or simply “I can’t help you with this.”

Offering Charlie time to process critical feedback and making space for him to integrate and follow up are also important. More generally, the community would benefit from normalizing pausing, taking a break, and checking in with people when they’re exhibiting signs of distress or discomfort, such as changes in posture, talking speed, or vocal inflection. Normalization of revisiting difficult topics if people need a break and discussing emotional boundaries would also be beneficial.

Another way community members can intervene with this pattern is to name out loud to Charlie physical or textual changes they’re noticing from him (e.g. an uptick in questions, a change in tone, an acceleration of speed at which he’s talking, an increase in academic language, etc.). Rather than imposing a meaning on those changes, this gives some room for Charlie to notice, own, and make meaning out of his own changes. This could sound like:

  • “Hey, as we’ve been talking about this, I’ve noticed your words are coming faster through the phone. Can you take a beat and let me know what you think may be going on with that?” or
  • “Your breathing is changing and I noticed your mouth firming into a small line. What’s up?”

Here, community members could also note possible evasions and minimizations, and if they’re in doubt about Charlie’s responses or if a gut-check suggests something might be “off” or “wrong,” call for a pause to the interaction and follow up later as needed. (This could also be done by relevant bystanders in group settings where Charlie may be interacting with more than one person, or when a primary person he’s talking to may not be aware of this information and his patterns.)

Our final posts will address the practices that will be in place to support Charlie’s awareness and continued work on these patterns. We will also include information about the post-process structures in place for the prevention and reporting of harms.