When I started working as an attorney in family law, it didn’t take long before I experienced, “the Flip.” I represented a woman. Her ex was physically abusive. It was painfully clear she was telling the truth. We had a recording of her being attacked by her ex, photographs of bruises, and the testimony of a man saying he had seen the abuse. This seemed like an open and shut case.
To my surprise, the other side denied it. We went to trial. During my cross-examination I asked him:
“Are you denying you hit my client?”
“No, but….” [here it came], “she made me do it.”
“She made you hit her?”
“Yeah. She was recording me and I had to get the phone away from her. And she was screaming at me. I had no choice.”
I stared blankly. The judge stared blankly. The other attorney looked down and sighed.
What Is the Flip
This experience was the first time I noticed what I now call, “the Flip.” The Flip is what happens when you—either rightly or wrongly—are attacked, and reverse or flip the rightness of the attack back onto the other person. The Flip is always about blame.
Note, the Flip does not have to be a person in the wrong trying to prove they’re not in the wrong (as in the example above). Imagine I had started with the ex accusing my client of being the abuser. She might start to question herself. Was she in the wrong? She might suddenly say, “wait, no, he was the one that attacked me. HE is at fault.” Her realization is also the Flip.
More simply, the Flip is when someone says, “you said it’s my fault, but it’s not—it’s yours! Let me tell you and anyone that will listen why.”
If you look for conflict, you’re going to find the Flip. A popular expression of the Flip is “gaslighting.” Gaslighting occurs when one person manipulates another into thinking they are the problem. For example, if a victim becomes convinced they caused the abuse, there really is no abuse, or that the victim is actually the abuser—that’s gaslighting.
You see the Flip in politics all the time. A Democrat says the Republicans did something. The Republicans say, “nuh uh, this is your fault.” And vice versa. Look on Facebook for discussions on religion. Look for disagreements of any kind. You’ll find the the Flip.
That leads us to the question: why do we do this?
The Benefit of the Flip
Humans are problem-solving machines. If we have an issue, we want to fix it. Once it’s fixed, we can move on to better lives.
The major way we try to solve problems is to first look for causes. If we know the cause of a problem, we know how to repair it.
But we also have very fragile egos. If your ego falls apart, you lose confidence in everything you do. When you lose confidence, you can’t function. You’re afraid of acting. You feel unsure. In short, you can’t get anything accomplished. Thus, to preserve our egos, we start by looking for the causes of problems outside of ourselves.
The basic result is when there’s a problem, we start to blame. In many contexts this can be a good thing. In our abuse example the woman finding her power and saying, “wait, this wasn’t me, it was you,” obtains the initial strength to change something. It gives her the momentum to get away from the abuser and to stop tolerating abuse.
But while that initial momentum is a good thing, there are also a lot of problems with the Flip.
The Danger of the Flip
Problems exist in failure to move out past it.
One such problem is continual expression of the anger you feel in the Flip starts taking a major toll on you. Simply feeling that makes you feel terrible.
More importantly, being stuck in the Flip doesn’t resolve the underlying problem. Think of our abuse victim. If she recognizes her abuser is the problem and begins to stew about how evil he is but doesn’t do anything else, she won’t escape the abuse. In effect, she will suffer from the direct effects of the underlying abuse, suffer from her own feelings of anger or frustration, and nothing will change.
Additionally, the longer you’re stuck in the Flip, the longer you’re going to increase the likelihood the other side lashes back at you. When you dwell in anger, that anger starts to bubble out in increasingly less subtle ways. It can be passive aggressive, it can be a tone of voice, it can be overt yelling. When those signals come out and the other person picks up on them (consciously or unconsciously) the other will become defensive and upset. They will start to dwell on their own anger which will find its way back to you. You’ll then become even more upset. The result is everyone will become angry and the situation will often fireball out of control.
Yet another problem is dwelling in the Flip hardens you into your position. The more you fixate on someone else as being the problem, the less you’re able to see your own contribution to what’s going on. If you become blind to what you’re doing, you may spiral into chaos without even knowing why.
Remember the guy that admitted to hitting my client but claimed he was justified and wasn’t abusive? As he answered questions, it became clear he convinced himself he was in the right. As a result of all his time blaming his ex, he became incapable of seeing how he fed into the problem.
Moving Beyond the Flip
There’s nothing wrong, with moving into the Flip. It helps you to start the journey to positive change. The problem is getting into the Flip and never leaving.
The way out is to:
(1) Recognize you are there;
(2) Focus on constructive action; and
(3) Let go of blame.
Recognizing You’re There
It’s much harder to get out of the Flip if you don’t know you’re there. It’s easy to just keep saying, “that person is concentrated evil—let me tell you how.” If you’re experiencing frustration in some fashion, stop and take personal inventory. Does the Flip have you?
Focusing On Constructive Action
If you are, are you acting to get yourself out of the situation? Are you even in a situation? For example, does that random person on the Internet really need to be schooled on why Evolution [or Creation, or Theistic Evolution, or whatever] is right? Is it actually changing your life if they go on believing in another position?
In contrast, if something intolerably painful is going on that has a direct impact on you, are you acting to move forward? If not, what can you do to create momentum?
Lastly, just let go of blame. I know it feels hard sometimes. Meditation helps a lot. Journaling can help. But ultimately just release it. Allow the other person to be wrong. Accept the injustice in their beliefs. Return to your center. They can be wrong and you don’t have to prove it. Blame ultimately harms you. Allow the other to remain lost in their anger. Meanwhile, you can move on to a better life.