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Objectification

Definition:

Objectification - The practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.

Description:

A common practice among people who suffer from personality disorders is objectification. Objectification is normally a form of prioritization where the needs and concerns of other individuals are ranked below the needs and concerns of the personality-disordered individual. As such, objectification is rarely emotional in nature.

Objectification is often associated with gender discrimination, as-in "objectification of women" which refers to the practice of treating women as domestic servants or as sexual property. However, objectification has a broader meaning.

University of Chicago Professor Martha C. Nussbaum classified Objectification into the following categories:

  • Instrumentality - Instrumentality is when a person is treated like a tool for another person's own purposes.
  • Denial of autonomy - Denial of autonomy is when a person is denied the right to make decisions for themselves.
  • Inertness - An Assumption of Inertness describes when a person is treated as if they lack the capacity to act for themselves.
  • Ownership - Ownership describes a condition where one person is treated as if they are owned by, or is a slave to, the other person.
  • Fungibility - Fungibility describes a condition where one person is treated as if they are dispensable or can be traded or discarded by another person.
  • Violability - Violability describes a situation where a person is treated as if it is ok to hurt, or destroy them.
  • Denial of subjectivity - Denial of subjectivity describes a condition where a person is treated as if there is no need to show concern for their feelings.

Acts of objectification typically enrich the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. What the perpetrator fails to recognize is the cost to themselves in the form of long term personal security. People who objectify others build their own form of solitary confinement, knowing that by sacrificing the trust and good will of others, they are vulnerable to eventual demise of their power. Dictatorships generally last for years or decades but typically collapse very quickly.

Objectification is common among people who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Objectification also occurs among people who suffer from Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Examples of Objectification:

  • A young adult only contacts parents as a means of extracting money.
  • A spouse is forced to work as a domestic slave, against their will.
  • Many violent crimes and incidences of theft are manifestations of objectification.
  • A company owner drops a key business partner after a long relationship causing the other to go bankrupt.
  • An elderly person is neglected.
  • Children are forced into labor.
  • A tyrant throws his/her political opponents in jail.

What it feels like:

If you have been the subject of objectification, you are probably familiar with the emotions of fear and anger. Anger comes from having your dignity and your rights violated by another person who has considered their own needs to be more important than yours. You may feel an urge to retaliate or get even. Fear comes from knowing that they may hold a certain amount of authority or influence and that if they did it once, they are likely to do it again.

A secondary but perhaps more significant effect of being objectified is a loss of self-worth. Many of us derive a significant portion of our self-worth from the validation that comes from other people. This affects all victims of objectification but it is especially true of children who live with a personality-disordered parent. It is very difficult for a victim of objectification not to look at themselves and ask "What did I do to deserve this?" or "What is wrong with me that they treat me this way?" In this way the victim can become vulnerable to blaming themselves for the actions of the abuser and to assume that their abuse is normal, deserved, inescapable and inevitable. See our information on Shame and Shaming.

Coping with Objectification - What NOT to Do:

  • Don't beg or plead with someone who objectifies you to be kind. Ask for what you want once and if they don't give it to you then you have your answer.
  • Don't allow yourself to become isolated from others by a person who objectifies you.
  • Don't make alliances with a person who objectifies others. If they do it to others they will someday do it to you.
  • Don't become envious of the apparent rapid success of a narcissist. Work to build the kind of success that lasts a lifetime.
  • Don't take objectification personally - objectification is the act of a disordered individual. It says nothing meaningful about your own value or worth as a person.
  • Don't try to gain control over a person who mistreats you. Focus on controlling yourself.
  • Don't react with indignation, anger or retribution. If your feelings are being disregarded then your reaction will not have a big impact.
  • Don't treat mistreatment at the hands of another as some sort of investment that will pay off in the long run. If you are being hurt by the deliberate choice of another individual it is not likely to be repaid in the future.
  • Don't accept treatment that is anything short of respectful, considerate and appropriate.

Coping with Objectification - What TO Do:

  • If possible, accept small sacrifices to remove yourself from the influence of a person who objectifies you.
  • Build relationships with people who respect you, admire you, treat you well and who give as much as they take.
  • If you see someone else being abused or neglected, report it.

For More Information & Support...

If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.

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