Objectification - The practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.
Being Treated Like a Thing
It’s quite common for people with Personality Disorders to prioritize their own needs and concerns above those of the people around them. This is the essence of Objectification – a lack of concern or in many cases recognition, of the feelings and rights of others.
Even though it feels emotional to those on the receiving end, in reality, it is the opposite. It is lack of compassion for or perception of the feelings of others which is the driving force. They are literally living inside their own heads.
The term “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 (see our section on Sexual Objectification). However, objectification also has a broader meaning.
University of Chicago Professor Martha C. Nussbaum classified Objectification into the following categories:
Instrumentality - when a person is treated like a tool for another person’s own purposes.
Denial of autonomy - when a person is denied the right to make decisions for themselves.
Inertness - An Assumption of Inertness means a a person is treated as if they lack the capacity to act for themselves.
Ownership - A condition where a person is treated as if they are owned by, or are a slave to, the other person.
Fungibility - Where a person is treated as if they are dispensable or can be traded or discarded by another person.
Violability - A situation where a person is treated as if it is ok to hurt, or destroy them.
Denial of subjectivity - 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, because by sacrificing the trust and good will of others, they are vulnerable to eventual demise of their power. Just as dictatorships can last for years or decades but typically collapse very quickly at the end.
What it Looks Like
- A young adult only contacts their parents as a means of extracting money.
- A spouse is forced to work as a domestic slave against their will.
- 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.
- Violent crimes and incidences of theft are often a form of objectification.
How it Feels
If you have been the subject of objectification, you are probably familiar with the emotions of fear and anger. The anger comes from having your dignity and rights violated by another person who has considered their own needs to be more important than yours, and you may also feel an urge to retaliate or get even. The fear comes from knowing that they may hold a certain degree 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 loss affects all victims of objectification and 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?” Victims of any form of abuse often become vulnerable to blaming themselves for the actions of the abuser and “normalize” the abuse by convincing themselves they somehow deserved it, and that it is inescapable and inevitable.
What NOT to Do
- Don’t beg or plead with someone who objectifies and ask them to be kind. Ask for what you want once - if they don’t give it to you, then n 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, which is founded on treating others with respect and kindness.
- Don’t take objectification personally – it is the act of a disordered individual. It says nothing 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, your reaction will not have a big impact and it may even trigger more overt kinds of abuse.
- Don’t think of mistreatment at the hands of another as some sort of investment that will pay off in the long run. If someone is deliberately choosing to hurt you, there is no ultimate payoff, just more pain in store.
- Don’t accept treatment that is anything short of respectful, considerate and appropriate.
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.