Total Health in Midlife Episode #166: Weaponized Incompetence

Weaponized Incompetence

Have you ever found yourself grappling with the consequences because someone just can’t seem to get it right? Today, we’re diving into the topic of weaponized incompetence—those subtle, intentional displays of helplessness that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and undervalued. 

Join me as we unravel the layers surrounding this silent manipulator that tends to disproportionately affect women in both personal and professional spheres. We’ll dissect the fine line between a genuine lack of skill and the strategic evasion of responsibility. 

Throughout the episode, I’ll share heartfelt stories from individuals who’ve experienced the impact of this tactic, and together, we’ll lay out actionable strategies for communication, boundary-setting, and empowerment.

The focus is on reshaping the dynamics of our daily lives to cultivate relationships where fairness and respect are not just expected but demanded. So, gear up and get ready to reclaim the mental space and time you deserve. 

Step into a world where your mental health and self-acceptance are not up for negotiation.

Chapter Summaries

Uncovering Weaponized Incompetence (0:00:04) 

Weaponized incompetence is a manipulative tactic that unfairly burdens others, impacting well-being and relationships.

Understanding and Addressing Weaponized Competence (0:08:51)

Recognizing and addressing weaponized incompetence is crucial for balanced relationships and alleviating the mental load on women.

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What You’ll Learn from this Episode

  • Discover the pervasive influence of weaponized incompetence beyond family dynamics, affecting relationships from romance to the workplace.
  • Unlock the transformative power of preparing others to share responsibilities, liberating yourself from the unseen burdens of weaponized incompetence, and cultivating a world where teamwork and family thrive together.
  • Uncover the subtle impact of weaponized incompetence on women in midlife as we dive into their stories, experiences, and insights in this revealing episode.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

Have you ever found yourself wondering why you’re the only one who ends up doing most of the chores at home or picking up the slack at work, even though you have capable adults all around you?

Well, you might be dealing with something more pervasive and subtle than you realize. It’s called weaponized incompetence, and it’s such a game changer, when you see it and understand the dynamics of our relationships and responsibilities.

In today’s episode, we are uncovering this hidden manipulation tactic that’s costing you more than just time. It’s affecting your health, your well-being, and even your self-worth. I promise that by the end of this episode, you will have a whole new perspective on how to recognize, address, and most importantly, rise above this all too common issue.

So, if you’re ready to take back control and learn why this isn’t just about the tasks that you’re doing, but about the power dynamics at play, you will not want to miss a single minute of today’s episode.

This is about you, your empowerment and setting the stage for a healthier, more balanced relationship. Stay tuned and your view on daily responsibilities is about to get a major upgrade.

Welcome to Total Health and Midlife, the podcast for women embracing the pivotal transformation from the daily grind to the dawn of a new chapter. I’m Elizabeth, your host and fellow traveler on this journey.

As a Life and Health Coach, I am intimately familiar with the changes and challenges we face during this stage. Shifting careers, changing relationships, our new bodies, and redefining goals and needs as we start to look to the future and ask, what do I want?

In this podcast, we’ll explore physical, mental, and emotional wellness, offering insights and strategies to achieve optimal health through these transformative years.

Yes, it’s totally possible.

Join me in this amazing journey of body, mind, and spirit, where we’re not just improving our health, but transforming our entire lives.

Hey everyone, welcome back to the Total Health in Midlife podcast. I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman, and I am so incredibly excited to have you with me today. Because today’s podcast has been something that I have been wanting to do for months now. I’ve been talking about it since November or December, at least. And here we are in March or April, I can’t remember.

But anyway, this topic is something that comes up in my coaching all of the time and it really just needs to be brought to light. So, here’s the situation. Have you ever found yourself doing the lion’s share of household chores? Yes. Even though, everyone else agreed to share the responsibility.

How many of you are raising your hand right now? I know I am. Or perhaps you’ve seen a friend post on social media about how they always end up organizing family gatherings while others feign ignorance and they’re like, I don’t know what to do, right? Or they pretend that they just can’t do it as good as the person who’s doing it, right?

If so, you might be dealing with something called, ‘weaponized incompetence.’ Remember that phrase. Now, this isn’t about someone genuinely not knowing how to do something. It’s when someone pretends or exaggerates their inability to perform a task. Making the competent person shoulder the burden. Sound familiar?

I talked about it in depth with one of my guests, Shauna Samuel, in episode number 151. Now, weaponized incompetence is way more common than you think. And it’s not just a family or household issue. It can also affect a multitude of relationships from romantic partners to professional environments, and it can also have a significant impact on a woman’s well-being, your health.

And so, that’s what we’re exploring today. And for those of you who might be interested in how this connects with some previous discussions, you might want to revisit episode 138 and 143 where we touched on managing family responsibilities and setting healthy boundaries.

So, in today’s episode, we’re going to uncover what weaponized incompetence really is, how to recognize it, and most importantly, how to take back control. How to not let it happen so that you have more time and more mental capacity to think about yourself, your health, and what’s important to you.

This isn’t just about making your life easier. It’s about your health, your confidence, your self-acceptance. So, this is going to be an amazing conversation.

Now, a few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook. And a post from a woman in one of the groups that I’m part of caught my eye. She was venting about how she had asked her partner to pick up the kids from school as she had an important work meeting.

Now, her partner had agreed but then quote unquote forgot, leaving her scrambling to reschedule everything at the last minute. This might seem like a minor inconvenience to some, but her post was filled with comments from other women sharing similar stories.

One after another, they told tales of their partners, their family members, or their colleagues conveniently, quote unquote forgetting their responsibilities or acting as if they didn’t know how to perform a simple task. The frustration in their words was palpable.

As I read through the comments, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of empathy and frustration myself. This isn’t about forgetting to pick up milk from the grocery store. It’s about a pattern of behavior that dismisses the time, effort, and the emotional labor of others, primarily women. It’s about intentionally, underperforming to avoid responsibility, leaving someone else to handle everything.

Now, weaponized incompetence, whether it’s at home or in the workplace isn’t just irritating, it’s undermining. It can erode trust, increase stress, and create a constant state of imbalance.

This woman’s post was a clear cry for understanding, support, and solutions. And judging by the comments, she wasn’t alone in feeling this way. I felt the urge to share this with you, not just because it’s a real issue but because it’s something that affects our health and our wellbeing, our mental thought process in subtle, so subtle, but important and powerful ways.

This isn’t a one off event. It’s a pattern. And it’s a pattern we need to recognize and address if we want to create a more balanced, respectful, and empowering environment for ourselves and those around us.

What exactly is weaponized incompetence? I’m sure that you’ve experienced it, even if you didn’t know the name for it until now. It’s when someone deliberately underperforms or claims ignorance about a task to avoid responsibility. It’s a manipulative tactic that can be used in various relationships with family, friends, colleagues, or partners.

So, let’s dig a little bit deeper into why someone might choose to use weaponized incompetence.

One reason is that it allows them to escape obligations that they find tedious or burdensome. If they play the part of being unable to do something well, then chances are they won’t be asked to do it again. It’s sort of a learned helplessness. Where they play up their inability so that others will take over.

Another reason is power and control. By pretending incompetence, they force others to take on more responsibilities, controlling their time and energy. It’s a very subtle way of exerting dominance and maintaining a specific role or status within that relationship.

So, how do you recognize it? Here are some signs and examples. First is consistent underperformance. An example of that might be they always seem to mess up the same task or pretend not to understand it, despite having been shown how to do it multiple times.

Another is selective Incompetence. They are fully capable in many areas of their life but choose to be incompetent at specific tasks that they don’t want to handle. And then, there’s an unwillingness to learn.

So, even when offered assistance or guidance, they show absolutely no interest in learning or improving their skills. An example might be a partner who never seems to get the laundry done right, or a coworker who always messes up the formatting on a shared document. These aren’t accidents or honest mistakes. They are intentional acts designed to shift responsibility.

Understanding weaponized incompetence isn’t just about recognizing the tactics. It’s about seeing the deeper dynamics at play. This behavior has real consequences for our relationships, our wellbeing, and our sense of self-worth. By identifying it, we can begin to address it and create a more balanced, respectful relationship.

Now, I want to be clear about something. There’s a significant difference between actually being incompetent at a task and merely not wanting to do it. It’s a distinction we all need to recognize both for ourselves and for the ones that we’re accusing, right?

What’s the difference? First, competence. This refers to our ability to perform a specific task. Maybe it’s something that we’ve never done before, or perhaps it’s something that we’ve tried and genuinely struggled with. In these cases, it’s not about an unwillingness to do the task. It’s about needing support, guidance, or time to learn.

And then, there’s preference. On the other hand, preference is about liking or disliking a task. There may be chores or responsibilities that we’d rather not do, right? There’re tons of them that I’d rather not do. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do them. We can’t just opt out. It’s about personal taste and choice.

Now, why is this distinction so important? When we are a part of a team, whether it’s at home, or with our family, at work or with colleagues, shared responsibilities are essential. We all have tasks that we’re good at and we all have tasks that we’d rather avoid. That’s perfectly normal.

But using preference as an excuse for not fulfilling our responsibilities can lead to an unfair division of labor. The key here is communication and teamwork. Now, if there’s something that you don’t like doing, that’s totally okay, right? Talk About It. Negotiate.

But maybe there’s a way to redistribute the tasks or work together to make it more enjoyable. And if there’s something that you don’t know how to do, of course you ask for help.

Learning and growing are part of any healthy relationship, whether personal or professional. No one is good at everything, and no one likes doing everything. The goal isn’t to be perfect or to love every single task. It’s about working together, understanding each other’s strengths and preferences, and finding ways to support each other.

It’s about building relationships that value both competence and preference, and recognizing that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to have preferences. But it’s not okay to manipulate others with weaponized incompetence.

If you’ve recognized a pattern of weaponized incompetence in your relationship, maybe it’s happening at home, with your partner repeatedly forgetting how to load the dishwasher. Or at work, where colleagues consistently mess up a task and leave you to fix them. It’s frustrating, and it’s exhausting, right?

But the good news is, there are concrete steps that you can take to address this pattern. First, recognize the pattern. Make sure that you’re clear on what’s happening. Is it true incompetence or is it a preference for being used as an excuse? Recognizing the pattern is the first step towards addressing it.

Second, open discussion with the person. Sit down and have an open, honest conversation. This isn’t about blame, it’s about understanding. Share what you’ve noticed and how it makes you feel. Listen to their side as well.

Third, establish boundaries and expectations. Together, agree on clear expectations and boundaries. Who’s responsible for what? How will you support each other? Write it down if you need to.

Four, assess, progress. Regularly check in on how things are going. Are the agreed upon tasks being met? Celebrate successes and address setbacks. And then, if you need to, seek professional help. Sometimes these patterns run deep and professional assistance might be necessary. If you’re not making progress, consider seeking the guidance of a counselor or a therapist.

Now, I want to make it clear, I am not a couple’s therapist. These are general best practices that can help in many situations. But every relationship is unique and professional guidance from a trained therapist can be invaluable when needed.

Weaponized incompetence can put a real strain on relationships causing resentment, frustration, and confusion. But by recognizing the pattern, engaging in open dialogue, and taking practical steps, you can build a healthier dynamic.

This is about teamwork, respect, and understanding. You don’t have to accept manipulation or an unfair division of labor. You have the power to create change, to establish fair, and loving relationships. And to grow both individually and as a team.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with responsibilities at home like the one who has to remember all the chores, plan the meals, and make sure the kid’s homework gets done, you are so not alone.

This invisible workload for women can be exacerbated by weaponized incompetence. Making it even more challenging to balance life’s demands.

First, there’s time and responsibility. Weaponized incompetence can leave you shouldering tasks that should be shared, costing you precious time and energy. You might find yourself putting in extra hours just to keep things running smoothly at home or work, all because others, quote unquote, can’t do it themselves.

The invisible workload for women is just tenfold. This phenomenon often falls on women, especially women in midlife who already carry a lot of the invisible workload in the family, planning, organizing, coordinating. These are often unacknowledged responsibilities that weigh heavily on many women’s shoulders.

Now, here’s the flip side and the empowering aspect. You can prepare others to be more capable. Teach your kids to cook simple meals. Sit down with your partner and map out shared responsibilities. Encourage colleagues to learn new skills. Don’t let weaponized incompetence force you into a never ending cycle of taking care more than your fair share.

The truth is the impact of weaponized incompetence on personal life responsibilities can be significant. It’s not just about the visible tasks. It’s about the unseen mental load that many women carry. By recognizing this pattern and taking steps to address it, you can free yourself from unnecessary burdens and create a more equitable distribution of responsibilities.

This isn’t just about easing your load, it’s about empowering those around you to step up, take responsibility, and contribute meaningfully. After all, isn’t that what teamwork, partnership, and family should be about?

All right. Now, as we wrap up this conversation today on weaponized incompetence, I want to highlight some key takeaways and clear up any potential misconceptions. This has been a deep and sometimes complex conversation. And it’s crucial to end with clarity and empowerment.

First, the summary of my main points. We’ve talked about what weaponized incompetence is, why some individuals might resort to it, and how it can affect your relationships at home and work. We’ve looked at how to address it from recognizing the patterns to having an open discussion and setting boundaries.

Point two is addressing potential misconceptions. Now, I want to make sure that something is clear. This isn’t about labeling people as bad or manipulative. It’s about recognizing behavior patterns and addressing them constructively. It’s also about turning everyone into domestic or professional superstars. We all have different skills, preferences, and that’s totally okay.

Number three is emphasizing empowerment and whole competent individuals. The goal here is to empower both you and those around you to be whole competent people. It’s about breaking free from unhealthy dynamics that hold you back and embracing collaboration, respect, and growth.

It’s not about pointing fingers or placing blame. It’s about taking control of your life. Recognizing where you might be carrying unnecessary burdens and creating a healthier balance.

If you or someone you know is struggling with these issues, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. But also, don’t underestimate your power to make a positive change. It all starts with awareness, and it grows with action.

Okay. So, I know that we covered a lot today and I know that it’s been a heavy conversation, but this has been just amazing. And again, I know it’s something that I’ve been wanting to talk about for months now.

I’ve loved uncovering the facets of weaponized incompetence and how it’s affecting so many lives, especially for women in midlife. Now, if today’s discussion has resonated with you, you might want to explore some other episodes on relationships and self-care in my podcast library.

Recognizing and addressing weaponized incompetence is about empowerment, balance, and self-awareness. You are not alone in this journey and taking these steps can lead to positive changes in your life.

Now, as we wrap up, remember that taking back control doesn’t mean that you’re going at it alone. It means recognizing where there’s room for growth, taking charge, and moving forward with a more balanced and self-awareness.

You have the strength to recognize the patterns in your life that may or may not serve you and the courage to address them. I believe in you, and I know that you can make these positive changes in your life.

I want to take a moment to thank you for tuning in today. Your support just means so much to me. I love it that you are listening and that you’re interacting with me. And I love that we can explore these topics together.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please consider subscribing, leaving a review, or sharing it with a friend. It helps others find the show, and I truly appreciate it.

And hey, don’t be a stranger. Come over to the Eight Basic Habits that Healthy Women in Midlife Do Facebook group that I have. And join the conversation. I want to hear your thoughts, your stories, and how these episodes are impacting you.

That’s all I have for you today. Have an amazing week, everyone. I’ll talk to you next time. Bye-bye.

Thanks for staying with us till the end of this episode. If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of the ‘8 Basic Habits that Healthy People Do’ and want to connect with a community of like-minded women, I warmly invite you to join our free Facebook group, ‘8 Basic Habits that Women in Midlife Do’.

In this group, we expand on the habits discussed today, sharing experiences, offering support, and celebrating our health journeys together. It’s a space where you can feel understood and encouraged.

To join, simply click the link in our show notes. Let’s support and inspire each other in our quest for better health. See you in the group!

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