Psychological manipulation has been around for a long time. It is a type of social influence which is not always negative. As a parent I use it to gently “steer” my daughters into healthy decisions for their best interest. Televised programs, whether it is medical content or commercials, also use it to convince viewers to lean one way or another. However, when it is someone you love and trust, it can really impact your development.
My mother was extremely manipulative. She was the queen of passive aggressive behavior. She was a Narcissist. Unlike healthy people, she did not participate in reciprocity or cooperation. She only sought control to the point that she would victimize me. Every single one of us can be a little manipulative. It could be that we are simply immature or it is just a case of bad judgment from desperation at the moment. However, some people have a mental illness or is so broken, manipulative tactics are all they know.
While my mother was obviously manipulative and toxic, there is another category of manipulative people that are harder to spot. I dated a man for 6 years and did not discover he was manipulative until the end of our relationship because he was fun. He was kind to me, he thought I was beautiful, we went on tons of trips and enjoyed years of adventure. I loved him and felt loved by him. So what was the problem?
Instead of talking to me directly about negative feelings or expressing his needs, he would find indirect ways to make things happen the way he wanted. Sometimes he would use passive aggressive techniques but he was really clever to not pout or be cynical. He always played the more subtle, quiet game. For example, he was jealous of my relationship with JoAnne. He wanted me to only be with him and he was trying to pull me away from this wonderful woman whom I cared about. Instead of out and out saying something, he would sabotage my plans with her.
I was an idiot. Because I was so immature and underdeveloped in the ways of relationships, I thought I was being a bad girlfriend if I wanted to do something with my BFF instead of him. He had me pegged and he knew just what buttons to push. He was not evil or a genius but I was the perfect victim. I wanted to be loved and here was this man who loved me so much he wanted to spend all his time with me. How could I say no?
JoAnne and I lived 6 hours apart so we did not get to see each other often. I would make plans with her for a weekend that I knew was clear. When the weekend approached, he would look surprised and say things like, “Oh, honey I had a surprise planned for you. I have already bought tickets for this event and I can’t get a refund. But I understand if you need to go.” I would feel horrible, change plans with poor JoAnne and believed him hook line and sinker. JoAnne tried to bring up how coincidental this was but because he always did something different I did not see the pattern.
One day, I needed change for a $20 and asked him if he had any singles. He told me to look in his wallet and I found a receipt for the tickets to one of these “surprise” events and realized he had bought them the day he told me about it. A lightbulb, nay a spotlight, went off in my head. WTF? How stupid was I? So of course I confronted him. Without skipping a beat, he explained that he had PLANNED the trip in advance but he was charged on that day – it was just a coincidence. See how this works? Yikes!
He did not yell and we did not have knock down drag out fights like other couples. In fact he seemed very agreeable. From my eyes he was constantly saying yes to everything I wanted but I found myself very frustrated. Am I just hard to please? Do I need drama in my life? Am I incapable of enjoying happiness? It turned out that he was a master manipulator and I was the perfect girl for him.
He didn’t gaslight and he did not use overwhelming tactics. That is why I always doubted what was happening. As my emotional manipulator he was showering me with praise and affection and love-bombing me. I truly do not think he even knows to this day that what he was doing was unhealthy. I am positive he learned it from someone in his life – most likely his father. I obviously had learned to be a victim through my mother who left me desperate for love and affection. We were the perfect unhealthy duo.
So when I finally “woke up” and ended the relationship he was very upset. Even though he had yet to produce a ring he promised me after proposing to me he still cried when I packed up my things. We were not living together but a lot of my stuff had accumulated at his house. He was the first man I was sexually active with and I really thought I was supposed to try to make this relationship work. I will admit I still “loved” him when I left him. I am so glad I walked away because I realize how unhealthy that relationship really was. I dodged a big bullet.
While I am currently married to a very complex man and it is not a bed or roses- my relationship is healthier because we actually talk about our feelings, wants and expectations. One of the things he found attractive about me was that I told him I could live without him. We have had yelling matches (thanks Bipolar 2 and hormones!). We have cried together. We have agreed to disagree. In the end though, I know we are in a healthy relationship. He not only understands my need to see my friends, he encourages my trips with them. I have taught him having alone time is healthy and not a sign of a failed relationship. He now will ask for some alone time.
If you find yourself a subject of emotional manipulation try to step out of the scenario and ask yourself some questions and think about the situation. Is he/she love bombing me? It feels nice sometimes but is this normal? When you assert yourself do you feel rude? Say your boundaries out loud and if the person reacts irrationally that should be a red flag. Talk to a therapist or someone out side of your circle and ask if they see anything concerning. Always take your time – do not rush into any decision as you may regret it later. I do not regret my decisions and I wish I had figured it out sooner as I feel I spent too long with a man that was not good for me.
I happened to know he quickly began to date another woman a few months after I left. He married her and had a couple of children and then divorced. He tried to reach out to me through my sister and I refused to talk to him. I do not hate him. I am not angry. However, I wanted to make sure he clearly understood that he could not be a part of my life ever again. Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Surround yourself with healthy people who really care about you. YOU deserve to be loved truly. Do not ever let anyone tell you otherwise.