Monday, April 25, 2011

emotional manipulation revisited

This is a long post, but hopefully you will find a few gems in it that may help you.  I know it's helped me understand it more deeply as I've written it....... put it aside, and then returned to it again and again.  

 I've been plugging away at it one and off for a year!  Why?  Well, of all of the topics I've posted on this blog, the one piece that is "googled" the most  (at least 4-5 times daily!) was one I wrote about over two years ago.  I continue to receive emails and comments from people all over the world who are trying to find the answers to dealing with an Emotional Manipulator in their lives.......... whether its a friend, a lover, a partner, a family member...... they are seeking out answers, looking for some understanding as to what is happening in their lives.  It is a messy topic....... one that comes from the dark side of us.  We can all relate.

We can all manipulate.  We all have this skill in us.  However, there are human beings out there, who are masters of this way of being.  For whatever reason, their lives and their internal wiring lead them into interacting with others using games and mind benders.  To me, they are one of the most difficult individuals to help.  Their needs are bottomless.  Their tactics are so hurtful.  Their ability to take ownership of their behaviour is flawed because more times than not, they don't believe there is a darn thing wrong with them.  It's the rest of the world that is messed up..........
This post is written based on my own experiences, observations, and studies.  I believe self awareness as well as the awareness of the symptoms and sickness is our best attempt as looking after ourselves.  

My first experience happened with a first boyfriend....... age 16.  He had unrelenting anxiety issues and became so ill he couldn't attend school.  I juggled both his homework and my own, trying to be helpful.  He would respond by telling me that if I broke up with him, he would kill himself.  This is where my first learning took place.  I continued on in that toxic relationship for an extra year out of fear.   No one has the right to put their life in your lap!  Oh guess what?  He lived! And every now and then, I receive an email from him at 3 am.  Out of the blue.  My stomach does backflips all these years later when I see his name in my in-box!  Crazy!!

IF we can see it, feel it, hear it, we can make the decisions to get out of the way.  We have choices........ always.  No matter what the consequences are.


bleeding heart........

Its amazing how quickly we are drawn to the drinking fountain that spills the nectar we crave and not even recognize its damaging consequences until the sweetness rots a hole into our hearts.  Its amazing how quickly we sidestep into the same dance moves despite the fact that the music beat seems completely different than the past.  You'd think we'd learn to stay clear of these trappings.  But cravings stilt our thinking while heightening our feelings to a point where they begin to control the choices we make.  We get drawn in as fast as flames up the chimney.

SWOOSH!  Off balance and confused by the swaying persuasion of a person who uses emotionally charged tactics to get what they want, we succumb to the hypnotic allure of their game. We become victimized and are held hostage by a professional victim who knows our weak points and knows how to use an arsenal of Emotion DARTS that target our weak points  Its like playing chess with a master.  The problem is..... in the rush to play the game, we don't recognize fast enough that we have become one of his Pawns. 

How does this happen so quickly?  How do we end up emotionally tied to another person who craves control because they don't feel like they have any in their life?  How do we recognize the manipulator who smoothly uses mind manoeuvering techniques like a tonic we choose to drink?  Why does this seem to happen more often to people who are kind and full of goodness?  How do we become enablers in a game you will never win?  

The way I see it AND believe it?  It comes down to the idea that we are getting some of our own personal needs met!  

Lots of questions!  Lots of ruminations!  LOTS of time spent trying to find your footing with professional victims who use the terror filling tactics of emotional game playing. 

Ask yourself.............. Is what I am doing to help one of these victims getting me what I want??  What do I want?   What are my needs?

Ask yourself......... Which of the most important relationships in my life are spiritually and emotionally healthy? What is is about them that make them feel healthy?  Why are they healthy?  Is there a respectful balance of give and take?
Ask youself.... Which ones are toxic?  IN what ways are they toxic?  Why?  What am I getting out of it?

Ask yourself......... What role do I play in the push and pull of a relationship that may not be a healthy one?  What am I sacrificing of myself and my life to try to maintain/fix/change the relationship? 

We all have the same needs.  According to William Glasser, Choice Theory guru guy, our needs fall into 5 categories.  Survival, Love and Belonging, Control/Empowerment, Freedom and Fun.  That's it.  5 needs.  5 goblets...... filled or not.  If one of our goblets is nearing empty, our actions, according to Dr. Glasser focus on re-filling the need goblet.   It affects how we think, feel emotionally, feel physically and act.  In other words, it tints the lens we use to look out at the world around us because we crave to fill the emptiness.

For example, if  Love and Belonging needs goblet is empty,  thoughts turn to conjuring up statements like....."I'm unlovable.  I'm ugly.  I'm alone.  No one loves me....Nobody cares that I'm even alive." This is the biggie!!!  Emotional feelings may sour into loneliness, shame, sadness, anxiety, rejection, anger.  Physical feelings turn to hunger, belly aches, headaches, energy heaviness.  Every ache and pain is felt, which in turn twists thinking into morbidity.  

Actions??  They can run the gamut.  You may slink away into my bed and succumb to depression, or you may become the busiest butterfly flitting out and about with a broken wing in search of love. OR, if you are aware of what's happening and what the need is, you may choose a much more balanced healthier approach.  You reach out to others.  You get into counselling. You start up a project or immerse yourself in a hobby.  You learn to be still and find happiness with your own company.  

Instant gratification through sex, food, alcohol, online sexual risk taking with others out in the mean world.  It comes down to looking for that elusive unconditional love but only ever finding love with conditions.  With rules.  With "do this" and I will love you conditions.  Its amazing how far we will go to seek out love...... to feel a sense of oneness and belonging ........... to rid ourselves of our misfit persona.  Values be damned when we are empty vessels in need of affirmation.

When my "love and belonging" needs have been depleted,  I am vulnerably open to tripping into the kind of relationship that will devour instead of soothe. I try to MAKE the relationship work even if it is toxic.  They will use their manipulative charm to get their own needs met.... empowerment, control and maybe even love and belonging too!  At first glance, it appears that this relationship is a healthy partnership..... I'll scratch my back, you scratch mine scenario.  But, when you are dealing with someone whose "need cups" can never be filled..... when they are a bottomless pit of need, there is no give and take balance.  The relationship runs amok..... as the game of give, give, give and take, take, take continues until the giver has nothing left and the taker remains hungry for more.  

give, give, give......
take, take, take.....
the giver pulls away, trying to look after themselves
the taker reacts by uttering demands, threats... even to a point where they say they will harm themselves.  Even to a point where they DO harm themselves......... all in a ploy to shake up the guilt and shame of the Giver. 

We are not dealing with a person who is healthy.  Chances are, there is serious mental health issues simmering under the surface.  But, they are smart.  The anger and aggression eventually rise up through their skin, but days and weeks can go by when all seems so serene!   They need professional intervention.  Sadly, Emotional Manipulators are the last ones who will ever admit there is something wrong with them. They are professional victims. The world is out to get THEM. 
So, we need to look after ourselves.  Like they say before the plane takes off, we need to put our oxygen masks on first before we can attempt to help someone.  We need to be aware of our own needs .... this is Emotional Awareness.  This is Emotional Literacy!  Read on!!!

If all of our behaviour is our best attempt at fulfilling our needs, how much control do we have over our actions?  A heck of a lot more than we do trying to control the actions of others or their needs. We may be the most "aware" person in the whole world, sometimes our needs drive us blindly down some thorny paths even if we think we are being careful.  And the worst thorny path to find yourself tumbling down is one that is owned by an emotional manipulator.  

More often than not, this is the foundation of domestic violence, which  INCLUDES more than a husband and wife scenario.   Domestic violence  includes elder abuse, child versus parent abuse, parent/child abuse, sibling violence, extended family abuse.  Emotional, physical, sexual or a combination of all.   More often than not, the manipulators who take advantage of our goodness are family.  I've experienced it first hand through marriage.  I've read about it, studied it, and have helped others in counselling sessions try to come to terms with it.  Emotional Literacy is lifelong learning.......  I am a student.  I hope you are too. 

Incredibly smart but sadly their self image is badly damaged, people who play with someone else's emotional stability are not only difficult to recognize right away, they will never admit the games they play.  In fact, they often feign victimhood.  This is their defence. This is their "comfort zone" they fall into when they feel any sense of wrongdoing.  They are bullies seething on the verge of some serious mental health issues.  Sadly, Sociopathic behaviour remains elusive in terms of change and treatment because an Emotional Manipulator is the last person to admit there is anything wrong with them.

No one is immune to the twisty turns of a person who has the smarts to turn a relationship into one of victim and aggressor.  All we can do is be aware of our boundaries as well as our own needs.  We have to learn to protect ourselves, learn how to walk away, let go and be firm about our own health and safety.  This is very difficult to do when one is the kind of person who is considered a helper.... a doer.......... a person who has a lot of love to share.  It is almost impossible to do when the person who has NEEDS that have no bottom pit is a family member or a lover.  But, it is doable.  Usually after many attempts and situations...... we do reach a place of readiness to put down the rules!  To learn to let go and let it be rather than losing your own freedom and empowerment in your own life.  

We do have the power to offer love and compassion while not getting entangled  in the web of psychological destruction.  We do not have the power to "save" another person from their own machinations, threats and self harm when they don't want to change.  Tragically...........

Love is out there.  Good love.  Healthy love.  Humans can provide this for other humans, though we are not perfect.  When two people meet, they bring along their "needs" goblets........... its a merging of the head and heart.  A blending of goodness and compasion as well as empathy for one another is reachable.   And our guide to showing us what unconditional love is and how it can be reciprocated?  God.

Look after yourself.  See the toxic relationships through the a clarification lens.  It may take a long time to let go of the threads that bind.  No doubt it may be one of the most painful decisions to make because it leads to actions that may even feel inhumane to you at first.  Get support around you, whether its through friends, family and/or professional help.  Lean on your faith. Know there will be grieving.  Sadness.  Guilt. Shame.  Be aware that it may even feel selfish to think of yourself first.  It's all there.  It goes against the grain of our compassionate hearts.  But, it comes down to the fulfilling the very basic need of all........... Survival.  Your own.  


Nancy said...

I have been in many abusive realtionships over the years. We get into them to fill our own needs but before we know it we are trapped. Knowing ones selve and setting boundries before you even start a partnership is the key I have found. Thanks for your insite - always on point.

awareness said...

Nancy.... Thank you for sharing and leaving such a key solution to dealing with future relationships. It's TRUE! WE must be cognizant of our own boundaries and needs before we go bounding out there! We're like sitting ducks if we don't.

It's also so difficult to stand back and watch it happening to someone else too especially if you've dealt with it personally.

Thankfully, my marriage wasn't like this, but there were people in our lives that were seriously detrimental to the health of the marriage. They encroached on it badly.

I'm pleased you found the post helpful. It was a good exercise in reflection for me too.

Selma said...

I've been involved in a few toxic relationships which interestingly enough weren't romantic relationships but were friends who turned out to be very emotionally manipulative. At first I wasn't self-aware or self-protective enough and felt heightened levels of sympathy for these 'friends' over their situations but certain events (including the attempted suicide of one friend because I got a boyfriend) led me to see the light.

A very insightful, informative post. Thank you.

Jen said...

I want to thank you for writing about this.
It's so comforting to me to read your universal on a topic that feels so shameful.
Thank you. :-)

I'm learning, and it's taking time.

I also realize that I'm not a helpless victim. I do get my needs met (albeit not in a productive or healthy way) by being in a manipulative relationship. I can also be very manipulative, myself.
Whatever darkness I see in "the other", I nearly always have in myself.

Thank you for taking the time and thought to do was so good for my soul.