Manipulative people

Lately I feel stressed. I feel stressed because I honestly do not trust people anymore. No, I do not mistrust everyone, but just it has occurred to me how much people are using either subconscious or conscious manipulation with others.

So what is manipulation overall? I would say manipulation is a strategy used for gaining power which is covertly aggressive. This means, certain people attempt to gain either control or footage over you, but they usually do not do this in an obvious manner, rather their strategies are more polished.

So what counts as a manipulation? Well, I can give two examples from my recent past. I have an acquaintance with whom I regularly felt uncomfortable. Recently he pushed me for more information about myself than I was willing to give. Upon my refusal  he told me that if I want to keep our acquaintanship on a superficial level there is no point and I will be wasting both of our times. He furthermore told me that I was like everyone else, just giving snippets of information and that I should choose if I want to talk about something or not. If I choose not to, then I should not even mention this.

So what happened there? I stated a border and instead of accepting that I was not willing to disclose certain information about myself, he first tried to threaten me with abandonment – there is no point in our friendship if I am not honest and vulnerable. When this did not work, he tried to guilt trip me by telling me how I should have not even disclosed any information at all.

Then I have a colleague who I suspect is manipulating everyone as well. One of the more obvious examples I can tell was when she sensed I did not like her and then quickly asked me to help her with something, telling me how much she values my contribution. Why do I think it was a manipulation?

Well, because I do not possess any kind of power to help her and she knows that and therefore she has never really attempted to be in good terms with me. However, she potentially sensed that it is not good to make an enemy or exclude someone in an obvious manner, so she tried to smooth things over with me by trying to push on my vanity and my ego. Unfortunately for her, I do not have much of a vanity.

These are only two people, but to be honest, I really do not like what I am seeing. It makes me feel uncomfortable. At times I suspect that I am too suspicious, whereas other times I think others might not be perceptive enough to see through those people. As someone who has a lot of experience with manipulative people I possess both the weakness of being overly reactive on them and suspicious, but also a potential strength of recognizing their manipulation strategies.

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The balance between getting respect and being vulnerable

Recently it has started to occur to me that being vulnerable and respected, at least in my head, have become opposites. They probably should not be opposites, but for me, for many years they really have. So let me tell you a story….

I once was a total people pleaser. I would worry about having insulted some random people. I would spend a lot of my time thinking about how my communications with some people go. I would try my best to make sure everyone was happy. I did this because I wanted people to love and like me. I also consequently carried my heart on my sleeve, being hurt easily and looking for someone to support me. I guess I was overly vulnerable.

You know what happens to people that are people-pleasers. That’s right. People do not respect them. People get the idea that they can get away with everything in your surroundings. So while I had many friends and acquaintances, at some point came the moment of truth and it was that while I had this big circle, I was always really on the outskirts of this circle. You know like this person that everyone keeps around because they are non offensive and fun, but that people also do not have much to say about. Perhaps?? I am now guessing.

So with my therapy, I changed. I stopped with the constant people pleasing. I stopped with the constant worry and constant strive to look for others to like me. I got others to respect me and I think today, people around me generally treat me properly. If they do not, one can be sure I will do something about it. But……somewhere my ability to be vulnerable and to be open has gotten lost.

One could hypnotize that I was never really vulnerable, because people really try to please others when they think they are not enough. So people that please others never really show their real self either. To some degree I think it is true. However, I think there was also a great deal of child like vulnerability in me, together with this people pleasing.

So in a way now I am on the other extreme. I know how to command respect, but I do not trust people anymore to open up to them. I have seen on so many occasions how my weaknesses have been used against me. I have especially seen female competition and to my dismay discovered that some of my close friends secretly took enjoyment out of my failures. I have become awfully skeptical about goodness in people.

So this is where I struggle. I struggle opening up to people. I struggle letting them in. I struggle with being this trusting and naïve child again. Especially because I really do not want to go back to how I was, but my current self seems to be the highway to loneliness. So I guess I can see my next challenge.

Is commitment fear a real thing?

Commitment fear or intimacy issues or however you want to call this is something with which I have a long experience with. I have been in both the receiving end of it and the perpetrator myself. For someone who has never experienced it, it might seem weird that someone would actually escape from love and connection. Since I have the advantage of knowing how the inside of commitment avoidant works, I feel I can perhaps shed some light into it.

Commitment fear usually works like this – people cannot sustain a long period of intimacy with someone. They might be able to enjoy closeness for a short while, but the thought of being intimate with someone over a longer period of time makes them panic. This panic inside is very real, it is a mix of entrapment and abandonment.

The way it worked for me was that I assumed that in order for someone to stick around, I needed to behave exactly the way they wanted. The whole relationship hence became about their wishes and pleasing them. I hardly asked questions on if they are fulfilling my needs. Naturally such focusing on the other person was carried by my deep seated abandonment. I was so afraid that if I do not try to constantly please them, they will walk away.

However, let me tell you, such kind of pleasing and focusing on other people is exhausting. Especially since you are not only dealing with pleasing, you are also trying to control your fear of them walking away. So you need to escape at times, because you get too exhausted. The longer you are together with someone, the more exhausted you get. The more you feel entrapped and the more you need to escape. Your periods of escape become longer and longer. Eventually you zoom out of relationship almost entirely, because you cannot handle the pressure anymore.

This was pretty much how it worked with me. After every relationship I felt defeated and I knew something was wrong with me. There was no grand celebration of having seduced someone and then checked out of relationship, rather there was a strong feeling that there was something wrong with me. Naturally I never demonstrated this feeling to my former partners. I never explicitly apologized. So when it comes to them, they might go around with the idea of me somehow considering this my win.

So, I have this personal experience of being commitment phobic. This experience also makes me say – never get involved with a commitment phobic. Seriously. The more you try to help them, the more exposed they will feel and the more they will try to escape. The whole premise behind their people pleasing is the belief that the way they are is unacceptable. So instead they need to put up a false self which is usually tailored for you. It is easy to fall for this false self. I have never had problems getting guys interested in me, because of my ability to play the role of their perfect girlfriend. The problem is, this role is not sustainable.

Finally however, there is something to be said about people who fall for commitment phobes as well. I might be now slightly too harsh, but I would say that most of my exes actually did not care enough about who I was. They were happy with me playing the role of ideal girlfriend. It did not arise any suspicion in them that I was doing all the right things and that I was so good at pleasing them. I would suggest that a person that falls for such kind of behavior after their twenties, probably has some quite deep issues of their own. I know that I personally want to get to know people I am dating with. That includes me wanting to know their not so popular opinions, their wounds, their not so perfect character traits. Furthermore, I am not getting put off by someone exposing some unfavorable character trait. I should probably mention that none of my exes has a family at this point, which I find interesting………Or well, forget the family, most of them don’t even have a functioning relationship.

Relationships with entitled people

Do you have people whose every phone call makes you shiver and want to run miles away? Well, I realized that for me such a person has been my mum. And then my ex best friend and perhaps one of my exes and a few other people… What joins all these people together however is a sense entitlement and the very demanding attitude they have taken towards me. The underlying idea seems to me the following – they assume I owe them my love and well lets face it submission since they provide me certain other services. It really is a contract where as a gratitude for some protection or what not I become the person satisfying their needs. When these needs are not satisfied, logically I get an angry reaction.

My ex best friend contacted me recently after two years of total silence. This was a big one. I was just there in shock, trying to figure out what to do. Finally I did something which I am still so proud of.  Namely asked if anything in her attitude towards relationships and friendships had changed over the years and if she thought that there was some evidence which confirmed that we could get along today.

I assume that it was a shock for her. People like my mum and my ex best friend do not think that way. They think you owe them something and that it is just a matter of time till you come back to them because you are so dependent. It surprises them if you choose not to return. It surprises them even more if you actually start setting boundaries and also setting demands on them. Somehow control is lost.

For years I was an errandboy for my mums needs. Whenever she would call with another demand, I was there to run and please. Being in her proximity made me nervous because there was always some hidden expectation which I never realized and which would make her explode. Through my reaction to my ex best friends contact I realized the pattern was the same with her. I felt like I needed to conform and realize her needs and demands without words being expressed.

I am not saying these were one sided relationships, not at all. After all I got my protection, I got some caring and whatever else that I wanted. However, I am realizing that I do not need the benefits anymore. Not if the cost is having to be constantly alert to someone else’s needs and having to be ready for an anger outburst if I have not attended to their needs.

So essentially I feel I have made great progress because I am actively choosing to say no to demanding and entitled people in my life. After so many years, I do not really think I will end up in another relationship or friendship with such a person.

What confidence can and cannot do?

In the world of self-help literature, I often stumble upon these cookie-cutter suggestions which lead you to think that all it takes is to be confident. As if there is this magic quality that successful people embody – confidence, and once you get there, you will be successful as well. I am not going to discuss here the fact that confident people usually embody other qualities which have made them feel confident in this particular sphere, rather I am going to give couple of examples from my life which illustrate how merely confidence does not cut it. Examples could apply to many areas of my life, but I chose to use dating in this particular post.

I am a rather sarcastic person and often use teasing in my communication with guys. Unfortunately in my particular country of residence, sarcasm and teasing tend to scare guys. Now over the years I have become more confident about myself and my humor which leads me to use it not more frequently, but perhaps more assertively. What do you think is the effect on my dating life and on the numbers of guys I can score?

When the first example was cultural, then lets also give a personal case. I have always been somewhat dreamy, inattentive and walking in the clouds. The difference is that these days I do not feel the necessity to constantly apologize for my inattentiveness. However, there are plenty of guys that cannot tolerate such characteristics in a woman. No, these guys have not started to like me any better after I stopped apologizing for my inattentiveness. They will still be judgmental about me. I also doubt that they will respect me more only because I these days feel better about myself.

My point here is that confidence can only get you so far. In certain contexts confidence can be counterproductive. You must all know someone who is crossly over evaluating their abilities in a certain area. What confidence can do, is make you feel more relaxed and less obsessed about other people’s opinion, however, in the context of dating, it will not automatically make you attract more dates. Often times there are certain other qualities which are extremely valued by the majority of men (frequently depending on a particular culture). So the lack of these qualities will probably make you the minority taste. If you are confident, it probably will not matter to you.

The problem is, a lot of unconfident people view confidence as something that allows them to compensate for their lack of confidence. This is a very confusing sentence, so let me try to clarify it further. If you lack confidence, you are immensely invested into how other people perceive you. You think that if they only liked you, you would feel better about yourself. My point here is that, confidence will not automatically make other people like you. What confidence can do, however, is making you invest less meaning to other people’s opinions. So there might not be a huge impact on your social life, but there might be a vast impact on how you feel internally.

Rejecting the people that like you and chasing people who do not accept you

For years I have watched the photos and the behavior of popular self-confident girls.  There always seemed to be some inescapable gap between me and them. I wanted to be one of them. I did not even want to be friends with them, I wanted to be them. Most importantly, I wanted to be someone else, not me.

I have come to the conclusion that this has resulted from my mum never approving me. Her constant criticisms and statements such as – “I wish this girl would be my daughter instead” or “Sometimes I wish you had never been born” or “When I was your age, I was much …..(smarter, responsible, prettier etc.)” led me to feel like there was something wrong with who I was. Not with my behavior, just with who I was.

The people that actually liked me, well, assumed that they were losers like me.  Unconfident, ashamed of themselves, not really measuring up for someone else than me. So they had to accept me. Any guy that actually accepted and genuinely liked me got dismissed because of aforementioned dialogue in my head. I only wanted guys that did not see me as sufficient, because well, that meant they had a decent taste and could choose someone better.

I spent years trying to become someone else. This criticism that other people gave me was in my mind treated as the truth not a particular preference of this person. Naturally I chose as my partners and even my friends people who similarly to my mum were never happy with me. So I spent so much energy trying to keep them satisfied (because I never even entertained the possibility of them being happy with me).

It is somewhat weird that I am starting to wake up to the feeling that I was always an OK person and there were always people who genuinely liked me. Granted I believe that I had many problematic behaviors, but as person, in my core, I was OK. Naturally because of therapy and because of having worked with a lot of my natural weaknesses, I am a better person today, but the whole premise of my self-development and the idea of turning myself to a different person was wrong.

Today, my friends are genuinely weird people. Meaning, they would probably never win any popularity contests. However, I feel more accepted than I have ever felt before. I cannot say that I am completely without fear, no my relationships feel still for me fragile and I am afraid of alienating people, but at least I am starting to get the sense that the people currently in my life actually like me. This is the result of me finally choosing to surround myself with people that can appreciate me for who I am, not to people who lead me feel insufficient.

 Do people-pleasers know who they really are?

To be honest, lately I have this weird feeling that I am losing myself. There is this fear of not knowing who I am anymore, becoming totally lost in my being. I think it makes sense that I would feel that way. I think it makes sense because…..

Well, as a people pleaser I have always identified through others. Making other people happy and assuring their support made me. They appeared as pillars of support in an unsafe environment. Now that I am trying to become more independent and rely less on others I am also faced with the fact that most of my life I have actually had little idea who I was. I was whoever I needed to be in order for other to be happy. Yeah, I had some limits, but in reality, not really. I would go to extreme lengths to grant people’s approval. If most of your life has been defined by being what others want you to be, how would you even know who you want you to be?

It is quite ironic really. I probably have more idea on who my mum wanted me to be, who my ex wanted me to be or who a random man on the streets wants me to be. I don’t think I have ever asked what kind of a person I want myself to be. You know, I, without the ulterior motive of – I want to be liked by as many people as possible.

Given all this, it is no wonder that I find myself confused and feeling as if I am disappearing. I literally have no idea who I am anymore without all these judgmental people around me. Suddenly I could have the freedom to be myself except, I have no idea who myself is. Neither do I have much idea how to start looking for myself in thirties. I mean, it is not like google will give you many hits on – how to find out who you really are. So in the meanwhile I guess I will have to accept feeling and being lost…..

Intellectual friendships and avoiding intimacy

Today I understood something. I have quite a few intellectual friends. You know, people with whom you can discuss the matters of the world. You can analyze. It is exciting and interesting….. Sometimes I feel I am mentally exhausted however. I feel I would just want to be with someone who does not ask me to intellectualize things. Someone for whom I would not have to constantly be interesting and exciting….

So I was thinking about it and about myself and reached to the conclusion that I have used this same intellectualization in order to protect myself. It is much safer to talk about some random intellectual topics where you do not really have to give much of yourself. I mean, you can even talk about relationships in an intellectual manner. The topic is absolutely irrelevant, the point is that you are scared of revealing too much of the real you, because then people might either reject you, or in my case even worse, hurt you.

I never really understood before how these friendships were there to protect me from really opening myself up and becoming vulnerable. I still have a lot of fear around exposing myself to any kind of harm, because of familial relationships and years and years of bullying. Because of this very intellectual quality of my relationships I have a lot of male friends. I guess males feel safe around me, because I am not trying to invade to their safe zone and force intimacy on them. I allow them to be intellectual if they want and do not necessarily push them to something else.

I think intellectual friendships are fine and necessary. This is not the question. The question is, can you also do something else than intellectual friendships. When people ask you personal questions, do you freeze or become uncomfortable? I know I do. I know I also become uncomfortable when people seem too excited or interested in me. All of this is just pushing on my walls which are there as a result of so many negative experiences from the past.

So I guess I will continue to work on myself and try to overcome the intellectualization and actually be open to other types of friendships as well.

Why was it so easy for my exes to walk away?

I am currently dealing with my abandonment issues in my therapy and I am starting to cultivate quite a different view on my past relationships.

So previously I thought that the fact that my exes could walk away easily was a testament of my low value. That somehow I should have performed better, convinced them to care what not. I do not necessarily disagree with this, as I am sure I made many mistakes…However someone being able to walk away easily, I mean, this does not happen because you make small mistakes here and there. This happens if the person does not care much to begin with. My ex made some really questionable stuff during our relationship and never did I think that I could walk away easily. But most of my exes did….

This however means that their engagement in this relationship and their emotional investment where lofty to begin with. I spent much time thinking if only had I been better they would have not wanted to leave me. To be honest, if someone does not either dare to or want to get their feet wet in the relationship, it really does not matter how good you are. They woun’t. Of course you can also with your own behavior make other people invest less which I have done as well, no doubt. The art is to distinguish between your role and your partner’s role.

I am pretty sure I have subconsciously chosen guys who do not want to get their feet wet. My parents’ behavior and the fact that it was so easy for both to just walk away from me left its mark. I started to consider this normality and thought that it was common that you had to work hard for your own parents (or partners) wanting to stick around. Now that I am writing these lines it sounds outrageous that someone would have to go out of their way to convince their parents to be present in their life. I am not even talking about my parents loving me, I am talking about pure presence.

So obviously the bar for the relationships was pretty low to begin with. You just had to show up and seem to be interested. I could never distinguish between real investment and just tagging along. For me just tagging along was all I could ever ask from someone. Anything above that was already way more than my parents did and would raise serious questions about my worthiness for that.

How do people deal with uncertainty in relationships?

Sometimes I wonder how people survive the dating period. You know, you do not have any kind of security, everything seems to be out in the air. Or even, how do people survive any kind of waiting period, waiting for their partner to be ready to get married, waiting their partner to be ready to have kids whatever..

I think my trust in people has never been my greatest strength, but my last relationships have made me just so insecure about people around me. Seriously….First, I move to another country for a guy who then starts doubting whether he wants to be together with me. I mean not that such doubts are ever nice, but such doubts are definitely not nice after you have discussed how many kids you want to have or which kind of house you would prefer. Somehow the security which you thought was there is swiped underneath you feet….Then I have a long relationship with a guy who just makes his own plans and lets me know that he has now planned to go to foreign country for two months, furthermore, he also does not bother to communicate much during this time. Finally, I date with a guy who just disappears without saying a word. My trust in guys is destroyed, I am afraid…

Other people seem to manage just fine, which makes me think, am I somehow with my negative thinking creating these scenarios. Does my insecurity scare these guys away? Or do I choose guys who are insecure about me by definition? I have no idea. Actually I have no idea anymore how I would be able to sustain my trust and cool during the dating period after so many negative experiences.

Even though part of me means that I should work with my insecurities and just learn to accept that I do not know where life takes me, there is another part which says – but if a guy cannot even offer me any kind security in terms of where this relationship is going, what good is he? Maybe trying to keep my cool is what lead me to such situations after all, maybe if I had trusted this insecurity, I had broken off these liaisons way earlier. You see my struggle here?

Honestly, I do not have an answer….The only thing that I can say is that I have not felt myself secure with a man for a very long time.