Recent events have led me to realize certain ingrained patterns in how I relate to important people in my life, and the need to change these.
I have been, in the past, a person with an excessive concern for how other people are feeling, in general and about me. I usually looked for the ways I might be at the origin of their distress and, if I was able to believe I was, how I could put matters right. I needed their affirmation that they still loved me. Seeing human distress, in fact, far from prompting genuine concern and compassion activated a narcissistic script making me see the sufferings of others only in terms of my own. This tendency opened me to manipulation. It comes right from my early childhood and describes my infantile relationship with my mother.
Manipulation, I begin to realize, can take many forms. The word itself sounds very evil. The act, though, is quite conditioned and automatic. People typically manipulate others in order to force them into assuming roles which were absent in their childhood in order to provide themselves with psychic security. Thus, for example, the manipulation practised by a schizoid personality allows them to maintain control and to keep present in a defined role the persons who represent persons absent in their childhood. Such a personality cannot abandon control because to do so would constitute an abandonment of the ego to the flames of its primal dissociation. They will also choose to associate with those who are easiest to manipulate and therefore afford the least risk of destabilising their psychic balance.
Understanding this is one thing, and may help to evacuate some of the anger that the person who becomes aware of being manipulated will feel. The manipulator is acting on an automatism, and doing so because the weaknesses in your own personality make that a comfortable strategy to address (or rather paper over) their own unresolved childhood needs. However, being “understanding” is what comes easiest to the masochist. It sounds good, but it will in no way help. Understanding of this kind does not proceed from the heart and compassion and is difficult to separate from the need to feel understood, to be affirmed in ones identity as someone understanding. This reopens the doors to the same strategies as before.
Even if one is alert to manipulation and resisting it, it is hard to resist not only because of the constant temptation to give in to it in order to buttress ones self-image, but also both due to its obstinacy and unconscious nature on the part of the originator and due to the anger it activates in oneself.
Nonetheless, at whatever cost, one must resist manipulation. It is only by resisting it systematically that the light can be focused again and again on the fact of the manipulation and eventually force the manipulator first to see and then to acknowledge what they are doing and to understand its roots. However, even this sounds like a suspect excessive concern for the welfare of the other. The primary reason to resist manipulation is in order to overcome the pattern in oneself which gives rise to its ubiquity.
The mechanism of manipulation relies on values implanted during early childhood in the superego as to what is “good”, “decent”, “clean”, “normal” and so on. So long as one harbors inappropriate ideas as to what is “good”, ideas which it is easy for the manipulator to uncover and decode, one is open to being manipulated. There are almost infinitely many of these. They have originally all served the purpose of coercing the child into behaving in a manner thought by the parent to be fitting, convenient or decorous. Thus: tidiness, not raising ones voice, thinking of others, eating up ones plate, not displaying ones genitals: any standard which one cannot or does not wish to live by in the contemporary world but the absence of which generates childhood guilt, will do. When you feel guilty because your superego condemns your behavior, you feel bad and I am in control. I now pull the levers which will allow me to get you to do what I want.
Guys, I’m done with this. Done with being understanding. If anyone out there needs to be understood (read, has a fragile ego which they need me constantly to reinforce), well sorry, go see a shrink. I’m not in that game. Yes, I understand. However, please appreciate that I do not care.
In my world, I need grown-up people, as partners. That’s why, if you are over 18, then regardless of age, gender or existing allegiances I’m changing the terms and conditions of having any kind of relationship with me unilaterally and with immediate effect.
1. You are required to recognize that you have problems. I have problems, and so do you.
2. You are required to understand that your problems are your problems. I really don’t care about them and I am unwilling to take the slightest responsibility for them. Any attempt to insinuate that I play the slightest role in their ontogenesis or maintenance will result in angry reminders of the above, and I am more determined to resist it than you are able to persevere with it, so better accept this and give up now.
3. You are required to work consciously and in a determined way to overcome your problems. I do it, you gotta do it too.
4. I do not give a damn what relations we have had in the past, or what experiences we have shared. None of this gives you any rights over me. Pay attention to me in the present. If you want me to be seduced, seduce me. If you want me to admire you, be admirable. If you want me to cuddle you and reassure you, show me at least something that impresses me as to your honesty and vulnerability, so that I can relate to our common humanity and this can catalyse my limited supply of compassion.
5. I’m doing whatever I want. What I want is determined and interpreted exclusively by me. In any case, you may have whichever view of it you wish. Interdependencies will be managed on a basis of equal opportunity for you to do the same, however, in application of rule 2 above, your failure to make use of this opportunity is not my problem.
6. We can, I hope, go beyond these rather cold rules together into the heart of what really matters. This is my deepest desire. But only as two adults. I need to trust you, and I am afraid that my trust is very fragile. I need to know I am safe from manipulation. Safe I, of course, am. But I need to know it. These are sacred spaces, to enter with reverence and lightly. Otherwise, the gates are closed. As ever, I sooner die there of emotional starvation than give access to barbarians.
7. Albeit that all of the above is non-negotiable, perhaps, having agreed, you have something to add. If so I’m listening.