I can remember having a conversation with a friend once. It was private, and I had no intention of sharing it with anyone. A mutual friend of ours later asked me what the person had said. I really didn't want to share that. But when they fixed me with a series of hurt "I'm just trying to be interested in my friends' lives" and "Nothing interesting ever happens to me," I caved. I felt really guilty. I always regretted that. And this sort of thing happened again and again.
It took me awhile to see it. It took me a long time to be able to see over the friendship to the manipulation that was so prevalent in it. But once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it. Not only that, it opened my eyes to the other areas and relationships in my life where I allowed myself to be manipulated, where I succumbed to the guilt trips. Until then, I simply didn't know that I was so simply controlled.
But once I began to be aware of it, I didn't like it. I really didn't like it. The thought that I was so easily swayed bothered me, and I began a slow process of changing that.
First, I had to learn who the manipulators were in my life. I needed to understand my friendships better. I needed to understand which of my relationships existed because we actually liked each other, and which merely existed for the services I provided. That took some time and some honesty. The honesty was probably the hardest part of this. It's hurtful to admit that people that you thought loved you were willing to do that to you.
But once I figured out who they were, I had some decisions to make. I had to decide essentially how to curtail my exposure to them. Were they friends that were fringe-y enough that I could just fade out of relationship with them and no one would really notice that much? Or were they people that I had to figure out how to deal with?
Second, I had to learn what acts of manipulation worked on me. They aren't the same for everyone and you can't recognize it when it happens to you if you don't know what to look for. These are the things that are really difficult to un-see once you've seen them. As I went through this, there were so many "I can't believe I let this go on" moments for me. I couldn't believe that I had never seen these things before, and I felt ashamed and really mad at myself.
Some common methods people use:
- Projecting their own superiority on a matter, minimizing your ability to contribute anything useful
- Making you feel that you are unworthy, unable, or stupid
- The "After everything I've done for you, you can't just do one thing" approach.
- "You have so much and I have so little."
- Using your weaknesses against you
- Using their weaknesses as leveraging tools
Do any of those feel familiar to you?
Finally, I had to set some boundaries with those people and stick to them. This was definitely the hardest part of the whole deal. When you start to resist the manipulation that has always worked on you before, they won't be happy. After all, it used to be so easy to get you to do what they wanted. Of course they won't be happy. The trouble is, they'll work harder and use every trick they know to get you to go back to the status quo. They will treat you like you are the wrong one, the unkind one, the disrespectful one. You are the one being unfair.
You will have to stand your ground and be strong.
Friends, you deserve to be respected. I'm not saying that you or I deserve OUR own way all the time either. But, it's not unreasonable to expect to be respected. It's fair to expect to not be used by those in our lives. You are not wrong for standing up and asking for that respect.
Don't lie back down in front of them. You can do this. Seek out those friends who care for you just for being you. Ask for their support and encouragement. You're probably going to need it as you learn to not give in.
But, when you come out the other side... and I pray that you will... You'll be stronger and more amazing.
And I can't wait to see that.