They define Manipulation as “skillful or artful management”.
But we know, it is so much more than that.
Manipulation, Emotional Abuse, Controlling Behavior: Played, Duped, Destroyed. There should be more words to describe what it is to be made the object of another person’s machinations.
They find you, dissect you, categorize and label you. They identify what it is that will draw you in. They create their identity to make you believe that they are far grander than they seem. They entangle themselves in your life. They weed out the extraneous. Isolated and diminished, they define your parameters.
I needed a puzzle so he became deeply complex, a multilayered enigma.
I needed to play the heroine, so he became a troubled soul in peril.
I needed to escape impact and he became my fallout shelter.
I needed to recover from the storm and he became my safe harbor.
I needed more friends and he became jealous.
I needed a girls’ night and he mocked me.
I refused him their secrets while he wheedled and pleaded till falling silent and ignoring me. Stunned, hurt by his silence, I would tease and cajole him till he lashed out with bitter, calculated remarks.
I would stand my ground and he would make me feel like an ant beneath his shoe, the scum of the earth, the Pity Friend. By his displeasure, I was Bitch Personified. I was my Alcoholic Uncle, greedy and cruel; I was my Cold-Blooded Cousin, narcissistic and mean; I was my Father, thoughtless and absent.
I never questioned his motives. I never analyzed his treatment. I failed to evaluate the data because by all estimations this was no game — there was no playing field, no score or tallies kept. If I was everything I dreaded and despised well, at best, I must have been on my period. At worst, I must have gone off my anti-depressants. How could someone who made me laugh, who cared so fervently for my well being, have anything but my best interests at heart?
After all, I was the center of his world, the most important person in his phone. His first text every morning, last IM every night. The face he looked for in the halls, the automatic partner in every assignment. By his approval, I was brilliant, funny, lovely. I was worth something. I was Someone.
That was my truth for five years. He validated me; he made me better (stronger).
They make you think that Manipulators all look like greasy boys wearing leather jackets and leering smiles. My manipulator was a short Nerd with a funny voice and close-set eyes.
They make you think that Abuse looks like cuts and bruises. My abuse was shattered confidence and perpetual self-doubt.
They make you think that Freedom looks like Prince Charming atop a White Horse. My freedom was watching him destroy someone that I loved (who he had claimed to love, but Love is Never Defined by Lies and Devastation). From finally realizing that, if I would not allow him to treat our friend with that behavior – why was I allowing him to treat me with that behavior? My freedom was my best friend analyzing interactions with me, identifying destructive patterns, giving me the strength and the courage to walk away.
I was lucky. I escaped him. I found supportive, passionate and loving friends. I moved on with my life.
I still see his ghost in every person I meet. In every boy who texts me. In every compliment paid me, I analyze it for ulterior motives. I am skittish and skeptical and wary.
Skillfully Managed, they say.
I know, it is infinitely more than that.