Not everyone that emotional manipulates you is actually toxic. Apparently plenty of people emotional manipulate others based on their own inability to express/handle their anger or disappointment and, much like I said last night about my Dad, it’s all down to feeling insecure and rejected.
Some people who have been brought up to swallow their anger, or to be scared of their own angry feelings for various reasons may act out their anger passively – such as sulking and ignoring. It’s not always done on purpose to guilt you or take back control (though that may happen), sometimes the person reacts that way completely automatically and doesn’t even realise how they are feeling or what they are doing.
Some people however, absolutely do.
For me thinking about the reason behind the behaviour is proving quite important.
My instant reaction was to feel angry, resentful and upset at his behaviour as it felt like manipulation. I guess the anger (which has surprised me) is down to feeling “no way, not again!!”. Since learning all I have in therapy about the various ways I was emotionally abused, neglected and manipulated from the day I was born until I got therapy…. now that I’ve learnt what I have, it’s like if I see any sign of someone potentially taking advantage or controlling or manipulating me and my anger is triggered. Self-protection. I get that actually.
In fact, I think it’s probably a good thing. It’s taken me years of therapy to care enough about myself and my own worth so the fact I feel anger is pretty good really but… but I have spent the week feeling angry so that’s not so good. It’s clearly a work in progress.
Now, obviously you can’t control someone else or change them and so the only power you have is to control or change your own reaction to them/their behaviour, right? With that in mind I need to bring my focus back to myself rather than my Dad.
I’ve been triggered by this, quite a lot actually, much more than I expected I would be. More even than I realised I was.
The reason for being triggered: A lifetime of being emotionally abused, neglected, manipulated, guilted, gaslighted, controlled, enmeshed etc by my mother and two older female “friends” at work for many years.
Reaction: Feeling resentful, angry, upset, worried, overeating, bloated/stomach issues.
So what are my boundaries? What do they need to be? What will and won’t I accept?
This is tricky because when someone sulks or stops responding to your messages there isn’t much you can do. It’s a clever tactic really because the person doing the withdrawing/punishing can deny they are doing anything by saying they were just busy or forgot. It’s hurtful to the person being ignored and yet it feels like you’re being silly because someone isn’t shouting at you or verbally expressing their anger.
I don’t know what the right way to respond to the silent treatment is. Is it to ignore it and wait it out? Is it better to call the person out? Is it better to say “hey, it feels like you’re ignoring me – is something wrong”? Is that playing into their hands or is that the more mature response?
I’ve been googling this a lot today and everything I’ve read seems to talk about the fact that people who use the silent treatment use it because they are scared of being abandoned, because their ego has taken a bashing somehow. They push away because they fear they are going to be left. Because they are too scared to express their feelings directly. Because they are copying their own parents’ behaviour etc etc…. I’ve read that you should allow them their space to calm down but also that you should teach them a healthier way by saying you are there to talk when they are ready. Demonstrating something healthier.
I’m guilty of this myself actually. When I was angry with T the Christmas of 2017, I refused to come to my session and didn’t contact her for weeks. I was steaming angry. It felt like “I’ll show her!!!”. That was clearly my way of trying to take back control. That was my way of trying to make HER feel as bad as I did. Guilt her. Worry her.
Another example could be when I’m angry with my husband and we’ve had a row and I storm out the house and go somewhere without telling him or I hide upstairs for hours. It can be helpful to remove yourself for a while but you know when you can say “I just need a bit of time out to calm down and then we will chat” and when you’re just stropping.
I’ve read that when you have managed to talk to them that you should tell them there are healthier ways to express their feelings.
Perhaps I could have said “it feels like you are not responding to me because you are angry with me for not being able to come to the wedding. I’ll leave you to calm down but it would be much better if we could talk about any problems rather than leaving them to fester“.
Ugh I don’t know.
It’s funny, this type of emotional manipulation (conscious or not) used to work a treat on me because I was absolutely desperate for approval and I needed to people please. I would panic about the withdrawal of love and I would feel so much guilt for making someone else feel bad. Now I’ve gone the other way and I’m instantly furious that someone would be so nasty just because they weren’t getting what THEY want. Not a healthy mixture.
Ha… middle ground anyone?
My Dad giving me the silent treatment is actually about something from way back in his past and my reaction to it is from mine.
I can clearly see that his reaction isn’t about me, not really. I can’t make something and that’s that. It’s not a huge deal. He is disappointed and angry and feels rejected or insecure but that is HIS stuff to deal with. He gives me the silent treatment rather than just telling me he’s angry but perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to risk us arguing and falling out when our relationship is still so fragile? Or perhaps it was to punish me by his withdrawal – who knows.
The healthiest thing would be for me to say to him…
Dad, I need to say something. I love you and I really want us to continue having a good relationship but when you ignore me or give me the silent treatment that hurts. It makes me angry because it feels like you’re punishing me and clearly you are angry too and it doesn’t help either of us. In the future if you’re angry or upset please can we agree to communicate and talk about it – even if that’s not instantly? I don’t want us to damage our relationship because you’re secretly angry and so am I – I want us to be honest and open with one another even when we don’t agree.” (Needs work I know).
What stops me from saying that? Fear. Of what? I’m not sure exactly.
Anyway to summarise:
- His reaction isn’t about me (really)
- My reaction isn’t about him (really)
- An honest conversation could have prevented me spending an entire week feeling annoyed and preoccupied.
This might be easier if it wasn’t my bloody parent!