Great relationships – marriages, friendships, children and parents - hit a rough patch now and then. They are healthy ones based on respect and caring in which ground rules are occasionally readjusted naturally, though perhaps uncomfortably, through disagreement and conciliation. They're the kind relationships that nurture, that last, the kind you want.
But if you refrain from saying or doing something because you're afraid of your partner's or friend's emotional reaction, it's time to take a closer look at that relationship.
People who manipulate others emotionally (with or without physical threat) have as their goal dominance in the relationship. But it takes a willing subject to be manipulated.
The emotional manipulator begins with charming helpfulness (or perhaps a request for sympathy) which seduces the other into trusting him or her and becoming loyal. The emotional seduction allows him to learn the other's vulnerabilities and which tactics will be most useful (anger, charm, pity, guilt). A single traumatic lesson in verbal abuse, or explosion of unexpected anger are enough to subdue the person who has come to believe that she has a special relationship with the manipulator. Those explosions are embarrassing and hurtful. The aggression, if gone unchallenged, guarantees the perpetuation of the dominant-submissive roles. The queen now has her subjects in line.
The victim of the aggression learns not to talk about certain topics, or to take any action without permission for fear of the manipulator's response. Doing whatever is necessary to avoid another scene or personal attack only reinforces the tyrant's behaviors. Of course, he or she isn't always abusive, only when he doesn't get exactly what he wants the way he wants it. Think of this manipulator as a child throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store and and parents giving him what he wants to make him quiet. The infant tyrant is in charge.
It takes both parties' tacit agreement to this awful dynamic of aggression/submission to make it work. When the victim decides not to tolerate the abusive behavior, the manipulator will use to the extreme whatever has worked for him or her in the past to keep the victim in line. Anger, excessive charm and apology, the silent treatment or threat of abandonment, ridicule, blame, or pity for the manipulator. Continued assertion of an expectation of appropriate, civilized behavior leaves the manipulator with a choice of finding another victim she can dominate or learning how to have a healthy relationship.
If you recognize yourself in either of these roles and want a great relationship based on an equal give and take, with mutual respect, you can learn how to break old destructive patterns. You don't need to be in relationship with someone who takes advantage or is openly aggressive. That's not a friendship, it's a “user-ship.” You can have the self-respect that comes from refusing to create or accept emotional abuse. You can have a great relationship that satisfies both of you. Call me. Let's talk.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.