Updated: Sep 23, 2021
I was recently accused of manipulation which has provided the opportunity to explore this subject. I am glad to share my experience in hopes that you also might ponder the difference between manipulation and standing in your personal power.
After spending the evening with his family, my partner arrived home with the smell of alcohol on his breath. I have a sensitive nose and can discern the difference between one glass of beer or several. He gave me a kiss which was like lighting a candle under my nose. I impulsively blurted, “There will be no sex tonight!” (Alcohol had been a major reason for breaking up in the Past, and his decision to NOT drink was THE pivotal shift that opened me to get back together). He responded by accusing me of manipulating him. A discussion followed where I pointed out that I had NEW expectations for our relationship and would no longer put myself in the position of having alcohol-related sex which often ended with feeling angry at myself.
Intimacy should be a beautiful dance of shared emotions. If one partner is influenced by alcohol that special time together can be more aggressive and libidinous. I knew how it would become based on past behavior and felt proud to finally be standing up for myself.
Was I manipulating him or simply exercising my right to stand up for my new expectations?
Let’s start with Webster’s definition of manipulation: “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage”. I explored further the terms “artful” and “insidious”.
· Artful: (of a person or action) clever or skillful, typically in a crafty or cunning way.
· Insidious: “causing harm in a way that is gradual or not easily noticed”.
Well, I wasn’t “artful” at all. Words spewed out rather bluntly from a space of past personal wounds. (I shall work on being MORE “artful” in my communications in the Future). And I wasn’t “insidious” because there was no harm in stating my truth to protect my integrity.
Am I off the hook?
I took a stand that felt good, and he reacted. (A common defense is often a deflection of blame to the other party). If we are going to expect more from ourselves and our relationships, we must be aware of human tendencies to protect what is known. Each of us carries an internal dictionary of terms and beliefs. We don’t live by Webster’s non-bias explanations. We form definitions based on our interaction with life. If you don’t have a lot of exposure to LOTS of different types of personalities or situations it’s easy to believe a friend, partner or associate is far right or far left. The boundaries for whatever you are defining (from love, compassion, caring, manipulation, etc) might be narrower than you are aware because you haven't been around lots of diverse experiences. With greater exposure to the diversity in human behavior we realize MOST of us live in grey areas. We are not the worse or the best of anything!
Manipulation, coercion, persuasion, discussion, and sharing are all forms of communication. Manipulation exists at one end and sharing exists on the same thread, just on the other end. Some refer to this as either being “Black or White” on an issue. This term dates to the 19th Century and the Civil War. It’s time to stop using it to describe attributes associated with people or people in general. Webster defines it in two ways, “black AND white”: as being “partly white and partly black in color” (Well, that sounds like a grey area to me!) and black OR white: “categorizing events at polar extremes“. We live in the GREY of life (most of the time), so stop using a racist term to define thoughts!!
I talk with clients all the time about defining expectations for life.
· What are your expectations for yourself and others close to you?
· Are you living up to those expectations?
It’s not about being perfect…there is NO perfect!! You will only torture yourself striving for perfection. However, you CAN be BETTER! Strive to live up to your expectations so that your inner dialogue and self-respect is more positive.
Once you’ve identified your expectations you must choose how to take action to meet them. This can be tricky (as noted in my example). If you’ve been living in a situation that feels wrong or feels like you’re letting yourself down, and you decide you are ready to raise the bar to feel better, don’t expect the world to know what’s happening. It’s still the same place out there. YOU will need to be the one to let the world know you have changed. This means letting those affected by your decision to change know what they can expect from you moving forward. If your expectations involve changing the behavior of others, they should be told what you expect and how you will respond in the Future IF they fall short. You are giving them an opportunity to choose. You can’t change others. All you can do is offer opportunity FOR change.
This is NOT manipulation. It IS exercising your right to make personal change to be more authentic inside and to be proud of yourself. Setting higher expectations for yourself AND standing in that new truth gives those around you an opportunity to better themselves…or not. If your expectations involve others who don’t like the NEW you, then it comes back to you to lower back to your old expectations or make some different choices regarding the relationship. Perhaps it begins a conversation to understand why they aren’t willing to work with you. Sometimes people need a little time to sit with the change and process what it means before moving forward. It is unfortunate that many people will only rise to the level of expectations held for them. However, we are ALL capable of improving.
So pick BETTER…BE BETTER!! (And never regret striving to improve.)