It was quite shocking to hear how badly she had treated him and that, after so many years of his life given to her, supporting and helping her, she had been – all that time – emotionally manipulating him.
She had cheated on him, falsified a pregnancy and continued with a fake miscarriage, making him believe she needed him and exploited his position by pretending sadness that was never real, showering him with compliments and appearing to rely and love him that made him vulnerable to the idea that she is completely dependent and reliant on him. He thought he couldn’t leave, even though he never really loved her, and over time, he stopped feeling. He didn’t know who he was anymore, and just did what he was told.
As tears rolled down his cheeks, I realised it was far worse than I had expected. He did what he thought would make her happy, but in reality, she moulded him, and while signals of her underlying exploitation of his emotions appeared here and there, moments where he realised that something was not right, he never really believed that she would be capable of lying and controlling him, keeping him, and manipulating him. He felt powerless, confused, and frustrated.
“Sara. Why did she do that?”
Perhaps she was afraid that he was going to leave her? She needed to find a way to control him, to keep him there and her only tool was to use his vulnerabilities against him and for her advantage. Or, perhaps she was scared he was going to find out she had cheated on him and needed to control him to protect herself?
Manipulation comes in many forms, from that salesperson who tricks a lonely elderly person to purchase a product that she does not need, or that emotionally abusive partner who is challenging to really see, to that parent who uses guilt and emotionally blackmails their children.
A toxic relationship between two people who attempt to manipulate and control one another has an impact far greater than just their relationship. There is obvious manipulation, where one partner forces a person to do what they want, and subtle manipulation, such as the silent treatment or twisting words that were said to make it mean something that it never meant. It deteriorates the mind and the body, making people sick, making people angry and confused, and often, leading them down the corrosive realm of depression and anxiety.
Very insecure men slowly chip away any source of power from their partners, taking the “home court” advantage where they lock their partners in a situation knowing they have the power, taking them away from their friends and family and doing so in a subtle way where their partners believe it is their own decision, having economic control over the finances, actively and intentionally trapping their partners into deceitful mind games.
Sometimes this toxicity in relationships merge and spreads out to others. Imagine a couple living in a share house who takes over the kitchen area, for instance, or does not clean up after themselves; if pointed out by other members of the house, the couple “support” one another by denying the allegations in order to take control of the situation. They have manipulated the word support and what it means in a relationship, when they are actually lying and supporting the lie for their own benefit.
Such toxic relationships and emotional abuse may eventually affect the mental health of people in these relationships – and sometimes those outside of it, including their friends and their own children – and often cause frustration, anger and insecurity or paranoia leading to the development of poor emotional regulation, hostility, and perhaps even through a steady erosion of mental health result in the progression of a damaging personality disorder.
Unhappy relationships where there are forms of manipulation and feelings of inadequacy are signals in themselves that something is wrong and something needs to change.
According to Erich Fromm, the definition of love as seen in contemporary western society is égoïsme à deux, that is, two people who are focused entirely on one another, a union where the individual self is lost in some symbiosis with someone else, and at the detriment of everybody else. This is immature love, failing to capture the essence of what it means to be loving, which extends beyond one person or object.
Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person. It is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. If a person loves only one other person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment, or an enlarged egotism. Yet, most people believe that love is constituted by the object, not by the faculty.
Immature love, as stated above, means that the person who is attempting to manipulate and control the other and in that control calls it “love” when really they are an object to be exploited for their own benefit. They see their partners as a reflection of their own ego, rather than as a separate person, not actually admiring them for who they are – intelligence, genuine, confident – but what they are to their own ego and how people will see them.
It is a sad thing to see many people being manipulated and perhaps it is a product of a capitalist society that view people as objects, who believe that love is attained by getting attention or by being powerful or successful or attractive, rather than learning to actually be good people. Only when we reach a state of maturity can we ever know how to genuinely love, and it starts with our own self-esteem, to recognise what is right and what is wrong, and that love is not an object directed to one person or thing, but a state of mind directed to all of humankind. It is being morally conscious.
A true and honest relationship is not losing yourself and forming some egotistic symbiosis thinking you are supposed to become and do what your partner expects of you, but by becoming yourself through the admiration and goodness or kindness of the person you are with. You can see it in what they do, not what they say that can trick you and force you to do things, but by showing you through what they do themselves. An immature person ‘loves’ someone who loves vanity and superficiality, who is a pretender, who talks smoothly and sweetly and convinces you to believe in them but has nothing to show for it, and oftentimes this person has no idea who they are themselves, which is why they are immature. A mature person ‘loves’ someone whose goodness can actually be accounted for, who actually makes a difference, who genuinely cares about the world, and all this without having to convince anyone. You admire them because there is something to admire and through them, you become a better person.
I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.