Manipulate (verb) — to manage or utilize skillfully; to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage; to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose.
I was manipulated in relationships before I even knew what it was; that it was even something that could happen to me.
So, when it happened, it happened without my knowledge, and after years of different men using their tactics on me, I found myself on a therapist’s couch not even knowing who I was.
Although I’m certain there were instances before this one, the first time I can really remember being controlled by a boyfriend is in college.
He was my second serious boyfriend, ever. In general, he was critical. He was always making comments about the clothes I wore: “Are you really going to wear that?” He would ask me, saying my outfit was too revealing.
When I ordered a drink at dinner, he told me I drank too much, and of course, that I cussed too much.
When I introduced him to my mom, he got mad at me, saying I shouldn’t have done that.
There was nothing I could ever do right, and whenever I expressed my anxiety and hurt feelings over this, he would say, “Are you sooo pissed, Holly? Go ahead, get pissed. Get pissed off!” Which only boiled my blood more.
I was dating someone new when he called, asking to have me back. I laughed and told him I was in love with someone else. But, little did I know that new person was manipulating me just the same — if not harder — than he ever was.
I dated the second offender for nearly four years. It was four years of being told that I was crazy, that my emotions didn’t matter; that no, I didn’t actually see him go home with other women despite my eyeballs actually seeing it; no, marriage wasn’t in his plan, even though he proposed to someone right after we broke up.
When we broke up, I felt lost — or did I? Because I had no idea what I even felt. I couldn’t have told you if the grass was green. I had no opinion, because I was molded to believe that my opinion was usually wrong, and it was not of value.
So there I was, January 2012, in a counselor’s office. It was my New Year’s Resolution: get help. My therapist kept asking me how I felt about things that have happened to me, and I would tell him how I thought I felt. Then, I’d ask, “Is that how a normal person feels when this happens?”
It took a year of sitting on that couch for me to even realize that I did have an opinion, one that mattered, and that it was okay for me to feel however you want. Hell, sometimes I still have to remind myself that if I feel sad, then that’s the correct feeling.
I spent so many arguments with my exes, being told that I was crazy, that I was starting to believe it, and question my every move. I was cut down so much, that there was none of me left — well, except a body, and that seemed to be the only part of me any of them ever wanted.
But even with a year of counseling under my belt, I met someone who manipulated me more than ever — most of you know him as D. He was a drunk, and he was very good at making me feel stupid. He always had an excuse for being late or not showing up at all: “Oh, I’m not feeling well,” or “I forgot,” when he was actually cheating on me.
If I didn’t do exactly what he wanted (like, cheer when he got out of his DUI), he pouted, threw a fit, and told me I was mean and that I must not love him. If we disagreed on social topics, he would leave me, and tell me to go “find a new man.”
And to most of you, who are of clear head and heart, this probably does seem crazy. But I wasn’t ready yet. I was still broken, and I wanted someone to make me whole again. It wasn’t until he took a swing at me that I realized something was seriously wrong and my life could be in danger.
Usually, it’s manipulation that keeps those kinds of relationships together. The victim doesn’t feel like they are worthy of anything more because they have been taught to believe it.
But I knew, thanks to my counselor and my friends, that I deserved better.
I’ve been out of that relationship for almost a year now, and I’m getting stronger each day. I had to re-learn who I am; and who I want to be. I’m still learning how to spot red flags; how to figure out who’s the artist behind the manipulating.
But it’s going. The fact that I have this blog, a place to put my opinions and views, and the fact that even just a few (not to mention hundreds) of you are reading it, is a testament to the fact that we all have stories that deserve to be heard. It’s so empowering and I will be forever grateful for you, my readers.
And even though it’s taken my heart (and my brain) this long; I know it’s just a short road to where I need to be.