Manipulation & Control, The Ego, and My Current Life Lesson

I walked out of a meeting this week, and realized I had completely controlled and manipulated the entire meeting. I walked, expecting to get reprimanded for something I obviously did, and walked out with absolutely nothing to share because the meeting was so anti-climatic.

As a psychology major, I spent my entire college career learning how people work, and how I can manipulate and control situations. I am able to recognize that kid who blurts out inappropriate comments all the time as exhibiting “attention seeking behavior”, so if I don’t pay attention, he will stop. When I walk into a potentially hostile environment, I know to act calm, stare the speaker in the eyes, and ask lots of clarifying questions so I don’t appear roused, like the other person expects me to. When I like a guy who has a girlfriend, I know to become bff’s with the girlfriend so she does not see me swooping in and stealing him (Ok, so I would never do that).

I think we have this unhealthy desire for manipulation and control, especially when it comes to relationships. When I ask my friends, “Do you think I should call him?”, they often respond, “No, don’t call him, because you want him to call you so you are in control of the situation”. Or, they tell me, “Don’t let him know you are not dating anyone else until he asks you to be exclusive; you want him to always been uncertain so he works harder”. Or, “don’t ever back down from an argument, even if you realize you are wrong, because you don’t want him to think he can walk all over you”.

What I am learning. however, is this tendency towards manipulation and control is actually probably very dysfunctional. For some reason, when we are dating, it is all about “playing these games”: wait a while before you text him back, don’t drop the L Word until he does, wait for him to make it F.B.O. I actually think wanting to manipulate and control someone else is very, very bad, because it all comes down to a power struggle, and the need for me to hold someone else into submission, to have them available to my every beckon call, to prove that I am a more powerful human being.

I think we strive to have manipulation and control in order to prevent any potential dent to our already-hypersensitive egos. I don’t text the guy back, because I don’t want him to know that I am thinking about him. I don’t want him to know “he has that control over me”, so I pretend that I don’t even notice his existence. Because, letting him know I am thinking about him would make me vulnerable, and if he isn’t thinking about me too, that could be potentially damaging to my ego. I avoid telling him about my past, because that would potentially put me in a position to be judged, and therefore, also damaging to my ego if he decides I am too much of a risk to date. So, anytime a dense topic of conversation comes up, I skirt around it, hoping that he will confess his soul to me first, because that then means I am in control of the situation and I can choose how much information I want to share based on the information he shares first. Or, after you break up with me, I am going to tell you not to contact me ever again, because you took the control out of my hands by deciding our relationship was over, which hurt my feelings, so now I am trying to one-up you and override your decision, and try to be in control of what we will be in the future: nothing (my mom calls it my F You attitude).

What I am currently learning to do is make my own choices. While I believe it is important to research and ask other people about their opinions, at the end of the day, it is ME who has to live my life. I remember telling a friend of mine that I would actually prefer my significant other to be gone often; like, work late hours or travel a lot, because I really like my alone time. She contorted her face in a disgusted manner and said, “No, Britany, that is NOT how you want it. You want someone to be there for you all the time. That’s the way a relationship should be”. But, perhaps hanging out with someone every night does not work for me.

I was on this track for a long period of time during my ‘existential crisis’ where I was utilizing every single piece of advice everyone gave me: “Don’t talk about your past relationship experience until at least date three”, “Insist that he take you somewhere really nice on your first date”, “Run away from anyone asks you to meet in a dark, desolate parking garage”. Because, of course, it turned out I knew nothing about dating and relationships, so everyone else must know best. But, as my ‘existential crisis’ finished up, I began realizing that perhaps some of the advice people gave me works for them, but would not work for me; it is inauthentic to me to not confess my sins and apologize for something I did wrong; it is inauthentic to me to not check in with you when I hear a tragedy occurs; it is inauthentic for me to get drunk and try to wash away your memory and slut it up at the bar. Maybe we have to talk about our past relationships on the first date, because it would be too awkward to avoid. No, I don’t really like going to fancy restaurants, where I have to wear uncomfortable shoes and constantly worry about if I am “dabbing my face with my napkin correctly in between sips of water” (But, I should probably listen to the advice about the creepy parking garage guy).

3 Responses

  1. Sam

    Great post Britany. It’s really hard to be vulnerable in life, because you get bruised a lot before you build up a tougher skin. I think that sometimes though, when you meet someone you really fit with, it’s easy for those barriers to come down, and being vulnerable comes a little easier. That has been my experience, anyway! If you’re interested, Brene Brown does some really interesting TED Talks on this subject too

  2. rod

    It is surely possible to think things out too much. You could think for an hour and still come to the wrong conclusion. Altogether more economical of time and effort to go with your instinct.

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