I always thought manipulation was a deliberate act that people used to get their way.
I’m finding that I do a lot of things on auto-pilot to get what I need that make me wonder if manipulation is really as deliberate as I thought.
The other day I noticed I had been waiting until later in the day to wash the dishes. My thoughts were: If the drying rack is full when my boyfriend gets home, then he’ll see what a martyr I am, he’ll appreciate me more, and he’ll feel bad that he didn’t wash the dishes, which will motivate him to wash the dishes next time.
Wait a minute.
Was I really thinking that?
It was an automatic thought that had been covert for so long that I wasn’t even aware that I was thinking it. My boyfriend is amazing with appreciating me and washing the dishes, too. This was a pattern I’d obviously developed prior to my relationship with him.
Growing up, I never understood how to get in touch with what I wanted or needed, much less how to ask for it.
How could I acknowledge my needs to someone else, anyway?
They might say no, which would hurt too much.
But here’s the thing: I’m dependent on people—I need them just as much as they need me.
I depend on other people for help with the dishes when I’m tired, for love, appreciation, attention, making my clothes, growing my food, providing electricity and editing my writing. I can’t do it all myself. When I think I can do it all myself, I’m putting an emotional wall up and pushing others away.
I’ve heard this called anti-dependent, needless, or wantless: I don’t need anything from anyone.
When I’m in that state of mind—thinking I don’t need others—I can’t ask for what I need because that seems to make me too vulnerable.
If I admit I need help doing the dishes, then in my mind I become too dependent on my boyfriend’s response. If he says no, then I make that mean something hurtful about me rather than recognizing that he’s just honoring his needs.
Here’s how it might look if I’m trying to recognize that I’m dependent instead of swinging between the extremes of being too dependent or anti-dependent:
1. I take the time to ask myself what I want or need.
Could I really use some help with the dishes?
2. I prepare to ask for help while trying to be open to the possibility that my boyfriend may need to honor himself by saying no.
Can I, in turn, appreciate his honesty and not resent him for it?
3. I let go of the outcome and I ask for his help while allowing him to respond authentically rather than how I want him to respond.
It’s not the end of the world if he’s not in a good place to help me.
4. I appreciate his response no matter what it may be because I trust that it’s an honest response.
I’m glad he feels safe enough with me to share who he is in the moment rather than acting out of obligation or defensiveness against my manipulation.
As I get used to this process, I feel relieved that I no longer “need” to manipulate in order to get what I want or need. So far I’m amazed at how willing people are to help when I simply ask.
The worst they can say is no, and sometimes—for my own reflection and growth—the best they can say is no.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo/Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Robert Stasiukiewicz / Pixoto