Child abuse and the art of manipulation
Triggering for child abuse ofc.
No one knows how to manipulate people like people who learned how to survive do. As children, we learned how to emotionally and verbally manipulate these hard personalities who knew and were trying to break every little thing about us.
I don’t remember much from my childhood, on purpose, but I do remember the first time I tried to tell someone, in a roundabout way, what was happening to me. I had a really fancy “fake baby” doll, and these were financially hard times for everyone, and my mother broke it throwing it at me or beating me with it, I can’t remember, and in the process the doll’s head almost came off.
For weeks later mom’s friends would come to our flat, see my broken doll and ask me “how did you manage to break this already!?” all ‘kids today” about it. And I would tell them “I didn’t, mom broke it throwing it at me.” After the second time, mom told me she’d kill me if I ever said it again. So I made up some lie, idk.
But that failed little attempt was my first step away from outright lying, which I did a lot when I was younger, and into twisting the truth to do what I needed it to.
Over the years, I perfected it. I mostly got beaten for my grades, so, doing the maths, I realized getting beaten once for a lot of bad grades was better than getting beaten for each individual one. That meant I had to work my way around what we did in school each day, around her being friends with my school teachers, around regular teacher parents meetings. Luckily, I realized at one point that she was fairly forgetful, so I would tell her about the meeting a few weeks ahead of schedule and then “forget to remind her.” The beatings for that were less than the ones for bad grades so it was ok.
It took me about 9 years to get to my biggest manipulation, the time I hurt myself before she could. My arms were black and I could barely move them. It hurt like hell, but it worked. I never got beaten for grades again because she thought she broke me. Of course, I was 15, 16 and she had a psychologically abusive boyfriend at that point so she didn’t have much time for me anyway, but there was a marked change after that.
The reason I was able to do this was because I knew my mother loved me. Her love was a fucking horrible thing full of frustration and anger but her main goal was for me to be good at school and be a well behaved person, not to be a broken personality. So after I did this, she started seeing that hey, maybe her methods weren’t working. (I’m not advocating this as a method to stop abuse, it might end up just giving your abuser ideas, you have to know what you’re dealing with.)
But this big event aside there were hundreds of little things I did all the time to manipulate her into thinking I loved her and was either weak or strong, depending on what she needed to see. From pretending I loved her when I really didn’t, smiling when she was gentle, laughing at her jokes, hugging when the smell of her made me gag, saying “of course I forgive you” when my head still hurt from her fists and I hated her so much I wanted to stab her with a knife.
And I know I’m not the only one. I didn’t do much reading on this topic because frankly I can’t, but I read about several coping mechanism during child abuse and manipulation (because lying is dangerous, lying will get you killed, but manipulation leaves place for “I’m too stupid and didn’t know better) and sensing emotions are on every list.
You get a spidey sense, you know when the mood is right and you’ll get it hard, and when you can pretend to be a good child and work on that bond that will maybe make the next beating slightly shorter or less hard.
The thing is, it stuck with me. I find myself communicating with others through manipulation constantly. Instead of asking for favors, which I hate doing like most of us I guess, I manipulate people into offering to help on their own.
I only noticed it recently and now I’m making a conscious effort to stop but unless a lot of planning is involved chances are I don’t even notice it happening until I have what I want.
This isn’t to say I’m not honest or outspoken, I got into my share of physical and verbal fights over things I believed in, it’s just that in high risk situations I learned to assess the situation and person and act how they want me to act and now I apply this to no risk situations too. There is a whole line of people, usually my superiors or teachers, who think I’m shy and easily confused, when in fact I hated them or simply didn’t study.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of people when they get the answer wrong in school will say “oh, I just got confused.” That’s not what I (and we, I believe) do. I know when I don’t know an answer, and I do performance art that leaves teachers thinking I tried so hard and even if I’m dumb as a brick and clearly can’t remember big words, hell, at least I TRIED, unlike those other lazy assholes.
And yes, in some situations it’s really useful and actually living a normal life has dulled my edges so sometimes I get into trouble now for speaking without assessing the situation. There is freedom in it, even if there is danger (of getting fired, for instance).
But parts of me are still on high alert every time I meet someone new, testing if they are friendly or fake friendly, saying half sentences and letting them finish to see where they’ll go with it, mimicking emotions that can go either way and seeing how they interpret them etc etc etc. (The worst part is when I realize what I’m doing and I try to adjust and suddenly my personality changes in a span of one sentence :D )
In some ways, that too is a form of manipulation. Because the first time you meet me I’m basically interrogating you and if you pass, I’ll talk to you again, if you don’t, I’ll politely nod and talk about weather for as long as our acquaintance lasts.
People call me shy, introverted etc., I probably am introverted, but I’m really not shy. I can tell you all kinds of personal things. But not until I know how you’ll react to them. And the process of getting you to reveal how you think about them is twisted and purposeful. What you think is just a random stream of consciousness conversation is actually a meticulously planned and guided audition.
And I’m not sure if this is something I should try to change or not. I don’t know how I would feel as a person on the other side of this conversation, if I knew what was happening.
I don’t know if all abused children have the same problem, but anyone who survived had some coping mechanism, and that isn’t something that switches off when danger disappears. And just like shooting your enemy is a quality method in war situations but not really something you wanna do during a family dinner, similarly the way you handle your abuser isn’t the way you should be handling your friends and loved ones.
But it’s so hard to Change Just a Little. Remain who you are but change the things that shouldn’t be there.
I’ve had similar issues throughout my life, just little things I noticed were leftovers from my childhood that I’d like to change, but I really never know what I am and what my abuse is, or if they are the same and what happens to me if I try to change what the abuse did to me.
I always wanted to know who I would be without the abuse.