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The Master Manipulator

Or, I confront one of the darker parts of myself

There are definitely aspects to my personality that I don’t necessarily love. For instance, I’ve always been super self-confident, which can be great, but it can also give way to arrogance, snobbery, and the like. More than anything, though, it’s my predisposition to manipulate others that I dislike about myself.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been calculating plans to bend others to my will. When I was a little kid, I mostly focused on manipulating my mom. If she was mad at my dad or my siblings, I always knew how to get on her good side. I would quietly and carefully observe the situation (i.e. whatever it was someone did to piss her off) then wait for the perfect moment to go suck up to her. I don’t remember it exactly, but I definitely had a whole routine down pat. It was something like:

  1. Hug Mom’s legs
  2. Tell Mom she’s the best/I love her
  3. Look up and smile sweetly

Now, my mom is no fool. I’m sure at least part of her knew that I was acting in this way because I didn’t want to get on the bad side of her bad mood. But at the same time, I was the cutest little kid ever, and there was NO way she could resist my signature moves.

My other main manipulation tactic of the time (which is now frequently joked about with my family) was my method of getting my parents to buy me anything I wanted. Usually, this would go down at a toy store, gift shop, or other place that sold stuffed animals. First, I had to find the stuffed animal I wanted. Let’s say this time it was a cat. I would go pick up the cat and gently hold it, hug it, play with it — whatever little kids do. When it seemed like it was time to go, I’d put the cat down, but then I’d kind of look back toward it and say, “I wish I could have that cat…” and maybe throw a quick look to my mom. She’d then say something like, “I’ll get it for you, if you want.” See, I could have ended it there, but it wasn’t just about getting the cat. No no. Even at that young age, I really liked feeling in control. So I would continue to lay it on thick: “No…I don’t need it…” “Are you sure?” “No, you said you were ready to go…” You get the idea. Needless to say, I’d walk out of the store with the new stuffed animal AND with a deep feeling of satisfaction (but maybe a teeny tiny twinge of guilt as well).

High school was when I started to take things a little too far. Specifically, I’m referring to my senior year and the relationship I was in at that time. I’ll start by saying that my senior year, like most people’s, was a bit of an emotional mess. I took 7 AP classes, I was the drum major in the marching band, I was in multiple honor societies…and all I really wanted to do was hang out with my boyfriend. (And when I say “hang out”…well, you know what I mean). I cried in school on MANY occasions that year, but many of those times were totally put on. That’s right, folks — I CRIED to get what I wanted! Boyfriend wanted to do something other than spend time with me? I cried, he felt bad, all was fixed. Boyfriend didn’t want to “hang out” *wink wink* that afternoon? I cried (“you aren’t attracted to me!!”), he felt bad, all was fixed. Boyfriend got mad at me for something terrible I did? I cried, he felt bad, all was fixed. Boyfriend wasn’t acting exactly how I wanted him to? Yep, you guessed it! I. CRIED. My God, I can’t believe it worked every time. He couldn’t stand to see me that upset, and I exploited the hell out of that.

Are you cringing? Do you hate me? Because that’s how I feel as I type all of this out. Back then, when I would “succeed” at making my then-boyfriend feel bad for me, I remember feeling some kind of sick form of joy because of it. Like, I really felt like I had accomplished something. I think I explained it to myself as using my “feminine wiles” to get what I wanted from a man. In reality, though, I was deliberately toying with the emotions of someone who genuinely cared for me just so I could come out “on top” in that situation.

When I first started dating Mike, I remember having some thoughts of whether or not I should use my tried-and-true boyfriend manipulation tactics on him. I actually do think I tried the crying thing once, and it didn’t work, which may have been when I realized I had met my match. But for the most part, I’ve made a concerted effort to NOT try to control Mike in any way. Even though I feel myself wanting to at times (in various ways), I know that I’ll just end up feeling disappointed in myself, or even disgusted with myself. As an adult, it’s just not fun anymore to mess with people’s heads, regardless of what I want from them. My manipulative tendencies are something I’m sure I’ll always have to work on curbing, or channeling into healthy pursuits, but I’m grateful that I’ve at least become aware of them.

Originally published on July 20, 2020




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