I didn’t get around to doing my shadow/self development work yesterday because I spent the whole morning preparing for an interview. I will talk about that more in another post but I’m back now and ready to dive in.
I want to spend this morning focusing on the topic of emotional manipulation and how it has influenced my shadow’s development and my approach to life. As I have spent some time thinking about this topic, several questions have come to mind. Specifically, is it still considered emotional manipulation if the person does not know they are doing it? Can you emotionally manipulate yourself? What actually constitutes emotional manipulation? The idea of emotional manipulation makes sense in my mind. However, when I start to think about specific situations in my life, things get more difficult to make sense of.
For the sake of shadow work, I suppose I should begin by assessing my childhood. After thinking about it long and hard, I don’t think that I was the victim of emotional manipulation in my childhood. At least not in any major way. My mother may have been the first to introduce me to emotional manipulation, but I do not believe that it was intentional. As I have mentioned before, my mother used to show that she didn’t like how I expressed my personal style in subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, ways. Looking back I remember her saying things like, Oh but you would look so cute if you…” and, “If I looked like you when I was younger I would have worn…” More often than not I would comply with her to make her happy. Because as I said before, I noticed that making her happy would help me to gain positive attention from her that my brother and cousins did not get. I wanted her to fawn over me, so I often picked up on those emotionally manipulative phrases and complied. Though not exactly emotionally manipulative, my mother definitely had major Knight of Cups RX energy when it came to making plans for the future. I remember planning full vacations with her that we never actually went on. She always seemed to live outside of her means, frequently making promises or passing comments that she couldn’t follow through with. As a kid, this was always disappointing. However, the manipulative part may be that it taught me not to expect much. Also, the fact that she often talked about our money situation in front of me made me feel like it was my job to make it easier for her. I remember trying to give her my piggy bank full of change once because she was upset about money. Additionally, there were many times when I wanted something as a child but held back asking for it because I didn’t want to upset her or make things harder on her. When I would see her upset about money, I would always come over and fill her up with kind words. There is nothing wrong with this really, however, I do think that it reinforced the idea that I needed to be agreeable and that it was my job to make everyone else feel better. It further enforced the notion that I should be sure not to make things difficult for other people, even if my needs weren’t being met, because people were already going through enough as it was.
I don’t know if any of the things that I went through with my mom could directly be considered emotionally manipulative. After all, aside from her wanting me to dress a certain way, none of this emotional stuff was motivated by her trying to get me to do something be toying with my feelings.
I was a sensitive kid, so I feel like I was more emotionally pliable than most. I dealt with a lot of emotional abuse and manipulation from teachers throughout my time in grade school. I think that the worst year for this was when I was in the 4th grade. When I was in the 4th grade, I had a best friend names Lynn. I wanted to be with her constantly, and to be honest, I may have been a bit codependent. My teacher recognized this, and would never let us sit at the same table or be in the same group. This on it’s own isn’t an issue. However, when I got upset about it she would go into a rage. I remember her threatening to call my mother or send me to the office for being emotional. I think that have talked about this teacher in some of my previous shadow work posts. She truly was the worst teacher that I ever had. She would do and say things just to make me cry and then she would yell at me for crying. She used to make us do one book report a week in front of the class. For one of my reports, I decided to design my own cereal box, as this was a key point in the book that I had read. I worked so hard on it. When I got up in front of the class to present it, the teacher scolded me in front of every one. She told me that I didn’t spend any time on the project and that I knew that it wasn’t my best work. She told me that she was going to fail the project and make me redo it. Even though I was bawling my eyes out, she forced me to continue to present the report that she had just told me and everyone else that she was going to fail. When I redid the project, I had my Mema help me with it. It was clear that I didn’t do the project on my own, it wasn’t even done in my handwriting, but the teacher gave the project an A. Another instance is when we were writing essays during the writing segment of class and she told me that my handwriting was horrible. She made me rewrite my essay several times until my hand was cramping before she finally accepted the work. Lastly, when I struggled with math in her class, she would constantly tell me that I “just wasn’t trying” and that I “wasn’t doing my best work” even though I was trying as hard as I could. She had me in tears EVERY SINGLE DAY but would always tell me that I was exaggerating things and needed to stop being so sensitive. Gaslighting at it’s finest. At the end of that year, I actually did improve my math scores and passed my final writing exam. When my mom came to the school for the end of the year meeting, my teacher said things like “Yes, I worked so hard with her to get her grades up” and “If it wasn’t for all of the work that I put in with her…” When we left the school, my mom punished me because I freaked out, screaming and crying, that the teacher didn’t deserve any of the credit. My mom didn’t understand and thought that I was just being rude. However, all I was really trying to do was communicate to my mom all of the emotional hell that that woman had put me through. I was try to communicate to her that the woman had done nothing but yell at me and make me cry all year, only helping me to improve by making me feel like my best was never good enough. Who knew that emotional abuse could actually enhance performance. I wasn’t trying to be rude, I was just furious that that woman was trying to take all of the credit for my success after basically telling me I was stupid and overly sensitive all year long. My mother didn’t get it and punished me for my behavior. I don’t blame her for not understanding me, but all of this really did make me feel like I was crazy. It made me question my pain and experiences…which is the very definition of gaslighting.
If all of this didn’t effect me through emotional manipulation, then my first serious boyfriend in high school definitely did. My relationship with him was so toxic…it will be a lot to unpack. It probably deserves it’s own post, but I think I’m just going to keep going here. I will provide a trigger warning here for topics of emotional abuse, self harm, religious trauma, drugs, other stuff, and maybe rape.
So, I met this dude in 9th grade. When I first met him, I was not into him AT ALL. He definitely wasn’t my type, and to be honest, he kinda creeped me out. I was in math class during my first week at the new school. I was just starting to enter my goth phase, and happened to find myself sitting next to this cool looking chick with rainbow hair and piercings. She slipped me a note that said, “Do you like Lee ******?” I thought she was talking about a band. Even though I had no idea who that was, I wanted her to like me so I wrote, “Yeah, they’re pretty cool.” I knew I had fucked up when she sent the note back to me and it said, “Good, he likes you too.” So I wrote her back saying. “Wait, who are you talking about?” I looked up to see this weird goofy dude with glasses and messed up teeth waving at me from across the class. I was mortified. Even more so when I realized that I had almost every class with him.
Even though I wasn’t into him at this point, he never stopped trying. He would write me dramatic love letters every day and wave at me during every class when I would catch him staring. The relationship started slowly, but the emotional manipulation was quick. Because two of my close friends were friends with him, I slowly started to talk to him as a friend. This guy flat out told us that I was his #1, ****** was his #2, and ***** was his #3. Who does this? I did not even realize that I was being emotionally manipulated until one day, he said that I was now his #2. At first it didn’t effect me, but then I slowly found myself wanting to gain his attention and favor back.
At the time, I was in a relationship with this guy, we’ll call him Levi. Levi had decided to break up with me, but in true high school fashion, he did it in a note. In the note, he said that he did not think that we were good for each other, but that I should consider giving a chance to the guy that actually wrote me love letters all the time. This came at the best/worst time, as I was already feeling pulled to win back Lee’s attention.
I went ahead and told Lee that I was ready to date him, and just like that, I was his #1 again. We had a great few months until the summer started. That is when things started to get messy. During the summer, he cheated on me with, believe it or not, Angle…who is now my best friend lol. He told me that he kissed her at camp because he missed me….what kind of BS is that. Because he told me about it and said that he did it because he loved me, I decided forgive him. I had hoped that this would be the end of it, but it was just the beginning. (He told me that he just kissed her, but year later I find out that they were having sex for most of our relationship.)
After the situation with Angel, I started to feel pressured into sexual activity with him. I had never done anything with anyone before. At first, we just did a lot of foreplay stuff. In the moment I wanted to but I always felt so sick to my stomach afterwards. I always got the sense that he liked the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. It gave him power in some way. I remember one day, I told him that I didn’t want to take the physical stuff any further. He then held my wrist together and started to pretend like he was going to rape me. When I started crying, he backed off and started acting concerned. He asked if anyone had ever done that to me before, they hadn’t, but the fact that he was pretending to go there was a bit traumatizing.
I held onto my virginity for a while, but then one day, Lee decided to break up with me for some other girl out of no where. Anyone else would have let him go, but I was already caught up in his manipulation tactics of having to fight to be his #1. It didn’t help that I had never done anything sexual with anyone else before, and my southern Baptist conditioning had me feeling like if I didn’t work things out with him, it would mean I was a whore. I cried every day over him as he flaunted her in front of me. She didn’t even go to our school, but she would always show up at lunch time to eat with him and make me jealous. Eventually, the two of them broke up and he came back to me. However, he made it clear that he had sex with her. I told him him that I wanted to lose my virginity to someone who was also a virgin, so I think that he told me this in a way to manipulate me. By telling me the “truth” he said that he was showing me how honest he was and that I could trust him. Since he had had sex with that other girl, I started to feel that he would leave me if I didn’t have sex with him. So, I did it. I won’t go into the details here, but it was your typical awkward uncomfortable first time. It wasn’t until later that I found out that he lied about having only slept with one person before me. He had actually been with 8+ before he had ever reached high school.
I felt scammed out of my virginity. I felt dirty, and used up, and gross. I hated myself for all of this, so I started cutting myself. I think that this may have been why the cutting began, but it quickly developed into a habit that I didn’t stop until I had my son. Lee cheated on me ALL THE TIME over the next few years. It was always the same story. He would deny it usually. When he told me the truth, he always said that it was a mistake or that he did it because the girl had manipulated him into doing it. Sometimes he even cheated with my friends.
I wanted to leave him and let him go, but the manipulation he put me through kept me in this cycle of feeling like I was the one who had to constantly win his approval back. He would date me for a month or so and then leave me for someone else, flaunting them in front of me. I would date other people during this time, and when he saw that, he would always come back into the honeymoon phase mode. I remember one instance specifically, he had started dating this new girl and every day in class, he would put her picture on his desk so I could see. All the while telling me that he loved me but he loved her more. When I started to cry, he reached behind him and grabbed my hand, he bent my thumb back to my wrist and told me that he wasn’t going to stop until I stopped crying. I think I later tried to kill myself that week, but I didn’t know what I was doing and somehow thought that 12 pills that had gathered throughout the school day would do the trick. It didn’t, it just gave me a killer headache and put me to sleep for a few hours. He often tried to manipulate me by cutting himself too. If I would do something that he didn’t like, he would show up with a cut on his wrist. He told me that every time that I cut, he would do 10. I just started hiding it better. I remember one time specifically when he found out that I was dating someone else during one of out break ups, and he drug his wrist back and forth across a brick wall at school until he was dripping blood every where.
I won’t go into every situation, because there were many just like this one. It was a missive cycle that I didn’t know how to break out of. I felt that I had to be with him because I had had sex with him. He kept me in a constant cycle of feeling like I had to earn his approval and love. He would leave me and them come back to me before I could heal and move on to keep the cycle going….it was sick.
To speak about the trauma strict religious beliefs can have on a girl, I felt that because I had had sex with him, that I had to be with him. I thought that if I couldn’t make it work with him and had to be with someone else instead, I was a whore. I remember crying and praying to God every night to forgive me for what I had done. I begged him not to let me get pregnant as a punishment. It was his emotional manipulation, abuse, and these beliefs that made me keep allowing him access to my body when I really didn’t want to.
He made a point of trying to do things to me in front of other people. I don’t know what he got out of that. He did “something” to me at school while I was standing up in the middle of a group of people, so I had no way to stop him or resist without drawing attention to myself. He told everyone at school what my vagina looked like, and all of the boys started calling me a nickname because of that. No one called me by my name anymore. I was known as “Lee’s girl.” Some people didn’t even know my name. I was a possession, property. He would always stay at one of his friends houses that lived in my neighborhood. When he was there, he would sneak me out of my house at night and take me over there. While we were there, he would ask me if I wanted to have sex. I always said no, both because I didn’t want to and because his friend was in the room pretending to sleep on the floor. However, he wouldn’t leave it at that. He would go on and on about it until I said okay. He said he didn’t want to pressure me, all the while he was pressuring me. I would just lay there and cry the whole time. He wouldn’t ask me what was wrong until afterwards most of the time, and my crying never made him stop. When I was all said and done, he would ask why I did that and I would just respond with “I love you” all the while still crying. That was good enough for him. In addition to trying to do things to me in front of his friends, he also tried to pressure me into a foursome once. I won’t go into that…but I didn’t do it. It was one of the most awkward situations that I have ever been in.
I don’t know if that is rape…but it felt like it. I did felt taken advantage of. I felt violated. I suppose that for a lot of people, my experience is a gray area, but it hurt me. Maybe I shared some of the fault for not resting more than I did, for not telling anyone, for not telling him the truth when he asked why I was upset, or for continuing to put myself in the same situation over and over. I wish I would have done more. But I have to forgive myself, because honestly, it wasn’t until years and years later that I even understood WHY I was hurting so much. I wish I could give teen me a hug and let her know that it would all be okay, because back then, I was just a giant ball of fear, tears, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy attachment but I had no idea why. I thought that the problem was me.
I made a lot of excuses for him because of how he grew up. His mother and aunt were actual prostitutes. He even told me that his mother had given birth to him in prison. His dad was in a relationship with his aunt, and he was introduced to sex and drugs at a really early age. He lived in a house full of crackheads and drug dealers. He made me feel like he was the way he was because of this. While this may be true, he had me believing that he treated me like shit because he didn’t know how to love someone the right way…and that is not okay.
I didn’t get away from him until my mom moved us to a different city when I was 16. This is right before I started dating Ross. Even then, Lee still called me from time to time until I learned that I could stop answering the phone. Years later, I had heard some rumors that a boy that was a few years younger than Lee made some rape allegations against him. Nothing ever came of it, but I have no doubt that it is true. I also heard that right after he and I split for the final time, he had started sleeping with his aunt who had HIV. I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that he told me that he got tested around that same time “just in case.”
Pshewwwww, that was a lot. I knew that it would be. I feel like I need to take a break here before talking about more emotional manipulation and abuse in my life. I feel a bit icky leaving things here, but maybe I need to sit with it a while, as I typically avoid thinking about these things. I didn’t think that this would take so much out of me but it has. I guess I will pick up where I left off tomorrow.
These shadow work posts are truly intended for my own self discovery and development, but I thank those of you who took the time to read this. I am changing the way that I do my shadow/self development work, because I feel that it is too restrictive to keep myself on a one week time limit. Though I like to move onto a new shadow aspect/card on Sundays, I think that from now on I will just keep working on what I am working on, and move forward whenever I am ready to do so.
Love Always, AnxiouslyM