A Sojourn In Emotional Manipulation
A recent incident reminded me of the emotional manipulation men often play…and my own self doubt.
It would be great if it was only partners who were guilty of this, but even men who are friends, especially if they are trying to be more, will do their damndest to make you emotionally invested in their approval. It’s all part of the process because they understand once they have you emotionally, they have you.
A guy I’d befriended recently to assist him with writing was calling and texting me daily — 3 to 4 texts a day and 1 to 2 calls per day. So I replied less and less as I was both irritated and busy.
These manipulative tactics have lasting effects in our lives. It always begins with gaslighting, a form of emotional manipulation that has you consistently doubting what you know and how you respond to situations. Gaslighting is used in racism and other forms of manipulation and oppression but here we are talking about the way it impacts women.
Then he messaged me asking where he could get sleeping pills and confessed he was contemplating suicide. Mind you I had only known him four days. We talked only once in person and that was the first day we met. I told him to call 911 or a hotline for help. He stressed they wouldn’t be able to help and he “just needed someone to talk to”.
I’ve been down this manipulative, guilt trippy road before so after trying to convince him a couple of times to call for help, I stopped responding. But part of me worried, what if he’s telling the truth? Would I be okay with the guilt if he killed himself? Maybe he just doesn’t have anyone else to talk to.
These tactics, particularly in relationships, lead to rampant self doubt and set us on an emotional rollercoaster where — if the gaslighting is allowed to continue — drops us down a pit of self hate.
That’s why you will see us tweet about a situation or reddit a relationship question seeking guidance and affirmation that we are not “sensitive”. The fact that we need to question our emotions and decisions can be both a weakness and a strength.
It’s a strength because we care. There is nothing wrong with caring. The issue is their need to take advantage of the fact that we care to control us. This is about control. The more emotionally invested we become, the more we acquiesce to the desires and opinions of the man gaslighting us.
I called a suicide hotline to get advice on what I should tell him so I could convince him to seek help. While speaking to the woman on the phone he messaged me saying, “I failed to save a life", that “every life matters" and that it was a “prank".
It’s also a strength because we know we still have room to grow and learn. This is partly why we ask for advice because we understand we can be wrong. We can make mistakes. We are not infallible.
It can also be a weakness because our self-doubt stems from years of our reactions to situations being minimized.
We are made to believe we are nothing but a geyser of emotions ready to erupt at the most harmless, minimal nonsense and we’re made to feel that way because we are labeled as women and automatically considered less intellectual, less analytic, governed by hormones and/or periods and best kept under the thumb of a man. After all, we don’t know what’s best. The man — father, brother, friend, uncle, boyfriend etc. — does.
When I didn’t reply he messaged, “don’t be mad lol" to which I simply replied, “I am mad". He said he was sorry and he just likes to “change it up". I didn’t respond so he kept messaging and calling me over days asking how I am and if I’m “still mad” over a “stupid awareness prank".
The first step in gaslighting is they will cross a line; do something offensive kr wrong. Oft times when they realize they’ve crossed a line and you were not at a stage where that tactic would be tolerated there is a clear path a manipulative, gaslighting man will take.
First they will minimize what they’ve done because they dont want to apologize and acknowledge their mistakes.
If that doesn’t work the next step is to apologize without admittance by still making their mistake less severe. They will word it as “a joke", “harmless", and “not a big deal". These phrases will also be incorporated into the first step. These apologies are worthless because they are the “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive" rather than “I’m sorry and understand that what I did was wrong".
By this point, I did a soft block on Twitter so that he was no longer following me, which he noticed and pointed out again that I’m overreacting over a “silly joke”. When I still didn’t respond he messaged me again that “we are both adults” and that it made no sense for me to “freak out” and ignore him over an, again, “silly joke” that I “couldn’t forgive” him for. He ended with “sorry that you are so sensitive to jokes man”.
If the pseudo-apology doesn’t work then they will resort to anger all the while still blaming you for their behavior.
I did not bother responding to this because I knew that was what he wanted, and that discussion was pointless. I just blocked him on everything.
Cue Beyonce and Lady Gaga’s “Telephone”.
There were two ways that his “prank” could be interpreted. The first is as just a prank. Regardless, for anyone to play a suicide prank with someone they just met is inexcusable, particularly when you do not know that person or their history. They could have attempted suicide. They could know someone who has attempted or succeeded in committing suicide. It. Is. Not. Acceptable.
The other is he attempted the “prank” as a way to guilt me into talking with him since I did not respond to his calls anymore when he phoned. When I did not immediately pick up and call him, he realized this trick would not work and was most likely backfiring. So then he messages me that it was a “prank” to place the responsibility on my shoulders. It’s not that his joke with me, a stranger, was out of line. It’s that I have no sense of humor.
Even then I tried to rationalize and give the “benefit of the doubt” in my mind. “Benefit of the doubt” is a hazard meant to excuse an individual and it’s past time to retire this. Still, I thought, maybe he was having an off day. Maybe he really didn’t understand. Maybe I should explain to him. Here’s the thing.
It is not my job to explain where he messed up. Perhaps one of his friends could shine a light for him. It is not my responsibility to give my time and expend energy on emotional labor for every person who makes mistakes. If I choose to do it for someone, that is my choice. But I am not required to educate every single grown ass man I encounter who messes up. Like when I deal with gaslighting in racism and white supremacy, I ask two questions.
“Do I have the time and energy for this?”
“Are they worth it?”
The answer to one or both will usually be “no". Reason being, when you point out to a man that they are gaslighting you it’s just as likely they will stop until you are more emotionally invested in them than realize they need to be better. They do not see it as “stop the behavior” but as “stop the behavior for now”.
That’s all they need to do. Bide their time. Once you care enough, they can act however they choose because they know you will not simply cut them from your life.
Gaslighting is emotional abuse and often comes before physical abuse because the woman needs to be broken down. Once they feel they no longer have value they will accept whatever treatment they receive.
When you date or become friends with a man, their behavior — both good and bad — shows you what you have to look forward to in the future. When you call them out, watch their responses. If they try to make you feel small because of their behavior, it’s only going to get worse later. Take the sign and do not waste anymore time with them.
There are others out there far more deserving of you. Shut them down. Shut them out and keep it moving. Your time is precious because you are precious.
Never forget that.
DarkSkyLady writes about social issues particularly regarding race and gender and is a top writer in Racism and Social Media. Her works have been published in An Injustice!, The Startup, Breakthrough and Wear Your Voice Magazine. If interested check out one of her other pieces!