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Are You Being Emotionally Exploited?

Are You Being Emotionally Exploited?

Have you ever been part of an interaction with another person that left you feeling drained, confused, and inadequate? You may have been dealing with an emotional manipulator. These people get an A+ in stealth coercion. Often times, you’ll walk away from these situations giving the other person exactly what he/she wanted without even realizing that you gave it to them in the first place.

It may start out as a completely normal conversation. Maybe you came to them because something they said or did upset you and, like the grown up person you are, you pulled them aside to try and talk it out. Or, maybe there’s actually no conversation at all. Maybe this person is someone you have to be around a lot: An in-law, a co-worker, or a boss. Maybe he/she uses body language and nonverbal cues that make it more than clear that you aren’t welcome, accepted, or liked, but then when he/she speaks with you, it’s in the most polite and sincere tone you have ever heard.

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    Emotional manipulators (or Machiavellian-Feeling Ninjas, as I like to call them) are skilled deceivers. They usually have high emotional intelligence and can bend and shape any social interaction to their advantage. They are shrewd observers, taking in the communication around them and easily establishing a baseline on individuals which they will use to analyze that person’s strengths and weaknesses. They may even ask probing questions in conversational tones in order to get a better fix on you. Once they have you down, they’ll use their knowledge to exert dominance over you.

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      There are several ways they could do this, from sarcastic cutting remarks disguised as “jokes,” to guilt-baiting you and trying to convince you that their happiness is your responsibility. I once dated a guy who actually told me that it was my job to keep him happy. “That’s how relationships work. You’re supposed to make sure I’m happy.” Yes, those words came out of his mouth, and when I tried to explain to him that his happiness was his own responsibility, he got upset and claimed that I didn’t care about him. This is another tactic these emotion ninjas use.

      If they know they can get away with it, they will play the victim. They want you to feel sorry for them because they know this will increase their chances of getting what they want, and sometimes what they want is just to feel good about themselves at your expense.

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      Guilt-baiting and passive aggressive jokes aren’t the only strategies manipulators use to get their way. A friend of mine once dealt with a mother-in-law who used what I call the “let-down con.”

      Let me explain. My friend and her husband had a one-year-old son together. Their parenting style differed greatly from that of her husband’s parents, and this caused issues between them. In order to keep from disrupting the family relationship, my friend and her husband sat his parents down and let them know what their boundaries were. One of those boundaries included the fact that they would not be taking their son to his parents’ home without one or both of them present because of the environment.

      The mother-in-law would then make plans or offer to babysit for her and her husband, sometimes weeks in advance. Then she would cancel thirty, fifteen, and even ten minutes before the scheduled time. After putting the two of them in a bind, the mother-in-law would then make excuses or remarks on how she would have no trouble watching her grandson if they would bring him to her house. This is a classic example of how a manipulator can use negative surprises as a weapon against you.

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        Of course, one of the most well-known and obvious tactics that manipulators use is the distortion of facts. My ex was a pro at this. Not only would he lie frequently, but when I caught him in a lie, he’d turn the tables on me and try to make it my fault.

        I’m not even talking about the obvious cheater lies here either. You know the whole, “Well I cheated because you make me unhappy. You aren’t satisfying me…” blah blah blah crap? No, I’m talking about lies that make absolutely zero sense, or withholding information just for the purpose of making me look bad.

        For example, I once pointed out during a disagreement that he was trying to manipulate me. He then accused me of being the one manipulating him, naming off times that I had done so. None of the things he mentioned ever happened. In fact, most of them were easily disproved because I wasn’t even there on the specific date he mentioned. I knew that I hadn’t done or said any of the things he said that I had, but he held on so strongly and argued so convincingly that it actually made me question myself.

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        Another thing he would do is tell me the wrong time for family get togethers so I would show up late. He’d then state in front of everyone, “I told you to be here at X time.”

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          Then there’s the whole cold shoulder treatment.

          I have a friend whose in-laws repeatedly threatened not to invite her to family gatherings or summer vacations at their lake house because she would not act the way they wanted her to. My friend is very down to earth. One of those “what you see is what you get” types of people. She isn’t rude or loud or trashy, but her in-laws wanted her to “toe the line” when it came to social outings with them. She was expected to agree with them and do what they wanted her to do without question. She was even told that she wasn’t accepted into the family because of her “behavior.”

          She explained politely that she wasn’t going to change who she was for anyone, and she wouldn’t behave a certain way just because they wanted her to. This is when they began to “ice” her out. Even though she really didn’t care to go where she wasn’t wanted, it still hurt her. These were people who were supposed to be her family, and she didn’t want to be the reason her husband had problems with them. Not to mention the effect this type of relationship had on her children.

          I tried to point out to her that standing up for herself was the right thing to do. Yes, it’s a sticky situation when you have family involved, but life is too short to have those kinds of negative people in your life. Truly, it’s not her job to be accepted by them. Her husband married her because of who she is. If his family doesn’t want to be a part of their lives, then that’s their choice, not hers.

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            So what do you do when you encounter a Machiavellian-Feeling Ninja? How do you combat a slick and cunning manipulator who can out-argue logic and reason?

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            One word: Boundaries.

            That’s right. You have to know your boundaries. In an article from Psychology Today, communications expert Preston Ni discusses fundamental human rights that apply to all of us. These rights are our boundaries, our lines in the sand. When one of these rights is violated, we have a responsibility to ourselves to defend that right. No healthy relationship, whether it be family, personal, or business related, can be maintained if these boundaries are crossed.

            1. You Have The Right To Be Treated With Respect

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            No matter what the interaction is, you deserve to be treated with respect. This means that the other person involved is considerate, polite, fair, and open. They are not dismissive, belittling, or degrading. When you show someone respect, you practice gratitude, sincerity, and encouragement.

            2. You Have The Right To Express Your Feelings, Opinions, & Wants

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              No one is ever going to agree with everything you have to say. That’s fine. It’s also fine for them to tell you so, or to offer a different point of view or counterargument. In fact, I strongly believe the best decisions are made after hearing opposing arguments and finding the middle ground. However, if someone tries to tell you that your opinion is wrong, or that you don’t have a right to express yourself, then you have a problem. No one should ever tell you that your feelings don’t matter, that your needs and desires aren’t important, or aren’t as important as theirs. We are all equal on this front.

              3. You Have The Right To Set Your Own Priorities

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                Barring that physical harm to another human being is at the top of your list, what you choose to focus on is your decision. No one can tell you what’s important to you. Other people don’t know your values, principles, or beliefs. Other people aren’t inside your head. They don’t have the same life experiences as you. So how could they possibly know how you should live your life?

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                They can give you guidance. They can offer advice and opinions on what they think is best, but only you know what’s best for you.

                4. You Have The Right To Say No Without Feeling Guilty

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                  Let me state this clearly: NO ONE SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BAD FOR SAYING NO. EVER. I don’t care what situation it is. It could be something as innocent as a group of friends hounding you for saying you didn’t want to go out that night. It could be your boss pressuring you to work overtime when you have other plans. It could be your next door neighbor attempting to guilt trip you into joining the neighborhood watch, or your kids’ PTO pressuring you to cook for the bake sale instead of ordering from the bakery in town. Or, it could be more sinister: A boyfriend (or girlfriend) pressuring you to have sex, peers pressuring you to drink, a loved one pressuring you keep dangerous secrets.

                  Regardless of the context or people involved, no means no, and if they respect you as a human being, they won’t try to make you feel guilty for saying it. If they do, then it’s definitely time to rethink your relationship with them.

                  5. You Have The Right To Protect Yourself From Threats

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                    Whether the threat is emotional, mental, or physical, you have the right to protect yourself against it. If someone has or is trying to cause you harm, you need to get away from them and seek help immediately. HelpGuide has a fantastic article on domestic abuse. It describes, in detail, how to spot abuse, what to do about it, and who to call. You can find the article HERE. For more resources, check out THIS article on the different types of abuse, or THIS article on emotional abuse.

                    Gaslighting has been in the media a lot lately. It’s really just a different form of emotional abuse. You can find information about gaslighting HERE.

                    6. You Have The Right To Create Your Own Happy & Healthy Life

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                      Your life is your own, and no one has a right to prevent you from creating that life the way that you see fit. Again, as long as you aren’t harming others, you have the right to find happiness and to live in good health. Healthiness isn’t just about exercise and the availability of good drinking water. It also includes emotional and psychological health. No one should threaten these things. No one has the right to take them away from you. It is a fundamental human right.

                      These rights are a good starting point in creating boundaries for yourself. They’re also a good way to ensure that you aren’t violating the rights of others. Just as you have the right to healthy boundaries, so do the others you share this planet with.

                      Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pexels.com

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                      Jessica Willing

                      Freelance Writer

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                      Last Updated on March 30, 2020

                      What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

                      What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

                      Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

                      You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

                      This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

                      What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

                      According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

                      Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

                      There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

                      How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

                      When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

                      Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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                      1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

                      One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

                      The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

                      Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

                      2. Be Honest

                      A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

                      If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

                      On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

                      Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

                      3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

                      Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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                      If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

                      4. Succeed at Something

                      When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

                      Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

                      5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

                      Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

                      Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

                      If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

                      If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

                      Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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                      6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

                      Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

                      You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

                      On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

                      You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

                      7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

                      Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

                      Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

                      Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

                      When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

                      Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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                      In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

                      Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

                      It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

                      Final Thoughts

                      When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

                      The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

                      Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

                      Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

                      Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

                      More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

                      Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
                      [2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
                      [3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
                      [4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
                      [5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
                      [6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
                      [7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
                      [8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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