29 Jul A story to Share
The following story has been shared with us as an illustration of what manipulation and abuse may look like. It is a prayerful account of someone’s personal experience.
It was never called a relationship. Early on there was a conversation that sounded like friend-zoning, yet over time his behaviour told a different story. For five years we danced around, moving closer, pushing away, and drawing closer again. I never knew where I stood, never knew what was intended.
Over time, my definition of right and wrong became blurred. Boundaries were viewed as a challenge. They were something to push against, seen as walls that needed to come down rather than something to respect and uphold. As a result, there were incredible amounts of vulnerability and emotional intimacy that I will now assert should only occur between a male and female if they are in a romantic relationship (between the same gender is totally different). At times, I attempted conversations to re-establish boundaries for whatever type of relationship it was that we had. Again, these boundaries were pushed against and at times stream rolled.
I became a different person. It was a slow process. So slow that there was no definitive beginning. It was a subtle process. So subtle that all the wrong was hidden in the midst of the right.
At first, I was able to stand up for myself. I was able to assert what I believed to be the truth, I had the clarity to question what did not seem right, to draw attention to thoughts and scriptures that didn’t align with the ideas presented. I will confess that many times I did this, the truth was clouded and hidden by my pride. I didn’t want my own inadequacies, flaws or sins to be exposed and I was reactive or angry at what was being said. More so, there were other times that I was upset and angry because my boundaries were not respected, or because I was not respected as a person but was being treated as a puzzle to be solved, something broken that is need of being fixed. Each time I raised concerns it was turned back on me. The problem was not in his actions, words, or attitudes. The problem was in my actions, words, and attitude. Speaking out proved that I was proud and always needed to be right. The thoughts I shared were never truthful because I was too emotional and lacked reason in my ideas and argument. His logic was always superior.
I think I saw the man he could become. A strong assertive leader, with great insight and understanding. I overlooked the pride, explaining the lack of humility as poor social skills. I didn’t want to see the lack of submission to the authority of others and the authority of scripture. I saw the wanting to fix and the desire to solve puzzles as compassion. I saw the quick wit, and was excited by the intelligence. I loved the chance to discuss at deep conceptual levels and did not always listen to the ideas or message that was presented. I listened and accepted the autism as an excuse for sinful behaviours. As a very empathetic person, I cannot always differentiate between my emotions and the secondary experiences from someone else. Consequently, I cannot say who it was that first had feelings that were more than platonic. What I can say is that they were mutual. As we spent more time together, the dance of drawing closer, pushing away and never speaking what was really on our hearts continued.
These growing emotions, never knowing where I stood, and the unfolding of other events in my life further clouded my judgement. From this point, things began to crumble. I became more susceptible to opinions, instead listening and taking to heart everything that was said.
At this point we were a part of a small group of friends, a group that grew smaller and more exclusive over time. Other friends dropped away, being pushed away by his words, or cut out because they didn’t fall under his control. At some point an us-versus-them mentality had emerged. As a group, we thought we had life figured out, we were right in how we walked before God, we had it all together. It was as if everyone else, particularly others in our church community, had it so very wrong. The fact that I even spent time around such thinking grieves me greatly. There was so much arrogance, so much pride, and rebellion, and it was all thinly veiled with a religiosity that made it acceptable.
It was made out that this tightly knit, enmeshed, group of friends was the epitome of what it meant to live in spiritual community. There was an ideology that the relationships everyone had were wholesome, edifying and always growing. I should point out that for most of the time, the group consisted of six people. At times we were joined by some of my other friends, but it was primarily the two of us and two other married couples. This in itself made the dance of our relationship even more confusing. Between the six of us the relationships were not healthy. The only time it was okay to speak of problems, concerns or to even raise an opposing point of view, was if he did it. He would question our behaviour, beliefs, and interactions. No one else could raise anything contrary.
To my shame, I knew this was wrong. Even more to my shame, I was blinded to how wrong it really was. When I spoke out regarding discrepancies between word and walk, or raised concerns about behaviour and attitudes in the group it was always thrown back at me. The concerns were talked over, my behaviour analysed, and the shift moved from the group interactions, to my insecurities, doubts, and fears.
The times that I raised a concern about the truth of what someone was saying, it was turned on its head so that I was the liar. Again, the story was told that the problems that I was facing, my own challenges and struggles meant that I could not possibly speak the truth. I was merely projecting my weaknesses and sins onto another.
I was accused of emotional manipulation. Of bullying to get my own way, twisting the truth so that it fit into my model. Overtime, I became convinced this was true. I believed I was the problem.
I lost confidence. I no longer believed myself, and I lost confidence in the truths of scripture.
I can see the irony now. I can see now how the log in his eye was making the specks in my own so much more obvious. I see how he threw smoke at the apparent manipulation I was employing so that I would not see what he was doing. I can see how he accused me of projecting issues onto another while he was doing the very same to me. Scripture was used to defend actions and twisted to fit into a framework that was a skewed understanding of the gospel. It was filtered through one person’s understanding of the world, an understanding that (in hindsight) was shaped more by particular psychological theories than it was by scripture.
Slowly, my soul eroded away. I became a shell of who God had created me to me. I was trying hard to be someone I was not. Trying hard to be the someone I thought someone else wanted me to be. My beliefs and values changed. I stopped trying to align them with scripture and began aligning them with another person’s understanding of scripture.
My dog saw what was happening well before I did. She saw the change in me when he arrived at my house, she felt the tension in my shoulders, the twisting of my gut and tried to keep him away from me. Interestingly, after this happened, we only saw each other in social groups or at his house. Several years later, she will still be incredibly protective of me if a man’s behaviour or appearance reminds her of him.
It was not until I became physically ill from the stress and internalisation of everything, that I really woke up to what was going on. Even still, it took several months for me to assert myself enough and to ‘break free’. When I finally found the courage to address the dance that we had between friendship and relationship, even that was flipped back at me. He brushed off my honesty and vulnerability by saying that it made complete sense and that we could still be friends. Following this, I worked hard to maintain friendships within the group. I did not have many conversations with him and each time we interacted I was further accused of manipulation and mental instability. His opinions of me shaped the opinions that others had and shortly, ties were severed between myself and the rest of the group in a way that I cannot explain.
I do not tell this story as a means to sully another’s name. I do not share these happenings as a means to excuse my own actions or to present myself as a victim or completely free of responsibility of my own actions. I share these words because I know that this story is not unique. I share these words because I know that emotional and spiritual abuse are very real and horrifically more prevalent than they should be.
This is the story of a twisted relationship. The story of a toxic group of friends controlled by a strong minded individual. In this story, it is possible to break free and at the time of writing, no reconciliation had been sought.
For many people, the same spiritual and emotional manipulation happens within a much stronger relationship. It occurs within marriages and families. In church relationships. It occurs in relationships where reconciliation is much more pressing. Trellis Counselling has a heart for manipulation and abuse. Please take the time to contact us if you have a story that you wish to make further sense of with the support of a counsellor or if you have a story you wish to share with others.