There are so many different stressors (types of stressful situation) in our world today creating disharmony and anxiety. One that I will raise today is manipulative behaviour in relationships. This is on a broad scale of intensity from trivial to monumental. These manipulations can be known, conscious attempts to get another to behave in a way that we find favourable to ourselves, or an ‘unconscious’ behaviour that we are simply acting out in ignorance. Understanding how and when to set boundaries in relationships can create a relationship that is flowing and empowered. The latter relationship is a good base for strong personal growth and the evolution of the individuals.
There is a big difference between being manipulative (selfish) and setting a boundary (empowered). If I am wanting something that is self serving and indulgent and I am demanding it in some shape or form from another, then I am manipulating. If I am promoting physical, emotional and mental well being in an integrous manner and finding that another person is blocking this or abusing me, then a boundary is definitely required. Not only am I ensuring my own health and well being I am finding the courage to let another know that their behaviour is inappropriate and giving them a chance to grow.
Today I will look at the more serious end of the scale and next week examples of a less forceful nature. Consider the following true scenario. One night I was driving along the highway and noticed that a woman was walking along the side of the road. Her head was down and she appeared dejected and unhappy. It was late evening in winter and she was about 6km from any housing or town. It had started to lightly rain. I had a feeling that I needed to stop and ask her if she needed assistance. I pulled up near her and called out asking if she needed any help. Her face showed a mixture of emotions. Relief on the one hand and fear on the other. She told me that she was just walking to a friends house and that she was OK. I volunteered to give her a lift wherever she needed to go or to call her a taxi and wait with her. At this point she looked like she may cry. She was resisting all my offers of assistance. Suddenly a late model vehicle appeared, driving over the median strip in a U turn and swerving in front of us to stop, braking quickly. The car contained a single male and the thumping pulse of loud music barreled out the door. The passenger door was shoved open from the interior and ‘get in’ was yelled out. The fear re-appeared on her face, “I have to go. Thank you. I can’t believe you stopped to help me, thank you.” And off she went into the night in that car……
I obviously have no idea what was transpiring that night, but my intuition tells me that this woman was trapped in a difficult relationship and she was unable to set boundaries for her well being.
Perhaps some kind of dispute had arisen in the vehicle that saw her being forced out of the car and there she was….alone on the road in late evening. No handbag, so no money or phone. Lets play with this scenario and my assumptions as an example. This is a very extreme form of abuse. The woman’s body language indicated she felt scared of the car’s occupant. What did he do to frighten her? Years of manipulation? Physical and or emotional abuse? (Constant emotional abuse, where the perpetrator tells the victim that they are useless can result in such a diminished sense of self worth that the victim sees no hope anywhere around them. ‘Why would anyone care about me? I am a load, and a burden.’) This can happen regardless of socio-economic group, intellect or financial position. What were the options that night for the woman on the road? She had them. I was a potential opportunity for change. Had she jumped into the car with me that night, she could have asked to go to family or friends if any of them were supportive or a women’s refuge. Started again. Depending on the degree of her physical safety with this man, she could have got back in the car and told him that if he didn’t get some counselling/therapy ASAP because his behaviour was VERY inappropriate she would be leaving him immediately. That is a very sound boundary, protecting her safety.
Sometimes we need to find huge courage to set boundaries. The male in the prior example would probably be unhappy about being on the other end of a strong boundary because it may interfere with his forceful games that create a situation where he is feeling like he is getting some kind of cheap gain or a false sense of power from the situation. In essence he is really running away from his own unfinished business and his own feelings of powerlessness. His behaviour is not powerful, it is forceful. A poor attempt at grasping for a sense of power by demeaning some-one else. He can only continue to do that for as long as his partner permits it. The level of courage required for a female partner to step out of some of these situations can be monumental, for if they attempt to empower themselves the partner ups the ante and either threatens or perpetrates deeper levels of force physically, emotionally, mentally or all three.
Recognising that you are in a situation where you have become a victim is the first step. Knowing that you have options is the second and creating a boundary is the third.