When people think of manipulative relationships they often think about the victims of domestic violence and the coercive behaviour that can exist within them. However it isn’t just domestic violence victims that can fall prey to this kind of behaviour. Many do not realise that these kind of relationships can exist within families, friendship groups or in the work place. Often it is not until the person has disentangled themselves from the manipulator that they realise the psychological abuse that they have been subjected to.
When you are chronically sick it is all too easy to become the victim of a master manipulator. These are people that like to exert unprecedented control over your life under the guise that they care or are caring for you. Master manipulators can be family members, friends or carers and once in your life can be very difficult to get rid of.
A few years ago I fell under the spell of a master manipulator. It’s embarrassing to admit that I fell prey to this woman’s evil schemes but now looking back I can see that I was particularly vulnerable. I had lost a lot of self confidence with no longer working, I was fighting the medical profession for a diagnosis and I was being treated badly by another friend who had become bored with my perpetual state of ill health. I had also been subjected to this kind of behaviour by other individuals in my life for a very long time .I was the perfect victim and she seemed initially like the perfect friend, too perfect.
Manipulators play the long game, sometimes their plans are literally years in the making. Initially they seem absolutely perfect it is only over time that their agenda becomes clear, to dominate and use the person to achieve their own goals. At the start of the relationship the manipulator bides their time assessing their victims vulnerabilities. Storing every piece of information away to be used at a later date when they wish to start dominating the victim. They never expose their game plan in the beginning as obviously if a potential victim becomes suspicious of their motives the ruse would no longer be able to continue. This is the exact pattern of events that occurred with my friend Bertha* (* names changed to avoid legal action, not to protect the innocent).
Bertha came into my life like a breath of fresh air, I had known her in my previous life and had found her pleasant enough. It was quite a surprise when she messaged me out of the blue and said that she and a mutual friend would like to come and visit me. As social contact at this point was quite rare other than the two friends who had stuck by me, I was flattered that they would want to come over. My first mistake was made I was too grateful for her visit. The friend that accompanied her I never heard from again! I imagine that Bertha had realised that I was socially isolated and provided good victim material.
Initially Bertha was like any other normal human being. She had my sole undivided attention as she wasn’t working and would come over and see my several times a week. Slowly over time I began to notice small changes, where once helping me and hubby out on the odd occasion, mainly dog care so I could attend appointments, she started to arrive late so that I would only make the appointment by the skin of my teeth or arrive late. Once I asked her to take me to a medical appointment as without her help I wouldn’t be able to attend. She seemed delighted to be asked, which to be honest at the time seemed a little odd due to the fact she had let us down at the last minute several times previously when we asked for her help. Her mood changed drastically when I told her I did not want her going into the consultation room. My health appointments are private, I needed to discuss some ongoing issues with my consultant safe in the knowledge I had complete confidentiality, as any patient would.
On the drive to the hospital she went on and on at me trying to wear me down. She didn’t mind coming in with me, she had driven me there surely she should get to come in? Why was I being so secretive did I have something to hide? We share everything why won’t you share this with me? The 30 minute drive felt like a lifetime. When you don’t allow a master manipulator the thing that they desire you are faced with a barrage of either abuse of emotional blackmail. Even whilst we sat in the waiting room she continued her assault. When she wheeled me into the consultation room she made a move to sit behind me. I was adamant however that she wasn’t going to be privy to the conversation and politely asked her to “close the door on her way out.” She let out a huge sigh and left the room.
Having her drive me to the hospital and take me to the appointment was one of the weirdest things I have ever gone through. Looking back now I can see it was just a means of control, she felt her reward for doing me a good turn should be hearing confidential medical information pertaining to me. When she wasn’t given her reward she subjected me to emotional blackmail. I was left feeling like a bad person for standing up to her, yet hers was the behaviour that was totally unacceptable. The drive home was mainly conducted in silence, the silence was only punctuated with her sighing. I kept my mouth shut and pretended to nod off. I wanted to use the excuse that I was tired and needed to have a lie down to prevent her demanding to come into the house for a cup of tea. Her behaviour that day had made me feel uncomfortable at the time I couldn’t put my finger on it. If I thought that was strange things would eventually take a weirder turn.
In time I noticed that things were very one sided on the conversation front. She would ask me a question and then proceed to turn the conversation back to her favourite subject, herself. I felt like I had become her counsellor and joked about it. I felt sorry for her that she seemed to have so many problems in her life. Many times she complained about the fact people she was friends with her suddenly dropped her with no explanation. If it had been one friend I could understand it but it wasn’t over time it appeared to be every friend she ever made had suddenly dropped her and completely cut her out of their lives.
A few years into our friendship I made a new friend. She came around every Thursday and stayed for a few hours. I enjoyed her company we had quite a few things in common. There was no pressure in this relationship it was natural and easy going. This new friendship highlighted the unease and dread I felt every time Bertha said she was coming around. Unless you suffer from an anxiety disorder the thought of a friend coming over to visit you should fill you with happiness. My feelings were the exact opposite. This was what I would come to realise a RED FLAG and I should have paid more attention to this and the many others in my life. Having panic attacks before people visit you or when their number flashes up on your phone isn’t normal. If someone is inducing those kind of emotions then you need to get the hell away from them.
Initially Bertha made out she was really happy for me to have a new friend. She started buying me small gifts to show me how much she appreciated our friendship. She decided that she was going to start hugging me more or sitting next to me, rather than how we usually sat sprawled out over the two sofas. As my new friendship flourished, Bertha started to become more critical. She was never critical of me directly but critical of my house, claiming things were broken when they weren’t and then my dogs when she got no reaction from me regarding her other critical comments. Out of the blue she told me Frankie had bitten her hand. I asked her to show me where he had bitten her, it was important because as much as I love my dogs if they were ever to bite someone and injure them, they would have to be put to sleep. When she showed me her hand there was no mark on it. However her complaints of being bitten now happened every time she came to the house, yet no skin was broken, there were no teeth marks and no blood was spilled. It started to really irritate me but I let it go as I felt sorry for her.
As her attempts to criticise me failed to provoke a response she tried a different approach. She had always been bad with time keeping and responding to text messages taking 12 hours to 3 weeks to answer a message. I really dislike lateness and people failing to respond to texts in a timely manner. Obviously there are times when you can’t respond to a text message when you are working or driving for example. She had heard me complain about these bad habits previously so started to use this as her form of control. Now on a regular basis she would turn up 2 hours later than the arranged time of our meet up. She would not respond to texts blaming her phone signal. Initially I believed her over the phone signal but seeing how much she was on it I couldn’t understand why she was taking up this technical fault with her service provider.
About this time she was beginning to get caught out in her own lies. We had been friends for about 4 years and she clearly couldn’t remember the lies she had told. When we first met she told me she was on the waiting list for two operations yet 4 years later she was still waiting. I know the NHS is slow but it isn’t that slow. When I questioned her about it she claimed she had never been put on the waiting list. She had also lied about various medical conditions. When challenged she would claim that I was confused and that she had never said that. Her stories were beginning to unravel, I let her think that I believed this explanation and then started to deliberately ask her questions about other things she had told me over the course of the four years. I have to admit I got some sort of perverse enjoyment from it, probably because I felt I was playing her at her own game for the first time we were becoming equals.
As her lies were starting to catch her out and she knew that I was beginning to realise that she wasn’t the friend I had initially thought she was, she started a new attack. My husband has two days off per week and these are the days on which we spend time together. I keep these days clear of friends coming over as I want to spend the time with the man I married. All my friends respect this, obviously if there was some kind of emergency or it was the only day that they were free then I will spend time with them. However I feel it is important that my friendships are not to the detriment of my relationship with my husband. As Bertha knew this she started turning up on hubby’s days off claiming that it was the only time she was free. If I said it wasn’t convenient I was met with “I haven’t seen you in ages”, “I will just come over for an hour or so”. I felt due to everything that she had done for me and the fact that she came to visit me when others didn’t that I owed her and I never felt strong enough to give a flat out no. I have terrible problems saying no to anyone that I care about.
My husband always tried to make himself scarce when Bertha came over. He didn’t actually like her very much and she had started flirting with him. It made him uncomfortable and embarrassed for her. When it first started he had laughed it off politely and decided not to tell me. Unfortunately she wouldn’t take no for an answer and her flirting lost its subtlety and became an all out attack. It was no longer taking place when I was out of the room but in front of me. At one point she stripped off down to her bra, when Mr Myasthenia Kid was in the room on the pretext she wanted to show me her new bra. As she was probably a size 30 (UK women’s size at this point), it wasn’t pretty. I have lots of female friends. I have never stripped off in front of any of them to show them a new bra.
I knew that the friendship was coming to an end, Bertha had pushed me to my absolute limit. The thought of her visiting me made me anxious, she made my husband and I feel uncomfortable in our own home and she was persisting with the ridiculous lie that Frankie was biting her, in the full knowledge that his life was at stake when she said that. She was becoming dangerous and it had the feel of single white female about it. I talked it over with my other friends, who had already made it clear that they thought she was odd and possessive. My problem is I worry too much about hurting other people. It seems the older I get the more I worry. I never seem to take into account the hurt they have caused me and by continuing to have them in my life would cause me more pain. That is the master manipulators spell and I have fallen under it too many times.
The problem is having been exposed to these kinds of relationships from a young age I simply didn’t realise that no matter who the person is in your life, you should never feel emotionally blackmailed by them, subjected to the silent treatment by them as punishment for not doing what they want you to do. You should never feel anxious at the prospect of dealing with them. You should never feel that because of who they are you should endure a relationship where you are an after thought and are quite often made the scapegoat when things go wrong in their lives. That’s not love, not family or friendship operate.
The opportunity arose to do the dirty and end the friendship. I had arranged for her to come over to the house at 13.30pm. As on numerous occasions she had arrived more than two hours late, I had text her at 11:30pm to check if she was still coming over, I wasn’t very well and if she wasn’t coming I would be going back to bed. This had no response, so I messaged her via social media at 12:30pm, again no response. The prearranged time for our meet up came and went. I eventually heard from her at 14:30pm via text telling me that she had just woken up and could she come over at 16:00. By this point I will admit I was seething but I was scared of her also. I kept my reply short and sweet and told her I was in bed and to forget about today. she immediately text me back all sweetness and light asking what was wrong. I told her that I was very disappointed in her and that I would message her in a couple of days when I had calmed down.
I had taken back control at long last but I was shaking with fear as I pressed send. I had no idea how she would react, whether she would try and plead her case or go nuclear. She went nuclear and sent me a stream of abusive texts telling me I was an ungrateful bitch after everything she had done for me and that is the one that I can repeat. The others called me all the names under the sun. When I was faced with all this vitriol it was only then I realised that she couldn’t stand the loss of control. This was the first time I had ever stood up to her and she couldn’t stand it. After the 5th or 6th text I decided to block her number from my phone and then immediately block her from all my social media accounts.
For about 48 hours my anxiety hit the roof, I felt like I had been a terrible person to cut her off like this but it couldn’t go on. This all happened over 7 years ago and I have had to call time on other friendships, nothing as dramatic as this and the anxiety wasn’t as bad when I realised I deserved better.
When you realise that friendship, family relationships, love are not something that operates on a transnational basis as in what you can do for them, you realise by walking away from them you lose nothing but the constant pain they cause you. You realise that normal people don’t behave like this, they don’t view others simply in terms as what they can do for them, they like people for being themselves. Only happiness can come from realising your worth.