Fancy seeing you here!?! 🙂 Today I have something special in store for you. I suggest you grab a cuppa and enjoy this educational guest post.
A lot of us have heard of and seen a certain book making rounds in the book blogging community. I am talking about Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel.
Five stories – Five Lives.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.
Following my [review] of the book, Helene and I had a little chat and we agreed that a guest post on the subject matter of manipulation would be a good idea. I think the guest post will demonstrate with ease Helene’s knowledge on the subject. And when there’s knowledge, you can be sure that you’ll receive a quality fictional read. Without further ado, over to Helene:
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the biggest manipulator of them all?
For 18th Century German Philosopher Immanuel Kant, it was imperative that one should always thrive to being honest, treat others the way you would wish them to treat you and, even further still, act in such a way that you treat humanity always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means’.
I suggest therefore that when we look at the opposite end of his premise, we find ‘manipulation’ where someone is used for the benefit of another, does not consider others as an end in themselves and certainly doesn’t treat them the way they wish to be treated. A person using an array of manipulative techniques primarily aims to change or influence another person in order to achieve self-centred goals.
The methods used can be of various kinds – deception, intimidation, exploitation of good will or abuse, all depending on what in actual fact constitutes the goal the manipulator is seeking to attain.
I would argue that within the realm of manipulation though, there are different levels of severity. For instance, doctors by their very nature hold the power to either hand out prescriptions or decide holding back on writing them. Patients who feel in need of medication may accentuate their symptoms, even fake the levels of pain in order to ‘use the doctor for their means’. The doctor is duped into prescribing tablets.
This example may sound a farfetched to some because, due to humans’ fallible nature, they may find themselves in situations where faking or pretending is sometimes deemed necessary to get what they need, especially in the presence of someone with power or authority because there is the fear that the other may deliberately refuse to give you what you want. A boss may hold back a salary increase, a mother insensitive to her off springs emotional needs, a neighbour refusing to endorse your projects for an extension that would not affect him, a husband restricting the financial resources available to his wife … the list goes on. We can probably all agree that the doctor tricked into writing a prescription is not harmed in the same way as a person forced into performing a humiliating task that they do not consent to. The two situations portray different levels of manipulation. The most toxic manipulators will be ruthless enough to ignore the equal worth of another person’s feelings because they consider the satisfaction of their needs are primary to anything else. They do not ‘feel’ for the other, lack the ability to slip into another person’s shoes or simply refuse to acknowledge that they have crossed a threshold. Having said that, they are however well aware that what they are doing is wrong, hence need to fall back on a repertoire of techniques to conceal their actions or shed a different light on them – by deception, diversion or through denial, to just name a few.
It is one thing to manipulate in a charming way – openly batting eyelids or feigning ignorance with a smile; it is another thing to gradually slip the carpet under someone’s feet, so that they are disorientated and insecure, unable to see through the deception or worse start doubting themselves.
The five novellas of my book ‘Manipulated Lives’ aim to convey these blurred lines between toxic and mild manipulation because no matter how much we may endorse Immanuel Kant’s moral code, when dealing with a highly manipulative person, we either manage to distance ourselves in time or deal with them as sparingly as is possible to avoid being drawn into their twisted world. Living under the same roof however means that we inevitably become accomplices or, worse, as is the case in ‘The Narcissist’ where a bystander is haunted forever by the past, seeking retribution and answers for the time lost rather than walk away to nourish her own humanity.
Manipulative techniques are at the heart of domestic abuse. What is commonly called the ‘fear and relief technique’ can result in psychological as well as physical abuse. Over time, the abuser will vent anger on a partner, then immediately apologize, bear gifts or even break down in tears of faked remorse. The victim is destabilised, confused and patience worn thinner and thinner as the episodes repeat themselves. Until, the victim is told that it is their fault, that they are causing the other to flip making the confusion complete. Hence, the longer abuse is endured, the harder it becomes to escape it. The conditioning becomes normality and very difficult to accept as well as escape. The statistics sadly account for it.
The aim of manipulation in a domestic context is to control, dominate, use someone for purely selfish goals or literally use the other as a punch bag, an object, not a subject. Because of their superior physical strength, men tend to be able to abuse women physically more easily. Having said that, both male and female victims tend to be reluctant to seek help and it often takes decades before they come forward, able to face their past and understand their suffering in a context. Both women and men can be victims of domestic abuse, psychological or physical violence, although Metropolitan Police show that male violence against women still make up 85% of reported violent incidents. One of the reasons the finger is pointed at men much more than women is that the intensity of violence used by men is more extreme because it is more likely to include physical abuse. Hence the ‘fear and relief technique’ that toxic manipulators may use with their victims is more powerful when a person knows their physical strength is clearly superior. Women will fear for their lives and their livelihood (financial dependence and inequality is still prevalent world-wide) more often than men.
This is not to say, that the figure doesn’t require adjustment overall, were all victims of domestic abuse to come forward (be it for psychological or physical abuse). The estimate is that only 35% of all victims actually do. That two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner (Source) indicates though that women remain particularly at risk, especially when leaving an abusive relationship.
Just as manipulation has a negative connotation, so does the term narcissism. To be self-centred, navel-gazing and vane are attributes no one likes to be labelled with. And yet, a healthy dose of self-confidence, believing in yourself and carrying the right amount of determination to make it in a highly competitive environment may allow some lee-way or at least re-formulate narcissistic attributes in a positive way.
As mentioned above, when talking about manipulation and the fine line to its toxic relative, there is a distinction to be made between healthy and unhealthy kind of narcissism. Encouraging a child to keep trying, not giving up on practicing and mastering a skill, giving them emotional support is a different approach to putting the child on a pedestal, untouchable and always number one.
Manipulation and one of its worst disorders – narcissistic perversion – are at the core of the five novellas of ‘Manipulated Lives’. As seen above, the distortion that manipulative and abusive behaviour can cause are manifold. Yet, when people lack a healthy dose of empathy, worse find pleasure in seeing others suffer, has grandiose ideas about themselves and use every tool in the book of manipulation to reach their goal may mean that you are in the presence of a narcissistic pervert.
Not only do they have an inflated, unrealistic image of themselves but they cannot bear the smallest of criticism. Mix in a culturally patriarchal society or one where women are still at a disadvantage, grow up feeling they are weaker and less worthy of equal pay or access to the same jobs as men and you inevitably have a breeding ground for people with severe behavioural disorders. They are often charming and overly confident, initially disguise their lack of inhibition well and have a ‘nose’ for susceptible people or people who like the young woman in ‘The Spell’ is too naïve to detect the deception for what it is. Sadly, these toxic manipulators have somewhere along their most formative first years either lost the capacity to feel the necessary inhibition not to use and abuse others for selfish reasons or they are born into a family who disregard their most basic needs for love and balanced attention.
Both excessive approval and idolisation as well as unwarranted criticism and negative regard are said to play a big part in explaining the disorder, which logically may occur in both men and women. Men will tend to seek out power and wealth whereas women with this disorder tend to be obsessed with their image, wish to stand above the crowd at all times and sometimes see their child as an extension of themselves.
For instance, the mother in ‘My Perfect Child’ is refusing to confront the flaws and early signs of deception her son clearly exhibits because she tries to fill the void of lost love and affection she experienced as a child. She undermines her son’s capacity to evolve as a moral person, learn from his mistakes and teach him what is right and wrong. She may not be an obvious abuser, but lives in constant denial because she allows both of them to live lives of self-deception and ignore the manipulate reality of her son’s behaviour. Her belief that unconditional love can and should iron out any awkward situations to protect the image of her child’s perfection means that her personal damaged past is carried over and ultimately responsible for her son’s complete lack of moral orientation.
For some of the characters in my book, it was either bad luck encountering a manipulator, whereas for others it was their troubled past or intense feeling of guilt that made them more vulnerable as well as receptive to them.
So, who is the biggest manipulator of them all?
The answer to this question is that the biggest manipulator is probably the boldest, most aggressive and calculating individual, the one reaping the biggest results in self-aggrandization and accumulating egotistical success, the one who knows how to trick with cunning intelligence, whose socio-economic conditions are the strongest and who is resourceful in sniffing out their prey, knowing how to make them accomplice, co-dependent or defenceless victim.
Coming back to Immanuel Kant therefore and his insistence that one should always aim to be honest and truthful as well as see one another as ends and never merely as a means to an end is – as might be expected – easier said than done. The complexity of circumstances, the inequalities, situations of dependency or vulnerability will mean that certain people will remain more exposed to abuse of any kind unless they are properly addressed yet the possibility for distortion is present in all of us. As long as humans remain highly social beings and interdependent by nature, they will rely on each other’s’ good will and learn that authenticity is a precious attribute.
About the Author
Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.