Why do people manipulate others? Is it because they’re an asshole? Is it because they need to feel powerful?
I manipulated an ex-girlfriend once. Years ago, when I was in a toxic relationship with someone I loved, I lied to get a reaction out of her. I told her I was going to watch her soccer game, but I never showed. It was something very out of character for me to do.
When she confronted me on it, I told her I was busy talking with someone else. Even when I wasn’t. I mislead her to believe I was with another girl. She was devastated and hurt. She was sick to her stomach. I felt justified.
Throughout the year of our relationship, I always had the feeling that I was investing more into our relationship than she was. I never felt like a priority in her life. It felt like she had a secret life, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that she did. I wanted the security that she’d be with me, but she never seemed to care enough to give me the reassurance in the way I needed it.
I didn’t trust her, but I was obsessed. So I lied because I wanted her to feel the same way I felt. I felt neglected. Confused. Sick to my stomach.
I lied to prove that she cared about me. My lying to her proved that she did. But it also created an argument that ended our relationship forever. So why did I do it?
Our relationship was a classic toxic relationship. Something would happen in my life and I’d seek closeness to her. She would reject me. She would tell me I was “too needy” or “too sensitive.” Her need for distance would push me away during the times I needed reassurance. Like all toxic relationships, this only amplified my anxiety and insecurity.
So I would behave in batshit crazy ways to reconnect with her. I would do anything and everything I could to get the reassurance I wanted in the relationship. This only caused her to push me away even farther, neglecting my needs.
Extensive research on intimate relationships have shown that people behave in very predictable ways when we are in love. The toxic relationship I’m describing above is a typical avoidant and anxious relationship.
These types of relationships are full of ambiguity. The avoidant partner sends mixed signals about their commitment in the relationship. They may say they are committed, but their actions make you feel differently. You are left guessing. And every time you get a mixed message, like me, you become preoccupied with the relationship.
Even though you know it’s not healthy, you can’t seem to stop thinking about them. Friendships, hobbies, and career opportunities fall to the wayside.
Next thing you know, you’re doing the craziest things just to reconnect with them. Even if you know it’s unhealthy. This could be driving by their house or snooping through their phone.
We often seek relationships that confirm our self views and run away from those that don’t. Like many anxious lovers, I believed that I was too much for my lover. Below you can see how clear my relationship reinforces this.
5 Major Differences That Make A Relationship Toxic
|Anxious Lover||Avoidant Lover|
|You crave closeness and intimacy||They want distance – emotional and/or physical|
|You are highly sensitive to any signs of rejection or threat to the relationship||They often send mixed signals that come across as rejecting|
|You find it difficult to express to them what you need and what’s bothering you (indirect communication), and use crazy behavior instead||They are terrible at reading your verbal and nonverbal cues. They don’t think it’s their responsibility to do so|
|You need to feel loved and be reassured that they love you||They put you down to create distance as a way to deal with their own insecurity about closeness|
|You desperately want to know where you stand in the relationship
||They prefer to keep things fuzzy. Even in a serious relationship, questions still remain|
Not such a healthy relationship, huh?
So why was I so obsessed with her? Why couldn’t I move on, even though I know I should?
Because my beliefs about myself reinforced my insecurity. Like 25% of the population, the life experience of an anxious lover have taught us that we are unworthy of love. We often blame ourselves for the lack of responsiveness from those we love. It reinforces our feelings of unworthiness.
Any negative feelings we have about the relationship are turned inward. We put our partners on a pedestal and we make extreme compromises to keep the relationship.
This is why we quickly become relationship chameleons or use sex to validate our worth. At the heart of it, we don’t believe we are good enough to be loved, so we adapt rather quickly. In my relationship above, I quickly adopted my girlfriend’s vegan lifestyle habits.
Anxious lovers often use their adaptability to pick up new hobbies, values, or passions that bring them closer to our partners, even if they don’t care about it.
I’m not vegan now. I only did it because she cared about it and I thought it was a way to bring me closer to her. I was unaware of that at the time, though.
Eventually we lose ourself in the relationship. What happens next? Our partners stop finding us attractive. We are no longer the person they fell in love with. We are a copycat version of them.
So how can keep our sense of self? How can we stop hiding our true feelings in fear of rejection? After all, it is our fear of rejection that causes us to tolerate behavior that makes us feel insecure in the first place.
Two Roads Diverged
And I took the safer one
And it has made all the difference.
There are two separate roads that lead to gaining security in our relationships. The first route is to find a healthy lover. Someone who offers reassurance when we feel insecure. Someone who isn’t afraid of intimacy and will get as close as we want.
The Secure & Anxious Lover Relationship
|Anxious Lover||Secure Lover|
|You crave intimacy and closeness||They are comfortable with closeness and don’t try to push you away|
|You are highly sensitive to signs of rejection or threat to the relationship||They are reliable and don’t send mixed messages that will upset you. If you become upset, they will give you the reassurance you need|
|You find it difficult to express what you need and what’s bothering you. You tend to use crazy behavior rather than vulnerable communication||They view your well-being as a top priority and do their best to understand your verbal and nonverbal indicators that something is bothering you|
|You need the reassurance that you’re loved||They feel comfortable expressing how they feel consistently|
|You need to know exactly where the relationship stands
||They are very stable and are comfortable with commitment|
If an avoidant were to read this, they’d say something like, “I do give him reassurance, but it’s never enough. He keeps needing it! It’ll never stop and it’s exhausting.” While that may feel true to most of us, it’s not. Once we get the security that our partner is invested into our relationship and cares about our well-being, we actually turn our attention outside the relationship.
We go on to start businesses. We take on new hobbies. This called the dependency paradox of relationships. Over time our beliefs slowly change, and we stop worrying because we get the reassurance we truly need on a consistent and reliable basis.
We stop fearing that our partner finds us overbearing. We stop behaving in ways that avoid conflict to get reassurance. [1. Anxious lovers often avoid conflict or compromise to gain reassurance that their partner will stay with them, even at the cost of things they deeply care about.] We actually tell our partner what is bothering us, because we know they care enough to work with us during a fight to make things better.
The problem is we find those secure individuals to be repulsive. They make us feel calm because they are direct, vulnerable, and honest about what they feel. This doesn’t match our beliefs.
Our life experiences have confused our insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety in our prior relationships for passion. So when we are faced with someone who is comfortable with closeness and is direct about what they want, we push them away.
Instead, we fall for someone who is emotionally unavailable. Someone who makes us uncertain. Someone who pushes us away at the very moment we need closeness. Someone who implements a “no-contact” rule for a week or months. Someone who treats us like our needs don’t matter. Reinforcing the belief that we are too much to be loved.
So when we find ourselves in the middle of this road, still struggling to find that secure partner, we need to stop. We need to turn around and walk back to the intersection of the two roads in the woods. Now, we need to not take the road less traveled, but the safest road possible.
But that safe road looks ugly. It’s bumpy and muddy.
As we look down the road, we know that the journey ahead is going to be hard. After all, we are literally killing beliefs that kept us in toxic relationships in our past. But the only way is through.
We must walk through the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the beliefs that tell us we are not good enough to be loved. We must stand face to face with our anxiety and give it a hug. We must learn to love and respect ourselves enough to stop tolerating shitty relationships and find one that makes us feel happy, cared about, and deeply fulfilled.
Changing Your Beliefs
When I tell people that they need to work on themselves, they get excited. They get busy taking on new hobbies, going to events, and they feel so much better. They tell me they are finally independent and happy.
I respond with a smile and say, “I’m happy for you. When you get into a relationship, let me know how it is going after three months.” They walk away with a bounce in their step, believing they have just changed their relationships forever.
Three months later I’ll get an email. “Kyle, what am I doing wrong? My partner isn’t as passionate with me. They implemented a no-contact rule. I want to marry them. I want them to want me the way I want them. How can I do this?”
While their independence adventure did feel amazing, it did very little. The beliefs we form in our relationships about ourselves can only be changed in different relationships. Secure relationships. And when we struggle to find a healthy lover, the path requires us to find secure individuals to help us.
These secure relationships don’t need to be romantic. But you need to focus on your romantic beliefs. This can be a close friend, a therapist, or a coach. My therapist and a close friend was how I changed my beliefs and eventually attracted a secure partner who I trust and deeply care about.
We dissected my core beliefs about myself. We swam in the sea of my insecurity. We climbed the mountain of my unworthiness. We watch the memory of how I communicated with ex-lovers so I could prime my brain to communicate in a better way. I learned to communicate in a vulnerable, honest way that gave my lover an opportunity to be herself. It wasn’t fun doing the work I did. But it was worth it.
Understanding the attachment science of love has improved many areas of my life.
Ultimately our relationships shape how we feel about ourselves. And as you’ve read, specific relationships create specific reactions from people that is than interpreted in ways that reinforce our internal beliefs about ourselves.
The research shows that secure relationships create healthier and happier individuals. Those individuals create a deeply meaningful relationships. Ones that make them feel cared about and happy. If that’s something you want, then you’re going to have to dive deep within yourself to create an internal revolution. A revolution that will forever change the way you love.
Consistent problems with our relationships are often indicative of consistent problems we have with ourselves. Therefore, untangling our relationship issues requires a deep exploration into our own personal psychology and what makes us, us.
This is not journey for the lighthearted. It takes depth. Vulnerability. And personal growth. But while the road may be hard, it is completely worth it. After all, don’t you want the greatest gift life can offer? A healthy relationship.
This article was originally published on KyleBenson.net.
Want to work on your relationship beliefs? Download the Change Your Beliefs, Get The Relationship You Deserve in my Passionate Relationship toolkit.