The wool isn’t pulled over our eyes only on April Fool’s day!
More years ago than I care to remember, I was working at an office in which one of my coworkers was a practical joker. Now, I have very little liking for or sympathy with practical jokes; I don’t find them amusing, but rather passive-aggressive. (“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it was just a joke! You need to stop overreacting!” these pranksters remark, putting the onus on their victims for feeling resentment at being humiliated or harmed.) In any case, this adult-but-childish woman pulled such a trick on me one afternoon.
I’d hauled a heavy box of files that required sorting over to a conference table. Yanking a chair out of my way, I settled the box on the table before sitting down. Unbeknownst to me, though, my coworker had walked up behind me and, just as I sat down, pulled the chair out from beneath me. I fell heavily to the floor, stunned and hurting from the fall, staring up at the ceiling and at her gleeful face. So dazed was I from the tumble that it took me several seconds to understand what had just happened.
I find that I remember that feeling—being dazed and shaken, wondering what the hell just happened—every time I’m taken advantage of by someone of my acquaintance. I admit it freely: I am easily bamboozled. Naïve. Fooled. Hoodwinked. I have a tendency to accept people at face value, rarely wondering if they are truly what they present themselves to be. Striving myself to be a caring, decent person, I make the erroneous assumption that most people are making a brave attempt to be that way also.
Stupid, I know. But I’ve spent a good portion of my life bumbling along in this state of naïve trust and so being the dupe of stronger, controlling personalities and covert narcissists. Coupled with my caretaker behavior, this is not a healthy character trait. Not in any way.
Oddly, though, it’s taken me years to sift through memories of events in my past and recognize that no, it wasn’t that I was being helpful or caring or supportive. I was being preyed upon, maneuvered, handled.
Some of my strongest memories in this regard circle about a person whom I thought of as a dear friend; let’s call her the Queen Bee. I met the QB through my association with a group she’d helped found, and we seemed to have much in common. Our friendship evolved rapidly. She seemed very interested in knowing more about me as a person, not just a group member. Her interest was balm to my neglected soul. Years after the friendship had come to a withering close, I would realize that her seeming interest was actually just an intelligence-gathering recon, so that she would have information about my behaviors and talents that could be used to manipulate me.
She did her job well, quickly determining that I had spent much of my life so starved for praise that I would do almost anything for the person who provided that honor. And so it was that I would find myself maneuvered, despite having too little time, into doing extensive prep work for upcoming meetings because, “You do it so much better than I do!” Having been admired for my abilities in learning new computer programs, I devoted hours at her behest learning to use an audio creation program in order to produce the CD she wanted for the group. (My efforts, though, went unacknowledged to the other group members.)
Each time I was manipulated by the QB, I would rise from the experience once more feeling that chair pulled from beneath me: dazed, a touch shaken, wondering what the hell just happened.
Now, years later, having stumbled upon an illuminating article about subtle manipulation techniques employed by covert narcissists, and seeing my name as victim practically written into every paragraph, I can finally categorize this and several other past unhealthy relationships. Becoming aware of my tendencies in this regard was a major step forward to overcoming these self-defeating behaviors. Nevertheless, ages after discovering my astounding “talent” for being manipulated, I still struggle against a tendency to trust and to acquiesce too easily.
Knowledge is power though, as the saying goes; recognizing that I am being controlled, although it happens all too often after the fact, at least does happen for me these days. I wish that I had gained this wisdom far earlier in my life. But, even garnered this late in the game, each step toward genuine understanding makes me a stronger, and prouder, woman.
It is never too late to become the person we were meant to be. It is never too late to grow.
If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy, “The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”, published October 27, 2017, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives, below.