“What if I lack empathy, self-control, and personal responsibility as others have claimed?” —Q & A

Q– I have been in several manipulative relationships in the past in which I have been told that I am the problem, that I need to take more responsibility, or that I lack self-control. I don’t believe these things are true and that they were just manipulative tools to get me to take responsibility for problems that were not my fault, but the underlying fear remains: what if they really were right?  Am I really the problem?

Now that I recognize and know the tools to avoid manipulation, I feel more powerful and prepared, but the lingering fear is still there.  >sigh<  Any suggestions?

A That is a good question and one for both men and women to consider. You need to sort out what these people have said from the truth. For example, a child who is being sexually abused by a father might be told, “Can’t you see how much you are hurting me when you say no?” This would be a manipulation of  empathy.

The definition of empathy is to see and respect the feelings, rights, and needs of another person as valid and important and separate from your own, meaning that each person’s rights, feelings, and needs end were the other person’s feelings, rights, and needs begin. Thus, I may have the need for help and support, but if my need for help and support infringes on your needs, then my rights end there. In the case of those who manipulated you to meet their needs, as soon as their requests infringed on your feelings, rights, or needs, you were under no obligation to empathize or accommodate them. Just as the child has no responsibility for the adult’s sexual needs because the child’s needs for protection and safety come first.

In a similar fashion, it is critical that we each take personal responsibility and exercise self-control over our issues—not someone else’s issues. If someone blames you for their drinking and pressures you to accept blame while refusing to back down until you apologize, you are being manipulated. If you didn’t cause the problem, you would be acting over-responsible if you accepted blame. Those who act over-responsible often attract relationships with people who are irresponsible (and, as such, in need of someone who will accept blame and act over-responsible for their problems), a dangerous trend you will want to avoid.

So, what I am saying is that it’s critical that you draw a line between where others’ rights, feelings, and needs end and yours begin. You also need to distinguish between what is legitimately your responsibility or blame in a relationship (because you acted in a way that defines it as your responsibility) from others’ legitimate responsibility.

I had a bad relationship over ten years ago in which I was regularly blamed for many things. One of the games the emotionally immature play  is to project their issues onto others. Thus, he acted controlling but accused me of being controlling. It was difficult to sort out the truth. I turned to prayer and friends and family to help me know where my responsibility ended and his began. This was very helpful to me. You need to define this for yourself because if you don’t stand up for yourself and your feelings, rights, and needs, no one else will. You have to be the final judge of your feelings, rights, and needs and make them valid and important whether the manipulator agrees or not. Look for patterns of three. If you have three trusted and loving friends or family members who help you to identify something as your responsibility or problem, then what they are saying is probably true and I would take a close look at that issue.

Once you have established the truth for yourself and either put the issues in their proper place (as someone else’s manipulation) or resolved it (because it was indeed your issue), then you will be in a good place to find other people who will take responsibility, show empathy, and act with self-control in a relationship with you. The next few months of be-safe goals in the workshops and workbook will help you do this. We will be talking a lot about how to have good boundaries and how to identify the emotionally immature. You will be taught how to avoid acting over-responsible and how to attract people who will be responsible.

I hope this helps.

Let me know if you have further questions.



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