The Fine Art of Manipulation


Toxic relationships are not obvious at first, but over time, an imbalance of power forms within a couple that creates an opening for manipulation. You find that you are changing pieces of yourself to fit the mold they’re trying to build. You shrug it off as you just trying to better yourself, but in reality, you find that you’re dressing differently and acting different because you are trying to avoid an episode.

I understand couples fight sometimes, but mostly they just have two-sided conversations over a subject of disagreement. An episode is one-sided when there is refusal to compromise. They find your weakness and use it against you through whatever means necessary in order to get what they want. Over time, you can get used to this. You excuse them for being overly emotional and not understanding the weight of their words. You begin to walk on eggshells, attempting not to do things that will cause a scene, and this walk becomes comfortable in your everyday life. Scenes can be as violent as physically harming your partner or simply degrading them in any manner. The thing about the art of manipulation is that once they successfully manage to get you to give up something of yourself, they will likely continue to repeat this endless cycle of taking advantage of you.

I never realized I was in an abusive relationship until after it was over. My friends would tell me it was abusive during that time. He was possessive, and every once in a while he would grab me a little too hard. He excused it all for being in love, and I believed him. He did not like me hanging out with my friends. He did not like me hanging out with his friends either. He did not like how I dressed. The worst part of not seeing the signs until now, is the fact that those whole two years he had me actually believing he was right.

OliviaKelliher2_FineArtofManipulation copy.png

He was right when he told me that I should wear more baggy clothes so he wouldn’t be jealous. He was right when he said that I shouldn’t tell my friends about our relationship because they would only judge him. He was right when he said that our relationship was private and no one, especially my family, should hear about it. He was right when he said I was a whore and a worthless piece of shit. He was right when he told me I was not doing my job when I was too sick to fuck him.

There are details of our relationship I cannot write down because I’m either ashamed or embarrassed. I refuse to believe I was simply ignorant enough to believe him without batting an eye. There is an art behind manipulation that exploits one’s weaknesses to serve the other’s interests, and when it is involved in a relationship, it doesn’t always have to be violent to be abusive.

I believe emotional manipulation starts off as innocently as possible. The little things like the small comments, the episodes of pure rage, and the random acts of kindness after a brutal storm are all swept under the carpet. Things then evolve into something that leaves you wondering if it had been like that all along. Words are a slippery slope because at first they are just words, and the next thing you know things have taken a turn for the worse.

I wish I could tell you the signs and you’d listen to me. I wish when people told me the signs, I listened to them. I ask myself all the time, “Why didn’t I just break up with him?” I bet a lot of people who have been in abusive relationships ask themselves that. I think in the moment it is completely different. From the outside, it seems so easy just to drop it and leave.

In real life, you do not see how things escalate. All you hear are endless apologies after fits of rage. I wonder a lot about why I didn’t leave. I can’t come up with a single reason why I didn’t, except for the fact I lost my voice and mind in the midst of this abuse. I think it is easier than we all believe to become so consumed with someone; you believe they are bigger or smaller than they truly are. We all like to think we are such strong human beings. We believe that we all have a vision of our own self-awareness, but in the end, sometimes you can only see clearly when you look back into the past.

Illustrations by: Olivia Kelliher