Manipulated Lives by H.A Leuschel
Five stories – Five Lives
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
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 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, followed by a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Lastly, there is 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.
What are you hiding?
Rob is sneaking into the house, quietly placing the car keys on the sideboard, then hears his parents talking in the living room. To delay the inevitable, but give himself an opportunity to think about what exactly to tell them, he silently sneaks upstairs into his room. Maybe they won’t notice the scrape, it’s so small you can hardly see it, he tries to tell himself. He dreads the moment they find out, dreads the possibility that he won’t be allowed to borrow the car again. After all, he promised to be careful.
We’ve all done it, consciously or unconsciously and, that is deny the facts that are staring us right in the face. A wide range of emotions may be the main culprits for us denying that we’ve broken something, lost something or are facing an illness that we could have avoided had we listened to the warning signs or someone close to us, anxiously watching and commenting on our behaviour. At the end of the day, we’d rather be seen doing things right than doing things wrong and making mistakes. We’d rather tell a happy story than a story that contains unpleasant passages.
Humiliation, embarrassment or fear to admit weakness or face punishment may also be at the centre of our blindness. Other peoples’ expectations can misguide our better judgment because making mistakes is human after all yet learning from them can make us into a better and stronger person, even if the experience as such can be difficult and very painful.
There is no doubt that we live in a highly competitive society. Children are graded from a young age, judged, labelled and, worse, are often made to believe that showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness. So, within the demands to perform and excel, the importance of being truthful and work through difficulties can quickly get lost. The experience is literally denied to the person.
Later on in life, vital signs are overlooked and, before you know it, you are working all hours, pushing yourself to the limit, ignoring high blood pressure or other physical discomforts and become one of many victims of denial. The heart attack you survive may either be interpreted as an unlucky curse or the inevitable consequence of a crazy life style. In either case, something important has been overlooked – the opportunity to take responsibility for our actions, whether it is admitting being unable to resist a treat, the fact that bumping a car is part of learning to navigate through busy city traffic or realising that your health deserves to be prioritized.
Denial allows us to hide behind our many excuses and reassuring platitudes (I’m too old to change, you only live once, I have to pretend for the children, it’s not that bad, etc) as well as be kind and gentle to ourselves and others. Bad habits can be broken and if used sparingly and progressively, partial denial can coax a person out of a hiding place without the damage that they so feared. If Rob’s parents take a calm approach towards his mistake, he will know that honesty is better than the attempt of a cover up.
Denial – protective or destructive?
Jenny wakes with a pain in her chest and she knows that it’s been going on for too long now. Each day she feels the signs that something is not right and they are getting worse. She reminds herself that she runs an independent company where her managerial guidance is needed daily, that she’s a single mum with two children to feed, a mortgage and bills to pay and her parents live miles from her home. She tells herself the same as she has the last few days: the pain will pass, it’s just stress. Once the pressure eases, she’ll be better again.
It is fundamental to see a difference between two types of denial – the conscious and the unconscious rejection of knowledge available and the reasons why.
Unconscious denial is a defence mechanism that allows a person to temporarily deal with unbearable pain or fear. She’s in a state of shock, shaking our head, denying that what she experiences is really serious, even telling herself that she’s probably over reacting. When the signs do not abate though and she consciously denies the recurring symptoms, her initial reaction trying to protect her from facing an unfamiliar event is in danger of turning into a potentially destructive one.
Jenny is clearly playing with fire. She is filled with the fear of losing a days’ business, constantly reminded that she needs to stay strong and reliable for her children, panicking at the thought that she should take time off to get her heart checked, making herself believe that with time all will get back to normal.
Denial stops her from halting all activities and to think, before it is too late. The more conscious the denial, the higher will be the risk she is taking. It is a gamble she may come to regret but many will still be able to empathize with and understand. The moment she realizes that she is jeopardizing exactly what she is working so hard to keep afloat, the veil will drop and make her see what she needs to do to keep it safe.
Denial and toxic manipulation
Peter knows that he has made a major mistake. Because of his misjudgement, the company he works for, has lost an important client and vital revenue. Further, he fears that his wife will find out about his affairs and that he’ll be shamed by his family. He decides to use denial, diversion and deceit to put the blame on one of his colleagues, slip in a few nasty comments directed at his wife to divert attention, all with the aim at securing his all-important status, an image of a successful, desirable and infallible man.
Peter knows no qualms, has little inhibition and lacks empathy to fully comprehend that his actions hurt others deeply. He has an overrated sense of entitlement that make him focus on never admitting to a mistake, refusing responsibility and using denial whenever necessary. A mechanism that we’ve seen can have protective and self-destructive characteristics is used by a person in a consciously toxic and manipulative way.
The previous example may paint the bleakest of all pictures when talking about denial as a human trait. The desire to keep one’s image and appear wearing a white shirt at all times means Peter uses denial to brush any inconvenience under the carpet. His behaviour is facilitated by his lack of empathy, the ability to slip into another person’s shoes and realise the limits of denial. His narcissistically driven goals take centre stage and make denial a powerful tool, very different in kind than the ones outlined above. Dealing with a highly manipulative individual is therefore also the ultimate encounter with denial.
At the end of the day, it may depend on how heavily a person’s actions weigh on their conscience and further, going back to the roots, the way our relationship developed with our primary care-giver when we were children, followed by the many years encountering a number of different teachers. Decades of research in psychology have shown that this initial phase has a decisive impact on our emotional and mental growth, our empathic skills and the development as a moral individual overall.
How Rob, Jenny and Peter deal with their own fallibility and how much they may rely on denial will ultimately depend on their life-experiences in early childhood. Being allowed to feel warmth and compassion, to face challenges calmly and honestly as a child are vital in determining how a person will deal with the setbacks of life later on.
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.