Much of what is called friendship is light and casual, a friendliness among acquaintances. But true friendship, while it may start there, grows and deepens into something more meaningful. All the beautiful qualities of friendship we think of when we think about friendship grow out of the depths of that authenticity.
True friendship contains within itself a resiliency that allows for mistakes, an unfolding path where forgiveness and charity walk hand in hand. A true friend is, indeed, a treasure.
But friendship — the appearance of it or the offering or withholding of it — can be used as a weapon in the hands of a manipulator. When relationships are used in this way to abuse another it’s called relational aggression.
In relational aggression, relationships aren’t just about ways to connect. They’re about ways to control. Covert abusers or relational aggressors will feign friendship with others, even with those they don’t like, if it serves their purpose.
Relationships can be controlled through a position of strength or a position of weakness. These are not fixed states of being. Like most human dynamics they are fluid and people can move from one state to another depending on circumstances and need. However, for purposes of analysis it can be helpful to divide them into two general categories.
Those who seek to manipulate through strength and those who seek to manipulate through weakness.
Those coming from a place of strength may seek to become popular. They look to the accumulation of “friends” to secure and bolster their influence through status. Approval from others strengthens their power and reinforces their credibility. This comes in very handy when it becomes necessary to lie and to be believed.
People have a tendency to trust those they think like them, and so a covert abuser/relational aggressor will use flattery and acts of kindness to cultivate that leverage. To a covert abuser/relational aggressor, friends aren’t friends as much as allies — allies who not only can stand by you but are motivated to defend you and attack another — the target of your choice — if need be.
This doesn’t mean because a person is popular that they are a relational aggressor. Despite the stereotype, being a popular girl doesn’t make one a “mean girl”. However, someone who uses relationships as weapons may seek to increase their arsenal by collecting friends. To a covert abuser/relational aggressor, friends are always potential allies or future collaborators.
Another way to manipulate through power is to dangle something real or imagined that others want. This may be a tangible thing, like a job or a connection, perhaps some kind of material thing or something of monetary value or money itself. Or it may be more abstract but very real, like acceptance or approval, a sense of belonging, or status.
Whatever the “prize”, it is conferred upon the one who desires it to forge, manipulate and maneuver that relationship for the hidden agendas of the manipulator.
Those who prefer to manipulate through the appearance of weakness or vulnerability may feign friendship not so much to inspire a sense of loyalty through admiration and indebtedness but to acquire those things through pity. By portraying themselves as being vulnerable they trigger the protective instinct of others, which may cause them to act in ways the covert abuser desires.
Accusations of being wronged can trigger indignant outrage in others, causing them to lash out quicker and more harshly against the offending target than if the covert abuser was perceived as competent to take care of themselves. Covert abusers/relational aggressors who portray themselves as weak or at least frail depend on people’s caring nature to protect the defenseless, to right a wrong. It is this noble quality that they seek to manipulate for their own purposes.
Like popularity seekers, those who broadcast a sense of vulnerability also see friendships as potential allies or future collaborators.
Friendship when it’s real is beautiful. Friendship when it’s feigned or when it’s used to serve someone’s agenda is hurtful. And more people than just the intended target suffers.
Manipulation hurts — everybody — even collaborators and allies, even when it doesn’t look like it, even when they don’t know it. It hurts them, and sadly, while they are being thus wronged, they are often participating in wronging another.
That is the power and the secrecy of covert abuse.
~Demian Elainé Yumei