If you’re a friend of the target, you might pique the interest of a relational aggressor. Manipulators are very patient. Ever watchful, any conflict or unrest that arises between you will be picked up and may be seized upon as an opportunity to exploit your momentary discontent.
Testing the waters, the relational aggressor may initially watch what they say about the target. Any negative statement made concerning the target may be inferred or hidden behind words that seem to be sympathetic and supportive of you — a kind of twist on blasting while blessing.
They blast the target while they bless you. This is very seductive — the angrier you are toward the other person the more seductive it is for you to go with the flow of this manipulation. Depending on your reaction, the relational aggressor may become more emboldened in their criticism of the target with the goal being the eventual mutual free flowing criticism of said target, someone you were once friends with.
This offer of friendship toward you is a strategic maneuvering on the part of the relational aggressor jockeying for a closer striking position against the target. Or it can be a golden opportunity to simply punish the target with the aggressor’s gain of friendship with you as a kind of “rubbing it in their face” in light of their loss with you. Often it’s a bit of both.
Covert abuse as relational aggression is very easy to fall into. Unfortunately, it happens quite often. When we become friends with a person to spite another that’s relational aggression. It’s difficult to tell ourselves outright that’s what we’re doing, and in fact, we are almost certain never to admit to this — not to ourselves or to another.
However, if there’s any sense of smugness or “serves you rightness”, then you can be pretty sure some level of relational aggression is occurring — especially if that’s your way of showing another how you feel. Instead of speaking your anger or being upfront with them you might slam the doors on any communication and instead ally yourself with their enemy as a way of expressing your anger.
You think to yourself, they will get the message. And they do. It’s just that in those circumstances, there’s no opportunity for meaningful communication of any kind.
I have witnessed people, and most recently, young people do this with frightening and deliberate vengeance.
When the target’s personal dislike for another becomes a significant draw for you to choose that person to be friends with at this time, then you can be sure your motive is not entirely pure or innocent.
Relationships change and relationships end. People move on and form other connections. That is not relational aggression. But when forming relationships is based on the value that relationship has to hurt another, when you are drawn to that person, not on their own merit, but by the power to hurt another by your connection with that individual then that is relational aggression.
Even if you kind of, sort of, or even mostly like that person if your motive — to whatever degree — is to hurt the target with that relationship, then that’s relational aggression.
Whether you are extending yourself to another to use that relationship as a weapon or you are being offered friendship by another to be used as a weapon, it is wise to look at your motive and reasons for either offering or accepting.
Have a conversation with yourself. If you are angry, is there another way to deal with your anger? If you are being sought after, as flattering as it may be, are you comfortable with any offer of friendship that is less than genuine? Are you willing to settle in this way? Are you okay about being used?
It’s not always easy to second guess another person’s motives. It’s not always easy to see your own. But that does not preclude yourself from honestly assessing your situation. We are often more aware than we give ourselves credit for. It’s just that sometimes we don’t want to know what we already know.
Manipulation — instigating it or participating in it — doesn’t just hurt other people. It hurts you. Covert abuse always backfires. Even covert abusers get hurt. They just don’t care because the trade off is worth it.
The question is, is it worth it to you?