It's all about labels. Labels run our lives. "Oh, he's so OCD!" or "she is so gay!" We use these almost daily, and usually the intention is not negative. It is part of our vernacular, and that is what happens with language. Perhaps we rely on labels too much though and end up making assumptions that are not very fair or true.
There is a word that is overused at this point and always seems to have a negative connotation. What naughty word is that? Manipulation. I cringe whenever I hear it and am quite guilty of using it in reference to myself and others. The thing is it wasn't until today in my therapy group that I finally understood its meaning. My group leader defined manipulation as: an attempt to get one's needs met in an indirect way. That doesn't sound so negative so why is there such an adverse feeling whenever I hear that word?
Whenever I hear it in relation to myself I immediately become defensive since I do not want the other person to think I am trying to "trick" her. I do think though that when some people are described as manipulative they actually are not trying to be manipulative, rather they are trying to get their needs met and are doing so in a protective way. Some people are not even aware that they are doing it.
A good example of this for me was when I was in college and seeing a therapist In New York. One day I purposely missed our session and did not call her to let her know. I skipped it, didn't call and went shopping instead. I was looking to feel some power in our relationship. She called and left a message telling me she was concerned that I did not show for my appointment and asked me to call her to let her know I was okay. I waited until late that night to call her and left a message apologizing for missing it.
It was all a test, in a way. I wanted to see if I mattered to her and if she would care that I didn't show up for our appointment. I was being protective of myself in that I decided I would leave her before she could leave me and hurt me. That was the real impetus of that particular day. My fear of abandonment was so great that I "took charge" of the relationship in order to see if she really cared and wouldn't leave me.
Merriam-Webster defines manipulate as changing something by unfair means so as to serve one's purpose. This actually makes sense when thinking about it in terms of relationships. It certainly was not fair of me to purposely not call to cancel my appointment but I did so in order to carry through with my purpose. I feared I would be abandoned, therefore I created a scenario for me to see where I stood with her. It was desperate, unfair and mean and there is no debating that. It was also conducted due to a real fear in my mind that this woman would turn on me one day and would not want to see me anymore. Was any of this based in reality? Absolutely not. It felt real to me though. By humanizing it there is a different and softer feeling to it all.
There is always more information about a person or situation and simply providing a label based on a quick glance or even careful analysis is never quite fair. I have been trying to work on this in my own life in terms of labeling people, behaviors and incidents but it is hard. Using labels has become so ingrained that we do not always notice when we use them or that they can be hurtful.
I think that more information and more sharing, particularly in regard to mental illness, can help to change how we explain not only ourselves but the environment we live in. The purpose is not to hurt anyone rather it is to have better understanding. I know I have a better appreciation of that very naughty word now and I hope if I use it I will do so with more respect and sensitivity.