Sad WomanI have learned, through years of therapy along with a fair amount of self-observation, that I am extremely susceptible to emotional manipulation. For example, I cry at the bloody Christmas ads where the kid comes home and makes coffee. Books do it. Movies do it. Television does it. News stories do it. Emotional manipulation is everywhere in modern life.

When people say something I’ve been involved in—even tangentially—has hurt them in some dreadful way, it always makes me feel guilty. Even if that guilt isn’t reasonable. And I’ve learned that I have to examine everything to see whether that guilt is or is not reasonable. Lots of times, that leads me to take time off from the parts of my life where the flare-ups occur. It’s the only way for me to stay on any kind of even course.

I went to an all-girl’s school from kindergarten through senior year of high school and that was the first place I experienced “it’s your fault I feel like crap” manipulation. (As an aside, I’ve had a number of jobs over the years that plunked me into groups of women and I have to say that as much as I hate gender stereotyping, I’ve experienced it a lot more often in groups made up of women than in groups made up primarily of men.) Once I realized what was going with these people, I got angry.

Emotional manipulation still makes me angry when I recognize it. (I am still not good at recognizing it, but I am getting better.) Every time I see one of those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials, I get a rage bubble in my chest. Yes, I also get weepy, but it doesn’t make me want to donate, it just pisses me off and upsets me.

Increasingly, I see this manipulation happening in the worlds I belong to both online and off and I cannot figure out exactly why. Everything from “if you don’t do more [volunteering, giving money, whatever], this organization will cease to exist” to “I got a bad review so I am never going to write again and I may kill myself.” Now, it’s certainly a fact that without volunteers, most of the organizations I belong to would cease to exist, but the way that information is presented doesn’t pass the stink test. The other, well, that’s not even worth commenting on.

So what is causing this escalation in manipulative tendencies? Is it because it’s happening so much everywhere else that people just adopt it as their go-to? Is it because privacy is decreasing everywhere we look, so people shove their emotions up front as a shield? Is it because people don’t think they can be heard over others’ wails and beating of chests unless they do so themselves?

Whatever it is, I don’t like it. And I don’t think I can be the only one seeing it out there. But I also don’t know how to put a brake on it. I wish I did.