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Should you love more, do more, or be more for another person who never seems to be happy?

One method of control is to make sure you’re always trying harder to please but never actually pleasing the other person. When they are not happy no matter what you do, yet you keep trying to make them happy, you will start to lose your mind and your power.

In this article, I’m going to touch on a somewhat harsh truth:

No matter what you do, you will never be good enough for someone who is manipulative or controlling.

But don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging with that gloomy thought. The reality is that for individuals who are emotionally or psychologically abusive, your efforts will always fall short. You might experience fleeting moments where they seem content, but those are rare and short-lived.

Even if you somehow decipher exactly what they want and need, and you go out of your way to meet those needs, they’ll just come up with more demands. It’s a never-ending cycle.

You see, the goalposts are always moving. You’ll never be smart enough, attractive enough, or capable enough to satisfy them because, frankly, it’s an impossible task. Trying to please someone who will perpetually find faults in your actions or your very presence is a road to nowhere.

Such relationships are not about mutual growth or happiness; they’re about how much energy you can pour into them so the controlling or manipulative person can maintain their power over you.

Manipulative and controlling people thrive on power. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to them or if you’re the most wonderful person on earth. In their eyes, you’ll never measure up. They embed these false perceptions deep within you, making you feel perpetually downtrodden.

I’m not talking about clinical depression or anything like that; it’s about how your actions and efforts to show love and care are suppressed, causing you to feel constantly disheartened.

These individuals don’t want you to realize that they’re aware of your care and effort. They don’t want you to know that they understand when you’re right or that you might indeed be the best thing that’s ever happened to them. After all, if you gained that level of self-esteem and confidence, they fear they might lose control over you. And that’s the last thing they want.

By maintaining their control, they fulfill a need within themselves that you could never satisfy. This need is to evade their own fears, insecurities, and issues they refuse to confront or even acknowledge.

They won’t seek therapy, they won’t open up to you, and they certainly won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable. Instead, they choose to dominate, exert power, and sometimes be aggressive or outright mean. They control you, sometimes subtly through psychological manipulation, by shifting the blame onto you.

The result is that your energy is consumed by self-reflection, trying to improve, to be healthier, and more loving. But it’s an exercise in futility. I’ll say it again: you will never be good enough for such a person.

That’s not a reflection of your worth. That’s a testament to their character.

When people enter your life with a cloud of self-doubt hovering over them, declaring things like they’re not smart or attractive enough or that they can’t achieve their goals, it’s natural for those who are caring and healthy to counter those negative self-assessments.

Healthy, supportive people encourage the ones they care about with affirmations, telling them that they are indeed capable, attractive, and worthy. They’re driven to uplift them, to help them see the greatness in themselves that they might be overlooking.

In a nurturing relationship, you should feel supported, not inadequate.

A loving partner will help you see the best in yourself, not belittle you or make you feel inferior. They won’t resort to name-calling or constantly criticize you. Instead, they’ll be your cheerleader, encouraging you to embrace the best version of yourself because that’s what they see in you.

If they don’t see your value, it begs the question: why do they choose to stay?

Consider this scenario: if my partner was constantly putting me down, insulting me, and making me feel terrible about myself, I’d have to ask her, “Why on earth would you want to be with someone you find so disagreeable?”

It’s a legitimate question. Why would someone who seems intent on undermining and controlling you want to remain in a relationship with you? It’s perplexing unless you view it through the lens of control and manipulation, where you’re being kept around to serve their agenda.

The kind, compassionate, and generous person often becomes the target of this type of manipulation. A person like this might try even harder to please their controlling partner, which is why such relationships can endure.

However, the unfortunate truth is that this dynamic rarely changes. It persists until the person being controlled takes a stand, whether by leaving or confronting their partner with the question, “If I’m so terrible, why are you still here?”

Or perhaps they need to ask themselves why they remain in a situation that’s detrimental to their emotional and psychological well-being and potentially their physical safety.

Abuse can escalate, although sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it may be because the abuser knows that physical violence could be the breaking point that drives the victim away.

This is another form of control. The abuser may consciously avoid physical violence, understanding that it could lead to the end of the relationship. They need to maintain control for their own psychological and emotional stability, and losing that control is not an option. That’s why, following a breakup, the controlling person might quickly enter a new relationship, appearing blissfully happy because they’ve found a new person to dominate.

The former victim may feel inadequate, believing the abuser has found someone “better.” But the reality is the new partner is not better; they’re just unaware of the manipulative patterns they’re about to experience.

Remember, the initial stages of a controlling relationship can seem wonderful, but over time, the situation deteriorates. The abuser’s new relationship may look perfect on social media, with declarations of love and plans for the future, but it’s likely just a repeat of the cycle.

Indeed, it’s entirely possible for someone to move on, get married, and start a family. But let’s not forget the mechanics at play here. A manipulative individual is adept at crafting an illusion for the outside world, presenting a facade of a perfect inner world. They’re skilled at donning a mask of charm, friendliness, care, and love. Yet, within the confines of their relationship, they remain unchanged.

Unless they seek therapy and undergo a personal transformation, they are the same person, and a new relationship won’t alter that. They’re likely to seek out someone just as loving and caring as their previous partner, someone who will strive ceaselessly to meet their insatiable needs. Thus, the cycle of emotional abuse is doomed to repeat itself.

And let me tell you, I’ve received countless emails from individuals observing their former partners in new relationships, seemingly happy and content. Of course, they appear that way. The onset of such relationships is designed to be intoxicating, pulling the unsuspecting victim into a sense of safety, comfort, and love. Once love has taken root and commitment sets in, if one partner is controlling, they’ll leverage this to their advantage, maintaining the illusion of a perfect relationship for the world to see while the reality remains hidden.

This facade can be particularly painful for those who have tried their hardest in the relationship, only to realize that their efforts were never going to be enough. The next person to fall into this trap will face the same relentless struggle, striving to please someone who only offers fleeting moments of satisfaction to keep them hooked and in a state of perpetual submission.

Those caught in such dynamics often attempt to reclaim their power through appeasement, hoping that by satisfying the dominant partner, they’ll experience those rare, euphoric moments when it seems like genuine love and connection have returned. But the pattern is cruelly repetitive: any semblance of affection is withdrawn, the faults are laid at their feet, and they find themselves striving once again to make things right.

I receive messages from people worn down by years of such cycles. They reach out after enduring long enough to recognize the red flags, sometimes decades into a relationship. Over time, they’ve developed a heightened tolerance, normalizing unhealthy behavior, which takes a toll not just mentally and emotionally but physically as well.

It’s impossible to truly enjoy life when someone holds power over you, preventing you from feeling safe, connected, or loved.

That’s why recognizing early warning signs is crucial. I’ve discussed this on a previous episode of Love and Abuse, providing insights into spotting red flags. It’s about addressing these issues early on rather than letting them fester and grow into patterns that can last a lifetime. Of course, I focus on identifying red flags in every episode of the show.

What exactly are these red flags, you ask? I received an email once where someone pointed out that while I mention red flags, I don’t always list them out. But the truth is, each episode may tackle a single red flag: intimidation, bullying, and the like.

There are countless red flags, but I like to distill them into one core question:

Is this person trying to make me feel bad?

Or even deeper:

Are they trying to make me feel bad about myself?

When you’re with someone who professes to like or love you, who claims they respect you and want to spend their life with you because they care about you, yet their words make you feel bad or sad, it’s time to question their motives.

This is the essence of all red flags. If a person’s intent seems to be to make you feel bad about yourself, to see you sad rather than happy, that’s the ultimate red flag. It’s the sum of all red flags, whether individually or collectively.

You don’t need The M.E.A.N. Workbook to figure this out. Sure, the workbook has like 200 checkboxes for things like guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, and feeling responsible for all the relationship problems. Check, check, check!

But really, all you need to ask yourself is:

Do I feel bad more often than good in this relationship?

What’s the ratio for you? Is it 90/10? 80/20? 50/50?

If you tell me you’re unhappy 95% of the time but that remaining 5% is so good that it keeps you hanging on, then I’m going to tell you straight up that’s not an equal partnership. That’s not a loving, caring, compassionate relationship.

If you’re unhappy most of the time, that’s a red flag that demands serious consideration for your well-being. This could mean leaving, temporarily or for good. It might mean staying but insisting on therapy, or it could mean demanding serious accountability from your partner.

But it definitely involves embracing your inner strength, not drawing power from them, but tapping into the power within you that you may not know is there. It’s about making it clear that if they don’t change their ways, you’re ready to walk away.

I’m not instructing you to do this; I’m saying you feel this need for self-respect deep down inside. When they try to make you feel bad again, you’ll recognize it and decide to do something about it, to speak up.

It goes without saying that confronting certain abusive people can be dangerous if they are prone to aggression or violence. I hope that if you’ve been with someone long enough, you can gauge if they’re capable of such behavior. However, there’s always a risk involved.

That risk might be emotional, or it might involve hearing something painful. Or, in the worst case, it could escalate to aggression or violence.

It’s crucial to be prepared for any outcome. Ideally, the person you’re with is non-violent, but it’s important to be aware that if they’re violent toward others, that behavior could eventually be directed at you. That’s a general rule of thumb to keep in mind. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but there’s a pattern that’s hard to ignore: the way someone treats others is often a preview of how they’ll eventually treat you.

Sure, there are those who are charming to the outside world but turn into something entirely different behind closed doors.

Dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde personality is unsettling, to put it mildly. They’re the ones who manage to convince everyone they’re a saint, but at home, they’re anything but. Living with such a stark contrast can force you to make some tough choices, especially when you’re the only one who sees their true colors.

Let me tie this together with a snippet from an email I received, which really drives home the point about never being able to satisfy a manipulative person. The sender of the email shared that she often caves to her partner’s preferences in movies, dining, and vacations. She’s resigned to his choices because standing up to him is just too draining. It’s a classic case of control, where her voice in the relationship is silenced.

She further explains that her partner will argue incessantly to create the “perfect experience.” But let’s be real: if someone’s not respecting your boundaries, it’s not about perfection; it’s about control.

When ‘no’ isn’t taken seriously, and your desires are constantly overridden, that’s not care. That’s coercion.

The email goes on to explain how he criticizes her table settings and wardrobe in public, throws a fit when he doesn’t get his way, and accuses her of being mean or preventing him from having fun.

These are manipulation tactics designed to keep her off-balance and out of the decision-making process.

The email reminded me of a classic ‘Simpsons’ episode where Homer gives Marge a birthday gift that turns out to be a bowling ball—with his name engraved on it.

It’s comical in a cartoon, but in real life, such behavior is a glaring sign of a controller’s mindset: even on your special day, it’s still all about them.

When you’re with someone who gifts you things that are really for themselves, it’s a red flag that you’re in an unhealthy dynamic. Sometimes, the level of manipulation is so intense that the only option is to make a significant change or leave. Other times, it’s an occasional issue that can be addressed.

A truly caring partner would apologize and make efforts to change after hurting you, not continue the cycle of disrespect and control. So, stay vigilant for these control tactics. It’s vital for your well-being to recognize when you’re being stripped of your decision-making power and to understand that it’s not a sign of love or care but of someone trying to dominate the relationship.

When you find yourself in a situation where your opinions and boundaries are consistently disregarded, you’re faced with a critical decision. The choices you’ve been making, if they’re within the context of such a relationship, are not serving you well. If your happiness and your voice don’t matter to your partner, then you’re in a tough spot, and it might be time for some serious reflection.

It could be that therapy is a necessary step for you, or maybe it’s time to present an ultimatum. You might need to make it clear that unless there’s a change in behavior, you can’t stay.

It’s essential to demonstrate the seriousness of your position because, up to now, your partner may have underestimated your resolve. In a relationship characterized by control, if you haven’t taken a firm stand, your partner likely won’t take you seriously, believing they still hold the reins.

If you’re considering addressing these issues in your relationship, proceed with caution. Remember, if there’s any risk of violence or aggression, prioritize your safety above all else. If, however, you’re in a position where dialogue is possible, and your partner shows a willingness to engage in meaningful conversation without steamrolling over you, then you might have an opportunity to broach the subject.

But if your thoughts and feelings are consistently ignored, it may be time to shift from talking to taking action for your own well-being.

Empower yourself. Work on building your self-esteem and self-worth.

It’s crucial to fortify yourself so that you’re not dependent on someone who has undue influence over your happiness. Don’t wait for them to hand your power back to you; they’re unlikely to relinquish it voluntarily.

Often, the only time a controlling person might let go of their power is when the relationship is genuinely at risk of ending. It’s a daunting step, but it’s far preferable to enduring years of control and manipulation.

Now, let’s consider some questions that might help you gain clarity, whether you ponder them internally or bring them up in your relationship.

For example, you might ask:

“Do I genuinely have a say or a choice in what we do?”

If your partner assures you that you do but then adds a ‘but,’ you can assert, “Okay, as long as I have a say or a choice, this is what I choose.”

When they start to protest, remind them that they’ve just acknowledged your right to choose.

This line of questioning can provide concrete evidence for you to reference when making decisions. Knowing for certain whether you have a voice in the relationship can be incredibly revealing.

Another question to consider asking is:

“If you find me so unbearable, why do you stay?” or
“If you believe I’m a liar, why be with someone who lies?”

These questions address the common tactic of controllers and manipulators:
Projecting their behaviors onto you, forcing you to defend yourself, and diverting attention from their actions.

Lastly, you might ask:

“If you think I’m attacking you, why would you want to be with someone who attacks you?”

Through these questions, you can see the strategy: to uncover the truth and redirect the focus where it belongs.

Flipping the script and posing questions back to your partner can be a game-changer in a relationship where you often find yourself on the defensive.

Controllers are adept at asking questions like, “Why would you make me unhappy?” or “Why do you want me to feel bad?”

They project your feelings back onto you, expecting you to justify yourself. But instead of falling into that trap, try responding with a question of your own.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all tactic. And these conversations can be tough! But when you ask something like, “If you believe I’m attacking, why stay with someone who attacks you?” you might just uncover some enlightening truths.

Keep these insights in your back pocket; they’re invaluable for making informed decisions. Consider the manipulative phrase, “You made me yell at you.”

It’s a classic blame-shifting tactic that implies you control their actions, which is patently false. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior.

If you chose to respond to that by saying, “You’re right, I made you yell at me. I’m surprised you have no control over yourself,” you wouldn’t only catch them off guard but also force them to confront their own irrationality.

They might either admit a lack of self-control, revealing a vulnerability. Or they’ll have to backtrack on their initial accusation, which might essentially give away their manipulative behavior.

Sometimes, you might apologize only to be told, “Your apology isn’t sincere.”

If that was said to me, my response might be, “Why would you stay with someone who isn’t sincere?”

And if they’re attacking your character, ask them, “Why would you be with someone whose character you don’t respect?”

These questions can disarm them and provide clarity.

To cover an even more important issue, if you’re more afraid of your partner’s outbursts than the prospect of being alone, it’s time to shift your focus.

Instead of putting all your thoughts into a fear of being alone, your time would be much better spent fearing the possibility of a future where you can’t be yourself, and you’re not in control of your life.

His behavior is now a known quantity. If you haven’t seen him change, don’t expect him to anytime soon. That doesn’t mean he can’t. It just means you can move forward without waiting for him to do what he needs to do for himself and everyone else.

You will never, ever be good enough for someone who’s controlling and manipulative simply because their standards are unattainable. When you embrace that realization, it liberates you from the futile effort of trying to please an unpleasable person.

To close, I want to encourage you to take moments for yourself for some self-reflection. Ask yourself if you’re truly okay being with someone who doesn’t care about your desires and needs.

How you answer this question is crucial. It will guide you in making decisions that lead to a healthier, happier state of being. For those trapped in the fog of emotional abuse, control, and manipulation, these questions can provide the clarity needed to trust in your decisions and move toward a better future.

Share this with others who might find it beneficial.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Host of Love and Abuse and The Overwhelmed Brain

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