May 12, 2014

The Boot Camp effect.

I had two and a half paragraphs written up about money and how I am the queen of bill collector calls, etc.  I even had a Pink Floyd video ready to go.  Then Mother's day happened.  

I guess I pour all this out to find some clarity or maybe it's all just psycho-therapy.  At this point it's one of the few things that keeps my head straight and bits of the anxiety at bay. 

I've been studying human behaviors and why people do things or say things.  A good friend of mine and I psychoanalyze one another on the regular, she and I tend to be each others' mirror.  There are some behaviors I'm familiar with simply because I've seen/dealt with enough people with those patterns.  There are others that I've seen but throw me off to such a degree that I have to recover from the shock of being exposed to it.  One thing I have learned about myself:  I am no good at being a step parent.  I have completely failed in the 5 years I've had an active role in this young mans life.  I have made no impact or mark on his character in that amount of time.  But he has certainly made a mark on me.  

Websters definition of manipulate:

Full Definition of MANIPULATE

transitive verb
:  to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner
a :  to manage or utilize skillfully
b :  to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's own advantage
:  to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose : 

There are a lot of ways to manipulate a person or situation.  When it is part of someones life, it becomes a cycle that is ingrained in children as well as the adults who rear them.  Very often if there is no strong interference, the child becomes a better manipulator than the parent or guardian that instilled the behavior. I was raised on brutal honesty and overt humility.  It was rough at times but it has made me a functional adult who puts everyone ahead of me.  I'm not saying this is exactly healthy either, but there is a balance between overt selfishness and martyrdom.  

I've read articles on the manipulative child and how to combat such, but what I am dealing with is no child.  This a grown young man who has been taught by both learned and inherited means to manipulate situations and people.  In his world, treating someone ill is rewarded while treating someone well is an act of weakness and weaknesses exist to be exploited.  There exists a constant reward/punish cycle that is prevalent in every aspect of his behavior.  I've noticed over the last couple of years that in order for him to to allow himself to get along with one parent he must balance it with doing something disrespectful to the other.  There has not been a point where both parents were satisfied with the child at the same time.  They are accustomed to this because that's how it's always been.  I am not, and I've been caught in this web that I don't understand.  This weekend was a huge wake up call for me, I have been lumped into the "weak" category and successfully trod upon. 

I don't expect much from him as he is not my child, I didn't raise him so I have no reason to expect him to behave in a manner that I'd direct.  I came into his life very late so there was no real "mothering" to be done on my part.  Instead I've tried very hard to take a role of confidante, or even a sort of friend.  I still have issues with adults and children being friends, but I get as close I can.  Have I blown up on him from time to time?  Yes.  And it's almost always for the same reason, he takes full and complete advantage of me and my role in that house.  At most, I expect someone who is a legal adult to do what they are told immediately and without question-this doesn't happen.  At the very least I expect the few things I ask to be done without a fight and without repeated reminder-this also doesn't happen.  Apparently I am expecting far far too much.  Let me give you an example of the typical cycle:

10am:  Be told to do something.  Acknowledge it. 
10:30:  Be reminded. Acknowledge it.
11:00:  Get yelled at for it not being done.  React with disgust, anger, and defense.  
11:15:  Do the thing as fast as possible.  Take off in anger to avoid everything.  
1:00:   Come back with a smile and a bribe and resume procrastination.  

This is "normal".  This is how his life has been for the last 19 years.  No matter how his father tries to eliminate this sick perpetuates.  Honey didn't truly realize the boy was playing mother against father until we were talking one afternoon at work.  The realization hit that he didn't believe Honey and Mommy Dearest spoke to one another and compared notes.  He assumed all they ever did was fight.  He continues to play them even now.  When he's living with or happy with one he will change his social media pictures to portray the parent in current favor.  It's a jab at the one he's fallen out of sorts with, whether he's consciously doing it or not.  

I had hoped that walking into his fathers life so late would not put him off.  Apparently I was wrong.  While he seems happy that his father is happy, he does tiny little things to let me know I have invaded his world.  I know I'm not his mom.  I know that.  I know that I don't get the same kudos on mothers day or any other day of the week.  I held false hope that being one of the few women in his life that has not lied to him, mislead him, or manipulated him would garner me some favor in his eyes.  It has actually worked the direct opposite.  Because I have not done those things, and I hold him to a higher standard I am the lucky recipient of...nothing.  In fact I've lost things that were somewhat precious to me, had money taken, been lied to repeatedly, and been not just forgotten on (more than one) mothers day but flat out regarded as nothing worth the time.  In his world, you hurt the person as much as you can then charm your way back into their good graces by telling them all the little things they want to hear.  *That* is learned behavior.  It's an old technique still used by drill instructors today to build recruits. Tear down to the breaking point, then build up in the manner that serves the breaker.  Practiced manipulators do this without conscious effort, it's passed down very effectively during the formative years.  

We expect children to be a little selfish, it's the luxury of being a child.  We expect sons to take a little more advantage of mom than daughters, sons are put on pedestals and regarded with favor because they are male.  That little bit of selfish I can handle, I can take forgotten dishes or dirty floors.  I didn't expect him to spend the day with me.  I didn't expect him to get me anything.  I hoped for the dogs to be fed before he left the house...and perhaps for him to leave with a little less gusto than normal so I could sleep in a bit.  What I got were tears, anger, and hurt first thing in the morning that kept hold throughout the day.  

My lesson has been learned.  You can't break down someone who's already been taken down to their bare metal and rebuilt by the finest.

The expectations are no longer and the hopes are right behind them.  There won't be anymore getting upset over a filthy environment or laundry that I have to find or walk over.  No reminders of what needs to be done or who cares about what animals.  No more tears over forgotten anythings.  I have wasted enough tears on men in my life.  The only way to combat manipulation is to not allow yourself to be manipulated.  Step back, let it all fall around you and just watch it fall.  I can't do anything to change his way of thinking or being, all I can do is change how I react to it and make sure it does not rub off on my child.  All of this does make me very grateful for the open, honest, and selfless child that I have.  Yes she is a teenager and she has teenager attitude, but she is far less of a problem than she could be.  As usual, take from the bad and find the good in it.  Just because I've made no impact on one does not mean that I am not impacting another.  

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