One of the most painful forms of relationship stress is walking on eggshells with someone you love and want to please. Not feeling safe to tell the truth for fear of setting someone off means that person is successfully controlling your behavior for his/her benefit. It's a form of manipulation.
It takes two to make a relationship, whether it's a healthy one or not. When one person constantly has hurt feelings, he/she may be using so-called "sensitivity" to guilt-trip and control. Here's an example.
Sensitivity Or Manipulation?
Josie was married to Fred, a man who was offended by everything she said, and pretty much everything she did. His “sensitivity” to insult and discomfort would erupt without warning and made her life a misery.
“Sometimes Fred would come home from work, find me happily playing with the kids and feel hurt. Just seeing us happy without him put him in a angry mood. He was always looking for reasons to be offended, and I was always the one at fault.”
You Don’t See It Coming
Josie never knew what was going to “hurt” Fred. Her playing with the kids at the end of the day seemed innocent to her, but Fred raged because no one paid enough attention to him. He wanted to be included no matter what they were doing. He felt left out if others were happy. Talking on the phone with her mother or a co-worker or friend after dinner seemed innocent to Josie. But this activity hurt Fred's feelings because he felt ignored even if the call was short.
Fred felt he had to be the center of attention all the time. Going to a movie when Fred was at a meeting or out of town seemed innocent to Josie especially if it was a movie she knew he'd hate. To Fred, Josie was depriving him of the experience of seeing it with her. She was showing disrespect by going to something without him.
Wearing a red dress seemed innocent to Josie. To Fred, it meant she was disrespecting him by looking temping or adorable to others. Josie was a fair person, eager to please. She tried to figure out what was going wrong every time it happened, and thought at first it might be her. Fred habitually took offense at anything Josie did that gave her happiness not attached to him, or expressed her own views or wishes. Fred felt these actions were direct hits to his emotional well being. Josie was powerless to assure him that wasn’t the case.
Destructive Conditioning Wears A Person Down
Josie worked hard to anticipate Fred’s reactions and consider his feelings so he would stop erupting, but she could never anticipate enough. Josie found that she was walking through a mine field of Fred’s sensitivity--constantly apologizing, trying to smooth things over and make him understand that she hadn’t meant anything by whatever had offended him. In his eyes she was the bad guy. He was the victim. She began seeing herself as a hopelessly insensitive and unlovable person.
Super Sensitivity Is Also A Red Flag For Addiction To Drama
In reality, though Fred claimed he wanted peace and tranquility, he loved feeling offended. He loved the drama and the fights. He'd be energized by them while Josie would be shattered. Fred used his “sensitivity” to dominate and control Josie. Fred made it appear that Josie had the power to hurt him, but he was always the one pulling the strings.
Recognizing Someone Will Never Be Happy
Over time Josie began to understand that no matter how perfect she tried to make things for Fred he would never be satisfied. It was up to her find a solution. Ultimately her solution was to leave him. It took more than a year to prepare for her exit and a new life. Josie made her transition carefully and with the help and support of those who truly love her.
Making the decision leave a controlling person who can't change requires a plan, support from therapists, lawyers, family, friends, and others who can back you up, help you cope with reality, and protect you. If you are at risk for violence, call the national victims of abuse hotline.