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Here is what I wrote when I created this page...
Written 2004. S Hein
I have been thinking about these two words: "Promise me..."
The other day someone I was walking with a young friend who still lives in her parents' house. She told me her boyfriend "made her" promise she wouldn't do something. But shortly thereafter she broke her "promise."
Let's think about what is going on here emotionally. How is the boyfriend feeling when he says "Promise me..."? How is the girlfriend feeling? How does the boyfriend want the girlfriend to feel? How does the girlfriend feel when she breaks her promise? How does he want her to feel and why?
I'd say the boyfriend feels afraid of something. But instead of saying "I feel afraid...", he says, "Promise me..."
I would guess the girlfriend feels pressured when he says "Promise me..." I would guess she also feels manipulated, but she might be less likely to realize it. She might not even realize she feels pressured soon enough to say, "I feel pressured."
To me, this is purely a manipulative way of trying to control someone by making them be afraid of breaking their "promise" and then feeling guilty because they broke it. It is a very subtle form of manipulation, but that makes it all the more important to look out for.
When a person says something like, "Promise me..." they are not telling you how they feel. They are simply trying to control your behavior. They are communicating indirectly and they are not being emotionally honest or emotionally literate.
When a person isn't telling us how they feel, it is especially important for us to concentrate on how we are feeling. For example, if someone says "Promise me...", we could stop for a moment and ask ourselves how we feel when they say that. Then we could communicate our feelings with feeling words and pay attention to how the other person reacts.
This same person told me her mother was always worried about her. Of course, when we care about someone we do worry about them. But how do we communicate our feelings? Do we express them honestly and directly, or do we communicate them indirectly or try to cover them up?
For example, when a boyfriend is jealous and afraid he will lose his girlfriend, does he say this directly, or does he use guilt trips and manipulation to try to keep his girlfriend in the relationship a little longer? And when a mother is afraid of losing control of her daughter or afraid the daughter enjoys spending time more with other people than she does at home, or if she feels hurt that the daughter would rather share things with someone else, does the mother say this honestly and directly? And if she does say it, does she take responsibility for her feelings?
For instance, if the daughter does prefer to share things with someone else, what is the reason for this? Is it because she was born with a bad character? Or is it because the daughter has found better listeners? If the latter is the case, would the mother take responsibility for not being the best listener or would she lay a guilt trip on the daughter for not sharing things with her? Would she want her daughter to feel guilty? And if so, why?
When we feel guilty we feel weak. We feel less able to defend ourselves. We are more vulnerable. This makes us easier to control. That is what people who are trying to control us want.
But let me return to my story...
While my friend and I were walking she said she was afraid her mother would be angry at her when she got home. I asked why and she said her mother would be worried. So I suggested she call her mother and tell her she was still alive. So she did. (Note below)
As my friend expected, the mother said she had been very worried. My friend asked why the mother didn't call her on her cell phone to see if she was okay if she was so worried. The mother said, "I didn't know if you had it with you."
I felt a bit suspicious about this answer. I wondered if the mother was intentionally, though perhaps subconsciously, using her worrying to manipulate the daughter. After years of training, the daughter feels a) afraid the mother will be worried, b) afraid the mother will be angry c) afraid the mother will punish her and d) guilty whenever she comes home later than the mother expects.
It seems to me the mother actually prefers being worried than checking to see if the daughter has the phone and is alright. The motivation would be that as long as she is worried she has a reason to get upset when the daughter comes home. Each time she gets upset, she intimidates the daughter a little more. This makes her a little easier to control. Or so the mother expects, though probably not consciously. It could backfire though, because one day the daughter might get tired of being controlled and she may simply stop letting her mother control her. For example, she might move away if that is what it takes.
At this point in her life, the daughter seems to believe that her mother is worried and upset because she loves her, but it might be more that the mother needs her. One big difference is that when you love someone, you want them to be free to do what makes them happiest. You support them in this. But when you need them, you want them to do what helps fill your own unmet needs. For example, one of your unmet needs might be the need to be in control of something or someone. Another might be the need to feel loved and appreciated.
The daughter probably also has been conditioned to think she deserves to be punished if she stays out later than her mother expects. And she probably thinks her mother is entitled to be worried since she "loves" her so much. And she probably thinks she is responsible for her mother worrying.
So both the mother and the boyfriend are trying, and succeeding, in controlling my friend by using guilt and manipulation. But this is causing my friend a lot of unnecessary stress from the guilt and fear. On some level she is afraid of abandonment by both the mother and the boyfriend. She is afraid of losing them both. She has been raised on fear and guilt. The result is that she is not able to live her life in freedom.
Before the daughter called home she said, "If my mother is worried, she can call me." This might be logical, but at the same time she told me she was afraid that her mother would punish her by taking away more of her freedom.
When I first suggested that she call the mother she said, "I don't want to use any time off my calling card." She wanted to use it to spend it all on talking to her boyfriend, which is completely understandable to me so I offered her my phone card. She agreed to this.
After the mother said how worried she was, she thanked my friend for calling. This pleased my friend. The phone call took less than two minutes, meaning I still had credit left on my phone card. This pleased me. Our little story had a happy ending that day.
This morning I feel frustrated with myself for laying a guilt trip, disguised as a joke, rather than talking about feelings directly.
I was wating to meet three tourism students who came to talk more about my ideas, such as web page for the city. The students came about 20 minutes late and one of them asked if I had been waiting long. I joked and said "Yes, hours, days even!" They were a bit confused. They couldn't tell if I were serious and actually felt upset with them or if I were joking. I am guessing that they don't use this kind of humor much in Argentina.
There was then an uncomfortable moment of silence and I then changed the subject and started asking them about their days.
Now though, about 18 hours later I am thinking about all of this again and feeling frustrated with myself. I regret not saying something more direct and honestly like, "Are you afraid you kept me waiting or that I was feeling impatient?" This would be about the most direct way of starting to talk about all of our feelings but they might or might not have given an honest answer. Or I might have said "No, thanks for asking. Did you have some trouble getting here?" This would have helped them feel relieved and then given them an opportunity to tell me of any little problems they had.
Sadly, I learned to lay guilt trips on people in these kinds of ways and I don't like it. I would like to unlearn it.
Maybe I will show them this. They might think I am over-analyzing or over-sensitive or just generally weird, but that's ok. If I do I will ask them to tell me what they think and how they feel and felt.
Then I will feel better for trying to correct a mistake I made. This may also help raise their awareness. And it may bring us a bit closer. In any case, even it none of that happens, I know that this little article will help someone, somewhere.
|A father's guilt trip on his
daughter, and the effect on her
From a teen