In The Community
One day, after being relentlessly bullied by some kid in elementary school, I went to my mom to complain about the situation, only to be met with an excuse I will probably hear for the next 10 years of my life, “te molesta porque le gustas”…excuse me, WHAT?
Now, at the time, it made perfect sense. Of course he’s bullying me because he likes me! Because “del odio al amor solo hay un paso,” everyone would say. And when I was younger, I would believe it. After all, every depiction of a romantic relationship I saw at the time seemed to confirm that a little bit of violence here and there was peak romanticism.
I remember watching the telenovela “Rebelde” and idolizing Mia Colucci and Miguel Arango’s relationship. It made me feel all fuzzy inside seeing them together. Since I’m a huge nostalgia junkie, I decided to go back and rewatch the entire thing again now that I’m 27. Needless to say, I was utterly impactada as I watched. What the heck, sis?! That dude literally tried to KILL YOU!
Miguel violently shakes and threatens to throw Mia off a cliff. Then, this doesn’t get addressed again for the entirety of the telenovela. Ok, cool.
Intrigued by the shocking revelations I was having by rewatching “Rebelde” and realizing Miguel is likely an undiagnosed sociopath or, at the very least, has some sort of psychological pathology going on, I began taking a closer look at all my teenage crushes, and it all started to make sense.
Ranging from possessive, manipulative douchebags that hide under the mask of being a “good guy” (I’m looking at you, Noah Calhoun from “The Notebook”) to gaslighting psychos that control your entire life and sneak into your room to watch you sleep without your consent (Edward Cullen from “Twilight” was in its own league, really), I realized I was doomed from the start if mainstream media for tweens like me at the time was my main source of information about the real world, which it totally was.
Conventionally attractive male characters who are controlling, jealous, or possessive are often depicted as “romantic” or “passionate” rather than abusive. At the same time, the women who are being mistreated may be shown as “putting up with it” for the sake of love. Add a bit of misinterpreted Catholicism into the mix with the idea that true love forgives and withstands everything and that, for some reason, it has to hurt, and we get a very distorted perception of what a healthy relationship looks like, which unknowingly led me to accept or excuse unhealthy behavior in my own relationships. It was all I ever saw.
Unequal power dynamics, where the man has control over a woman’s life in one way or another, like being their boss, teacher, a much older man, or someone with more money or influence than them, were painted as the ultimate love story. Take, for instance, Don Armando humiliating, abusing, and manipulating Beatriz Pinzón in “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea” only to end up with her, an outcome even the actor himself has said was absolutely wrong.
In reality, when one partner has more power than the other, they may use that power to control, manipulate, or dominate the other person. This inequality can quickly become physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse. Heck, the most blatant forms of abuse are even shown onscreen and STILL romanticized! In “Amor Real,” Manuel beats Matilde on more than one occasion, and they’re somehow still given a happy ever after. Are we going to address that or…? (TRIGGER WARNING)
Amor Real Manuel golpea a Matildewww.youtube.com
Trauma bonding is what happens when an individual becomes obsessed with their abuser, although it is never called that way or addressed at all in most depictions of abusive relationships. It's thought that being in a state of constant fear can result in an excessive release of opiates—a natural painkiller—in the brain. In turn, this state can cause feelings of euphoria or elation while also increasing endorphin production and decreasing adrenaline levels. As a result, victims may become so accustomed to their abuser's mistreatment that they develop a dependence on their continued presence in order to feel normal again. This is often confused with that wild, intense, passionate love we see onscreen. It's not love, it's trauma.
Considerable and often concerning age gaps were also heavily romanticized and supported by the fallacy that “women mature faster than men” to make it seem less creepy. I mean, no one batted an eye when Vivian Ward ended up with Edward Lewis, who is 18 years her senior, in “Pretty Woman.” And I could go on endlessly about the Hollywood age gap. These depictions can create a societal expectation that such relationships are normal and acceptable. They make it difficult for women in these types of relationships to recognize that there may be power imbalances at play. As Demi Lovato said in one of her latest songs:
“Thought it was a teenage dream, a fantasy.
But it was yours, it wasn’t mine.
Unfortunately, after years of being brainwashed into watering myself down to cater to a male fantasy of an "ideal woman," I found out that abuse is not at all romantic the hard way; the way many women do, and some don’t even make it out alive. These skewed ideas of what love or passion looks like have taken years to unlearn, and despite making progress as a society toward identifying and calling out this toxic behavior, some of the most iconic onscreen couples still follow this harmful blueprint of abuse, Nate Jacobs and Maddy Pérez from “Euphoria” being the first that comes to mind.
It is essential to be critical of the media we consume and to remember that media portrayals of relationships are not always reflective of real-life relationships. Healthy relationships should be based on mutual respect, trust, and open communication. If you or someone you know is in a toxic relationship, it’s important to seek help and support. This can include talking to a therapist or counselor, reaching out to a domestic violence hotline (but let’s remember that not all abusive behavior is physically violent), or confiding in your closest friends or family members.
Just remember that you deserve to be in a healthy and happy relationship and that help is always available.
Have you ever met someone who seems overly confident, self-centered, or even downright rude? Maybe someone who constantly talks about themselves, disregards your feelings, or even manipulates situations to their advantage? And, if you're anything like us and countless others, you might've thought, is this person just a purebred a**hole, or is this person a narcissist?
Here's the thing, there's a difference, and it’s important to be able to distinguish between rude and even selfish behavior and narcissistic abuse because the harm caused can be long-term and difficult to recover from.According to mental health professionals, victims of narcissist abuse may display signs of emotional, physical, psychological, verbal, and even physical abuse. Sustained abuse of this kind can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and also include a pervasive sense of shame, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, decreased impulse control, and emotional flashbacks.
What is Emotional Manipulation in Narcissistic Personality Disorder?
Emotional manipulation is the narcissist’s primary weapon. We've all met the occasional jerk - someone who might be blunt, insensitive, or even obnoxious. They might not care much about your feelings or needs at the moment, but that doesn't necessarily make them a narcissist. A jerk can have a bad day, be unaware of their behavior, or simply lack some social graces.
A narcissist, on the other hand, is someone who meets at least five of the nine criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
The DSM-5 states that in order to be clinically diagnosed with NPD, a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and that present in a variety of contexts, must be shown by at least five of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. - exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he, she, or they are “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement (i.e. - unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
- Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e. - takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends)
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
It’s important to understand that this is a deeper issue than just occasional bad behavior. It's a consistent pattern of self-serving behavior with no regard for the harm they are causing others.
Imagine the classic telenovela villain – always plotting, scheming, and manipulating. But in real life, emotional manipulation isn't always that obvious. A narcissist can play the victim, guilt-trip you, gaslight, or make you doubt your own feelings and perceptions.
They know how to pull the strings, often making you feel like you're the one who is always to blame for their bad behavior. They are notorious for manipulating you with surgical precision, and no matter how many receipts you present, they will never take accountability for any of their behavior or the harm they caused.
This is worth noting because the narcissist will make you feel like you’re losing your mind and that perhaps it actually is you who's the problem - newsflash, it’s not you.
Remember this sage advice: "No todo lo que brilla es oro.” Just because someone comes across as charming doesn't always mean they have good intentions. Their charm is just another emotional manipulation tool in their narcissist toolbox. It’s disarming and very effective.
Emotional Manipulation and Latino Culture
In Latino culture, where family and relationships are deeply valued, there’s a unique vulnerability to emotional manipulation. Concepts like 'familia' and 'respeto' might sometimes make it harder to set boundaries or recognize manipulation, as it’s common for us to put others before ourselves.
- Machismo & Marianismo: Traditional gender roles can play into these dynamics. While 'machismo' demands dominance from men, 'marianismo' dictates that Latina women be submissive and sacrificial. A narcissist might exploit these norms to manipulate or control their partners.
- La Familia Above All: In many Latino families, there's an emphasis on maintaining family unity, even at personal costs. A narcissist might manipulate this sentiment, making it challenging for Latina women to distinguish between genuine concern and emotional control.
- Religion and Spirituality:Deep-rooted spiritual beliefs might be used against someone. A narcissistic partner may misuse religious teachings, portraying their manipulative actions as 'for the greater good' or for 'family's sake.'
The cultural focus on communal connections can sometimes mask or justify narcissistic behaviors. But it's essential to recognize that standing up for ourselves doesn't mean we're betraying our values. Saying, “I refuse to put up with this,” is the most self-respecting and self-loving thing to do, despite how incredibly difficult it feels.
Recognizing Emotional Manipulation
Emotional manipulation by a narcissist can be subtle, which is why it’s so dangerous. Oftentimes, you don’t even recognize that it’s happening. Some signs include:
- Gaslighting: Making you question your reality or memories. This can be particularly impactful for Latina women who already juggle between cultural worlds.
- Playing the Victim: They might twist stories so that they’re always the victim, pushing you into a caregiver or fixer role, which many Latinas might feel culturally compelled to adopt.
- Using Love as a Weapon: They might offer affection conditionally or withhold it to get what they want, manipulating the value of deep passion and love.
There’s a myriad of other emotional manipulation tactics they might use; all of which you can check out in detail here.
Protecting Yourself and Healing from a Narcissist
When it comes to safeguarding yourself, the journey kicks off with one crucial aspect: awareness. It's all about recognizing that the norms we hold dear in our cultures can sometimes be twisted and misused. This realization forms the bedrock, but what follows are some down-to-earth tips that can really make a difference:
First up, education. Delving into what makes up Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) equips you to spot its signs early on. It's like having a secret weapon of insight.
Next, seeking support. Friends, family, or even groups of women who've walked similar paths, can be a beacon of light, helping you sort through your doubts and questions. Validation from an unbiased third party can be life-changing because the narcissist is exceptional at making you believe you're at fault or the cause of everything. Their gaslighting is top-tier.
Then there's therapy, a space to navigate the labyrinth of emotions. A therapist, especially one who understands the nuances of our Latino background, can offer invaluable guidance in recovering from a narcissistic abuser. Many therapists agree that recovering from a relationship with a narcissist is one of the hardest types of relationships to recover from because the pain and confusion feel overwhelming. As noted, the behavior is hard to identify, and victims tend to blame themselves and continue to suffer long after the relationship is over.
Last but definitely not least, setting those boundaries. Setting boundaries isn’t just encouraged; it's vital. Despite the weight of cultural expectations, standing up for your own well-being and drawing a line in the sand is a literal line of protection against further abuse.
Armed with these tools, you have the power to avoid narcissistic abuse, or you may realize that you’re a victim of abuse, and cutting off or minimizing your exposure is the only way out. As always, remember you're strong, capable, and worth more than what the narcissist has expertly made you believe. The road to recovery can feel long, but eventually, you get to the other side, and a newer, healthier you is awaiting your arrival.
These days, everything has a label. Buzzwords like "gaslighting" or "lovebombing" might have come across your social media feed or been mentioned in your favorite podcast. As jargon-y as they might sound, these terms are essential to have but also to understand. By putting a name to these behaviors, we begin to demystify them, allowing for open discussions, recognition, and crucially, a means to call them out or in.
Growing up Latina, we often grow up in the shadows of certain behaviors, deeply ingrained and normalized due to the constant influence of machismo in our culture. These practices, inherited from generation to generation or sometimes even demonstrated within our own family dynamics, can begin to chip away at our mental wellbeing, often without us being consciously aware of their impact.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable after having a big fight with your partner, only for them to show up later with an over-the-top bouquet of roses? (Bonus points if it happens in a public place, that way, you won’t turn them down.) Or felt sad and betrayed after having a date you thought was successful, only to find your date has seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again?
In our increasingly individualistic society, emotional responsibility is often overlooked, but we’re slowly making our way toward bringing more and more awareness to it. And a crucial step in this journey is calling out harmful practices that belittle emotions and are potentially manipulative. Let's have a closer look:
Photo by Antoni Shkraba: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-couple-in-a-psychotherapy-session-7579120/
Picture this: You find yourself in a situation where you point out something your partner did or said, only for them to vehemently deny it ever happened, despite your unmistakable memory of the event. Alternatively, if they acknowledge an event occurred, they might belittle your emotions by saying things like, "You're too sensitive," or shift the blame to you, saying that it’s you who misunderstood or misinterpreted the situation.
This psychological manipulation technique is now commonly referred to as gaslighting. It involves the perpetrator making you question your own sanity, experiences, and perception of reality. It’s a tactic often employed in abusive relationships to sow confusion, undermine your feelings and experiences, shift blame, and establish control over you.
To be clear, if this happens to you, you are not “crazy” as they often allege and make you feel. Once you identify you are dealing with a gaslighter, it’s best to try to keep your distance and establish healthy boundaries, or if possible, just cut the person off completely because a gaslighter rarely tends to take responsibility for their actions and the impact of those actions on those around them.
Photo by vjapratama: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-holding-baby-s-breath-flower-in-front-of-woman-standing-near-marble-wall-935789/
Have you ever found yourself in a sudden downpour of affection that felt overwhelming, too coincidental, or almost too good to be true? If so, you might have experienced lovebombing. Lovebombing is a technique in which someone showers you with an excessive amount of love and attention, either to compensate for their abusive behavior, to manipulate you into feeling guilty for receiving such affection and subsequently compelled to reciprocate it, or to prime you for a cycle of giving and withholding which they then use to emotionally manipulate you further.
The ultimate aim is to make you feel deeply indebted and dependent on them, to the point where you cannot imagine life without their presence. This tactic is often accompanied by periods of withholding or "ghosting" you, and, in some cases, even periods of abuse. All these elements are deliberately designed to keep you in a state of confusion, with your adrenaline constantly running, which can lead to an unhealthy emotional attachment.
Ghosting is the art of disappearing without a trace, cutting off all communication without any prior indication. It's a phenomenon that, while initially tied to dating, has spread to friendships and even professional connections. While it may seem like an easy escape for the ghoster, who is someone who potentially lacks emotional responsibility or maturity, it often leaves the ghosted feeling disoriented and hurt.
Photo by Liza Summer: https://www.pexels.com/photo/displeased-diverse-women-in-room-6382686/
In dating lingo, benching refers to someone keeping you in their life but not fully committing, much like a sports player kept on the bench during a game. This can also lead you to get stuck in the dreaded “situationship.” It can feel like they're playing with your emotions, engaging with you just enough to keep your interest piqued, while they explore other options or hesitate to take things to the next level, meanwhile, you’re holding on, thinking that someday they will fully commit.
The person doing the benching may have an underlying fear of commitment, enjoying the attention but hesitant to fully invest emotionally. Some people simply thrive on the thrill of the chase and lose interest once they feel they've won the other person's attention. But always remember, relationships should be built on mutual respect and genuine interest, not on uncertainty and doubt.
Photo by mikoto.raw Photographer : https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-using-mobile-phone-3367850/
Imagine this: The person who ghosted you suddenly starts appearing in your social media notifications. They don't make direct contact, but their sudden presence, liking an Instagram post here, reacting to a story there, makes them hard to ignore. Or your ex, the one who must not be named, who only resurfaces twice a year - once to wish you Merry Christmas and then once more to ask you to pass along birthday wishes to your mother on his behalf.
This behavior is commonly referred to as haunting, a low-effort attempt to reconnect that can evoke old feelings and create confusion. It’s similar to Zombieing, where they resurface from the dead, only in this case, they aren’t even putting in as much effort as a zombie which really says a whole lot.
Haunting's intermittent and unpredictable nature leads to an emotional rollercoaster, causing anxiety and unsettled feelings. It fosters false hope for reconciliation, only to disappoint when genuine efforts to rebuild the relationship don't materialize. This emotional tether to the past hinders moving on and finding closure. This is where leaving the dead permanently blocked really comes in handy.
Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-pulling-a-condom-out-of-a-pocket-6474007/
While stealthing is often mentioned alongside all these other dating terms, it’s important to mention it goes far beyond simple dating jargon and is, in fact, dangerous and physically abusive. Stealthing involves the non-consensual act of removing or tampering with a condom during sexual activity without the knowledge or agreement of the other person. Originally associated with cisgender men's actions during penetrative sex, the term now includes the non-consensual removal of any barrier during any sexual activity.
Stealthing profoundly damages relationships, shattering trust and consent. It leads to feelings of violation, shame, and powerlessness, with lasting emotional trauma. The risk of STIs and unintended pregnancies adds further strain.
Stealthing is not a slip-up or a minor inconvenience; it is a form of sexual assault that violates a person's boundaries, trust, and consent, and at least one state, California, has made it illegal to do it.
Emotional manipulation is ever-present and ever-evolving. Therefore, giving a name to these sneaky tactics, no matter how they sound, is always essential. Being able to identify when someone is behaving in a way that is manipulative and/or emotionally abusive is the first step in being able to then respond in a way that protects your well-being and mental health.