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The battle against letting people manipulate us with guilt

I just finished The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss.

One scene had a significant impact on me.

Neil’s wrestling against Sage’s attempts to use guilt to manipulate him

Just when Neil felt like he was finally getting his shit together, Neil’s ex-girlfriend Sage, got cold feet some time after her breakup with Neil.

One random day Sage arrived at his doorstep, with her luggages — and the message that breaking up with him was a big mistake — in tow. After failing to convince him to take her back with rational arguments, she starts using guilt.

I spent all my savings to fly here. I have no place to stay. Can’t you at least let me stay the night?? (Listen to this scene)

This was the most extreme use of guilt I’ve ever heard.

I felt how difficult it must have been to refuse this person… A person who suffered and sacrificed a lot to be there in front of him, begging. A person he used to love.

Even though Neil didn’t ask for any of this and he no longer loves her, he wants to be compassionate. He doesn’t want to hurt her.

But to give in to Sage is what it means to let people use guilt to manipulate him to get what they want.

I was driving on my way to work while listening to this scene and a street kid approaches my car with a squeegee…

“Barya lang po”

My windshield doesn’t need cleaning and the kid’s service is unwanted. I communicate this to him. I knock at my window to tell him I don’t want my windshield cleaned. I blow my horn.

He ignores me, puts soap on my windshield, and starts cleaning anyway… Not only without my consent, but against my wish.

After he finishes, he asks me to pay him. I refuse.

He puts on a sorrowful expression and says, “barya lang po,” which translates to “just spare change.” But actually means… All I ask of you is some spare change. After the time, energy, and soap I spent cleaning your windshield… You are a fucking cheap jerk.

He slams my window before walking away.

The constant battle of not letting people manipulate us with guilt

Letting a person manipulate you with guilt is when someone does something “for” you without your consent, and demands that you pay for it.

Sage spends all her savings to fly to Neil’s home and demands he compensate by loving her back into his life.

The street kid cleans my windshield against my wish and demands I pay him for it.

Parents bring their kids to life, work and sacrifice hard to give them a comfortable living…

And in return, expects the kid to pay for all that — by doing what they want him to do. Being who they want him to be. Living where they want him to live. Loving who they want him to love.

Regardless of what the kid wants and what’s best for him.

I mean, it’s nice of the parents to do this for the kid. Literally, nobody else can give him the gift of his life. And of course, like any generous act that adds value, the kid can reciprocate with love, effort, and money.

But if a parent is demanding equal reciprocity, the reality is no amount of time, money, and energy can compensate. Ever. It’s impossible.

For a parent to bear a child and expect the child to pay by spending his life fulfilling the parent’s every demand is not an act of generosity, but of manipulation.

It’s worse than outright slavery. With slavery, we at least know the slave owner is the bad guy.

With manipulation, the parent gets to play the generous person, while the kid gets to spend the rest of his life, either paying for this impossible debt or forever bearing the guilt of being an ungrateful jerk.

This post first appeared on Medium.com.