Often in our line of work, we enter into the topic of empathy. We talk to some people who don’t have much of it, or don't know what it is, or who would rather not have it as they see it as week to be so touchy-feely.
Then there are others who possess empathy in abundance and wish they could turn it down a little so they wouldn't have to feel so responsible for others. Often our perceptions of mistrust can ruin the compassionate gifts others give to us because we feel there are strings attached. And sometimes there are.
Can someone who is acting from a place of compassionate consideration for others also have a hidden agenda? The answer is "YES" and what we're talking about is really manipulation. Let's explore this for a minute...
If I "give" you a gift I know you'll enjoy, the gift I receive in return is knowing I made you happy. I realize that my gift, once it leaves my hands, is now your gift to receive. I may get my feelings hurt if I expected a huge hug and didn't get one. I also won't act punitive toward you if you tell me it's nice, but it's the wrong size. I'll try to correct the error and exchange it for the right size, but it won't crush my spirt.
But, what if I give you a gift because my happiness is dependent on your reaction? When you don't give me the reaction I want, I will get upset with you and even start a fight. This type of gift has a required obligatory reaction attached to it. There may also be negative consequences if you fail to respond in the expected manner I'm looking for. I can blame you, yell at you, and demand a better reaction. Then when you try to "make me happy" I'll refuse to be happy, which means you have to try harder. Ah! I like this because you are working hard to make me happy, which is really my goal in the first place. The gift was intended to be for my benefit, not yours. What I want is more important that what you want and I don't care how it makes you feel. My feelings are the only ones that count. Your job is to ensure that my feelings are not hurt and that I get everything I want. Your job is only to give to me.
Some people who have deep roots in being responsible for a parent when they were younger will unknowingly attract people who act like the second example. As a child, maybe had a sick parent, an addict, or someone who was abused, abandoned, or harmed in some way in their own childhood. The parent will teach the child to take care of them. The child believes this is normal and will grow into an adult who needs someone to take care of in order to feel fulfilled. This is unhealthy codependency and what drives most abusive relationships.
But, if that same child grows up to be empathetic and caring in a relationship, but also recognizes that they can be taken advantage of, they can learn how to avoid manipulation and set healthy relational boundaries. When two givers find each other it is a beautiful thing; as long as there are no strings attached to the giving.
Below are two documents to help you gain understand about empathy, what it is, how it is different from sympathy, and how to cope when empathy is misunderstood. Empathy is the force for good; manipulation is forced good. And that's not good at all.