I hate manipulation. I loathe the duplicity which comes with using a person’s nobilities or fears or pre-occupations to get the result that the manipulator wants. There is such dishonesty in that; such a lack of integrity. And integrity is something that I value highly, in myself and in others.
But here’s my confession: there was a while that I was deliberately manipulative. And despite the weight of shame that I carry around with me, there’s a big part of me that doesn’t even feel guilty.
When I first joined the choir, it was made very clear to me at home what my responsibilities were, where my priorities should lie – and it wasn’t with the choir. Where my priorities would lie, and what the consequences would be if I chose to put them elsewhere. Not that it was stated in so many words. But by then – after eight fraught years in a war-zone of a marriage – I was pretty good at reading between the lines.
So, to be able to attend rehearsals and services, to be able to put time and energy into practise, I became manipulative. I used – quite deliberately – my now-ex’s self-absorbtion and alcohol-induced memory lapses: “Don’t you remember saying I could sing Evensong this week? I asked you specially”; “I did tell you about the extra rehearsal this week. You said I could go. I’ve told them I’m going, I can’t pull out now”. I used his fear of discovery: “People will think something’s wrong if I don’t sing this morning, you’ve got to let me go”. In order to be able to sing in the choir – the thing that kept me going, literally keeping me alive – I became a duplicitous, manipulative liar.
It didn’t stop me being punished for the things that he’d “said” I was allowed to do – it just meant that I got to do them first. I was quite willing to pay whatever the price ended up being if it meant that I was able to do the one thing that actually nurtured me in my life. And I was willing to compromise my integrity for it, too.
I’m not proud of this. I’m ashamed and horrified at my own behaviour, my own capacity for deliberate and targeted manipulation. It’s something for which I don’t like myself, and something for which I’m struggling to forgive myself.
But a big part of me is defiant, too, and refuses to feel as guilty as I know I should. Because no one else I know has to lie and manipulate to be allowed to do something that feeds and protects and nourishes them. No one else I know needs to negotiate, and ask permission, to do something they want to – no one over the age of about fifteen, anyway. And no one else I know – no one at all – gets punished for doing something that makes them happy.
As is often the case, I don’t know what to do with all of this. I don’t know how much blame to apportion and how much to censure myself for my own auctions, necessary as they might have been – and were – for my own survival and escape. I do know that I have to forgive my ex for making that behaviour necessary.
And – and this bit’s just as hard – I have to forgive myself. And – even harder – I have to keep singing.