I went shopping with my daughter today. We met a nice, chatty, lady who said she was originally from Iraq although she hesitated to say it. We had a little chat about the clothing we were looking at then went our own ways. A few minutes later I heard the sound of manipulative anger.
Manipulative anger comes out hard and fast but there is a thread of caution in it.
“Did you just call my kids stupid? Why did you call my kids stupid?”
The reply was calm, explanatory, not at all angry. It was the voice of the woman from Iraq. It was too soft for me to hear what she said.
The manipulator took courage. Calm, explanatory people are not dangerous. She got angrier and raised her voice louder in defence of her children.
“They were just playing! You have no right to call them stupid.”
The woman from Iraq sounded like she was trying to defend herself but her voice was too low for me to hear what she was saying.
Manipulator seemed satisfied that her attack was not going to be returned so she upped the ante. She began yelling that nobody had a right to call children stupid.
The woman from Iraq backed down completely and this time I could hear her as she tried to make the other woman hear her apology but the other woman was having fun. She shouted down the apologies and began swearing at the woman from Iraq.
“How DARE you call my children stupid.” she ranted and went on and on until another voice intervened and said they should both leave the cubicles now.
I was outraged. How dare manipulator abuse and humiliate someone who was trying to apologise. As soon as I heard her shouting down the apologies I headed towards the change rooms. I got there too late. The women were gone.
Then I saw the lady from Iraq and I went up to her. I asked her what had happened and she said the other woman’s children had been looking under her change room door so she told them not to be stupid and to go away.
I was incensed on behalf of the woman from Iraq. She should not be abused unfairly so I told her she had every right to say something to the children.
As I spoke I saw a woman staring, aggressively, at us and moving closer to listen to what I was saying. I figured she must be Ms Manipulating Anger so I raised my voice and made sure she could hear every word I said.
It worked. She moved in to sort me out too.
She was, again, angry but with a thread of caution.
“Excuse me”, she said, “you were not there. You did not see. She had no right to call my children stupid!”
I stared her in the eye and stated, as loudly as she had spoken, “She does if your children are looking under the change room door at her!”
I watched Ms Manipulator rethink. She stayed angry but cautious. She raised her voice but stopped short of yelling.
“They were not looking at her! They were playing. They were just crawling on the floor.”
I matched her tone and volume and said: “Well they should not have been crawling on the floor in change rooms let alone looking under the doors!”
Ms Manipulator didn’t want to back down but she was taking me seriously now. She dropped the pose of anger.
“My children are not stupid. They might be bad mannered but she had no right to call them stupid!” She said calmly.
I didn’t buy it.
“If you don’t want them to be called stupid you should teach them not to be bad mannered.” I said, just as calmly.
She pulled out what she thought was her trump card.
“Look at them,” she said, “they are only two and three. You try teaching your kids at that age!”
“I stared her in the eye and said, firmly, “I did! My children were never ALLOWED to play in public change rooms and they certainly were never allowed to look under the doors!”
Ms Manipulative anger was beaten. Her anger had failed to frighten me off so she walked away.
I turned to the woman from Iraq. She thanked me for defending her and I said she had no right to abuse you like that and she needed to be told her kids do NOT have the right to be bad mannered. I told her the woman was extremely lucky her kids had not looked under the door at ME or my daughter and I hoped, by making a scene, I had made the woman think twice about letting them do it again!
My daughter came out of the change rooms and we continued shopping. Each time we ran into Ms Manipulative Anger she would start to glare at me but I met her eyes without fear each time so she always turned away.
I always think of the things I should have said when it is too late to say them.
What I should have said to Ms Manipulative Anger is this.
“Think about how you just treated this woman. Think about how you swore at her and refused to accept her apology and ask yourself how much you are going to like it when, not if, WHEN those two little boys of yours start treating YOU that way!”
There is a good psychological rationale for obeying the religious command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and it resides in our children!
She is teaching them things they will use against her many times in the future. It is not escaping their notice that mum gets her own way by yelling at people or that people back down when mum gets angry. They are absorbing every nuance of how to use anger to get your own way, make other people back down even when they are right and you are wrong, and make yourself feel powerful.
One day, for example, they might want money and she might refuse so they might take it from her purse because that’s the sort of thing kids are likely to do as they get older.
She might ask them if they know what happened to the money and they will use her weapon against her. They will use manipulative anger even better than she does because they will know exactly how loud they have to yell to make her back down!
“Did you just call me a thief?!” they will shout. “How DARE you call me a thief!”
If she backs down and tells them she wasn’t calling them a thief or she tries to explain that isn’t what she meant they will shout her down. If she tries to say she is sorry they will swear at her and there will be no change room attendant to put a stop to THEIR abusive behaviour and rescue HER!
If she KNOWS they took the money and confronts them with the proof they will know how to handle that too. She taught them how today.
They will yell excuses at her. “I forgot to put it back!” or “I thought you said I could have it” or some other excuse followed by “I might be forgetful” or “I might have been mistaken but I am not a THIEF and you have no RIGHT to call me a thief!”
I strongly doubt she will have learned anything from me today so she is unlikely to be able to keep the focus where it should be and say: “I have every right to call you a thief if you take my money without my permission!”
No. She is as much a victim of her own thinking as all her victims have been. She will be just as side-tracked by their anger as her victims are by hers.
As soon as they master the lessons she is unknowingly giving them every time what she wants and what her sons want clashes she will be treated to the exact same manipulative, abusive, anger she just displayed today.
Instead of arguing with her I really wish I had warned her.