When you think about exploitation, you may think of a child abuse case from the news, or human trafficking in impoverished countries. But have you thought about how it occurs in relationships and families close to you? Exploitation is the mistreatment of others in order to benefit from their work/life. Exploitative relationships consist of one party taking advantage of another, using an imbalance of power to control another, or to unrightfully benefit from another’s vulnerabilities. If you missed Users and Abusers: Understanding Exploitive Relationships Part 1, click here.
You may find yourself in the type of relationship at home or at work that is exploitive in nature. You feel unfairly mistreated, lacking in equal powers or freedoms, and beholden to anything he says or does. This is less of a partner type relationship and more of an owner-slave type relationship. Or at least, that is often how you feel.
You may find yourself wondering, “Why does he say those hurtful things?” and “Why does he do the selfish things he does?”
What Drives the User/Abuser?
- Power: Men (and sometimes women) who exploit others for personal gain can be motivated by an insatiable need for power. Feeling weak, insufficient, or vulnerable is so intolerable to them, they would do most anything to avoid it. The shame that accompanies weakness and vulnerability is too overwhelming to bear, so they push and force their way into power and control positions. Whether in the family, in friend circles or at work, they must feel in control or they start acting out.
- Protection of Ego: An exploitive person may not always have the means to curate power in every situation. But his ability to protect his fragile ego is always top of mind. The ego of exploitive people is so fragile, any unwanted feeling like sadness, fear, worry or jealousy quickly turns to anger as a means of self-protection. Since his ego is unstable and unsure, he lashes out to blame, penalize and make others feel bad to make himself feel better. Offending his ego may evoke a severe mood shift or even attack.
- Image: Keeping a desirable image is supremely important to an Exploitive Person. Users are extremely concerned with how others view them. A propped up Image takes different forms, however. Each User needs others to seem him/her in a desired way. Some users want to be viewed as the wealthiest, the most intelligent, the most successful, the most athletic, the most upstanding, or just the best. Others like to be admired as the hero, the savior, the boss. If they can’t be seen as one of these winningest characters, then they will take the role of the victim- the most villainized, most ignored or treated most poorly of everyone.You are most desirable if you can add to that image, and you are most despised when you threaten it. For example, if the User you married wants his mother to believe that he is happily married and a doting husband, he may be especially sensitive to your needs in front of his mother. You might even say to yourself, “I knew he had a caring side!” However, if the User you married wants the guys at work to see him as more of an unencumbered playboy, he may stay out all night without talking to you about it first. If he wants to be viewed as successful and generous, he may buy those same guys rounds of drinks, spending your entire budget trying to impress them. Though each User is different, each is highly protective over his image.
Power, Ego-Protection and Image are all powerful motivations for an exploitive person, and recognizing these motivations will help you clarify the role you’ve been playing in the relationship. Seeing the truth about the exploitive nature in your relationship will help you set appropriate boundaries and eventually gain the confidence you need. You may be holding on, thinking that his caring and generous side is enough for you to stay, even if you rarely see it enacted toward you. However, beware that his desire for Power, Ego and Image will always outrank you.
If you wonder if you are with an exploitive person, take the Relationship Quiz here. Even though the person you are with may disguise his exploitive actions as benign, it is important for you to see and know the truth of your relationship. Only then, will you have the power to take necessary steps toward health and happiness.