Unequal Relationships


They hurt. They are almost inevitably part of the spectrum of bullying and abuse. We choose them, unconsciously, because love is inextricably linked to being made to wait, being cast aside and slavishly trying to please the other whilst accepting minimal attention ourselves.

I will out myself on this subject because I have a long history of attracting, and being attracted to, people who only want me when there is something in it for them. To put it another way (and none of this reflects particularly well on me either), I am the kind of person who, through insecurity and willingness to please, is more than capable of going the extra mile for those who, expecting nothing else from their serfs, only contact me when they want something.

I attract selfishness. I attract the domineering. I attract the dysfunctional. I attract the power-mad. I attract, in a word, abuse.

I let people get away with outrageous behaviour because I am too scared to confront them and take the risk of rejection. I let people ignore me, put me a long way down their list of priorities; I even let them insult me and pull my character to pieces in the name of tough love.

Bullies, insensitive people, the domineering and bossy all tend to come with a slightly sinister glamour attached to them. They can be extremely charming and charismatic – and are more than capable of manipulating their inferiors by holding the metaphorical carrot just out of reach.

But, bottom line, it is all about them. You are only useful in so far as you can fulfil one of their needs. You separate existence as a human being with your own rights, needs, desires and character is denied. You are there to please, to serve, to cosset – and that’s the end of it.

The lengthy historical relationship between Royalty/aristocracy and servants, plantation owners and slaves is well-documented, harrowing (in the latter case especially) to read and of genuine social concern. It epitomises inequality in the sphere of relationships most chillingly and accurately.

Most right-thinking people, quite rightly, rail against any form of slavery – but, too often, there is a level of hypocrisy at work in this condemnation: Slavery: evil; servants: oppressive and wrong; but to treat friends and colleagues as inferiors, to expect them to step into the shoes formerly occupied by the serving classes? Well, that’s different, isn’t it? That’s all right because slavery has been banned, so what you are doing to others cannot be thus named…

An unequal relationship (whether between man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, adult and child) is not, to my mind, a healthy one. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it has more in common with dictatorship than relationship. It is not primarily about relating; at the heart of it lies one person dictating the pace and the other obeying.

I, along with an awful lot of other people, tend towards these unhealthy bonds. I am manna from heaven for dictators large and small! I have given in to the buggers, bowed down before them, buffed their extensive egos, fawned and flattered; in fact, I may well have to reach for a bucket (for purging purposes) if I continue this list of servile behaviour! My whole attitude with such individuals has been, ‘You, great high and mighty; me, very small slave.’

To make this totally clear: I am not here talking exclusively about male/female relationships. This tendency goes right across the gender divide – and I have allowed girls (when a child) and women to gain ascendancy over the friendship every bit as much as boys and men.

Only I can insist upon healthy bonds and equal connections in life. No one else can do it for me. Only I can stop myself from running the extra mile when I know full well that such an action is expected but not reciprocated. Only I can stop serving the ego-inflated demi-royalty in our society.

But I can see signs of hope: I do not enjoy being a slave. Constantly walking on eggshells, wallowing in the mud of insecurity and being afraid of rejection if I do not please and obey no longer appeals to me at any level. I have consciously sought equality in my friendships since moving to Glastonbury seven months ago – and I suspect it is no coincidence that I have made more (and, by and large, better) friends in that short half year than I did in the whole seventeen years I spent in my previous house.

I suspect that, by becoming aware of my servile side, challenging it and being willing to overturn it, I can actually change the dynamic in my relationships and insist upon equality.

The quote below is bitter, but I think it reveals a nugget of truth:

My final words: If you do not respect someone as an equal, any claim of relationship is little more than a sham and a lie!

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15 thoughts on “Unequal Relationships

  1. I am naturally assertive…..or have become so. My father was a tyrant but thankfully he lived or worked overseas for much of my childhood. I was bullied as a child and how I wish I could go back in time to smash that thin veneer of dominance and control those ( few) bullies had over me. To have actually smashed the nose of David Thomas. He’s dead now so will never be able to or confront him about his control over me and many others. I was trying to remember when I changed. I can’t, but it certainly was by the time I was in my early twenties ( maybe the EST Training allowed me to realise my true Self?). Now, I am ready to defend myself and others, my metaphorical sword at my side. I don’t let the buggers get away with it. I suppose the outcome is I don’t experience control or people taking advantage because I’m not a victim, not there just to please their whims so I’m not attractive and they move on to find, as you say Ali, a slave. Funnily enough I was thinking about when the balance tipped in my favour, regarding mt dad, yesterday. He had publically ridiculed my mum in front of a queue of people outside a cinema fifteen years ago or so. Apparently this went on for ten minutes, she rooted to the spot in floods of tears and distress while he revelled in the spectacle he created, throwing personal insults at him, enjoying the experience. I found out about it from someone who witnessed this. I felt so sorry for her as she’d retired to bed, still sobbing after five hours. My dad had locked himself in his bedroom and I had knocked on the door and told him I wanted to talk about and for him to apologise to mum. What I got back was a torrent of abuse. Then something snapped within me. It was the fear he had wrought over me. He was now old and I was actually physically stronger so he could, in reality, not physically hurt me like he would do when I was a child. So I said, very politely, ” Could you please open the door so we can talk about your behaviour and apologise to mum or ill kick the door in”. His retort was, ” Piss off you fucking queer!” With just three hard kicks I was in and on him! I grabbed him out of bed by his throat and slid him UP the wall so his face was level with mine as I stood on his covers. He was ashen and looked pathetic. But it also was his shock, I think he realised his oppression was over. He then got my verbal torrent and I dragged him out of the room like snivelling rat….the tide had turned! He treated me like an equal after that. He behaved. I don’t support violence but I think my actions were understandable after 42 years of abuse of me and mum, and it worked.
    I would, and have, stuck up for people since and am certainly ready to defend my right to be treated on an equal basis. Sekhmet!

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    1. For reasons I fail to understand, this comment of yours was put in the Spam bin, Dean. Fortunately I check regularly – and found it. Bloody glad I did! Wow! Powerful, painful and cathartic all in one. Thanks for being so open about such a traumatic, though life-changing, memory. I can see that something was swept away in that moment. As you say, totally understandable after forty-two years of abuse. I suspect my assertiveness has been driven underground, but is now burrowing its way out and to the surface – and comments, like yours, from the other side of that process are both very welcome and hugely reassuring. The first step, it seems to me, is to acknowledge the reality of abuse (as you did) and then to up and challenge those who try it on (again, as you did: good on you!). I am now ready and willing to do this! xxx

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  2. there has been a fair amount of this un-fairness in my life too, and in a way, a little of it still goes on. This is a natural part of most families, I find. Someone will always draw the short straw.
    Solution: we need friends, not families?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed, it can be a part of the familial dynamic – and such hierarchies are very difficult to overturn because such things become habits hard-wired into the brain. However, I think that recognising the tendency can be of aid. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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