Image Management

By susanpeabody 04/19/18

"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image." Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island

Some people get into a relationship and want to (1) make their dreams come true, (2) diminish their fear of loneliness and abandonment, and (3) avoid losing their partner. Controlling is how they do this because deep down they lack the self-esteem they need to just be themselves and let their partner do the same. Or they don't know how to move on when it turns out the person they love is not right for them..

Most of the controlling techniques used in fragile relationships are passive-aggressive in nature (manipulative rather than direct demands for control). This is because:

⋅ The person may be using controlling techniques learned during childhood when he or she was powerless to exert more direct forms of control.

⋅ For females, passive-aggressive controlling techniques are part of their cultural legacy. Having lived for centuries with the burden of social powerlessness, women have learned how to manipulate as a way of gaining culturally accepted power within a relationship. (At one time this protected women and gave them some badly needed freedom, but today it is an outdated way for women to relate to men.)

⋅ While some people have a strong need to control, they do not want to risk going too far and driving their partner away. Therefore, manipulation seems safer than outright attempts to control.

⋅ Because passive-aggressive controlling techniques are usually harder to recognize and identify, they are easier to rationalize or deny. This makes them more tempting as methods of control.

You can find a complete list of controlling techniques in my book Addiction to Love. But the most common one is image management.

Image Management

Image management is what some people do to control someone's impressions of them through what amounts to deceit and dishonesty, or just hiding who they really are. When they are just getting to know someone, they try to:

⋅ Filter out information about themselves that may not look good.

⋅ Tell outright lies about who they are or what they have done in the past.

⋅ Tell too much about their "miserable existence" as a means of soliciting pity.

⋅ Try to make an all out effort to promote their best side. This means spending a great deal of time and energy looking just right, saying the right things, and being in the right place at the right time. It means being inflexible and a perfectionist. This is much more than just putting your best foot forward.

⋅ Become "people pleasers" to seem like an agreeable person and good choice for a partner.

Once they get into a relationship, image managers:

⋅ Try to become the person they think their lover wants them to be (no matter what the cost).

⋅ Give their partner mixed signals. This is because they vacillate between saying what they really mean and what their partner wants to hear. For example, they may initially say "no" to their partner about something and then quickly change their mind if their partner has a negative reaction. Sometimes they even volunteer to do something for their partner (as a way to score points) and then they get angry at their partner when it comes time to deliver.

People who have grown up in dysfunctional homes are almost always image managers. They rationalize this as a normal part of "getting their mate" or "putting their best foot forward," but actually their behavior is motivated by their need to control and the fear that they are unlovable. Therefore, the more insecure they are the more driven they are to protect, promote, or manage their image to ensure the survival of their relationship or keep the attention of a lover. (Children who grow up in dysfunctional homes learn image management early because they are trying to hide the truth about their family. Later it becomes a habitual way of relating to people.)


⋅ If you are an image manager, be more honest about who you are and learn how to be true to yourself. Do not lie or make yourself over just because you are desperate to get someone's attention. Instead, build up your self-esteem so you do not feel the need to hide behind an image or facade.

⋅ Say what you mean and then stick to it. If you say "no," don't change your mind just to keep your partner happy. Don't offer to do things you really do not want to do, or to give people things you really do not want to give them.

⋅ Work on building your self-esteem.

⋅ Find someone that does not need to change to please you and love you just the way you are.

⋅ If you are a people please then stop. Balance the things you do for your partner with what you do for yourself.

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