We are all guilty of manipulation – it’s one of the first things we learn to do as young children, instinctively crying and going to all sorts of extremes for attention. Psychological manipulation is defined as the “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and privileges at the victim’s expense.” Psychological manipulation involves the use of one person for the benefit of another; not to be confused with social influence, which is a healthy part of constructive relationships. People who manipulate deliberately create an imbalance of power in an attempt to exploit the person. While social influence can be offensive, its intent is to improve the person or the friendship itself.
Manipulative people attempt to be subtle, but spotting them is relatively easy if you know what to look for. People who intend to manipulate will find any weaknesses and attempt to exploit them. They will usually convince you to give up something of yourself in order to benefit them in some way, continuing to do it until the person refuses to allow it. The causes of manipulative behavior are complex and are often related to personality disorders or some type of emotional trauma in the person’s past. In order to prevent oneself from being manipulated, it is imperative to become familiar with some of the methods for its prevention.
One of the most effective ways to deal with a psychologically manipulative person is to remember your fundamental human rights. Inherent rights include a right to be treated with respect, a right to express feelings, a right to have differing opinions than others, a right to say no, a right to have your own priorities, a right to create your own happiness, etc. Recognizing that these rights are boundaries will help you identify when a manipulator is attempting to violate them. Another common way to spot manipulators is by extreme changes in personality between different people. If someone is extremely polite to one person and then extremely rude to another, then it is a possible sign that they are chronic manipulators.
Questions that one can ask themselves to ascertain whether they are being manipulated include the following:
- Am I being treated with respect?
- Are these person’s demands reasonable?
- Do I feel good about myself in this relationship?
- Is the giving reciprocated in the relationship?
By identifying a manipulator early on, you can work on ways to avoid or prevent their behavior before it becomes too time consuming or draining.
One of the most effective ways to prevent these boundaries from being crossed is by distancing yourself from the person seeking to manipulate. If the person happens to be a co-worker or someone you cannot easily distance yourself from, an effective strategy can be to remember that you are not to blame. Manipulators attempt to instill guilt to make the person feel that they owe something to them; remembering that they are not entitled to anything can prevent you from slipping into their trap.
An effective defense against unreasonable solicitations from someone is to turn the focus back on them. Asking them questions in regards to whether they think what they are asking is reasonable or what they think you are getting out of the deal can allow the manipulator to see their own behavior. If they are truly unaware of it, such questions may actually cause them to cease their behavior. If they are aware, they will most likely back down for the time being at least.
If “turning the tables” on them does not work, a little bit of passive aggression can help. Manipulators will often place demands requesting an urgent response in order to put pressure on you and increase their sense of control. Using time to your advantage and distancing yourself from them can discourage them or maintain some leverage at least. Non-confrontational methods such as telling them that you’ll “think about it” can be effective ways to halt a manipulator’s attempts at using you.
If all of these methods have failed and the person is still unwavering in their attempts to manipulate you, then simply saying no or confronting them on their behavior are your only options. Setting consequences for refusing to respect your wishes can be effective although it runs the risk of increasing the manipulator’s behavior. There is a fine line between manipulative and bullying behavior, with both behaviors having the potential to lead to anxiety and depression in the victim if allowed to. Saying no diplomatically but firmly can be an effective means of preventing oneself from being taken advantage of.
If you notice a loved one exhibiting excessive manipulative behavior, Sovereign Health can help with a tailored behavioral health treatment program. If you have questions about enrollment or financial options available to you, call (866) 819-0427.