Being manipulated is not easy and it’s not fun. In fact, it is horrible and demeaning.
Yet there are millions of people in the world being manipulated and manipulating others. Why? Because some people are inclined to manipulate and some allow others to manipulate them.
Popular belief holds that manipulation is a one-way street in which the manipulator benefits and the victim sacrifices and suffers. This is true, but manipulation is actually a two-way street in which manipulators exploit the goodwill and acquiescence of their victims and the victims offer them the opportunity to manipulate.
This is a far cry from healthy two-way street relationships in which friendship, companionship and trust are given as much as received. Manipulation is a form of bullying, not a reciprocal friendship.
This diagnosis offers some advice in dealing with manipulation. Here are some tips to ridding yourself of manipulative behaviour by colleagues, family members, partners, spouses or friends:
1. Say “No” and create boundaries
Suzanne Degges-White, PhD, says the only person you can change is yourself. “The best way to handle manipulative people is to become less susceptible to them. We are only as easily manipulated as we choose to be. Manipulators make us feel good when we bend to their needs, but we can learn to realise that there are many better ways of building our self-esteem than giving in to them,” she says.
She says saying “no” is not only OK, but also vital to our well-being. “Practise saying, ‘No, I am not available to help you with that,’ even in the mirror if helps.”
The next step is to set boundaries that you are willing to enforce. A good guideline is to think of what this friend would do for you and use it as an enforceable benchmark.
An element that underlies this step is to have or build self-confidence. Patty Blue Hayes, author and life coach specialising in heartbreak recovery, says victims of manipulation often have some limiting beliefs about their self-worth. She says it is crucial that you build your self-confidence. “Jot down a few positive aspects about yourself on a daily basis and keep re-reading them. You can rally support of friends and family, asking them to let you know what they like about you.”
2. Know your rights
One of the most important things is to know your rights and use them. Life coach Preston Ni says as long as you don’t bring harm to others, you are well within your rights to stick up for yourself. He says you have the right to be treated with respect, to express your feelings and opinions, to set your own priorities, and to say “no” without feeling guilty.
3. Keep your distance and ask probing questions
Ni says manipulators are often highly fickle in how they treat people. They will be extremely polite to one person whilst being utterly mean to someone else. If this is the case, keep your distance and only deal with them if you have to.
In your necessary interactions, you could also ask some probing questions in order to draw their attention to the manipulation. This is easier said than done, but it is an effective way of “converting” some manipulators or at least holding them to account. Try these out for size with the emotional manipulator in your life:
- “Does this seem reasonable to you?”
- “Does what you want from me sound fair?”
- “Do I have a say in this?”
- “Are you asking me or telling me?”
4. Set consequences or end the relationship
“Effectively articulated, consequences give pause to the manipulative individual, and compels her or him to shift from violating your respect,” says Ni. This could include breaking off the unhealthy relationship, from which you don’t gain much anyway.
Tempesta, E. 2015. “Are you dating an emotional manipulator?” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3180252/Are-dating-emotional-manipulator-Relationship-experts-reveal-six-warning-signs-prove-relationship-toxic-lead-heartbreak.html.
Ni, P. 2014. “How to spot and stop manipulation”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201406/how-spot-and-stop-manipulators.
Degges-White, S. 2014. “How to handle manipulators”. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lifetime-connections/201403/how-handle-manipulators.