There is a person in my family who is so good at manipulation, I would love her to write a book on the subject! Except I have this awful feeling that, somehow, she’d get me to write it for her and take all the credit… Anyway, she shows her special giftedness in controlling others by using a variety of different techniques, depending on whether she’s dealing with a family member, one of her circle of friends, or her coworkers.
The really aggravating part is that although I can clearly see her using tactics on my husband that wouldn’t work on me, I’ll suddenly find myself blindsided by another one of her maneuvers. Then it’s my husband shaking his head at me, saying, “You’ve been played by the master” as I stand there, dumbfounded, cleaning her fish bowl and perplexed at how it happened.
I think that understanding manipulation – why people do it, and how – is a valuable lesson for all of us.
As children, and particularly with girls, we are taught not to ask for the things we need, sometimes receiving messages from our parents that this is selfish, and will make us seem bossy or demanding (as in, “She’s such a bit**!”). For example, if a girl asks for something that the household can’t afford, her parents (usually mom) might minimize the girl’s need or desire with phrases like, “What are you going to do with that, anyway?” “That’s too expensive…don’t be greedy,” or “Who do you think you are, asking for that?” Rather than making the discussion a lesson about money and needs versus wants, parents mistakenly shame their children for even asking.
Mom and dad don’t realize it, but this type of response to a child’s requests, rather than teach the child to be “unselfish” and “considerate,” teaches them they must figure out other ways to get their needs met. This is why, at a very early age, people discover that manipulation of others can bring about huge pay-offs. With practice, they learn which buttons to push, and with whom.
For instance, dad and mom may respond to them if they take advantage of “divorce guilt,” or “You-work-all-the-time guilt.” For other relatives or friends, it might be the ol’ “You don’t want me to look bad in front of so-and-so, do you?” A variation on this, which unfortunately seems to work on me occasionally, is when someone plays on my wish to “look good” in front of others. They’ll say to me, “Oh! I am in such a bad way, and I need this soo much!” with pleading eyes and in a pitifully desperate voice, when others are standing there, too. It’s nearly impossible for me not to cave with pressure like this.
We can all be manipulative, and some of us do so far too often. Of course, in the meantime, others try their own control strategies on us. The hope is that we can learn to speak honestly and directly, unafraid to ask for what we need or want…whether we get it or not. Thankfully, much of the next generation is learning to be more straightforward and assertive, especially girls.
The next time you catch yourself talking in circles to try and subtly dictate someone else’s actions, think about using language that is more authentic.
Below are some examples:
“Doesn’t Rubio’s sound good? Their fish tacos are awesome!”
“I would like to eat at Rubio’s tonight. Would that work for you?”
“I’m so lonely in this big house all the time. I could sure use some company…”
“Would you like to come over this weekend for dinner?”
Saying what you truly mean can spare you and the other person the drama of losing your temper when someone doesn’t do what you want them to. Take a deep breath instead, and say:
“In the future, I would prefer…”
Similarly, instead of resenting your significant other for not giving you what they should KNOW you want, remember that no one is a mind-reader! Play fair and try these phrases:
“I would like you to…”
“That doesn’t work for me. I would prefer…”
“I (think, need, feel) x, y, & z…”
If someone reacts to your directness with anger, or by telling you that you’re being selfish or unreasonable, listen to them and calmly respond, “I know, but that’s just how I am.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with being quirky, needy, or simply yourself at any given moment. Remember, though, that the other person has a right to say “no” to you, or even reject you if that is what they feel they must do.
Another tricky interaction is when someone lies to you consistently, and you wrestle with confronting them about it. After their next whopper, you might say, “I accept your answer, but I don’t believe you.” How you say this is important! If you speak in a neutral instead of emotional tone, you can often avoid an argument. Hopefully, the person will remember that you’re aware of their dishonesty, and they’ll tell the truth to you next time (either that, or they’ll lie more cleverly!)
Avoiding manipulation by being direct is sure to help you grow in self-esteem and confidence. But it requires a consistent effort to become aware of the way we relate to others, and practice at changing our old patterns. Keep reminding yourself that just as you are important and valuable, your needs and wants are valid and deserve to be shared.
Jill Thomas CCHT
Healthy Habits Hypnosis