Dealing with manipulative people

The art of manipulation is alive and well. I call it an art as its proponents appear to spend years crafting their skills and masterfully pulling the strings of others for their own gain. Instead of using their quick wit, understanding of human nature and potentially high IQ to better their own (and others) lives in a functional way, they choose to exploit this to their own advantage and create a legacy of damage, both emotional and societal, which is often carried forward to the next generation.

All manipulators have an agenda and that agenda is control. Whether it’s control over their own self-esteem via altering the behaviors, attitudes or opinions of others; blatantly lying to cover up some wrong doing; or exaggerating an achievement to maintain a false image. Ultimately, manipulation is a defense mechanism required to cover a deep sense of insecurity or inadequacy. Reasoning with them or trying to have an open and honest conversation is often a complete waste of time as they may be threatened by the perceived shift of power in the relationship.

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Like any crafts-person, manipulators have a tool box of implements to get their needs met, however from my experience emotional blackmail is the most common. This is basically withholding love, by bringing up past mistakes or using the love of a child or other family member as pawns. Another common tactic is passive aggressive behavior, such as underhanded remarks. The purpose of this is to force to you worry, planting seeds in your mind which eventually turn to weeds. Other behaviors include denial or simply ignoring you. Whatever they choose it is deeply destructive and in the long term, it rarely turns out well for anyone.

When dealing with manipulators, I encourage my clients to follow these steps.

  • Trust your instincts. Worry and self-doubt is the manipulators best weapon. Stop thinking about them and focus on your gut feeling while around them or alternatively after you leave their company. Your instincts serve you well, trust them to know the truth and don’t ignore their wisdom.
  • If you are still unsure you are being manipulated, assess the person differently:
    • Look for patterns of unhealthy behavior around past relationships, career, finance. Is there a history of disagreements with friends, family or work colleagues?
    • Look at the lifestyle they try to project. Are they living outside their means, trying to create an image which doesn’t match reality?
    • Explore the communication style they use. Do you find they lead the conversation in a specific direction hoping to gain information? Are they excessively nice at times and verbally abusive at others?
  • What are your fears around this person? Many people remain in these relationships out of fear judgement of others for not being more supportive? Do you fear the manipulator spreading lies? It’s important to give your friends or colleagues more credit. Unless they are incredibly naïve, their opinion of you will not be influenced so easily. Their view of you is greater than just your relationship with the unhealthy person; they see the bigger picture of you who are as a person and will like or dislike you, irrespective of the manipulator.
  • Depersonalize the behavior. If the manipulator wasn’t aiming their sights at you, it would be someone else; and they will quickly move on as soon as you stop tolerating them. None of this is a reflection on who you are as a person; you were just unlucky to cross their paths. It is also important to kill off any self-pity, it won’t help and only disables your ability to fight back and move on.
  • Are you going to continue to fuel the unhealthy behavior? Some people are too nice for your own good, regularly excusing and placating. No good comes from this. If you can’t leave at least stop facilitating them.
  • How much do you value independence? Many people talk of independence but are not prepared to do the work to achieve it. This is true of relationships as much as life goals. Decide if you really want to be free of the manipulator? Are you avoiding the accompanying grief which comes after every breakup? Grief is an inevitable part of life and it can’t be avoided for ever. Be honest with yourself, know your reason’s for staying in this relationship so far and decide why you are staying in the relationship now.

The turning point in any dysfunctional relationship is when a person asks themselves “Do I really need them?” Reflect on the complete picture of your life, i.e. the people in it and the roles you fulfill; what does this person actually bring to your life? What would life be like without them? Questioning leads to changes in attitudes and beliefs, leading to new behaviors. You may find you stop habitually picking up the phone to them; you may stop worrying about them; or you may stop taking them serious at all and get on with the important business of just living your own life. Most importantly, you may also find people respect you more for honoring your own values and aligning your words with deliberate action.

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Take Care

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