Understand how manipulation works on you!
Don’t let yourself pulled by imposed guilt, shame or anxiety!
Be crystal clear about what you want and stand up for it firmly!
Our everyday life is full of manipulation whether we are aware of it or not. Some salesman on the doorway, some doctors, some teachers, some officials, or some co-workers might use unfair communication tactics to get what they want. The difficulty is more serious if the manipulator lives with the family, not to mention if the manipulator is our otherwise beloved partner. S/he can be wonderful in various areas in our life but they still might use debilitating pressure on us towards others.
If we want to keep our emotional health and a fair relationship, we need to sufficiently handle all manipulative attempts. Here are the essential points to disarm manipulation.
1/ Understand the process of manipulation
Because manipulation is a double base communication, it is not clear initially what the real goal of the manipulator is.
Let’s say someone criticizes his/her spouse constantly to make him/her feel bad about him/her. It might serve the goal of the manipulator feeling better in his/her skin. On the other hand, it also might motivate the spouse to put more effort to the service of the partner to overcompensate his/her weaknesses.
In this case, the surface is the critique: “You cannot prepare a dinner in time. You don’t know how to deal with the dog.” The topic is not important; it can be anything true or not! The goal is to make you feel inferior, and getting more physical work from you, effort, adjustment from you, or distracting you from confronting the other with his/her problem behavior.
Let’s see how the common guilt trip can be used for controlling your behavior!
Your spouse might make you feel guilty about not considering his/her hard work and earning the money you spend. In the background it can be an attempt keeping you shackled from communicating your needs.
In some families the parents or in-laws might put awful pressure on the grown up children to have more than their fair share of their visits and time and care than the other in-laws. They might operate the “If you loved me…” or the “If you knew what I have been though…” guilt trips.
2/ Resist the manipulation at the core.
Manipulation is a self-reinforcing process. They apply pressure on you to do something you don’t really want to; you comply to avoid the pressure, and this compliance reinforces that they will do it again because the last time it worked. The more you comply, the more they pressure.
Therefore, if you want to stop the cycle, resist at the core: don’t do what they want you to if they apply the manipulative pressure.
However! You better not argue with the surface statement: that is not the place of the impact. Here comes the understanding! You need to figure out what they want to squeeze out from you and resist at that critical juncture.
In our first example of excessive criticism; you don’t have to argue that you do put the dinner on the table in time, or state that happened only once! You don’t have to argue if you are the best dog whisperer in the neighborhood – and you don’t have to feel ashamed if you’re not. Find out what your spouse wants to get from you by making you feel anxious (about rejection), and don’t do that if s/he applies that criticizing pressure on you. You can choose to comply with straight, rightful, respectful requests, but you don’t have to. It has to be your choice.
If your spouse gives you a hard time that you don’t appreciate his/her effort; think about it. If it is true: give a sign of appreciation! If you conclude that it is just another guilt trip without truth in it: don’t bother to argue. If its goal is to keep your mouth shut about your needs and wants, it’s time to voice them!
For some this is the hardest assignment: not to defend yourself from the false accusation and withstand the feeling of guilt. The minute you begin to defend yourself, you’ve lost because that’s the goal of the manipulator. You have to prove that you are not that terrible selfish dude who does not take care of others. How do you have to prove? You do what your manipulator wants you to. Best cure: don’t get involved, just let yourself feel guilty, – you will survive – but don’t engage to prove that you are not as guilty as you are told!
In case of the silent treatment, the best response is to take it easy with an easy-going, neutral voice – make sure there is no hurt or anger in it! – tell: “I see you’re not in the mood talking to me right now. I am going to go and do some exercises (walk around the house, go to the library, whatever it might be) and you can tell me when you are ready to talk to me again.”
It is working because on the surface level the silent treatment makes you feel worried about losing love, acceptance, and connection. The main goal might be different in every case: it might be that you go out for dinner with him/her, you don’t go out for dinner him/her, or you spend the holidays at his/her parent’s house. It might be anything s/he wants you to do, but you have not agreed yet. Threatening you with emotional or sexual withdrawal is the force which makes you comply with your partner’s agenda.
3/ Be aware of your personality, rights, needs and wants and stand up for them assertively.
Sometimes it is not that easy to decide: am I really not appreciative of my partner’s contribution to our relationship, or s/he only wants to make me feel guilty about it? Doubts and uncertainties are present in normal life. Believing in the absolute truth creates more problems than good. How do we know when we have to consider our own mistakes and wrongdoings and when to stand up for our wants and needs?
The key is self-knowledge: the more you know about you own inner world: personality, values, sensitive points, strengths and weaknesses, the more grounded your evaluation of the situation will be.
Over your personal characteristics, it is necessary to be aware of your “assertive rights”: You are the judge of your behavior. You can decide if something is good or bad for you. In addition you have the right to your feelings without being judged for them.
You need to think through what your true needs and what your wants are. When you are clear about them, you can stand up for them assertively. In other words, you stand up for your rights without violating others.
Assertive communication is calm but determined, not wishy-washy. If you have to repeat what you want, you don’t raise your voice. However, be sure to maintain eye contact and radiate decisiveness. Tell what you want in “I messages”: “I want you to listen to me when I talk to you.” Also: tell what you want instead of what you don’t want. “You never listen to me” sounds like an attack and puts the opponent into a defensive mode. “I want you to… or I would like you to listen to me” is a serious or polite request. You have a better chance to be heard that way.
Backing off manipulators is a difficult task. It happens on many different levels at the same time. Be patient with yourself if it does not go perfectly immediately. As manipulation reinforces itself through time, replacing it by straightforward, respectful communication might take a long time as well.
In addition: be prepared that the first reaction to your change in responding might be increasing the pressure, as this was the working strategy until now. Be strong! Don’t give in unless you feel it physically dangerous. If you maintain your non-reaction to manipulation, your loved one has to figure out another way to communicate with you!