Moving Beyond a Manipulator's Tactics
by Leslie Vernick
It’s time to stop being easy prey for a manipulator. But if you want to break free, understand this important truth. You will never change the manipulator by confronting their tactics. They will simply switch to another tactic. If you want to stop being easy prey for manipulators, change beings with you.
You must first recognize that someone is attempting to manipulate you.
Awareness is the first step of all change. But you are not going to change the person doing the manipulating. You are going to change you. Manipulation is only effective if it works to control you. Therefore you must begin to identify what’s going on in you that keeps you easily manipulated by others.
Below are the three most common reasons we allow ourselves to be manipulated:
Fear: Fear comes in many forms. We may fear the loss of relationship, we fear the disapproval of others or we fear making someone unhappy with us. We also fear the threats and consequences of the manipulator’s actions. What if they actually succeed at doing what they threaten?
We’re too nice: We enjoy being a giver, making people happy, and taking care of other’s needs. We find satisfaction and our self-esteem and self-worth often comes from doing for others. However, when we don’t have a clear sense of self and good boundaries, manipulators sense this in us and exploit it to their own advantage.
Guilt: We live under a lie that we should always put other people’s wants and needs ahead of our own. When we try to speak up or put our own needs out there, manipulators often exploit us and attempt to make us feel like we are doing something wrong if we don’t always put their wants and needs ahead of our own. Manipulators define love as always doing what I want/need you to do. Therefore, if we have a different opinion, need, want or feelings, we are told we are unloving and feel guilty if we express or want to do something different.
Moving beyond a manipulator’s tactics.
Develop a clear sense of self. You need to know who you are, what you want, what you feel, and what you like and don’t like. Don’t apologize for these things. They are what make you, you. Sometimes we fear that if we state what we need, feel, think or like, that means we’re being selfish.
That’s not true. It is not selfish to know who you are or what you want. That’s healthy. Selfishness is defined by demanding that you always get what you want or that other’s always put you first. In the same way, when someone else demands that of you, they are being selfish and disrespectful of your personhood.
Jesus knew who he was. Because of his strong identity in the Father’s Word, he was not manipulated when people wanted him to do things the Father did not call him to do. He also was not derailed when other’s defined him as crazy, or demon possessed.
Develop your ability to say “No” even in the face of someone’s disapproval.
Healthy people live in reality. The truth is when you can’t accommodate someone else’s desires or needs, they naturally will feel disappointed. That’s human and most people will adjust and move on. Healthy people know that they don’t always get everything they want even if what they want is legitimate.
However, when you are not able to tolerate someone else’s disappointment or disapproval when you say “no”, then it’s harder for you to say it or to have good boundaries. Manipulators capitalize on this weakness and use disappointment and disapproval in extreme forms to get you to do what they want.
Read Mark 1:29-39 and see how Jesus said no to Peter and his friends who were waiting to get healed. Do you think they felt disappointed? How did Jesus handle that?
Develop a higher tolerance for the other person’s negative affect (disappointment, sadness, and/or anger) without backing down.
It’s true. We don’t like it when someone is disappointed in our no or angry when we won’t do what he or she wants. However, you can show empathy for someone else’s sadness or hurt or even anger without backing down and reversing our decision.
For example you can say something like, “Yes Mom I know you are disappointed and angry that we won’t be traveling home this year. I know it means a lot to you and family vacation just won’t be the same for you (all the tactics she’s using to guilt you into changing your mind), but with Covid-19 and everything else going on this year it just isn’t possible for us to do it.” In this you acknowledge the other person’s hurt, disappointment or even anger and sit with it without giving in to their demands.
Remember, a healthy relationship is characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. If you are in a relationship with someone who uses manipulation regularly, as you get stronger, you can invite him/her into healthy change simply by not allowing yourself to be manipulated. This will create a crisis of sorts in your relationship.
Either the manipulator will begin to back down and respect your time, your feelings, your desires and needs, or they will move on to another person who is more easily manipulated. Don’t let that be you.
My Moving Beyond People Pleasing Class is available right now. If you’re interested in learning more about it click here.