Breaking Free From Manipulation

Sinay Butler, Dragonfly Wellness & Education Center

Manipulation is the act of controlling or exercising influence over someone else for the purpose of one’s own personal gain.

People who manipulate don’t ask for what they want, but they contrive situations to get their way with little regard for the wants and needs of anyone else involved. Sometimes people who manipulate have a high need for control. People manipulate because of their own insecurities and low self-esteem so they believe they must manipulate others to have their own wants and needs met. Often, people who manipulate do so for the opposite reason: their inflated ego. They believe they are smarter, know better, and are more capable than others and manipulating others proves that. Most of us want to believe and trust the people around us.

How do we protect ourselves from manipulators, and just as important, how do we make sure we aren’t being manipulative?

There are common tactics of manipulation that can be identified in order to avoid being manipulated or engaging in manipulation ourselves. One of the most common ways of manipulating is by lying. When someone lies, they are trying to control the outcome or perspective through deceit. They are giving the other person false information in order to get their own way. When someone lies, getting their own way or controlling the outcome is more important than their own integrity or their relationship with the other person. Part of this deception might not be outright lying, but strategically sharing information or half-truths in order to manipulate the other person’s opinion or perspective.

Guilt-tripping is another form of manipulation. When someone uses the insecurities or weaknesses of someone else to get their own way, that is guilt-tripping. This may include assigning blame or making subtle and critical comments in order to make the other person feel bad. When someone tries to make someone else feel crazy, that is gaslighting. Gaslighting is when the manipulator insists that their version of the story is correct and calls to question the worldview or sanity of the other person.

Flattery and love-bombing use positive feelings to manipulate the other person. A sincere compliment and showing love that extends out of true feelings can create feelings of affection and connection with another person. The manipulation happens when the motivation is to create those feelings for selfish reasons and personal gain.

Some people are manipulative and don’t even realize it. Sometimes we manipulate others without doing it consciously. If winning or getting your way is so important that you will go to great lengths and say or do almost anything to get it, you are probably manipulative. People who are manipulative often have a hard time expressing their needs and will drop hints or use language to invoke pity, or other feelings. They may also project their own feelings onto others, rather than expressing their feelings outright. Of course, the most common form of manipulation is lying. If you don’t keep promises, if you do and say nice things to get what you want, if you are overly persuasive and put pressure on others, you are being manipulative.

Two main principles help protect us from being manipulated and from being manipulative: having good boundaries and having high integrity.

All healthy relationships are built with good boundaries. Boundaries include the way we treat others and the way we allow ourselves to be treated. If someone is being manipulative, it may be necessary to express the way you are feeling and ask for clarification or for behavior change. For example, when you are feeling pressured into a decision, recognizing that feeling and expressing what you need is setting a boundary. Boundary setting starts with being honest about our own feelings and clearly expressing that to others. It can lead us to the second principle to avoid manipulation, living with integrity.

Integrity goes beyond being honest and telling the truth; it incorporates a way of interacting with ourselves and others in a way that cares about the well-being of everyone involved. It means taking responsibility for the way we act, think, and feel even when no one is watching and when we have nothing to gain. People who practice integrity don’t engage in manipulation because how they interact with others is as important as the outcome. Winning isn’t as important as how the game is played. People who live in integrity are harder to manipulate because they aren’t as swayed by other people’s flattery or criticisms.

Manipulation, whether done intentionally or not, by ourselves or by others, is damaging to relationships. Often this toxic behavior isn’t realized before it is too late to save the relationship. It is important that both people in a relationship learn to recognize manipulation, set up healthy boundaries, and learn to interact with integrity. Dragonfly Wellness and Education Center has life coaches, and marriage and family therapists, to help couples and families identify dysfunctional behaviors and learn better tools to use in relationships. Call 509-724-0221 for more information.