Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the thoughts, feelings, behaviours or perceptions of others through deceptive, underhanded or abusive tactics. This will always be to the advantage of the manipulator, usually at the other person’s expense; with extreme methods being considered as exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive.
Below are suggestions as to how you can deal with manipulative people.
- Ignore everything they do and say ….
- Challenge what they do and say….
- Trust your judgment….
- Don’t always feel the need to fit in….
- Stop being the one who always has to compromise….
- Never ask for their permission….
- Create a greater sense of personal purpose….
You have more than likely encountered people who are emotionally manipulative and controlling. They use passive aggressive behaviours to get their way or keep you from saying or doing anything they don’t like. Emotional manipulation can be subtle and deceptive, leaving you confused off guard and off-balance.
In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits the other to serve his or her agenda.
Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental misrepresentation and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at their victim’s expense.
It is important to distinguish healthy social influence from psychological manipulation. Healthy social influence occurs between most people, and is part of the normal give and take of constructive relationships. In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of the other. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits the victim to serve his or her agenda.
Most manipulative individuals have four common characteristics:
- They know how to detect your weaknesses.
- Once found, they use your weaknesses against you.
- Through their shrewd machinations, they convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their self-centred interests.
- In work, social, and family situations, once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, he or she will likely repeat the violation until you are aware of what they are doing and take action to stop their exploitation.
Root causes for chronic manipulation are complex and deep-seated. But whatever drives an individual to be psychologically manipulative, it’s not easy when you’re on the receiving end of such aggression. How can one successfully manage these situations? Here are keys to handling manipulative people. Not all of the tips below apply to every situation. Simply employ what works best for you.
1. Know Your Fundamental Human Rights*
The single most important guideline when you’re dealing with a psychologically manipulative person is to know your rights, and recognise when they’re being violated. As long as you do not harm others, you have the right to stand up for yourself and defend your rights. On the other hand, if you bring harm to others, you will more than likely forfeit all of these rights. Following are some of our fundamental human rights:
- You have the right to be treated with respect.
- You have the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants.
- You have the right to set your own priorities.
- You have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty.
- You have the right to get what you pay for.
- You have the right to have opinions different than others.
- You have the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally.
- You have the right to create and live in a happy and healthy environment.
These fundamental human rights represent your boundaries.
Of course, society is full of people who don’t respect these basic rights. Psychological manipulators, in particular, want to deprive you of your rights so they’re in control and from this baseline can and will take advantage. However, you have the power and moral authority to assert that it is you who have the control over your life, not them and to establish that it you who’s in charge of your own life.
2. Keep Your Distance
One way to detect a manipulator is to see if a person acts with different faces in front of different people and in a variety of different situations. While we all have this type of social differentiation, to a degree, psychological manipulators tend to habitually dwell in extremes, being highly polite to one individual and completely rude to another—or totally helpless one moment and fiercely and aggressively independent with the next. When you observe this type of behaviour from an individual on a regular basis, keep a healthy distance, and avoid engaging with the person unless you absolutely have to. As mentioned earlier, reasons for chronic psychological manipulation are complex and deep-seated. It is not your job to change or indeed to save them.
3. Avoid Personalisation and Self-Blame
Since the manipulator’s agenda is to look for and exploit any and all of your weaknesses, it is understandable that you may feel inadequate, or even blame yourself for not satisfying the manipulator. In these situations, it’s important to remember that you’re actually not the problem; you’re simply being manipulated to feel bad about yourself, so that you’re more likely to surrender your power and rights. Consider your relationship with the manipulator, and ask the following questions:
- Am I being treated with genuine respect?
- Are this person’s expectations and demands of me reasonable?
- Is the giving in this relationship primarily going one way to them?
- Ultimately, do I feel in a healthy and positive way about myself in this relationship?
Your answers to these questions give you important clues about whether the “problem” in these relationships lies with you or with another person.
4. Put the Focus on Them by Asking Probing Questions
Inevitably, psychological manipulators will make requests (or demands) of you. These “offers” often make you go out of your way to meet their needs. When you hear an unreasonable solicitation, it’s sometimes useful to put the focus back on the manipulator by asking a few probing questions, to see if she or he has enough self-awareness to recognise the unfairness of their scheme. For example:
- “Does this seem reasonable to you?”
- “Does what you want from me sound fair?”
- “Do I have a say in this?”
- “Are you asking me or telling me?”
- “So, how do I benefit from this?”
- “Are you really expecting me to [restating the unfair request]?”
When you ask such questions, you’re putting up a mirror, so the manipulator can see their true nature and ploys. If the manipulator has a degree of self-awareness, he or she will likely withdraw the demand and back down.
On the other hand, truly pathological manipulators (such as a narcissist) will dismiss your questions and insist on getting their way. If this occurs, apply ideas from the following suggestions to keep control, and halt the manipulation.
5. Use Time to Your Advantage
In addition to unreasonable requests, the manipulator will often also expect an answer from you right away, to maximize their pressure and control over you in the situation. (Sales people call this “closing the deal.”) During these moments, instead of responding to the manipulator’s request right away, consider leveraging time to your advantage, and distancing yourself from his or her immediate influence. You can exercise your lead of the situation by simply saying:
“I’ll need to think about it.”
Consider how powerful these few words are from a customer to a sales person or from a romantic prospect to an eager pursuer or from you to a manipulator. Take the time you need to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation, and consider whether you want to negotiate a more equitable arrangement, or if you’re better off by saying “no,” which leads us to our next point:
6. Know How to Say “No”―Diplomatically But Firmly
To be able to say “no” diplomatically but firmly needs some practice, but is an essential part of communication. Effectively articulated, it allows you to stand your ground while maintaining a workable relationship. Remember that your fundamental human rights include the right to set your own priorities, the right to say “no” without feeling guilty, and the right to choose your own happy and healthy life.
7. Confront Bullies, Safely
A psychological manipulator also becomes a bully when he or she intimidates or harms another person.
The most important thing to keep in mind about bullies is that they pick on those whom they perceive are weaker, so as long as you remain passive and compliant, you unfortunately make yourself a target. But many bullies are cowards on the inside. When those who they have targeted show any kind of backbone, standing up for their rights, these bullies will often back down. This is true in schoolyards, as well as in domestic and office environments.
It is fair to say that behaviour is learned and if this is the case they have been a victim of a bully in their childhood, whether that was a parent, sibling, grandparent or family member, their behaviour stems from unhappiness and disillusionment. Many studies show that many bullies were victims of violence themselves. That being said this is in no way excuses bullying, narcissistic or violent behaviour, but it may help you think of a bully in a more empathetic light:
- “When people don’t like themselves very much, they have to make up for it. The classic bully was actually a victim first.” — Tom Hiddleston
- “I realised that bullying never has to do with you. It’s the bully who’s always more insecure.” — Shay Mitchell
When confronting bullies, be sure to place yourself in a position where you can stay safe and protect yourself, whether it’s standing tall on your own, having other people present to witness and support, or keeping a paper trail of the bully’s inappropriate behaviour. In cases of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, speak with legal, police, or counselling professionals. It’s important to stand up to bullies, but don’t do it alone.
8. Set Consequences
When a psychological manipulator insists on violating your boundaries, and won’t take “no” for an answer, you need to position “what their consequences” will be as a way to get them to change their behaviour.
The ability to emphasise what consequence(s) the manipulator will have to face if they continue to behave the way they are is one of the most important skills you can learn. This presents an opportunity to change the tone and control of the conversation, and in doing so you change a difficult situation into one where no one loses. If effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the manipulative individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect.