CALIFORNIA PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC RESOURCES, INC.
PATRICIA MCTAGUE-LOFT, MS, LMFT, FAPA, SAP
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Posted on: April 9, 2019
Marriage Counseling insights brought to you by Westlake Village-based California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
We are all vulnerable to being manipulated in relationships, whether between romantic partners, friends, parents, children, employers, coworkers, or neighbors. When we allow another person to manipulate us, we are colluding with their desire to control our feelings, motives, and even our thoughts through deceptive, exploitative, and unfair means. A manipulative relationship is one-sided and unbalanced, advancing the goals of the manipulator at the expense of the person being manipulated. These relationships become troubled over time. If you want to change this kind of relationship, you must first recognize the features of manipulation and then look within to understand your contribution to the manipulation. There are effective ways to stand up to manipulation and bring balance back into the relationship.
Manipulation is not the same as influence. We all use influence with other people to advance our goals, and this is one of the hallmarks of healthy social functioning. Influence recognizes the rights and boundaries of other people, and it is based on direct, honest communication. Influence is one way we have of functioning effectively in the world. Influence recognizes the integrity of the other person, including the right not to go along with the attempted persuasion. Manipulation, on the other hand, depends on covert agendas and an attempt to coerce another person into giving in. Even though it may appear that the manipulator is strong and in control, there is usually insecurity under the façade. The tendency to exploit others and disregard their rights is a sign of unhealthy personality functioning. In fact, people who manipulate others have difficulty in maintaining good interpersonal relationships.
Those who manipulate other people are good at spotting people to control. If they feel unable to manipulate someone, they usually give up and move on to somebody else who is more likely to be receptive to the attempted manipulation. Once you recognize the features of the manipulation, the next step in correcting the situation is to discover your own contribution to the problem. (This statement may seem a bit difficult to accept. After all, it’s the manipulator who has the problem, you might say. But realize that manipulation cannot occur in a vacuum. As is true of any relationship, it takes two people.) You can come to understand your contribution to the manipulative situation and then take steps to correct it.
Here are some common traits of those who are vulnerable to manipulators:
If you are in a manipulative relationship, it is helpful to recognize the personal tendencies that allow the other person to assert control over you. You can come to understand and explore these safely with the support of a professionally trained therapist. While you may not be able to change the behavior of the manipulator, you can change your own responses to attempts at manipulation so that you achieve a firmer sense of your own integrity. The unhappiness resulting from a manipulative relationship can lead to life-changing experiences that generate insight and the ability to cope more effectively with the demands of everyday living.
The Manipulator’s Tactics
Manipulation in a relationship usually progresses over a long period of time. Manipulators learn over time how far they can go. They are unlikely to attempt to manipulate the other person at the beginning of a relationship since this could bring things to an immediate end. They observe the other person’s vulnerabilities and learn eventually how to exploit them for their own purposes.
There are two basic tactics that are used to exert control, and they usually go hand in hand. The first is a promise of gain. That is, the manipulator will promise to provide something if the partner goes along with what the manipulator wants. “I promise – no arguments for a week if you’ll end your friendship with Pat.” The other tactic is the promise of avoiding loss. In this case, the manipulator threatens the partner with the loss of something if the partner does not go along with the manipulator’s desires. “I’m going to stay out with my friends late every night unless this house is cleaned spic and span by the time I get home.” (Of course, these two examples are obvious manipulation attempts. Most manipulators use more subtle methods than we see in these examples.)
Manipulative people have a strong need to be in control. This may derive from underlying feelings of insecurity on their part, although they often compensate for these feelings with a show of strong self-confidence. Even though they may deny it, their motives are self-serving, and they pursue their aims regardless of the cost to other people. They have a strong need to feel superior and powerful in their relationships – and they find people who will validate these feelings by going along with their attempts at manipulation. They see power as finite. If you exert power over a manipulator, they will retaliate in order to gain back the control they feel they are losing. They cannot understand the idea that everyone can feel empowered or that everyone can gain. When they are not in control – of themselves and over other people – they feel threatened. They have difficulty in showing vulnerable emotions because it might suggest they are not in control.
Those who are manipulative usually don’t consciously plan their maneuvers. They emerge from the manipulator’s underlying personality disorder, and are played out within the context of a victim who colludes with, and unwittingly encourages, the manipulation. There is a wide range of tactics used by manipulators ranging from verbal threats to subtle attempts to arrange situations to suit the manipulator. For example, one of the more common forms of manipulation is called splitting – turning two people against each other by talking to each one behind the back of the other, getting them to dislike or distrust each other, and leaving the manipulator in a position of control. They may use active techniques like becoming angry, lying, intimidating, shouting, name-calling or other bullying tactics. Or they may use more passive methods like pouting, sulking, ignoring you, or giving you the silent treatment.
Some Groundrules for Dealing with Manipulation
Answer the following questions with a T (for true) or an F
I sometimes feel confused about what my partner really wants.
I feel that my partner frequently takes advantage of my giving nature.
Even when I do something that pleases my partner, the positive feelings never last long.
With my partner I feel that it’s hard just to be myself or do what I really want.
Around my partner, I feel taken for granted.
I seem to work harder on this relationship than my partner does.
My partner has a very strong impact on what I think and feel.
I sometimes feel that I am trapped in my relationship and there is no way out.
I don’t feel as good about myself in my relationship as I once did.
I feel that I need my partner more than my partner needs me.
No matter how much I have done, I feel that it’s not good enough for my partner.
I feel that my partner does not understand who I really am.
There are twelve questions in this quiz. If you answered more than half of them with a T, you might want to consider exploring whether you are in a manipulative relationship.
The newsletter from which this blog is drawn is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems. ©2019 Simmonds Publications: 5580 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037. Website: www.emotionalwellness.com
Posted in: Marriage Counseling
Disclaimer: The screening tests and videos that are linked on this web site are not designed to provide diagnoses for the various clinical issues. They are intended solely for the purpose of identifying the symptoms of the issues and to help you make a more informed decision about seeking help. An accurate diagnosis for these clinical issues and other psychiatric disorders can only be made by a physician or qualified mental health professional after a complete evaluation. If you have scores that indicate that you meet criteria for these issues or think that you may be at risk, please contact a mental health professional or your physician.