Ever find yourself doing something you didn’t initially agree to? Although they may not blatantly tell you to do things, emotional manipulators are good at observing people’s weaknesses and using it to their advantage.
As psychologist Joyce E. A. Russell states in The Washington Post, “They don’t want to be seen as the ones publicly criticising progress or new initiatives, so instead, they make sure others carry the torch for them. Are they manipulators? Bullies? Possibly both.”
Manipulators usually exude these characteristics:
- They recognise people’s weaknesses.
- They are great at disguising motives and intentions.
- They are able to charm with positive reinforcement or superficial sympathy to control others.
- They may use anger or intimidation to make others afraid to confront them.
- They may use their emotions to stir up guilt or set the emotional climate around them. (If they are upset, everyone around them should be upset too.)
If not stopped, manipulators can cause talented employees to quit, create conflict in a team by causing people to turn against each other, and may even set employees up to fail.
The root causes of manipulation are complex, though it usually stems from a need for power, control, and superiority, or due to simple boredom, or some other hidden agenda. However, if not stopped, their behaviour will be reinforced and will continue to affect more and more people.
How to spot and stop emotional manipulation
1. Recognise and be aware of their tactics
Since they are great at disguising their motives at times, it is good to be aware of how they talk you into doing the dirty work for them. Some people may use charm to get things done, while others may use anger. Whichever method they use, be aware of it.
2. Say “no” to guilt-trips
By accepting that it is alright to be guilt-tripped by someone, you encourage them to continue in their behaviour.
Sentences such as, “Why can’t you be more like your friend who scored all As in his exam?” or “If only you acted more like her husband; he’s more caring and loving towards his wife.”
These sentences are used to make the other party feel bad and is a form of emotional manipulation. Giving the silent treatment is also another form of emotional manipulation used to make you feel bad.
3. Know your rights
Remember that the problem is not you. Preston Ni, a professor of communication studies, states that,
- 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 from 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 your own happy and healthy life.
- You have the power to stand up for yourself and your life. Don’t let anyone physically, mentally, or emotionally manipulate your thinking.
When you feel that you are being treated irrationally or are being manipulated into doing others’ work, you can politely say to them “No, I can’t help you with that as I have other commitments as well.”
Set boundaries. They should not make you feel like you need to walk on eggshells around them for fear that they will use anger or self-pity to get what they want.
4. Always verify information
They may often tell you what others have said, but always check with the original sources. This can prevent them from using information against you or twisting words to suit their own personal needs.
Be wary when other people’s names and vague generalisations are used as a backup to get what they want. For example, “So and so says this about you too,” or “Everyone thinks this of you, not just me.”
5. Ask yourself some questions
Manipulators are good at wearing different masks with different people depending on the situation. With one person, they may be sweet, but with another they may be completely rude.
Ask yourself some of these questions:
- “Am I being treated with genuine respect?”
- “Am I constantly feeling afraid to state my own views?”
- “Is this relationship only one-sided?”
- “Are the expectations and demands of me reasonable?”
Manipulative behaviours can create a ripple effect when not put to a stop. It is thus essential that we recognise and end them.
Ultimately, the goal is not to change a manipulative person. It is to understand your own personal rights and to stand up for them.
“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