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The Warning Signs of Manipulation

People often use manipulation to get what they want out of the other person.  This becomes much more prevalent in your closest relationships.  People manipulate in good ways and not-so-good ways.  Let’s look at why people manipulate (even when it is without malintent), the ways in which people manipulate, and what that means about the health of that partnership.

People manipulate out of defensiveness.  The level of manipulation is directly proportional to the level of defensiveness in the person.  This is why you can see mild levels of manipulation in healthy structures.  These styles of manipulation do not intend harm and, often, are unintentional. The more unhealthy the person or structure of the person, the more unhealthy the manipulations and the greater the probability of intention to control or overpower the other.  People may manipulate out of shyness, fear of rejection, and fear of aggression.  They are feeling defensive in some way, whether they are conscious of it or not. Toward the extreme end of manipulating are those who are challenged by or lost in the abuse pattern.  Out of a deep shame and fears of being abandoned, not good enough, and not belonging, the antagonist in an abusive relationship, manipulates to control or overpower the protagonist.

There are various ways in which people manipulate and most often it is without malintent.  Often people do not know how to express what they need and why.  You were taught to communicate by telling others about them and what they need to do to make you happy.  This is simply how you were taught, and it leaves many of you without the tools to have a voice on behalf of your own Self.  And so, the manipulation begins.  There are many ways in which a person may manipulate within a partnership without meaning any harm or control of the other.  Then there are those who do intend to control or overpower the partner out of deep fear of loss or not being good enough, and those styles of manipulation are much more invasive and debilitating to the receiver.

Let’s look at those styles of manipulating that are devoid of malintent. A person may quietly manipulate by asking questions of interest that lead into asking you to do something of their preference.  A person may gently work the conversation around to topics that they want to discuss.  A person may wait for you to say something that they can extract from the conversation to get the opportunity to make a point or talk about what they wish to discuss.  They may do something with the mentality, “It is easier to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission.” You may attempt to express a disappointment or need but the other person may get defensive and inadvertently turn the focus onto their own self and needs.  Your expression therefore gets ignored. A person may say, “it would show me you love me if you would…” or some other form of a guilt-based preamble.

Then the manipulations can be a bit more intense and may lead to defensiveness and arguments.  For instance, a person who uses direct questioning to get their partner to agree with something about which they do not necessarily agree. They may do this by asking one direct question that leads to another direct question that forces you to answer each truthfully, but the questions lead to a misrepresentation of your experience.  Or the other person may ask you a yes-or-no question demanding you answer it but you don’t feel it is a yes-or-no question and cannot answer comfortably.  Another form is when the other person makes statements about you that are incorrect but they do not let you speak your truth. The other person may tell you they KNOW why you are doing or saying something and may even tell you that you are not telling the truth when you disagree.  In all of these you may feel more and more misunderstood.

It is when manipulation is used to control or usurp power that it becomes suggestive of an unhealthy or abusive relationship.  Often those styles of manipulation can include a passive-aggressive style, gaslighting, or purposely using your emotions or past against you to make you feel small. Overwhelmingly citing statistics, jargon, and facts that are proving their point (sometimes in an angry manner), regardless of your position or feelings can be common in abuse. Also, manipulation may consist of repeatedly, or consistently, bringing up topics that oppose your beliefs just to antagonize you.  Often I have seen the antagonist ask the protagonist if they had a good time and then turn that into an angry untrusting jealousy.  

Often, the person can accuse you of something that is not true but they present their perception of a situation while increasing their anger, keeping you in a small defensive position where you feel helpless and powerless.  Regular use of blame is a manipulation that fuels your guilt and a vague responsibility for things you did not think you did or intended.  A person may consistently judge your thoughts, behaviors and desires to get you to do what they wish to do or he/she may use your past experience or feelings against you in an argument or in a situation to get you to be obedient to their wishes.  This can be taken one step further and the person can gently ease you into a kind and open conversation and then while you are open, strike with accusations and hurtful comments that use your open expressions against you.

As the level of manipulation intensifies, the relationship increases into an unhealthy, abusive relationship.  It is up to the protagonist to be aware of the antagonist as well as his/her own Self.  If, as the protagonist, you are starting to feel stifled, unheard, or hurt and the other person cannot take responsibility for a part of that equation, then you need to ask your Self what is stopping you from leaving that situation before it gets too destructive.  If it is mild manipulation, then it is a grand opportunity to explore the person manipulating.  Ask them what they are feeling that makes them address the situation in the way that they did.  In those situations, do your best not to label them or their behavior; that will just create defensiveness and take you away from your intent to learn.

As can be seen, there are levels of manipulation.  Everyone manipulates at one time or another.  The regular use of manipulation in relationships, however, is debilitating and can be destructive.  It is the responsibility of both parties to work beyond the manipulations.  If, however, you find yourself in a highly manipulative situation, then you may need to reach out to someone who can help you successfully leave that situation before it becomes worse.  For each of you, may you be aware of your own style of manipulating and have the strength to address the manipulation from others. 

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Kristen Bomas, PA
398 Camino Gardens Blvd., Suite 104
Boca Raton, Fl 33432


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