By some seemingly innocent flaw in human nature, we are all susceptible to manipulation in our lives. There are people who just read that sentence, jabbed their fingers into their chests, and cried “not me!” Yes, you too. Manipulation comes in as many forms as there are consequences of that manipulation. It’s nearly unavoidable. The good news is that we don’t have to go through life like a pliable mound of clay under the rough hands of the people that set out to manipulate us. The key here, much like getting rid of a common pest, is to recognize and neutralize.
Buy an “Intelligence is sexy” t-shirt!
The first step to recognizing manipulation is to identify its many forms. Some are subtle. Some are, quite literally, like a slap in the face.
Flattery is one of the most common forms of manipulation that a lot of us encounter. Commonly referred to as “buttering someone up”, this form of manipulation sneaks into our minds because who doesn’t like being complimented.
Guilt is the other most common form of manipulation that a lot of people encounter. When someone makes you feel bad about something to get you to change your actions, that is manipulation in its purest form.
When people constantly point out your flaws, despite all of their own flaws, they manipulate you into doubting or disliking yourself. It’s manipulation in the form of breaking you down. This includes just about every form of hypocrisy known to man. By pointing out your flaws and making you feel worthless, someone can manipulate you into thinking they are better than you are.
“Gaslighting”: One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Mental Manipulation We All Deal With
I recently wrote about the phenomenon of “gaslighting” because it is one of the more dangerous forms of manipulation that we face. Gaslighting is when someone changes your reality by questioning your perspective. It can make you doubt yourself and your own sanity.
Bullying is one of the more dramatic forms of manipulation. Bullying doesn’t always have to be physical, either. Emotional and verbal bullying are just as prevalent as physical bullying, if not more so. Bullying is intended to make you think that someone has power over you or is simply more powerful than you are.
So if you recognize manipulation, how do you neutralize it?
In most forms of manipulation, empathy can be an effective tool. Express your side of the story. Welcome someone to walk a mile in your shoes so that they can see where you are coming from. You’ll find that the people in your life who are set on manipulating you for some form of personal gain will rarely ever take your suggestion. They will, however, generally drop the argument. By simply implying that you understand what they are trying to do and trying to present your side of the argument, they know that their game is up.
Trust your Gut
Instincts exist for a reason. If you think that someone is being too nice to you, chances are – they are. Trusting your gut instincts when it comes to the actions of other people is a matter of experience. If something seems too good to be true, trust that feeling.
Stand Up for Yourself
The number one thing you can do in the face of obvious manipulation like guilt trips, projection, or bullying is to stand up for yourself. Most of the more dramatic forms of manipulation are centered around someone trying to establish power over you. Take that power away. Call them out on their BS. Let’s say you have a friend that likes to bring up something dumb you did one time, that they do all the time – call them on it. It only takes once. The same goes for bullies – the second you stand up for yourself, they realize that they have no power over you. Standing up for yourself is one of the most powerful things anyone can do for themselves.
If all else fails, you just need to separate yourself from the manipulative influences in your life. Some people are easier to get away from than others, but the end result is the same: they will continue to try to manipulate you as long as you give them the chance. Walking away from a casual acquaintance isn’t quite like walking away from a relative – even if they are both equally as manipulative. Either way, no one needs someone in their lives whose sole purpose is to try to influence your actions through means of manipulation.