If you’ve ever been manipulated by someone, you know how much it hurts being in that position. Emotional manipulation is actually considered a form of emotional abuse. And as with any other abuse, it can leave a negative mark on your mental, and sometimes physical health. You may start doubting yourself, losing trust in other people, or get overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so important to share our thoughts, knowledge and experience about this topic.
But, how can you know if you’re being manipulated? How do you protect yourself from these people? And what to do if you realize someone close to you is actually a manipulator?
If you’d like to find out, keep reading!
The art of manipulation
Manipulators have a whole repertoire of strategies and tactics to make you do what they want. Sometimes those techniques can be so well camouflaged that it almost seems like a normal conversation. To protect yourself from their grip, it’s important to know what manipulation looks like, and recognize a master manipulator.
One common manipulation technique is gaslighting. A 2021 research article published in journal Perspectives on Psychological Science defines gaslighting as the act of manipulating others to doubt themselves or question their own sanity. Gaslighters often use very specific manipulative phrases, which can make it easy for you to spot them! If you’d like to know what they are, we made a video on 10 examples of what gaslighting sounds like.
A manipulative person might also use passive aggression against you. That’s when they’re obviously mad, but they avoid saying it directly. They might say things like “Well, I guess you don’t really care that much”, just to make themselves seem like a victim. A 2021 study from the journal Frontiers in Psychology says passive aggression is actually an immature coping mechanism.
Some other manipulative mind games include silent treatment, lying and denying reality, or using your insecurities against you. If you’d like to learn more about spotting a manipulator, feel free to check out some of our older videos on manipulation!
Put on your fighting gloves
Spotting a manipulator is just the first step in protecting yourself. When you hear those phrases that are supposed to make you feel crazy or guilty, you should be able to react right away. Here are some powerful psychological techniques you can learn to fight off the manipulator.
1. What are your boundaries?
A licensed clinical social worker and therapist Nedra Glover Tawwab said for VeryWellMind: “Letting people know that certain things are just not working for you is a really helpful way to take back your power.” And this is where boundaries come to play – expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationship with others. Boundaries allow you to send a clear message – I will not tolerate this! So think about what your boundaries are – what kind of behavior bothers you? How would you like to be treated?
2. No, no and no!
After you identify your boundaries, you should know how to stop the manipulator from walking all over them. Learning to say “no” is an important part of that.
If you’re having trouble with saying “no” and standing your ground, you may struggle with people-pleasing behavior. A 2015 study published in the journal Violence and Victims states that people-pleasing is often a response to trauma. It may stem from being raised in a household where your feelings were dismissed and neglected. As a result, now you may be too afraid of other people’s reactions. You don’t want to feel like a bad person for saying “no”. Working with a therapist could help you understand and unveil your trauma, gain confidence, and push the manipulator far away from you!
3. Me, myself and I
Since manipulators want to make it all about themselves, you could turn the tables and make it all about yourself. Keep reminding them that you are a human being with feelings and that you won’t let them dismiss that.
There’s a great communication strategy called “I” statements. Those are statements that focus on your emotions, your thoughts, and your beliefs. For example, if a manipulator tries to dismiss your feelings by saying “It’s not a big deal”, you reply by saying “I understand that you might not see it as a big deal, but I feel bad about this situation, and I think it’s unfair”. This type of communication is commonly used in relationship or family therapy, and a 2018 research article showed that it can be an effective way of reducing conflict and hostility!
4. A trusted insight
In the end, you should always try to remember that one person doesn’t represent everyone else in your life. Is there someone you trust? A close friend, a family member, a therapist, or even someone you met online? If you recognize some red flags and think you’re dealing with a manipulator, try asking for help! Describe your situation, and ask a trusted person for their opinion. They might be able to take an objective look into what’s happening to you. And if you both believe someone’s trying to manipulate you, you can rely on them to support you! We honestly hope you don’t go through it alone.
These strategies may help you avoid being manipulated, but what if there’s a manipulator in your life already? How can you cope with the fact that someone is not being honest and respectful to you?
Firstly, you should know that it’s not your fault if a manipulator targets you. Research shows that manipulators often come from dysfunctional families or suffer from personality disorders. That’s not an excuse for their behavior, but it shows that you’re not the reason for their behavior.
Also, cutting those people out of your life can sometimes be the best answer. A licensed psychologist Kate Balestrieri said for Mgt Relationships: “if the other person continuously bulldozes your boundaries, …, going no-contact may be a useful strategy. Working with a trauma-informed therapist can help you make the decision that is right for you.”
No matter how hard it may seem, and how betrayed you may feel, it is possible to get your life back. Once you’re able to recognize a manipulator from a mile away, they’ll never be able to hurt you again!
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