Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dealing with manipulators...

I'm shamelessly copying this entry from my Web site, which I'm thinking about taking down in a couple of months.  This page gets a lot of hits and I think it might be useful to my readers on this blog.  Bear in mind that I wrote this a few years ago, right before Christmas. 

Dealing with manipulators...

The holidays are relentlessly approaching. As I write today, I'm reminded of the ghosts of holidays past, the ones where I eagerly awaited that special day and came away disappointed because I spent too much time with my dysfunctional family. I'm sure I'm not alone in being apprehensive about the holidays, especially Christmas, when families are expected to be together.

Not long ago, I figured out why I usually leave gatherings with my immediate family feeling a lot worse than I did before the "celebration". It's because in my family, there's at least one manipulator. That's a person who gets other people to do what they want by using guilt and sneaky, underhanded tactics. All the while, they somehow manage to come away looking completely innocent.

As I was trolling the Internet a couple of weeks ago, I came across an excellent piece about how to deal with manipulators. I mostly agree with the anonymous author's advice. I want to include some of it here, expanded with my own observations. Since the dreaded Christmas holidays are approaching, I figure it's appropriate. Of course, you may find this information useful every other day of the year, too.

How to handle manipulators

1. Try not to engage manipulators in the first place.

I know it can be hard to completely avoid dealing with manipulators, especially when they're family members. The very nature of manipulative behavior is sneakiness, and family members, in particular, tend to know exactly which buttons to push. I've found that the best thing to do when someone I'm dealing with is employing obviously manipulative tactics is to excuse myself from the conversation or change the subject. Or, if I know ahead of time that the person is a manipulator, I try to limit my exposure to them.

2. Don't allow manipulators to make requests by using underhanded tactics.

Manipulators are famous for making requests that don't really seem like requests. Adults who want you to do something should learn to make their requests in an adult manner. That means they should make a direct request instead of using emotional blackmail, bribery, guilt, or other underhanded tactics. Here's an example of what I mean:

Manipulative request: You know, your father's getting older every year and he's in such poor health. He's so sad that he never gets to see you. He's afraid he's going to die before you get the chance to visit him again. Christmas is coming and he's going to be so depressed if you're not there.

Adult request: Your father would sure like to see you if you have time to visit. Would you please come celebrate Christmas with us?

Notice in the first example, the request is never actually made. Instead, the manipulator has disrespectfully dropped hints dripping with guilty accusations. In the second example, a clear, respectful request has been made. You can't force someone to make an adult request of you, but you can learn to spot manipulation and avoid engaging by refusing to honor manipulative requests. That skill goes hand in hand with the next rule...

3. Learn to identify and ignore passive-aggressive behavior.

This is a tough one, but if you can learn to identify and ignore passive-aggressive behavior, it will make dealing with a manipulator easier. Manipulators are pros at passive-aggression, which is behavior that, on the surface, may seem innocent but actually isn't. Manipulators employ passive aggressive behavior, which in turn, makes you angry. Then when you get angry, they retaliate by trying to make you look like the aggressor/screw up. Finally, they blame you for their retaliation. Meanwhile, manipulators loudly proclaim their innocence and the insignificance of their actions while you come off as unreasonable or uncooperative. It's a maddening tactic and sometimes it's impossible to ignore it. However, if you can learn to ignore the more minor digs, it will lessen a manipulator's power.

4. Determine what your limits are; define them; and don't be afraid to consistently enforce them.

Manipulators have an uncanny knack for getting their victims stuck between a rock and a hard place. Therefore, when you deal with the manipulators in your life, always try to have a way out of that tight spot. Make sure you have access to transportation, money, or whatever else you might need to rescue yourself from a bad situation. Don't invite manipulators into your home unless you're willing and able to make them leave. If they refuse to leave, make sure they know you're going to call the police for help and then do it. Don't threaten to call the police, however, unless you are actually going do it.

5. Forget trying to bluff a manipulator.

It's impossible to set enforceable boundaries when you bluff. And if manipulators know there won't be any actual consequences for their bad behavior, they won't have any reason to change it. Besides, true manipulators are experts at the bluff and will always know when you're bluffing. When it comes to enforcing your limits, say what you mean and mean what you say. If you make a threat or a promise, be sure to carry out that action promptly.

6. Spell out your expectations and try to leave nothing to chance.

Ambiguities give manipulators the leeway they need to engineer a situation that is advantageous only for them. If they are confronted, they will then try to feign innocence and insignificance. To avoid this, make sure both you and the manipulator are very clear about your mutual expectations during a meeting. Avoid vagueness at all costs. Sometimes, the manipulator will still get the upper hand, but having clear expectations will lessen their ability to pull a fast one.

7.Realize that some people will think you're a meanie.

Manipulators are really good at making their victims look bad to other people. When they are in groups, manipulators will often try to come off as superior while making their victims look small. They'll use subtle digs that will seem innocent to everyone but their victims. To combat this behavior, be prepared to look like a jerk for publicly defending your boundaries, especially when you call the manipulator on their rude behavior. Other people may initially see your reactions as excessive because they only know what they observe firsthand or hear from the manipulator. Understand that those other folks really don't know the whole story. It's really okay if other people temporarily think of you as a jerk. Chances are, they'll eventually understand what's happened, particularly if they too become ensnared in the manipulator's trap. And if they don't eventually understand, they're probably not worth your time, anyway. Remove yourself from the situation if need be.

8. Do not owe a manipulator anything.

Manipulators love to employ guilt tactics and blackmail in their dealings with other people. That's why it's important never to borrow anything from or lend anything to a manipulator. If you must owe a manipulator, do everything you can to repay them as soon as possible. If a manipulator must owe you, make sure you have a signed and dated document that allows consistent repayment with all terms of the agreement detailed in writing. Remember that manipulators will use debts as a means of control, even if they're the ones who owe you. Try not to let them have that power if you can possibly avoid it.

9. If you do lend something to a manipulator, be prepared to let go of it.

Sometimes being repaid is just not worth the hassle. If a manipulator borrows something from you, be prepared to never see it again. Then, if they ask to borrow from you again, remind them that you've made that mistake in the past and refuse to repeat it. If they protest or try to lay a guilt trip, tell them that you've decided not to lend to people who don't repay their debts or return borrowed property. Then walk away from them or otherwise end the conversation.

10. Don't let manipulators do you any favors.

Manipulators will often try to use kindness as a means of furthering their agenda and getting you to lower your guard. Remember that any kindness a true manipulator extends to you will eventually be used as a means of control in the future. It's best to refuse favors extended by manipulators, especially if the nature of the favor lends itself to being extended for any length of time. Be especially wary of accepting help from a manipulator that makes you dependent on them for your livelihood or your home. It's also good policy to avoid giving a manipulator any reason to take credit for your successes.

Manipulators will very often use kind deeds and favors as a means of accessing whatever you have that they want. Remember, do not owe a manipulator anything if you can help it. That includes favors.

11. Anything you say can and will be used against you.

Give the manipulators in your life information strictly on a "need to know" basis. Manipulators work most effectively off of information provided by their victims. The less information they have about you and your plans, the less control they can exert and the less chance they can use what you say against you. Try not to give them anything in writing unless you absolutely don't care what they do with the information or you are entering a debt/debtor situation.

12. No means no...

Don't waste time and energy justifying your actions to a manipulator. Manipulators are masters of using your own words against you. If you want to say "no" to a manipulator, say it and mean it. Don't explain yourself and don't make excuses. Just say no.

13. If you must, cut off relations with the manipulator in your life.

This is another tough one, especially when the manipulator is a member of your family or a close friend. Unfortunately, sometimes it's better to remove toxic manipulators from your life rather than trying to deal with them. If you can't completely cut especially toxic manipulators out of your life, do your best to limit your interactions with them to the bare minimum.

14. Understand that a true manipulator will probably never change.

Most people use manipulative behaviors ocasionally, but understand that those who have repeatedly used manipulative and controlling behaviors for the entire time you've known them are probably not going to change, unless it's advantageous for them. Consequently, you will not be able to change them and they probably won't change for your benefit. Moreover, their bad behavior is not your fault or responsibility. If you can't cut an especially toxic manipulator out of your life completely, it's best to limit your exposure to them and keep your relationship as superficial as possible.

Of course, what all of these steps ultimately boil down to is learning how to be assertive and sticking up for yourself. That can be a very difficult undertaking, especially when the manipulator in your life is someone who has real or imagined authority over you. Many people become victims of manipulators because they lack self-esteem and care too much about what other people think of them. A lack of self-esteem can be a difficult obstacle to overcome because it requires a person to change their own behaviors.

No one can be happy as another person's doormat. Manipulators thrive on making other people their doormats. They count on their victims' fears of how they look to other people and their reluctance to stand up to the manipulator's bad behavior. Realize that you can't control what other people think of you. You can only control your reactions to other peoples' behavior. If the manipulator in your life is an adult, he or she is ultimately responsible for their own actions and reactions. You are only responsible for what you do. And no matter what, there are always going to be certain people who won't like you or won't approve of how you live your life. In my opinion, the best thing to do in a no win situation is whatever will ultimately make you the most comfortable and will cause the least amount of grief to innocent parties. I realize that sometimes that means giving in to a manipulator. But with practice, you can learn how to minimize the effects of a manipulator's bad behavior on your life.

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