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Lynda Gantt: What is emotional manipulation?
Maintaining Mental Fitness

Lynda Gantt: What is emotional manipulation?

When someone important to you tries to manipulate you into doing something they want you to do, but you don’t, you may hear, “If you don’t do this, our relationship is over.” Or, if you are working for a boss that expects more from you than what is in your job description, you may hear, “If you don’t accept this extra work, that pay raise might be in question.”

The type of person who manipulates others in such a way tends to see others as objects to be used at will. And, they seem to be somehow detached and indifferent to anything outside their realm of irrational thought. Relationships go well for these individuals as long as everyone has a place and purpose that matches their image of how things should be and not how things really are. Manipulators expect others to fulfill the manipulator’s need for control.

We have all heard people say, “He made me do it.” When someone says this they are abdicating any responsibility for their own behavior. Some people cannot accept responsibility for any thoughtless act they have committed and blaming others or the situation for these events alleviates them from performing any act that would correct the situation. No one can make another person do anything they don’t want to do. However, some people learn they can control others by their demands. “Don’t act that way.”

To find the vulnerabilities of their victims, emotional manipulators like to learn about the weaknesses of others so they can be used against the person at a later date. Manipulators look for people who show co-dependent behaviors.

Sometimes manipulators pretend they know the inner workings of other people in order to control that person. “You don’t really feel that way.” It is important to question the influence of others and if it is even rational for one person to define another’s behavior. We can be loved but not by renouncing ourselves to another person. Furthermore, we are not successful if we are only fulfilling another person’s expectations. “I want you to take on that extra title in your job. It will make you look important.”

Manipulators will also bringing in other people who agree with them in order to stack more opinions on their side. “Your mother agrees with me.” Moreover, manipulators are often heard saying, “No one can understand you the way I do.” Or, “No one can correct your problem like I can and that is why I am so valuable to you.”

Why do people allow manipulators to control so much of their lives? It would seem that being co-dependent invites victimization. When difficulties happen in life, we become more vulnerable to the influences of others, especially if we are looking to escape a problematic situation. We look for people who may appear be stronger than we are, and that is when we invite trouble. Learning to confront our vulnerabilities will help us to find solutions without manipulators telling us what to do.

If we correct our own cognitive distortions we can see reality much more clearly, especially if we do not know when a person is being honest or just playing with us. We all have unfulfilled needs and wants that make us vulnerable. Fulfilling our own needs reduces our chance of being manipulated. If we set up healthy boundaries between ourselves and others, we are less likely to be hurt.

Changing our self-perception into one of being a survivor reduces our sense of helplessness. When we are less helpless we have possibilities and with possibilities comes personal power and growth.

Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.

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