Have you ever allowed someone’s tears to manipulate you? Crocodiles shed tears when they eat their prey—but not from regret or sorrow. Some people use tears to manipulate; others to flatter. If that doesn’t work, they raise their voices or try other tactics—like pouting—to get their way.
Giving in to manipulation may bring short-term relief but it often establishes an unhealthy pattern and leaves lasting regret. The longer this cycle continues, the more frustrated and exhausted we become. Perhaps you can relate.
Caving to manipulation doesn’t work—at least not for long. We resent it when we accept responsibilities not meant for us; our family, work, and attitudes suffer. The first step to resisting manipulation is to recognize it. The controllers in our lives may be blind to their tactics, but that doesn’t mean we have to be.
Questions to ask yourself when you wonder if you’re being manipulated:
• How do I feel when I’m around this person?
Manipulators provide free guilt trips for their targets—lots of them! We feel bad if we have to say ‘no’ to staying late to help a colleague complete a project…especially when she helped us a few weeks ago. We feel bad if we don’t cave in to doing something someone has asked us to do—especially when they’re asking it in such a way as to make it seem like it would be to our own benefit.
Being kind and generous is different from feeling pressured into doing something we don’t w
ant to do. If we feel resentful, we need to re-evaluate the situation so we can gain a better understanding of what is happening.
• What’s motivating my conformity?
When we comply in order to avoid angering or disappointing someone, we’re being manipulated. We shouldn’t sacrifice what is right to escape temporary discomfort.
Giving in to controlling people doesn’t protect us from discomfort – we end up resenting
them. And often, we’re upset with ourselves for falling into their trap yet again.
• Do I automatically avoid conflict?
Personal experiences and temperaments make some people more vulnerable to conflict. The urge to avoid conflict ‘at all costs’ overwhelms them, especially when ‘oughts’ are flung at them. Learning to resist this urge may be just what they need to grow.
Standing firm usually upsets controlling people, but is that bad? Conflict often exposes true motives. If conflict arises because you won’t cave to their tactics, then relax. You’ve made a healthy discovery about how real this relationship is.
How to Stop Caving
Can you think of areas where you’re being manipulated? Did someone come to mind who uses guilt, anger or resentment in an effort to control you? Consider the following:
1. Don’t confuse pleasing someone with doing what you need to do. Remember, we sometimes have to say “no” to others’ requests in order to say “yes” to our priorities. People who care about us accept and respect this.
2. Learn to recognize power struggles and don’t participate. We can’t please everyone.
3. Don’t waste time wishing the manipulator would change. Take charge over w
hat you can change – your response. If others pout or blame you for their bad moods or anger, remember their attitudes are their problems. Not yours!
4. Screaming at someone is mean; politely saying “No thank you,” or “Not right now,” is not. Practice saying and receiving ‘no.’ This means setting and employing boundaries. If your ‘no’ is met with continued resistance, consider how you say it. Do you say it like you mean it – with authority? Or are you sending a mixed message? If your refusals are met with anger or threats, you may need to limit your time with this person.
5. Don’t villainize the person you feel pressured to please. Your colleague may b
elieve she’s being helpful; take time to determine her motive.
6. If you’re still struggling, look at your situation as an outsider. Would you ask someone to do what this person is pushing you to do? Would you want a friend to comply with such a request, or would you warn them against it? Sometimes someone else’s perspective helps us to gain objectivity.
Recognizing peoples’ attempts to manipulate us is the first step in breaking these harmful patterns. We can then employ strategies to resist their efforts, allowing us to regain control of our choices. While it’s not an easy process, freedom is waiting on the other side.
Thank you, Debbie W. Wilson, for allowing me to adopt your thoughts from Little Faith, Big God for business leaders.