How to Manage Manipulative People


The best way to manipulate a man is to make him think he is manipulating you.”  John Smith
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Newsletter Number Seven

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How to Manage Manipulative People

I’m sure you can remember an occasion when you’ve ended up doing something with a friend that you really didn’t want to. If it happens very occasionally, that’s fine; it’s just being a good friend. However when it happens regularly and you keep wondering how it happened, then it’s time to take a closer look at the manipulative behaviour and consider how to take control.

Manipulation is defined as: ‘The practice of steering someone into a desired behaviour for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal’. Often we don’t know it’s happening to us as manipulative people can be very subtle. Also the presence of emotions such as love, loyalty and trust can mean we don’t see the reality of other people’s hidden agendas. It’s very easy to be drawn in.

As you would expect, the extremes of manipulative behaviour can be seen in television programmes which feature narcissists such as; Janine Butcher in Eastenders or Kirtsy Soames in Coronation Street. A manipulator at home or work can be more difficult to spot, often the only thing you recognise is a feeling of anger, irritation, guilt or confusion.

Common manipulative behaviour:

·  Buttering you up.  In this scenario the person starts by telling you how wonderful you are, or how well you did something. This makes you feel good and less likely to say no or to disappoint them.
·  Guilt trip. This behaviour is designed to make you feel guilty. You feel that doing what the other person wants is something you ‘should’ do even if you don’t want to. Phrases used could be, “I’m always doing things for you…” or “I would do it for you...” or “if you were my friend you would…”
·  Self-pity. Here the manipulator makes a long-term habit of being the victim or the one who needs attention. This ensures you stay focused on them and remain supportive. Phrases used could be, “but I’m so unloved/ill/unhappy/useless…,” or “my life is so much harder than yours…”
·  Isolating. To achieve this, the manipulator will suggest everyone agrees with their opinion and not yours. Alternatively they will tell you that someone else you know has said it is the right thing to do, which pushes the responsibility away from them. Phrases used could be, “you’re the only one who thinks that way…” or “your friend Katie told me you should do.…”
·  Withdrawal. This is the use of avoidance or the silent treatment to get you to try and re-connect with them and to make you feel guilty.
·  The Martyr. This person behaves as if they are being considerate to you, but actually is confusing being helpful with the need to be significant to you. By doing things for you that you haven’t asked for, they increase the pressure to return the favour and for you to think well of them. Phrases used could be, “I’ll do you a favour…” or “I don’t mind, you choose…”

The key thing to remember when learning to cope with manipulation is that nobody has the right to manipulate or control your feelings without your consent. Therefore it is important to establish boundaries to protect yourself emotionally.

People who have the need to manipulate are generally needy and dependent people who aren’t comfortable putting forward their own opinions directly. As a result they use these behaviours to get you to do what they want. It is also likely that you have at some time used one of these manipulative behaviours, the difference being that you would use them rarely, rather than every day, like a manipulator.

How to react to manipulative behaviour:

·  Don’t be drawn into the guilt trip. “I understand you think I should do it, however at the moment it doesn’t fit with my plans”
·  Clarify their comments. “Who exactly do you mean when you say everyone thinks I should?”
·  State your feelings about their comments. “I’m now feeling confused / uncomfortable about what you said…”
·   Assertively ask for what behaviour you would prefer.When you say… it makes me feel guilty, I would prefer if you..”
·   Don’t be drawn in to reciprocal favours. “Thank you so much for … I appreciate you were helping me, however I’d prefer not to do it in the future as I may not be able to return the favour”.
·   Positively respond to self-pity. “I can understand you’re having a tough time with your husband/children/illness/work, but isn’t it great that you’ve…”
·   Stay calm. Speak clearly, in a calm tone and with no hint of judgement, whatever the other person’s behaviour.

If none of this is successful then maybe it’s time you found other friends or colleagues who will treat you with genuine respect and boost your self-esteem

Sometimes it’s difficult to analyse our own and others peoples behaviour and know how to handle a situation. Talking things through with an experienced life coach can really help.  For an informal chat please contact me by clicking here.

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