Am I Manipulative?

What do you think of when you hear the word “manipulative?” Maybe you think of characters you’ve seen on TV, perhaps the classic evil mastermind archetype. Or maybe this word hits closer to home. Perhaps a friend who is in a seemingly toxic relationship or a family member comes to mind.  

Since manipulation is often used by individuals like con artists, narcissists, and abusers, it can be alarming to consider the idea that we may be manipulative at times. However, many of us grew up in environments involving dysfunction. Without being taught how to communicate clearly and directly, it’s easy to utilize manipulative tendencies without even knowing.

What is Manipulation? 

Let’s start with the Merriam-Webster definition of manipulation: To control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage.  

Manipulation is a way to get what we want without being upfront about our intentions and desires, often using fear, guilt, or shame to get our needs met. It’s an attempt to change the perception of others so that they are thinking the way that we want, rather than presenting the facts and allowing them to form their own opinions and make their own choices. Again, many of us had to learn strategic ways to psychologically survive in childhood, which can lead to manipulative behaviors as adults.

What Does Manipulation Look Like? 

Inspired by therapist and online educator Kati Morton, examples of potentially manipulative behavior can include but are not limited to: 

  • Passive aggression (I.e., Withholding affection)  
  • Being closed off to feedback (I.e., Reacting to constructive criticism with defensiveness or gaslighting) 
  • Playing the victim (I.e., Blaming others for your mistakes) 
  • Playing the martyr (I.e., Doing favors without being asked and expecting something in return) 
  • Lying (I.e., Leaving key details out to avoid taking accountability) 
  • Not following through on commitments/ things you say you’ll do (I.e., Pretending to forget about your end of a deal that was made) 
  • Making suggestions that benefit you, rather than directly asking for what you want (I.e., Presenting an idea in a way that sounds like it’s best for them, but really, it’s best for you) 
  • Using a relationship as leverage (I.e., “If you don’t do this thing for me, you must not care about me”) 
  • Stonewalling (I.e., Giving the silent treatment so that the other person feels bad) 
  • Over-emphasizing your emotion to gain a reaction (I.e., Anger outburst, making yourself cry) 

If you’ve done one of those things… so has pretty much everyone else. It’s ok, we’re human! What matters is that we take the time to self-reflect and learn healthier ways to get our needs met.

How to Stop Manipulating Others:  

For the sake of our relationships, it’s imperative to be mindful of these behaviours. It can be helpful to take some time to reflect on our own methods of communication and gain more awareness of any unconscious manipulative tendencies.  

Consider the following tips to increase the likelihood of getting needs met in a way that is collaborative and encourages connection with others:  

  • Biggest Tip: Directly request what you want and be willing to accept a “no.” Taking the passive route of implying your needs lessens the likelihood of getting your needs met and can lead to disconnection from others. When you are hit with a “no,” it’s a good opportunity to become more comfortable with handling rejection.  
  • Self-Care: Often, manipulation is a coping skill for anxiety. By taking your mental health into your own hands, you’re less likely to cling to controlling behaviours. For more guidance on proactive mental health care, check out this blog.

You are awesome for taking the time to learn and grow. This is not an easy topic to reflect on, so give yourself a pat on the back. May your relationships thrive  

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