It is always about him. He doesn’t care about his children or spouse or employees’ needs. He treats me like I cannot think for myself and that I have no value. I’m going completely crazy.”
Does this ring a bell? If so, you’re probably dealing with a manipulator.
We all manipulate from time to time. We try to influence others to do what we want. It is part of being human. However, some people have very strong narcissistic traits. For them, manipulation is the primary way they interact with others.
It would be easy to tell someone, “Just leave the manipulator. Don’t have anything to do with them,” but manipulators are often husbands, wives, parents or children. It is not easy to erase them from our lives. So, how does one go about dealing with them without losing your own mental health and self-esteem?
Manipulators bring out a range of emotions in others: shame, fear, guilt, anger, doubt, and sadness. They play with the vulnerability of their victims like a cat plays with a mouse. There can be no clear and mature communication with them.
True communication is about wanting to be understood and to understand others. It is about connection. To communicate is to share honest information — expectations, fears, joys, needs and frustrations. But communicating with a manipulator is harder than with most people.
Here are just some of the techniques used by manipulators. (For the complete list, see my website.) Manipulators:
- Burden others with guilt while appealing to family ties, friendship, or professional ethics.
- Evade responsibilities, or push them onto others.
- Remain vague when communicating their claims, needs, feelings, and opinions.
- Change opinions, behaviours and feelings depending on people and situations.
- Dispute the qualities, abilities and personalities of others.
- Let others convey their messages for them.
- Suddenly change the subject in the course of a conversation.
- Do not tolerate criticism or negative evidence against them.
- Do not care for the rights, opinions and wishes of others.
- Often wait until the very last moment to give commands to others or to instigate them to act.
- Exert themselves in making compliments that gain your sympathy, or give presents, or they suddenly become very caring toward you.
As a result of treatment from a person like this, one farm woman told me, “I feel that my needs are not heard. It’s always me who is the problem. My esteem is at floor level.”
So how can you better manage your relationship with a manipulator?
- Understand and recognize all of their techniques: Knowledge is your first arm. Learn the list.
- Recognize your vulnerability: i.e. your need to please, to be loved, to feel competent. The manipulator will use these against you.
- Forget about a healthy, mature relationship: Emotionally, the manipulator is a child. Do not expect more. A dog barks; it will not meow. So, too, a manipulator only manipulates. The more chronic the pattern is, the less you can expect from them.
- Erase the fuzzy ambiguities: Rephrase any ambiguous phrases and ask them to confirm: “Is that what you are telling me?”
- Learn to say “NO” without justifying it: For example, if you do not want to go to a party, then say you do not want to go. You do not have to give more reasons. Justification gives the manipulator ammunition.
- Use the broken record technique: A broken record repeats the same sounds. “No, thank you, I’m not interested.” But why? It’s cheap! “No thank you, I’m not interested.” But you will love it! “No, thank you, I’m not interested.”
- Know the difference between facts and opinions: When someone makes judgments about you and your choices, it’s just their opinion. Do not debate controversial subjects, ideas or opinions. Learn to cut those conversations short.
- Don’t answer questions when you are emotional: Ask for time to think. “I need time to think about what you told me. I will give you an answer in two days.”
- Set up consequences: Manipulators will often only consider changing their behaviour when they know there are actual consequences. Be sure to deploy the consequences. That ability is one of the most important tools to possess.
Finally, you need courage to tolerate the discomfort and anxiety. Be aware that the difficulty level varies depending on several factors: the level of the pathology of the manipulator, your vulnerability, how long the dynamic has been present, and the support of those around you.
Many victims of manipulators will need professional help to see clearly and survive psychologically.