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Archive for the ‘Manipulation’ Category

14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You

SOURCE:    / PsychCentral

Narcissists’ lives are about winning, generally at others’ expense.

Many narcissists pursue a win-at-all-costs, anything-goes approach.

The casualties:  Honesty, empathy and reciprocity.

Narcissists distort the truth through disinformation, oversimplifying, ridiculing and sowing doubt. Narcissists can be incredibly skilled at using classic elements of thought-control and brainwashing.

To get free of narcissistic thought control it is essential to spot the distortions narcissists deliberately and instinctively practice. Applying critical thinking skills can inoculate you against their campaigns.

Here are 14 thought-control tactics narcissists frequently use:

1) Emotional Appeals:  Attempting to play on emotions such as fear, guilt and loyalty rather than using logic and reasoning.

Narcissists use emotional appeals to disguise false or outrageous claims. Since many narcissists tend to be Drama Kings or Queens, using over-the-top emotionality to control others comes naturally for them.

Example:  “How dare you question me! After all I’ve done for you.”

2) Bandwagon:  An attempt to pressure another to go along because “everybody is doing it.”

Narcissists know the power of numbers. They slavishly follow their “likes” on social media and other measures of attention. Having lots of followers reassures them of their worth. They use the power of group-think and peer pressure to play on others’ fears of missing out, being ostracized or being in the wrong.

Example:  “All your friends agree with me.”

3) Black-and-white / Either-or:  Pretending there are only two choices when there are several.

Narcissists view the world in either-or terms. Nuance is lost on them. They derive a feeling of power from this divide-and-conquer approach.

Example:  “You’re either with me or against me.”

 

4) Burden of Proof:  Asserting that the speaker does not need to prove his points but, rather, that the burden is on the listener to disprove them.

Such an entitled stance comes easily for narcissists. In addition, narcissists love to take credit but have little interest in taking responsibility. They hate to be wrong, so putting the burden on others is a stonewalling strategy that makes it especially difficult to disprove them.

Example:  “I know I am right. What I say stands until you can prove otherwise.”

5) False Flattery:  Buttering others up to make them more receptive to your arguments.

Narcissists rarely meet a compliment they don’t like. They think others are as susceptible to flattery as they are. They ply listeners with pseudo-compliments, hoping to get things in return.

Example:  “I couldn’t possibly be manipulating you, you’re way too smart for that.”

6) Incredulity:  Acting as though what someone said is unbelievable.

Narcissists often use this tactic when they don’t understand what another person is saying. Rather than admit they are confused, they pretend that what the other person is saying is beyond belief. This is an attempt to dismiss valid concerns.

Example:  “You seriously think there are other husbands who are better than me? You really think other wives get anywhere near what I have given you? You are not living in the real world.

7) Labeling:  Applying a negative phrase or attributing negative characteristics to a person or position.

Narcissists love labels. Having a single word to invalidate or humiliate another feels like an ultimate power for narcissists.

Example:  “You’re too needy. You’re a loser.”

8) False Compromise:  Offering to meet half way on matters in which there is clearly a fair and unfair choice.

If a narcissist has a choice to treat another person fairly or unfairly, a “compromise” that still treats the other unfairly is no compromise – it’s still wrong.

Example:  “Okay, you win, I’ll pay you back $50 of the $100 you gave me and we’ll call it even. Hey, it’s better than nothing.”

 

9) Empty Promises:  Promising to give others what they want without any plan or intention of fulfilling the promise.

Example:  “You’ll get your turn. I promise.”

10) Quoting out of Context:  Repeating only part of what another person said or using another’s words completely out of context.

Narcissists do this to discredit others and put them on the defensive.

Example:  “You always said people have to take responsibility for themselves so I didn’t think you needed my help when you had to go to the ER.”

11) Ridicule:  Mocking or humiliating another person or their requests or feelings.

Narcissists devalue others through dismissive remarks, sarcasm, or hostile humor instead of taking the other person seriously.

Example:  “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re just embarrassing yourself.”

12) Slippery Slope:  An appeal to fear which takes a small problem and predicts that it will lead to an escalating series of worst-case scenarios.

The goal is to use an extreme hypothetical to distract from a reasonable complaint or argument.

Example:  “If I do this for you, you will think you can get whatever you want from me. I’ll become your slave and have no life.”

13) Dehumanizing:  Classifying others as inferior, dangerous or evil to justify oppressing or eliminating them.

This ends-justifies-the-means tactic is second nature for narcissists, who see most other people as inferior.

Example:  “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

14) Slogans:  A simplistic phrase that is a catch-all designed to shut down dissent.

Narcissists often have pat phrases they employ when they feel threatened.

Example:  “I’m your last best hope. I’m all you’ve got.”

Knowledge is power. Recognizing narcissists’ tactics is the first step in setting healthy boundaries against their manipulation. Read additional thought-control techniques used by narcissists in my blog 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You

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Emotional Abuse: How Gaslighting Affects Your Mental Health

SOURCE:  Julia Naftulin / Health.com / Motto

‘If a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim’

Once in a while, it’s normal to have a fleeting moment where you question your own sanity, like when you’re severely sleep deprived or stressed out. But if a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim of a sophisticated form of emotional abuse: gaslighting. Like other types of abuse, gaslighting can happen in all sorts of relationships, including personal, romantic, and professional.

Ben Michaelis, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, has worked with victims of gaslighting. For one of his patients—we’ll call her Marie—the gaslighting began when her husband shouted another woman’s name during sex. When she tried to discuss the incident with him, he flatly denied what he’d said and told Marie she was hearing things. Marie figured she must have had too much to drink. But then the lying continued: Marie’s husband would change his alibi constantly, and when Marie questioned him, he’d say she was acting delusional. It wasn’t until almost a year later when Marie realized her husband had been hiding an affair the whole time.

“[Gaslighting] is like someone saying the sky is green over and over again, and at first you’ll be like ‘no, no,’” says Gail Saltz, MD a psychiatrist and host of the podcast The Power of Different. “Then over time the person starts to manipulate you into saying ‘I guess I can’t really see what color the sky is.’ It’s just this sense of unreality.”

Acknowledging you’re a victim of gaslighting like Marie did can be tricky at first, says Michaelis, who is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. “Initially, if someone is insisting on a reality that is different from your own, you’ll think, Why was I off that day? Was I tired?” As the gaslighting continues, victims begin to question themselves and their judgment more and more. Michaelis says this can go on for months or even years before they realize they’re being gaslighted. “People who experience gaslighting may show obsessive-compulsive symptoms because they want to constantly check themselves and recheck themselves,” says Dr. Michaelis. The confidence-depleting nature of gaslighting could contribute to increased anxiety in many or all aspects of a victim’s life, not only in the relationship. Many gaslighting victims berate themselves or feel the need to apologize all the time, explains Dr. Saltz.

Gaslighting can manifest in a workplace environment as well. “Your boss may use gaslighting to hide a mistake or cover up information they didn’t mean to share,” says Michaelis. “It can also be a passive-aggressive gesture used among peers who are competing.”

If you realize you’re being gaslighted, the first thing you need to recognize is that a gaslighter may not be conscious of the effects of their actions, especially if they have issues with being wrong or out of control. In this case, confronting the gaslighter could work. Michaelis suggests conducting all conversations you have with the gaslighter in a recorded format, like through email or text. Then, when gaslighting occurs, tell the person what they originally said. “If they continue do deny what they said, you can supply the recorded evidence so they have a concrete understanding of what happened,” says Michaelis. This method works best when confronting a friend or partner.

In professional relationships, Michaelis suggests reaching out to a third party, like human resources, which can make the confrontation more objective. You can take this route in your personal relationships as well by enlisting a friend or family member to help. “If you find it happening to you, be thoughtful of the person’s motivations,” Michaelis says. “They don’t usually do it out of pure ill-will. It usually correlates with trying to cover something up, so first try to repair the relationship if it’s worth it.”

If confrontation fails and ending the relationship is an option, Dr. Saltz recommends doing so. Michaelis agrees: “All relationships are changeable. Maybe not immediately, but they are changeable or severable if need be,” he says.

If you have to stick it out with a gaslighter, though, try to boost your confidence with the support of good friends. “If you’re having a hard time changing the situation, they can bolster your reality otherwise,” says Michaelis. In a work environment, you should also be wary of what information you share with a gaslighter. Michaelis suggests withholding personal life details with a gaslighting co-worker or boss to protect yourself from emotional abuse in the office.

No matter which method you choose, it’s important to take control of reality again, says Dr. Saltz. This involves setting limits that stop gaslighting attempts in their tracks. For example, if your boss calls you overly sensitive when you ask, “Why won’t you let me work on big company projects?” demand true feedback rather than accepting blame on your character. “It’s holding the line for what you’re wanting to achieve,” Dr. Saltz says, “and not buying into accusations intended to knock down self-confidence.”

Helping victims of domestic abuse: 4 pitfalls to avoid

SOURCE: Dr. Diane Langberg/Careleader.org

To understand domestic abuse properly, let’s start with the word abuse, which comes from the Latin word abutor, meaning “to use wrongly.” It also means “to insult, violate, tarnish, or walk on.” So domestic abuse, then, occurs when one partner in the home uses the other partner for wrong purposes. Anytime a human being uses another as a punching bag, a depository for rage, or something to be controlled for that person’s own satisfaction, abuse has occurred. Anytime words are used to demean or insult or degrade, abuse has occurred. And anytime there is intimidation and threats and humiliation, abuse has occurred.

Domestic abuse is something you as a pastor may encounter, or it may be a “silent sin” within the church that goes unseen. Either way, it is a reality, and one for which we must be prepared. But how do we do this? How can we prepare to minister to victims of domestic abuse? Below, I share four common pitfalls of pastors and leaders, then conclude by explaining how the church is called to act in these situations.

Pitfall #1: Not realizing the frequency of abuse

We need to realize just how frequently abuse happens. We are surprised by it in the church, but statistically 20 percent of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

That’s almost one-third of women, and that includes women in the church.

20% of women in this country will experience at least one episode of violence with a husband or partner.

Further, more than three women are murdered each day by their husbands or boyfriends.

Or here’s another statistic: pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause.

That is astounding. And again, those numbers don’t change when you survey women within the church.

Pitfall #2: Not calling abuse what it really is

One of the most important things we can do is call abuse what it really is, because people have a tendency to rename abuse into other things. For example, an abuser might say, “I was upset from a bad day at work … which is why I turned the table over, broke the dishes, and hit my spouse,” or “It was a mistake.” Abusers use words to minimize what has been done and make it seem normal. And unfortunately, those trying to help do the same thing, saying things like “Can’t you forgive so-and-so for that mistake?”

But domestic abuse is not a mistake. It is abuse; it meets the definition of abuse. So we have to call it what it is, because we are called to the truth. We have to call things by their rightful name. By changing the wording, we diminish the gravity of the sin.

Pitfall #3: Encouraging submission despite abuse

Sadly, many women have been beaten, kicked, and bruised, and then return home in the name of submission. Worse, many of these women have been sent home in the name of submission. But submission does not entitle a husband to abuse his wife.

Unfortunately, this instruction is one of the biggest mistakes pastors and church leaders have been known to make. So many women are sent home by church leaders to be screamed at, humiliated, and beaten, sometimes to death. Their husbands can break their bones, smash in their faces, terrify their children, break things, forbid them access to the money, and all sorts of things, but they are told to submit without a word and be glad for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.

Pitfall #4: Protecting the institution of marriage instead of the victim

Domestic violence is a felony in all fifty states. So, to send people home and not deal with it, not bring it into the light, and not provide safety is to be complicit in lawbreaking, which is also illegal. In sending women home, the church ends up partnering in a crime. But it is not the church’s call to cover up violence. Paul says in Ephesians 5 to expose the deeds of darkness so the light can shine in. That’s the only way there is hope for truth and repentance and healing.

I also find one of the things that confuses Christians is we think that if we take the wife and children out of their home to bring them to a safe place, for example, we are not protecting “the family.” We say that we have to protect the family because it is a God-ordained institution, which it is. But what we forget is that God does not protect institutions, even ones He has ordained, when they are full of sin.

It’s easy for us to forget that truth, and particularly when we know those who are abusive, we tend to want to believe them. We don’t understand how incredibly deceitful and manipulative they are, deceiving first themselves and then others. We think we can tell when people are lying—even though the Scriptures say we are all so deceitful, we can’t even know the depths of it. But we are deceived into thinking that they wouldn’t do something so severe. And while we think we are doing the right thing by believing or trusting them, we are actually completely opposed to Scripture.

The calling of the church

The church is called to be the church. What that means is that we are called to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed; that’s all through the Scriptures. And we are called to hold others accountable, despite the tough road to repentance, even if they are our best friends.

So when a pastor hears from a woman that she is being abused in her home, the first step is to find out what that means. It could be verbal abuse, or it could be that her life is in danger, and she and her children need to be taken out of the home and put in a safe place.

Unfortunately, though, not all victims of domestic abuse feel that they are able to leave, a source of frustration for many caregivers. The vast majority of women in these situations love their husbands and want their marriage to work, and many times, the husband assures her that he won’t do it again. She wants her husband, so she keeps going back. So while we want to ensure her safety by not sending her back to an abusive home, we also want to give her the dignity of being able to make her own decision, which he does not give her.

We must also have the humility to involve other authorities like the police, if need be. They are God-given authorities for matters such as these, but it can be a bit of a revolving door. If she wants to report the abuse to the police, go with her to the police. If she needs to file a protection order, go with her to the courthouse. We must walk with her as she makes her decision.

As pastors and leaders, we must not minimize abuse, nor should we teach women that submission means being a punching bag, even a verbal one. We also cannot minimize the gravity of the issue or be naïve to its prevalence in the church. Instead, the church is called to love and protect those who are vulnerable, to walk with them and care for them well.

Marriage: When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick, LCSW (AACC)

Christian women in troubled marriages who have gone to their pastor or a Christian counselor seeking help are often encouraged to work on themselves and try harder to be more submissive, more caring, more attentive to their husband’s needs, more respectful, and less demanding.

In many marriages this might be wise counsel.  When one person starts to try harder it often begets a reciprocal response in the other person. He begins to try harder too.  Amends are made and the relationship is repaired.  This is a good start and when the marriage stalls, someone needs to get some movement forward. However, in certain kinds of marriages it is not a good idea and can actually make the marriage worse.

Briefly, let me explain why, in some marriages, trying harder to accommodate one’s husband, do what he wants and needs and to be more compliant and submissive to what he says becomes destructive not only to her but also to her husband as well as their marriage.

It Feeds the Lie

Some men do not want to be married to a real woman who has her own feelings, her own needs, and her own brokenness. Instead they want a fantasy wife.

A blow-up-doll wife that continues to bounces back with a smile even when he knocks her down. He wants a wife who always agrees, always acts nice, always smiles and thinks he’s wonderful all of the time no matter what he does or how he behaves.  He wants a wife who wants to have sex with him whenever he’s in the mood, regardless of how he treats her.  He wants a wife that will never upset him, never disagree or never challenge him, and never disappoint him. He wants a wife that grants him amnesty whenever he messes up and never mentions it again.

The more a woman colludes with her husband’s idea that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife, the more firmly entrenched this lie becomes.  She will never measure up to his fantasy wife because she too is a sinner. A real wife will disappoint him some times. She won’t always be able to meet every want or need. A real wife also reflects to him her pain when he hurts her and God’s wisdom when she sees him making a foolish decision.

In a healthy marriage where both individuals are allowed to be themselves, couples must learn to handle disagreements, differences and conflicts through compromise, mutual caring, and mutual submission.  Sacrifice and service are mutually practiced in order to love one another in godly ways. When we fail (as we will) we see the pain in our partner’s face and with God’s help, make corrections so that damages are repaired and love grows.  In an unhealthy marriage when real wife and fantasy wife collide, it’s never pretty.

Therefore, how do we counsel wives in destructive marriages? We must help her gain a vision for God’s role as her husband’s helpmate. According to the Bible a helpmate is not an enabler, but rather a strong warrior. It means she will need to learn to fight (in God’s way) to bring about her husband’s good.  She will need to think and pray about how God can use her to meet her husband’s deepest needs, not just his felt needs.

I often give women in these situations this challenge. Ask God what are your husband’s biggest or deepest needs right now.  Is it to continue to prop him up, indulge his self-centeredness and self-deception or does he need something far more radical and risky from you?

I encourage her to prayerfully and humbly ask God to show her how best to biblically love her husband. It may be to stop indulging his selfish behavior and speak the truth in love. It may be to reflect back to him the impact his behaviors have on her and their children.  It may be to set boundaries against his misuse of power under the guise of headship so that he doesn’t remain self-deceived. It may mean exposing some of his sins to the leadership of the church so that they too can act as a reflective mirror so that he has the best opportunity to look at himself from God’s perspective and repent.

That kind of love is indeed risky, redemptive, and sacrificial as she does not know what his response will be to this kind of love.  But if he wakes up and repents of his demand for a fantasy wife that would be a positive change for her, for him, and for their marriage.

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Leslie Vernick, M.S.W., is a popular speaker, author, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and relationship coach with a counseling practice in Pennsylvania. She is a best-selling author of seven books, including The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. For more information, visit her Web site at www.leslievernick.com.

True Guilt and False Guilt — What’s the Difference?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

What’s The Difference Between True Guilt and False Guilt?

Question: How do I discern true guilt from false guilt? I want to please God and serve others for Him, but I don’t want to give in to manipulators, either in my family or my friends.

Answer:   If a manipulator can make you feel guilty for saying no, he or she is much more likely to be successful in getting you to back down. Their strategy is to make you feel as if you are doing something wrong or you are being selfish when you won’t do what he or she wants. A manipulator’s thinking is simple. He believes, “If you love me, then you’ll always do what I want.” Therefore, if you say no, then you must not love me or you are selfish.

A two-year-old uses this tactic on his mother to get her to buy them something while standing in line at the grocery store. Most mothers are wise enough not to be manipulated by these tantrums. We know that a firm “no” to our child is the most loving thing we can do. The same is true for other relationships. Saying no to manipulation is actually taking a stand against someone else’s sin. This is a good thing.

However, when the manipulator is not our child, but our mother or husband or adult child, it’s much harder not to get sucked into his or her drama. It doesn’t help that they often accuse us of being unloving and selfish because we are not giving into their demands, and consequently, we’re tempted to feel guilty.

So what’s the way out? Let’s first look at Jesus. He never sinned, never was selfish yet he did say, “no.” He didn’t always do what people expected or wanted him to do. Jesus took time out for friendship, rest, relaxation, and prayer (Mark 6:30-31,46). When you feel guilty because you’ve said no to someone, take a moment to read Mark 1:29-39.

In this passage, we learn that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house for a relaxing dinner, but people brought the sick to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door. Can you imagine the pressure Jesus felt with everyone pressing in on him to do something? That evening he healed many people, but he eventually said no more and went to sleep. Those who were left behind unhealed must have felt disappointed.

While it was still dark, Jesus woke up and went off by himself to pray. Peter eventually came looking for him. “Jesus, where have you been? Everyone back home is waiting for you.” Jesus answered Peter saying, “I’m not going back to your house. Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Jesus knew he could not do everything everyone wanted him to do and still do what God wanted him to do. During that quiet time of prayer, Jesus asked the Father to help him discern between the good things and the best things. Just like we do, Jesus had to make some hard choices – to please God or to please others. He chose pleasing God. This priority regularly cost him the disapproval and disappointment of others, including his disciples, religious leaders, and his own family (see Matthew 26:8; Mark 3:21-22).

To break free from the guilt trip, we must all learn to distinguish between true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is a God-given warning signal that we are violating God’s moral law. False guilt arises when we or another human being judges our actions, ideas, or feelings as wrong, even if there is nothing sinful about them.

So next time you’re struggling with guilt, do these three things.

  1. Go to God’s word for clarity. Am I breaking God’s moral law or is it some other human being’s law such as “Thou shall never say no to me”?
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to search you and see if there is any wicked way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). You may find you have more guilt over feeling angry and resentful that you said “yes” when you wanted to say “no” than you would have if you had just said “no” in the first place.
  3. Ask yourself this question. If I say “yes,” am I saying, “yes” because I want to or because God asks me to? Or do I feel I pressured to say “yes” because I’m afraid to say “no”?

Remember, you are a finite, limited human being. When you say “yes” to something, you also always say “no” to something else.

When you repeatedly say “yes” to a manipulator, keep in mind that you are also saying “no” to your own needs, to perhaps your children’s needs, or to the greater good of what God wants for you. When you accept that you can’t always make everyone happy with you, (Jesus couldn’t either) then the false guilt will dissipate.

Are Manipulators Aware of Being Manipulative?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

Q&A: Are You Setting Boundaries Or Just Being Manipulative?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: Someone wrote: What’s the difference between setting clear boundaries with someone and being manipulative and/or controlling? It looks similar to me and my husband. When I set boundaries with him he says I’m being controlling and when I tell him how I feel, such as “this hurts me” he says I’m being manipulative.

Answer: Your question is timely and important. There could be some truth to your confusion. For example, if you try to set a boundary on your husband’s behavior – such as, “You can’t talk to me that way,” or “You can’t watch R rated movies” or “You have to go to church with me if you want to have sex” you are trying to control him. If he refuses to comply and you follow it up with “This hurts me” (when you won’t do what I want you to do), it can be seen as manipulative. He sees that you are trying to make him feel guilty for exercising his right to choose not to do what you want or deciding how he behaves and the kind of man he wants to be.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If your husband tried to control how often you drove the car or talked with your sister on the telephone, or whether you could work, wouldn’t you see it as controlling? And if you protested and he said “That hurts me (that you won’t let me control you), would you not see that as manipulative?

When we try to control another person and use the phrase, “I’m setting a boundary on you,” we’re not defining it properly. What we are trying to do is control their negative behavior so we don’t get hurt or feel anxious. Boundaries are something we set for ourselves, not for the other person. Let me give an example:

If I told you that you could not smoke cigarettes in my presence, I’m trying to control you. If I say instead, if you choose to smoke around me, I will have to leave, that’s a boundary. I am not controlling you I’m taking care of me. I don’t want to breathe in smoke, it’s not good for my health and if you decide not to honor my needs, I will have to set a boundary that I can’t be around you when you smoke.

It can get confusing if I say, “You can’t smoke in my home.” I may be saying that because I want to protect me and my health, or the air in my home, which is being a good steward and taking responsibility for me. Or, I might say it because I don’t like you smoking and am trying to get you to stop and I’m attempting to take responsibility for you (your smoking habit). Then it is controlling. Sometimes boundary setting does feel fuzzy and isn’t crystal clear to both parties why you are doing what you are doing.

Boundaries are necessary for two primary reasons. The first is to define where your responsibility ends and someone else’s responsibility begins. For example, let’s think of property lines (whether they are formal with a fence or informal). My property line helps me know what grass is my responsibility to mow, what flowers are my responsibility to water, what weeds are my responsibility to pull, what snow is my responsibility so shovel or plow.

That doesn’t mean I might not offer to help my neighbor do these things in his own yard if he is ill, or away from home but they are not my responsibility. The boundary or property line defines or clarifies my yard from his yard and what I am to take care of and what he is to take care of.

In the same way, my physical body, my emotional well-being, my financial life, my thought life, my behavior patterns, and my spiritual life are my God-given responsibilities to steward. Once I become an adult, no one else is responsible for stewarding my life but me.

When I marry someone, that person promises to be responsible to me but not for me.  

Do you hear the difference? It is critical.

In the marital vows, my spouse promises to honor and to care about my feelings, my needs, and my overall well-being but he cannot be 100% responsible for it. If I choose to smoke, drink, overeat, take drugs, drive recklessly, my spouse can tell me how my actions impact him and our marriage, but he can’t take responsibility for my actions or choices. Only I can be responsible for me. Being responsible for our selves is one of the hallmarks of a healthy adult.

The second reason we need boundaries is that they help us communicate with people how we want to be treated or what we will accept or won’t accept. Most of the time, in healthy relationships we do not need rigid boundaries. For example, if I tell my kids when my bedroom door is closed, please don’t walk in, I hope they will respect my soft boundary. I’m teaching my children to respect my need for privacy by my closed door and my words. When they refuse, or ignore my soft boundary, then I will have to put a more rigid boundary in place (a lock on my door) or give them a consequence for refusing to respect my boundary.

Here’s another example. I had a client whose mother and father-in-law walked into her house whenever they felt like it. They lived in the same neighborhood and my client rarely kept her doors locked during the day because the kids would be in and out. Her in-laws’ behavior rattled her because she was not use to such familiarity. She tried to let it go but found herself getting more and more resentful. Her husband did not see this as a big deal. He was raised with loose boundaries and his parent’s behavior did not bother him, but it did her. What was she going to do?

First, instead of brooding and filling up with anger and resentment, she needed to communicate to her in-laws how she wanted to be treated. She said to them, “I know you mean well but it frightens me to walk into my kitchen and see you standing there. From now on, please call ahead before you stop over.” (She wasn’t crystal clear with her boundary here. She should have also said and knock on my door when you get here).

They repeatedly ignored her request, so she had to make a more rigid boundary. She started to lock her doors and if she wasn’t ready for a visit with them, she did not answer her door-bell when they dropped by unannounced. Eventually they got the message that she did not want drop in visits and she would not enable their behavior.

She might be accused of being controlling but she was not. Her in-laws were free to do what they pleased, but she was also free to be a good steward of her time and her energy and if she was not prepared to speak with them or have company, she did not have to answer the door.

If they said, “It hurts me that you won’t answer the door” she could be compassionate and say, “I’m sorry that you feel hurt, but sometimes I’m busy and not prepared for company. If you don’t call ahead to check, I can’t always accommodate you. I’ve asked you to please call me before stopping by to make sure it was a good time for a visit.”

She did not take responsibility for their feelings but she recognized she was responsible to care about their feelings. That didn’t mean she caved in and allowed them to continue their inconsiderate behavior towards her; but by practicing CORE strength, she stayed strong and compassionate.

One more thing: Sometimes when a wife starts to get stronger and speaks up for herself or sets some boundaries, her husband feels (or claims) he is the victim. Instead of looking at what his feelings are telling him (he feels threatened and anxious by her newfound independence), his strategy is to blame her or accuse her of being ungodly or controlling, hoping she will feel guilty and stop changing or having her own boundaries. He wants her to return to their familiar marital dance.

Don’t do it.

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