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Posts tagged ‘avoiding manipulation’

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.

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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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