Five Signs…You Are Being Manipulated

Manipulation can be hard to see

(Approx an 8 min read)

Sometimes in relationship, be it with a friend or a lover/partner, we can be aware something is not quite right, with the interactions we are having.

Then our mind kicks in with: “Nah, I’m imagining things” “He/she looks good and is saying the right things” “What’s wrong with me to think this, of such a nice person?”

Generally it’s only afterwards we realise we have been manipulated into doing something we did not want to do. Upon reflection, when it’s too late, we realise; ‘If I’d listened to my body, or intuition, I could have been awake to what was happening earlier’.

And therefore made different choices…

Why do some people manipulate others?

Some of us find it hard to ask for what we want, so we manipulate others, to get what we want. Thereby reducing the chance of experiencing ‘uncomfortable feelings’. Such as: rejection, judgement, lack of control, humiliation, etc.

Others have anxiety that can only be alleviated by controlling others – to increase feelings of safety. Some feel so unsafe, it is the only way to have a sense of being in control and therefore safe.

Still others are ruthlessly wanting to get what they want at any cost, and are not concerned with respect, ethics, or morals. They feel entitled to exert power and control over someone else.

Instead of being direct in asking for what they want, they use tactics that leave you feeling something emotional – which is intended to have a sense of obligation, to do what they want.

Common tactics are to use obligation, or the fear of feeling; rejection, anger, humiliation, disappointment, intimidation, or hurt – as some of us will do anything to avoid feeling these emotional triggers.

So we do what they want naively, or reluctantly.

As we age and hopefully gain a little wisdom alongside our experience, we can begin to recognise the more obvious signs of manipulation.

However, sometimes we miss the more subtle and devious strategies, and the only sign we have, is the uneasiness in our belly, and feelings of confusion or resentment that lingers.

Here are five warning signs to be aware of:
1 – Waking Up From the Trance – How did we get here?

When you realise ‘Hey, how did I get here?’ or ‘I don’t want to be doing this’.

Sometimes, we ‘wake up’ as if from a trance. To discover ourselves doing something we don’t want to be doing. We stand back and say “I don’t want to be doing this”. Then ask ourselves, “How did I get here?”

This occurred to me when I was with a group of people once. Suddenly I ‘woke up’ and took stock of what was happening and where we were.

I began to ask the others in the group ‘Who wanted to be where we were, doing what we were doing?’ and no one else was keen. So I back tracked over the previous hours to reflect on how we all got here, all doing something we did not want to!

From reflection and observation I learnt that the eldest woman of the group, had cleverly manipulated all of us into doing what she wanted – without once asking anyone if we wanted to.

I realised the power over us was staggering – none of us had any idea what she was doing, or how she was doing it!

And this can happen between two people.

Image by © Chris Whitehead/cultura/Corbis

A friend of mine reported that she went to dinner with a guy she had met. Later that evening, she ‘woke up’ out of her trance, finding herself being undressed in his room. She stopped and thought to herself “I don’t want to be doing this” “How did I get here?”

After leaving, she reflected upon the evening, to work out how she had gotten herself where she was. Her date had cleverly used some NLP inspired, sales manipulation techniques, to get her to say ‘Yes’ repeatedly all evening, intending to induce a trance so he could get her do what he wanted.

Fortunately she ‘woke up’ when she did.

2 – The person you are with is incredibly ‘nice’

Many ‘Nice people’ do not like to upset anyone, or risk rejection, and will do almost anything to avoid conflict and anger. I know this, as I used to be a very ‘nice boy/man’.

Asking for what you want is risking rejection and is therefore something to avoid.

So some ‘nice people’ get very good at getting what they want without asking, or negotiating for it. We can be very good at creating a sense of ‘obligation’ within the other, so it can actually feel unfair if you do not want to do what we quite reasonably want.

Sometimes we are so ‘nice’. How can you say no?

3 – “I don’t know”

This strategy can be confusing and frustrating to be around, in a committed, intimate relationship – as it ruthlessly plays on your self-doubt and implicit trust in the other – whose intent is to create what they want, without the need for negotiation or compromise.

Each time you come to negotiating some aspect of the relationship, he or she will respond with a version of “I don’t know”

The end result is no agreements are be made, nothing is settled, which can produce feelings of frustration and uncertainty, in the one who is attempting to gain clarity, or an agreement.

These feelings can be made worse when after some time of enduring this pattern of behaviour, you ‘wake up from the trance’. Suddenly it dawns on you that everything is the way your partner wants – even though he/she has not negotiated it!

This can be further complicated, when the person acting in good faith in trying to get clarity and an agreement, is the one who is ‘made to feel guilty’, because their repeated attempts to gain clarity and have agreements, are portrayed as harassment.

It can be like ‘being in relationship with smoke’ – there is nothing concrete to hang onto

4 – Ambiguity

Have you ever had an agreement with someone, only to discover that what they were agreeing to, was quite different to what you thought you were agreeing to?

When it came time to confront them, that the original agreement has been broken. The other claims “What I meant when we agreed to was …”

In response you may say “Well, I did not mean that. I was pretty clear on what I intended. Your words certainly did not convey that message at the time”.

In this situation, words can be used in a way that is deceptive and not in the spirit of the agreement. “Oh no, I did not mean it like that” they say.

It’s very popular with politicians.

Of course this can happen, despite the best intentions.

However, when you find it repeatedly occurs with the same person, it’s likely to be a deliberate strategy to deceive and manipulate. This tactic relies on using words with ambiguous meanings, that are being used in ways that are outside of normal usage.

The person using this strategy intends to create an agreement which has lots of ‘wiggle room’, for themselves – creating more options, than what is apparent.

This strategy is used by someone who does not like to be ‘pinned down’ with exact language – as it leaves them with no room to get out of an agreement, if they happen to decide it does not suit them, or they want to do something different.

So asking them: “What do you mean when you use that word?” “When you say…….For me it means…..Is that what you mean?” Can go some way towards gaining clarity and of you both being on the same page.

5 – Your body and intuition are telling you ‘something is not quite right’

Manipulators rely on tricking your mind and emotions into doing, saying, feeling and agreeing to things you really don’t want to.

Your body cannot so easily be tricked, as your mind and emotions can

Learn to trust your body – the body knows when something is amiss, when someone has an agenda that is not being spoken and does not ultimately serve you.

Each of us is unique, so our body will respond differently when faced with an attempt at manipulation, hidden agenda, or deceit.

For some it will be a ‘sick’, ‘nauseous’ or ‘contracted’ feeling in the belly. Others can experience; tingling, weakness, persistent rapid vibration in the body, or a simple need to get away from the situation quickly.

What to do when your body communicates ‘something is not right here’? 

Manipulators rely on your self-doubt and lack of trust in your perceptions.

They want you to trust them, and their words, more than you trust yourself and your perceptions

So for some of us, when faced with someone who is attempting to manipulate you, often the simplest strategy is, just walk away – get some space to check in with yourself and gain some clarity.

The manipulator will always attempt to deflect, or render any attempt to bring their behaviour into the light, with increased intensity of manipulation and/or hostility.

The manipulator does not want to be ‘seen’, or found out

So unless you are absolutely sure about what is happening and have the confidence and verbal skills to manage the situation – just walk away.

Manipulators generally are not bad people. It’s their way of navigating safely through a potentially hostile world. It’s a way to compensate for their failings in being able to cope with vulnerability, strong feelings, rejection, loss of control and humiliation.

By controlling others through manipulation, they prevent others from seeing who they really are – which they must hide by all means available.

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Author: Steve

Steven. R. Sweeney has worked for over 25 years with people in groups, one to one and with couples. His broad experience in private practice, the community sector and in business as a - Trainer, Group Facilitator, Speaker & Relationship Counsellor - has given him a deep understanding of relationships and how to make them work better for all concerned. His passion is in helping people manifesting the life they deeply desire, through co-creating Xtraordinary Relationships.

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