The dictionary defines manipulation as “to influence or manage shrewdly or deviously or falsify for personal gain.”
No one likes to see themselves as a manipulator. But most of us, from time to time, engage in manipulative strategies in our efforts to fulfill certain desires or expectations that we have of others.
Here are some examples of some of the ways that we may manipulate:
27. Playing dumb
Many of these behaviors are not intrinsically harmful and under certain circumstances even appropriate and legitimate. What determines whether or not one is being manipulative is not the behavior itself, but the context in which it is being used and the intention behind the action or words. An intention becomes manipulative when it is driven by an unstated, covert desire that is meant to mislead another person and influence their perception.
We manipulate when there is an outcome that we desire and we are more attached to achieving that outcome than we are to maintaining integrity in our relationship. Manipulation is what we do when we are not willing to risk openly acknowledging our intentions by expressing our desires. We feel less vulnerable when we use covert means to influence others to accommodate us.
While most of us are aware that manipulation in close relationships can diminish trust, we continue to practice manipulative behaviors.
Why then do we manipulate when we know better? And how do we justify this behavior to ourselves?
Manipulation, fueled with good intent, can be a blessing. But when used wickedly, it is the beginning of a magician’s karmic calamity – T.F. Hodge
Here are a few examples of some of the more commonly used rationalizations that we’ve heard from people over the years:
- Everybody does it.
- It’s harmless.
- I won’t get my needs met if I don’t.
- He/she does it and I’ll be at a disadvantage if I don’t.
- It’s not a big deal.
- It’s a habit and I can’t give it up.
- I don’t want anyone to take advantage of me.
You can add your own favorites to this list. Keep in mind that rationalizations aren’t equivalent to the truth. And in the case of relationships, there are “unintended consequences” that inevitably occur when we justify manipulations, regardless of the reasons we do it.
Those consequences of manipulation include:
- A diminishment in the level of self-trust and trust in the relationship
- An increase in feelings of anxiety (resulting from the fear of one’s deeper motives being revealed)
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- A diminishment in the quality of intimacy in the relationship
- An increase in feelings of resentment
- An increase in the frequency and intensity of arguments
- A loss of a sense of personal integrity
While we may feel manipulated at times when another person is using covert means to influence us, we are much less likely to be aware of these intentions in ourselves. Most of us are disinclined to recognize motivations in ourselves that are inconsistent with our image of ourselves as a “good” person. Consequently, we may be generally unaware of our manipulative tendencies. We usually manipulate because we fear that if we don’t fulfill our desires, we will suffer. We frequently don’t realize it when we are manipulating, and it is embarrassing to catch ourselves in the act.
“One of the methods of manipulation is to inoculate individuals with the bourgeois appetite for personal success – Paulo Freire
Examples of the desires that we seek to fulfill include (but are not limited to) acceptance, love, approval, sex, money, attention, security, support, agreement, control, and praise. In becoming more conscious of our manipulative patterns and the cost incurred, we can find the motivation to interrupt manipulative impulses. Then we can find the courage to risk outwardly acknowledging our needs and desires and make more direct requests to others.