Do you ever take some one for granted? They will do what you want – so no worries. You may feel okay about this but there may be signs of discontent from the other person – whether this is your spouse or child at home or colleague or subordinate at work. You suspect they may not be quite as happy and friendly as you would like to believe. One possible reason for this state of affairs might be that, without being conscious of this, you have a tendency to manipulate them into doing or thinking what you want: getting them to comply with your desires. There need be no bad intent but nevertheless others can notice in our behaviour what we ourselves are blind to.
Effects when we we manipulate others
There are recognisable effects if this is happening. The other person might express doubts about what to think. They might feel distressed if they don’t happen to act in accordance with your wishes. Or perhaps they might feel they have little choice but to follow your lead. In extreme cases the cumulative effect of manipulation is for the victim to feel a sense of powerlessness.
Many of these signs were present in the example of Paul and Natalie Hemming. The manipulative behaviour in this case gives something of the flavour of what happens when one partner unreasonably wants to get his own way regardless of the other’s preferences. Paul kept promising Natalie they would marry. She bought a dress, told her friends, made excited plans. He even booked a venue – using her mother’s money. But three times he called the wedding off.
When their children were baptised, he refused to attend the family gathering. When she got a job at a Mercedes dealership, he said “I’ll pay you to stay at home.” He also refused to allow Natalie’s eldest daughter by a previous relationship to see her father. He got her to allow him access to her mail which he scrutinised together with her bank statements. The effect of all Paul’s manipulation and unreasonable behaviour was that Natalie left him.
What it means to manipulate someone
It is part of normal life to trade and exchange favours. And so in most relationships both partners may try to influence the other to some extent. This doesn’t necessarily mean manipulation. To actually manipulate the other person, one uses underhand and insidious pressure often of a subtle nature. This seems to come naturally to many of us even when young.
“Anybody that lives in America and has parents with a moderate amount of wealth can be spoiled. I see it every day – kids who are just running their parents over to get what they want because kids are smart, and they know they can manipulate their parents.” (Wyatt Russell, American actor)
No one act of manipulation of itself can be seen as bad. I would say that it is only when one considers the pattern of behaviour that one realizes what is really going on.
Some people can recognise their desire to manipulate others and try to stop.
“I tried to manipulate and control people, and I harbored resentment. I wanted to be forgiven, but I wouldn’t forgive others.” (Lauryn Hill, American singer-songwriter)
Ways we use to manipulate others
To avoid the tendency to manipulate someone you may want to watch out in case you are conducting yourself in one or more of the following ways:
- Unfairly expecting something of the other person and constantly expressing what to them is an unreasonable demand. It might be for example asking a worker that he or she work unpaid overtime.
- Implying threats for example of showing a spouse up in front of others
- Being judgmental by unfairly accusing the other person of having, for example, a selfish or uncaring attitude.
- Putting the other person down. This can be very subtle such as a fierce look or glance, unpleasant tone of voice, rhetorical comments, or subtle sarcasm.
- Deceiving the other person by making false claims for example that an insult was only a joke.
- Punishing their behaviour you don’t want by nagging, crying, giving ‘the silent treatment’, making explosive angry outbursts or yelling to get compliance.
Some of these points are discussed further by Harriet Braiker, in her book Who’s Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation.
Self-orientation as a cause of manipulation
Do most of us really try to manipulate other people to get our own way? Even just from time to time and not being obvious about it? One consideration is the theory that we each have a natural tendency towards self-orientation. An inclination that can result in selfishness.
Just as well you might say, for how else can we survive in this competitive world? However, the usual spiritual perspective is to bear in mind the needs of others: not prioritising self but balancing one’s own wants with those of others. Perhaps we might ask ourselves this question. Is there a danger in making self-orientation the chief of our motives. In other words having a self-concern that is over and above consideration for the rights of others?
It seems to follow that when self-orientation rules then we always want to get our own way, to win the argument and be seen to be in the right, to feel superior to others and dominate them. Is such an attitude not shown by wanting to manipulate someone so we gain control for the sake of self-interest?
The bad news is that being manipulative can only result in poor personal relationships. This means we would miss out on the chance of a union of mutual respect and care.
‘Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems