Manipulation: who’s controlling who?
Manipulation has negative connotations. It is perceived as trying to change the behaviour or view of someone in a deceptive and controlling way in order to benefit the manipulator and to the detriment of the victim. The reality however is that every one of us uses manipulative behaviours to some degree, but this is usually through healthy social influence. This therefore doesn’t make you a bad person, a narcissist or a control freak. In fact, it has been argued that social influence can be used for altruistic means, such as in the fields of social care, education and therapy. This blog will look at what we mean by manipulation and importantly, what constitutes manipulation for sinister purposes and how not to fall victim to it.
What is manipulation?
Manipulation is a kind of social influence. Its purpose is to change the behaviour or view of another person through indirect or deceptive ways. The manipulator intentionally creates a power imbalance and uses their victim to fulfil their own needs. Manipulation is almost like a combination of persuasion, coercion and deception. This shows how complex it can be, which means it can be difficult for people - especially victims of manipulation - to clearly identify it.
Manipulation in intimate relationships
You would be surprised to learn the many ways in which our actions would fall under the manipulation category. For example, telling a family member that you’re fine when you’re not, leading that family member to perceive you as okay when really, you’re struggling, would actually be seen as manipulation. You have controlled the family member’s perception of you in a deceptive way.
However, manipulation can be used in far more harmful ways and with dangerous consequences. This is particularly true in intimate relationships, where one partner uses manipulation to control the other. Some examples of manipulative behaviours in intimate relationships are:
- A manipulator may buy their partner a gift only so they can get something in return, rather than giving the gift ‘just because’.
- A manipulator may exaggerate how their partner has reacted to them in a particular situation, as a way to victimise themselves and have the innocent partner feel guilty.
- A manipulator may lead their partner to believe that their friends and family don’t treat them well (when this is not actually the case), leaving the victim to become isolated and therefore, more likely to be controlled by them. The victim is left without a support system, so they become lonely and trapped in the unhealthy relationship.
- A manipulator will also use passive-aggressive communications or behaviours. For example, pretending nothing is wrong when there is clearly something wrong; giving someone silent treatment; sulking or withdrawing; giving backhanded compliments; or things not being done properly or being sabotaged out of resentment.
The above may not all be intended to be manipulative. However, when there is an intention to be harmful or controlling, it can result in severe psychological issues for victims of manipulation. This is particularly true for those who have been taken advantage of over a significant period of time with little awareness of the tactics being used over them by the manipulator.
When manipulation in an intimate relationship is severe, it can lead the victim to question their own views and what is real or not. This is known as gaslighting and can be very damaging to people, as they can lose a sense of their own reality.
How to deal with a manipulative partner
- Trust your instincts
Victims of manipulation often have a gut feeling that something just isn’t right. This usually occurs when they notice that they are questioning themselves a lot more than they used to. It is important to trust in your instincts and begin to question a manipulator’s behaviours rather than your own.
- Seek support
Manipulation can really impact on someone's ability to see what is actually going on, especially if they have been a victim of gaslighting. Speak to loved ones or a professional about what is going on for you. This can often help you to clarify your reality, as you are seeking others’ views.
- Don’t ignore it
It will not help if you act like manipulation isn’t a big deal. Be confident in telling your partner when you are experiencing their manipulative ways and how they make you feel. This will show that you are aware of their negative intentions and that you will not tolerate it.
This can be really hard for people to do, as disengaging with someone you are in an intimate relationship with and therefore, have deep feelings for, is never straightforward. However, if manipulation is causing serious harm, a victim needs to regain their sense of self which has been lost as a result of manipulation. It is really difficult for this to happen if they are stuck under the control of the manipulator. Trying to disengage or remove yourself from the toxic environment will help in trying to find yourself again.
Being the victim of significant manipulation and emotional abuse can have many detrimental effects on a person’s physical and mental health. A victim can feel shame, guilt and worthlessness, as what they have been through is a type of trauma. It is common for victims to suffer with anxiety, depression, a loss of self and independence, have difficulty trusting people, and use unhealthy coping mechanisms to try to deal with the emotional turmoil suffered.
Everyone has the right to be independent, to think for themselves and have the freedom to make their own choices. It is important to address manipulation if it is causing these rights to be lost.