What does manipulation look like?
There is a difference between healthy social influence and psychological manipulation.
Manipulation in any situation, resulting in control of your behaviour, thoughts and actions, is a sign of an unhealthy and unbalanced / one-sided relationship.
Healthy social influence is part of the give and take of constructive relationships. In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits to serve their own agenda.
Do any of these sound familiar to you in any of your relationships?
This could include spreading misinformation about you to others, and / or emphasising to you that others’ good opinion of you is entirely dependent on their representation of you, and that you have them to thank for your own success.
This might sound like: "I don't like your parents, they are not good to you and I don't want you to see them”, or telling you which friends you’re allowed to see.
Manipulative people will use financial control methods to gain power and control in relationships.
Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways to keep someone trapped in a relationship, and can take subtle or overt forms to limit access to assets and accessibility to family finances. This is intentional and is used to entrap you in the relationship.
This could be a form of emotional blackmail and might appear in exaggerated, dramatic language that makes you feel as though the other person’s wellbeing is entirely your responsibility.
They may refer to your faith or a higher calling as the reason you need to do something, in order to achieve their own goals.
Controlling people may make themselves out to be the victim to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. They may react to your defence- in family situations this can be seen as “talking back”, and is seen as a sign of insolence and disrespect from you.
They will act as though you are the one who has done something wrong and hurt them.Remember you have every right to speak up for yourself.
What happens? Others around you may not realise the extent or persistence of the manipulative person’s behaviour, as they may be an expert at hiding it from others, or they believe the abuser’s lies about you, and may have the same beliefs as the abuser but not agree with their methods.
What happens? People may make excuses for an abuser's behaviour, even if they know the damage they are inflicting. They will ignore the issue, make excuses, believe the abuser’s lies about you, and in certain cultural contexts, may not agree with the abuser’s methods but fundamentally have the same beliefs as the abuser.
What happens? Controlling people may stop talking to you completely to exert pressure upon you, and to coerce you into what they want you to do, and see how long it will take before you break down. One person shares:“My very first boyfriend did this when I didn't want to have sex. He literally turned his back on me, and didn't respond to anything until I agreed to have sex. No violence involved, but very damaging still…”
What happens? You might think you are given a choice by being asked a question but the answer has already been decided by the manipulator. Usually, after such a question, there is a pause and people are programmed to respond to a conversational pause by offering to help, hence you might just do whatever the manipulator wants you to do.
What happens? Manipulative people avoid asking questions because they do not want to lose control. So instead they frame statements as questions.
What happens? Manipulators may react aggressively to avoid answering as they may fear loss of control. They may even shift the focus onto you by asking you questions, or may start accusing you or even change the subject completely.
What happens? Controlling people use statements to make you feel guilty about doing or not doing something.
What happens? Normalisation refers to social processes through which ideas and actions are seen as culturally “normal” in everyday life. Manipulative people take full advantage of this and use it against you.
What happens? These generalise a person’s character or behaviour in a negative way. They often involve the use of words such as “always,”“never,”“again,”“so,”“every time,”“such as,” and “everyone.”
What happens? Manipulators will invalidate your feelings. This happens when we recognise emotions, positive or negative, coming out of a person, and either discount, belittle, minimise, ignore or negatively judge these feelings.