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Manipulating: Controlling Others Comes at a Cost

Updated on March 9, 2015

Controlling Others Comes at a Cost

Manipulating others feels powerful, but comes at a price.
Manipulating others feels powerful, but comes at a price. | Source

Manipulation is a short- term, personally motivated agenda that does not consider others except how to use them. Merriam-Webster’s definition of manipulation is as follows: “To control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one's advantage.”

That's a rather polite way of saying that because of self-serving motives, people try to get others to do something for them that they can probably do for themselves; there's just no desire to expend the energy, or it's perceived as easier if someone else does it.

There are also those who get smug satisfaction in being able to manipulate others, experiencing almost pride when they are slick enough to "get over on other people."

Learning what your preferred method of manipulation is; becoming aware of when you use it, who you use it with, and why you use it, is important if you want to stop this behavior. You might wonder why you would stop something that gets people to do things for you.

Because their help comes at a price.


Are you the Puppet or the Puppet Master?

Source

How Do I Spot the Manipulation?

The clues you can look for in other people’s or your manipulation are:

  • How are the requests framed?
  • What posture does the person use who's asking for something?
  • Are there certain words used in the request designed to elicit sympathy?

There are three essential elements in manipulation. They are:

  1. Scheming – To get, get out of, or have someone else do something
  2. Calculating - Dishonest, devious, or conniving
  3. Controlling – Wily, sly and crafty

Manipulators are good at what they do. They choose a style and then perfect it. While they may no longer throw themselves on the floor; kicking and screaming to get their way, they might still employ tears as part of the manipulation.

Most manipulators have dropped the obvious, "Please, please, please" of an adolescent, but they may just keep asking, rephrasing, or keep talking about the request. Often, people give in to this type of manipulation as they're just worn down. Intimidating or demanding can manipulate people, who would rather give in to a tantrum than to deal with one, so you get your way.

Anger gets people’s attention, and they can feel uncomfortable and intimidated by it. For this reason, they may just give in and let you have your way to change the overall mood.

General Categories of Manipulation

General Categories of Manipulation

Mary Treffert, LCSW, ACSW writes in “Are You Someone's Puppet”? that "Manipulation is usually attempted using power, unsolicited helping, rescuing, guilt, weakness, and/or dependence, in order to achieve the desired outcome. For example:

1) Power – physical, verbal, intellectual intimidation or threats, put-downs, belittling, withholding of things needed or wanted. The goal is to be in a “one up, I am right and you are wrong” position;

2) Unsolicited helping/rescuing – doing things for others when they do not, request it, want it, or need it; helping others so they become indebted, obligated, and owe you. The goal is to be in the “after all I have done for you. Now you owe me” position.

3) Guilt – shaming, scolding, blaming others, attempting to make others responsible, trying to collect for past favors. The goal is to be in the “it is all your fault,” or “after all I have done for you and now you treat me like this” position;

4) Weakness/dependence – being (or threatening to become) helpless, needy, fearful, sick, depressed, incompetent, suicidal. The goal is to confuse want with need, with the message “if you do not take care of me, something bad is going to happen, and it will be all your fault” position. Intimidating or demanding can manipulate people, who would rather give in to a tantrum than to deal with one, so you get your way.

There are also very public examples of people manipulating the feelings of others to accomplish their agendas, which may or may not have worth. A hunger strike, if you are famous, gets the attention of many people. If the cause of the hunger strike is admirable, people sometimes think, “Oh, aren’t they worthy for sacrificing so much. I will support that cause.”

Ask yourself if you would have supported the cause if the person on strike were someone that was not famous. If you can answer that you would not be influenced by the purpose, but were controlled by the individual, then on some level, you were manipulated into being supportive of the person.

Intimidating or demanding can manipulate people, who would rather give in to a tantrum than to deal with one, so you get your way.

How Do You Pull the Strings of Others?

What is Your Style of Manipulation?

See results

Manipulative Methods: Can You Find Yourself in these Examples?

If you can answer yes, to any of the following examples, then in those situations, you have been manipulative.

When confronted I pretend to be helpless or incompetent.

I make statements about being "dumb" or "stupid" or declarations that indicate that others should feel sorry for me for my lack of awareness, education, experience or support.

Learn to call this what it is –manipulating people's impression of you to get what you want. Claiming to be stupid or incompetent moves the conversation to the fact that you are not an idiot or dumb. It distracts the other participant in the conversation and then you do not have to stay focused on your behaviors. It usually works in your favor. If you are too “incompetent” to do something, then obviously someone else will have to do it for you.

Pouting Postures get noticed and help create the image that people should feel sorry for you.

I act ignored, forgotten, hurt, wounded, unloved, or cared for.

I may do this by pouting, being distant or crying, but I am usually watching the audience to gauge the reaction to see if it will be favorable to me.

I say, “Anything you want” when I do not mean it.

I am doing this to placate someone or get him or her to quit talking about the problems I have created.

I state concerns for things but do little to demonstrate this interest.

I am trying to get people to think how nice I am, how considerate or thoughtful I am, but I am only doing this to manage an impression or image they might have of me.

I act depressed in front of selective people and then appear okay to others.

I “butter up or suck up” to people not really meaning the words.

I use guilt – with statements like:

  • “You had it made.”
  • “You have a family.”
  • “You have support.”
  • “You have education.”
  • “You were not abused as a child.”
  • “You were not neglected as a teenager.”

I say these things when I think that people will feel sorry for me and do something for me due to differences. I try the "Guilt Trip" : A particular kind of intimidation tactic. A manipulator suggests to the conscientious victim that he or she does not care enough, is too selfish or has it easy; resulting in the victim feeling guilty. This guilt in turn keeps them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position.

“And pity--people who inspire it in you are actually very powerful people. To get someone else to take care of you, to feel sorry for you--that takes a lot of strength, smarts, manipulation. Very powerful people.” ― Deb Caletti, The Secret Life of Prince Charming

I do not get what I want and then try to re-frame or re-phrase the request.

I hope that a different way of posing the request will work and make others responsible for me.

If any of these statements are true about your behaviors, then what you are doing is trying to make people feel a certain way (usually guilty) when you want to get something, get out of some responsibility, or get some attention.

Emotional Blackmail and Manipulation

According to psychotherapist Susan Forward, popularized the term, “emotional blackmail", it is a powerful form of manipulation in which blackmailers who are close to the victim threaten, either directly or indirectly, to punish them to get what they want. They may know the victim's vulnerabilities and their deepest secrets.

"Many of the people who use emotional blackmail are friends, colleagues and family members with whom we have close ties that we want to strengthen and salvage" -parents, partners, bosses or lovers. No matter how much the blackmailer cares about the victim, they use their intimate knowledge to win compliance. Forward and Frazier identify four blackmail types each with their mental manipulation style:

  1. Punishers - 'My way or the highway' is the punisher's motto. No matter what you feel or need, punishers override you.
  2. Self-punishers - "self-punishers cast their targets in the role of the 'grown-up' - the only adult in the relationship... you are supposed to come running when they cry."
  3. Sufferers - sufferers take the position that "if you don't do what I want, I will suffer, and, it will be your fault."
  4. Tantalizers - Tantalizers are the most subtle blackmailers, they offer nothing with a free heart.

You gamble when you manipulate people. Your actions might alienate them; people feel betrayed, preyed upon or get angry when they realize they have been manipulated. They’ll say, “I feel so stupid, why didn’t I see this, or I thought I was going crazy. Most all of us have been emotionally manipulated at least once in our lives, and it usually feels the same for most everyone…bad". Dr. Lisa Holland

When you are manipulating or emotionally blackmailing people to get your needs or wants satisfied, you run the risk of ultimately pushing people away. They may finally realize that you are capable of doing whatever it was that they did for you and resent you in the end. You attempted to “make them feel bad” about your life. Again, they will probably get tired of bailing you out and start distancing themselves from you.

Then you can get mad that they have “abandoned” you in your hour of need. People will eventually see through this manipulation as well. They will feel used, exploited, betrayed and in some cases, you will lose these people in your lives.

"Selective Stupidity" means you might not be competent enough or smart enough  to do something, so someone else will obviously have to do it for you
"Selective Stupidity" means you might not be competent enough or smart enough to do something, so someone else will obviously have to do it for you | Source

A Personal Cost of Manipulation – Labels

Two of America’s quintessential “Dumb Blondes” were Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. Monroe stated to a reporter once, “If I play a stupid girl and ask a stupid question, I've got to follow it through, what am I supposed to do, look intelligent?”

"Selective Stupidity" means you might not be competent enough or smart enough to do something, so someone else will obviously have to do it for you. Unfortunately, each time manipulation works, you can start believing your lies. You have created this image – helpless, stupid, incompetent, underprivileged, or worthless. Those labels can then become another cost that you pay for what you get from others.

With this as your image, it will be difficult to gain job promotions, advancements in other social settings, or gain respect from some people. That seems like a hefty price in the long-run.

Knowing Who Your Manipulation Works With

Discover your methods by asking yourself, “What are my preferred methods of manipulation? Who do I use this method with, and when does it work? Think about your preferred methods for manipulation and ask yourself who you tend to use this ploy with; is it:

  • Family
  • friends
  • co-workers
  • sponsors/accountability partners
  • love interests

Your list should include everyone that you have a relationship with so you can determine the “who”, “where” and “when” of your manipulation.

Marilyn Monroe understood who bought into her image and when her manipulation worked, "Arthur Miller wouldn't have married me if I had been nothing but a dumb blonde." ~ Marilyn Monroe

Decide if You Like Your Outcomes

If you like the outcomes when you manipulate others, there is very little likelihood that you will change your behaviors; however, if you do see that you don’t like manipulating others, or have uncomfortable thoughts when you manipulate, then you can change. Listen when people are telling you about your manipulation; it's how you will learn the harm that it has caused, and what you can do to change.

Ask yourself if you value the relationship enough to stop manipulating. If you find that you do, then begin to be honest in requests to that individual or group of people. Ask those people that you want a better relationships with to discuss your manipulation with you. You can tell them that you know you have been manipulative and want to change this behavior, but you need some input from them.

Manipulators are Puppet Masters; pulling the strings and influencing the actions and reactions of others.
Manipulators are Puppet Masters; pulling the strings and influencing the actions and reactions of others. | Source

Do You Value the Relationships Enough to Change the Manipulation?

Be ready to have an honest conversation with them, and be prepared to hear how they felt without defending your actions. Discuss what you've done, why it wasn't appropriate and what potentially could have been more appropriate to do. These types of conversations can help you to learn about your behaviors and then start to change and adjust them.

If you want to stop being manipulative, a better way to deal with this problem is to be honest with yourself and others. Sometimes people are manipulative because they need something or want something, but they don't know how to get it in the healthy way. You just need to learn how to get it in the healthy, honest way. You can learn to say:

  • "I would like it if you did this."
  • "I have a need. I would like you to help me with it."
  • "I have a want. I would like you to help me get it."

Owning that you have a self-serving motive in your request may not sound like the best alternative. However, your honesty may be refreshing to others, and they might be more inclined to help, but they are helping with an honest request rather than a manipulative request.

A working rule of thumb is to assess the percentage of self- serving motives in your actions: 50% of this request will benefit me; 50% will be advantageous for them is for them is a fair exchange. Try to find the balance in your self-serving motives.

You also have to learn to accept that sometimes people will tell you:

  • "I can't help you with that."
  • "Not now."
  • "No, that is not something that I can do for you at this time".

These responses can seem abrupt sometimes if you aren't used to hearing them. But if you are going to have relationships based on mutual respect and honesty, these kind of responses are appropriate for the individual telling you "no".

Accepting that at this time, they are not in a position to help you does not say anything about how they feel about you, how much they value you, or whether they like you. It only means that they cannot help you at this time.

Accepting that at this time, they are not in a position to help you does not say anything about how they feel about you, how much they value you, or whether they like you. It only means that they cannot help you at this time.

Did you find your style of manipulation in this article?

See results

Not Being Manipulative Will Take Practice

Every change in behavior takes practice, and you may not frame your requests in a mature manner to begin with; you may still try to manipulate. If that happens, and you are aware of it, simply stop yourself and get honest:

  • “I was still trying to manipulate."
  • "I’m attempting to change my manipulation, so can I ask again and not give you the sob story"?
  • "Can I own my self-serving motive and get it out in the open and then ask for your help"?

Better Outcomes Reinforce that You can Get What you Want, without Manipulation

Once you start getting better outcomes without manipulation, it strengthens your resolve to discontinue using manipulation. Keep striving for honest, authentic communication, not manipulation.

Discover your methods by asking yourself, “What are my preferred methods of manipulation? Who do I use this method with, and when does it work? “Even if your method was not mentioned, isolating and changing your process will get your more honest outcomes and help you become more emotionally mature.

© 2013 Marilyn L Davis

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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 18 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      This is a very good hub and it gives a lot of good information. I do not want to manipulate anyone. I only like to control myself, and take responsibility for what I do.

    • profile image

      Kyra 21 months ago

      For the first time in my life, I decided to face my family issues head on. I realized that my mother, & stepmother were manipulators. So of course, I need to stop allowing them power. I thought that being able to stand up to a manipulator was the answer to how to heal.

      But someone pointed out to me that I too am a manipulator. They told me that I lie, I just want everyone to like me. I autopilot try to do what I think would warrant the best response out of someome, even if its saying I can do the dishes at a time we both know I won't be home.

      I feel as though a lot of people have probably left me in the dust as a result. I use self pity & helplessness, I'm even doing it now! I guess I should take this post to a counselor or something.

      Thank you so much for sharing this post. Very helpful.

    • profile image

      Marisa 2 years ago

      Someone told me I was manipulater I honestly didn't know the meaning I had no clue reading your website

      I found myself doing a lot of the things. Something I need to work soon then later!

    • profile image

      Anon 2 years ago

      This was really interesting to read. I realized that I have been manipulating my friends by being the "trustworthy person", giving "advice" and playing helpless. I just have no idea how to stop it. I guess I like having power over others because I'm such a mess myself. Gonna have to try and do something about it now! Thanks for a great article.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 2 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, Shelley; thanks for the comment. People manipulate all the time and sometimes don't even realize they are doing it. Other times, that was their motive to begin with; just getting over on others. Maybe this bit of pop will help them see a few things. ~Marilyn

    • ShelleyHeath profile image

      Shelley Heath 2 years ago from Birmingham

      Intriguing stuff! I'm always fascinated by pop psychology. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • profile image

      Vanessa 2 years ago

      I'm on the fence on this one. The word manipulation does have nvaetige connotation no-one likes to think they are being manipulated . And I was not successful trying to find a more positive synonym. The conclusion I came to was that intelligent influence is more about controlling a situation rather than a person. I think it is arrogant and inappropriate to talk about controlling a person, but I am very comfortable identifying with ideas and actions that relate to creating a calm environment that provides opportunity for people to tap into their innate wisom, perspective and sense of self. I'm sure that 9 out of every 10 people you meet are going to appreciate having an opoprtunity to feel good about themselves and will willingly and voluntarily follow this path if it is pointed out to them.

    • profile image

      Nisha Faures 2 years ago

      I think that I am a manipulator in terms of making others feel guilty. This guy claims he is in love with me and I have never given him anything back or thought I had the same feelings. But when he meets other women I feel myself getting jealous although I won't always admit it, and I know this is terribly selfish. So i try to manipulate him and make him feel guilty for something and make myself look better perhaps. How do I change this I feel like the worst person ever.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
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      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Dear Jay; thank you for adding additional perspectives to the article. Awareness and then change can work wonders in our relationships as your example demonstrates. Again, thank you for commenting and increasing the value of the article. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      Jay 3 years ago

      Good article. I tend to use unsolicited help and conversation diversions the most for manipulation. I grew up learning how to do it in my broken family and I only learned as an adult that those things are manipulative and wrong.

      My fiance is aware of my manipulative behaviors and actively helps to point them out to me so that I can realize it and change it and be more honest. About 90% of the time I have no idea I'm even being manipulative, and to be non-manipulative and completely honest is completely counter-intuitive and painful sometimes in light of what I grew up learning.

      One thing I struggle with is telling people when I am feeling vulnerable and needing of attention/affection. In the past friends have gotten angry when they found out I would manipulate them by acting like I was angry with them to get attention. However those friendships became much stronger in the last couple of years when I learned to just admit I feel vulnerable and afraid and needing of attention and extra care. Sometimes they couldn't provide it, and other times they were happy to acknowledge my insecurity and help me through it. It's still somewhat dysfunctional and it's hard hearing 'no' but I'd rather be honestly dysfunctional than manipulative and hurtful.

      I love my fiance but sometimes I struggle with co-dependency with her. She knows this about me, but has told me she would much rather deal with that at its source than my manipulation. She never gets angry when I admit to her that I'm struggling with fears of abandonment, but is quick to slap my hand if I try a pity-party.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, Saucysailor; why don't you print this and take to your therapy appointment? Would give the therapist some idea of your feelings, thoughts and actions. In person help is sometimes better than online.

    • profile image

      Guest 3 years ago

      I always use power to get what I want and tell others that I'm right while they're in the wrong as well as put them down and insult them.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, C McNairy Wight 1: Sometimes it just takes time to notice; manipulators are subtle and often create the impression that we are doing something wrong, or create an environment where we distrust our opinions, thoughts and feelings and give them their way. Maybe now you can act differently rather than react. Thank you for the comment and glad it was helpful.

    • C McNairy Wight 1 profile image

      Carol McNairy Wight 3 years ago from Provo, Utah

      This is an excellent article. I have been married to a manipulator for 50 years. I am just beginning to notice and know what he is doing.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, Lena; when you are aware of your patterns of manipulation, you can change them. I found taking responsibility for myself to ultimately be empowering and that felt better than portraying a victim to get what I wanted. When you are ready to change, you have the ability! Thank you for commenting. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      Lena from Moscow 3 years ago

      Thanks, very useful article. I think I use all 4 types of manipulation, weakness/dependance and unsolicited helping/rescuing are prevailing. I decided to stop manipulating but I'm a bit scared because I'm not sure that I will manage to get what I need in healthy way. I never tried ;-)

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
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      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good morning, AD, there is an old recovery saying, "If you can name it, you can change it." Since you are able to name both what you want to change and what you want to change into, you are better off than most. I would encourage you to make the changes you state you want to make. It is possible. Thank you for the comment. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      A9 3 years ago

      I seriously disgust myself. I have to say i use a combination of all of them but i self-pity the most. I want to stop manipulating men. I want to be able to be selfless and trust. That was probably self pity right there.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good afternoon, Elizabeth; you know what kind of manipulation you use. Sometimes as you point out, when we are hurt we punish. I had to forgive those who hurt me and then decide if the relationship was worth continuing. Hard choices sometimes. Thank you for the comment. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      Elizabeth 3 years ago

      I am a punisher. I threaten to leave my boyfriend constantly for not making the best decisions and disagreeing with me during arguments. I will publicly humiliate him to teach him a lesson and I am ashamed of it. I want to change but don't know how to do so when I am with someone who has hurt me so much.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 3 years ago from Georgia

      Good evening, B. I am sorry for the emotional pain that this relationship cost you. It sounds like you have learned some thing about yourself in it though. You have shown by commenting that you do want to move though the loss and pain, and that is usually the hardest step for all of us.

      We all need help sometimes to move through and forward after significant loses, or when we realize something about ourselves that needs changing to help us be able to trust in others and ourselves again.

      Hopefully, you have close friends to process your thoughts and feelings with, or if not, consider seeking help within your community. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      Hello, I realize now that I am a manipulator, and this cost me a friendship. I allowed myself to get too close, making me believe I depended on the other as they could and should depend on me. We got too close and they were my first kiss. I was the guilt trip/threaten (I even threatened to hurt myself, and said "I wish you weren't my first kiss!") This relationship has been over for sometime, although it had been off and on for a while (bouts of arguments, patched it up, argument, patch, argument, so on). The arguments would develop into really mean strikes (verbal) at each other, and me employing the guilt and a few other methods pointed out in the article. We were both damaging to each other (them more so at times, me more so more often), and oftentimes I would find myself really angry and jealous. Now that it's been over (for almost a year... we're still on sort of speaking terms?) I regret all my actions, and wish to change. I;m afraid of getting close to another person(s) because of this. I do not wish to be manipulative or angry any longer.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 4 years ago from Georgia

      Good Evening, Crystal. Sometimes evaluating the cost and payoff for any role we choose to use gives us a more accurate picture of things as they are. Some roles just proved too costly for me - loss of friendships and family relationships, so I quit using them. We all are healing frome something.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      I definitely play the victim and believe myself to be so. Very informative hub. Voting up and more and holding onto for future reference.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image
      Author

      Marilyn L Davis 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for the comment, Mary Merriment, and hopefully, it will reach individuals who might benefit from it, either learning to label a behavior or to take actions to change.

      You address a fundamental problem most people, including myself, have at times. Breaking through the illusions we have of ourselves, or putting an accurate label on the behavior.

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 4 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      I definitely used to use be a rescuer and distribute unsolicited advice & directive as a way to later be a victim and lay out guilt in order to manipulate others. I didn't realize that I was even doing this for a very long time. I thought I was being a great person by being so helpful and saw nothing wrong with my unspoken expectations in return.

      It was a shock to have to face what I thought was a good quality and realize that I was creating my own chaos through these tactics.

      This hub will serve as a very useful tool for anyone who is willing to confront their own forms of manipulation.