February 19, 2005

Say No to Manipulation

"How does manipulation work? ...

Manipulative techniques vary, but in general, manipulators try to get our emotions to work against us. They do this by saying or doing something they hope will induce in us guilt, shame, anger, fear, or some other uncomfortable emotion. They may imply, for instance, that our failure to do as they wish will bring about a major disaster. They may describe in minute detail the various kinds of unpleasantness that will occur if we neglect to take the action they suggest. They may insist certain things are our duty or responsibility, or they may appeal to us on the basis of morality, ethics, or anything else they think might persuade us to agree with them. Some will pull out every emotional stop and tell us of the horrible pain they'll experience if we "let them down". We may be told we'll feel better about ourselves, that we'll make the manipulator extremely happy, that he or she will love us forever, or any number of other essentially meaningless terms.

Manipulators' speech is frequently laced with phrases such as these:

"You should. . ." "You ought to . . ." "If I were you, I'd . . ." "It's for the best," "I only want what's best for you," "You'll thank me for this later," "What will people say?" "What will people think?"

They use these and many other phrases which imply we will suffer a censure or penalty of some kind if we don't meet the "obligation" they've chosen for us.

What element do all these techniques have in common? The manipulator offers us nothing we value in exchange for doing what he or she asks...

So what are we to do? Unless we have knowingly obligated ourselves, when we're asked to do something that a) we don't want to do, b) isn't our obligation, and c) isn't a genuine need, we can refuse with a clear conscience. We don't have to feel guilty. We don't have to get caught up in elaborate excuses or contrived explanations. When manipulators ask for our help, we just have to say, "No".

This will no doubt shock those who are accustomed to our acquiescence, and it will be difficult for us at first if we are in the habit of giving in to unreasonable people. But saying, "No", is an acquired ability, and we will discover that the more we use it, the more proficient we become.

It's fine to exchange favors with people, of course, and it is commendable to voluntarily help others who are literally unable to help themselves. But when people try to create a feeling of obligation in us or try to persuade us to do something we dislike just to please them, beware: no matter how much they emphasize that doing what they want will benefit us, it's rarely our welfare with which they're concerned."

This post is excerpted from a longer article reprinted here form Wising Up: How To Stop Making Such A Mess of Your Life, © 1999, by Jerry Minchinton. Arnford House, Vanzant, MO, USA.

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