In my private coaching practice I’m finding myself having the same conversation over and over again about how to set boundaries in the face of really manipulative people. I’ve been helping my clients understand all the different ways in which people can manipulate them and more importantly how to be aware of these tactics and what to do about them so that their boundaries remain intact.
Why do we actually want to manipulate each other? I’ll give you the really short explanation here (the long explanation you can find in my book under the “Shame Group”). People who are manipulate-able and people who are manipulative are actually two sides of the same coin. They’re stuck in a place where they have to control others in some way or elicit a response from others in order to feel safe, feel worthy, feel that they contribute, or feel that they are going to be ok. When someone is manipulate-able, they are trying to do service to others by trying to please them in order to get a few scraps of food, a few scraps of love, or a few scraps of recognition. Someone who is manipulative is getting that same recognition or that same sense of importance, that same sense of value, but they are doing it by controlling others. So if they can get you to do something for them that maybe you don’t want to do, if they can exercise this type of control over you, then they must be important and you must really care about them. This is where the “If you really care about me then you will do this, this and this for me” paradigm fits in. That’s really the nutshell explanation about why people manipulate each other and why they feel the need to do this at all.
While it would be nice if we could just go out there and stop everybody from manipulating, that’s not realistic, because first of all, it’s only an energetic response to the people who are asking to be manipulated – those who are manipulate-able. Also we can’t really manifest in somebody else’s reality; we can only manifest in our own. We can’t go out there and stop people from doing something or from not doing something. We can try, but it doesn’t really work, as we can see in the news today. All we can ever really do is own our power and change our own vibration so that we are no longer able to be manipulated. We do that by understanding the different ways in which people try to manipulate us by anticipating them and by knowing how to react against them.
That’s what today’s post is all about. I’m going to highlight the seven biggest ways in which we manipulate each other that I’ve found. Some of these, I’ve not really seen written about before in this way. Some of them will be familiar to you and some of them might be new to you. If you have people in your life who are manipulating you, then you might recognize these behaviors. Today, I’m going to give you some ammunition about what to do about them. But I will warn you, these ways have to do with you changing your energy and not about going and bashing somebody’s face in, or knowing how to have the perfect comeback in the right moment. So, let’s get started!
A few weeks ago, I did a video on Spiritual Bypassing and in that video, I mentioned the first technique that I’m going to highlight here today and talk briefly about. That is the technique of gas-lighting somebody. You might have heard about this.
When someone gas-lights you, they’re trying to convince you that your boundaries are ridiculous and invalid. So essentially, when something bothers you, maybe something that they’ve said, or something they’ve mentioned as being inconvenient to them and which they’ve made you responsible for, and when you mention that or you try to react and try to enforce a boundary there, they come at you and tell you what you are saying is stupid, nobody else would ever react that same way, and that it doesn’t seem to bother anybody else. They tell you that it wouldn’t bother them and you are just being overly sensitive. Or they say something along those lines. Even “spiritual people” are not immune to this, because you will find people telling you that if you were more “enlightened” then that wouldn’t bother you. Which is just another version of the same thing.
The gas-lighting manipulation technique is basically used to get you to lower your boundaries by causing you to doubt the boundaries’ validity and convincing you that your boundaries are stupid, invalid, and you should just drop them. But here’s the thing:
What boundaries you have isn’t up to anybody else, and nobody else gets to determine what boundaries you have. If something bothers you, it gets to bother you. Nobody else gets to tell you how you feel. For example, if somebody is punching you in the arm over and over again, and you tell them to please stop punching you in the arm, but they tell you that they’re not hitting you hard, it’s not up to them at which point the punching in the arm bothers you, or if it bothers you at all. It’s only up to you. When you enforce a boundary like this, you have to remember that you are fighting for the boundary and for the right to set boundaries, not for the boundary itself. Don’t let them convince you that the boundary isn’t big enough for you to make a stand over. It’s disrespectful to step on somebody else’s boundary.
Remember though, there’s a big difference between controlling somebody and setting a boundary with them. Controlling means saying to somebody that they don’t get to be this way, and a boundary is you telling somebody they don’t get to talk to YOU that way or continue to talk to you. Enforcing a boundary usually means you are going to walk away from this person; you are going to stop engaging with them. It’s not about stopping other people from living their lives the way they want to live it, taking away any kind of freedom from them, that you would also like to exercise. It’s simply about choosing to engage with people or not to engage with people who are behaving in a certain way, or who don’t respect your boundaries. For example, they don’t get to come into your house and talk to you this way, or poop all over the rug. But if they want to poop on their rug in their own house, more power to them; you’re just not going to come over…
#2 Becoming a Rage Beast
The second method of manipulation that I’d like to highlight is when somebody gets more upset or way angrier than you in an attempt to squash your bit of uprising, your rebellious emotion. You might be getting pissed off about something, and the person you are talking to just explodes at you with rage. There is so much drama and it’s so volatile, so big, that you find yourself backing down in shock. You might have been talking about something that was very small and they turned it into something huge, and now you are not willing to deal with that kind of drama. Often times you will stop trying to defend your boundaries in an effort to avoid this rage or this huge blow up.
What these people do, is come at you with an emotional response that is so giant that is just doesn’t seem worth it for the thing that you are trying to defend. So you back down and often times you don’t even try to stand up for yourself again, because you’re absolutely not willing to go up against this rage machine. Again, I want to stress that when you’re defending a boundary, a proper boundary (how to set a proper boundary is a video onto itself), it doesn’t really matter what it’s about. It doesn’t really matter if the other person considers it valid or not. Once you have clearly communicated a boundary, for example, you’ve told the person this is not something you will accept, you’ve told them that what they have done bothers you and you’ve told them if they do it again you will walk away from them and not engage with them – they won’t have access to you anymore, and then the other person crosses over that line, you have to defend your boundary. Because if you don’t, then you don’t have any kind of boundary. You have to follow through with the consequences. You walk away from them; you withdraw from them; you say no; you get out of the deal. You do whatever you’ve got to do; you do what you said you would do once the boundary gets broken. (I’ll probably make another video about how to actually properly set boundaries that are not born of control issues. It will be about setting boundaries about the things that truly bother you, things that are true deal breakers and boundaries that are defendable).
#3 High-jacking the Issue
The third manipulative tactic that I want to highlight is when people high-jack the issue or the conversation and take it off onto a tangent in an effort to distract you from the original topic, so that you never actually start to set or defend that boundary. Let’s say your significant other is late, they don’t call you and because they didn’t call, you got really worried. When they came home you had no idea where they were but they just blow it off like it wasn’t a big deal. However, you want to communicate to them that it actually bothers you and you requesting they call is important to you. But as you are having the conversation with them, they start talking about how stressed they are at work instead. They’re not just talking about it; they really get into a rant about it and tell you how you don’t understand. So, they pick a fight with you, saying you don’t understand how stressed they are at work and how you don’t have any sympathy for them. Now you might find yourself on the defensive, saying you totally understand and then you end up saying you’re sorry. It all started with you wanting to set a boundary and now you’re not actually talking about what bothered you, you are talking about what’s bothering them. They have high-jacked the conversation and taken it to a different direction where you actually find yourself soothing them and apologizing to them. Now you can’t bother them with your little “thing”, because poor them. This is a manipulative tactic. Keep in mind that most people who use manipulative tactics are not doing so in a conscious way. Your partner is probably not doing this on purpose; they’re not high-jacking the conversation on purpose, but they’re doing it nonetheless.
When you notice that this has happened, take a break; walk away from the conversation. There is no point in you trying to argue your way back to your original topic. Let it go for that moment, put a pin in it and at the next opportunity, and I mean the next real opportunity, for example, the next morning when things are a little bit calmer, or the next evening at the latest, bring it up again. Bring it up calmly, and if the person tries to derail it again, simply tell them you are not going to let them derail this conversation, because it’s important to you. If they don’t accept that then walk away. You can come back to it again. You are going to have this conversation! Of course, if you’re with a partner who’s never willing to have that conversation, you maybe need to get out of that relationship… You want to be able to have that conversation, so do not let them derail you. Don’t, however, have that conversation with them when they are upset. If you’re in a relationship where maybe they’re always upset, again, you might want to rethink that relationship.
When somebody gives you an ultimatum, for example, either do this or else, or do this NOW or you are not going to get to make the decision at all, this is always, always, always a manipulative tactic designed to get you to make a decision that is not in your best interest. Here’s a clever little trick that I learned years ago while I was still working in the corporate world: When somebody gave me an ultimatum, my answer was automatically “No”. It just shot right out of me. If somebody said I needed to make a decision in that moment, my answer was no. I would ask for time if I wasn’t sure if it was a yes or no, I’d tell them I needed a few days to think this over, to see how it would fit in. If they said I had to make this decision now, my answer was a no. You’d be really surprised at how people back paddle and give you more time or allow you to see more options when you do this, because what they’re doing in that moment is also closely related to manipulative tactic #5 which is that they try to artificially narrow your options.
#5 Narrowing Options
This tactic makes it look like you need to choose between option A and option B. They will often use this in conjunction with the time pressure and the ultimatum method to hopefully put so much pressure on you that you won’t think clearly and you won’t question whether or not these really are the only two options. If you had some time and some space to breathe and think, then you might question them and realize that there are more options that will probably be much more beneficial for you. This is a tactic that is sometimes used unconsciously, but is actually often used consciously by salespeople and people negotiating professionally, because it’s designed to essentially pressure you, to confuse you, and to lead you to make a certain choice. Is it going to be A, or is it going to be B? You are now thinking that you have to choose between A and B, when really there is always another option such as: None of the above, option C, or something completely different that isn’t on the table that maybe isn’t such a great deal for them. It doesn’t cost as much money or is more beneficial to you.
Remember that in real negotiation, in real compromise you are not looking for capitulation, you’re not looking to beat somebody, you are not looking for a win/lose; you are looking for the win/win situation. Hopefully you are not doing business or living your life with manipulative people, but these things do come up. If somebody is trying to narrow your options, in that moment, it’s usually best to walk away to buy yourself some time, or to walk away from it completely. If a car dealer is trying to pressure you into buying this car or that car and saying which is it going to be, telling you, “Come on! You have to make a decision now, because both of these cars have other buyers; is it this car or that car?”, and you find yourself getting stressed over which car to buy, stop and walk away. Get yourself some breathing room. The chances are very good that if somebody is doing that, then neither option A nor option B is going to be the best option for you. If it was, then nobody would have to manipulate you into it. Go with how you feel. If, in the moment, you are feeling stressed or feeling pressured, always put a stop to it and remember (and this is the key to this technique), you CAN always put a stop to it; you can always walk away. You are never trapped, even though in that moment you may feel trapped. Remind yourself that you are not and get out of the situation. Just say no and you will be amazed at how quickly they suddenly find a little bit more time for you to breathe.
#6 Enforcing Non-Existent Contracts
This is when people try to enforce contracts with you that you never actually agreed to. So, what do I mean by that? Am I talking about legal contracts? No, I’m not talking about legal contracts; I’m talking about social contracts. I’m talking about invisible contracts, pseudo contracts. I’m talking about when people do something for you that maybe you didn’t even ask them to do and then they tack on a rider to that agreement. The agreement being that they are going to do this for you and they tack on an invisible rider that says now you owe them a favor which they can collect at a future time. When they come to you at a future time, they subtly or not so subtly imply or guilt you into capitulating and giving them what they want, even if you don’t want to give it to them, because well, they did do this thing for you and you entered a contract. The thing is, no you didn’t. You didn’t enter any contract. If I want you to do something for me, I can damn well ask you to do it and give you a chance to say yes or no. By me doing something for you, I do not have the right to tack on an invisible rider that now says you automatically owe me. If I want that to be the deal, then I can put that deal forth. I can put it on the table and say, ok I will do this for you, but you also now owe me a favor. You can agree to those terms or not.
There’s a reason why I’m putting it in such a legalese way and why I’m putting it in the language of a contract. It’s because most of us understand a little bit about contract law. We understand legal agreements. We understand that in a legal contract we go ahead and spell out the agreement and if it isn’t in the contract then it isn’t valid. In other words, if you wanted to ask me for something, you should have asked me for it, don’t just assume that I’m going to do it because you entered me into a contract that I never agreed to and therefore I do not have to honor. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do things for other people. What I’m talking about is when people try to manipulate you into doing something that you don’t want to do. There’s nothing wrong with asking people for help and there’s nothing wrong with offering your help, but understand that if you offer your help you do not now have a right to expect something in return unless you put that on the table.
I understand that to many people these kinds of “contracts” are simply implied and we do have a tendency towards reciprocity, meaning if you do something for me it is much more likely that I will go ahead and do something for you. That’s all true, but be that as it may, that only applies, or should only apply, in a healthy environment and to things that you actually want to do. If you have done something for me I am much more likely to be favorably disposed to you (but I don’t have any obligation to you).
If we are talking about the survival tactics of working together in a tribe so that we can all survive, then that works really well. In today’s society we are very often not talking about survival tactics, so when we use this force of reciprocity, this tendency towards reciprocity, we are usually using it in a manipulative way. Be on the lookout for people trying to guilt you into doing something that you don’t want to do, something that you never agreed to do, because of something that they did for you and now they think you owe them. If you never agreed to that contract, you don’t have to honor it. When you think of it in terms of a legal agreement, that will very often help you to overcome the guilt that you may be feeling at not doing everything that you can and sacrificing yourself to the last extent for this person.
Remember, that you are not doing this person any favors by allowing them to continue to manipulate you. They can learn to use their words; they can learn to ask for what they want and need. It’s giving you a chance to say no, but also giving you a chance to say yes, which means now you are actually in agreement; you are actually going to do it for them because you want to, not because you have to. The whole thing will feel so much better, so much lighter. If you don’t want to do it, they can ask somebody else. There will always be somebody else who will be a match to that, providing they are ready to manifest the help in. In order for them to go down that road and to get to that part of their journey, first people have to stop putting up with their manipulative behavior. You are not hurting somebody by not allowing them to manipulate you. You are actually, ultimately, in the grand scheme of things doing them a favor by stepping out of this paradigm. You are certainly doing yourself a huge favor. Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help or assist others with things; I’m saying don’t allow yourself to be manipulated into doing something that you don’t really want to do and you never actually agreed to.
#7 Using Identities Against You
This is when people play to an identity that you’ve adopted or you would like to adopt and they use it against you. The reason why we choose identities is a whole video altogether. An identity is a role that we would like to embody or we have decided that we embody. It is essentially sticking yourself into a box and putting a label on yourself. It’s something that you now use as a way to measure if you are doing a good job or not. It’s a way to know how to act and react in certain situations, or any given situation. For example, an identity might be a good hard worker, a good employee, a good girl, a good boy, a good wife, a good husband, a good father or a good mother. I know I’m using the word “good” here a lot, but that’s because it shows up so frequently in people’s identities, i.e. I’m a good person. The word good, used in this context, so many times actually means “compliant.” I’m a compliant daughter; I’m a good god-daughter; I’m a good little girl; I do what my parents tell me to do; I do what my teachers tell me to do; I do what my employer tells me to do, and now I can expect to be approved of, now I am alright. For that good little girl, for that good person, that would be an identity role that they have taken on. It’s quite limiting to us, because our real identities cannot be put into boxes; they’re quite fluid. But we use them in order to feel safe, in order to know what to do in any given situation. For example, if I am a good girl and I get into a situation where I don’t know what to do, all I have to do is look up the good girl handbook to see what a good girl would do. I then just have to do that, and I can’t actually get it wrong. I won’t get yelled at by any authority figure. In a real nutshell, that’s a tiny overview of identities and how they work.
If somebody knows that you think of yourself in a certain way (often times this will be somebody who is close to you, a family member, your parish priest, your boss, or somebody who is a close friend), and they know the identity that you have adopted, they can use this identity against you. For example, if I know that you think of yourself as a good person and being a good person means to you being virtuous or just really helpful, (a good person is helpful, therefore you see yourself as a good person, and helpful), then I can play on that and get you to help me, even if you don’t want to, and even if it’s something totally arbitrary where I could have easily asked somebody else. You’re going to do it, because as a good person, you kind of have to.
This is where identities become really manipulative and really limiting. It isn’t so bad to have a set of guidelines on how you want to react in certain situations, but it becomes manipulative and limiting because you start to have to behave that way because the identity says you do; that is who you are. But inside, that is not how you feel at all and now you’re overriding how you feel and how your true self wants to react, in order to react the way that this character you are playing, this identity should react, and people can use that to manipulate you. The way out of that is to start to drop your identities, start to drop your masks, and start to live more in the moment, be more conscious, more aware, to listen to your inner voice and see what it is you really want in this moment. What is it you really what to do? Which option feels really good to you?
Again, do not honor social contracts that you never actually agreed to if it’s something that you don’t want to do. Have that conversation, teach people how to treat you, and enforce those boundaries. If people don’t, then walk away; don’t continue the relationship with somebody who will not respect your boundaries.
I hope these seven ways have given you a new outlook on how people can manipulate you. Remember, when you very first start to set boundaries, people are going to lose their shit; they will throw tantrums. They will throw all of these tactics and more at you in an attempt to bully you back into submission. The best thing that you can do in that moment is to just, again, walk away, give them their space. Look at them like they are a two year old having a tantrum. Don’t try to argue with them in that moment; let them have their tantrums. Generally, they’re going to tantrum themselves out at some point. They are going to run out of steam, so only after that has happened should you then have any kind of conversation.
I will be making more videos about how to set boundaries, how to set proper boundaries, and how to defend boundaries, since it’s such a huge topic that I talk about a lot. But that’s it for now.
Did I miss any manipulative tactics? Let me know or share your own story of being manipulated in the comments below.
Thank you for bringing your light to the world! Until next week, bye!