How to Resist People Who Handle Kindly
Manipulation manifests itself in different ways, ranging from flattery to intimidation. This blog post focuses on people who handle well. They don’t threaten directly, but they coerce by questioning character, ignoring boundaries, encouraging guilt, and superimposing their own version of reality on others.
People who strive for healthy relationships respect boundaries, take the time to listen, and demonstrate caring and supportive behaviors. Manipulative people ignore boundaries, pretend to worry, and engage in unhealthy strategies to influence others to do what they want. Such people show devoted self-centeredness and a lack of respect for another person’s full humanity.1
Most manipulative people don’t just manipulate. They often have attractive traits, which makes their efforts even more effective and difficult to detect and implement. But when they manipulate, the interactions are always from their point of view, and we find ourselves answering unwelcome questions and performing unwanted requests.
What to look for in manipulative interactions
People who gently manipulate provide their versions of reality as the only version. They project certainty where there is ambiguity or conflict, using phrases that begin with “Surely you must see this”, “Of course we are”, or “It certainly means something”. They speak for others, defining “us” and “us” solely from their perspective, assuming their thoughts are our thoughts, without consulting us.
Source: Liza Summers/Pexels
Constraint by questions
Most of us think we should answer direct questions. This is our default response. Of course, some questions are useful.
Mentors use open-ended surveys to encourage insight, helping us see different perspectives on topics important to us.
Manipulative people use questions to lure us into what concerns us themdemanding that we shift our focus from our own lives to theirs.
Simplify our human complexity
Skillful manipulators alternate between deification and defamation. When we say or do what they want, they give praise. When we meet them, they call us disappointing and hurtful. Both positions simplify and dehumanize. We are neither gods nor demons.
They may use flattery or gifts or feign gratitude to influence us to do things that we are not comfortable doing and would not do on our own.
When we refuse to do their bidding, they become insulting about our lack of generosity and selflessness, accusing us of not being there for them. In the process, they disregard our own rights, needs and desires.
Manipulative people blur personal boundaries, often failing to recognize that we even have limits. We are only extensions of their needs.
They usually skip steps toward personal intimacy, reveal too much too soon, and then rely on the principle of reciprocity. “I told you, now you tell me.” They may pretend to respect our privacy, but only to identify our boundaries so they can work around them.
Often manipulative people demand immediate answers, even if we are not ready to respond. To satisfy these requests, they use the “foot in the door” technique, by making small requests that we accept, and then following up with larger and larger requests. With these broader demands, saying no is more difficult because there is already a yes.
If we criticize, manipulative people will try to feel guilty for that criticism. They will directly say or imply, “After all, we did for each other.” They may even scold us for disagreeing with their interpretations.
Taking advantage of victimization
Kind manipulators rely on our concern for their well-being to exploit our goodwill, thus obtaining concessions that we would not ordinarily make. They thrive on pain, suggesting their problems are worse than ours – or offering a false equivalence.
They combine praise with their self-rated difficulties. “I can’t do this without you.” “You are essential to this project.”
Breaking the manipulation cycle
Affirm our basic human rights
The most important guideline when we encounter psychologically manipulative people is to declare our human rights when we see them violated.
We have the right to be treated with respect, to set our own priorities, to say “no”, to express our thoughts and feelings, to take care of ourselves emotionally and to live our lives as we see fit, without intrusion.
One of the purposes of manipulation is to exploit our vulnerabilities – and our virtues. We may feel inadequate for not satisfying the other person, but we are not the problem. We are influenced to feel inadequate, so we lose our human rights.
To be suitably contrary
If the manipulative person says, “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” point out that for some questions, it hurts to ask.
It hurts us, and it hurts them. If they say they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, we can give them ‘no’ for an answer. Saying no diplomatically and firmly affirms our point of view while maintaining respect for the manipulative person. We may choose to explain our reasons for not complying, but we are not obligated to do so.
When manipulative people test our limits, they try to detect how far we are willing to change our position. When this happens, we need to stand firm and stick to what we know is good for us.
When we are manipulated, we have to minimize our responses – getting angry and arguing backfires because we engage when we don’t want to. If possible, we should keep our distance and avoid interacting unless we absolutely have to. We are not saviors. It is not up to us to solve their problems. (That’s their therapist’s job.)
Take time – and distance
If the person expects an answer right away, we can use the time to our advantage. We can create our own deadlines. If necessary, we can take a break. Just saying “I’ll think about it” creates space to formulate a workable response.
If the manipulative person persists in violating our boundaries and rights and does not take “no” for an answer, we can set consequences. Not out of spite, but to maintain our integrity. Ideally, consequences will encourage respect.
Although manipulators are intrusive and dehumanizing, it is necessary to recognize their humanity, even if they do not recognize ours.
We all want our social needs met, but that means taking into account the realities of the social environment. Manipulative people ignore these realities and define their own, using predictable and persistent strategies to influence us to do their bidding. The handling may seem friendly or caring as if the person really has our concerns in mind. But if it’s not right, we need to step back and ask the following questions.
Am I treated with basic respect? Is a different reality being projected onto my life without my consent? Are this person’s questions and requests reasonable? Do I feel good in this relationship?
We are full human beings, not puppets. If we feel like a puppet, we have to cut the strings.