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Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Never Be Manipulated Again

Beware of people who ask too much of you. Something deeper may be at play.

From ma·nip·u·la·tive [muh-nip-yuh-ley-tiv, -yuh-luh-tiv] adjective

  1. influencing or attempting to influence the behavior or emotions of others for one's own purposes: a manipulative boss

You may be reading this post because you have reached an “enough already” point in your life. Perhaps someone manipulated you into doing something you really didn’t want to do—or into not doing something you really wanted to do—and now you've become so infuriated with them (and yourself) that you reached that “never again” moment.

Instead of going into why do they do that, for now let’s just leave it as: because they can get away with doing it to you.

This blog is about why you have continued to let them do it, why you reached your last straw with them, and more importantly how you can put an end to it and never be manipulated again.

Why have you let people manipulate you?

One reason may be that you are so hungry for positive attention and adoration (because you didn’t receive it as a child or aren't getting it from an important current relationship), that when the manipulator flatters you or tells you how different, wonderful and special you are for treating them better than other people do, you lap it up. This can play to a grandiosity in you where you say to yourself, “I am special because I see the goodness in this person that nobody else sees.” Then you continue to lap it up, which sets the stage for feeling either that you owe them something in return or that you would feel guilty if you disappointed them.

But a deeper psychological reason may be that you really don’t know what it’s like to feel truly wanted or valued for you, so you have decided that a close second is to get people to need you. And then you think you can control the relationship by just giving people what they need. This may not be unfamiliar territory to you. Over time, however, you realize that although you like to feel needed, you don’t like to feel used, and begin to resent it.

But you can go a long time letting people need you and feeling that you’re special before it dawns on you that you are being royally exploited. This is despite your being warned about these people by others who do care about you. At that point, you can go from feeling kindly and benevolently towards the manipulator to feeling duped, hurt, frustrated, resentful, and furious.

When you feel those more deeply hostile and dark emotions, it is directly in conflict with your wanting to believe that you are kind, caring, and benevolent. Having those hostile, or even violent, feelings can not merely trigger guilt but shame as well, for being such an angry person.

And so what do you do when the discomfort of that internal conflict becomes too intense? You might do even more for the manipulator, employing the defense mechanism referred to as “reaction formation”—in order to lessen your anxiety about your shameful feelings, you do the opposite of what you actually want to do.

Your last straw

This could occur because when the person most recently tried to manipulate you, you said, “No,” and then he or she said something insulting, implying that not only are you not special, but you have turned out to be just as bad as (or even worse than) all those other people who have mistreated him or her. At that point, it might be all you could do to restrain yourself from telling them to go kill themselves (or feeling tempted to do it for them). Feeling those raw murderous feelings is so out of sync with your core identity as a caring and loving person that it scares you—enough to not appease them, not this time, but instead to finally say, “No more."

How to put an end to it

Read my lips and practice saying this to the manipulator in your mind, and then in person the next time they try to manipulate you. Say to them, simply and directly, “No." When they ask why, reply, “Because I don’t want to.”

You don’t owe them an explanation beyond that. If it escalates and they should threaten you with what they might do to themselves, say, “I hope you won’t do that.” If they threaten you with what they might do to you, say, “You will need to leave now and not come back or threaten me ever again or I will call the police.” Don’t make it a bluff. Mean it and do it.

How to never be manipulated again

Learn to recognize manipulators by catching yourself when they’re flattering you too much and too soon. Say early on, “That’s very nice of you to say, but I don’t feel I’ve done enough to deserve such wonderful comments. Also, I’m sorry to have you pay for the sins of others, but is there something that you’re going to want from me or for me to do? If not, I will have to think about whether I'm being too distrustful or even paranoid, because of others before you. And if there is something you want from me, you’ll have to give me a moment after you ask so I can think of something of equal importance to me that I can ask from you.”

What is fair for people to ask of you?

This is where you need to separate the truly needful people in your life from those who merely claim to be. There may actually be people who legitimately need what you can do for them or with them and to whom you feel a legitimate responsibility—a child, an aging parent, siblings or friends with true needs, rather than those trying to make their problem your problem, and their responsibility your responsibility to solve.

One of the best ways to sort the truly needful from the pretender is to ask a friend (or another family member) who can be cool, calm, and objective; who doesn’t get manipulated by people; and doesn’t have a vendetta against manipulative people about the person in question, because they can say, “No,” to such people calmly and without guilt and can advise you to do the same.

A final note: If you are wondering why I have written this particular blog, it's because I used to be an “easy mark,” but my “never again” moment woke me up.

Wish me luck going forward and I’ll do the same for you.