Manipulative Behaviour

Monday 14 November, 2011

This post looks at some of the degrees of manipulative behaviour we exhibit in our everyday interactions, the comments we make, and the strategies we use; all of which are devised to elicit particular responses, which perpetuate the psychological games (TA) we play.

The goal of manipulation, in the context discussed here, is to influence, persuade or even exploit another person for personal gain. The alternatives to such behaviour involve being direct about our needs and taking responsibility for ourselves and the issues we have. The more aware we become, the more obvious the manipulation, and the more attractive the alternatives.

One of the most familiar and basic examples is when people are said to be fishing for compliments. Rather than ask directly for feedback on a particular subject, the person makes a more tangential comment designed to entice others into saying what he wants to hear in order to receive the strokes (TA) he is looking for:

I did so badly in that presentation.
No, you were fine. You did really well.”

Clearly, there are cases when this is a legitimate dialogue because the individual’s appraisal of his own performance is inaccurate. But that only indicates a different area which requires attention, because one of the goals of personal development is for our self-perception to be the same as the perception others have of us. That, however, is a separate issue.

Here, the focus is on those occasions when individuals are looking instead to be contradicted and told something they want or need to hear. Ideally, if we are looking for particular information then we need ask to for it directly. Otherwise our behaviour is manipulative. Moreover, the other person may not even be aware they are being manipulated. That means, especially with the more severe manipulation, that we create a latent negativity, whether it be in the form of frustration, reluctance or persecution.

The above is an example of what may be considered a harmless form of manipulation. But it isn’t harmless. That becomes a little clearer when we look at another instance: inviting an offer of help with a comment rather than a request.

Oh… I’ve got to get home… and I’ve no idea how…”
I”m going your way. Would you like a lift?”

Another example of this behaviour is discussed in the post, ‘The Karpmann Drama Triangle’. It is summarised here:

I’ll never get this finished. I can’t do it. It’s too much.”
Can I help?”

It is the kind of behaviour which invites rescuers and persecutors in order that we can play the role of the victim. Once again, these could be innocent exchanges. But there is also a large chance that manipulation is involved. The difference between the two can often be felt. That is one of the reasons why it is important to be in touch with our feelings, because our body is giving us all the information we need. Awareness and observation of these signals and of the behaviour itself will bring about a change towards more congruent, unequivocal, direct behaviour.

The above examples are straightforward and simple. There are others which are more detrimental. For example, the emotional blackmail we come across, particularly between people who are very close to each other. In families for example, it is not uncommon to hear the words, “You never visit anymore.” As before, this can be a simple statement of a fact, but it is more likely to be an attempt to prick another’s conscience. An even clearer example of emotional blackmail is, “If you loved me…“. With this example the feeling of being manipulated is more obvious.

Much of our manipulative behaviour is habitual. We don’t know we’re doing it. It’s a strategy we devised early on in life and, because it works, there is no reason to change it. If we remain unaware, then we will always play games. At the level of the script (TA), however, we see how severe the manipulation can become.

Taking my own example, it has been well-documented in this blog (especially in the entry, ‘It’s My Script’) that one of the main elements of my script has been to be looked after by others. Looking back, my strategy was clearly to manipulate others into looking after me in order that I need take no responsibility for it myself.

I was very good at it and my manipulative techniques reached the point where I was in severe pain. At first glance it seems a crazy strategy, but it worked. All I had to do was be in pain and people would take care of me. I was unaware of the game I was playing or, of course, that there was an alternative. It was only through the personal development work I did with Karaj, that I was able to see what I was doing, change my strategy and start looking after myself.

In our interactions with each other the manipulation often occurs unconsciously. As a result, we frequently feel its effects without fully realising what has happened. In nature we find a fitting example of unconscious manipulation. The cuckoo lays its eggs in the nest of a different species, which is manipulated into rearing the infant cuckoo despite obvious differences between the respective young of the two birds.

The cuckoo does none of the work. The host bird does it all and seems to have no choice; scientists believe there is something about the gaping mouth of the fledgling which manipulates the host’s nervous system into feeding it. But sometimes the host birds are aware that the eggs look different to their own and they eject them from the nest immediately, rendering the cuckoo’s strategy ineffective. We do the same when we recognise the manipulative behaviour of others and reject any temptation to play their games.

I wrote this post because of the reference to manipulation in the previous post and because the word ‘manipulation‘ sounds so devious, calculating and cunning. In truth much of our manipulation of others is not calculated. It is second nature, the result of years of conditioning and long-established strategies which have served their purpose well.

There are, however, more positive and effective alternative strategies we can use. Alternatives which can enrich our lives, and empower ourselves and those around us. Ones which, unlike the cuckoo’s, allow others the choice to contribute to our lives in constructive and positive ways. As with everything else though, it all starts with awareness.

Related post: How I Manipulated Everyone

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