Coping with a manipulator is hard to do. First of all, I don’t think most of us realize when we are being manipulated, because the best manipulators are very covert in their process. It takes years of research and feeling crazy before it finally dawns on us that what we are experiencing is manipulation. The manipulator could be your mother, your father, your spouse, or some other significant person in your life. The first step, then, in coping with a master manipulator, is to realize with whom you are dealing.
The best way to handle a manipulator is to realize you’re with one. The only way to do that is to be self-aware and recognize the feelings this person stirs up in you. Here are some common feelings you will have when you are with this person for any length of time:
- You feel defensive.
- You feel guilty.
- You feel confused.
- You feel angry and have to try really hard to remain calm.
- You feel trapped.
- They seem to generate a feeling of obligation within you.
- You experience anxiety when with this person or when thinking about having to be with him or her.
- You try to fix the “problem” in order to satisfy this person’s unhappiness and no matter what you do you just can’t seem to figure out how to fix the problem.
On the other hand, you can observe your manipulator and recognize his patterns: He seems to always portray himself as the victim, while all the relationship rules that apply to you don’t seem to apply to him; that is, he lives by a set of double standards.
Your manipulator tends to pout and sulk a lot, and without saying anything, you start trying to repair whatever the damage is, all the while, not being able to figure out what went wrong.
You feel impotent and powerless. It is frustrating to you to not be able to fix the problem and you end up feeling guilty because your manipulator has manipulated you into believing that you have the key and you’re just too selfish to do what “you know” needs to be done.
Their primary tool is implication. If they can somehow get you to feel responsible for their feelings and happiness, they will use whatever means necessary.
Implication is a powerful tool. It isn’t obvious; it’s covert and underhanded. You get the message that you are the reason that they are unhappy.
Another tool they use a lot is the tool of incessant and persistent requests. They can wear you down this way. They try going through the back door, the side door, the front door, and finally the window in order to get you to do something for them or be someone for them. They do not respect your boundaries or your personhood.
Being in a relationship with a master manipulator is unhealthy and toxic. You are in a double bind, and being a relatively “normal” person who tends to play by the rules, it is very challenging for you to not be able to smooth things over with your loved one.
Somehow, the gift you so laboriously shopped for to give this person did not generate the type of appreciative response you expected. You were so excited to have finally found them a gift that showed your thoughtfulness and how you really care about that person, but somehow they look at the gift and set it aside with a tinge of disappointment in their face.
The master manipulator uses some very clever strategies to maintain her control over your relationship with her. Remember this, manipulation is all about control. The manipulator wants to control you. And in general, their methods work.
Some people actually spend their entire lives trying to please their manipulative loved ones. Sometimes, the manipulator actually gives you a hint of positive reinforcement, just enough to keep you coming back for more.
They may act happy about something you’ve done for them and the reward of pleasing them is that much more gratifying because of its rarity. You love the feeling of finally “getting it right.” This keeps you hooked for the next time when your inner child’s excitement or rise in dopamine, will once again be satisfied. When we receive inconsistent reinforcement we feel even more compelled to try harder because the prize is so great and so rare.
Rather than continuing to put yourself in harm’s way by subjecting yourself to more manipulation, here are some suggestions to help you the next time you are around this person:
- Arm yourself with self-knowledge. Develop a solid sense of who you are so that no one can convince you otherwise. Do not let anyone, particularly the manipulator, tell you or imply to you who you are.
- Develop a strong sense of compassion for yourself and continue to have a firm positive compassionate inner dialogue with yourself when encountering your manipulator.
- Imagine yourself with a heavy-duty barrier over your heart and mind and refuse to let any of your inner schemas or buttons be activated by your encounter with the manipulator. Instead, let their words slide right off the barrier. Visualize
- Remind yourself that you have just as many rights as your manipulator and you can choose to enjoy the night without being subjected to bad feelings. If you must, walk away and find someone who helps you feel calm to talk to instead.
- Notice how you feel. Give yourself some rules to cope in a healthy way with the feelings that come up. For instance, if you find yourself feeling defensive, guilty, fearful, angry, frustrated, or confused when encountering this person, do not engage in conversation, instead, make a quick excuse and a hasty retreat into a new location. Do not engage in the insanity that inevitably occurs when dealing with a manipulator.
- Spend more time with healthy people who are easy to be with and who love you the way you are.
My final recommendation for coping with a manipulator is this. Remember that your primary prisoner is your own belief system.
If your manipulator is a parent, then you have most likely been brain-washed since birth. To overcome the psychological training that has occurred, you need to start challenging your own belief system. Ask yourself some challenging questions and rewire your thinking.
Am I really responsible for my mother’s happiness? Am I really a selfish person? Do other people around me seem to take on the responsibilities of their mother’s happiness? How am I substituting intensity for true intimacy and connection in this relationship? Are there realities about this relationship that I’m unwilling to address? Can this person be close to anyone? How much of myself am I willing to sacrifice in order to continue in this relationship? How can I be true to myself and still honor this person? How can I best take care of myself and be myself?
No matter how hard it is to overcome the brainwashing and implications of a manipulator, you can do it. The key resides within your own belief system. In order to live in recovery from this type of abuse, it is necessary to be committed to truth at all times.
To live in the truth for the rest of your life, stay committed to your own self-care. Educate yourself and counter the cognitive dissonance by immersing yourself in reality. Read, talk, write, and learn how to set up and stick to your own boundaries with regards to what is necessary for your own mental and emotional well-being