Responding to Manipulation
You get a kind of a sticky tense feeling and know something isn't right. Someone's words aren't matching their action or their emotion. On the surface they are focusing on one thing, but underneath it is about something totally different. It seems that they are intentionally deceiving you in order to meet their needs at the cost of yours. This is how you might describe manipulation.
When you realize manipulation is afoot you likely get angry or begin to withdraw. With anger you have thoughts like, "He should be direct and just ask for what he wants!" Withdrawing you may simply feel fuzzy headed and have the instinct to move away from someone you don't trust is authentic. Unfortunately neither response helps you if you value the relationship and want to move towards honesty.
The first effective thing you can do in the face of manipulation is stay with yourself. Keep your attention on the sticky tense feeling. Disconnect from the other person for a moment so that you don't slip into their confusion. A gem reader, we'll call her Marketa, gave this example.
"My husband and I are separated. He dropped by one day to pick up some things. I decided to bring up an issue that had been on my mind and our conversation quickly escalated into a confrontation. In the midst of this he said, 'I came over to have a peaceful discussion with you about our relationship and now that's impossible.' He had not previously mentioned wanting to talk."
Marketa got that sticky tense feeling and for a moment was disoriented. Her husband tried to express his feelings and needs by subtly blaming her while simultaneously putting himself in a positive light.
As soon as she notices these feelings, Marketa tells herself to take a breath and focus inward. If she responds immediately to his comment, she will likely get caught in a swirl of confusing communication. Instead, she takes time to feel her feelings and ask herself "what just happened?" Marketa names for herself that her husband just communicated in a manipulative way. She knows that any response to the content of a manipulative comment will go nowhere fast.
If she wants to stay connected, she has at least three choices, self-empathy, empathy or honest expression. For continued self-empathy she may end the interaction at that point and take space to be alone and connect with her own experience. Expressing herself honestly she might say, "Hearing you say that, I feel disconnected. Would you be willing to say what's going on for you in another way?"
Responding with empathy she might say, "I am guessing you are feeling frustrated and wish we could just get along. Is that right?"
Of course, responding in either of these ways is pretty much impossible if Marketa is making her husband wrong for his comment. She has to have at least one foot in the consciousness that says her husband is doing the absolute best he can in the moment.
Manipulation is a strategy or set of strategies that people learn in their struggle to take care of their hearts. If they knew and trusted a better strategy, they would be using it. Having this kind of faith in the core goodness of people allows you to stay compassionate with yourself and others.
Responding to manipulation with an anger storm or withdrawing adds to the cycle of suffering. You can prepare yourself to meet manipulation by naming for yourself how you will recognize it, how you will ground yourself in the midst of it, and how you would like to either set a boundary or create more direct communication in the moment.
Take time now to reflect on the last time you encountered what you perceived as manipulation. Name all the symptoms in yourself and in the other person that had you label the interaction as manipulative. How did you or would you have liked to have stayed grounded in that moment? How would you have liked to move forward with setting a boundary or with an attempt to connect?