You get kind of a sticky tense feeling and know something isn’t right. Someone’s words aren’t matching their action or their feeling. 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.
Your first reaction when you realize manipulation is afoot is likely to feel anger. Anger arises as an alarm to let you know there might be a present threat to you. Hand in hand with anger are usually thoughts that feed it, such as, “He should be direct and just ask for what he wants!” The “should” is what feeds the anger, because it is a railing against what is true in the moment. The truth is that he is not “being direct” (as you define it).
You have likely discovered that telling people what they should and shouldn’t do is not such an effective strategy for connection.
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 yourself from the other 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. 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 two choices, empathy or honest expression. Expressing herself honestly she might say, “Hearing that, I feel confused and want clarity. 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 want some peace. Is that right?”
Of course, responding in either of these ways is pretty much impossible if Marketa is making her husband bad and 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 to connect with life.
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. Have this kind of faith in core goodness of people allows you to stay compassionate with yourself and others.
This week notice when you label someone’s behavior as manipulative or inauthentic, take a moment to guess what needs s/he is trying to meet. See if you can look past other’s strategies and into their hearts.
***click here for a list of feelings and universal needs http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/resources.php