If you’ve ever wondered what are some manipulation techniques in relationships, this article is for you.
Influencing people has different facets and, depending on the purpose, can take on the character of both light persuasion and sophisticated manipulation. No matter how much this is not on our way, we must be aware that we all manipulate to a greater or lesser extent. Or at least the vast majority of us. No? Then remember if you never forced something to cry in your childhood, for example by simulating pain or harm of any other kind.
However, while the manipulation of children is relatively easy to detect, the dirty play of adults is no longer so obvious. The joke (tragedy?) is that just knowing how to manipulate people does not protect us from the influence of manipulators. I am convinced that the examples I am writing about later in this article are well known or at least largely known to you. At the same time, I am aware that many of you, despite your knowledge, still occasionally fall victim to manipulation, whether by a partner, employer or a random person on the street.
Manipulation techniques in relationships – examples
1. Feeling guilty
Guilt is one of the most common, easy and, consequently, more powerful ways to subjugate another person. This is due to the simple fact that we all need to feel valued, but for various reasons it does not work. A low sense of value (similarly as too high) obscures the rational horizon (not necessarily objective, but certainly balanced) of the evaluation of the actual state of affairs in relations with other people, because it imposes an emotional filter on reality.
If we cannot or worse still do not want to look at ourselves from a distance, then we will easily take someone else’s point of view. And it is not always going to be a person who is thinking about our good.
For example, the aim of a manipulator may be to show that the partner has a lot of catching up to do in the matter of love. In this way she does not have to (the manipulator) give anything from herself, intensifying in the other person the need to prove her self-esteem by giving more than she should.
“Very good soup, darling. It is not as good as yesterday’s, but if you salted it would be delicious. But no, leave it, I’ll eat it because I’m hungry. I don’t want you to correct it especially for me.
“My ex knew my needs very well. But don’t worry, bear, you know I love you and that’s all that matters.”
2. Shifting your own limits to others
Fighting against our own limitations is not a very pleasant game, so many of us prefer to pass it on to others. On the one hand, it is more rash in the group because we feel that not only are we weak, but on the other hand – in the group it is easier to bear that we do nothing with this fact. After all, others don’t do anything either, do they? This is how blurring responsibility looks like in practice. It’s almost like homeopathy, but there’s no placebo effect.
Suppose the manipulator is afraid of treason or has a inferiority complex. In such a case, in order to reduce the tension associated with the weight of one’s own limitations, the manipulator may implement one of the following scenarios:
“Why are you talking to Julie? You know I’m afraid of betrayal and when I see you looking at yourself, I want to cry. I would prefer you not to talk to other women without me.”
“Sweetheart, I feel bad about you earning more than I do. It takes away my self-confidence and my sense of masculinity. I would prefer you to stay at home and take care of something else.”
The idea behind this is that if a partner really loves you (or is undervalued enough), he should make concessions and completely give up his own aspirations. The manipulator will strengthen her position in the relationship and the partner will think she is valuable. Everyone “gains”! Or at least temporarily.
3. Emotional blackmail
We all have our own needs and strive to meet them. But manipulators most frequently use sneaky and morally dubious methods for this purpose. One of them is emotional blackmail aimed at the object of attack abandoning the aspiration to satisfy its own needs. The message is simple: if I am happy, you too will be happy. But in order to be effective, he dresses it in conflicting emotions.
Often it is a strong anger and the subsequent “emotional easing”. The object of attack, initially scared of an anger eruption, will feel relieved by it and agree to make partial or total concessions.
Other examples of emotional blackmail include the following sentences:
“At your age, you will certainly not achieve anything [so rely on me].
“At your age, you will certainly never meet anyone again [so stay with me].
“Don’t leave me, I can’t handle it without you”.
“Don’t you care about me?
“It’s easy for you to say it, because you didn’t experience what I did.
But not always the use of similar tricks is a sign of calculating. Very often, under the influence of emotions, we use emotional blackmail without even realizing it, because our brains are constructed in such a way as to explain the reality around us in the most advantageous way possible (read. stress-free) for ourselves. Literature provides a whole range of cognitive errors that tell us a lot about our perception of reality, and egocentricity of thinking is one of them.
4. Raising doubts
Doubts are an indispensable part of thinking. As a standard, every extremity generates problems, so both the excess and the lack of doubt are bad. One can say that whoever has no doubts, apparently does not think about what he thinks. Or he does not think.
So if we all have doubts, or at least it is a natural fact that we have them, it is not surprising that artificially inducing them by others can serve evil purposes. Manipulators take particular care that their victims remain in uncertainty, and the only form of contact with reality are small signals sent by the manipulators themselves.
Keeping the victim emotionally trapped can lead to the development of an attitude called learned helplessness. A partner dependent on the judgement of their partners will not be able to take any rational action without external approval.
“You’re doing it wrong. Show me, I’ll do it for you, because you’re not doing well.”
“Think about whether you really want to go to this job. You may not be able to cope, and I don’t want to repair your mistakes again.”
Here you should separate doubts, e.g. in the field of evaluation of information or world view, from doubts in your own abilities. Information or validity of opinions can be assessed on the basis of facts, logic or widely available literature. However, doubts about self-confidence are strictly subjective and there is no pattern that would allow us to reach the source of the problem without deep introspection.
5. Creating a distance
The method of influencing people is almost exclusive for relationships based on emotional bond. In the most common form nowadays it can be e.g. not answering phones or not answering text messages. A less obvious way is to limit the interaction with the person you live with, withdraw from verbal and non-verbal communication (or one of them), avoid being in the same room, etc.
To be clear, there are situations where creating distance, e.g. as a result of injury, is justified (which does not mean good). Here, however, we are talking about intentional creating a distance in a situation where there are no obvious grounds for such behavior, in order to exert pressure on the other person, soften her, and unstable emotionally.
It is known that for love the biggest test is distance, so if we are dealing with different intensity of feelings, it can happen that a person less “in love” or not necessarily empathic tries to force a specific behavior, whether from calculating or ordinary self-centredness.
Personally, I believe that this is one of the most brutal ways of manipulating people in a relationship, because the victim is usually an emotionally dependent person whose reactions can be almost exactly the same as those of those with withdrawal syndrome – neurosis, paranoia, total unreal thinking, self-destructive tendencies.
So, I do not recommend it.
Self-esteem is an extremely high ladder, where the distance between rungs is reduced only at the top. The lower we are, the more strength and self-denial we need to grab the next rung. Manipulators, consciously or not, for fear of heights avoid climbing, trying to keep everyone as low below them as possible, so that, despite the objectively low altitude, they feel superior.
Remember, however, that the world is not black and white and it is not worth getting paranoid, because everything I wrote above can occur in conscious, calculating and unconscious variants, devoid of bad will. Numerous emotional losses, traumas or depressions may generate situations that give the impression of manipulation or toxicity, but in reality they will be a cry for help of the injured souls.