Being a part of a society implies communicating with a number of different people. And, of course, any interaction and act of communication with another person should be as transparent and honest as possible; the ideal model of communication usually assumes that all communicators are free to express themselves, and are free of tension and/or manipulations. Unfortunately, the reality is not so rosy, and people often engage in manipulations, or become subjected to them.
The Internet nowadays is full or recommendations on how to recognize whether you are being manipulated; the authors of such articles often show manipulators almost as villains consciously and purposefully deceiving people around them. This is not necessarily true; a lot of manipulators are, in fact, people who did not manage to learn how to communicate directly, so for them, indulging into psychological trickery remains one of the few options to get what they need in everyday situations. There are, however, people for whom manipulations have turned into a profession: salesmen, advertisers, agitators, preachers, and so on. Regardless of the motives of the person you communicate with, it is always important and useful to be able to recognize manipulations in order to be able to withstand and oppose them. Let us take a look at some of the most typical signs of psychological manipulations.
One of the common strategies of psychological manipulations is to knock the ground from under the opponent’s feet; this is usually achieved through marginalizing the opponent and mocking him or her. This is commonly done indirectly, in a form of “friendly” pandering, joking, or “giving advice.” By regularly ridiculing you, a manipulator gradually knocks you off balance, undermining your self-confidence and makes you feel inferior compared to him or her. A manipulator rarely or never comments negatively about your actions, but rather about your personality; instead of telling you that you did something wrong, a manipulator will rather assume there is something wrong with you, with your personality and/or psyche, so you would feel inadequate and not good enough. Considering that a manipulator never provides solutions to your real or imaginary flaws, or that all critiques come in form of “harmless” jokes which make it easy to avoid victim’s defensive aggression, defending oneself from a manipulator’s attacks can be difficult if you are not aware of what is going on (Psychology Today).
One of the most dangerous techniques intentionally or unintentionally used by manipulators is called “gaslighting.” The name comes from the classical British movie “Gaslight” filmed in 1940, which displays some of the typical methods gaslighters use to abuse their victims. In particular, gaslighting includes making a victim doubt his or her words and/or perception (“You never told this to me,” or “I never said that,” when you are sure you said or heard something and even have proof), telling blatant lies straight to someone’s face to confuse a person and make them more susceptible to future manipulations, devaluing and depreciating victim’s emotions, feelings, experiences, and so on (Britannica.com).
Yet another typical way for a manipulator to make you feel worse is to blackmail you emotionally. Most often, it includes the evoking of such feelings as shame and guilt in the victim; however, even though this manipulation can be manifested directly (“…if you do X, I will tell your friends/children/relatives that you…”), it most often comes in a more subtle and sophisticated form. A manipulator can wrap his or her abuse in the form of a compliment (“Of all people, you should know that…” or “I cannot believe that you, with your intelligence and experience, fell for his/her…”); although such phrases seemingly emphasize the victim’s positive traits, in fact they make a person feel stupid and inferior. More blatant approaches include the usage of intimidation (“If you do/do not do X now, it will be too late”), casting doubts (“The grass might be not as green on the other side as it seems”), and even swapping roles, when the manipulator and the victim changes sides. The latter is one of the favorite techniques used in dysfunctional relationships: frequently, one person gets tired of his or her abusive partner, and attempts to leave; the partner then plays victim, saying something like, “I will not be able to live without you,” or even “If you leave, I’ll kill myself.” This is a strong sucker punch, but many responsible and honest people fall for this trap. If nothing works, a blackmailer can suddenly seize all the attempts to manipulate the victim; the victim then becomes confused and even grateful for this temporary truce, and is more prone to do what the manipulator wants from him or her on his or her own account or will (PsychCentral).
Manipulators may have different motives for playing with your feelings. Some do it on purpose, although the majority of people do not know a better way of communicating their needs to others. Regardless of the reasons, psychological manipulations can cause moral harm to a victim, so it is important to be able to recognize such manipulation techniques as shaming, gaslighting, moral confusion and ridiculing, making the victim feel inferior, and so on. The more educated and aware of such techniques you are, the easier and more “ecological” your communication with the manipulator becomes (if, for some reason, you need to continue this communication).
Ni, Preston. “14 Signs of Psychological and Emotional Manipulation.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Oct. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/communication-success/201510/14-signs-psychological-and-emotional-manipulation.
Duignan, Brian. “What Is Gaslighting?” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/story/what-is-gaslighting.
“How to Spot Manipulation.” PsychCentral, 30 Dec. 2017, psychcentral.com/lib/how-to-spot-manipulation/.
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