Is all manipulation abusive?


An interesting question.

Manipulation is any attempt to sway a person’s emotions to get them to act in a specific way or feel a certain thing. On this basis, in truth, we are surrounded by forms of emotional manipulation on a regular basis. It is also quite likely that we have all engaged in some form of manipulation. From the most natural occurrence of a baby crying for food, rewards for hard work and achievements at school and work, advertisers routinely attempting to manipulate our emotions to get us to buy a particular product or support a particular cause, politicians manipulating us to win votes. These forms of emotional manipulation appear to be socially acceptable norms.

When emotional manipulation is used to avoid vulnerability and establish power over others, it becomes unhealthy and can be abusive. Given the amount of manipulation we are subjected to, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize when people around us are actually being emotionally manipulative. Many different tactics can be used but some of the more common tactics are overwhelming another very early in a relationship with gifts or attention, playing on our insecurities, lying and denial, threatening behaviour, generalizing, not dealing with issues by deflecting or moving the goalposts, passive aggression, giving the silent treatment, gaslighting and getting others to support their views. Basically, an emotionally manipulative person will never look at their own behaviour and it will always be you who are wrong.

It is important to note that not all forms of manipulation has malicious intent and can be the result of poor communication skills, a desire to avoid connection, fear, defensiveness, social norms and marketing, advertising and other financial or political incentives as mentioned.

As we are likely to have all been subjected to manipulative tactics at some point in our lives, it is important to remember that we are not alone and it is not our fault. We cannot avoid manipulation of any kind but we can be aware of it and take steps to protect ourselves from it. We have probably all experienced some element of passive-aggressive comments, deflection or silent treatment, for example, but are these isolated incidents or part of a cycle of behaviour that aims to control us or limit connection? Understanding when this behaviour is normal and when it’s not is key to our own protection. Remember that if a person in our lives is engaging in this type of manipulation, it is about them and we are not responsible for their actions. They need to address their own issues or fears. It is vital to set clear boundaries about how we are prepared to be treated and express these in direct, clear and specific ways. Of course, being able to recognize acceptable behaviour and setting boundaries will be affected by our past experiences and the nature and length of time we have been subjected to emotional manipulation. Seeking an objective perspective can really help with this.