What Manipulation Looks Like

Have you ever just suddenly realized you were being manipulated? Or that a person was in the process of making an attempt? (insert *YOU TRIED* gold star here)

Have you ever taken the time to marvel over all the ways human beings attempt to manipulate others, to control the behavior of other people, just to get what they want? I mean, it’s really impressive, when you think about it. Of course, it’s also depressing and scary and makes me wish for the end of the species sometimes, but most of the time, it’s just astonishing. Especially when they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They might use tears, or anger, or threats, or guilt, or silence… and if you ask them, it’s all justified.

I mean, sometimes crying is just a normal response to disappointment, sure. I cry when I’m disappointed, or when I’m overwhelmed, or when I’m upset, but it’s a natural response, not something I’ve intentionally conjured. Of course, I think I’ve also cried to get out of being in trouble. The tears came because I was bummed I got caught, not because I was sorry for what I’d done, but behind the scenes I converted that automatic response into a weapon I could use to maybe, hopefully, get out of the trouble or at least play on someone’s empathy to reduce the severity of the punishment.

See what I mean?

There are people who are eternal helpless victims, who throw themselves at your mercy so you’ll take charge and manage things for them rather than them ever having to take ownership or responsibility. Their manipulation takes the form of presenting themselves as helpless, looking to you for answers, for your time, for your emotional labor, all so they don’t have to do the work of navigating being alive any more than is absolutely necessary.

And then there are people who are hurt by something/someone, who then turn that hurt into a means of manipulating the person who hurt them. Weaponizing grief. So let’s say someone does something to hurt you, whether intentionally or otherwise. You have a lot of choices there. You can opt to no longer engage with that person. You can choose to try and work through it, either with that person or separately. Or, you can use their action and the resulting guilt, shame, or remorse against them, making them do what YOU think they should do to make it right. And of course if they don’t comply with your emotional demands, then you double-down. Try and regain a feeling of control over your life while also punishing the person in perpetuity.

There are people who just flat out lie to get what they want from others. Presenting themselves or a situation however they want to get the desired response. And when they see that it works, they keep doing it – and keep pushing the boundaries of what they can get away with.

And then there are the people who decide they know what’s best and will encourage people in that direction, while giving them the impression of full agency. “You are the one with the choice here…” and then present the choices in such a way that one of them – the “right” one – is obvious and the other choice is obviously the terrible one. But who determined that to be the case, you? Or the person presenting the information? I guess these are the least intrusive, invasive, or damaging of all the ways people try to control others, but it’s still there.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a person – especially kids – need to be “controlled,” at least insofar as they haven’t developed common sense, rational thought, or anything else that would empower them to make informed choices about life. And there are adults whose brain function may be compromised in some way, so they need to be told what to do, how to do it, etc. There are always exceptions. We also have laws in place that require people to be better than they would be otherwise (civil rights, anti-discrimination, etc.), so – from the perspective of the bigot – that is a form of “control.”

I’ve just been paying real close attention to how people attempt to get what they want, and I’m trying to discern if it is or isn’t possible to get what you want out of life, to lead a full and happy existence, without trying to manipulate other people to get there. Can you remove the requirement of the participation of others and still be happy/content/fulfilled?

I mean, the answer to ME is a resounding YES. I’m evaluating my life and trying to figure out where I might be attempting to manipulate or control others to get what I want, and I’m just not seeing it (yet, but I plan to keep looking on a regular basis to make sure!). I’m getting better at asking for what I want and need, as well as getting better at pursuing what I believe I want out of life. But none of that involves manipulating or controlling other people to achieve a desired outcome. And it certainly doesn’t involve punishing anyone.

I don’t think you need to be sneaky or manipulative or controlling or dishonest to get what you want, and if you do, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you’re after.


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