By Robert Jackman, LCPC
Do you sometimes feel another person is telling you how you should feel, what you should do, or how you should act? Chances are you are in a relationship or friendship with a manipulator. Manipulative people can come across as directive, controlling and downright mean. Or they can come across in a covert way as passive aggressive, condescending and backhanded. What is important for you is to connect to how you feel when you are with a person who is manipulative. When we know our feelings it is harder for others to tell us how we feel.
Manipulators like to influence us and want us to feel like we are the ones who are bad, stupid, guilty and generally responsible for whatever is wrong. All of this negativity is a projection from the manipulator. It is the manipulator who is feeling those negative things about themselves. The manipulator is the one who feels the low self-esteem, low self-worth, self-loathing and one of their greatest fears is being alone or abandoned. It is one of those cases of “I hate you, Don’t’ leave me”.
To an outsider, it doesn’t make any logical sense why a person who is so afraid of being alone would project such hatred, but one of the reasons could be that the manipulator wants us to feel as miserable as they do. A misery loves company sort of thing. In reality, the manipulator is saying those mean and harsh things to themselves each day and then projects them onto others. Often the manipulator has deep emotional wounding from either childhood traumas or an extremely dysfunctional family dynamic which is often the reason why they feel this way towards themselves. This helps to explain why a person may be feeling this way, but it doesn’t excuse bad behavior or their choices.
Here are some characteristics of the manipulator; The manipulator likes to play the role of the victim and create drama because it is distracting and exciting to them. They like to revise the facts and history to justify their feelings which then confuses the situation and others. You may find that if the manipulator starts to feel vulnerable they will overreact with anger or physical aggressiveness so they don’t get hurt emotionally. And, after all of this, they freak out or feel abandoned or lonely and try to manipulate their way back into our lives. Talk about confusing and very frustrating for everyone – except for the manipulator. The manipulator doesn’t see themselves as manipulative – they just see themselves trying to get their needs met.
Often the manipulator will have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissism or they may have Bipolar Disorder. The diagnosis is one thing and may help you understand their experience, but dealing with the manipulator is another. Manipulators like to get us off base and see us doubt ourselves. When this happens they see the control that the have over us and this is their “win”. We then feel used, abused and fooled – all not very good feelings for sure.
I’ve heard a good phrase to remember when you are with a manipulator is: I didn’t cause it, can’t control it and can’t cure it. So often we adopt a distorted belief especially as codependents that we need to fix, cure, rescue or caretake the manipulator. But as we all know, we can only control ourselves, we can’t change someone else, so here are some tips on how to survive a relationship with a manipulator.
Stay grounded in what you know about yourself. As I said before, the manipulator will try to get you off base and get you doubting of yourself. This is all designed so the manipulator can have a sense of control and power over you. I have my clients create a list of grounding statements about themselves which may include things such as: I am a good listener, I love my family, I am a good cook, I am good with my hands. Etc. This list then goes with them in their car, wallet or purse and every time they get to doubting themselves, I have them pull this list out and read it. This list is not magical, but reading it reinforces who you are versus who the manipulator is trying to get you to believe who you are. This list will help you create a boundary where you can maintain your sense of self
If you find you are trying to reason with the manipulator or trying to explain to them over and over how when they do something they are hurting you – this is a sign they are not respectful of you. Take some time to look at this relationship and ask yourself if it is fulfilling, encouraging, respectful and reciprocal? I have found the wounded codependent will keep on trying to fix, rescue and rehabilitate the manipulator. This is the codependents pattern of trying to make a dysfunctional relationship functional. But, it takes two to make this happen and often the manipulator is not interested in healing their stuff – because too often they don’t see themselves as the problem.
So, take a moment and create a list of who you are so the next time a manipulative person in your life tries to tell you that you are wrong, ignorant, stupid or worthless, you will know that is not true – the truth is You are Magnificent.
Stop Walking on Eggshells – Mason and Kreger
The object of my Affection in in my Reflection: Coping with Narcissists – Lerner
The Human Magnet Syndrome – Rosenberg www.HumanMagnetSyndrome.com