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Saying No to Manipulation

shutterstock_206022634Wikipedia had a great definition of psychological manipulation.  Here it is: “Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.”  (Thanks, Wikipedia!)  I’d add that manipulation always benefits the manipulator, though he or she might  be adept at making you believe otherwise.

Everyone twists things to their own advantage sometimes.  But if you’re chronically manipulated by someone in your life, I’ve got some suggestions for you.

1)  Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t make excuses for the manipulator.

A good manipulator will make your doubt yourself.  But deep down, you know when something’s wrong.  You know when you’re getting the short end of the stick most of the time.  The lie you might tell yourself is that you deserve this.  No one deserves to have their own preferences, desires and needs subverted.

2)  Name the behavior–first to yourself, then to other people in your life, and finally, to the manipulator.

The reason I picked this particular order is that you need to get real with yourself before you’re able to make any meaningful change in your life.  (See #1.)  Then I want you to talk to other people and name what’s happening to you because manipulation flourishes in secrecy and isolation.  Marshaling support is critical.  If you’re not telling your friends what’s really going on, it’s because you know that it’s not right and you’re trying to convince yourself otherwise.  You don’t want to have to deal with it.  You don’t want to have to confront the manipulator.

But that’s exactly what needs to happen.   You can do it in person, by phone, by e-mail, by text–whatever gets it done.  Manipulators are experts at getting you to deny your own reality and go with theirs.  Be braced for this.  Expect resistance.

If the relationship has been operating in their favor, no wonder they won’t want that to change.  But if that person is worthy of being in your life, after that initial resistance, he/she will be capable of self-reflection, and change.

3)  Be willing to sever ties if the manipulation doesn’t end.

This doesn’t have to be an ultimatum overtly stated.  You don’t need to share it with the manipulator.  But you need to be clear in your own mind of what you’re willing to tolerate and for how long.   Set limits, tell them to your friends so that you can have support in sticking to them.

4)  Recognize that it might be taking a toll on your self-esteem.

If that’s the case, you may need counseling to help you take these steps.   You might be so worn down or confused by the manipulation that you’re not sure where to begin.  But you read this post, and that’s a great start.

Manipulation image available from Shutterstock.

Saying No to Manipulation

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Saying No to Manipulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Nov 2014
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