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Persuasion and Manipulation

couple fighting photoPhotos by Adair733, If you want somebody to believe something or do something, there are two legal ways to go about it: persuasion and manipulation. The emotionally healthy way is to persuade. The emotionally destructive way is to manipulate.

Persuasion is the emotionally healthy way because it is the simple, honest way and it has no side effects. When you persuade people to do what you want them to do or think what you want them to think, you treat them with respect as a fellow human being. You use reason or cajoling or negotiation to try to convince them to do it your way or think your way. If they agree they agree, if not, so be it. You respect that they, as a fellow human being, have the right to make their own choice.

Manipulation is the emotionally destructive way because it is devious, dishonest and has side effects. When you manipulate people to do what you want them to do or think what you want them to think, you treat them with disrespect as a lower human being. You use manipulation to control them so that they do it your way or think your way. If they don’t agree, you punish them for disagreeing. You do not respect that they, as fellow human beings, have the right to make their own choices.

Let us say a husband wants his wife to pay more attention to him. He can accept that she pays minimal attention and that is the way she is. Or he can try to change her. If he wants to change her, he can either persuade her to change, or manipulate her to change. If he tries to persuade her, he can persuade her by talking to her, pointing out how she isn’t paying attention to him and how that is affecting their relationship. He can explain how paying more attention can be helpful to their relationship and also to her. He may offer to make an exchange, more attention from her in exchange for more of something from him.

If he decides to manipulate her (or uses manipulation without being conscious he is using it) he may utilize various methods. They include: 1. Nagging. (“You don’t listen to me!”) 2. Guilt-tripping. (“You don’t listen to me and it’s making me become an alcoholic.”) 3. Sarcasm. (“You walk around like a queen with who wants me to be your mirror, mirror on the wall!”) 4. Rejecting. (“Don’t touch me!”) 5. Trashing. (“You’re the biggest liar I’ve ever seen. Your whole life is a lie. You make me sick!”) 6. Name Calling. (“You can’t love me because you hate men! You’re a female chauvinist!”) 7. Yelling and Intimidation. (“Shut up! I can’t stand you! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”) 8. Threats. (“If you don’t do what I want, I’ll leave you!”) 9. Character Assassination. (“You can’t commit because you have a father complex, not to mention a slut-complex.”) 10. Cheating. “That’s right, I saw another woman. You wouldn’t give me what I wanted so I had to look elsewhere!”)

Unfortunately, most people use manipulation. It is easy for people to feel angry and victimized when they are not getting what they want from others. If they are feeling angry and victimized, they are not in a mood to use persuasion. They want to take control of the other and make them do what they want. Manipulation comes out of these feelings of anger, frustration, and jealousy, and one often does it without thinking about it, as a knee-jerk reaction. Often one is not conscious of doing it or one justifies doing it.

The side effect of using manipulation is that it will inevitably stir up a reaction in the person or persons one manipulates. They may feel angry or scared or insecure. The relationship will not be an equal relationship nor a mutually respectful one. The controlling partner will become more arrogant and less open to honest communication, and the controlled partner will become more self-disparaging and oppressed. Both will develop health problems. The quality of life of this kind of relationship will be low, full of strife and without genuine love. Such a relationship will have negative consequences with regard to childrearing. Children will pick up these manipulative techniques and use them on their siblings, friends and later their loved ones.

Not only individuals, but groups also have the choice of using either persuasion or manipulation. Like individuals, groups most often choose manipulation over persuasion, and this is what causes problems. Political and religious groups, as well as nations, are inclined to use manipulation. Groups all have a bias, which they refer to euphorically as their mission or their faith. They often come to feel that their mission or their faith is all-important and those who do not subscribe in their political mission or their religious faith are seen as “evil,” and therefore they then feel justified to use any form of manipulation.

All of the methods of manipulation listed above for individuals are used by groups, such as guilt-tripping, sarcasm, trashing, name-calling, yelling and intimidation, character assassination and threats. People who subscribe to and join a group are idealized, and those who resist the group are the targets of various forms of manipulation. Manipulative groups do not have a live-and-let live philosophy; instead they have a live-my-way-or-else philosophy. Just as individual’s who choose manipulation create strife in their personal relations, so also groups that choose manipulation create strife in society. Nations who choose manipulation create strife in the world.

Manipulative behavior can become a habit and even an addiction. Groups can morph into mobs in which manipulative behavior is reinforced through group consensus and becomes increasing infectious. When a group reaches the stage where manipulation becomes addictive and infectious, the group loses any ability to look at itself objectively, and it will only listen to its own members and considers all outsiders as enemies who are not to be trusted or listened to. It will develop a religious sense of self-righteousness that takes priority over all else. Over time the group becomes more and more insular and more and more destructive.

One can easily see the dramatic side effects of group and national manipulative behavior in the history of wars that plagues humankind. History can be viewed as one group after another coming to power and, when it does, attempting to influence (manipulate) other groups. It is rare in history to find a group (nation) that uses persuasion and has a live-and-let-live philosophy.

Those who understand the importance of persuasion will finish this blog and say, “Yes!” Those who are into manipulation will have stopped reading this blog several paragraphs ago.

Persuasion and Manipulation

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.

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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2019). Persuasion and Manipulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Mar 2019
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