Prof AVR Rao takes an incisive look at the machinations of manipulators and shows us how to cope with them
Manipulators are all-pervasive, and every one of us has adorned that hat at one time or another. But its gravity looms large when manipulation becomes a habit. It is a trait which can be inherited, inherent, imitated, or developed over time by anyone. Manipulative people prey on the conscientiousness, good nature, and helping attitude of virtuous people since it is easy to hoodwink, mislead, and exploit them.
Manipulation is a type of psychological influence used to change the behaviour or perception of others through indirect, deceitful, concealed, or unethical tactics. Manipulators selfishly use behavioural and emotional tactics to make others act or desist from acting. They are quite dangerous. They believe in—what Shakespeare says in Macbeth—‘fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ Often, they make even good people commit heinous crimes. The best examples are the villains and schemers in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and also characters like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s drama. Another example is that of spouses manipulating their partners to estrange them from their own kith and kin.
Depending on the situation and the interpretation of the viewer, manipulating can either be positive—guiding, moving, and operating for the benefit of the recipient—or negative—demeaning, scheming, calculating, and destroying.
The trait of manipulation can show up in various facets of human behaviour: love, hate, affection, indifference, likes, dislikes, bias, fairness, favouritism, nepotism, impartiality, and so on, and also in various spheres of human interaction: families, workplaces, political arena, sports, professions, practices, and virtually in all areas of society.
Managing and saving oneself from manipulators becomes more difficult when the manipulator happens to be a close friend or family member or relative because, if you get affected adversely, it is not easy for you to cut off their relationship for various reasons.
How to identify manipulation?
There are many tell-tale signs that manipulators display and these will help you to manage them or even outsmart them. But you have to take care that such signs are not just one-off behaviours before shunning their company or reacting to their manipulative behaviour. Because there is a risk of our branding them as manipulators when they are, in fact, good-natured people, occasionally straying towards the manipulative path.
Some of their well-known techniques are listed below with plenty of related examples, which are a day-to-day experience of one and all.
• They deliberately conceal vital information. For example, in a job interview, a candidate blames his previous employer as being discriminatory while, in reality, it was he (the candidate) who committed mischief and was fired.
• Daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, as well as sons and fathers, blame each other for lack of harmony in homes while they themselves are the cause for it. They indulge in manipulations either out of instinctive self-protection or imaginary fears.
• Manipulators are invariably selfish fabricators. When you want to buy a product and it is not available in the shop, the shopkeeper tells you that that product has adverse side effects and hence he is not stocking it and that there is a better product in the shop which is popular.
• They feign innocence or as exploited ones in order to gain your sympathy and proximity. An employee complains to the boss that a senior employee deliberately gave misleading information, which is the cause for the blunder committed by him.
• They tell half-truths and escape saying they never said it or they didn’t mean that.
• They are aggressive or passive-aggressive and use undue pressure. A wife, when she does not get what she wants, threatens to leave for her parents’ home. Or a husband tells the wife to leave his house for good if she does not succumb to his unfair demands. Giving people the silent treatment is also a form of emotional abuse which people often indulge in.
• They are pseudo well-wishers. The medical fraternity bombards you with unwanted medical tests for various diseases, all in your interest!
• They make you feel guilty. Insurance companies recommend that you take various kinds of policies to protect your family members. After all, it is your moral duty to take care of them!
• They quietly create problems for you. When you are set to go out for an important friends’ meet and your father does not like it, he quietly organises for the driver to come late or feign illness at the last moment.
• They justify and rationalise their own behaviour but judge and criticise yours.
• They derail or belittle your self-respect, courage, and confidence.
• They exaggerate, understate, or twist facts to suit their strategies.
• They speak for you as though you cannot speak for yourself. When your attending a social function out of your city is not liked by the manipulator, he tells the host that you do not like to travel long distances.
•They pressure and hurry you up and don’t give you a reasonable time to decide.
Should you stay away from manipulators?
We should never try to educate and reform manipulators as most of these scheming people are so deliberately. Staying away from manipulators is the best solution. However, it is not always possible or practicable to do so in society for several reasons:
• The manipulator is a member of your close family, such as a mother, father, wife, husband, or child.
• You need them to be with you for various beneficial reasons.
• They are otherwise fine people but resort to manipulation occasionally.
• They are not deliberate manipulators but only resort to manipulation ignorantly.
• The damage caused by the manipulations is not material or emotional but only causes inconvenience or embarrassment.
How to manage manipulators?
Your reaction to situations where you are being manipulated depends on the gravity and nature of the situation, your relationship with the manipulator, and your respective strengths and weaknesses. Here are some suggestions:
• Never be a victim and silently allow yourself to be dominated and manipulated by the manipulator. It is like giving into a blackmailer. If you do so, you will always remain a slave to the manipulator.
• Quietly stay away from the manipulator; you need not explicitly announce it.
• Take a firm stand, ignore, and be indifferent to the manipulator’s suggestions or tactics.
• Let him have his way, particularly when it benefits you in some other way.
• Explain to him why his suggestions won’t work.
• Clarify to him, albeit politely, that you would not like others to make choices for you.
• Be decisive and assertive in not going the manipulator’s way.
• Take the help of a professional counsellor or teacher or elder or well-wisher, particularly one who was in a similar situation and overcame it.
• Always take care and protect your safety, self-worth, honour, and integrity.
• Be silent or escape by saying evasive phrases like ‘Let me see,’ ‘Good idea,’ etc.
For a deeper study and understanding of this aspect, refer to The Psychology of Human Relationships, a bestselling 1964 book by psychiatrist Eric Berne. Since its publication, it has sold more than five million copies. It describes both functional and dysfunctional social interactions. Also useful is the author’s Games People Play, wherein he emphatically declares that while we think we’re relating to other people, we are all actually playing games.
Indian epics are also replete with examples of manipulators. Some of them who used manipulative tactics for their own self-interest include Shakuni of Mahabharat and Kaikeyi of Ramayana. Chapter 16 of the Bhagavad Gita describes in detail the nature of manipulators and demonic people. Lord Krishna also used manipulative techniques, but for uplifting virtue and destroying the wicked.
However, we need to take a positive view of things. Not all manipulators are wicked. Their attitude is just a weakness. If we see them through spiritual glasses, after all, they are behaving so because of their inner divine promptings which might be good for themselves and others in the long run. We need not be overly scared of such people if we have full trust in God. God will certainly bring about circumstances to expose the dirty tricks of manipulators and protect us from any harmful effects. There could also be some concealed benefits and lessons for us. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (18–61), “isvarahsarva-bhutanamhrd-dese ‘rjunatisthatibhramayansarva-bhutaniyantrarudhanimayaya,” meaning “God is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the actions of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”
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