We live in a highly manipulative society. By exposure, we learn that manipulative skills are useful in helping us get what we desire for ourselves. Most of us learn this from manipulative parents, teachers, associates, employers and friends. For the purposes of this discussion let’s use Merriam Webster’s definition:
to control or play upon, by artful, unfair or insidious means to one’s own advantage.
Often it is difficult to determine the motivations of the manipulator. Often he will tell you he is “doing for your own good.” He may even have himself convinced that such is his motivation. Too often though, the real motivation for the manipulator is, as the definition explains, to gain some advantage for himself. If the manipulator’s advantage is not part of the equation, we will call it influence and not manipulation.
If a parent exercises control over a child having a tantrum in a grocery store because she wants the child to learn appropriate social behavior, then it is influence. If that same parent exercises control in the same situation for the purpose of avoiding personal public humiliation; it is manipulation. I suppose the parent’s motivation may not make much difference early on; but it doesn’t take long for even small children to sense the difference.
Habitual manipulators quickly learn techniques that facilitate their control over others. One is to never let the subject of your manipulation off the hook. If the manipulator is never satisfied, his subject will stay on her toes. Conversely, if the manipulator praises a job well done the subject may relax and revert to former ways that don’t benefit the controlling party. That is unless the praise is a set up for further or deeper manipulative objectives.
Now, I’m no psychiatrist. I have to empirical evidence to present in support of this discussion. What I do offer is a measure of skill, acquired at the hands of parents who were master manipulators.
When I was doing the Fourth Step in the process of my recovery from addiction, my sponsor asked me to list all of the people, institutions and events for which I harbored resentment. I was earnest in doing so. In every case I began to realize that the resentment grew out of a perception that I was being, in most cases blatantly, manipulated. Prior to this exercise I had held resentments for people; afterward my resentment was directed at the practice of manipulation. I was able to forgive my manipulators because it is a learned practice; learned in a manipulative environment. I was required to forgive them because I discovered that I too had become a masterful manipulator. Of course, that meant I required forgiveness as well.
As children our first effort is to comply with our manipulator’s wishes. We want to please; we need to keep the peace.
Later, as we begin to discover that noncompliance creates discomfort of some sort we still try to comply, but less willingly. Soon, though we often discover that our manipulator can’t be pleased and that no matter how hard we try we can’t fully comply. This is when, to keep the peace, we learn to lie. If only we can persuade our manipulator that we’re doing what she wishes, maybe we’ll get along.
The biggest way in which we lie, is in behaving in a way that is inconsistent with our true selves. This incongruence becomes the beginning of many of our problems. Pretending to be something we are not is the hardest, most destructive lie of all. Well did Lehi say, “Woe be unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.” In a most poignant way this is the immediate consequence of lying, not just the long term end result. Living in a way that is dishonest and incongruent is hell. It just is.
There is another step in this process. Many of us get sick and tired of the burden of compliance and/or lying about it. At this point we finally rebel. We’ve had stomach full of manipulation and we finally say, “No more!”
This might be okay if we went back to being true to ourselves, but usually, we just become oppositionally defiant. Too often we, in our rebellion, refuse to do anything our manipulator wants, even if it is to our own detriment. This too is hell. And it is hell bent for destruction.
I have a friend whose big sister was his primary manipulator. They are both in their sixties now. Their mother recently celebrated her 85th birthday. My friend adores his mother. The big sister decided to throw a big party for mom and approached my friend in her typical manipulative style. “We’re having a party for mom and you’d darn well better be there.” Obviously, she was implying that he couldn’t possibly get anything right without her oversight. Predictably, she was also going to take credit for his participation by informing everyone, including mom that she’d personally seen to it that he was in attendance.
Forty some odd years ago my friend had quit lying to his manipulator and simply rebelled. He’d made a promise to himself that he’d never comply with her wishes again. After all this time, his commitment held. He did not go to the party. He wanted to, but he couldn’t bear to have her get the credit. It killed him to stay away, but it would also have killed him to go. At least those are the words he used when he described his inner conflict to me.
Clearly, if he were healthy, mature, self possessed and humble, he would have done the right thing – regardless of who got the credit. But people who are under the thumb of a serious manipulator are seldom healthy, mature, self possessed or humble.
In my work with troubled youth and addicted adults I see manipulation as a common thread and threat in their lives. Most have departed from healthy living and responsible choice making as casualties along the course of manipulation. Satan’s plan in the pre-mortal life was clearly an act of manipulation. Remember the definition? Was it not his desire to control and play upon us, by insidious means; for his own personal glory? Was it not to accomplish his own personal ends, with no regard for what might become of us? Absolutely, it was! So here we are, having rejected his manipulation, and yet he has infiltrated our culture with the very method of controlling one another that we then, rejected.
Obviously there are degrees on both sides of this equation. Most of society manipulates. Usually, it is not utterly devastating. But the more selfish society becomes the worse manipulation becomes and the more devastating results we see. Our jails, prisons and therapeutic institutions are filling up with the carnage of this rampant disease.