Tuesday, October 20, 2009

7 Key Steps to Resist Manipulation

1) Playing for time
Since you may be in the habit of automatically agreeing to your manipulator's requests or demands- agreeing or saying a knee-jerk yes before you've had time to think about it, you'll need to break this habit. The best way to do this is take an immediate breather after his/her request.

If it's over the phone or in internet messenger, you can excuse yourself for a minute, or tell them you'll call them back in a few minutes. Don't ask permission, inform them that you WILL be taking a brief time away.

If it's face to face, excuse yourself from the scene of interaction for a few minutes. It can be for a toilet break, to get a glass of water, whatever you can think of. Make sure it's AFTER the manipulator has expressed the request but BEFORE you reply.

During that time, breathe deeply and slowly. Calm yourself down and focus on your next move, which is to play for time. 

Once you return to the manipulator, you can use phrases like:
''I need some time to think about it, I'll get back to you ASAP'' 
'' I can't give you an answer right now, but I'll think it over and let you know.''

Again DO NOT ask for permission. It seems polite, but will only keep the manipulator in control. You be pleasant and assertive at the same time. You will probably feel anxious, and maybe even a little fearful the first time you try this, that's normal. With practice it will get easier. Whatever you do, don't let you feelings drive your behaviour. That's what you've been doing all along, that's how you've been manipulated. Carry out the behaviour first, your mind will follow. Fake it 'til you make it!

2) The Broken Record

Naturally, you can expect the manipulator to object to your play for time. After all, you're dealing with a master of pressure and coercion. It's critical you don't become engaged with the manipulator about why you need time, what you're going to think over, and when exactly you will be ready to respond. The manipulator will try to push you into your characteristic compliance, but you now have the tools and foresight to ensure you don't fall for the ploy.

1) Acknowledge that you hear & understand the manipulator by accurately labelling the emotion being expressed
2) Repeat your play for time phrase like a broken record.

That's it! No discussion. If you start talking too much, you may lose control. The key is resistance, not debate or argument. You are absolutely in the right to state that you want to think before you act. Make sure you don't appologise if/when the manipulator gets angry.

You can enlist the help of a friend or therapist to run through some practice scripts with you. Write a script that accurately represents a typical situation in your life where a manipulator tries to pressure you.

3) Desensitising anxiety, fear & guilt

To resist manipulation effectively, you must learn to tolerate some pretty uncomfortable feelings. Until now, the fuse on your negative emotions has been short. The manipulator lights it, and you become anxious, fearful or guilty, the fuse burns down very quickly and triggers capitulation and compliance that fuels the cycle.

The desentisation technique you are about to learn will help you withstand the negative feelings without resorting to old habits of giving into demands.

Anxiety levels are raised by uncertainty. Manipulators do this by making vague & ambiguous references to something that may or may not happen. Fear though, is connected to a specific outcome. Manipulators intimidate by arousing fear. Guiltis the result of feeling excessively responsible for the emotions and experiences of others. If you're vulnerable, guilt trips are a skilled manipulator's specialty. 

When you feel any of these three emotions, your response mechanism is propelled into emergency mode. The manipulator merely hands you the fire hose, and points you in the direction of compliance with his desires. The urgency you feel results from the manipulator's pressure and from your overreaction fo the discomfort that you feel. It doesn't come from the reality that a true state of emergency exists.

You need to alter your reaction to your own negative feelings. The fact is, those above 3 feelings will NOT cause you to self-destruct if you fail to quash them immediately. They will cause you discomfort, but discomfort can be tolerated and withstood. In fact, the more exposure you have to discomfort, the less intense it will be. This is called habituation.

You are training yourself to withstand the discomfort, so you can make positive, healthy changes to your behaviour. Instead of panicking, relabel the discomfort as a necessary and worthwhile price to pay to make constructive changes in your life.

There's another reason to change your panicky, urgent reactions. Urgency can produce a thinking error called emotional reasoning. This happens when you confuse your negative feelings with the thought that something negative is happening/going to happen. Eg just because you are afraid of a manipulator's anger, doesn't mean something dire is really going to happen. Or just because you feel guilty for not following a family member's demand, doesn't necessarily mean that your relationship with that person will be damaged inalterably or that you will lose their love.

Desensitisation works like this:
Currently you cannot feel relaxed at the same time you feel fearful, anxious or guilty. By using behavioural conditioning, you will assume a state of relaxation. With the help of a deep breathing exercise, you will simultaneously recall an actual experience in whichthe manipulator elicited strong negative emotions in you.

Recall 3 vivid examples. Write down a sketch of each, and of your reaction, being as descriptive and detailed as you can. Next, use a cassette recorder to record a tape of your examples by reading your written descriptions. You want to recreate the experience (don't worry, noone else will hear the tape but you.)

Now put he components together. Lay down on a bed or lounge. Have your cassette player and tape you made by your side. Begin by breathing deeply through your nose, wait for a second or two, then exhale through the mouth. Continue slowly and rhythmically. Whilst you're breathing, focus your attention on your limbs, imagine they're growing heavy and sinking into the bed/lounge. After 2-3 minutes of this, you're ready to turn on the tape.

Continue to breathe and relax as you listen to your tape. In your mind's eye, visualise the scene as clearly as you can. Try to maintain as much physiological relaxation as you can while simultaneously visualising the scene. Allow yourself to feel the fear, anxiety and guilt, and be conscious of how you can control the feelings by maintaining your deep breathing and relaxation of your body.

When the first scene ends, turn the tape off and say to yourself ''I may be feeling anxious/afraid/guilty, but I can tollerate it. I am ok.'' Continue with the relaxation exercises. Repeat this for the next two descriptions. Do this at least twice a day for a week or two, and gradually you will feel the intensitity of the feelings lessen and you will be better able to withstand them. 

4) Labeling the Manipulation

Manipulation is like a silent contract between manipulator and victim. But when you reveal the agenda by clearly and directly labeling the manipulation, the power imbalance will realign in your direction.

Describe it out loud. This is like a cross to a vampire. Many manipulators recoil in the face of being busted. Use the ABCD formula, as follows.

Behaviour A: When you do ........
Emotion B: I feel.....
Alternative behaviour C: If you would stop doing A and instead do........
Emotion D: I would feel.......

Eg. When you raise your voice and yell at me, I feel anxious and scared of you. If you'd stop yelling and ask me what you want in a calm way, I'd feel alot more respected and valued.

Again, ask a friend or therapist for help role-playing your resistance. Make sure you use the ''I feel'' statements rather than ''You make me feel'', NVC style. Practice being quietly firm. Yelling is more the manipulator''s style. Stick to the formula, and end it with ''I understand it's your choice to (A) and now you know how I feel when you do it.'' And don't say any more.

5) Disabling the Manipulation

This step holds the key to your freedom. You will tell the manipulator from a place of quiet strength that his tactics will no longer work to accomplish his purposes. Eg ''I understand that you want me to go with you tomorrow, but giving me the silent treatment isn't going to work/help/be effective.'' The best way to practice is to combine steps 4 and 5, like a double punch. You are telling the manipulator you know exactly what he is doing, and how you feel in relation to it. Then you inform the manipulator that you know what he wants from you, and the old tactics will no longer work to coerce your compliance.

6) Setting Your Terms

Establish new personal boundaries, and make your boundaries explicit. 
*Announce your intention to make your own decisions, honouring your needs and interests.
* State how you want to be treated.
* State clear boundaries and limits. Give notice that manipulative tactics are no longer acceptable (eg no more silent treatment, no guilt trips etc.) Don't threaten, just make it clear you won't participate in the silent contract anymore.
* Ask the manipulator to acknowledge that you have your own needs, values and opinions.
* Tell the manipulator that you're hopeful that by setting limits, the overall quality of the relationship will improve for both of you.

Practice again via role play. It's unlikely the manipulator will greet this news with joy, or even cooperation at first, however if you've used some or all of the other resistance tactics he won'be overly surprised. You may feel anxious about making these statements, but don't let that disuade you. You should feel more anxious about losing your values, independence and integrity by allowing yourself to be stifled by a controller.

The manipulator may try his tactics, bu ust revert back to your broken record skills to reiterate your terms. You must face the possibility the manipulator may not wish to continue the relationship under any terms but his own. But even if he expresses willingness to change, it won't happen overnight.

7) Compromising or Negotiating

While there is no room for compromise on the tactics used by the manipulator, if he expresses genuine willingness to change, there can be a healthy give and take on meeting your respective needs and preferences. You can model basic conflict resolution through compromise. Here are some basic steps:

1. Describe the other person''s position in clear terms. Eg ''I understand you prefer...........''
2. Confirm/clarify this with him if necessary.
3. State your position in clear terms. Eg '' I would prefer.......''
4. Allow for and directly answer questions designed to clarify. Address how each of you feels about the alternatives, and the degree of importance on the issue.
5. Suggest compromise. ''Is there a third alternative that might work for both of us? Let's think.''
6. If you can't think of one, try a fair but random choice solution, such as flipping a coin.
7. Or suggest a barter. ''How about we do it your way this time, and my way next time?'' or vice versa.

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Good Job!