A Person is Not a Puppet: A Quick Look at Emotional Manipulation

Every teacher can rattle off a list of excuses given by students to get out of taking a test or to excuse missing homework. If you’ve heard someone make that kind of excuse yourself, you probably thought it had no consequences. So what if the dog that ate their homework was stuffed, or they didn’t really study for the test and copied the answers from someone else? No one got hurt, right?

Not quite. What if you are the person who handed in all the homework on time, and were completely prepared for the test, only to find that the teacher thought you had allowed your friend to copy your work? Just as it is difficult to see the hand that controls the puppet, the teacher can’t always tell the truth. The truth is that your friend manipulated you.

MANIPULATION STARTS SMALL AND GROWS QUICKLY

This simple-seeming school situation is a minute example of what goes on all the time. Someone doesn’t want to own up to an issue, and puts the blame on someone or somewhere else. It doesn’t really matter where or on whom, as long as the manipulator feels free of guilt, and thinks he or she gets away with something. But what about the person on the other end. What if you’re being ridiculed for something you didn’t do? What if someone is spreading falsehoods about you? A person is not a puppet. A person’s reputation can be ruined. There can even be horrid financial consequences. Yet the puppeteer, the manipulator, still takes no responsibility and rarely deals with the consequences. So what’s the person treated like a puppet to do? How can you break away from a puppeteer? How is the cycle broken?

FIRST, GO THROUGH AN EMOTIONAL CHECKLIST

  • How do you feel when you know you’ve been manipulated?
  • How do you feel doing things you know you shouldn’t?
  • When you are with the manipulator, do you feel secure, threatened, or angry?
  • In general, do you feel strong or weak?

If you don’t feel good about yourself, if you are asked to do things that go against your nature, if you don’t feel pride, and instead feel weak, you need to make some changes.

CHANGE IS HARD

Change is never easy. Don’t think it will be. It will require several steps; and some of those steps will be backslides. But hang in there. You are too important to be manipulated against your will. Besides, once you’re paying attention, you’ll probably discover that the person forcing you to do things doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

The question is, how does the change begin? The answer is, bit by bit. The manipulation didn’t start all at once and it won’t end overnight.

Change takes emotional strength. You have it. You’ve just let it lie dormant for a while. So wake it up. You may have to build yourself up to it. You might find that music helps you, or books, or movies. Use whatever tool works best for you. Just make sure you are paying attention to your feelings. Keep this in mind: you are valuable, worthwhile, and important. Despite what the manipulator may say, you are irreplaceable and indispensable. So make time to take care of yourself.  You might begin by starting a notebook, keeping track of each incident and how you feel after you are manipulated. Practice saying no, perhaps silently to yourself first. Next, try saying it when you’re alone, watching yourself in the mirror. At each instance, make note of how you feel, and write that down.

Eventually you will see the manipulation for what it is, and decide to end it. Perhaps that’s the time to put some emotional or physical distance between you and your puppeteer. This may be the hardest step. It will likely require help from a professional, someone trained to listen without judgment, who can guide you appropriately, who can help you practice, while you work through your words and feelings, as you learn to say no. Whatever path you take, make sure it is one of your choosing, not one chosen for you. You are a person, not a puppet.

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