Can emotional manipulation be the modern day voodoo of the mind?
The ancient practice of voodoo or witchcraft describes a ritual that practices the intention of negatively affecting someone’s life, without his or her consent or knowledge of the act. Emotional manipulation may not be a ritual or cultural act, but may hold similar qualities regarding the underlying goal.
As per the definition by Psychology Today; psychological and/or emotional manipulation can be defined as “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense”.
After research and much thought, I do believe that emotional manipulation is a subtle form of abuse. More often than not, people in close relation to each other experience, or become a victim of this from either a partner/friend or family member. Any person that has the ability to recognize your vulnerabilities and/or weaknesses has the capability to manipulate and exploit them in their favor. This makes it even more difficult to recognize when one is a victim of this, as they do not expect or suspect that their close/loved one may be manipulating them. The intensity at which this is experienced may vary from person to person, but remains nonetheless deceptive.
Below are a few scenarios that may shed some light on the traits or actions of an emotional manipulator, as it may not be easy to recognise one.
- “They turn your words around to benefit them” – A simple yet powerful technique. A common example could be you request something small such as your partner helping to clean up the house and assist with basic household chores. This request may result in a response of: “Do you know how hard I had to work today? The stress I endure to make sure a good lifestyle is lead; you are ungrateful and too demanding! You do not appreciate anything I do”. This remains to be the most powerful technique because it makes you feel guilty and ashamed to have even asked this in the first place. Yet in hindsight, this was a reasonable and basic request. You become resistant to ask this again due to the emotional guilt felt in that scenario which regurgitates that emotional response when you think to make a repeat request.
- The “Gaslight effect” – Dr. Robin Stern states: “The Gaslight Effect happens when you find yourself second guessing your own reality, confused and uncertain of what you think, because you have allowed another to define reality and tell you what you think and who you are”. This effect leaves you vulnerable and uncertain as you start to question your own basic instinct and the ability to rationalise the difference between what you believe and what you are told. The most simplistic decisions and choices that you make daily, now leaves you inclined to seek solace from the manipulator. It becomes a habit to believe you are incapable on your own and so dependency on the person increases.
- They weaken your problems or difficulties to undermine you– An expression of your problems or challenges faced becomes an emotional war, as you are lead to believe that you do not deserve the right to feel the way you do, or even complain about a difficulty in the first place. A simple example; I am under so much pressure to submit this deadline and hand in my work, the stress is creating so much anxiety. The response might be; you have this to worry about now; I work every day to submit deadlines under far more pressure than you and have a much more stressful job than yours. Your work seems easy yet you complain, come try to do the work I do. You would never manage. In a split second, you may feel embarrassed or inadequate for even vocalizing your thoughts as now you start to see that you have it easy and should not complain. Yet the shift in emotions occur so easily it completely bypasses the fact that, everyone is entitled to have an emotionally conflicting day. Remember, everyone has the right to be heard, understood, comforted, and not made to feel that his/her feelings hold no weight against someone else’s.
- “They say something to you and later deny it”. – Promises made from small to big are still promises. An adherence to your word is expected. Another simple example; you were lead to believe you had the choice of restaurant for dinner that evening or destination for the next vacation. Yet when you bring up the promise made earlier of you having the choice, it immediately is trumped by the idea of a better place accompanied with the sense that your opinion seems irrelevant. You are made to believe that you had created that entire conversation in your mind, when you to try to counteract this sudden change. Denial of such commitment by this person leads you to rather give up and give in than start a fight that you already suspect you will lose. Not only do you end up feeling defeated and hurt, you actually start to question the whole episode and second-guess if you imagined that you actually had the privilege of choice.
Identifying yourself as a victim of manipulation may lead to mixed feelings and clouded thoughts. Judgement for the most part will follow, of the suspected person you have come to realise as the master manipulator in your life. If you are still in doubt, try to be more attentive the next time you notice yourself feeling guilty, unworthy, or generally feeling bad about yourself and identify who that person is that leads you to feel that way. Acknowledge that someone else is trying to tell you what to feel or teaching you subliminally how to feel about yourself to their betterment. Use your feelings as a guide. This simple technique can help you become more aware and to pinpoint the techniques that are used on you as a form of manipulation.
Handling the situation after discovering the position you are in may seem overwhelming. Emotions will start to build and may even cause you to react. The way in which you choose to handle the situation can either end in understanding and lead to forgiveness, or it could result in a horrible argument. The depth at which each person has been affected also varies. No situation is the same. So designing a “how to deal” manual regarding this topic can be ambiguous and not even relatable to many people. The one suggestion I would make, is for you to decide if you are ready to stop being a victim and to acknowledge what may come once you face this head on.
A discussion with the person you deem as the one (manipulator) based on your new insight, can either leave them willing to explain their point of the behavior or the underlying reasons as to why they need to do it. Conversely, it could lead to an argument, based on accusations and conflict as they start to assume the victim role, at this point, the cycle continues. Trying to understand the “why” behind their actions can be insightful and even comforting. Alternatively, if you are still coming to terms with this concept and identifying these aspects in your life, it may become overwhelming. If you are a person who prefers to do their own research into the topic, I recommend reading up about the psychological effects of emotional manipulation to better your understating from your own point of view and to seek this out and make a change for the better.
If you are ready to confront the matter but still feel uneasy about simply coming to terms with the betrayal of the act itself, you are more than welcome to contact me and we will go through the process together. To gain understanding, comfort and establish boundaries that you can implement in your life to circumvent this from happening again.