It can take a while in recovery to learn some of the nuances of positive communication. At first, it may feel impossible, then it may feel forced, but over time, you will find that it comes naturally to actively listen to the people around you, and give them the space and time they need to get their needs met.
When it comes to getting your own needs met, however, you may find that you are engaging in unhealthy practices without even realizing it. For example, even if you are not technically forcing someone else to do your bidding, you may be engaging in practices that serve to manipulate them to do what you want. Any time you make a choice that puts someone in the position of choosing between giving in to your demands or suffering some kind of consequence, you are engaging in manipulation tactics.
Here are just a few of the most common ways that you may be manipulating others without realizing it:
1. Making your desire seem like someone else’s idea: When you feel relatively certain that someone will not want to do something that you want to do, and you would like to make it seem like you thought it was their idea so it doesn’t fall on you, you are engaging in this tactic. For example, if you want to spend money buying a new car and you know your spouse is against it, you might say, “But I thought you wanted a sporty car? You always talk about it. I’ll put down the deposit while you’re out of town and pick you up at the airport in our new car!” You might say this even if you they have rarely, if ever, said anything remotely like that. A better way to handle it might be to say something like, “Do you mind if we go for a test drive in the car? I’ve done some research and I think it could be a really good vehicle for us.”
2. Stalling: If you evade doing something that someone has asked you to do and continually give them excuses like, “Sorry, I got busy” or “I forgot,” when you have no intention of doing what they requested, you are manipulating the situation. Instead, the more direct approach would be to state flat out, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to do that. I understand that is what you want, but what about another solution?” However, if your “I forgot” is in reference to cleaning the bathroom at home or cleaning up after yourself, then the focus should be on improving your ability to respect shared spaces and keep your word rather than continually putting people in a position to pick up your slack.
3. Freezing someone out: A common manipulation tactic is to “ice someone out” if they do not do what you want them to do. The “you’re dead to me” manipulation sends that message, “If you don’t do what I want, then you hold no value in my life.” If someone is harming you emotionally or physically and you feel that you need space, only then it is appropriate to avoid all communication, but only after you have made it clear that you are taking space and will not be engaging in a relationship with them any longer. If it is simply a case where someone is not doing something you want them to do, or they disagree with your opinions on a matter, refusing to speak to them will ultimately only harm your relationship and any hope of getting your needs met.
4. Guilting someone: When your response to someone disagreeing with you is to equate their rejection of your idea with a personal rejection of you or to say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself,” or “You NEVER want to do what I to do…” when they won’t do what you ask, you are only getting them to agree to the behavior by manipulation. Guilt trips are not a functional way to get what you want; they lose their power over time and eventually lead to resentment and evasion.
5. Making a dramatic exit: If you love to shout a dramatic and scorching indictment when you are arguing and then slam the door or screech off in your car, you are doing the “dramatic exit” form of manipulation. When you do this, you cut off the person’s ability to respond to you and force a situation in which tension and anger remain and no resolution can be reached. By prioritizing having the last word in a discussion, you are forcing control over the conversation and worsening the situation rather than moving closer to finding a common ground of agreement.
Are you manipulating people in your life in order to get your needs met? Is it time to learn more healthful methods of communication and interaction in recovery?