We tend to look at manipulation as something that happens to us. We see manipulators taking advantage of helpless – or at least innocent – victims. We study the tactics they use – intimidation, guilt trips, the silent treatment – so we can learn to defend ourselves. Because once we see through the games, we’ll stop falling for them. At least… that’s what we tell ourselves.
And it does work that way – sometimes. But it can be hard to recognize some tactics in the heat of the moment. And even when we do, it may not be enough. We still need the courage to stand up for ourselves.
So what if we turned it around? What if we shifted our attention from how or why someone’s trying to manipulate us to how or why we’re letting them get away with it? Instead of looking for what’s broken out in the world, and defending ourselves against it, we’d be discovering what’s broken within ourselves – so we can fix it.
Look at it this way. If you can’t say no, it doesn’t matter whether you can see through a guilt trip. You’ll still give in. But if you believe no is a complete sentence, you don’t need to recognize the tactic. If you don’t want to do something, you can say no – as politely, as firmly or even as rudely as you like.
In other words, “I can’t say no” is a lie. And if you want a lie to stop holding you hostage, you have to replace it with the truth. If the opposite of the lie – “I can say no” – doesn’t work for you, try something more specific. “I can say no to unreasonable demands,” or, “It’s OK to put myself first once in a while,” might feel more comfortable.
Once you stop believing that lie, you can make more conscious choices. You can tell your sister you don’t have time to make a birthday cake for your niece – but you’ll be happy to send her your best recipes. But conscious choices aren’t always about saying no. You can consciously decide to spend Saturday night with your bestie, who’s still reeling from a break-up. In the past, you might have told yourself you didn’t have a choice: “I can’t say no to her.” Now you realize that you can say no –but you don’t want to. She’s always been there for you, and she needs someone to talk to.
Every time you expose a lie and consciously replace it with what’s true for you, you become stronger – and harder to manipulate. You make better choices, and you know why they’re right for you. And once you’ve conquered enough lies, you won’t need to worry about all those tactics. Because the truth will be enough.