Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unconscious Manipulation

One of the problems I've encountered as I reclaim life after abuse is unconscious manipulation. I learned some bad habits while living in dysfunction and abuse. Bad? Well, at the very least, they are habits that served a purpose formerly but now they interfere with intimacy in my most cherished relationships.

In an abusive situation, the person who wields power almost always gets his/her own way. We know that. We lived it. The bully got his/her way. Period. Or so it seemed.

In reality, the victim also got her/his way sometimes. Not with demands. Not with threats. Not with compromising or bartering.

Someone who has no visible power in a relationship has to use indirect and passive things to influence outcomes. She lies or omits information to influence the abuser's perceptions. He works slowly and poorly to urge the abuser to do something herself. She suggests a particular action, coating it in flattery or in self-belittling terms, so the abuser can easily claim the palatable idea as his own. She asks a question, not because she doesn't know the answer, but so the abuser can realize something. He agrees to do something and then "accidentally" breaks the tools or cannot begin because he "cannot find" what is needed.

We all want our way sometimes. It is human to want what we want. But I don't want to be manipulative. I want to continue learning the tools of equality. I want to believe, really believe, that I have the power to ask for my needs directly. I want to show my intelligence, without feeling that I must tone it down or hide it. I want to tell an important fact in a way that alerts the other that I am saying something true and important. I want make requests, without battling false guilt and shame-ruled embarrassment. I want to honestly state wants as well as needs.

I want to shed being a martyr or manipulator forever. The effort continues. It isn't easy to change lifetime habits, but change I must, for I deeply want the end result. But I am recognizing more quickly the times when I slip into indirect terminology or manipulative language. I am acknowledging why I do it. I am practicing saying things that are revolutionary for me. Things like, "Would you...", "I want...", "I need...", and "I like..."

If you can relate, I'd love to read your comments.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I totally empathise with what you are writing.I am coming out of a long hard course of CBT thirty years after experiencing abuse. I am too now becoming acutely aware of my use of unconcious manipulation and would truly love to move away from it. Do you know of any useful texts or books that would help me on this quest? Gill

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Hi, I am finding that being in relationship with people who are healthier and who ask me sometimes what it is that I want or urging me to just ask directly for what I want.

I'm not aware of a book that directly addresses the unconscious manipulation. But here are some books that have helped me:

Matthew in the Bible

Proverbs in the Bible

Codependent No More by Melody Beattie

Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.

Dance of Intimacy by Lerner

Boundaries by Cloud/Townsend

Be Happy without being Perfect by Alice D. Domar, Ph.D.

Fight Like a Girl by Lisa Bevere

Search for Significance by Robert McGee

Safe People by Cloud/Townsend

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Smith

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Taber & Mazlish

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I googled and found more that sound helpful:

The Nice Girl Syndrome by Beverly Engel

The Dance of Connection by Lerner

The Courage to be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele

So Long Insecurity by Beth Moore

Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No by Jean Baer

Breaking Intimidation by John Bevere

Assertiveness Workbook by Randy Paterson

kaney said...

When we talk about hypnosis or hypnotherapy, we often hear the terms subconscious mind or unconscious mind. It's become clear to me that there is some degree of confusion over the meaning of the terms, and the difference between the two. In actual fact, in the context of hypnosis, the two terms refer to precisely the same thing, it's just a matter of which term more appropriately describes the state of being.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I am just now becoming aware of how I unconsciously manipulate people to get my way. I am not bipolar or anything but have been in abusive relationships where I 'learned' survival skills to get my needs met. I am learning to say those phrases too "I want" "I need" and to ask for help when I need it. Again, Thanks.

Tanya T. Warrington said...


You're welcome. Recovery from abuse isn't easy but it sure is rewarding. Way to go on seeing yourself more clearly and then learning new, healthier ways!

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft