You’re heading to the car dealership, ready to purchase a 2012 Toyota Highlander. You know that this car is reliable, in your price range, and a great fit for your family. This is exactly what you tell the car salesman who greets you at the doors and asks what he can help you with. But instead of steering you toward the Highlander sitting pretty a few rows back, he walks on over to a 2015 Cadillac Escalade. “Much better for you and your family!” he says. He proceeds to open the car doors and explain all of the luxurious amenities.
The car salesman leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and you quickly realize he doesn’t have your best interest in mind—he has his best interest in mind. This is how you know you’re being manipulated as opposed to persuaded. Because car salesman’s have this reputation, it’s easy to spot the manipulation here. But that’s not always the case; in fact, it’s oftentimes pretty difficult to distinguish if someone is attempting to persuade or manipulate you. However, it can be done. You just have to know the signs and learn to protect yourself.
Am I Being Persuaded or Manipulated?
As much as we’d like to trust every person we know and come into contact with, the reality is that people lie and people manipulate. Therefore, it’s important you understand the difference between the two and learn to differentiate them. Fortunately, there are two fairly simple ways of doing so:
1) Look at the potential results.
Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert at Maple Holistics, says the key to distinguishing the difference between persuasion and manipulation is to look at the potential outcome: “Being able to tell the difference could be tricky, since the biggest contributing factor is probably that person’s intent. And intention is not something one can always pick up. It is a fine line, and it isn’t always obvious. So, if the intent and the process are not clear, you will have to rely on another factor: results. How does it impact your life? How do you feel about the person who is speaking or otherwise communicating with you? Is the result of that person’s behavior positive or negative? You may find you have to think a bit more long-term, but the answers are there if you look at yourself truthfully.”
2) Listen to your gut.
While weighing potential outcomes will certainly help, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Eliza Boquin says, “the best way to determine whether you’re being persuaded versus manipulated is looking at how you feel. When someone is trying to persuade us they will present us with a point of view/options we may have not considered. They’ll highlight the benefits of this option and allow you to decide whether it’s of value to you. Manipulation, on the other hand, will leave you feeling guilty, ashamed, scared, or even anxious. Manipulators are self-serving and are not concerned whether the outcome of your choices is in your best interest. Pay attention to how your body feels during the interaction. Is your chest tightening? Do you feel tense? Is your heart racing? These may be signs someone is trying to manipulate you. If, instead, you feel more open and can see the value of making a certain decision then you were most likely being persuaded.”
Protecting Yourself Against Manipulators: Stay in Control
If you employ the above techniques and feel that you are, indeed, being manipulated, you must stay in charge of the conversation—otherwise, you’ll likely get roped into whatever scheme the manipulator is planning. Protect yourself, remember your concerns, and keep your interaction on track. “During a manipulation, it is important to keep the conversation on the real issue and the real facts,” Licensed Psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins says. “Often, manipulators will attempt to cloud you with other information. This is extremely common in cases where substance abuse is present. The reason for this is not that addicts are bad or manipulative people, but in order to support their addiction have to become quite resourceful. An incredible amount of work is required to maintain an addiction. Individuals with substance use disorders slowly become more skilled at covering up their issues and convincing you that there isn’t one. Manipulation becomes necessary and essential to keep the addiction alive.”
Hawkins goes on to emphasize the above points, as you can never be too careful: “It can be very difficult to spot manipulation. We all want to believe that we can trust those around us. Trusting your gut is very important. Constantly evaluate whether the decisions you are making with this individual are of any benefit to you. I recommend checking in with yourself when you feel that conversations are moving in a direction you’re not comfortable with. Manipulation can make you feel dizzy and cause you to forget what you even wanted in the first place.”