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5 Ways to Stand Your Ground with Manipulative People

5 tips to hold your ground and not get pushed around by the manipulative.

Key points

  • Individuals can regulate the nervous system through grounded speaking techniques to remain cool and collected.
  • They can imagine a forcefield surrounding them so that shaming or manipulative accusations bounce right off.
  • They can be a broken record and calmly return to their concern and "ask" without abandoning it.
  • They can validate the emotion a manipulator is expressing without condoning their behavior, disarming them.

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of being manipulated. Maybe it was a powerful person at work, someone higher on the social hierarchy, or someone whose attention we once craved. Perhaps it was someone we initially felt badly for, then found ourselves sucked into a caregiving role that far exceeded our time and resources. Or perhaps we have a family member or close friend who knows exactly how to trigger our insecurities or pull our heartstrings to get what they want.

Being manipulated can be highly disorienting and scary. Once we clarify that someone is manipulative or has the potential to be, however, we can save ourselves a lot of suffering by utilizing several communication and self-regulation techniques that help us regain control and confidence. Here are six you can try the next time you’re up against a manipulator.

1. Stay grounded.

One of the most important things you can do with a person who crosses boundaries and tries to bend you to their will is make an effort to calm your body, which, in turn, helps calm your mind. It’s not the easiest thing to do in the presence of a highly manipulative person, sure, but the more you can regulate your nervous system, the better able you’ll be to think clearly, communicate effectively, and stand your ground as needed.

To start, try slowing the pace at which you’re speaking and lowering the volume at which you’re speaking. This helps you control and slow your exhalations as you would when engaging in deep breathing. This can also help slow your heart rate and reduce anxiety by triggering parasympathetic nervous system activity—the branch of your nervous system that pumps the breaks on fight-or-flight mode and shifts you into a more relaxed state.

2. Deploy the forcefield visualization.

If a manipulative person is hurling unfair accusations, indictments of character, insults, or other unproductive or baseless statements your way, imagine a forcefield around you. Then, imagine whatever the difficult interlocutor is saying (or yelling) bouncing off of that forcefield (and possibly ricocheting back and hitting them in the face if that’s helpful). This can increase your feelings of sturdiness, safety, and separation from the challenging individual.

3. Identify and avoid the bait.

Keep your eye out for hooks that a manipulative person will try to sink into you. These can frequently be guilting, shaming, blaming, threatening, or amplifying their own victimhood in order to elicit sympathy or attention from you and thereby control your emotional response to them. If you know someone has a history of manipulative behavior (with you or with others), be wary of how they are making you feel. Pay attention to excessiveness or irrationality in the person and take that as a sign that what they’re saying may be inflated, inaccurate, and designed to pull you in and make you do something you don’t want to do.

Pay attention to your gut instinct: Does what they’re saying or doing feel absurd on some level? Childish? Inappropriate? It may very well be. Try to engage in deep breathing, slowing the pace at which you are speaking, and using the forcefield visualization to remain calm and collected so that you don’t get sucked into someone else’s emotional manipulation.

4. Use the broken-record technique.

If you’re the one confronting a manipulative or difficult person, don’t expect your statements to be taken without a fight. You’re likely going to have to return multiple times to the facts of the matter, reiterating them like a broken record, as a manipulative person will try to deny, evade, distort, and push back on you any blame or responsibility for something they did that was hurtful or damaging.

Let’s say you’re setting a boundary around not being paid back by someone you lent money to. They may lob umpteen excuses your way for why they haven’t paid you back yet or accuse you of being too demanding or selfish. To which you may need to respond repeatedly: “I understand that it’s a difficult time for you, yet we agreed that you would pay me back at least half of what I lent you by [date]. Since we’ve reached this date, what are you able to pay at this time?” And again: “I hear that, and that does sound quite challenging; so, given all that, at this point, what are you able to pay?” (Use the aforementioned techniques as well to remain grounded as you do this.)

5. Validate the feeling; don’t condone the behavior.

It can help mollify a manipulative person to validate the feelings they claim to experience. This isn’t so much giving in as it is rolling with the tactics of the manipulator so that you yourself can exert some influence over the situation. There’s a clear distinction, however, between validating a feeling and condoning a behavior someone’s engaging in because of that feeling.

Consider the following statement an example of how to combine both: “I definitely see how hurt you’re feeling. I also am not willing to lie on your behalf.” Or, “I can understand why you would be frustrated right now. At the same time, I don’t think it’s OK to damage someone else’s property or take what belongs to someone else without asking.”

It’s never easy to engage with a manipulative person. While these tactics are helpful in maintaining a sense of control when interfacing with them, it’s also important to limit our time with and attention paid to them. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to extricate ourselves entirely from a relationship with a manipulative person. Maybe we’re closely related to them. Maybe they’re our co-worker or boss. Maybe we’re still married to them. In addition to these five skills for dealing with manipulative people, we are also wise to share as little personal information as we can with them, reduce the frequency and duration of time we spend with them, and focus our energy and attention on cultivating relationships with people who respect our boundaries and help us feel stable and energized rather than drained, scared, or anxious.

Facebook image: Gorgev/Shutterstock

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