Who’s Pulling Your Strings?

Below I’ve collected excerpts from the amazing book.  Well worth the read – it’s at DBRL for those of you in the Columbia MO area.

Who’s Pulling Your Strings?  How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life, Harriet Braiker, McGraw Hill Books, New York, 2004.

Pg 62  How Manipulators Look at the World

First, it is important to accept that manipulators look at the world in a different way than nonmanipulators.  And in some critical ways, their worldview determines their behavior, which, in a cyclic turn, helps to validate their view of the world in the first place.  As mentioned earlier, manipulators see the world in general in back and white, either/or terms, especially with respect to manipulation: Their view is that either you play or you get played.  In other words, manipulators believe that there are only two roles in relationships—you are either manipulated (the victim), or you are the manipulator (in their view, the one in power and control).  Manipulators see no other way that relationships operate.  They cannot envision participating in a relationship between equals, for example.  Such a relationship is beyond their understanding and comprehension.

Pg 69 Using the prisoner’s dilemma game as a model for life, you can readily see that manipulators who inherently distrust others and project their own competitive impulses on others actually will create the very social world they imagine.  Their life experience will wind up confirming their belief system, although they typically do not understand how their own distrusting behavior creates distrust, competition, and rivalry in others.

Pg117 What Are Your Hooks?

Being candid with yourself and understanding your own need system is a basic and important step in making yourself a harder and more resistant target to manipulators.  Remember, manipulators use certain levers of control over their targets that hold the promise of gain, stimulate the fear of loss, or offer the means to avoid something that is highly undesirable to the mark.

Pg 162 Sense of Imbalanced Power and Control

While victims often express confusion about the motive or methods of manipulators, they tend to be well aware that there is a significant discrepancy, asymmetry, or imbalance in the power and control dynamics of the relationship.  They generally can acknowledge that the other person—the manipulator—holds the reins of control in the relationship.  Victims also perceive that the manipulator’s needs dominate the relationship while their own remain largely unexpressed, unacknowledged, and consequently, unmet…people-pleasers and those with a near addiction to approval from others are predisposed to put the needs of others first.  Victims with an external locus of control and those who are reluctant to rely on their own independent judgment are psychologically predisposed to perceive and even to create relationships in which others exercise for more power over them than the other way around.  In effect, they become willing accomplices in their own manipulation.

Pg 178 The first step of resistance is to break that pattern and, in so doing, to recalibrate the power balance of the relationship.  You will do this by inserting a period of time between the manipulator’s request or demand and your response.  Once you learn to build in time to think about your options, your sense of control will increase immediately. When you can make the manipulator live by your timetable instead of his, you take back power.  Since you may be in the bad habit of automatically complying or agreeing to your manipulator’s requests or demands—agreeing or saying a fast knee-jerk yes before you have given yourself any time to think about them—you will need to break this habit.  The best way is to take an immediate breather after the manipulator expresses her request. Telephones lend themselves easily to the insertion of a breather.  If you are speaking on the telephone and a manipulator (or a potential manipulator) asks you to do something or go someplace, your immediate response should be something such as:

  • I need to put you on hold for a minute or so.  Excuse me/thank you.
  • I have to ask you to hold the line for a minute.  Thanks.
  • I need to put the phone down for a minute.  Excuse me.
  • I’m going to have to call you back in a few minutes.  Thank you.

Notice that you are not asking permission.  Instead, you are informing the manipulator that you will be taking a minute away from the telephone.  This breather allows you to prepare your next statement, which is a play for time.  Face-to-face situations require a bit more finesse, but they will still permit you to take a breather in order to break the automatic compliance habit.  Excusing yourself from the scene of the interaction for a few minutes is all you will need to interrupt the tendency to immediately say yes or agree to something you would rather avoid.  After the request has been made but before you reply, excuse yourself for a few minutes to use the bathroom, make an urgent phone call, get something from your car or office, get some coffee or water, or any other reason you can think of to leave the manipulator alone with her request or demand for a few minutes.

Pg 181: I have every right to think before I commit myself to doing anything for anybody.

  • I need some time to think about what you are saying. I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.
  • This issue deserves some real consideration, so I’ll need a bit of time to think it over, and I’ll let you know as soon as I can.
  • I can’t give you an answer right now.  I will certainly think it over, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
  • I’m not in a position right now to answer that, but I will get back to you when I am.
  • This is an important issue, and I will need some time to give it the thought it deserves. Then, of course, I’ll get back to you.

Pg 188:  Both fear and anxiety are easily conditioned.  This means that after you have been exposed to these negative feelings as a result of the manipulator’s effective tactics, you may develop fear and/or anxiety reactions just to being in the presence of the manipulator even when he is not explicitly activating these feelings. Guilt is a uniquely human emotion.  It is the result of feeling excessively responsible for the emotions and/or experiences of others.  If you are vulnerable or have a well-pulled guilt string, a skilled manipulator can send you on a rocket-propelled guilt trip headed for a destination of capitulation and compliance.

Pg 189: When you feel anxiety, fear, or guilt, your response mechanism is propelled into an emergency mode as though a three-alarm fire were raging uncontrolled.  The manipulator merely hands you the fire hose and points you in the direction of capitulation and compliance with her desires.  The urgency you feel, however, results from the manipulator’s pressure and from your overreaction to the discomfort that you feel. It does not come from the reality that a true state of emergency exists. To resist manipulation, you need to alter your reaction to your own negative feelings.  The fact is that the anxiety, fear, and guilt manipulators so effectively play on will not cause you to self-destruct if you fail to quash them immediately.  They certainly will cause you discomfort.  But discomfort can be tolerated and withstood.  In fact, the longer you allow yourself to stay exposed to the uncomfortable feelings, the more likely it becomes that your discomfort actually will decline in intensity. Psychologists call this phenomenon habituation.  However, in order for your fear, anxiety, or guilt to habituate—that is, to decrease in intensity—you must overcome the impulse to jump through the white door in order to gain temporary relief.

Pg 190: Just because you are afraid of a manipulator’s anger, for example, does not necessarily mean that something dire is really about to happen.  The manipulator likely will get over his anger, and you will tolerate the fear, especially with the help of the following desensitization technique.  Or just because you feel guilty for not acquiescing immediately to a manipulative family member’s demand, it does not necessarily follow that your relationship with that person will be damaged inalterably or that you will lose their love.  Lowering the urgency with which you react to negative feelings and decreasing the intensity of those feelings will have a corrective effect on the emotional reasoning that fuels the manipulative cycle.

Pg 193:  The resistance comes from what you will not do: You will not rush to capitulate or comply with the manipulator’s demands because your urgent habit to quash the bad feelings has been broken.  You will simply withstand the negative feelings that will decrease in intensity because of the desensitization training that you have practiced and the natural process of habituation.

Pg 214: Lack of Assertiveness and Inability to Say No

If you lack the ability to say no to others’ needs, requests, or demands, you are a walking bull’s-eye for a manipulator.  Saying no may make you feel guilty or selfish or mean-spirited because you equate it with disappointing others or letting them down.  Or you may fear that saying no will set off another person’s anger or start a conflict. Thus, after years of saying yes, you have taught others to expect you to comply and left the door wide open to manipulation.

Pg 215: Blurry Sense of Identity

Having an unclear sense of your own identity—not knowing where you begin and end, whose needs you feel and fill, and what values are central to your core—is a bookend of manipulation.  On one side, the lack of clear identity predisposes you to being dominated and controlled in manipulative relationships.  And when you become the pawn in other people’s power games, the weaker and more blurred your sense of self becomes.  Here are some examples of blurred identity thinking:

  • I have difficulty describing who I really am independent of how other people see me.
  • I do not have a clear sense of myself.
  • I am not sure that I have strong needs or values outside of taking care of other people and making them happy.
  • Sometimes I just feel invisible.
  • I often feel that my identity is absorbed from the beliefs, traits, and values of other people in my life.

Pg 228: How to Correct a Blurry Sense of Identity

Debugging Guidelines: Allowing your identity to remain out of focus will keep you trapped in a vicious cycle of vulnerability to and victimization by manipulation.  Correcting soft-target thinking in this area is a matter of asking and answering self-defining “Who am I?” questions.

  • How do I see myself?  Compose a self-concept word picture using 20 nouns, adjectives, or short phrases.
  • What are my personal boundaries?  How are you similar and how are you different from your spouse or romantic partner, members of your family, friends, coworkers, and other significant people in your life?  Compare and contrast your needs, personality styles, and character strengths and weaknesses with at least three others.
  • What are my core values?  What moral or ethical principles are most important to you?  What political, social, or cultural attitudes do you hold with conviction and/or passion?
  • What are my spiritual beliefs?  What is your religious faith?  How would you describe your personal spirituality?
  • With whom am I bonded?  What people or relationships form your strongest emotional attachments?  What relationships define your deepest bonds with others?
  • What are my dreams and goals?  What motivates you?  What goals give your life a sense of mission or purpose?

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