There are in fact two questions really, what is manipulative behaviour and why is it so damaging.
Manipulation is often thought of as being something that most people do in varying degrees in order to get their own way, and quite often more of a game rather than something that actually harms people.
There are also people who would argue that manipulation of other people is a legitimate way to further their own careers, and that self-interest is a valid reason or excuse for pursuing it.
These arguments tend to be rationalisations, really, for an excuse to use other people to get what you want. That by any standard is a form of abuse, the very definition of abuse being the use of another human being to further your own ends in some way or other.
When someone manipulates you, what they are really doing is either making a decision on your behalf, or tricking you into believing that you are making the decision yourself, when in fact they have coerced you into the position they want you to be in.
The reason manipulative behaviour is so damaging is twofold. Firstly the person being manipulated feels tricked by the other person involved, and yet they often do not realise it. They are left in a sense of limbo that they have made a decision, but, actually, the decision-making process was not theirs.
The freedom to choose is probably the greatest freedom that any human being has. It represents a freedom within us to decide for ourselves what are actions or thoughts will be. It goes to the core of our humanity, and is a real sense of an expression of our inner world, our spirit.
When someone manipulates you it is a form of abuse. It not only takes away your freedom to make your own choices and decisions, but tricks you into believing that you have actually made them for yourself, when in fact you have not.
In alcoholism and 12 step recovery, manipulation and other forms of emotional abuse can be rife.
12 Step Recovery
People often like to look at examples of this in terms of active alcoholism or addiction, but the reality is that this type of abuse can occur just as much in people who are sober, as in people who are still drinking. This is a truth that people often feel uncomfortable with.
The idea of manipulating people is often linked to a rationalisation that it is for their own good. This is rarely true. This is not to say that the motives of the person doing the manipulation are inherently bad, they may not be. People’s motives for trying to coerce or manipulate other people often stem from a sense of feeling a need to be in control.
This need to be in control of someone else’s thought process is ultimately what manipulation is really about, and normally stems from an individual’s sense that they are out of control of their own life themselves.
There is a basic psychological premise that most people who try and control other people, in terms of thought control, do so because they feel out of control themselves internally.
This belief that they are in control of someone else, which is really an illusion, gives them a sense of internal stability and safety.
This internal sense of stability can only be sustained by a permanent and determined increase in trying to control other people. This is why it is so damaging.
Normally any attempt to highlight this to someone results in a really defensive attitude, and often has the opposite effect of that which is intended. However, in 12 step recovery, there is a strong emphasis on awareness, and taking one’s own inventory.
This can ultimately be a space where someone can recognise these traits around control, and through a process of long-term change can achieve a level of internal stability and peace that is based on their own identity, not that of controlling another individual and their mind.