Why do People Manipulate

The Merriam-Webster™ dictionary describes manipulation as a change by artful or unfair means to serve one’s purpose.  This means a manipulation is an intentional act. 

a. Why do People Manipulate?

Manipulation and life are intractably connected.  All life uses it daily.  An action is used to accomplish something wanted or needed. 

Plants spread roots for water and nutrients.  But the plants also spread these roots to rob water and nutrients from adjacent plants.  Plants grow taller to capture the power of the sun to grow.  But the plants also do this to starve competing plants from sunlight.  A lion growls to scare off others and announces that this is mine and I will hurt you if you do not listen.  Babies manipulate their parents by crying.  Parents manipulate their children by giving them or taking away something if they don’t behave. 

In animals, particularly humans, the most effective and quickest route to invoke manipulation is with emotions.   As such, if you sense that something is triggering your emotions, that is a vital clue that you are being manipulated.   For example, are you afraid when you hear a lion’s growl?  And your reactions will signal how much.   Are you being manipulated by the growl? 

To help with the answer, look at the growl from the lion’s perspective.  The growl itself does not injure anything.  It is only a sound.  The growl is used to size you up and assess if you are a threat or are afraid.  Returning to the previous question, was the growl a manipulation tool?  Of course, it was.   It was intended to find out if you are a threat and if you are afraid, i.e., weaker.   

Ignorance Injures and Knowledge Cures.

Practical Examples.  Many times, practical examples illustrate a point better than words.

 List 3 things you do to manipulate your spouse or partner.  It is advisable to be by yourself to be brutally honest.  Sugar coating the issues will not help.  Next, write down how to reduce or adjust your approach next time.   

1. My wife nags me to mow the lawn by saying, “The lawn looks neglected!”

The comment is not to describe the lawn but to use sarcasm to get it mowed.  Mowing the lawn is not for her direct benefit.  Therefore, it is not manipulation.  However, using sarcasm to secure a perceived win only benefits her.  That is manipulation. 

Perhaps your response should be, “Your sarcasm hurts me, but I agree the lawn needs mowing.”  This way, she knows that sarcasm is the problem, not the lawn mowing.  One emotion behind this particular sarcasm is to say, “your lazy,” which is an attack on self-esteem.  It also provokes anger.

2. My wife moved my tools and placed them where I could not find them because I didn’t put them away.

Hiding the tools is not an element of cleaning up but rather is to make a point that not returning the tools to the toolbox has consequences.  If you said, “Honey, did you hide my tools again?” that would be sarcasm or an invitation to an argument.  It does not accomplish what you want — for her not to hide your tools. 

Your comment, “I’m sorry I did not pick up my tools yesterday.   I’ll try harder to replace them when I’m done,” is a better approach.

3. I accidentally hung my dress in my husband’s closet section.  He rehung the dress in a location that was hard to find.

This is the same thing as the tool issue.  Your husband is trying to manipulate you by actions.  Rather than making accusations, it would be better if you said, “I was in a hurry when I hung my dress on your side.  Sorry.  I’ll try and avoid doing that in the future.  Is there anything you can do to expand my closet area?”  

Asking him for an explanation is only a precursor to an argument.  You know exactly why he did it.  It was his way of sarcastically teaching you a lesson.

c. Manipulation and Emotions Team Up.

If the intentional actions of others are directed at your emotions, it is usually manipulation. 


Reason Number One:  Emotion is the strongest persuasion tool.  Emotions are far more persuasive than facts and truth.  Take the expression; you can’t oppose me because you’re ugly.  This is an intentional act to gain an unfair advantage.  It is directed explicitly to emotions, i.e., shame and embarrassment.  To the outsider, this example is obvious.  It is manipulation by name-calling. 

Reason Number Two:  Emotions block effective analytically thought.  Persuasion would not work if the other person knew what’s going on.   Take this example.  The cashier at the grocery store says to a customer, “one apple is one dollar, but you want two apples so that will be three dollars.” 

The analytical thought portion of the brain says, “wait a minute, one plus one does not equal three.”    This analytical step blocks the manipulators efforts to get you to pay more. 

What if the cashier says?  “You want to starve the homeless, by buying more than your share of apples.”  This is invoking the shame and embarrassment emotions.  This stops you from accessing your analytical abilities and has a higher probability of convincing you to pay more.

With emotions shutting down analytical thought, the manipulation becomes ingeniously hidden.   People have been known to search for their glasses just to have their 6-year-old son say, you’re wearing them.” 

Hiding in plain sight is often the most ingenious hiding place. 

This means spotting manipulation might appear obvious, but to the person being manipulated, it is hiding in plain sight.  The next section on Signs of Manipulation discusses techniques for finding those glasses you’re wearing.

Motivation and manipulation are similar except for a purpose.  Manipulation is to serve another, and motivation is to help you. 

Search for who benefits.  Is it your employer, or is it you?  But, like everything else in this world, things are not black and white.  There are always shades of grey. 

This means the actions can benefit both in various degrees and at different times.  An example of timing is the classic Ponzi scheme.  Benefits to the early contributors are essential to defraud the same class of contributors coming in later.