Part II: Stopping manipulators in their tracks

The best way to prevent yourself from being manipulated is by fixing your insecurities, which will require exploring your inner motivations, confronting painful experiences and working hard to change your thought patterns. But that takes time.

Thankfully, there are some more immediate things you can do to prevent yourself from being manipulated while you work on the larger issues – hopefully with the help of a therapist.  For us narcissists, most of these rules can be summed up into one larger idea: talk less, listen more.

Talk Less, Listen More

A couple of weeks ago I was at the playground with my son. I was practicing using empathy and vowed to talk (listen) to the other moms – without steering the conversation back to myself.

I struck up a conversation with the mother of a boy my son was playing with. She was reading a book and I asked her what she was reading. She gave me a quick rundown of the book, which was written by an MMA fighter that she liked. Based on her description it sounded really funny and I could tell she was enjoying it.

Her ringing endorsement actually made me interested in reading it myself. But before I could even get the words out of my mouth to say that, she followed up with, “It’s so stupid I know. I wish I was reading something smarter – maybe a classic like Jane Eyre or something like that.”

She was apologizing for who she was and what she liked – but more than that, she was giving me a key insight into her psyche. One that could be used to manipulate her by the right person: she was insecure about her intelligence, she feared her interests made her common, uninteresting, unfeminine, and dull.

I do this all the time. Most people do. But we narcissists have a nasty habit of talking about ourselves in an effort to impress and in doing so we give “tells” that manipulators and con-artists can use against us.

What can you do? Stop talking about yourself so much.

  • As a rule, try a ratio of 60/40 listening vs. talking — maybe even 70/30 in the beginning until you start to become more comfortable with it.
  • Learn to accept uncomfortable silences and don’t rush to fill them – that’s when you find yourself saying something you wish you could take back. Instead, wait for the other person to respond.
  • Think before you speak, then say it with confidence. Don’t tell your insecurities with phrases like, “this may be a dumb suggestion” or “I know this sounds silly.”
  • Speak deliberately and at your own pace. Speaking too quickly sends the message that you’re insecure and believe others don’t care what you have to say.
  • Make eye contact – lack of eye contact is a key indicator that you have low self-esteem.

What else can you do?

Develop Strong Boundaries

Develop strong boundaries. Decide what you want the world to know about you and do not share any more. Adjust your boundaries based on where you are and who you are dealing with. For example, what you share at work is different than what you may share with your book club.

According to PsychCentral, boundaries are “like an imaginary line or force field that separates you and others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming or accepting blame. They protect you from feeling guilty for someone else’s negative feelings or problems and taking others’ comments personally. High reactivity suggests weak emotional boundaries. Healthy emotional boundaries require clear internal boundaries – knowing your feelings and your responsibilities to yourself and others.” Learn more here.

Beware of flattery

How does flattery differ from a genuine compliment?  Merriam Webster defines flattery as false or excessive praise, and complimenting as offering respect or admiration for the other person. Flattery is insincere, where as a compliment is genuine. Pay attention to the compliments you receive and assess them.

Watch out for mirroring or behavioral mimicry

From Wikipedia, “Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individual’s notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others.”

Some amount of mirroring is normal and healthy in interpersonal situations and indicates a genuine rapport. However, it can be used to manipulate you by creating a false sense of connection. This can be physical mirroring, but also verbal. How do you know if you’re being mirrored? A good tell is that the person in question seems to have everything in common with you.

If you think you are being mirrored, conduct a test: when the person asks you something about yourself, answer with a question. Example, “What’s your favorite movie?” “Good question! Let me think for a second. What’s yours?” Let them answer first a few times and see if you seem to be falling out of sync.

Let people earn your trust before sharing

Go slowly with what you share and see if it is reciprocal. Share something small then give it some time and see how it feels. Were you treated with empathy? Did they share something back? Was what you shared kept in confidence?

Be wary of anyone who shares too much too soon. Someone who is purposely manipulating you may share something incredibly personal with you very early in the relationship. This serves two purposes: First, it creates an immediate (false) sense of intimacy. Second, you feel compelled to share something personal back, which can then be used for further manipulation.

Here, Brene Brown shares 6 Types of People Who Do Not Deserve to Hear Your Shame Story.

Learn not to react

If you think you are being manipulated into anger, shame, embarrassment, or some other feeling, don’t give a reaction. That’s what the manipulator wants.

Practice your blank face in the mirror and be ready to use it when someone presses your buttons. Remember to breathe when you feel anxious. Also practice saying phrases like, “OK”, “Good to know”, “Oh really?” “Understood” and “Sorry you feel that way” in the mirror, without showing any emotion.

Have you been manipulated in the past? How do you stop yourself from being manipulated?

View Part I of this series, Protecting Yourself from Manipulation.

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