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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit
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Articles by Dr. Friedman (except where noted otherwise)
Developing An Inner Meter on ManipulationA Critical Life Skill
Five Key Signals To Be
Able To See Manipulation and "Buy Out" of It
© 2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
can't talk your way out of problems you behaved yourself into.
People say a lot of things. With poor behavior and attitude, no amount of talking will talk you out of the problems you behaved yourself into, as author Stephen R. Covey notes above. This sure doesn't stop people from giving it their best shot at doing just this. This is one example of manipulation, with most manipulation being passive-aggressive behavior. If every interaction is a negotiation, then you might as well add manipulation usually being on center stage too! In contrast, you can be straight and assertive. An assertive person can stand up for herself, express her true feelings and not let anyone take advantage of her, and still be considerate and respectful of another person's feelings, interests and wants.
A good way to become aware of manipulation is to notice when you're doing what someone else wants instead of what you want, what another expects from you that you really have not signed up for. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable, unsettled, disconnected and imbalanced can be signs you're allowing or permitting yourself to be manipulated. Likewise for growing irritation, annoyance, and frustration, all different levels of anger. Perceiving your life as out of order, unfitting or amiss are warnings. Also nervous, jumpy behavior of yours or another's is worth noticing, putting you on manipulation alert.
All such bodily feedback serves as important signals that it likely you are being "set up," consciously or unconsciously, to be manipulated. Developing what can be called "an inner meter on manipulation" is a critical life skill in becoming an assertive person and being able to count on yourself as your own authority. Here are five core signals to support your awareness to clearly see manipulation:
The critical and most important factor in these five key signals for manipulation is that you are letting yourself behave in a manner different than how you would normally and naturally perform in your life-literally not being yourself. Whenever one or more of these key signals are clearly present and you hear the wake-up call, you can accurately call this your inner meter on manipulation. With the people we're closest with, we can notice the same with them and whether they're being manipulated, and we can alert them as well. When your inner meter on manipulation begins to ring, it is worth heeding this warning and take immediate actions, often paradoxically by doing absolutely nothing. It is in non-action that you "buy out" of saying and doing anything that you would typically not say or do.
At times almost every one is victimized, yet the role of being a "victim" of circumstances, situations and other people is largely optional. Typically no one enacted the dreaded "to me's", "at me's", "on me's", "upon me's" and "made me's, with the exceptions of the usually infrequent criminal actions or catastrophic natural circumstances. Once you are beyond the age of reason, approximately 9-years-old, and with few exceptions, life simply doesn't work this way. There are set-ups in life, that is, you are lead or expected to say and act in the way the other party wants. Examples include someone using guilt, obnoxiousness or anger to be right or get their way. How you behave in the face of set-ups always remains up to you, not another or any set of circumstances.
Even in severe circumstances, what happened is simply what happened and the attitude you bring or the mindset or cognitive frame you put around or hold circumstances is completely yours. A famous example is the author Victor Frankl who lived through being in a Nazi Germany concentration camp. Frankl eloquently wrote that what attitude anyone brings to any situation, even the most hellish and extreme, was completely up to that person. Within this context, what happens doesn't happen directly "to me", it just happens. For example, when a person leaves or rejects being with you, doesn't reality feedback tell you that they just left, not left "you"; rejected themselves, not rejected "you"?
The way out of manipulative stratagems is straightforward, tough and rewarding: continually practice awakening to recognize manipulation as early as possible; resist the impulse to react emotionally or behave in a defeating or destructive way, sometimes called "acting out"; heed the warning and consciously behave as you would have if you had not been unexposed to this attempted misuse of your life by setting unmistakably clear limits and offering remarkably translucent choices.
Illustrations abound showing manipulative set-ups and how to steer clear of them. Rescripting, or re-perceiving and rewriting old ideas, images and decisions in a new, healthier way that is workable today, is central. You can rescript each manipulative scenario and visualize how you would behave in each situation without becoming ensnared in the set-up. A phone solicitor aims to convince you to switch your long-distance telephone services or health insurance, when you are perfectly pleased with your present ones. Rescript this by briefly stating you don't conduct such business over the phone, you're not interested, or to send you further information if you prefer.
Other examples: an advertiser wanting you to buy some product, such as cologne or toothpaste, with the message that you will attract a beautiful or handsome mate; or your children demand you buy them specific clothes, toys or games you don't approve of buying. You can rewrite each of these by plainly translating the truth about ads or demands and by making your choice concerning products or services that meet your or your children's needs, all without caving and selling out who you truly are.
Another illustration: a relative uses guilt to twist your arm so you'll visit more regularly. Consider briefly informing this individual of your preference and, if you wish, your rationale, without explaining or giving reasons for anything. The truth is that we all have choices, and it's important to know and honor them. The non-manipulated life belongs to you, unless you play small, needy and false.
The everyday give-and-take of social relationships provides trade-offs, that is, each alternative yields different gains and losses, some of which produce benefits and others that cost you dear if you play the tape all the way though. Attending a business function may be good business, yet socially intimidating. To date a new person can be exciting, yet scary. Our choices reflect these trade-offs and the complexity of life. Sometimes we bend in other people's directions and sometimes we hold true to our own direction. This is social balancing. Yet, manipulation infers no respect for choice or well-being.
Authors Davis, Eshelman and McKay 1 offer a broad palette of techniques to overcome the predicable blocking gambits others are likely to use in not honestly responding to your assertive requests. Each approach is a savvy strategy to powerfully avoid, sidestep, and "buy out" of manipulation.
These same authors present ways people tend to further block assertive requests and what you can do:
Another very powerful intervention for spotting, avoiding and productively addressing manipulation is the use of "stress inoculation" when addressing difficult "stressors", or what demands a change from you. The idea behind stress inoculation, first suggested by researcher Donald Meichenbaum with his development of cognitive-behavioral therapy and further contributed to by Raymond Novaco in the 1970's, 2, 3 was to provide people ways to perceive, evaluate and use self-talk in addressing challenging events as a means to build self-confidence and resiliency in handling stessors in their lives. By anticipating every step in a difficult encounter, draw upon helpful, empowering ways to perceive, evaluate and hold the specific circumstances, using honest supportive statements coupled with relaxation, it would inoculate them from defeating, unworkable and inappropriate responses or reactions.
Stress inoculation is theoretically close to the use of inoculations in medicine. Like with the use of inoculations in immunizing a person from a disease by giving the person a very small dose of the disease to help build necessary antibodies and antigens against the full-fledged disease, so stress inoculation aims to inject a small dose of a difficult stressful situation, paired with relaxation and specific self-supportive statements every step in the process, to powerfully aid the person to build the coping strategies, assertive words, and inner strengths/resources to effectively handle such provocations.
In stress inoculation theory, whether anger arises in the face of some provocation is thought to be determined by what you think, say to yourself, what happens inside your body and what behavioral choices you make. The core underlying source of anger is considered to be your thinking and the changing of an angry response hinges upon your taking complete responsibility for creating the anger coming out by choosing the structure of your thoughts. This entails conducting a situational analysis of how you trigger anger using a self-monitoring technique of observing five recent anger-provoking situations. The five steps in Novaco's Stress Inoculation treatment for anger are: 1) redefining anger; 2) conducting a situational analysis of trigger mechanisms; 3) learning relaxation skills and a sequence of stress coping thoughts; 4) applying cognitive skills to a hierarchy of anger-provoking situations; and 5) applying coping skills to real life provocations. 2, 3
The recognition and development of appropriate, effective relaxation skills for you are then used to counteract physiological tension, that tends to lower anger threshold and increases the likelihood for angry acting out. Shaping the ability to relax at will within one or two minutes affords you the ability to encounter provocative situations without physiological tension. Stress inoculation theory also includes training your awareness to notice physiological arousal from your body and any negative automatic thoughts arising in helping cope well with anger arising in real life. It can be used in applying cognitive skills to forming a hierarchy of anger-provoking situations to continue to desensitize the arousal of tension and anger. For our purposes, finding, shaping and learning a limited number of coping statements with relaxation for stressful, provocative situations that involve anger or other stress-related emotion, such as fear, loneliness, grief, despair and feeling powerless or helpless, is a focus here.
Researchers have suggested four key steps for coping with any stressful situation that involves anger or another stress-related emotion: 1) preparing; 2) confronting the situation; 3) coping with the emotional arousal during the situation; 4a) reflecting on the provocation when the problem is unresolved; and 4b) reflecting on the provocation when the conflict is resolved and coping has been successful. Here are adapted statements to use with relaxation to help cope effectively at each stage:2,3
1. Preparing for provocation
I'll stay present and bring a vision
for coping well. These thoughts are just thoughts and they will fade.
2. Impact and confrontation
What comes will go; this too will
surely pass and I will remain.
3. Coping with arousal
Attention now on your
breathing, that's right.
4. Reflecting on the provocation
a) When the problem is unresolved
now continue on our true path, taking a very deep relaxing breath.
b) When the conflict is resolved or coping is successful
good show buddy! Hot dog, did I ever handle that one well. Indeed.
This listing is a grand potpourri or smorgasbord, depending on whether you like dried, naturally fragrant plant material or simply like to eat a lot. Variety is here for the taking! Select what you will from each of the main categories of stress coping thoughts that resonate for you. You're welcome to add your own creations as well, since these will most likely be the ones that will work most effectively for you. In any event, pick and memorize at least five stress coping statements from each of the coping stages. So from this moment, as you head straight into provoking situations, you are forearmed with highly supportive coping statements to face and adaptively move through such circumstances, instead of your over-learned, anger-upset-reactive automatic thoughts. It's the difference between ending a date that went well with a relaxed, sweet, smiley, juicy kiss, or a date that didn't go so well with a dry, posturing, phony handshake, and "See, ya." There is just no comparison once you find what works in a relaxed way that excites your heart, stimulates your mind, and animates your soul, all manipulation-free!
1. Davis, M.; Eshelman, E. & McKay, M. (1988), The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, (Third edition). Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, 152-154.
2. Meichenbaum, D., & Cameron, R. (1974). "The clinical potential of modifying what clients say to themselves", Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 11 (2), 103-117.
3. Novaco, R.W. (1975). Anger Control: The development and evaluation of an experimental treatment. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, D.C.; Novaco, R.W. (1977). "Stress inoculation: A cognitive therapy for anger", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 600-608.
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