Absent-mindedness or Manipulation?

Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense. – Psychology Today

My friend and I disagreed on the circumstances of a situation that occurred and causes an emotional response in one participant. It is a common situation in divorcing or separating couples and goes as follows:

A normal situation is transpiring. All participants agreed to a specific plan after some discussion or negotiation. All that is left is for the plan to go ahead. Except one person feels betrayed, hurt, or somehow manipulated into something they never agreed to.

The fervent discussion my friend and I were having was around intent. Essentially, as I understand their point of view was because the tactics aren’t with intent to manipulate, they are not manipulations but absent minded, or self-centred actions. My point was intent is not a necessary part of the manipulation.  Manipulation occurs when one party gains from getting the other party to go along with something for their own benefit, with or without conscious intent. It can be absent mindedness, and without intent, but that one party wants the situation to be in their control and/or to their liking with disregard to the details or the others feelings. It can be by the lack of providing knowledge (with or without intent) or lack of full disclosure.

Essentially it’s like this:

Blair- “would you like to trade candy bars?”
Taylor- “what kind of candy bar do you have?”
Blair- “your usual milk chocolate. If you don’t want it that’s fine. I can trade with someone else.”
Taylor- “as long as it’s a normal candy bar, sure. I will.”
Each trade candy bars…
Taylor- “hey this has almonds!.”
Blair- “Ya…”
Taylor- “I didn’t agree to almonds…”
Blair- “Sure you did. It’s got milk chocolate in it, that’s what we agreed to.”
Taylor- “that might be what you think but it’s not what I was told. I might not have agreed had I known…”
Blair- “Too late now…”

This situation now creates a feeling where one person got what they wanted, and the other is left feeling taken advantage. So who is right and who is wrong? Well according to this article from Psychology today we are talking about the lack of disclosure of key information #5 on their list of manipulations. Should the key information have been disclosed the other party may not have agreed. Thus giving the one party advantage and control.

Of course in the case of divorce, separation, or any dissolution of relationship there are protections we put in place. We put up ‘walls’, and ‘draw lines in the sand’ around information, feelings, and our ability to agree is low.

So What do we do now?

Well here is the part of the conversation/argument we did agree on: “We should not live in a place where what other’s do, control our emotional state.” . So where my friend and I disagree that manipulation requires intent, we do agree on the fact that we should not live in a place that someone else has control of our emotions. Yes, that statement is easier said than done. BUT let’s look at the bigger picture. Let’s address the idea that no matter what the circumstances when another has control on our feelings they rule our world. They are then free to manipulate our feelings and behaviour at their own will.  We can keep them at a distance, we can segregate them far from our lives, and relegate them to the corner but in reality, they still have a window to affect us and our lives. And we cannot change these people. They are too far out of reach to make any lasting change.

So…stick to what you can control. And the only thing you have true control over is you! If you find it too difficult to do the work on your own, find the people to help you with this journey. A partner to help you sort out detangling your emotions from the situation.  Professionals that know what they are doing.  The options for help in divorce have grown far beyond the traditional lawyer route!  And if you still don’t know where you want to begin, give me a shout and we will figure out who is your best option.

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