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  • Writer's pictureDina McMillan

3 Best Ways to Become Manipulation-Proof

If I had to boil down the most crucial information in my podcasts, this would be it. You need to recognize cunning manipulation tactics when they’re being used on you. Part of that is to strengthen your self-protection. This means deflecting anyone trying to maneuver you.

With just three simple steps you can build up the emotional shield that makes it much tougher for others to take advantage of you. Worth doing? You bet.

Protection One: Self-Care

I just watched a video of a close friend of mine, Professor Carolyn West from the University of Washington, Tacoma. She gave an inspiring talk to the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She emphasized the essential nature of extreme self-care.

You may not work in a field where you’re bombarded with tales of trauma. But if you’re female, you’re likely to be the confidant of others going through different levels of stress and distress. Women are socialized to be nurturers and caregivers. There’s compelling evidence that aspects of this are natural, as women are the givers of life and the source of nutrition and care for children. Most of us are there for each other when any of our family or friends are struggling. If you’re male with a strong protective drive, you may find yourself in a similar situation. People rely on you for council and sympathy when things get difficult.

One key component that gets left out of this process is the deep need for the caregiver (and protector) to give themselves time and space for peace, healing, and loving support. If you don’t recharge, you burn may burn out. And there’s more to be considered.

Why Protection Step One Matters

When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, it impacts our problem-solving skills. Our objectivity diminishes. Our perspective shrinks, with the crisis overtaking most other issues in our minds.

Manipulators and predators can sense someone going through turmoil. It’s like a beacon, highlighting someone who can be manipulated. They offer a shoulder to cry on, give practical support, even just notice the struggle. They hope you’ll be so grateful for the sympathy and support you won’t look closely at the source. You won’t ask yourself, “What are they getting out of this?” What they’re getting is space in your life and placing you in their debt, triggering that reciprocity reaction that will make you feel obligated to them.

You need to prioritize taking care of yourself on a regular basis. This keeps you from being as dependent upon the “kindness of strangers”. While you may appreciate someone offering compassion and help, you won’t need it to the extent you’ll turn off your brain or place yourself in someone’s debt.

3 Best Ways to Become Manipulation-Proof
3 Best Ways to Become Manipulation-Proof

Protection Two: Love Yourself

Have you watched the film Titanic? In it, Jack (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a poor, adventurous artist who wins a ticket on the Titanic, and sets off to a new life. Along the way, he falls for wealthy Rose (Kate Winslet) and has dinner with her and her associates. They do everything they can to make him feel inferior and out of place. And it doesn’t work. He’s so comfortable in his own skin, he doesn’t feel the need to pretend. He just enjoys who he is and the good food available. It makes him even more appealing to Rose.

It reminds me of a saying that I often paraphrase from Eleanor Roosevelt, that no one can make you feel inferior without your permission. (This is something males may not understand on the same visceral level). Girls and women are bombarded with information designed to make us feel flawed and self-conscious. Then we’re sold remedies for our problems: clothes, make-up, skincare, shampoo, weight loss remedies and plastic surgery. We’re told only youthfulness and physical beauty make us worthy of being loved. This makes us incredibly vulnerable to manipulation.

Early days with an Abuser often involve being examined closely and then prodded with comments and questions. This is done to find out where you feel the most defective and undeserving both physically and in other areas: education, social status, life experience, sophistication, popularity, etc. Then the Abuser will make quips and jokes to draw attention to your shortfalls. He’ll give you long looks and then state admiration for another woman who doesn’t have your defects. He’ll work hard and be unrelenting in first poking you in your tender spots, the areas where you feel substandard, then prying them open until they become gaping wounds.

It's important to consistently recognize any tender spots, any areas of self-consciousness and be very wary of someone who draws attention to them, even if they claim their intentions are good.

Why Protection Step Two Matters

Abusers and manipulators know to focus your attention on areas you feel are lacking. Feeling unworthy, you can be convinced to surrender resources to someone who claims they can fix your flaws. You’ll be excessively grateful to someone who promises to accept you with your defects. All of this focus on your shortfalls will probably make you overlook or undervalue the serious red flags being displayed by the manipulator or Abuser.

Do what you can to build up your confidence and accept your lack of perfection. Work on being resilient and not being easily embarrassed. Laugh at yourself. If there’s something that bothers you, carefully seek to fix it. Make sure the remedies are sound and evidence-based. Don’t be enticed by magical solutions – a favorite ploy of manipulators and Abusers. While you’re reducing your weak spots, place most of your attention on your strengths so you’re confident and self-reliant. And take the time to learn the tactics used by Abusers (and manipulators) so you don’t get drawn into a dodgy situation.

Protection Three: Shield Your Mind

If you’ve listened to the Unmasking the Abuser podcast, you’ve heard me mention this issue. Remaining in control and being less receptive to manipulation requires protecting your brain from content that’s designed to undermine your confidence and make you more malleable. It will send messages to which your brain is receptive (and the media people realize this) that’s destructive to your self-worth, your life choices and your relationships.

What’s really scary about social messages is they’re embedded in content all around us. They’re in the stories you watch or read, the news headlines you scan, the narratives and camera time given on award shows. The brain is programmed to pick these up and adjust your beliefs and behavior according to their instructions. It’s part of our primal adaptive mechanism. And it works whether you realize it or not. It works even if you deny it.

I often encounter people who believe they can watch content on streaming services with destructive messages and be unaffected. People who commit crimes are either presented sympathetically or featured as the stars of the show. There is a complete disconnect between actions and consequences. None of the heroes or heroines admit to spiritual faith unless they belong to a non-Christian group. Every lifestyle is advocated without examination of its shortfalls or its impact. Anyone who doesn’t blindly follow this narrative is openly bullied by the leads and called mean names. They can only be redeemed if they drop their faith and values and submit.

When I mention this to these individuals, they assure me they recognize the attempts to force-feed them social messages that conflict with their values. They’re intelligent and savvy and that’s enough to keep them safe.

Yet, when we discuss issues they’re experiencing in their lives, it’s evident many of these ideals have leaked through. As they rationalize their influenced choices, I’ve heard some quote some of the scripted lines I recognize from the content of these shows, films and social media sites. Oops!

These people aren’t stupid. They simply don’t understand the main factor that’s necessary for the success of widely distributed social messages. It’s exposure. The more often you’re exposed to certain values, types of relationships, and scripted excuses for wrong behavior, the more your brain will first normalize and then accept these as true. It works that way for all of us, regardless of our level of intelligence.

Why Protection Step Three Matters

What can be done to combat social messages that are designed to erode your values and literally “sell” you on attitudes and principles that won’t lead to your best life? Be cautious in what you watch and read. Limit your exposure to award programs that literally shower accolades on people who attempt to indoctrinate you. Find content from people who share your values and put your attention on them.

In my book, Fascination with the Devil: Why Women Love Emotionally Dangerous Men, I lay out some simple guidance for better relationships. Relationships that last and where all sides are respected and cherished. I wrote this because it’s necessary. Learn what works well, and do that. And protect your mind from harmful propaganda. Good luck!

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