Manipulation is everywhere. The social influence aimed at changing the behavior or belief of a person through emotional coercion, emotional manipulation, has always been prevalent in human interaction. It’s in all of our relationships, companies use it on us to make us buy certain products or feel a certain way, and even influencers use it to make sure they keep their followers.
Pretty often, we’re made to do things we don’t wanna do by people we hold in high esteem, without realizing that we’re being manipulated by them.
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “show people as one thing and only one thing over and over again, and that’s what they become.”
This stereotyping is a form of gaslighting. It’s intentionally accusing someone of being a negative stereotype, whatever that might be.
A few years ago, Facebook worked in partnership with the University of California to perform an experiment. In this experiment, Facebook purposely altered the feeds of around 689,000 users such that some only saw positive stories on their wall, while the others only saw negative stories.
After about a week of doing this, when these users posted their own updates, most of the time, they had been influenced by the emotions that flooded their wall. People who were fed more negative posts, in turn, put out more negative posts, while those who received a swell of positive posts, used more positive language when making their own posts.
This rather controversial experiment shows just how easily our emotions can be manipulated, even in very subtle ways. You know, something I’ve noticed is that people on Twitter are so angry compared to people on other platforms.
Well, maybe because negative topics are more triggering, and so they spark more debate than positive topics. These debates then flood the entire platform with negativity, which only continues to influence people to add more fuel to the fire.
It’s the sad reality that we live in that, before making a tweet, you have to read through it once, twice, and then prepare your apology, just in case.
We might not know it, but in a way we’re in an abusive relationship with these platforms. Oftentimes we can’t express our views clearly, and we can easily be manipulated by the views of others.
Gaslighting is one of the most popular techniques used by emotional manipulators. The term “gaslight” was first used in a 1938 play. In it, a husband manipulates his wife, convincing her that she has a mental illness and is hallucinating by dimming their gas-fueled lights.
Today, the term “Gaslighting” more widely refers to a form of psychological abuse where the victim is made to seem crazy. The reality of the situation is turned on its head, so that the victims start to doubt their own logic and reasoning.
The term has been popularized thanks to the internet; however, still, not many people understand the concept of gaslighting and how deeply it can affect someone. Children who grew up in unstable homes where things such as abuse, alcoholism, and other issues are rife, often experience gaslighting at such a young age.
These kids go up to their parents to ask them what’s going on after witnessing it with their own eyes, but the parents instead tell them that nothing of such is happening and it’s all in their head.
The parents might not be actively trying to gaslight that child. In fact, more often than not, they think they’re protecting the child from the harsh realities that they’re faced with. In truth though, all that does is make the child question their own sanity and senses from such a young age.
And so, they grow up not being able to trust their own judgment or even that of others because well, “what if they didn’t actually see what they said they saw?”
Gaslighting doesn’t only work in interpersonal relationships. It also works en masse, a phenomenon that some experts call “structural gaslighting,” convincing a large group of people that their realities are skewed or even flat out wrong. Things like racial and political gaslighting fall into this category.
Adolf Hitler is regarded as one of history’s greatest emotional manipulators. After the loss of World War 1, the last thing the Germans wanted was another war. Everyone at the time believed that it would be another stupid venture that would cost them millions of lives and give nothing in return.
However, slowly but surely, Hitler through his brilliant oratory and showmanship was able to get the Germans on board. He convinced them that his plan was going to work, and as he took over Rhineland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, the Germans started to believe.
But before then, Hitler made sure that all the radios across Germany echoed that they didn’t lose the first World War, but were in fact just tricked into surrendering. He blamed the loss on the Jews and said that they were responsible for the harsh reparations the Germans were now suffering after the war.
He managed to convince most of the German population that Jews were evil. And eventually,
Germans were either supportive of his movements or too afraid to speak up against him.
Nazi Germany was able to manipulate its citizens thanks to its totalitarian philosophy emotionally. Everything was covered from art to music, economics, education, sports, workplace, even in the schools, students were taught Nazi propaganda, such that they became Hitler’s most loyal soldiers.
If you’ve read the book 1984, you would recognize a lot of these themes. And this is one of the tactics emotional manipulators use. They say something to you over and over again, until you start to doubt your own cognitive ability and believe them.
This form of gaslighting is worse because it comes from people who hold power over society. And it doesn’t end with gaslighting, it goes as far as preventing people from exercising their fundamental human rights.
Sadly, it’s not just politicians and leaders who manipulate us. Companies also manipulate us into buying things we don’t need. We’re constantly sold emotional ads of people drinking a refreshing drink after fighting a bear, or coke bringing a family together. And while it looks obviously quite silly, in the back of our minds, all of these little things get registered.
Remember, “show people as one thing and only one thing over and over again, and that is what they become.”
These companies sell a narrative of their brand and products over and over again, such that before long, that’s what they become. That’s why you have people who are so attached to brands that they are ready to defend whatever decision these companies make with their last breath?
Although gaslighting is the most widely known emotional manipulation tactic, it’s not the only one. Emotional manipulators would often say things like, “if you loved me, you would do this,” trying to guilt trip you into doing things that you would otherwise not do.
We see this most often in romantic relationships, where one party is trying to get something from the other that they’re just not comfortable with. Or in parent and child relationships, where the parent is trying to convince their child to go out of their way to do something for them.
You’ll hear stupid things like, “well if I didn’t give birth to you, you wouldn’t be able to make a living, would you?” or “I worked hard throughout your childhood to take care of you, so I deserve to be spoiled,” even when the child, young or old, might not be in the best financial position.
In a similar vein, emotional manipulators often use responsibility as a manipulation tactic. You’ll hear things like “well, I already booked the reservations” or “it’s your job to do this for me, I’m your partner!” They try to trigger feelings of responsibility that would make it harder for you to say no to their request.
When all of these don’t work, emotional manipulators would resort to the most bare bones tactics like lying, targeting your insecurities, and straight up threatening you with bodily harm to get you to do their bidding.
If at this point in the video, you may have started to consider your relationship with someone, then there’s a chance you could be in a manipulative relationship with said person.
Do you feel like you’re in a partnership with this person, or do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells? Are both of you committing your fair share to making the friendship or relationship work, or do you feel like you’re the only one putting in the effort?
How often do they say, “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” Would they instead threaten to leave if you point out their wrongdoing?
These are just a few signs to look out for that will help you figure out if you’re in a relationship, or if you’re just getting the shorter end of the stick. No matter how much that person tries to convince you, emotional manipulation is not a form of love.
Relationships should be about love, friendship, and being partners. Both of you should have an equal say, and each of you should be ready to apologize when they’re wrong.
It’s easier said than done.
We should check ourselves and our interactions with others too. Because although we might not want to admit it, we often use these emotionally manipulative tactics to get what we want. Humans are inherently selfish, and so it’s not surprising that we sometimes resort to vile tactics just to get what we want.
So while you consider if your partner, friend, or relative might be emotionally manipulating you, you also want to look at your relationships from the other person’s point of view.
Understanding and accepting wrongdoing is the first step in change. If we never admit to ourselves that what we’re doing is wrong, then we’ll never see a reason to want to change.
Emotional manipulation is tricky; there’s a fine line that can be walked that differentiates something from being playful and fun to being borderline abusive. So before anything else, accept that you may have done wrong in the past. Try to retrace your steps to the last time you think you may have manipulated someone. Was it intentional? What effects could your manipulation have had?
Next time, before you convince someone to do things your way, think about their position. Think about why they may or may not want to do it, and try to keep your own desires partially tucked away to attend to theirs.
This is the only way we’ll be able to create healthier, more satisfying relationships for all of us.
Only when we love genuinely will we be able to receive genuine love equally.
You give some and you get some. From politicians to companies to our own relationships, we’re all guilty of emotional manipulation. This entire video was just me manipulating you into, hopefully, becoming a better person.
And for what it’s worth, I hope it works.
- EE, MM