Coping With Manipulative Parents
For the purpose of this blog, I suspect we need to come up with a definition of what manipulation is. Otherwise my fear is that we will be referencing different terms throughout this blog.
According to Webster’s dictionary, manipulation is defined as: to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.
While this definition seems fairly solid, I’d love to spend some time explaining how this shows up for people.
In the past 20 plus years, I have watched a common theme with parents who manipulate their kids. Most parents who manipulate are operating from a place of fear, and typically that fear is that their kids will leave them.
Some parents use manipulation to control their kids and keep them hooked in.
Other descriptors typically used in relation to parents who engage in manipulation include: blackmailing, passive aggression, emotional blackmailing, and codependency.
I’m fairly confident that most of you are familiar with the concept of blackmailing.
However, I wonder how many people really understand the depth and severity of emotional blackmailing. Emotional blackmailing is using a variety of tactics including shame and guilt to coerce someone to interact with you.
Shaming you is designed to create self-doubt. It’s designed to create a reliance on them because clearly they “know what’s best for you.” Emotional blackmail is a very toxic experience. Typically, when people have experienced emotional blackmailing, they walk away with a sense of fear, obligation, and guilt.
Passive aggression is typically a form of rage or anger. People who engage in passive aggression lack the courage to express concepts such as, “You hurt my feelings when you did X” and instead use passive aggressive comments to create the emotional wound from their interactions.
Passive aggression is a way to express anger without having to be accountable or vulnerable about your feelings or the repercussions of those feelings.
People who engage in codependence have become masterfully skilled in saying what they think people want or need to hear.
The disconnect here is that while they may say whatever they think you need to hear in order to suck you in, they will typically not follow through with doing those things that you need. Essentially they hook you with promises and then do whatever they want. Codependents use charm, flatter, gifts, and bribes to create their needs being met. They offer gifts, food, meals, opportunities, and experiences to create a relationship.
Other examples of behaviors displayed when manipulation is occurring include: minimising, never accepting responsibility, gaslighting, telling you that you don’t listen, blocking your efforts, controlling the conversation, never being wrong, overly emotional, parent doesn’t really “know” you, bribing you to interact with them, and maintaining control at all cost.
I can not reiterate this enough: many parents manipulate because they don’t know how to interact with children in any other way.
This is especially true as their children become adults and create lives of their own. When parents are operating from a place of not being wanted/needed, not being relevant in their child’s life, or the fear of losing their child; manipulation is just a tactic to preserve the relationship.
Regardless of the cause of manipulation, it’s a toxic experience for most people.
It easily leads to bitterness, resentment, anger, rage, low self worth, etc.
My goal is to empower you to understand how to respond to manipulation in a way that empowers you to develop Shame resilience. Many adults that I have worked with have carried shame over their parents' manipulative behaviors.
I want to empower you to develop a resistance to the manipulation of your parents. My recommendations are as follows:
Set Boundaries: Boundaries do not make you selfish or self centered.
Every healthy human being has boundaries. Decide what you want your boundaries to be surrounding your parent and then decide how you want to respond if they don’t respect them. I want to warn you this will take some work. They have had a lifetime of manipulating you and suddenly you are changing the entire game board. It’s going to be a work in progress.
Be Assertive: If you are over 18, it’s likely that you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your behaviors or choices.
You certainly don’t need to justify each and every decision you have made. Part of assertiveness is explaining in very clear language that you don’t like when your parent says/does/behaves in a certain manner. My recommendation is typically to use language like: I don’t want to discuss that, it really hurts my feelings when you say those things, that topic is not a conversation we are going to have, that behavior is unacceptable. It’s going to really feel scary in the beginning, but please know you are worth standing up for yourself.
Answer Questions Not Statements: When people use statements it leads quickly into manipulation because they keep leading and cornering you until you give them the results they are looking for.
My recommendation is to reframe like crazy using statements such as: what exactly is the question, I’m not sure what you are asking, or restate the last four or five words they said in the form of a question. When you make the commitment to only answer questions, it requires you to train your ear to listen for those things. It pays off quickly though.
Create Reality Checks: I’m a huge proponent of you developing a support system of people who you can engage in to do reality checks with.
This is a way to keep you grounded and not take the manipulation personally. How it works is you engage with your support system and say something like, “My mom said X, would that upset you?”. It’s crucial to have a support system who has similar feelings and beliefs as you and who will be honest with you. Reality checks are a huge part of my life because I want to make sure that my response is “normal” or justified.
Don’t Give In To Bribery: When we give in to the bribery attempts, it shifts the power to them. Because they bought us a meal, they believe that they can talk to us about anything they want to.
They believe they have a “right” to because we accepted the bribe. In order to minimize the amount of room and grounds they have to manipulate us, I think it’s crucial to not accept bribes. I often advocate for my clients to recognize where they are giving away their power and to stop doing those things. I think a lot of our power is inadvertently given away when we are in relationships with parents who manipulate.
No matter which tactic you begin with, I want you to know that this manipulation is so much more about your parents than you.
Please find a way to not personalize their behaviors and actions, because when we take these things personally, it creates shame and guilt for ourselves. You deserve better than having a manipulative relationship with your parent!
Click below to learn how to change your response to your parents.
Jenn Bovee is a Shame Busting Coach. She empowers people to identify where their guilt is showing up in their lives and find creative ways to bust through the Shame. She thrives on empowering people to live the life of their wildest fantasies.