How to Combat Emotional Warfare and Root Out the Manipulative People in Your Life


Everyone’s capable of being a jerk now and then, but a select few seem to have adopted the behavior as a lifelong career. Perhaps its an undermining coworker, a jealous friend, or a controlling boss that’s the source of your frequent emotional abuse. Regardless of the situation, it’s time to put a stop to it now. Here’s what to do.

Recognize That the Problem is Them, Not You

First things first: you need to accept that there’s a problem. We often make excuses for the abusive people in our lives because they’re not just abusive—they have good qualities, too. The bad stuff is hard to quantify and so it’s easier to try and shove it under the rug. Roger suggests that we recognize that it isn’t just a problem for us, but a serious issue for the abusive person as well:

“Manipulation, exploitation, and other worthy-of-a-soap-opera-character behaviors are often indicators of the kinds of traits that make up a personality disorder diagnosis. (Note: not all people who exploit, manipulate, or demean have a personality disorder.)

Barring any type of equally-maladaptive behavior on your part that might have provoked said person’s “wrath”, being the target of these types of behaviors probably means that the “mean person” likely has more issues than Sports Illustrated.”

Generally, this means your sympathies are misplaced. Often times a manipulative individual will play on your sympathies—as we previous discussed—and you’ll feel bad for them because of one of many specific hardships that seem to turn up like clockwork. Instead, have compassion for the likelihood that they’re very troubled individuals.

You may find that your relationship with this person needs to be severed, but that doesn’t mean there must be hate between you. Understanding that it 1) isn’t your fault and 2) they’re dealing with serious problems of their own helps provide much-needed context to this rough situation.

Assess Your Relationship with the Person and Weigh the Outcome of Addressing the Issue

Some people are worse than others, and sometimes you come across abusive people in situations that are particularly difficult to get out of. Before you go and sever your relationship with an individual or resign yourself to misery you need to assess the damage your actions may cause. Roger elaborates:

“If your boss is the one manipulating you, exploiting you, etc., then you may have to weigh the pros and cons of taking matters into your own hands (although I’m always one to advise people to put an end to these behaviors by any means necessary). When you address the issue in these types of relationships, you run the risk of provoking more harm to yourself because the person has power over you.

If you can’t tolerate the treatment, however, then you may have to bite the bullet and do something. If it’s someone with whom you have a social relationship (e.g. family or friend), then you can probably be a little more assertive. Nonetheless, you still need to exercise caution because anyone with the power to cause you emotional harm can probably make your life somewhat difficult.

Proceed with caution, but if the person is causing a great amount of distress you will need to address the situation head-on.”

Basically, consider the angles before you move forward. If there’s a problem, deal with it, but think about what you’re going to say and do before you make your approach. A fallout may be inevitable, but you can often mitigate the damage by simply being prepared.

Be Direct and Consistent in Your Confrontation

When you accuse an emotionally abusive individual of wrongdoing, it’s rare that they’ll readily admit that you’re right. If you’ve been holding off on this confrontation, chances are you’re going to go into the conversation a little nervous. As a result, it might become pretty easy to derail you. Roger suggests that you need to be as clear as possible and be consistent with what you’re saying:

“I find it helpful to clearly identify what specific behaviors the person is doing that are bothering me and letting them know how they make me feel. Then I follow it up with a demand to change the behaviors.

Example: “The fact that you always ring my doorbell at breakfast time makes me feel like you’re only using me for my bacon. I would appreciate it if you came over after breakfast or come over with your own bacon.”

This may sound a little fake, but it keeps charged emotions to a minimum and keeps you from stooping down to their level. Also, be aware that some people’s “reality distortion field” (therapists like to call them “cognitive
distortions”) may lead the person being addressed to deny that anything is amiss.

Example: “What are you talking about, I come over to see you. It just so happens that you’re always making bacon when I come over.” As a result, it’s vital that you 1) stick to your guns, 2) keep your cool, and 3) keep the discussion moving.”

Chances are that you’ve thought about the problem at hand and the resolution you’d like, so don’t let yourself be deterred by a manipulative argument. This isn’t an everyday conversation—you’re providing an ultimatum in a calm, cool, and collected manner. The recipient of this ultimatum may try to make you feel guilty for your actions, or just that they’re completely unwarranted, but remember that you’re having this conversation because of that kind of behavior. If you stay on your message and keep a level head, you should be able to make it clear that the unwanted behavior will not be tolerated going forward.

If you’ve decided you need to sever a relationship it’s generally best to be brief and not leave much room for discussion. Doing so just opens up the possibility for argument and further abuse. It’s hard to reduce a long relationship with another human being—even a bad one—to a brief moment, but ultimately it’s better than falling into an emotional battle that will leave you feeling far more hurt.

By Adam Dachis | Lifehacker