Emotional Manipulation: A Common Tactic to Fix Internal Conflicts
You are probably used to hearing about emotional manipulation. You know what it looks like and the victims it leaves in its wake. It is, without a doubt, a type of behavior that is extremely harmful to the victim. What makes it so dangerous is that it is silent and difficult to detect.
A person who uses emotional manipulation has everything perfectly mapped out in his head. He knows his prey’s weaknesses and how to get past any defenses to get what he wants. Getting what he wants could mean that he looks like the victim and the other person is the guilty one. He wants the other person to admit she is wrong and agree to whatever the manipulator wants.
Emotional manipulators also get what they want when they can generate certain emotions in the other person to further their own interests. The plan, as we said before, is all mapped out. They won’t have any qualms about using whatever means necessary to bend the other person’s will to get what they want.
Emotional manipulations often originates from cognitive dissonance
You probably know that emotional manipulators use what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance“. Cognitive dissonance refers to an internal conflict that happens in our mind when we house two thoughts that aren’t consistent. Or when a thought doesn’t fit in our belief system or with our behavior.
This internal conflict, this tension that eats away at our thoughts, has a curious result. The brain does whatever it can to avoid this cognitive alienation that we’ve gotten into without realizing it. This feeling of internal inconsistency disturbs us so much that we will do whatever possible to get rid of it.
We need to feel internal coherence between our thoughts and our feelings, between our beliefs and our attitudes… Between what we think and how we act. When we find ourselves at this crossroads, we will get out of there at any cost, even if it means deceiving ourselves.
Emotional manipulation is cognitive dissonance’s best trick
As we said before, humans will do whatever possible to avoid spending time with this unpleasant feeling that takes over our body. We avoid awareness of information that increases the dissonance and we turn deaf ears to anything that can destabilize us even more.
Emotional manipulators know how to act in the face of cognitive dissonance. They practice self-deception to achieve their goal. For example, there are people who feel incapable of ending a romantic relationship, so they will do everything in their power to turn the tables so that their partner ends the relationship instead.
Jorge wants to leave Maria because he just met a woman who he has a special “connection” with. Maria, who knows nothing about this, doesn’t want to leave him because she is in love with him. In this situation, Jorge will do everything possible to make Maria want to leave him, and in the end, she will end the relationship. Later he will make her feel like the only one responsible for the breakup. “No no, you were the one who left me, I never said anything!”
Manipulators transfer guilt to the other person and feel that they are exempt
Jorge finds himself in an uncomfortable situation that occurs because what he would like to be (faithful) collides with what he is being at the moment (unfaithful). To solve this problem, Jorge opts to emotionally manipulate Maria so that she has to fix the situation and she ends up as the guilty one. Maria probably has no idea what is really going on, because few of us can conceive of our partners acting this way. On the other hand, Jorge might not be entirely conscious of his behavior.
Jorge doesn’t think he can end this relationship that he would like to end. Especially not now that he met another woman. He doesn’t want to be the executioner of the relationship, so he will do whatever it takes to protect itself and pass as the victim. In order not to accept reality or take responsibility, he will manipulate Maria until he gets results, without caring too much about her suffering.
If Maria is the one who leaves him, then he doesn’t have to feel guilty for having wanted to leave her for someone else. That would “look really bad” and it could catch up with him. If Maria leaves him, he solves his internal conflict and ends up benefiting from the situation.
Emotional manipulation is born out of cognitive chaos. The mind will do whatever it can do find its way out of cognitive dissonance. It will find an executioner, a guilty party who makes the manipulator look like a victim, or will place them in a situation that justifies their thoughts or behavior.