Advertising
Advertising

Are You Being Emotionally Exploited?

Are You Being Emotionally Exploited?

Have you ever been part of an interaction with another person that left you feeling drained, confused, and inadequate? You may have been dealing with an emotional manipulator. These people get an A+ in stealth coercion. Often times, you’ll walk away from these situations giving the other person exactly what he/she wanted without even realizing that you gave it to them in the first place.

It may start out as a completely normal conversation. Maybe you came to them because something they said or did upset you and, like the grown up person you are, you pulled them aside to try and talk it out. Or, maybe there’s actually no conversation at all. Maybe this person is someone you have to be around a lot: An in-law, a co-worker, or a boss. Maybe he/she uses body language and nonverbal cues that make it more than clear that you aren’t welcome, accepted, or liked, but then when he/she speaks with you, it’s in the most polite and sincere tone you have ever heard.

I'M Stabbing You In My Mind GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    Emotional manipulators (or Machiavellian-Feeling Ninjas, as I like to call them) are skilled deceivers. They usually have high emotional intelligence and can bend and shape any social interaction to their advantage. They are shrewd observers, taking in the communication around them and easily establishing a baseline on individuals which they will use to analyze that person’s strengths and weaknesses. They may even ask probing questions in conversational tones in order to get a better fix on you. Once they have you down, they’ll use their knowledge to exert dominance over you.

    Winning Emperors New Groove GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

      There are several ways they could do this, from sarcastic cutting remarks disguised as “jokes,” to guilt-baiting you and trying to convince you that their happiness is your responsibility. I once dated a guy who actually told me that it was my job to keep him happy. “That’s how relationships work. You’re supposed to make sure I’m happy.” Yes, those words came out of his mouth, and when I tried to explain to him that his happiness was his own responsibility, he got upset and claimed that I didn’t care about him. This is another tactic these emotion ninjas use.

      If they know they can get away with it, they will play the victim. They want you to feel sorry for them because they know this will increase their chances of getting what they want, and sometimes what they want is just to feel good about themselves at your expense.

      http://gph.is/2eoWmPl

      Advertising

      Guilt-baiting and passive aggressive jokes aren’t the only strategies manipulators use to get their way. A friend of mine once dealt with a mother-in-law who used what I call the “let-down con.”

      Let me explain. My friend and her husband had a one-year-old son together. Their parenting style differed greatly from that of her husband’s parents, and this caused issues between them. In order to keep from disrupting the family relationship, my friend and her husband sat his parents down and let them know what their boundaries were. One of those boundaries included the fact that they would not be taking their son to his parents’ home without one or both of them present because of the environment.

      The mother-in-law would then make plans or offer to babysit for her and her husband, sometimes weeks in advance. Then she would cancel thirty, fifteen, and even ten minutes before the scheduled time. After putting the two of them in a bind, the mother-in-law would then make excuses or remarks on how she would have no trouble watching her grandson if they would bring him to her house. This is a classic example of how a manipulator can use negative surprises as a weapon against you.

      Excited Stephen Colbert GIF by The Late Show With Stephen Colbert - Find & Share on GIPHY

        Of course, one of the most well-known and obvious tactics that manipulators use is the distortion of facts. My ex was a pro at this. Not only would he lie frequently, but when I caught him in a lie, he’d turn the tables on me and try to make it my fault.

        I’m not even talking about the obvious cheater lies here either. You know the whole, “Well I cheated because you make me unhappy. You aren’t satisfying me…” blah blah blah crap? No, I’m talking about lies that make absolutely zero sense, or withholding information just for the purpose of making me look bad.

        For example, I once pointed out during a disagreement that he was trying to manipulate me. He then accused me of being the one manipulating him, naming off times that I had done so. None of the things he mentioned ever happened. In fact, most of them were easily disproved because I wasn’t even there on the specific date he mentioned. I knew that I hadn’t done or said any of the things he said that I had, but he held on so strongly and argued so convincingly that it actually made me question myself.

        Advertising

        Another thing he would do is tell me the wrong time for family get togethers so I would show up late. He’d then state in front of everyone, “I told you to be here at X time.”

        Late People GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

          Then there’s the whole cold shoulder treatment.

          I have a friend whose in-laws repeatedly threatened not to invite her to family gatherings or summer vacations at their lake house because she would not act the way they wanted her to. My friend is very down to earth. One of those “what you see is what you get” types of people. She isn’t rude or loud or trashy, but her in-laws wanted her to “toe the line” when it came to social outings with them. She was expected to agree with them and do what they wanted her to do without question. She was even told that she wasn’t accepted into the family because of her “behavior.”

          She explained politely that she wasn’t going to change who she was for anyone, and she wouldn’t behave a certain way just because they wanted her to. This is when they began to “ice” her out. Even though she really didn’t care to go where she wasn’t wanted, it still hurt her. These were people who were supposed to be her family, and she didn’t want to be the reason her husband had problems with them. Not to mention the effect this type of relationship had on her children.

          I tried to point out to her that standing up for herself was the right thing to do. Yes, it’s a sticky situation when you have family involved, but life is too short to have those kinds of negative people in your life. Truly, it’s not her job to be accepted by them. Her husband married her because of who she is. If his family doesn’t want to be a part of their lives, then that’s their choice, not hers.

          Tyra Banks Goodbye GIF by America's Next Top Model - Find & Share on GIPHY

            So what do you do when you encounter a Machiavellian-Feeling Ninja? How do you combat a slick and cunning manipulator who can out-argue logic and reason?

            Advertising

            One word: Boundaries.

            That’s right. You have to know your boundaries. In an article from Psychology Today, communications expert Preston Ni discusses fundamental human rights that apply to all of us. These rights are our boundaries, our lines in the sand. When one of these rights is violated, we have a responsibility to ourselves to defend that right. No healthy relationship, whether it be family, personal, or business related, can be maintained if these boundaries are crossed.

            1. You Have The Right To Be Treated With Respect

            http://gph.is/1MhGXN1

            No matter what the interaction is, you deserve to be treated with respect. This means that the other person involved is considerate, polite, fair, and open. They are not dismissive, belittling, or degrading. When you show someone respect, you practice gratitude, sincerity, and encouragement.

            2. You Have The Right To Express Your Feelings, Opinions, & Wants

            Sarcastic Talk GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

              No one is ever going to agree with everything you have to say. That’s fine. It’s also fine for them to tell you so, or to offer a different point of view or counterargument. In fact, I strongly believe the best decisions are made after hearing opposing arguments and finding the middle ground. However, if someone tries to tell you that your opinion is wrong, or that you don’t have a right to express yourself, then you have a problem. No one should ever tell you that your feelings don’t matter, that your needs and desires aren’t important, or aren’t as important as theirs. We are all equal on this front.

              3. You Have The Right To Set Your Own Priorities

              Priorities GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

                Barring that physical harm to another human being is at the top of your list, what you choose to focus on is your decision. No one can tell you what’s important to you. Other people don’t know your values, principles, or beliefs. Other people aren’t inside your head. They don’t have the same life experiences as you. So how could they possibly know how you should live your life?

                Advertising

                They can give you guidance. They can offer advice and opinions on what they think is best, but only you know what’s best for you.

                4. You Have The Right To Say No Without Feeling Guilty

                Shake My Head No GIF by Originals - Find & Share on GIPHY

                  Let me state this clearly: NO ONE SHOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BAD FOR SAYING NO. EVER. I don’t care what situation it is. It could be something as innocent as a group of friends hounding you for saying you didn’t want to go out that night. It could be your boss pressuring you to work overtime when you have other plans. It could be your next door neighbor attempting to guilt trip you into joining the neighborhood watch, or your kids’ PTO pressuring you to cook for the bake sale instead of ordering from the bakery in town. Or, it could be more sinister: A boyfriend (or girlfriend) pressuring you to have sex, peers pressuring you to drink, a loved one pressuring you keep dangerous secrets.

                  Regardless of the context or people involved, no means no, and if they respect you as a human being, they won’t try to make you feel guilty for saying it. If they do, then it’s definitely time to rethink your relationship with them.

                  5. You Have The Right To Protect Yourself From Threats

                  Protection GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

                    Whether the threat is emotional, mental, or physical, you have the right to protect yourself against it. If someone has or is trying to cause you harm, you need to get away from them and seek help immediately. HelpGuide has a fantastic article on domestic abuse. It describes, in detail, how to spot abuse, what to do about it, and who to call. You can find the article HERE. For more resources, check out THIS article on the different types of abuse, or THIS article on emotional abuse.

                    Gaslighting has been in the media a lot lately. It’s really just a different form of emotional abuse. You can find information about gaslighting HERE.

                    6. You Have The Right To Create Your Own Happy & Healthy Life

                    Fuller House Ashton Live Blogs GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

                      Your life is your own, and no one has a right to prevent you from creating that life the way that you see fit. Again, as long as you aren’t harming others, you have the right to find happiness and to live in good health. Healthiness isn’t just about exercise and the availability of good drinking water. It also includes emotional and psychological health. No one should threaten these things. No one has the right to take them away from you. It is a fundamental human right.

                      These rights are a good starting point in creating boundaries for yourself. They’re also a good way to ensure that you aren’t violating the rights of others. Just as you have the right to healthy boundaries, so do the others you share this planet with.

                      Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pexels.com

                      More by this author

                      Jessica Willing

                      Freelance Writer

                      Are You Being Emotionally Exploited? 7 Ways to Connect to Family When They’re Far Away 5 Things Every Woman Should Say To Themselves

                      Trending in Communication

                      1 5 Real Relationship Goals You Should Actually Strive Toward 2 When You Learn A Second Language, These 7 Amazing Things Will Happen To You 3 15 Things To Stop Doing If You Want To Be Truly Happy 4 7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language 5 How to Apologize When You Have Made a Mistake

                      Read Next

                      Advertising
                      Advertising
                      Advertising

                      Last Updated on January 15, 2021

                      7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

                      7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

                      The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

                      Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

                      Posture

                      First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

                      • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
                      • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
                      • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
                      • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

                      All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

                      Facial Expressions

                      Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

                      • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
                      • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
                      • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

                      If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

                      Advertising

                      1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

                      A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

                      The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

                      This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

                      2. Relax Your Face

                      New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

                      The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

                      To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

                      Advertising

                      3. Improve Your Eye Contact

                      Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

                      The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

                      To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

                      3. Smile More

                      There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

                      Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

                      4. Hand Gestures

                      Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

                      Advertising

                      It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

                      5. Enhance Your Handshake

                      In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

                      “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

                      It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

                      6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

                      As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

                      Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

                      Advertising

                      Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

                      Final Takeaways

                      Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

                      If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

                      More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

                      Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      Read Next