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Charismatic power and manipulation

Charismatic power is based on the belief that the ‘charismatic person’ has special positive strengths or abilities. As long as other people believe in those positive powers, the potential for controlling ‘believers' remains strong, even if there is no real source of power behind the belief!

Manipulation is a mirror opposite of charismatic power. It is also based on a belief that is not true about a person's power, a power that they really do not have. This belief is aided by core beliefs held by victims that they have little or no ability to resist the imaginary force in the the manipulator’s hand.

The manipulation set up

As children we initially believe our parents (and other primary care-givers) have a similar kind of power. Even when they abuse this power,  small children cannot see it as abuse. Their belief is stronger than their sense  of reality.

This in turn sets the abused child up for situations in the future where they can be manipulated by anyone who they believe has control over them. Whether it is the power of a lover, a teacher, a lawyer , a salesperson or an abuser, if the belief is there then the sense of being unable to resist will seem very real.

Example: You are facing an angry and manipulative client who, is rejecting your account for professional services (including some suggestions you made about her overuse of power and control in her marriage). She is now making a counter-claim against you for sexual harassment. It’s understandable that you might feel fearful even though you know that there is no possible basis for her claim.

Many people in these circumstances could even feel they just might be somehow partly to blame, or just fearing the adverse publicity of a harassment case, they may offer to cancel their request for payment. They are being manipulated.

The following are some typical signs that may help you identify manipulation.

The victim may not even be aware that he or she is being manipulated. They may believe that perhaps they are  powerless when they really do have power to block the manipulation. They may even believe that they might somehow be at fault when they are not.

• As well as the threatened loss of tangible items (money, time, privacy, professional status, personal freedom), the victim’s feelings and personal rights are also undermined.

• The active manipulator whether intentionally or unintentionally, gains  an unfair advantage.

• An appeal or benefit is offered in return for the victim’s co-operation, but it turns out to be practically worth­less or non-existent.

This ‘false benefit’ in return for co-operation is usually nothing more than regaining something (security, friendship or  respect) that appeared to have been taken away from you at the start of the manipulative process. This is the basis of the manipulator’s ‘trick’ but one that unfortunately many people cannot see through.

Example: The manipulator blames you for something you have not done and withdraws their love or respect for you. ‘You have made me unhappy’. So you give them what they demand to help to ‘make them happy again’. As a reward they ‘give you back’ the love and respect they took away at the start.

Note, however, some situations are not entirely manipulative. For example a person could be fully aware that a threat is real, not a bluff, and that same person is aware that they do not want to do what is being suggested. However they agrees under pressure to co-operate in return for a real benefit (such as keeping their marriage together). This is a matter of excessive control rather than manipulation.

Personal crisis manipulation.

Treating an ordinary problem as a ‘personal  crisis’ helps the individual to pass the problem on to others, a pattern known as ‘learned helplessness’. You may notice that the victim’s problems occur more often when the people who usually come to their rescue are close by.

Manipulative games

In many of these ‘crisis’ situations, two people repeat a similar set of victim-rescuer activities on a regular basis. Each person plays the same role each time, and both somehow seem to be unconsciously hooked into repeating the event a week or a month later. This is known as a ‘manipu­lative game’.

These games can continue only as long as you remain convinced that you must join in or that to refuse to play would cause even more harm or suffering which would again be your fault. The best defence is to recognise and identify the process.

If you think you are getting caught up in such a situation.

• Avoid becoming emotionally involved, instead, try an ‘grown-up to grown-up’ response such as levelling which is  explained in Section 10 of Growing Awareness.

• Do not accept the false idea that a person with a crisis  automatically has the right to insist others share it.

• Stop responding altogether: walk quietly away from the situation, it takes two players to keep the game going.

• Remind yourself that you have the right to control your own feelings, do not give this right away to anyone, especially manipulative game players.

• Do not try to rescue a person while he or she is caught up playing a ‘victim’ role (especially if you are being held to blame for a problem that was not of your making).

Unacceptable forms of control

It is important not to confuse the term ‘power’ (see previous page Power and control issues) with the use of negative methods such as threats, force, extreme pressure and outright abuse or aggres­sion.  They have no place in relationships, nor are they legitimate means of persuasion. Use of non-legitimate power is signalled by the following patterns.

Folding  but staying

Folding is what you do when you have no power or have no room to negotiate. It  has one minor benefit in that you do stay in the relationship and the fighting stops leaving you with another chance to seek a better deal later on.

Compliance

Compliance is less-than-willing acceptance by one person that another has more power on that issue. However compliance is not always a ‘total back-down’; it can be a matter of choosing ‘second best’ position rather than other worse alternatives.

Submission

Submission, on the other hand, is the complete surrender of one partner to another, with no compromise. The loser is denied the right to negotiate or even to choose a stage at which to comply. Total submission is seldom a satisfactory result for either partner.

Do not give your power away

Recognise the differences between legitimate and non-legitimate power, between real power and manipulation.

If you restrict or fail to apply your everyday legitimate powers in the belief that this is somehow pushy or ‘not quite nice’ you are really just giving your power away - a costly but common mistake.




Dealing with manipulation

The term ‘manipulation’ does not apply to every situation in which people are forced to do something they don’t want to. It refers only to times when emotional appeals are used in dishonest ways to control or influence others as a way of unfairly gaining control.

It is manipulation if it involves some kind of cheating, a bluff or underhand strategy that gives one person an unfair advantage over others who choose not to employ the same method.

It is a often adopted by those who feel too vulnerable about losing or care more about winning than about whether the outcome is fair and equitable.