Reality Check: Guilt, Conscience, and Manipulation

Many people are guided by conscience when they choose their actions. Conscience can motivate us to reach out and offer support, which can be relationship building and benefit both the giver and the receiver.

Support can take many forms: emotional, physical, even financial. It’s satisfying to be able to support someone or something you care about. And, the support can provide real value for the recipient.

Many people have grateful stories about someone who first believed in them, gave them an opportunity, or provided help when they were down and out. But it doesn’t always work that way.

Things can get complicated, particularly when support comes in the form of money. Too often, one party may still feel victimized (I never get enough) while the other party feels unappreciated (They’ll never be happy).

Instead of joy all around, both are unhappy. What gets in the way?

We know that different people have different skills. Sadly, some have well-honed manipulative skills, and use them to their advantage. While no one can “make” us feel guilty, they surely can try!

If you find that you are vulnerable to manipulation, let’s look at some things you can control that could help.

First: It can be difficult to even be sure whether you are entangled in a manipulative situation. It’s hard to be objective when there’s lots of emotion involved.

One way to assess your situation is to explain it to someone else. Don’t have someone you trust who will be honest with you? Then pretend and tell yourself. Or write it down. Find a way to get the facts of the situation out where you can look at them as if your situation was happening to someone else.

Ask yourself, “If someone told me this story, would I perceive it as manipulative?”

Second: Avoid reactive; try proactive instead.

A reactive approach is when you respond to a request. A proactive approach is when you decide independently, without being asked.

For example, say you’re asked for money. A reactive response is to give. If it provides satisfaction for both of you, then this can be a win-win.

However, perhaps you give because you find it hard to say no. Or maybe you are concerned that your gifts are not in fact doing good, but are enabling behaviours that aren’t helpful. If so, consider proactive action. How?

Decide where you want to offer your money, volunteer your time, or provide other support. What are the most effective uses of your resources?

There are lots of deserving people and deserving organizations—volunteer organizations, sports teams, children’s camps, libraries, hospitals, etc. Or maybe you prefer to support and give directly to individuals. It’s your call.

By choosing proactively, you know your resources are supporting behaviours that you believe are helpful rather than harmful. This can be more satisfying than responding to the squeakiest wheel.

When a manipulative attempt is then made, you have a response, “I have already designated the money I give.” It’s simple but powerful.

If in future, you want to change your decision, you certainly have the power to do so. It’s your money.

Third: Clarify boundaries. You may feel comfortable and satisfied with giving an individual a supportive gift when asked, but not want to imply that you are open to repeating that gift. Set that boundary, “I’m happy to give you this one-time gift, but please do not ask me for anything else in future.”

The goal is not to be selfish or mean. The truly big benefit is to satisfy yourself that what you are doing truly fits with what you want rather than responding to whoever gets your attention at the time.

Do you see examples of manipulation? How do you handle them?

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