One thing I’ve been realizing with a lot of clarity in the past few years is how people can easily manipulate you if they’re capable of pushing the right emotional buttons. They seem to get you to feel bad if you don’t do things their way. You feel without choice, you feel trapped and you’re looking for a way out…
Your emotional buttons are closely related to your social needs. We all want to be loved, accepted, approved by others. These are normal, healthy human needs. But when these needs become very strong, very intense, they’re no longer healthy and they take over our lives. They become strong emotional buttons other people can push to manipulate us.
One client of mine was constantly manipulated by her boss when she had a request of him. Whenever her boss anticipated that she wanted to ask for something, he made her feel selfish and bad for it in advance. By saying things like “You always want something! Everybody wants stuff from me around here!” She often felt so bad that she ended up ignoring her wants and not making her requests, even though they were justified.
Her very strong need not to be seen as selfish, her dependency of other people’s approval was one big red emotional button for others to push. As she became more aware of this, as part of improving her people skills, she started recognizing the situations in which this dependency was getting the better of her and stared actively fighting it.
If you can think of situations with various people in which you feel trapped, than it’s time to ask yourself: “Which are my emotional buttons?” Look carefully at these situations one at a time, notice your emotions in each one and try to understand what specific words and behaviors the other person uses seem to trigger them. Analyze the data like a detective and look for the patterns.
In time, this exercise of observation and introspection will make you more aware of your emotional buttons, you very strong social needs and how they can be used in manipulating you. Maybe you’ll discover that:
- You have a strong, dependency-like need to be approved by those close to you;
- You can’t stand to lose someone’s respect, no matter who that person is;
- You feel intimidated by people with a high social or professional status.
For every person, there is a specific combination of specific needs and vulnerabilities relating to others. Knowing and understanding them is the first important step in learning to avoid manipulation and getting more control over your own life.
Then comes the second important step: addressing and gradually changing your emotional reactions, your communication style and your behavior. It takes time, the right tools and consistent effort, but the options these improved people skills give you definitely make it worth your while.