viernes, 10 de julio de 2009

Are manipulators evil?

Manipulation, be it conscious or unconscious, is not evil. Conscious manipulation is a choice. Unconscious manipulation is a habit rooted in fear.

Conscious manipulation

Some people consciously choose to manipulate others in order to get what they want. Commercials for example manipulate us. "You will be such a cool guy and all chicks will dig you if you wear those pants", "You're not attractive if you smell like sweat, so you'd better use our deodorant if you want to get laid", and so on. They call it "to create a need". And then we gladly buy the product that will fulfill the need we wouldn't have had if they hadn't brainwashed us in the first place.  Actually I find observing commercials fascinating.

Salespersons use the same kind of manipulative strategies, they even intentionally learn them. PUAs are another example. Many other people also use manipulation in a deliberate and conscious way to reach their goals, both privately and in their career.

These are choices I would not make. Using sneaky tactics to play on someone's weaknesses in order to control their feelings and behavior is aligned neither with love nor with integrity. No thanks. I am all for love, respect, and free choices for everybody. We are all one consciousness. What you do to someone else you do to yourself. What's the point in deceiving yourself?

That being said, in my book manipulation isn't evil. All choices are valid. Choosing not to be aligned with love and integrity is a valid choice as well. The word "evil" doesn't make any sense in my world. There's no good and evil, there's just different choices.

Unconscious manipulation

Most manipulators don't do it consciously. In my experience, they have been taught to use manipulation by their family and environment. As children we automatically imitate those around us. People who grew up in a manipulative environment naturally adopt this communication technique. It might not be aligned with certain values, but it's just a communication technique among many - and an efficient one.

Most manipulators simply have learned it works. They know they get what they want when they use it, so they just continue behaving this way without really being aware of what's going on. It's a mostly unconscious habit. If you told them that they are manipulators, they'd probably not agree.

Some of them just don't know how to get what they want in another way. They have never learned to express their wishes in a direct way. Or they were even actively discouraged to do so. Just saying what they want would seem rude, shameful or simply useless to them. They're not used to it. So they have to use more subtle tactics to reach their goals.

This is especially true for women. Sorry for the sexist comment. ;-) Maybe this is different for younger generations, but women my age and older generally are taught that expressing wishes in a bold and direct way is "not feminine". A very assertive behavior is usually better tolerated, or even admired, in men. But for a woman, clearly stating what she wants is rather obnoxious. Women are (were?) encouraged to express themselves in a more subtle, "feminine", "pretty" way. This is utter bullshit of course. Those stupid gender stereotypes just foster communication problems. As a result, another stupid gender stereotype is that women are manipulative! Isn't that ironic?

Another big reason for using manipulation is fear. Some people are afraid they would not get what they want if they just asked for it. So they use hidden tactics to minimize the risk of hearing no. If things don't pan out the way they want, they can just back off without losing face. In this case, manipulation is just a protection. It's a way of coping with their fear of rejection or fear of failure.

There's nothing evil about all this. Of course as conscious adults we are responsible for our behavior, no matter how we learned it or why we do it. But fear is powerful. Habits are powerful. It takes a lot of courage to overcome fear, and a lot of awareness to break deeply ingrained habits. Awareness and courage are what manipulators lack. That's not evil. You can call it cowardice - but they don't need your judgment. What you could give them is love and understanding instead. :-) Love is a powerful remedy for fear.

This doesn't mean that you should let them manipulate you though! My next post will be about how to defend yourself against their manipulative attempts.

martes, 7 de julio de 2009

How to recognize manipulators?

Manipulation is a generic term for a vast range of communication techniques. What they have in common is that manipulators have a hidden agenda that they pursue without clearly saying it. Many people use manipulation to get what they want. Nevertheless, it can be very difficult to defend oneself against it, or even to recognize it.

Highly conscious and aware individuals don't use manipulation. Most people aren't highly conscious and aware though, so chances are good that you do have contact with manipulators (or are one yourself).

What is manipulation?

Manipulation can take many forms: emotional blackmail (making you feel bad in case you don't do what is expected from you), flattering you or telling your things in order to make you do something specific, testing you, etc. In all cases, manipulators try to gain control over your feelings and/or behavior by playing in some way on your weaknesses.

The goal for them is to get what they want. When they are successful, you end up doing what they want, even if it is something you would not have chosen to do out of your free will.

For example, if you feel particularly proud and valuable when you are needed, someone knowing this can deliberately play victim in order to make you help them. If you secretly think that you are lazy and feel bad about that, and someone suggests that you'd be a lazy bum if you don't help them move on Saturday, chances are good that you will spend your Saturday carrying transport boxes.

Manipulators do or say certain things in order to influence your feelings in such a way that you react the way they want you to react.  The manipulator usually says things in an indirect and subtle way. The underlying, unspoken message, which is what they're really telling you, is expressed between the lines, not in a clear and direct way. Manipulators don't say what they want openly. They insinuate, suggest and hint.

How does it work?

We all have buttons that hurt when pushed and an ego that loves to be flattered. Manipulators just play on those weaknesses.

I can see two major kinds of manipulation:

The carrot method

Tthis method flatters your ego and promises to fulfill your desires. The underlying, unspoken message is "If you do X, you'll be great/cool/a good person/the result will be to your advantage/, etc." So, since you want to be great, cool, a great person and all that, you do it,  without even noticing that the decision wasn't entirely yours. Ideally, the promised "reward" is something important to you. That you will get this reward isn't said clearly though, it's just suggested. Just enough for you to understand it.

The stick method

This one uses negative feelings to get you where they want to have you. The underlying, unspoken  message is "If you don't do X, you'll be an egoist/lazy/a bad son/unattractive/I won't love you anymore/you'll get fired/etc." The catastrophe they are implicitly threatening you with probably will be something you are afraid of. Again, they won't threaten openly. They'll just use insinuations. But you understand them, and since you are scared of getting fired or it hurts you not to be accepted anymore, you'll do it. You'll probably think that you made this choice yourself. Maybe it will be clear to you that you did it to avoid feeling bad - but actually the bad feelings were triggered on purpose.

The carrot and the stick are often used together, either simultaneously ("You would be such a nice buddy if you helped me move, and so lazy if you didn't") or sequentially ("You'd be a hero if you repaired my kitchen sink! What, you don't want to? You loser.")

The stick method is particularly nasty, unhealthy and harmful. It takes all freedom out of the situation and leaves you only with a no-win choice: either you do what they want, or you feel bad. This is emotional blackmail. It is an abusive behavior and can lead to emotional disorders.

There are other forms of manipulation, like testing (deliberately saying or doing something just to see how the other person will respond), or pulling (deliberately saying or doing something in order to get a desired response, but without really using the stick or the carrot method). Those might be non-aligned with integrity, however they're quite harmless so I will focus more on emotional blackmail in this post.

How do they do it?

As I said, the real message is not expressed directly. It can be camouflaged as the expression of an objective truth, a personal feeling, or a simple question. Let's say for example that your boss wants you to work overtime, and you refuse. Manipulative answers could be

"But how are we going to do without you?" (Real message: "You are letting us down, and the project might fail because of you"),
"I thought I could count on you" (Real message: "I am disappointed with you. You're not a good employee.")

"I understand... Go and have fun, we'll manage somehow! (with a sad or strained look)" (Real message: "You are an egoist.")

-> The first step to recognize manipulation is to ask yourself: what is really being said here?

Manipulation can be difficult to recognize because it happens mostly on a non-verbal level. When someone plays on your protector instinct to get your help by acting as a poor victim, for example, it's not necessarily what they say that makes you help them. It could be the body language which says "I'm such a poor victim with my bent shoulders and  those large helpless eyes looking up to you... Will you be my savior?". And whoops, your ego steps in to show how great a knight you are.

-> Pay attention to body language. Ask yourself: what is being expressed non-verbally here?

A big part of the unspoken message is often expressed in very subtle ways. It might be the tone of the voice, a particular way to look at you, expressing certain feelings, or even the choice of the words that are used.

For example if you refuse to go to a family gathering, your mother could say "OK, I understand." - but with a cold look on her face. Real message: "I don't like it. You have to come." Or even "I don't love you anymore", depending on your relationship with your mother. Or she could say "OK, I understand." but with a suffering and sad face. Real message: "You're breaking your old mother's heart..." The goal here is to make you feel guilty.

-> Check whether the spoken words are congruent with the body language. If they're not, beware!

Aside from body language, what's often used by manipulators is humor. When your friend pressures you into helping him move on Saturday, he could suggest that you are lazy by simply making a joke about your spending your weekends like a couch-potato. This is very efficient and will make you feel bad - but it's very subtle since it was "just a joke", right?

-> Remember that nobody is ever really just kidding.

All these sneaky ways of communicating can make it very difficult to recognize that you are being manipulated. It happens mostly on the subconscious level. In many cases, it could all be perfectly innocent. When the manipulator plays on an issue that's very personal to you, it can even be difficult for someone else to perceive the manipulative aspect of what they say, because they don't know how it affects you. Nonetheless, the point is: they have you where they want to have you. Manipulation generally is a highly effective tactic.

How to recognize a manipulative situation?

Manipulation is not easy to recognize. Awareness is key here. When you're communicating with someone, stay aware of what's really going on.

If you are not sure whether you are being manipulated or not, check the following:

Are you feeling bad?

If you feel bad when communicating with someone, that's a sign that something is not flowing harmoniously. It does not necessarily mean that they're trying to manipulate you. They could be genuine yet trigger some negative feelings in you. But they could also be manipulating you.  If you feel bad, this could be because you're resisting their manipulation attempts on a subconscious level.

Most especially: are you feeling blackmailed? Or put under pressure in some way? Or maybe overly flattered? Or do you feel like you are being trapped somehow? Does it feel like you have no other choice but doing or tolerating something?

All these are signs that you could be manipulated.

Are they being congruent?

Does what they are saying accurately reflect what they actually mean? What is really being said? What is the underlying, unspoken message? How directly is it being expressed?

What are they expressing non-verbally? Is this in alignment with the words they use?

Translate all verbal and non-verbal signals you're getting from them into one simple sentence. Is this what they are saying out loud? If not, beware.

Now look at this translation. (How) is this person trying to influence your feelings? (How) is this person trying to control your behavior or to make you do something?

Is the underlying message a carrot or a stick? Is it meant to flatter you, or to make you feel bad in some way? Does it try to make you feel guilty, ashamed, scared or otherwise faulty? Does it blackmail you? Is it abusive in some way? Is it threatening or insulting? Is it intrusive or disrespectful of your person or boundaries? If one of those is the case, even if the person appears to be friendly, your alarm bells should ring!

What do they want?

Manipulators want something. They can want you to take a certain action, but it might also be something else, like your energy, attention or love. Is there something that this person wants from you now?

This something that they want, do you want it? If you do it, will you regret it? Would you do it out of your free will if you had a choice?

If the answer is "no", but for some strange reason you're feeling compelled to do it anyway, or feeling bad for not doing it, beware! This smells like manipulation.

If you feel that someone flatters your ego, ask yourself: what do they want in return? Sometimes people say nice things and want nothing in return at all. But sometimes this is accompanied or followed by some kind of request. If you're not sure, listen to your gut feeling. A useful question to ask yourself is: would they still find you that great if you didn't do what they want?

How do they react to anti-manipulation techniques?

Ultimately, the best way to recognize manipulation is to apply some anti-manipulation technique and observe the result. Depending on the reaction you get, it will be clear. I'll talk about anti-manipulation techniques in a separate post.

How to spot potential manipulators?

Here are - in a very generalized way - some signs indicating that you could be dealing with a manipulator:

They don't respect your no.

Many manipulators just won't accept a no. They'll still try to convince you, win you over, intimidate or seduce you into doing it. This can be done in a very charming way, in an authoritarian way, in a teary way, in a cool way, or whatever other way. The fact remains that they are in truth not respecting your no.This should make your alarm bells ring. Always pay attention when someone refuses to hear no. Big red flag.

They don't respect your will.

Same as with a no but applicable to all kinds of other decisions as well. If someone does not accept your decisions, perk up your ears. Smelly orc in sight.

They don't respect your personal space.

This can happen on different levels: on the physical level (they come too close or they systematically imitate your posture), on the intellectual level (they either try to make you change your mind in a pushy way or adopt your every opinion as theirs), on the emotional level (they stick to you or always imitate your feelings), etc. This is no proof for manipulation but in my experience, people who disrespect other people's personal boundaries also often tend to use manipulation to get what they want.

They make you feel uncomfortable.

Manipulative people often make us feel uncomfortable "for no reason". Might seem irrational to you, but trust your intuition. Your gut knows. Your work is to listen to these feelings instead of discarding them if they're not rational.

They're not straightforward

While trying to manipulate you, of course manipulative people aren't being straightforward! That's how manipulation works. But in my experience they also tend not to be very straightforward people in a more general way. For example they could frequently repress their feelings instead of expressing them. Or when they do express themselves, this could happen in an indirect way, like saying "It's getting late" instead of "Time for you to go". There's nothing bad with being polite and subtle - just pay attention and check out if that's a recurrent pattern in this person's general communication style.

Do they make indirect suggestions instead of clearly asking for what they want? ("This box is so heavy!" instead of "Would you please help me carry this box?") Do they state their opinions in a direct way, or using allusions and hints? ("Do you want to come shopping clothes with me some day?" instead of "Your clothes look lame.") Do they express their feelings openly, or do they give you cryptic cues and expect you to get it? When you ask how they are, do they say "I'm okay" but look like they're attending a funeral, or do they say "I'm sad"?

All this in itself is no manipulation of course. It's just a sign that this person could be prone to using an over-average amount of manipulation in their communication.

Being able to notice that someone is trying to manipulate you already helps. But sometimes it can be very difficult to deal with it anyway. We'll talk about how to defend yourself when confronted to manipulators in one of my next posts. But first I'd like to write about whether manipulators are evil or not. :-)

viernes, 3 de julio de 2009

Three Months Strength Training

Well, it's been three months now. April, May, June.

I admit I have been lazy. In May I lost lots of time due to my first injury. Eating cooked food also made me feel tired and lazy, so I did not train much. In June I went back to training more seriously. It helped that I went back to almost raw. I had a lot more energy.

I didn't succeed in going 100% raw. I hereby publicly admit my sugar addiction. At the moment my diet is 100% vegan and raw except for milk chocolate.

Even though I trained more seriously in June, it still wasn't that seriously. I found strength training to be a lot like playing WoW: at the beginning it's exciting, then you level up, the mobs get stronger... but actually, it's always the same. How boring.

I will continue to train despite of this motivation crisis. As a scanner it's normal for me to lose interest once I understand how something works. I still have the image of strong me in my head. I can see her. She's turning her back to me and looking over her left shoulder with a tender and slightly ironic spark in her eyes. It's as if she were waiting for me. I can also feel this sensation of having a strong and hard body, as if I already had it. It's awesome. So, I know exactly what I want. This is enough to keep pushing me forward. Maybe I'll just need to make my training less boring in some way.

My sleep is still monophasic, long (about nine hours), and late (I go to sleep in the early morning).

Here are my current weights (June 30th):

Deadlift: 42kg | on April 1st: 28kg -> progress: +50%
Clean & Jerk: 22kg | start in May: 10kg -> progress: +120%
Behind the Neck Press: 18kg | on April 1st: 10kg -> progress: +80%
Military Press: 20kg | on April 1st: 10kg -> progress: +100%
Biceps: 10kg | on April 1st: 6kg -> progress: +66%
Triceps: 6kg | on April 1st: 4kg -> progress: +50%

When I feel disappointed about the small numbers, I just look at my progress in % instead, and feel consoled. ;-)

I still swing and clean my kettlebell as well. Maybe it's time to learn some new exercise.

I was planning on posting a picture of me wearing the same clothes and in the same position as last time to show off the brand new muscles... but unfortunately there are none. At least no visible ones. Maybe next time. :-)