– Everyone tells you what to do and what is best for you. Nobody wants you to find your own answers. They want you to believe theirs.
– Let me guess, do you want me to believe yours.
– No, I want you to stop receiving information from outside yourself and start receiving it from within. People are afraid of what they have inside, but in reality it is the only place where they will find what they need.
This dialogue of the film “The Peaceful Warrior” shows us the way to achieve authentic inner peace, that which is only achieved when we know who we are, what we want and we are convinced of it. That kind of peace is reached when we develop a strong “ego”.
The 2 mechanisms of manipulation to which we are all vulnerable
Wherever an interpersonal relationship is established there is room for manipulation. This manipulation can develop more coarsely and directly through coercion or can acquire more subtle dyes, such as emotional blackmail or gaslighting.
The society, as an entity that seeks to perpetuate itself at the expense of the individuality of its members, also exercises its mechanisms of manipulation. It is not interested in forming free and self-determined people, but only people who enjoy a limited and illusory degree of freedom and who strive to seek their individuality as one who searches for a needle in a haystack, groping in the dark, which makes them vulnerable to any form of manipulation that seems to shed a little light.
In both levels, manipulation makes cam in two mechanisms that reinforce each other:
- Moving the internal reference points to the outside. For the manipulation to take effect, it is necessary for the victim to assume the views of the manipulator. It is a process that occurs below the threshold of our consciousness through which we lose our internal reference points, replacing them with the one of the person who tries to manipulate us. That means we lose the ability to decide for ourselves, give up control and succumb to the threats/requests of the manipulator.
- Generating sense of guilt. Manipulation always has an emotional component, making us feel guilty. In this regard, Noam Chomsky explained: “If one addresses a person as if she were 12 years old or younger, then, because of suggestibility, she will tend, with some probability, to a response or reaction also devoided of a critical sense, like that of a person 12 years of age or younger.” All manipulation attempts to circumvent the reason by targeting emotions. It will be precisely the values and qualities that we are most proud of, those with which they attack us, because they are those that make an emotional resonance and “turn off” our rational brain.
Yielding to manipulation breaks the “ego”
The fact that we are not fully aware of manipulation or that we give in to avoid a conflicto, does not exempt us from its high emotional cost. The University of Michigan psychiatrist Chandra Sripada has proven through a series of experiments that even when we willingly give in to manipulation, it is actually a superficial support because part of us rejects completely what we are doing.
This rejection provokes a split in the “ego”, but given that they have made us feel guilty, instead of rebelling and asking ourselves what we really want, we self-devalue ourselves. Therefore, if we are subjected to constant manipulation, we run the risk of losing the contact with our “ego”. It is a kind of defense mechanism through which we break the link with our needs and values as long as we do not continuously live this process of splitting.
Without realizing it, we fall into a trap that, in a certain way, we have tended ourselves because when we try to validate the qualities that the manipulator is questioning, we betray ourselves doing something that is not in tune with our needs, priorities or is not a spontaneous expression of our values.
The false peace that comes from defeat
Many times, to avoid conflicts, we give in to manipulation. In order to avoid the stress of that close person who exasperates us, we raise a white flag. We end up relegating our needs to the background, believing that at least we will find a little peace.
Obviously, it is an illusory peace based on a fragile balance in which we depend on the whims of someone else. An “ego” that folds to the desires of the others cannot find the inner peace that it needs to grow, rather it is self-condemned to permanent dissatisfaction.
Giving in to the manipulation, either of a person or of the social environment in which we live, implies being content with living in a toxic environment for our “ego”. And that is not called inner peace, but resignation.
Strengthen the “ego” as a shield against manipulation
To reach true inner peace, on the contrary, we must silence that external noise. Learning to be alone with ourselves to enjoy solitude and silence, conditions sine qua non to rediscover ourselves. The Italian novelist Susanna Tamaro warned us: “There is always someone who tells you what to do, there is no longer silence, there’s noise everywhere, if you are not with your own thoughts, how are you going to understand the meaning of things, it is imposible. We live under a perverse and very subtle manipulation.”
Therefore, if we want to interrupt the manipulative mechanism we must reconnect with our “ego”. By regaining control of our points of reference and being sure of who we are, no attempt of emotional manipulation will make us doubt or generate a sense of guilt. That is the best shield against manipulators.
Sripada, C. (2012) What Makes a Manipulated Agent Unfree? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research; 85(3): 563-593.
Mele, A. R. (2008) Manipulation, Compatibilism, and Moral Responsibility. The Journal of Ethics; 12(3/4): 263-286.