At some point in my life, I noticed a few traits within me that I never really liked seeing from anyone else, yet they were alive and well in my own mind. I saw how I sometimes treated people and would later say to myself, “Why did I do that?” with much confusion in my heart. I would be insulting, degrading, and extremely harsh in my remarks to some people; not being able to handle incompetency, or lack of understanding. Now, I must say that I’m already a pretty blunt person (as some of my posts may portray), and I believe in ‘saying it like it is’.  Of course, that was my excuse.

Unfortunately, doing what I did was not the final nail in the coffin of my realisation.  What really got me thinking was how other people responded to the way I was.  I noticed a few traits within them as well.  On the one hand, they did what I asked them to do; completing tasks, or learning a skill I required (demanded) of them. Yet on the other hand, they resisted me in most forms of relationship outside the tasks at hand. They were afraid of me. It is then that I reached the conclusion that even though the work was getting done, it wasn’t out of people being productive, it was because I made them do it! They weren’t inspired, innovative, energetic, or even happy… They were just jumping because they had to…or else! Their incentive was not progress, it was survival. They weren’t trying to please me, they were trying to appease me.

What was happening here? I wasn’t a leader… I was a manipulator. I thought I was in control, and I was right; just not in control of me. I controlled everybody else with my temper. And so it is with all ‘manipulators’. They become gods demanding sacrifices at their altars ‘or else’. That ‘or else’ can be different for everyone, but in my case, it was “or else I’ll tell you how terrible your performance was…and you know i do that well…because I tell it like it is!” Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?

Truth of the matter is, I probably got it from somewhere. We all did. Wasn’t it our mom who said “clean up your room or else…”? I’m sure you were in the room with me when dad told us to pass our tests with flying colours, or else he’d lock up all our toys. All of these seemingly minor occurrences were the seed-bed of habits and thought patterns that would probably change the way we acted, especially when we were exposed to the extreme forms of them. Parents or siblings that showed capacity to abuse us, got us into “abuse avoidance mode”. That abuse could have been verbal, physical, or emotional; but when we knew it was coming, we did everything to avoid it…including doing well! Or else dad got angry (and we always knew what that meant), or mom would be sad and cry and complain about how we don’t appreciate her. It was all a form of manipulation, disguised as parenting!

A manipulator puts a person/people in a place where they are no longer doing something out of their free will, but out of fear. Not only that, a manipulator messes with your whole concept of incentives. Your rewards aren’t personally motivated anymore, because when you’re under a manipulator, survival is success! Manipulators think people love them, truth is, people are scared of them! They are masters of deception, because they get you to think you’re motivated, but actually you’re anxious! What they do is very similar to some torture techniques (OUCH!), where all they offer is relief (from the negative emotion they’re inflicting), as an incentive for co-operation. Yes they can reward in better ways, but they make sure their best form of motivation is your escape negative emotion.

They make brilliant leaders!
They’re usually go-getters (slave-drivers)…
Motivated (highly strung)…
Focused on the vision (abusive if you aren’t)…
Produce excellent results (get what they want)…
Goal-oriented (resulting in loveless conduct)…
And are usually very clear on what they want (or else!!!).

It's YOUR fault this is poorly done! Why can't YOU get it right? What's wrong with YOU?!

If you manipulate like this, I bet people talk behind your back about your flaws more than they confront you… I bet you keep discovering that people are scared of you… I bet you defend yourself when someone highlights your mean tendencies… I bet you would’ve used “accuses you of” instead of “highlights” in the previous statement… I bet you have fewer friends than you’d like… I bet you’ve justified it with how well you’re doing… I bet your successes still don’t cover how you actually want to be more approachable… But I bet you keep sabotaging/undermining that desire with your bad temper!

Those are just the aggressive manipulators! These are the ones that lash out at people, usually a boss (because they are bossy!). People run from them in fear of their random volcanic eruptions…which leave these dark clouds of ash over everybody. You probably work for one, cos with them all you worry about is “I hope I don’t make them angry…” because that’s what they say all the time. They love lines like “I’m getting angry… I’m very disappointed… I don’t understand how you could do this…” I’m sure some of you know a few of those, and none of them is you. You may be right, but there’s another version of the manipulator: Passive.

The passive manipulators are just as bad as the aggressive ones. Same M.O. They put you in a position where their emotions become your master. But they are soooooo clever about it.

Ever meet a person who just seems sad all the time, or has many bouts of depression? Ok maybe you know a lot of people like that, but ask this question: Ever find that you can’t say anything negative to them? Or you have to be really careful about how you confront them? Or have you found yourself almost having to compliment them much more than anyone else? When they’re around you, you feel this need to cheer them up, or make them feel part of the group? Know anybody like that? If you do, then you know a passive manipulator!

The trick is the same, but the expression is different. These manipulators leverage the opposite range of emotions to aggressive manipulators. They’re already low, but make you feel responsible for it! Passive manipulators don’t have the ‘fear factor’ like aggressive ones, but they are quite fearsome in their technique. All the questions I asked two paragraphs ago, are ways of finding out whether someone is passively manipulating you, or if you are a passive manipulator. Usually the goal for someone like this is attention. They want to be seen, or heard, or taken care of, or have things done for them. Encountering someone like this over time, you’ll hear more about their struggles than their victories, and you’ll find yourself trying to cheer them up all the time.

With the aggressive, you fear the blow-up; with the passive, you fear the break-down. Whichever side it is, it’s wrong.

I read an article in Psychology Today that really helped me see this in myself and others. The wording used to describe this manipulation was this:

People who can’t control themselves, control the people around them. When you rely on someone for a positive reflected sense of self, you invariably try to control him/her.” – David Schnark

When your feelings, anxieties, and insecurities are always out of control, they probably control your relationships. You teach people to put up with you all the time. You have to be right in the argument to assert yourself/Wrong in the argument to justify your lack of self-esteem! It’s not fair to the people around you, and it undermines you completely. Manipulation is scary, but so common, because it is common for us to have little control over our emotions, or their manifestations in our character.

Manipulators (speaking to myself as well), you must learn to control yourself! Self-control is a priceless gift to all those around you. Nobody said you can’t be angry, just don’t manipulate people with it. It is YOUR JOB to sort through your emotions…nobody else’s. So refrain from putting that responsibility on others. Stop telling yourself that “they make me angry!” That is the biggest declaration of dependency you could make. You’re not really in charge in that state, your emotions are…and that’s not the best for you or anybody else.

What we need is to decide that our emotions won’t get the best of us, and those around us. It’s not something that changes overnight, but it changes! Really that’s all you need to know… That if you embark on a journey of self-control, you WILL change for the better. Nothing is stopping you, well, nothing except your habit of submission to these habits. You’ve taught yourself to be a slave to your emotions, and now everybody else is! It’s what we grew up seeing, and believing was the best way to do relationship. The only reason it ‘worked’ in those we saw doing it, is probably because you were manipulated into thinking that!

Manipulation starts to end when you think of others more than yourself… When you realise that your style or personality can actually learn new tricks like listening before blowing up, or not blowing up at all… When you learn to speak encouraging words to yourself, and allowing others to affirm something already within you: self-belief. Let people be themselves around you, and where they falter, teach them how to be the best they can be…not how to meet deadlines!

i-Manipulate… when i have no control of myself.


  1. Chen says:

    You should definitely write a book on leadership… Brilliant stuff!

  2. Lebo says:

    where are the emoticons? I have no words… aMAZEd.

    • The Maze says:

      No emoticons here. Just the quiet nod of the head. Silent agreement.. And inner tears of realization. aMAZEd by your enjoyment. Hope to keep you finding your way through the Maze of your life!

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