First off, “emotional manipulation” is a somewhat foggy and imprecise term (I like my parameters to be well-defined); We could (for simplicity’s sake) define it as ‘methods people use to alter emotional states and subsequently, behaviour in others’ (I am pretty sure I came up with the wording for that definition on my own. I may be wrong though, so please let me know if I have unknowingly stolen it from someone). It relies on some of the same mechanisms as the ones discussed in my post on gambling; there’s (among other things) operant conditioning involved; Recall that operant conditioning is when someone carries out a behaviour, and is then rewarded for it in one way or another. This in an effort to establish a desired behaviour.
In operant conditioning, there’s positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when we give something or add something. If I carry out a desired behaviour and I then get a hug from someone I like as a reward, it qualifies as positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is a little more difficult to understand; many think it is when something negative is applied (think a shin-kick, a punch or likewise) but it is not. Weirdly, physical insults are actually both positive reinforcement, i.e., something is being applied. It is also punishment). Negative reinforcement is when something is taken away from you, and it can be both good (you did your job well so you didn’t get yelled at by the boss) and bad (you didn’t do your homework, so your parents withheld your allowance). Both punishment, positive and negative reinforcement is used in emotional (or psychological) manipulation.
The scope of areas in which emotional manipulation is used is huge, It is also very difficult to write about in a coherent manner. I can’t possibly cover it all, so I’ll focus on emotional manipulation in (possible) romantic relationships.
Note also that I may not be the first person you should listen to in terms of relationships and how to maintain them. I am currently separated/divorcing from my husband of 15 years (he is the coolest guy and we’re the best of friends though, it just didn’t work out. You can see him here. He’s incredibly talented). I have also only had a total of two proper relationships throughout my whole life, so y’know, I don’t have a great deal of experience. Further, I have no experience whatsoever in writing about (romantic) relationships (it has just never been my thing). Anyway, I’ll give it a go, because if there is something I do know a little about, it is deception/deceit.
Now, there are these guys who call themselves “pickup artists”. Pickup artistry is big business and the most successful “artists” make millions off of teaching the ‘hapless-in-love’ how to pick up and seduce women. You know George Sodini, the guy who shot and killed several women in that Pittsburg gym? Well, he had spent a fair amount of money on these kinds of seminars. The seminar leaders (among the most famous is the ridiculous guy below) claim that they are using psychology and evidence-based scientific findings of human sexuality to develop these methods. They are full of crap.
The methods they teach others to use are cruel. There’s “negging” in which the guy points out a flaw in the woman he wants to seduce. They may first give a woman attention, then deliberately ignore her- a method that can be quite unsettling for those who are a bit more sincere. They will “rename the target” (they charmingly refer to women as “targets”..) – that is, they deliberately use a different name, making you feel that you’re not important enough to even deserve being addressed by/being remembered by your actual name. They will use jealousy as a tool. (I am jealous, and it hurts so bad that I find this point to be the cruelest). In short, they try to break down parts of your psyche in order to get you into bed. The methods might work sometimes; if the guy has some other form of appeal for instance, but any intelligent woman would likely be put off. Mind, I have not been subjected to pickup artistry (I think. I might be too dense to have picked up on it though), but I have certainly had men call me “ugly” after having had their advances rebuffed. I don’t mind. If the guy did indeed make an advance on someone he considers ugly, his intelligence and judgement should be questioned.
So in conclusion (in this section of the post at least); if a guy comes up and tells you that your teeth are crooked/you look “a little tired but I bet you’re cute when you’re well-rested” or likewise, I suggest you walk away. Far faaar away..
Then there’s the self-help books. There are so many of them I have lost count. I did once read one called “The Rules”. It was a horrible waste of both ink and trees. It tells women that they should manipulate men to get what they want. The following are a few examples of rules:
Rule number 5: “Don’t Call Him and Rarely Return His Calls” (negative reinforcement).
I think this one is just plain mean. So, we know that men and women are more alike than different in how we view relationships, and as such, it would seem that men also have feelings (?? it’s a bit of an unresolved mystery, but the evidence suggests that this might be the case). I think I’d be very hurt if someone I cared for didn’t return my calls. I also think it is completely counterproductive, as the failure to call/return calls might be perceived as a lack of interest.
Rule Number 12: Stop Dating Him if He Doesn’t Buy You a Romantic Gift for Your Birthday or Valentine’s Day (punishment and then some).
YES! MATERIALISM IS THE BEDROCK UPON WHICH GOOD RELATIONSHIPS ARE BUILT!1!!
Rule number 20: Be Honest but Mysterious.
This is one of my favourites! I know how to be honest, but I have no idea how to be Mysterious... Where does one learn how to be mysterious? I wear a lot of black clothing and I sometimes squint (I have quite poor vision and should be wearing glasses), does that make me mysterious? So many questions…
Rule number 27: Do The Rules, Even when Your Friends and Parents Think It’s Nuts
In other words, ignore those who love and care for you, and instead, take the advice of a book you paid $11.95 for.
Rule number 31: Don’t Discuss The Rules with Your Therapist
No, cause your therapist may explain how following “The Rules” would make you horribly insincere. Also, hiding stuff from your therapist kinda negates the possible benefits of going to therapy (i.e., you’re wasting your money).
The only rule I do like is “Don’t Date a Married Man”. This is sound advice.
There’s of course also rules for how you should look, dress, and how long your hair should be, but I can’t be bothered getting into it (I’m kinda tired of writing by now as well). I’m not going to get into the whole “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” thing either, as it will just end up annoying me. It polarizes the sexes and treats us like we are separate species. We are not. We have the exact same emotional register.
My stance is that honesty, sincerity and care may be the best approach to maintaining a relationship. And, as cheesy as it may sound, communication is key. The minute you start trying to deliberately mess with others heads, you’re compromising your integrity (in my opinion) and you may also do irreparable damage.
That was a pretty bad entry, but I’ll post it anyway. Please don’t judge me.