Manipulators attempt to get us to react, take “snapshots” of the reactions, and then use those pictures to indict us. We can help minimize the likelihood of reacting in two ways:
- Plan Your Response. Reactions are impulsive; responses are intentional. To plan responses, we need to know what role is being required of us. If our manipulator is a master, we’ll need to plan ways to avoid subservience. If the person is a messiah, we’ll need to avoid the obligatory role of gratitude. If he is a martyr, we’ll need to find ways to avoid being guilted into rescuing behaviors. It’s usually best to refuse our roles quietly rather than confrontationally. If we say, “I know what you’re up to and I’m not going to allow you to dominate me,” that statement alone makes us drama participants. Better to refuse quietly, disallowing him the gratification of observing a reaction. If we don’t react, the manipulator will likely think his emotional remote control is broken and try to fix it by pushing the buttons harder. In the short term, he may become a worse version of himself if he thinks his strategy is failing. If we don’t remember this, we’ll find ourselves thinking, “This isn’t helping; it’s hurting.” Actually, more vigorous button pushing on his part shows that the plan is succeeding.
- Display No Reaction. This is what we need to do with manipulators who push our buttons, hoping desperately for a reaction that can be used against us. It’s not that we won’t have reactions but that we choose not to display them. We need to restrain externally what we feel internally. This idea has been expressed through phrases like, “Never let ‘em see you sweat” or “The best response is no response” or “Don’t feed into it.” Poker players learn to wear “poker faces” for this very reason. The phrase, “Kill em with kindness” applies here because displaying kindness versus agitation disallows the drama enticement. Displaying no reaction keeps us out of the drama. And that’s not being passive; it’s being powerful.