Dealing With a Manipulator: How Do I Escape This Manipulative Trap?

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Reader’s Question

A lady executive befriended me shortly after reading about my husband’s obituary in the local newspaper. At first, she seemed very concerned and caring. She brought me many unsolicited gifts and spent time consoling me. After a while, she brought her mother-in-law with her for visits. She mentioned the mother-in-law was manipulative and sometimes drove her crazy.

It wasn’t long before this lady was calling me to ask if her mother-in-law could stay with me so that she could have some breathing space and her mother-in-law could have a change of scenery. The mother-in-law is 80+ years old, and I didn’t want really want the responsibility if she had a fall or a heart attack in my home, so I refused. But the couple made several more visits and each time the woman asked me about possibly spending time with her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law lives 75 miles away from me, and this woman has even gone so far as to say: “I’ll even drive you there [to her mother-in-law’s place] and bring you back,” and has even used sarcasm and guilt-tripping me to make me feel bad for not wanting to spend time with her.

I realise that I’m in a manipulative, controlling situation. But I’m still feeling vulnerable after my husband’s death. How should I handle this?

Psychologist’s Reply

The good thing is that you realize the manipulation going on and the tactics fostering it (e.g., guilt-tripping, subtle shaming and sarcasm). The fact that you were able to label these tactics so correctly suggests that you might have learned this information by reading my book In Sheep’s Clothing. But another fact mentioned in the book is that it’s not just the tactics others use that end up manipulating you, but also your particular vulnerabilities. You seem to have some degree of insight into this already because you appear to recognize that you would have already set some firm limits on this woman’s behavior (or perhaps cut off her visits altogether) if you weren’t still feeling so lonely and needy since your husband’s unfortunate passing. Still, the only solution is setting the limits you fear to set. For awhile, this will seem quite difficult. But eventually, especially if you empower yourself by self-directing your own social networking and support and clarifying a personal agenda for taking care of yourself for the foreseeable future, you’ll be able to take back control and reclaim your life.

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