PSYCOLOGIST`S ADVISES: Be trusting, but think!

Today we will talk with you about manipulation, manipulators and the manipulated.  These days, the subject is both fashionable and relevant.  So, one thing at a time…

Human manipulation is the means, methods, techniques (and so on) of in essence dishonest influence of certain people over others.  The influence is self-interested – that is, connected with the desire to achieve one’s own way by unfair means, since it cannot be obtained by honest means.  In short, it is the deception of one person by another.  Manipulators are people who are used to getting their own way by such dishonest means.  The manipulated are their victims.  It is most likely that both manipulators and manipulated appeared in ancient times, when the demand arose for some people to get their own way through other people by dishonest means, or simply by deception. Deception, to be sure.


Let us imagine a typical subject of some old tale.  She is a princess.  He is of simple birth, and moreover, poor.  Her father is a cruel and hard-hearted king (some Shah or Tsar).  In his own way, he loves his strange daughter, has already selected her a worthy suitor – for example, some old grandfather and widower, a wealthy ruler of a neighbouring state.  What can be done, how can the young ones be helped?  Probably, you have already guessed.  The poor princess pretends to be ill.  The father is in despair.   The most eminent doctors shrug their shoulders helplessly.  

Just then, he appears: a doctor ‘from afar’, declaring that he can heal the girl, but only on one condition: that the king grants the doctor any of his wishes.  Distraught, the father agrees.

The doctor asks everybody to leave the room where the patient lies.  The girl instantly recovers.  The doctor leads the living and healthy princess out into the court.  Everyone rejoices.  Already crying with happiness, the father is prepared to be true to his word: ‘Dear doctor, take anything you want.’

            ‘I want to marry the princess,’ says the doctor.  ‘You promised – the oath of a king! – so keep your word.’  Thus, from cunning, the young people get their way.

            Sad endings do happen, it is true: Romeo and Juliet ended with nothing.  But their case is the exception rather than the rule.

            In our story, the young people remorselessly exploited the noblest feelings of their father in order to get their way: they played on his fear for the life of his daughter. 

            It is possible to exploit any human feelings: fear, conscience, vanity, acquisitiveness and many others.  For example, imagine a car market.

            ‘Do you want this cool foreign car at such a small price?’

            ‘What, are you serious?’

            ‘Of course, it’s a little bit illegal, d’you understand?’

            ‘I want it very, very much!’

            ‘Well, hand over the cash then.  Wait here.  I’ve got the banger round the corner, you know why.’

            The manipulator disappears around the corner.  You can guess how this story ends: the trusting customer will never see his money again.

            Now, onto the techniques that manipulators use.  The methods used are diverse: one can blackmail, threaten, sympathise, interrupt, start to banter, abruptly change to another subject. 

            For example, parents ask a head teacher, ‘Please could you give us a certificate confirming that my son studies at your school.’ 

            The director asks, ‘why don’t you have your gym shoes with you?’

            You can catch a potential victim even by a Freudian slip.  You can snatch a word out of context and declare ‘you yourself said this, after all.’  In short, there is a colossal number of ways to manipulate people.  Some of them are obvious, and easily interpreted by a professional psychologist.  Others are almost forms of art, which not every professional can perceive straight away.

            ‘It was like in a dream.  It all happened as if in a dream,’ one pensioner told me sadly, about ten years ago.  As it happened, she used to be a public prosecutor.  That year, she had been living in great poverty and had sold to a museum a family heirloom – a painting by a famous Russian artist.  The family had treasured the picture highly, had even held on to it during the Blockade.  The painting was very expensive – the elderly lady could have lived comfortably on that money for the rest of her life.  However, having received the money, she stood at a bus stop, and was enticed into a game by some tricksters.  And she lost it, lost all the money, and that was that. 

            Let’s take another example.  Suddenly your mobile phone rings:

            ‘Good evening.  Unfortunately I have some bad news. Your lad was caught on drugs.’

            ‘Who are you calling?’

            ‘You, you.  You are the parents of Ruslan, aren’t you?’

            ‘Yes…we are… but… he’s what? … drugs?  That’s just nonsense!’

            ‘Alas, unfortunately, it’s not nonsense.  Moreover, it’s a big dose.  The effect will last for a long time.’

            You are confused and stunned.

            ‘What on earth can I do?’

            ‘Well… you can help…’

            ‘But how?’

            ‘6000 bucks.’

            ‘Did I mishear?’

            ‘No, 6000 bucks.  So, your child or the cash?’

            ‘Yes, yes!  Where should I bring it?’

            ‘Here is the address.  I’ll wait there for half an hour, and not a minute longer.’

            You rush there at break-neck speed, give away your money to some character in black glasses somewhere in a park.  And, exhausted, you await the return of your beloved son.  Finally he returns.  He looks at you in a frightened way. ‘Mama, papa, why are you looking at me in such a strange way?’  Then it becomes clear that there was no kind of arrest, no drugs.

            Sometimes even specialists in their occupational activity have to resort to all possible manipulation tricks.  For example, investigators have to do this in their work with suspects.  It is enough to recall the legendary film starring Vladimir Vysotsky, ‘The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed.’  Even we, ordinary people, in certain situations have to manipulate other people.  It especially often happens in extreme situations.  For example, we are running late for a train.  We are so late that the next train is no good.  We go up to the ticket office, already prepared to get the precious ticket.  In eight minutes, the ticket office will have to close for a break.  But the assistant takes their time in every way possible, re-counts money, writes something down… You get very agitated, and start to…manipulate.  You threaten and try to evoke pity at the same time. 

            You have already grasped who manipulators are and who their victims are.  And you also understand that manipulation is bad, because it is dishonest, mean, insincere, and unfriendly.  Finally, for some kinds of manipulation you can even end up in jail.  Examples of such cases come readily to mind.

            But here another question arises.  How can you avoid becoming a victim of manipulation?  For this, one must:


1.      Know in what kinds of situations manipulation is possible.

2.      If in any doubt when talking to suspected manipulators, listen to your inner voice, your senses and your intuition.

3.      Finally, if you sense that something is wrong, take the situation into your own hands and try to distract the possible manipulator.

4.      If you are on the right track, you will straight away see a sharp change in the manipulator’s behaviour.  He will suddenly lose his confidence, start to become agitated and most probably quickly abandon you.


We wish you luck, friends.  When talking to unfamiliar or official people (civil servants, for example), be trusting but don’t lose your common sense.  Judge whether they sincerely want to talk to you, or whether they really want to use you for some goals of their own.  Always bear this in mind, and don’t fall prey to the hidden bait of manipulators.

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