Freeing Ourselves from Emotional Manipulation
Daily Star in the UK and Tech.Slashdot.org were two of the websites reporting recently about an “interesting” experiment run by Facebook regarding emotional response of users.
Aside from being a “money tree” or a “money spinner” the “experiment” run by Facebook has major implications and I hope you caught them.
“The findings show that Facebook can have a large impact on users emotions by tinkering their newsfeed.”
“When sad updates appear on a user’s newsfeed, the user responds negatively.”
“And likewise, when an update is happy – the person responds positively.”
“In conclusion, the researchers said: “The results show emotional contagion.” *
*Bold face mine.
Just in case you missed it, the words “emotional contagion” simply means that emotional response of this social media platform could be manipulated. To put it bluntly, your emotional response can be directed (read manipulated) in a certain way. You can be “made” to feel sad, or angry, or depressed, or frustrated… what have you!
This should give you pause. How is that possible? Does that mean you’re just an automaton – push the button this way and you respond X, push the button that way and you respond Y?
Manipulation of emotional response can be very powerful if you respond automatically and without thinking. If you respond instinctually and emotionally you may access emotions which are not of your own making. If a “simple thing” such as a social media platform can do this what’s that telling you about YOU? If your emotions take over your logic and reason, and you respond unthinkingly with a “knee jerk reflex”, you put yourself in a position of no choice and clearly you have no power of decision over your own life.
The PR sector and the spin doctors have known this fact for a long time. Appeal to people’s emotions and even more, elicit emotions through shrewd tactics and you have them in your pocket. Then, the public will accept uncritically everything sold to them: products, ideas, trends, opinions, beliefs and even values. Therefore emotional manipulation is not a new game in town. The only thing that’s new is the technology based tool(s).
A hammer can be used for manipulation. If somebody says to you: “Do what I say or I bonk you over the head” you would immediately recognize the threat. You recognize the (in this case physical) manipulation.
But the emotional manipulation is far subtler than that. It sneaks in discreetly and inconspicuously. The result is nevertheless very powerful in terms of its effects on your psyche and therefore on your behavior.
Emotional manipulation often happens inside relationships, families and work environment. One of the most common emotions used in this respect is guilt.
How many times you faced a situation when somebody told you something like this: “Oh, I feel so miserable today. I am really heartbroken because what you did to me yesterday. I really suffer because of what you said to me. I even have a headache. I feel physically ill. I could not sleep the whole night.” All the while you’re left thinking: “What did I do? I did not intend to hurt him/her in any way. What just happened?” And as a result you begin to feel bad. You begin to feel guilty even if you don’t know what you have done wrong.
Guilt is one of the most common emotions used for manipulation. If you don’t pay attention and respond automatically and uncritically (here is this word again – uncritically) you end up feeling guilty. You speak up or not, you don’t show enough “caring” emotion or you show too much, you’re not “giving” enough or too much, and the list goes on and on. Nothing you do or don’t do is good enough for emotional manipulators. They want you to play their game.
Here is another example which is also very common: “Now that you did X _______ (fill in your favorite mistake/action here) I don’t love you/ I am not your friend/I don’t appreciate you anymore”.
Imagine this scenario. You make a statement: “I was a little disappointed that you forgot my birthday this year.”. You do your best to express something you feel deeply about and all you want is to communicate your expectations from somebody close to you. But to your surprise you realize that your communication is instantly turned around and used against you in a negative way. The person doing this may even seem to speak from the heart but deep down you feel intuitively that all their “fake sincerity” is a cover for their true intentions. They may say something like: “You know, you just broke my heart. Out of all the people in the world I expected you to know that I am going through a major stress in my life. You should know I am tired and overworked.”
Now the words sound really good but deep down you feel something is not quite right. Deep down you feel this excuse is not genuine, and you’re left with a bad feeling for mentioning your disappointment.
In this example, the emotional manipulator always seems to have it worse than you. No matter what situation you may refer to, the emotional manipulator always has problems worse than you. They shift focus from your problems to their supposed problems.
Here is another common example. A person close to you says something but later backtracks and swears they actually did not say it at all. This tactic is extremely common. You can see it played out everywhere in society from individuals, to organizations, to managers and CEOs, politicians, and corporations.
The most fascinating part of this tactic is that you’re left wondering if there is something wrong with your memory. You seem to recall a memory when they said something but the emotional manipulator “remembers” nothing of the kind.
If you’re reacting in a “cool headed” way and apply critical thinking to the situation you recognize immediately that there is nothing wrong with your memory; you’re just facing somebody who is using the subtle “art” emotional manipulation to justify what they did in spite of what they said.
However, all these examples are not new. They happen on a regular basis. But when the stakes move higher, at a whole new level through the use of simple comments inserted artificially on social media networks, we should all realize we have a real problem at a societal level. First of all because the context has changed; it has become much larger. Now everybody can see these comments. Now you’re publicly exposed. Now you feel under pressure to respond “properly” as you think you are expected to respond for “the whole world” to see.
The use of emotions in a manipulative way on such a large platform has the potential to 1. Elicit emotional responses from you which are induced artificially and 2. Persuade you emotionally to support an idea you actually don’t like, a cause which you don’t adhere to, or a person or a group of people you don’t even know. The expert use of emotional manipulation makes you take actions in a direction carefully chosen by manipulators themselves. This action has the potential of making you participate in a “cause” instigated by others as an unwitting dupe. And when you do, albeit through indirect means, they will say they never expected or wanted you to do anything at all.
Properly identifying the ways in which people emotionally manipulate others and your ability to let go of all the negative emotions you experience are vitally important because this can save you much distress in the present and in the future.
Then the question remains how can you avoid manipulation on an emotional level?
Well, first of all you need to be able to discern critically when emotional manipulation happens and pinpoint it with accuracy. Do not play the game. Then you have to be committed to let the “sneaky” false negative emotions go. I say “false” as opposed to normal life emotions that you are responsible for. This is why Time Line Therapy® is such an important set of techniques. Time Line Therapy® techniques can make the difference between feeling burdened by loads of negativity, being manipulated against your will or maintaining a “cool head”. When you can maintain levelheaded reason, logic and a capacity to analyze a situation thoroughly you can then protect yourself from being sucked into the in the manipulators’ emotional rollercoaster. Of course your ability to establish and maintain inner communication between your rational part (your Conscious Mind) and your emotional part (your Unconscious Mind) also makes an enormous difference, too.
Until next time, be well.