Daria Zotova

Freelance writer, supporter of non-violent communication.

Imagine the situation: your boss does not like it when employees leave work on time. When this is observed, he shakes his head in displeasure and says: “Success is achieved only by those who do a little more than they are required.” As a result, you and your colleagues feel ashamed to go home at six sharp. You spend an extra hour at work every day, although you manage to do everything on time.

This boss behavior is a typical example of manipulation. With his attitude, he makes employees who leave on time feel lazy and unworthy of success. To prove that this is not so, subordinates are late at work.

Manipulators manipulate our emotions to get what they want. For example, to force employees to work an extra hour for free.

American psychotherapist Manuel Smith, in the book “Self-Confidence Training”, expresses the idea that we unconsciously succumb to manipulation, because we are used to them from childhood. Parents used the same method of psychological control when we screamed and stamped our feet: “Good kids don’t behave like that.” They controlled our emotions and behavior in order to keep us out of trouble and teach us how to live in society, to make us more “comfortable” for others. Now that we have grown up, manipulators use similar techniques to get us to act in our own interests.

According to Smith, the skill of assertiveness helps to resist manipulation. This is the ability of a person not to depend on external influences and assessments, to independently regulate their own actions and be responsible for their consequences. Smith developed a model of assertive behavior, which consists of 10 beliefs. The therapist advises to adhere to them, so as not to become a victim of manipulation.

1. I have the right to evaluate my behavior and be responsible for it

When we doubt that we can independently judge our own actions and decide what is right and important for us, we feel insecure and begin to look for some universal rules by which we can live. This is used by manipulators who impose on us the views of allegedly wiser and more authoritative people or fictitious rules of social structures. In fact, they simply adjust our behavior so that we behave in a way that suits them.

  • Statement: “You are raising your children wrong. I raised two, I know better.”
  • Non-assertive: “Tell me what am I doing wrong?”
  • Assertive: “I want to decide for myself how to raise my children.”

2. I have the right not to make excuses for my behavior

From childhood, we are used to being accountable for our actions to other people. Parents, teachers, educators decided whether we were doing the right thing or not. Now we have grown up and are responsible for our own behavior. We no longer have to explain our actions to other people in order to get their approval. Those who demand excuses from us are trying to make us feel uncomfortable.

  • Question: “Why don’t you want to go to the concert?”
  • Non-assertive: “I don’t feel well.”
  • Assertive: “I just don’t want to go to the concert.”

3. I have the right not to take responsibility for other people’s problems.

Each of us ensures our own well-being. It is in our power to help another person with advice or push him in the right direction, but we are not able to make him happy if he himself is not ready to take responsibility for his life and learn to solve problems. When we feel like we have more obligations to other people or institutions than to ourselves, people around us rush to take advantage of this and hang their difficulties on us.

  • Statement: “Pick me up from the airport tonight.”
  • Non-assertive: “I have a meeting tonight, but I’ll think of something.”
  • Assertive: “I have a meeting tonight. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

4. I have the right to change my mind

Our opinion on certain issues changes throughout life. We develop, gain new experience, analyze different points of view and choose the best for ourselves. However, there are people who are uncomfortable with change and resist our new choice. They force us to justify our new beliefs and apologize for our old ones in order to convince us that something is wrong with us.

  • Statement: “You used to love juicy steaks, but now you’ve suddenly become a vegetarian.”
  • Non-assertive: “Now I will explain to you why my views have changed.”
  • Assertive: “My views have changed.”

5. I have the right to make mistakes and be responsible for them.

We all make mistakes, and that’s okay. Failure is an inevitable part of life and a valuable experience that helps us become better. When we perceive mistakes as an absolute evil, which only unworthy, stupid and worthless people are capable of, we are easily manipulated. Having stumbled, we will try to make amends with the “correct” behavior and agree to any conditions.

  • Statement: “You made a mistake in your report.”
  • Non-assertive: “Sorry, I don’t know what came over me. I’m very embarrassed”.
  • Assertive: “It’s true. Thanks for noticing. I’ll fix it today.”

6. I have the right to say: “I don’t know”

When we forget our right not to be an expert in everything, we become vulnerable to manipulation. People around us rush to point out our ignorance and make us think that we are incompetent, irresponsible and unable to make decisions on our own. This means we need to be in control.

  • Statement: “How can you not know!”
  • Non-assertive: “Yes, I should read about it.”
  • Assertive: “I don’t have to know everything.”

7. I have the right not to depend on the attitude of other people towards me.

When we care too much about what others think of us, we trap ourselves in other people’s opinions and preferences and forget what is important to us personally. We react painfully to disapproval and are ready to sacrifice our own interests, just to return someone’s favor. Other people may use our fear of rejection and threaten to stop loving us if we don’t listen.

  • Statement: “They think you’re boring because you don’t go to parties.”
  • Non-assertive: “I will go to parties more often so that they don’t think of me like that.”
  • Assertive: “Let them count. I don’t like parties.”

8. I have the right to make illogical decisions.

It happens that with the help of logic we try to explain very illogical things: desires, sympathies, values. We are looking for weighty arguments to justify our choice, and we doubt when we do not find such. At this point, other people can persuade us to a favorable decision for themselves if they pick up convincing arguments.

  • Statement: “I don’t think you should go to the theater. The competition among the actors is fierce, and besides, they are underpaid. Better go to law school. Lawyers are always in demand and make good money.”
  • Non-assertive: “You’re right. Maybe you should consider a career as a lawyer.”
  • Assertive: “I am aware of the risks. Nevertheless, I want to enter the theater, because it is interesting to me. I am ready to take responsibility for my choice.”

9. I have the right to say: “I don’t understand you”

We may not always understand what other people want, especially if they express their feelings non-verbally: with an angry facial expression, silence, or a judgmental look. Instead of discussing the problem and finding a solution, their actions are trying to make us feel vaguely guilty for something that we ourselves do not fully understand. None of us can read other people’s minds, so it’s completely normal in a situation like this to say: “I don’t understand what you want.”

  • Statement: “Guess why I’m upset!”
  • Non-assertive: “Did I make you sad somehow? What can I do?”
  • Assertive: “Sorry but I do not understand. Please explain.”

10. I have the right to say: “I don’t care”

We tend to strive for excellence. We fight our weaknesses and work on ourselves to become better. It is worth stopping for a second, and we already feel lazy and lagging behind, blaming ourselves for wasting time. At this point, we become vulnerable to other people’s influence: others point out our inactivity in order to shame us and force us to change our behavior. To avoid being manipulated, allow yourself to be imperfect sometimes.

  • Statement: “Stop playing computer games, it would be better to read books!”
  • Non-assertive: “Maybe I’m really wasting my time on nonsense.”
  • Assertive: “I know I could be more productive, but right now I don’t care. I just want to relax and play.”

Assertive beliefs help to let go of childhood beliefs and ideas that make us feel anxious, uncomfortable, and guilty about who we are. It is more difficult for manipulators to influence our emotions and control our actions when we take responsibility for our own behavior and allow ourselves not to depend on the opinions of others.