You go about your life, and suddenly you realise – someone has entered your space, put a hand in your pocket or purse unnoticed, or you come home and find the door forced open and your possessions gone. How can this be? You have not realised it at all and now you stand there, muffled, shocked, robbed – manipulated.
I recently bumped into a friend who had been robbed of her possessions in the middle of the day at the middle of a busy airport with security cameras everywhere. The perpetrator was never caught and her valuables and ID cards have not been recovered. I do think that the psychological effects of being robbed, whether through someone putting their hand in your handbag or actually entering your very home and causing havoc while walking away with your possessions, are similar to being manipulated.
When I first realized I was being manipulated I felt as though something was taken from me: what it was did not become apparent straight away. But then I realised it was dignity – the state or quality of being worthy of honour and respect. I never before gave much thought to the meaning of dignity but I knew it was damaged. I felt ashamed at first – ashamed that I was stupid enough; I let my guard down, I should have seen it coming. Had I not seen the red flags, had I not heard from others that this person has these tendencies? And unlike in some cases when a gang on scooters speeds passed someone and grabs their bag or a phone, manipulation seems more calculated. Someone actually thought through the steps, planned it, targeted you. Unlike in anonymous examples of robbery, you know the person who is manipulating you; you know their name and even sometime you work with them. What are you to do then? How do you protect yourself? We protect our houses, bank accounts, computers by passwords, locks, padlock, alarms… but what are we to do when our own very person is being violated. Manipulation is sometimes hard to prove without much explaining and going into details, without exposing the person. Therefore sometimes it is easier not to share at all.
Leadership is a place where manipulation has a potential to thrive, because so much of leadership is about excising power and the dark side of power is manipulation. All of us in leadership must watch out for this temptation to bend the truth to stir things to work our way, to spin things. I have seen it so many times, the spinning of stories, numbers. People make a mess but come out of that as heroes because of the ability to spin the story and turn it into a good PR pitch.
If it sounds negative and gloomy it because it is, and I think we need to find honest and transparent ways of talking about it. Talking about the way manipulation occurs and how it affects us. I am on a journey myself of learning how to deal with being manipulated and how to guard against it in my own life. I will explore all these and more in the next blogs.
For now: Beware – manipulators operate in this area.
Joanna is a theologian, mentor and global traveller. She is the founder of SheLives, helping women all around the world to live out their best story. As International Director of One Rock she helps both men and women to lead with both courage and competence. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.