Manipulation is “the negotiation, control, or influence of (something or someone) cleverly, skilfully, or deviously.”1 . Manipulation ultimately traces back to the Latin words manus, “hand”, and the root of plere, “to fill”, which formed the term manipulus, meaning, a “handful or sheaf”. Manipulus gave derivation to the French word manipule, the pharmacists’ measure of a “handful”. In the 1730s, the French word manipulation was “a method of digging ore”. In 1826, manipulation was brought closer to its modern definition: the “skillful handling of objects”. This definition was extended to the “handling of persons” as well in 1826.2
Manipulation is a subtle way of control. The victim is oblivious to the act and unaware of the fact that he or she is subjected to biased opinions. Manipulation is a psychological influence that alters one’s viewpoint, attitude, emotions, and actions towards a certain matter. In manipulation, the intentions are concealed. The manipulator “play[s] upon by artful, unfair or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage”.3 He or she attacks the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim. This makes manipulation more immoral than control or tyranny because at the least, the latter do not attempt to hide their intentions. A victim can be manipulated severely and still sees his or her manipulator as a saviour, almost as if brainwashed.
Manipulation, at the base, differs from control. Whereas control usually involves physical forces, manipulation occurs without them. It is purely influences at the mental and emotional level. Manipulation is more powerful than control because in control, the victim may feel adverse towards it and oppose it, but in manipulation, the manipulator has completely conquered the victim psychologically and the victim almost willingly dwells in the trap.
Manipulators take advantage of people’s weaknesses, such as naivety, fear, and loneliness. For example, a son from a family of several children can manipulate his old-aged, lonely mother into giving him all her inheritance by spending more time with her than his siblings to gain her fondness. He can even use his children to obtain the liking of his mother, playing on the knowledge that all grandparents cherish their grandchildren. He can make her feel that this is the only son who ever truly cares for her. When this is achieved, he can request for her inheritance, subtly threatening her that, otherwise, she will lose the attention from her only-son-who-cares and her grandchildren, and she will be left in loneliness. Other tactics of manipulation include lying, selectively revealing information, appealing to pity, arousing self-consciousness, and generating guilt. Manipulation is also seen in politics, business, statistics, and social relationships, such as friendship and romantic relationships.
Knowledge gives people the power to manipulate others. Educated people can easily use their knowledge and experience to alter the viewpoints of others, while ignorant people tend to be gullible and easily believe words from the wiser without questions. As manipulation is easily played on the victim’s weakness, victims are most vulnerable to those who know them the best.
1. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition, s.v. “manipulation,” accessed November 07. 2012, http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/manipulation?showCookiePolicy=true
2. Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “manipulation,” accessed November 07, 2012, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=manipulation&allowed_in_frame=0
3. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, s.v. “manipulation,” accessed November 07, 2012, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manipulation