If you want to win in life, you need to be able to put your thoughts and your wishes out in a manner for people to understand, and most importantly, to be more likely to get you what you want.
This is called being assertive. There are a ton of seminars and coaches on how to make you more assertive, but you don’t need that.
What you need is this blog post which is my WISNIFG summary, which is short for the most famous book “When I say No I feel guilty” by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.
Important Note: This post is a summary of the concepts. It will give you a broad overview of the book and the principles, I still highly recommend reading the book, if it’s just for the dialogue examples in there that hammer the message home.
How to detect when you’re being emotionally manipulated?
The majority of people go about the things they want from other people the wrong way. Which Smith calls in the book as being “non-assertive.” We do this as parents, and thus we learn it at a young age.
We are being emotionally manipulated by arbitrary rules.
For example, when you do something right as a kid, mom will say, “You’re a good boy.” And in contrary, “What kind of kid would do such a thing?” when you do something wrong. This implies that there are arbitrary rules you need to follow. But they don’t really exist.
What’s truly happening is that you are not behaving in a manner your Mom WANTS, but she is not expressing what she WANTS directly. She uses arbitrary rules from God, government, or society to get you to do what SHE wants without being the baddy.
She is attempting to avoid feeling guilty for trying to discipline you. A common issue with women, because they’re more emotional than men (on average).
This emotional manipulation is an efficient way short-term, but a bad methodology long-term. Because it leaves you – as a kid – feeling anxious about that God, government or whoever to constantly judge your actions. This anxiety will carry right into your adulthood subconsciously.
Here is the Youtube version of this post:
How to assertively tell your kid what you want
A better way would be to say, “I know it bugs you when I make you clean your room, but it is exactly what I want you to do.”
This leaves no room for interpretation. Mom wants it. Since a parent-child relationship starts out authoritarian, this works. The kid knows (subconsciously or not) that you are his authority. What you want is to be done.
It might not like doing it, and that is fine, but it will do it anyway. Without arbitrary rules manipulating it.
Mom assertively said what she WANTS to happen. The kid then is totally entitled to feel annoyed by this, that is okay, but Mom still wants him to do it.
This teaches the harsh truth of living with other humans. And this is an important part you need to internalize. It is totally fine to clearly state what you WANT. Which is a big part of the book.
A lot of Nice Guys have the problem of feeling guilty for stating what they want. For example, if your wife tells you it is normal for sex to go down in marriage, she is manipulating you with arbitrary rules. I do not care if that is what is “normal,” I, personally, want more sex.
Smith clearly states in his book that the anxious feelings we have in adulthood are learned experiences, forged by arbitrary rules from our parents’ emotional manipulation.
How to actively detect when you’re being manipulated? (Examples)
These are patterns. Once you understand a bunch of them, you will notice them very quickly in other situations. I can’t list all of them, but it should make the message clear. (In the WISNIFG book, this isn’t focused around sex, but it is a simple example to understand).
“This is how it is (or it tends to go this way)”
- “Sex just goes down in marriage”
- “When you have kids, you just have no time for sex”
- “Women just aren’t as much into sex”
- “Happy wife, happy life” (God I hate that)
- “Long-term relationships always lose their spark”
- “You need to help friends when they call”
- “Man and women can’t be just friends”
Some of them might even be true for most people, but that doesn’t mean they automatically apply to you. Just like God’s rules are “true” but maybe not for you. So might sex go down in most marriages, but you don’t want that to happen.
However, with these lines, the other person is trying to manipulate you into believing that these things are “normal.” Reality is, that they just don’t want to do those things and are using an excuse via those arbitrary rules.
Instead of assertively saying what they want or don’t want.
Sidenote: Since women communicate very differently to men, they rarely are assertive in what they want. They can be, but they’re not taught how to, growing up in most cases.
“You’d be a bad person if you do X.”
Especially rampant in today’s society.
- “You’re a toxic man if you want sex all the time”
- “You’re a weak woman if you want to be submissive to a man”
- “Only toxic man try to be dominant“
- “You’re a bad boy if you eat that candy”
You get the point. This form of judging other people’s behavior, and voicing it, is emotional manipulation. That other person is trying to tell you that there are arbitrary rules which make you good or bad.
Now, granted, there are rules. This is an important distinction, you have to make.
But it is totally your decision to follow them or not.
(Much like you don’t need to act on anything written in the book. But it would help)
“You make me sad/angry/etc if you do X.”
Some parents use this method, which is a display of mental weakness. “You make daddy sad if you shoot the ball through the window.”
All this tells the kid is that it has a loser father.
This form of emotional manipulation is also pretty common with women. And it implies that you have some sort of moral obligation to care about other people’s feelings.
I know how this sounds like. Look, you don’t need to be an asshole and sociopath, but realize what’s really happening there.
If your wife tells you that she will be lonely and sad if you go out with your friends this evening, she is trying to manipulate you emotionally.
She is guilt-tripping you that she has to stay at home alone. But that is her problem. If she can’t find another way to entertain herself or do anything with her time, this is not your issue.
If your actions influence another person’s emotions, that is their problem. Not yours.
Stop trying to be in other people’s heads. If they want something, they need to learn to voice it, or in the case of women, learn the subtle ways of communication they have.
WISNIFG – Your assertive rights, you weren’t aware of
These are the ten basic assertive rights from the book that should set your mind right to understand the concept.
- 1: You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.
- 2: You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses to justify your behavior.
- 3: You have the right to judge whether you are responsible for finding solutions to other people’s problems.
- 4: You have the right to change your mind.
- 5: You have the right to make mistakes – and be responsible for them.
- 6: You have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
- 7: You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.
- 8: You have the right to be illogical in making decisions.
- 9: You have the right to say, “I don’t understand.”
- 10: You have the right to say, “I don’t care.”
A note about your assertive rights
The first 60-ish pages of the book are deeper explanations of these assertive rights, which I am not going to post completely in here. Just buy the book. I am going to explain the first one below, the others are in a similar fashion, so you understand the concept. That said, most of them are pretty self-explanatory. He explains a lot of them in contrast to the arbitrary rules you have been exposed to from childhood by parents, society, etc.
Outlining the first right will hammer the concept home. Afterward, read the 10 rights again, and it’ll make a lot of sense.
WISNIFG Right #1: Be the judge of your own behavior
The title of the book explained. When a friend calls you at 5 am to drive him to the airport.
“When I say No I feel guilty” is the childhood training fighting your own desires. You obviously don’t want to, but a friend is a friend. Will he think you’re self-centered or not nice? You want to do what you want, but you’re afraid your friend might think what you do is wrong.
The best way to fix this is to realize that no one can manipulate your emotions or behavior if you do not allow that.
This part is basically “Outcome Independence” which I talk about in my book.
Smith says, “No matter what happens to me, I can cope with it.” is the mental model you need in your head. If your friend will be mad or not, it doesn’t matter. It is YOUR decision.
YOU are the judge of YOUR behavior and decisions, only you can judge what you do. Or to be precise, others CAN judge you, but ultimately it doesn’t matter, as long as your needs are met.
This way you also take responsibility for your own actions and words. Which is important. You’re not controlled by some external standard, you do your thing to your judgment and your own rules.
This isn’t a free pass to whore around
You might be thinking, “Well, that just gives whores a ton of justification, right?” and you would be wrong. These rights are not designed to do whatever the hell you want and it is fine. It just means, IF you decide to fuck 100 men or women, that is YOUR decision to choose from. This doesn’t change the possible consequences.
Hence why he added, you take the consequences upon yourself. You are aware of what your actions will do, but you’re not manipulated by society’s rules NOT to do them if you feel like it.
This is not a black and white issue, society likes to talk about. Reality is nuanced.
Being the judge of your own actions instead of having arbitrary rules forcing your behavior brings a ton of power. But as always, great power brings great responsibility.
To put it bluntly, if your friend calls you at 5 am, you are totally fine to say No, if you really don’t want to do that right now. It is your decision, and that is fine.
However, there will obviously be consequences. Some more severe, some less. Just don’t make it dependent on some arbitrary rules like you “have” to help a friend at all times.
How to cope assertively with criticism?
When we get criticized, we are often suspect to manipulation. Most people have been trained to have a reason for wanting the things they want.
An example from the book, if your wife wants to meet friends, but you want to stay home and work on your motorcycle, your wife will come up with arbitrary rules why you should come to see the friends.
Like you haven’t seen them for long, which directly or indirectly implies you don’t care much about your friends (emotional manipulation).
This is solely aimed to flip the power pressure onto you because you now have to come up with a reasoning as to why you would put working on your motorcycle over meeting friends.
What she really saying is that it is somehow “wrong” (by arbitrary rules) to work on your motorcycle. And what she really means is, that she wants to hang out with you and her friends, but she has no way of assertively expressing that.
What you need to internalize is, that there is no right or wrong in such things. Just different people with different wants and needs. As long as you accept and go out with her, even though you don’t want to, you accept her arbitrary structure of right and wrong. And you fully operate in her frame, as opposed to yours.
It also makes you resentful, because you wanted to do something else, you bring in bad vibes, and nobody wins.
(Quick sidenote by me: Especially in the case of women, this is a drawback. Because they don’t want you to be their subordinate. You do you. But don’t just do it for the sake of it. If you like to meet your friends, then go do it. Just be true to your wants).
Following are the tools Manuel J. Smith brings forth in the book to cope properly with criticism, as well as assertively getting what you want.
WISNIFG – Assertive verbal tools you absolutely NEED to implement
After you’ve learned about the assertive rights, you might now ask yourself how to actually implement these? There are a bunch of tools in the book which will help. Although Mr. Smith clearly states you need to internalize the ten rights first. Make that your mental setup, before you try to enforce them in exchange with others.
1. The broken record (Persistence)
Smith states that most people lose their discussions, debates, and fights because they usually give up after the first “No” they hear.
You lose because you give up too easily.
A lot of people (especially women) try to sidetrack the discussion to make the point about something else other than your initial objective. This is where the BROKEN RECORD comes in very handy.
You just repeat with a calm, repetitive voice what you want until the other person agrees or agrees to a compromise. Here’s is a direct example from the book.
Broken record – real-life example
Carlo bought meat at the supermarket but it was missing when he got home, implying someone fucked it up at the supermarket. It could go like this (directly pulled from the book):
CARLO: I bought XYZ earlier. When I got home my meat was missing. I want my meat.
CLERK: Did you look in your car?
CARLO: Yes, I want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: I don’t think I can do anything about that. (Evasion of responsibility)
CARLO: I understand how you might think that, but I want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: Well, I don’t have anything to do with the meat department. (Evasion)
CARLO: I understand how you feel, but you’re the one I paid my money and I still want my meat (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: You will have to go to the back and see the meat manager. (Evasion)
CARLO: Will he give me my meat? (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: He will take care of it.
CARLO: Call him up here, please.
CLERK: Just go in the back, you’ll find him. (Evasion)
CARLO: I don’t see anyone there, please call him up here (BROKEN RECORD)
CLERK: Go in the back, he’ll be there soon.
CARLO: I don’t want to go in the back and wait around forever. I want to be out here quick, please call him up here (BROKEN RECORD).
CLERK: You’re holding up the line, these people want to be served (Guilt-tripping)
CARLO: I know they want to be served, just like I want to be served. Please call the meat manager up here (BROKEN RECORD).
Etc etc. The example goes on for quite a while with multiple back and forth scenarios, but I think you get the methodology. You don’t need to repeat the same line like a robot. But you will repeatedly state what you want.
The same would work with a salesman trying to sell you stuff at the door. You more or less repeat different versions of “I understand, but I am not interested.” Or “I understand how you feel, but I don’t want to buy XYZ.”
You don’t need to come up with excuses or nervously look at your watch. You simply just don’t want to buy what he offers and that’s that.
Note from me: Women
Women tend to sidetrack you in fights a lot. And while a fight with your girl isn’t about winning, but about fixing her feelings, with the BROKEN RECORD you still end up getting at least a compromise without being manipulated into something else.
I have used this quite effectively with my wife. You just calmly repeat what you want over and over.
You need to develop an unemotional self when fighting these fights. You need to be calm, clear, and relaxed. This way, you will notice in the moment when she is trying to sidetrack the conversation.
It takes time, but you will notice it! And then, broken record!
2. Assertive tool – Fogging
To truly understand this term, you need to visualize yourself as a fog bank. A fog bank is remarkable for as it is very persistent. It offers no resistance to our penetration. It does not fight back.
You can throw rocks in there, it does nothing. Inevitable, we will give up throwing rocks. This is exactly how it works verbally.
In practical words, you agree with any truths that are thrown your way as criticism. Because, well, it’s true. But you do nothing else.
You don’t get angry or defensive, you don’t fight back. You just agree, and that’s it. That obviously needs (again) the mental model that you are fine with your decisions and flaws. That’s why your assertive rights are so important.
MOTHER: You stayed out late again, Sally. I tried to call you twelve times!
SALLY: That’s true, Mom, I was out late. (FOGGING BY AGREEING)
MOTHER: If you stay out late so much you might get sick again!
SALLY: You could be right, Mom. (FOGGING)
MOTHER: You know how important looking good is to a young woman? If you don’t get enough sleep, it will ruin your beauty!
SALLY: You’re right, Mom. What you say makes sense, so when I feel the need, I’ll get in early. (FOGGING with self-esteem (your decision))
Basically, you repeat “You could be right” or different versions of it constantly. Because, well, the other person could be right, but it is still your choice.
Even if people virtually insult you, by saying your face is stupid, you just say, “Yeah, sometimes it looks a bit funny.” Calm and collected.
Other people’s perception of you is irrelevant.
And, let’s be honest, they are probably right to some degree, but it doesn’t matter. If you calmly agree, you take the wind out of their attack. Most people don’t even know how to react to that, because they expect you to defend yourself.
Note by me: Parenting
You might be thinking, “Damn, if my daughter ever pulls that, I am fucked.” But are you? See, you cannot change other people. You can only lead people to the trough, but you can’t make them drink.
We all know, if you force your kids to do things, or forbid certain things, they are more inclined to do just that. As parents, we have the best thing in mind for our kids, because we know what’s wrong. But ultimately, you cannot force decisions onto other people. Especially if you want to make them stick.
Remember, kids follow your lead. If you smoke but forbid your kids to do so, that’s bullshit. If you don’t want your kids to smoke, you have to lead by example and not smoke yourself. (Also true for your woman).
This is true for any person (wife, husband, family, colleagues). You cannot change them. And I know you want to help them, but it is not your decision.
Even if they run themselves into destruction, there is not much you can do about it. However, voicing your experiences, especially with your past mistakes, tend to have a great effect on others.
Be aware of your stage with your kids. I said earlier your relationship to your kids shifts at a certain point. You need to see when this happens to go from authoritarian to “I am just giving tips, honey.”
3. Assertive tool – Negative Assertion
This is most useful when you are validly being criticized.
For example, if you made a mistake. Humans are faulty, we fuck up sometimes. But there is still no reason to being guilt-tripped about it because other people make mistakes as well.
With NEGATIVE ASSERTION you can cope with it. It is basically a more verbal form of FOGGING, where you just agree with the criticism. Another example from the book:
“You really fucked up with XYZ!”
“Yeah, that was dumb of me, wasn’t it?”
“Honey, you really shouldn’t have cut your hair, it looks dumb!”
“I was worried about that, it doesn’t look too good, does it?”
You basically assertively accept those things negative about yourself. Let’s be honest, you know, you fucked up. You probably even agree with it internally.
But due to childhood training and the Lobsters, we don’t like criticism from someone else. If you just agree with them, you radiate that you are fine with yourself (which you should be) and thus you defuse the situation. The other person will stop arguing about it really quickly if you just agree with everything.
However, if you ran over someone’s foot with your car, the right response isn’t, “Oh, yeah, that was really dumb of me?” You just hand them the insurance number. Negative assertion is for dealing with social conflicts, not legal ones!
4. Assertive tool – Negative Inquiry
This is simply explained with an example. Compare the two:
“I don’t understand. What is it about going fishing that is bad?”
“What makes you think going fishing is bad?”
The first statement is an assertive NEGATIVE INQUIRY that does not critique the person asking.
It asks them to make further statements as to why they think that way, and it immediately triggers them to question their own structure of right or wrong. You don’t just accept them stating that your action is wrong. You ask them to state why they think that it is.
Be careful not to fall in the old trap and fire a loaded question back at them, like the second one in the example above. This is an emotional reaction, and very un-assertive. Just ask directly, without fluff.
With the first statement, you also make clear that being criticized isn’t something you get upset over. You’re just curious about how other people feel about it. With the second one, you are literally saying, “Who are you to judge me?” and thus making it personal.
Be aware that behind such manipulative statements (especially women again) there is something deeper you can unlock with NEGATIVE INQUIRY. There is a reason why your wife is trying to guilt-trip you about your fishing trip. You can negatively inquiry her until she says it. From the book:
“You always have a headache after fishing.”
“I don’t understand. What’s it about going fishing and a headache that is wrong?”
“It makes you tired.”
“I am sorry, what is wrong about being tired?”
“When you are so tired, we don’t go out in the evening.”
With your NEGATIVE INQUIRY, you pulled the actual reasoning out of her. Now the actual reason is out in the open, and you can talk about the REAL issue, and potentially find a compromise, instead of fighting around it or engaging in her emotional manipulation.
With NEGATIVE INQUIRY you basically keep asking questions as to what is actually wrong about your behavior until you get to the core of it. It is important to stay calm, and not be phased by the criticism. But this is generally an important skill.
WISNIFG – Summary and conclusion
After the first 150-ish pages, the book will just repeat these concepts with examples. Which is again why I would highly recommend buying it. Examples make it clearer!
However, this should be a first glimpse at being assertive and how to do it. When I say No I feel guilty is truly a book every human should read, because it tremendously helps you interacting with other people, and not being a doormat, and having your needs met. Or at least manage a compromise.
Quick summary of what you learned
- Humans use arbitrary rules (God, government, etc) to get you to do something they WANT instead of clearly stating their WANT.
- Emotional manipulation detection:
- “This is how it is usually”
- “It makes you a bad person if you do X”
- “You inflict X feeling onto me if you do Y”
- Read your assertive rights again (click here to scroll up)
- Assertive tools you need:
- The broken record. Repeat what you want over and over again. Do not let yourself be sidetracked.
- Fogging. When someone attacks you verbally, you agree with everything they say, and that’s it. “Yes, you are right, I did that.” Done. Nothing more.
- Negative assertion. If you’re being rightly criticized, agree, and amplify it a little bit. A more verbal form of fogging, if the other person is actually right. When they call you out, you say, “Yeah, that wasn’t very clever, was it?”
- Negative inquiry. Ask them why they think what they’re saying/implying is actually bad. For example, “I don’t understand. Why do you think that is?” This forces them to actually give a reason for their inquiry.
- Remember, for the assertive tools to work, you need to be fine with yourself. You have to have accepted flaws within you. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use negative assertion, when you’re triggered by someone calling out your flaws.
It would also probably save a lot of marriages. With this tools you will stop being emotionally manipulated by your wife.
You can voice assertively what you want, and that makes you a great man.
It definitely helped my marriage. Get the book on Amazon here.
This book is part of the 8 books any married man must read, so you should definitely check out the other 7.