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The 3 emotions they use to make you comply. (And how to resist their manipulation)

While the contexts of the world we live in constantly change, the fundamentals of human nature always have and always will remain the same. We are still very irrational beings, no matter what we tell ourselves about our rationality. Certain emotions will always strike a cord once they are touched and will always elicit a specific reaction from us. Because human nature has remained the same for so long, certain people have figured out how it worked, and how it can be manipulated. Professional persuaders are no magicians, they just know very well how the animalistic side of humans works, and they use this to their advantage. There are certain emotions that these persuaders can trigger that almost instantly turn our rational minds off, and make us only able to focus on a certain emotion. With these negative emotions, all you’re thinking about when you’re feeling them is how you’re going to get rid of them. All your brain energy gets focussed on removing the negative emotion, instead of rationally thinking for instance of why you feel that emotion. There are 3 emotions that work this way and completely bypass our rational mind and we will discuss them in this blog. These emotions are fear, hypocrisy, and guilt. Feeling any of these emotions makes you powerless to any persuasive arguments. But you are not necessarily powerless to these emotions. The only way you can make sure you’re decisions are not influenced by persuaders who use these emotions to manipulate you is by being aware of their methods. If you know what they use, you’ll notice it when they use it on you. This makes you able to see if the emotion is justified, or if someone simply tries to influence you for their gain. Here are the 3 emotions they use:

1 Fear

Fear is one of the most powerful and useful negative emotions humans feel. Its roots stem back from when we were animals, and the emotion has remained engraved in us ever since. Nowadays we are not surrounded by any direct danger, so that’s not a fear we often feel. Today we are more accustomed to an abstract version of danger that provokes feelings of fear in us. The fear of public speaking is one of them, or something like fear of the law. These are all abstract fears we have in our minds that do not relate to any direct danger. Persuaders know exactly how to manipulate this abstract fear of ours and have found successful techniques to get the most out of this response.

To start off, there are a few things that happen to humans when they feel fear. The first thing is that you immediately want to get rid of the emotion of fear. When you are afraid, all you’re thinking about is that fear and how to get rid of it. When you’re chased by a tiger and you’re afraid for your life, all you’re thinking about is how do I get out of this situation and get to safety, you’re not thinking about what you’re cooking for dinner tonight. Thus feeling fear makes us only think about fear, which means we can’t rationally think about things other than that fear and therefore makes us almost incapable of reason. This is common knowledge to most skilled persuaders and they use this to their advantage all the time. What they do is they agitate that feeling of fear in you, or they completely fabricate it. They fabricate an event that evokes fear that never happened, such as the deadliness of covid for example, or they amplify the fear in an existing issue, making it seem worse than it is, as with what is happening with the climate crises with all of the doomsday scenarios. While you’re only thinking of that fear, you’re going to look for a way to get rid of that fear, because when you’re afraid all you want to do is to get rid of this negative emotion. All reason goes out the window when you feel fear, and these persuaders know this. So what often happens is that these people induce the fear themselves, by creating or amplifying an existing fear, and they provide you with the solution to get rid of this fear. Of course, the solution they provide to you is what they wanted you to do all along, but because you’re so focused on the fear and getting rid of it, you’re not thinking about the persuader's possible intentions.

Research has shown us that such a fear appeal can be used effectively in two possible ways.

Firstly when they induce a low level of fear, and they provide you with a vague solution, or simply some kind of recommendation, this way they can’t get you to take a very specific action but perhaps one that pushes you in the right direction. 

Another way, and the most effective one, is to induce a ton of fear in someone and then to give them a detailed step-by-step plan to get rid of it. Because you feel that huge tsunami of fear, you are dying for a way to get rid of it, and when someone tells you exactly how to do this, you’ll automatically comply. This wouldn’t work however if you were given a very unclear solution to rid yourself of that fear. If the solution isn’t obvious and easy to understand, two things might happen. First, you freeze and you don’t take any action, being paralyzed by fear. And two, which happens most of the time, you simply dismiss the fear, bury it, or simply pretend that it isn’t there, which also leads to complete inaction.

The other point is that next to the solution being clear, it also has to seem effective to solve the problem, and doable for the person who has to take the action. So the persuader has to show the person how to get rid of the fear, why it is an effective way to get rid of the fear, and show the person that people like him are able to do it.

This type of fear appeal has been used for centuries, from the French Revolution to Nazi Germany to our governments today. It is one of the most effective ways to make people comply, because fear completely blinds you. You’ve probably had this experience yourself when you were extremely nervous and a little afraid of taking a test or speaking in public, and you had a complete blackout because of the fear. This is essentially what happens in a smaller but still noticeable way with the fear appeal, where you’re brain simply gets turned off and only wants to find the solution to get rid of your fear. Be wary when you notice that people use these fear appeals. See if they have any ground to use such an appeal and if it is exaggerated or even completely fabricated. When you are aware that someone is trying to use a fear appeal on you, only then can you neutralize it.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

2 Hypocrisy

One of the worst things you can feel as a human is feeling like you are a hypocrite. Hypocrisy essentially means saying something and doing something else, so not acting congruently with your own opinions and standards. Our mind initially protects us from feeling like a hypocrite by rationalizing everything we do and making the story so that we feel like we are not hypocritical, even though we might be. But when someone puts a halt to that and shows us exactly how hypocritical we are, we can realize our hypocrisy. Although we still put up our shield when this is done to us, sometimes we do realize that we are acting hypocritically. What happens when you realize your own hypocrisy, is that you see that your actions are not congruent with your words or your moral standards. You’re saying you are this kind of person, or that you do this kind of thing, but in reality, your actions don’t show this. The feeling of hypocrisy evokes almost the exact same reaction as fear, which is that all you want to do is get rid of this negative feeling/self-image of being a hypocrite. This means that if you believe that your actions are incongruent, all rational thinking once again goes out the window and you immediately start doing the actions that you feel you should be doing.

Persuaders know how much people want to stay consistent with what they say and believe about themselves, and they know how to exploit it. When you are indulging in hypocritical behavior, you more than likely do not notice it at all, but if someone points it out to you, and you realize it, suddenly you feel like a hypocrite and want to rid yourself of feeling like one. This means doing the actions that are consistent with who you are reminded of that you should be. When someone points out to you that you are not doing what you are saying, you will feel like a hypocrite and you’re likely to swallow the solution that person offers you to not be a hypocrite anymore.

The thing with hypocrisy is that it is often good to point out when someone is a hypocrite and make them change their behavior for the better. What can happen however is that someone can convince you that you are hypocritical when you’re not, and thus make you do what they want you to do. For example, if you say that you are a helpful person who always helps everyone in need, the persuader could pressure you into giving lots of money to their charity, because after all, you said that you were a very helpful person. You would be a hypocrite, or so they make it seem, if you would not give your money because that would make you not a helpful person. This makes you more likely to give to that charity simply to not have to feel like a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy is a strategy persuaders often use together with the other 2 strategies mentioned because it bypasses the rational mind and goes straight to our emotional and animalistic side. All we do when we feel hypocrisy is look at how to get rid of that emotion. Of course, a persuader can come in, create the hypocrisy at first, and then tell us how to not be a hypocrite and give us the exact solution. Beware of these people trying to make you feel like a hypocrite, because often they have an agenda of their own, and something they want you to do that helps them.

3 Guilt

There is a phrase often repeated in marketing and it goes like this: Guilt sells. The scary thing about this slogan is that it is actually true. Such a negative emotion genuinely persuades people to buy something, but why? It’s for the same reason that these other compliance techniques work: all guilt makes us think about is how we get rid of that guilt. Thus it makes us incapable of rational thought and simply willing to do anything to not feel guilty anymore. The only way to get rid of this guilt you feel is often to take some kind of action, some positive action towards the person or thing you feel guilty about. Often people give to a charity after they’ve done something they are not proud of, in a case like this they are trying to repent for their guilt. Guilt is fully an internal thing, you can only believe that you’re guilty, and this is enough for you to take some kind of repentance action.

There are three possible reasons why guilt is so effective and how it can motivate you to take a certain action:

1 Feeling sympathy for the victim and wanting to do something in return, whether to the person himself or to a charity or something related to that issue.

2 Restitution, so when you feel the need to compensate for something you did wrong. You did something wrong, so you want to balance this out by doing something good of equal value.

3 Generalized guilt, the most selfish form of guilt where the only thing you’re worried about is repairing your tarnished self-image by doing something you feel is good for someone or the world to feel better about yourself.

Feeling guilty and wanting to do something about it is a fully natural reaction and often very positive. When you feel like you’ve done something wrong, it is a very good thing that you feel the need to do something right, often to not see yourself as a bad person, and sometimes to just be fair towards the people you’ve wronged. When this feeling of guilt comes naturally it is a very positive thing, but that is not always the case. Sometimes you can be induced wrongfully with a feeling of guilt, and just like all the other techniques this makes you incapable of reason and only looking for a way to get rid of that guilt. This is where the persuader provides you with something you can do to not feel guilty anymore, often something that they wanted you to do in the first place. 

What is also important to note is that forgiveness only amplifies the effects of guilt. Meaning that when you feel guilty, and you are forgiven, you’ll feel even more guilty and want to do even more to get rid of that feeling. Most people would guess that it would be the opposite, that when someone forgives you, you suddenly lose all your feelings of guilt. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Even more so, research has shown that we even come to resent people who forgive us, without us having to do anything in return. This is because we don’t like to feel beholden to anyone, we hate the feeling that we owe someone but can’t do something back for them. Forgiveness creates this idea that you don’t have to do anything back for that person, meanwhile, you still believe that you should. This creates a psychological effect where people disregard opinions and even resent opinions that don’t align with what they believe about themselves. If you believe that you owe someone, it is unacceptable to hear that person say to you that you don’t. This creates a psychological dissonance where you can’t accept the person's forgiveness because it doesn’t align with what you believe about yourself and the situation. 

Guilt is another emotion that you should be very wary of when you feel it. You need to make sure that your feeling of guilt is justified, and that it is not simply wrongfully induced by someone who wants something from you. When you feel one of these three emotions, there are two things you should ask yourself:

Am I right to feel this emotion, is it justified?

And, who is it that makes me feel this emotion, and does he want anything from me?

When the answer is yes no, then you’re right to feel the emotion and you can take action to get rid of it. But when the answer is no yes, then you should be wary and look into why you’re feeling that emotion and what action these people want you to take. If you find out that the answer is quite sinister and not for your benefit, then you can dismiss this false emotion and avoid being manipulated by these people.

As I’ve said, the first step towards not being manipulated is the awareness that someone is trying to manipulate you, so know the tricks they use so that you can resist their manipulations when they come.

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