I had a late-night bitch session with my sister at the local 24 hour diner over many many cups of tea. She just needed to vent about the people in her life, and their confounding personalities. People who do things without even knowing it, people who hurt other people to make themselves feel powerful, people who use people that feel obligated to put up with it.
We just kept coming back to "Why don't these people see what they're doing?" and "Why don't these people just say 'fuck off' and not let it happen to them?"
It is kind of strange to realize that a couple of 20 somethings are more self-aware and mature than middle-aged fathers and family members.
I guess that's one thing our mother gave us; the lesson that your natural reaction is not always the right one.
When we realized that we were subconsciously giving her a pass just because we felt like we were supposed to, we learned to rethink our feelings, and react according to the breadth of our consideration and logic. We saw right through her manipulative words, tone, demeanor, emotion, tears, peas, and right at the truth: she wanted to make us feel bad because she felt bad. She ran us through her 18 year course on manipulative people, and we've learned every trick in the book. Now, I measure the time I spend with my defenses down instead of the time I spend with them up, and my sister considers herself cold and impassive. But it's really just refusing to let anyone else control you by forcing your reaction.
Manipulative people say and do things intentionally to make you think or act a certain way. Even if it's an insignificant result, they do it because it makes them feel powerful. "I made him scared." "I made her feel bad." "I made him do what I wanted him to do." "I have control over how this person feels, and they don't even realize it!"
So don't react.
Because when manipulative people fail to manipulate you, they either try harder, or get frustrated. Either way, they become easy to identify, put into your list of people not to trust, and mentally prepare for in the future.
An unintentional comment made by a non-manipulative person will just be dropped (because they didn't mean for it to cause a reaction), or followed up quickly by an apology (because they didn't think before they spoke).
We also marveled at the thoughtless people who simply acted or reacted automatically, without considering what they were saying, who it would impact, or WHY their immediate reaction was what it was.
Self unaware people who damage their relationships because they don't think logically about their reaction. "Why am I angry about this?" "Is this really the person I should be mad at?" "Why am I about to say this, and how will it affect my loved ones?"
Unfortunately, my sister and I have little tolerance for broken people; people who act or react because they have some subconscious hang-up. It's not technically their fault, because most people don't know they're broken, and at the time, I'm sure the action feels natural and correct. But to lack the consideration to review your action in hindsight? That's not something we put up with for long.
So we surround ourselves with people we can trust, or at least understand. Not reacting, or reacting mechanically has made it easier to process the speech, tone, body language, and general feel of the speaker, and be a better judge of their character and personality. Once we find those people we can trust, we can lower the drawbridge and relax with them without worry. Or short of trust, we can enjoy their company in one capacity, but not others.
We're glad our mother gave us the ability to identify our demons and exorcise them, but it hasn't done a thing for our misanthropy :) Part of being a good judge of motives and character means not being able to ignore the machinations (intentional or not) of the people you are required to deal with. This makes some people intolerable. Even (and usually especially) the ones who manipulate others to be well liked.
Come as you are, and speak your mind freely as often as you can. Life is too short to spend with controlling people, and your happiness is too important to strain it dealing with the thoughtless ones.