How Not to win friends and influence people

Published on November 6, 2013

In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote the classic self-help book "How to Win Friends and Influence People". It is still an extremely useful book, one of the best sellers of all time, and one which I often recommend to my clients. However in this article, I want to discuss not what to do to influence others, but what not to do.

I was inspired one morning while reading the book "Hope for Today" (Al-Anon Family Groups, Inc.). This wonderfully wise, spiritual, and helpful little book consists of daily readings written by members of Alanon, a self-help group of non-professional to help those who live in families touched by addiction. The entry that morning mentioned the four Ms. The four Ms are ways a spouse tries valiantly but unsuccessfully to cope with an alcoholic spouse. The Ms stands for "martyrdom, managing, manipulating, and mothering".

I will discuss in this article how these 4 Ms do not help change the behaviour of someone suffering from the disease of alcoholism or other addictions e.g. gambling. I will also discuss briefly how knowledge of the four Ms can help you cope with a variety interpersonal relationship difficulties not just ones involving addiction.

Description of the four Ms

The classic situation in which the four Ms are played out is a marriage of a woman to a man who is alcoholic. For decades the codependence literature describes the woman in such a relationship as being codependent on the alcoholic while the alcoholic was dependent on his addiction to alcohol. According to codependence experts such as Pia Mellody, the wife was codependent even before she got married because she was raised in a family in which she did not get the parenting, including love, she required to mature adequately. As a result her inner child was desperately seeking someone to reparent her and supply her the love she was deprived of.

For various reasons she clings to the idea that he will be able to supply that love to her and she tries to keep him sober by using the four Ms. The addiction may be not only to alcohol but to drugs, gambling, or the fastest growing addiction i.e. cyber addiction to pornography. I will give examples of the four Ms for the classic alcoholic marriage situation but it is equally applicable to a wide variety of situations in which one person want to influence the behaviour of another.

Martyrdom. Often times a spouse sacrifices her own happiness to maintain a relationship. She may for example clean up after her alcoholic husband vomits on the floor, she may work to supplement the family income when husband spends so much on drinking, she may take on the responsibilities of mothering and make up for the husband who is emotionally unavailable to the children. None of these strategies work to stop the husband's addiction and may indeed "enable" him to continue. And now comes the ultimate M strategy, the Martyrdom strategy. In a fit of desperation she may scream at her husband "After all I have done for you and this family. You should be ashamed of yourself. "

Not only does martyrdom not stop the husband's addiction it may actually cause him to increase it in order to escape his guilt and distress over his realization that he is not only alcoholic but also a complete failure as a husband. The alternative to martyrdom is "loving detachment" in which the partner learns to let the addict feel the painful consequences of his actions but doing so in a loving respectful way.

Managing. The codependent wife may take on the responsibilities of the alcoholic. She may try to manage their financial affairs or to parent the children with little if any help from spouse. Because of the chronic stress of doing so she may in fact become a super manager, what is now called a "control freak". However her brave efforts fail for many reasons. Inadvertently she is pushing the alcoholic into a more extreme position of dependency and inability to take responsibility. In the end it fails because the only person's life we can manage is our own and most of us find that a demanding job in itself.


Manipulating. Manipulating is where one tries to arrange things or conditions or people to obtain a result that one desires but the other person does not. For example the wife of the alcoholic may suggest a holiday to a spot where there is no alcohol available not realizing that the alcoholic centres his life around alcohol and will make sure to carry a supply with him to whatever remote vacation site the wife has "arranged".

Mothering. This does not refer to normal adult to child care taking. Rather it refers to the situation where one person (the codependent wife) tries to provide mothering to another adult (the alcoholic) in the hope that he will recover from his alcoholism and take on this adult responsibilities. It is important to understand that this "mothering" can take on a broader context of any situation in which someone, male or female, uses nurturing as a strategy to influence the behaviour of another adult (male or female).

For example, I was once told by a male client how his wife drank too much at a party and when they got home she got sick in the bathroom. She was very disappointed that her husband did not come to comfort her while she was being sick just like her own mother had done when she was a child. The husband had enough restraint not to attempt to "mother" his wife but many codependents find it extremely difficult to resist caring for a needy loved one. This example also illustrates that in modern times it is increasingly the female who as the addiction problem.

Attempting to provide parenting to their mate is impossible. The only person who could have, and should have done so was the mother or father of that person. But that was in the distant past and that possibility is long gone. Now, the only person who can do it is the person themselves through getting into recovery and learning how to reparent themselves.

Knowledge of the four Ms can help you cope with a variety of interpersonal difficulties

Now that you have read about the four Ms you can start recognizing them in a variety of interpersonal difficulties. For example, you may discover that you have learned these four Ms from your own parent(s) and unconsciously using them to change the behaviour of your own spouse or children. Or you may be applying them a colleague at work who you feel does not cooperate in attaining professional objectives.

You may also become aware that someone you love is using the four Ms to try to change your behaviour. A common problem in families is the "interfering mother-in-law". It may be that with your increased knowledge of the four Ms, you are able to recognize if and when your mother-in-law is using the four Ms. This increased awareness will enable you to avoid an extreme emotional response and instead cope more adaptively and rationally. But it will likely take practice and perhaps some professional assistance to master these difficult situations.

Concluding remarks

The "four M's" is an easily remembered acronym that provides a cognitive platform that enables one to become aware of the four Ms. This awareness can help us refrain from using them and also enables us to respond more rationally when we find ourselves on the receiving end of of it. Everyone of us may try, at some point in our lives to use one or more of the four M's to control the behaviour of another. However, it is a hard learned fact that we can only directly change our own behaviour. Fortunately, in most cases when we change our own behaviour in a positive way, others notice it and will make positive changes in their own lives. For some good advice on what to do to make friends and influence people positively, I suggest you read Dale Carnegie's book.

Category(s):Relationships & Marriage, Workplace Issues

Written by:

Brian Scott

Dr. Scott is a clinical psychologist based in Singapore with three decades of counseling and psychotherapy experience in helping adults with many kinds of psychological difficulties. These include anxiety, depression, addictions (cybersex, love), and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Adult ADHD).

Brian Scott belongs to Scott Psychological Centre in Singapore

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