Manipulation and control
We are all unique and as such, our behaviour will be diverse as well. When it comes to manipulative behaviour there are numerous variations but there is a common framework within which most manipulative behaviour can be identified.
I have put together a list of common examples of manipulative behaviour. By its very nature- manipulative behaviour is sneaky, deceptive and devious. This is why many people on the receiving end of manipulative behaviour are aware that something isn’t quite right but they can’t come up with any specifics. This can lead the ‘victim’ to doubt their perceptions and sometimes wonder if they are going crazy.
The Cause of Manipulative Behaviour
Many manipulative people learn these dysfunctional ways of behaving when they are children. A common cause is when parents are authoritarian and leave no room for their children’s opinions and input. Their children’s natural emotional development is stifled and they are suppressed by strict rules and a general attitude of ‘do as you are told or there will be negative consequences’. A child faced with this rigid environment needs to be resourceful and come up with clever ways to ‘get their own back’. This will include passive-aggressive behaviours to try regain some control. Such as – they may rebel in a less obvious way by stealing money from their parents, lying or being devious in some other way.
Then when their parents are telling them what to do, because they aren’t allowed to directly express anger or disagreement, they can comfort themselves by knowing they have ‘harmed’ their strict parent in some other way. Psychologically, this restores some sort of balance for the child and helps them cope with the perceived unfairness of the situation.
This dysfunctional way of dealing with perceived emotional threat then gets carried over into adult relationships and this is where the trouble begins, and you’ll find that Hellinger family constellation therapy can be a great way to heal and find support.
The Introduction to the manipulative ‘main course’
Manipulative abusers tend to dwell in extremes. They often start off being extremely thoughtful, considerate and attentive. They put you on a pedestal and put in a lot of effort. This is part of the grooming process. Getting you high on the feeling of flattery and feeling special is part of the manipulation. Once they have you emotionally ‘hooked’ they have a stronger position from which to start manipulating and controlling you. In some cases, manipulators lack empathy and part of the extreme behaviour involves them acting the part of a caring person. As they can lack empathy, they do not feel in touch with their emotions and have to go through the motions of acting in a way that they believe a kind, caring person would. This is when the behaviour can seem a little extreme and unnatural. For example if they are excessively polite and over the top when it comes to complimenting you and giving gifts it could be a sign of trouble. Beware of extremes.
Examples of manipulative behaviour
Manipulative behaviour involves minimising its effects on others. When the recipient of a nasty or insensitive comment speaks up, the manipulative person, instead of being concerned that they have upset someone, will counter with the reply, “I was only joking. Can’t you take a joke?” or “You are SO sensitive!”. This completely minimises the emotional impact and leaves the recipient with no where to go. They are left feeling they are to blame.
Another example, “I am feeling so stressed today” (hoping for sympathy and support). Manipulators response: “You don’t know what stress is!”. If you get upset, you will invariably be told “I was only joking!”. There is no validation, empathy or support. Manipulators can also be entrenched narcissists.
2)Never accepting blame
Manipulative people blame everyone else, they very rarely accept their part to play in life situations. Their behaviour is often seen by the as a response to something someone else has done. If they hadn’t annoyed me, it would never have happened. If they had listened, I would need to act this way etc. They like to absolve themselves from any personal responsibility for their actions. A good example: you trip over their shoes/bag etc in the night as they have placed them too near the doorway. When you fall over them you are blamed by the manipulator because you should watch where you are going or you should have turned on the light (the fact that they left their belongings where people walk is not considered or mentioned).
3) Non-verbal signs of manipulative behaviour
Eye rolling, sighing, head shaking – these are some of the typical behaviours exhibited by a manipulator. They show disapproval or disappointment without having to say a word and leave the victim feeling shame and guilt. It is all part of the process of making another person doubt themselves – a slow-drip erosion of their confidence occurs over time.
This manipulative behaviour can easily make a person feel they are going crazy. Gaslighting involves planting false information as true in order to make another person doubt themselves and their perceptions. This is cleverly done over a slow period and can leave a person confused and unsure of themselves. Your partner may swear they told you about the party on the weekend and, even though they didn’t in reality, the more time goes on, the less confidence you have in your version. There needs to be a deliberate, dishonest aspect to it — in other words, there needs to be lying. Simply telling someone they can’t take a joke doesn’t qualify as lying, nor gaslighting, nor abuse.Here are signs of gaslighting:
1. You are constantly second-guessing yourself
2. You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” a dozen times a day.
3. You often feel confused and even crazy.
4. You can’t understand why, with so many apparently good things in your life, you aren’t happier.
5. You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is, even to yourself.
6. You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
7. You have trouble making simple decisions.
8. You have the sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
9. You feel hopeless and joyless.
10. You feel as though you can’t do anything right.
11. You wonder if you are a “good enough” girlfriend/ wife/employee/ friend; daughter.
5) Thwarting your efforts/efficiency
Behind the scenes, your manipulative partner might be finding subtle ways to thwart and frustrate you. This secret, and the ensuing frustration for you, allows them to feel in control in a passive-aggressive manner. For example – they ‘forget’ to tell you about an important phone message and as a result you miss an important meeting. When they know something is important to you, they will adopt subtle behaviour that provokes an emotional response from you. One of the ways they control and manipulative is by knowing your weaknesses and pressing those emotional buttons. For example – I dated a man who would be strict with my dog and shout at my dog, knowing that it would upset me. The dog became a legitimate target for eliciting emotion in me and thereby allowing him to feel in control. When I reacted, it would ‘obviously’ result in blame being placed upon me and how overly sensitive I am.
If you are in a rush to get somewhere, a manipulative person might drag their heels and delay you even further. Everything is done so subtly that it is hard to point to specific evidence and ultimately the sane person begins to unravel while the manipulator feels more powerful. Withholding information is a very common tactic, manipulators revel in the fact that they have information and that you are none-the-wiser.
6) Telling you that you “don’t listen”
A very arrogant tactic that places the manipulator in the ‘righteous’ position and assumes that the listener is not understanding correctly. A sane balanced person will also look at their own communication skills instead of blaming another for not listening correctly. This serves to keep you diminished and undermine your confidence. It keeps the manipulator in the ‘power seat’.
7) Leading statements
“Don’t you think that…”
“Why have you done it that way?”
“I am wondering why you….”
“I suppose you are going to…”
“I thought that was what you wanted…”
Manipulators will do their best to change you subtly to accommodate the way they see the world. This ranges from how you should dress, who you should see, how you should do the housework, your shopping habits (buy this product, not that one), the way you bring up the children, how you behave around others, how and when you need to be available when they want to speak to you…the list is endless.
How to deal with manipulation
Be assertive. No one has the right to tell you what to do or how to do it. Use assertive script to let them know what they do/say that you dislike. For example…
When you….. criticise me, I feel…..undermined, so what I would like you to do is …..stop judging me and try to say more positive things.
Ask questions, this makes the manipulator explain themselves and think through what they are saying. It also gives you a chance to challenge them.
Dont accept statements, reframe them as a question or repeat for clarity…are you asking me if….never allow them to foist their views on to you.
When dealing with manipulative people, answer questions only, not statements. Train your ears to recognize the difference. You must learn to ask the Yes/No question, but not get tricked by a disguised question. Repeat the last 3 or 4 words of the statement back to the manipulator, forcing him/her to admit it was a question.
Ask for time – I want to think about it
Let things slide. Don’t respond to bad behavior. Don’t reply defensively and avoid saying “I’m sorry but…” You can choose not to fight by using one of the following replies:
“That’s my decision”
“I know you’re unhappy, but that’s the way it is”
“I’ll have to think about that”
“You seem upset”
“We’ll talk later when you aren’t so upset.”
“We don’t always have to agree.”
“I prefer it that way”
“You’re right” (and drop the subject)
How to protect yourself from emotional manipulation
– Act on your own merits, not because of how someone makes you feel
– Avoid being completely honest and open with an emotional manipulator – they will use it against you
– Trust your intuition before you offer sympathy and give up your energy with advice – generally their problems don’t exist or are exaggerated
– Act with integrity to avoid any guilt trips, you will know you’re doing your best
– Keep a log when dealing with an emotional manipulator, so you can clearly see what was said when
– Don’t let others affect your energy levels, this is your choice
– Avoid trying to help them change – they are highly resistant to change and won’t recognise their problem
– Know your weaknesses and what pressures you to give-in and be conscious of this
– Stick to the facts in arguments and don’t try to defend yourself (it opens you to more abuse)
– Stop manipulative interactions as quickly as you can – use short responses, end the conversation or leave: limit the time you spend with this person if you can
– Know your boundaries and stick to them
– Don’t take threats personally – detach yourself so this is no longer a pressure tactic for them
– Get stronger by knowing who you are and staying firm in your values and beliefs
– Get some validation by sharing the interaction with someone else
– Calmly let the manipulator know that what was said was outrageous and unacceptable without causing the situation to escalate They will probably not acknowledge the way you see things (my minimising and never taking responsibility for their behaviour) but still let them know you don’t accept what they are doing or saying.
– Once you have identified that this person uses emotional manipulation tactics: WALK AWAY! Their act will only work on an audience.
Manipulation is not the same as influence. We all use influence with other people to advance our goals, and this is one of the hallmarks of healthy social functioning. Influence recognizes the rights and boundaries of other people, and it is based on direct, honest communication. Influence is one way we have of functioning effectively in the world. Influence recognizes the integrity of the other person, including the right not to go along with the attempted persuasion. Manipulation, on the other hand, depends on covert agendas and an attempt to coerce another person into giving in. Even though it may appear that the manipulator is strong and in control, there is usually insecurity under the facade. The tendency to exploit others and disregard their rights is a sign of unhealthy personality functioning. In fact, people who manipulate others have difficulty in maintaining good interpersonal relationships.
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