Being manipulated is no fun. We all want to get what we want; even young kids know if they scream and throw tantrums, most of the time mom will cave just to keep the peace. Throwing tantrums is classic manipulation in its most basic form. That being said, manipulators use underhanded and dishonest methods, often impressively sophisticated. Manipulation is an ancient behavior, and yet being an old and unpleasant tactic doesn’t make it a less effective tool for allowing manipulators to get what they want.
“I don’t have to ask you; I can make you”
“There are those whose primary ability is to spin wheels of manipulation.
It is their second skin and without these spinning wheels, they simply do not know how to function.”
Manipulators employ methods to sway someone with devious, misleading, or cruel tactics. Manipulation may seem non-threatening or even friendly, flattering, as if the person has your best interests in mind, but really this behavior is designed for the manipulator to achieve their private goal. Other times, it’s veiled aggression. With abusive behavior, the objective most often is simply to gain power.
It’s common that one doesn’t even realize they are being manipulated, intentionally and unconsciously intimidated, or subtly threatened.
If you grew up being manipulated as a child, it’s even more difficult to detect what’s going on because you are accustomed to it. You might feel uneasy or resentful and not even know why, because the manipulator uses words that are pleasing, complimentary, rational, or play on your guilt or sympathy, but it just doesn’t feel right. You may find that you just don’t know what to say. Codependents particularly have trouble being direct and confident, using manipulation or passive aggressive behavior to get their way. They can find themselves easy prey for narcissists, borderline personalities, sociopaths, and other codependents, including addicts. You are surrounded by manipulators!
“After all I’ve ever done for you!”
Favorite tools of manipulators are guilt, complaining, comparing, lying, denying, making excuses and rationalizations, feigning ignorance, or innocence, blame, bribery, undermining, mind games, assumptions, reversals, emotional blackmail, evasiveness, forgetting, fake concern, sympathy, apologies, flattery, and gifts and favors. Wow, how would you ever know you were a victim of a master manipulator, with all these tools at their disposal?
Manipulators often use guilt by saying things directly or through insinuation, or chronically behaving needy and a helpless. You may even find them comparing you negatively to others or using “imaginary allies” to support their cause, saying that, “everyone this” or “even so and so thinks this or that” or “says ‘them’ about you.” Manipulators deny promises, agreements, or conversations; starting an argument and blaming you for something you didn’t do to get sympathy and/or power. This tactic can be used to break a date, promise, or agreement.
Manipulators often make claims about your intentions or beliefs and then react to their claims as if they were true in order to justify their own feelings or actions. Try and figure out how twisted one must be to get this complicated. While they do this they will actually deny what you said in the conversation. They may act as if something has been agreed upon or decided when it hasn’t in order to ignore input or objections you might have.
“Foot in the door” technique
Keep an eye out for the “foot-in-the-door” technique. This is making a small request that you agree to, quickly followed by the real request, usually one that you would have never agreed to. It’s harder to say no, because you just said yes. The turnaround makes your words mean something you didn’t intend. When you object, the manipulators turn the tables on you so that they’re suddenly the injured party. Now it’s about them and their complaints, and you’re on the defensive. Sound familiar? Fake concern is often used to undermine your decisions and confidence in the form of warnings, or feigned worry about you.
This form of abusive manipulation includes the use of rage, intimidation, threats, shame, or guilt. Shaming is a particularly popular method used to create self-doubt and make you feel insecure. It can even be couched in a compliment: “I’m surprised that you of all people would stoop to that!” A classic maneuver is to upset you with threats, anger, accusations, or dire warnings, such as, “At your age, you’ll never meet anyone else if you leave,” or “The grass isn’t any greener,” or playing the victim: “I’ll die without you.”
Blackmailers may also frighten you with anger, so you sacrifice your needs and wants for theirs. If that doesn’t work, they sometimes suddenly switch to a lighter mood. By then, you’re so relieved (and probably becoming unhinged from all the manipulator’s tactics) that you’re willing to agree to almost anything. They might bring up something you feel guilty or ashamed about from the past as leverage to threaten or shame you, such as, “I’ll tell the children blah, blah if you do blah blah.”
(FOG) Fear, Obligation, & Guilt
Victims of blackmailers, who have clinical problems including borderline or narcissistic personality disorders, are prone to experience a psychological FOG. This acronym, invented by Susan Forward, in her book, ‘Emotional Blackmail, stands for Fear, Obligation, and Guilt. You are made to feel afraid to cross the manipulator. You feel obligated to comply with his or her request, and feel too guilty if you consider not to doing so.
Shame and guilt can be used directly with put-downs or allegations that you’re “selfish” (the worst vice to many codependents) or that “you only think of yourself,” “you don’t care about me,” or that “you have it so easy.”
Codependents are almost never assertive. They generally say whatever they think they need to say to get along or be loved, and later do whatever they want. This is a cousin to passive-aggressive behavior. Rather than answer a question that might lead to confrontation, they’re evasive, change the topic, or use blame and denial—including excuses and rationalizations—to avoid being incorrect or seen as wrong. They find it so very hard to say no, and they may, at times, say yes, but the yes is quickly followed by complaints about how difficult meeting the request will be.
“When challenged, because of their deep shame, codependents have difficulty taking responsibility, so they deny any obligation, and blame or make excuses.”
They can be seen making empty apologies to keep the peace. Codependents use charm and flattery, offering favors, help, or gifts to be accepted and loved. Disapproval, guilt, and self-pity are also favored tools used to manipulate and get what they want:
“Why do you only think of yourself and never ask or help me with my problems? I helped you.”
Acting like a victim is a way to manipulate with guilt.
Addicts routinely lie, contradict, and manipulate as a way to protect their dependence. Their partners also manipulate, for example, by hiding or diluting an addict’s drugs or alcohol, or through other surreptitious behavior. They may also lie or tell half-truths to avoid conflicts and control the addict’s conduct.
Passive aggressive behavior
Another good manipulative tactic. If you have trouble saying no, you might agree to things you don’t want to, and later get your way by forgetting, being late, or doing it lackadaisically. Typically, being passive-aggressive is a way of communicating hostility. Forgetting “on purpose” avoids what you don’t want to do and gets back at your partner. It can be little things like “forgetting” to pick up your spouse’s clothes from the cleaners. Sometimes, this is done unintentionally, but it’s still a way of conveying anger. More hostile ways of demonstrating passive-aggressive behavior are things like offering desserts to your dieting partner.
Know thine enemy
The first step is to know what you are dealing with. Manipulators are good; they usually know your triggers. Study their tactics and learn their favorite tools. Build your self-esteem and self-respect. Don’t get dragged into their screwed up psyche; in other words, just ignore them. Or leave if that doesn’t work. If you can’t manage it alone, work with a coach to achieve the goal of self-respect and healthy self-esteem. This is your best defense against an old enemy.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative. You can see Frank’s other website, www.frankhopkinlifecoach.com on line as well.