Six Manipulation Tactics Everyone Should Learn to Recognize and Manage
As part of the communication/ messaging series I am doing with Graham Edwards, I thought it would be interesting to write about manipulative communication. If manipulators had horns, they would be easy to recognize. Quite often, the biggest manipulators are people who are very personable (at least on the surface). Manipulators come in the form of friends, lovers, family members, neighbours and co-workers. They come in a wide range of ages, colours, shapes and sizes, too. They are difficult to spot because they can seem so laid back and gentle, but don’t underestimate the damage they can do. They are never what they appear to be. Be very wary of them.
The most troublesome manipulators will suck the life out of you, cause distrust, self-doubt and a whole host of other emotions. Manipulators will do a wide range of things to discreetly keep you locked in their control without you even realizing it. Keep reading to learn to recognize and disarm manipulators.
Emotional blackmail is a commonly used manipulative tactic designed to make the other person feel responsible for the happiness or well-being of the manipulator. It comes in different forms. One form is guilt tripping, when the manipulator will imply that you must prove your loyalty in order to be a worthy human being. In this case, the person might say something like, “You never call me. I must not be that important to you.” The manipulator may also try to hold you responsible for their mental health by making you feel like you are their only lifeline. They will call you when they are in crisis (which is frequent) and tell you that you are their only friend. The unspoken word is quite loud, in this case. How can you dessert someone who is on the brink of suicide? The manipulator uses guilt to hold you in an emotionally draining relationship that is very one-sided.
Another type of emotional blackmail happens when the manipulator threatens your safety or security if you refuse to comply with their demands. This could be a boss, who makes you feel that your job security depends on your working late or doing things that are not legitimate. He may ask you to fudge numbers or leave stock in a place where it can be stolen and either imply or state directly that you will be fired if you don’t comply.
Gaslighting is another common manipulative tactic. This refers to incidents where the manipulator tries to change the reality of what you know in order to create a new reality. “I didn’t push you. You tripped.” It could also be a situation where you see the person do something like steal your money, and you know they stole it because you watched them do it. The manipulator will deny, deny, deny and make you feel like you were hallucinating. Gaslighting is an attempt to make the other person question their version of reality and their own sanity. By the time they are finished with you, you will be thinking, “Maybe I am under too much stress. Maybe I am blowing things out of proportion.” They win because they play on your honesty and eagerness to do right by others. Suddenly they become the victim and you are a horrible person for thinking ill of them. How could you?
The silent treatment is a commonly used manipulation tactic designed to make people feel particularly unimportant. Like all manipulative communication, the non- communicative approach to the silent treatment is simply a power play. Many married couples will go through long periods where they don’t speak to each other to show their displeasure over an incident between them. The loser of this head game is the one who speaks first.
Passive aggressive behaviour comes in many forms, but no matter how it plays out, it is a form of manipulation. Agreeing to go along with something in order to make yourself look like a martyr, ignoring requests made by another person, and deliberately being late in order to annoy someone are some common passive aggressive behaviours. The aggressor may try to explain away the behaviour to make the other person feel petty or somewhat crazy. This creates a sort of manipulation snowball, if you will. Master manipulators are especially good at using multiple techniques back to back.
Scapegoating/ blame switching happens when the manipulator needs to avoid taking responsibility for something. An example of this could be a boss who makes an unpopular decision and blames head office, or a colleague. Sometimes the manipulator may choose to blame you for something they see as a personal shortcoming. “The only reason I said that is because several people have told me that you are a difficult person to get along with.” The whole story is a fabrication meant to make you question your self-worth.
Defining your personality: Master manipulators love to tell you what’s wrong with you, what you are thinking and what your intentions are without having any real evidence to support their view. A statement such as, “You should be on anti-depressants,” when the person has exhibited no signs of long-term mental distress, is one way of doing this. Master manipulators will often take a statement like this a step further and try to push you to lose your temper. They will use that explosion as evidence that you are mentally unstable. “See, I told you that you are crazy. Get on medication!” The interaction may leave you questioning your sanity because you did, after all, lose it.
Most manipulative behaviour is a form of emotional abuse. Manipulators are emotionally weak people who need to assert their power and control over others. They generally struggle with low self-esteem, even though they may seem outwardly confident and docile. They deeply resent strong people, and when given the chance, will attempt to cut the legs out from under them. They will also prey on the soft-hearted. Sweet, sensitive types are easy prey for them. The tactics they use are meant to throw you off balance. You cannot fix these people. All you can do is get them out of your life. If your boss’s or co-worker’s manipulative behaviour becomes too much to bear, then leave. If your spouse is playing with your head, leave your marriage. Abuse changes form. It never really goes away. Nobody is ever completely cured if they have those tendencies. Do what you can to avoid buying into their manipulation. Don’t play the game. Don’t take on the guilt. Stand your ground. Know who you are and know who they really are. Knowledge is power, I say.
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