At 98 years young, my late grandmother-in-law was a charming and masterful manipulator, especially when it came to getting her grandson (my husband) to do chores around her house.
He did a good job of feigning resistance during our weekly visits but eventually trudged outside to tackle the list of tasks. Then she’d wink at me and say, “Come on sweetie, let’s fix us a cup of tea and watch Roller Derby!”
This obvious charade worked because they were both in on it (as evidenced by the fact my husband always dressed in his “handyman” clothes for these visits) and they adored each other.
Unfortunately, the truly great manipulators among us are nowhere near as harmless. Worse, their ability to hide their evil intentions behind the most disarming masks make them difficult to spot … unless you know what to look for.
We must learn to accept every person and situation for what it is rather than trying to manipulate it into what we want it to be.
The Nature of Manipulators
While all human beings are manipulative to some degree, there are few things more treacherous than a bad person with good people skills. They will lie, cheat, treat you badly and somehow manage to make it all seem like your fault.
Manipulators rarely act out at the beginning of a relationship. Typically they take the time to build a foundation of trust by encouraging you to share your challenges, hopes, and dreams with them. It feels good to have someone interested in you and it makes them appear caring and unselfish, but what they are really doing is probing for vulnerabilities that they can later use for their own benefit.
They will then gradually test various weak spots a little at a time to see how far they can push you. This is precisely what makes them so hard to spot until they’ve thoroughly inserted themselves into your life.
It may be tempting to assume that women are far more susceptible to emotional manipulators but this is not the case. Please keep in mind that ultimately psychological manipulation is a form of abuse, and research studies indicate that people of all genders and ages have reported experiencing the harmful effects of this treatment.
Common Tactics of Emotional Manipulators
To unmask the emotional manipulators among us let’s take a look at a few of their most common tactics and see if any of these sound familiar to you.
They Belittle You
A signature technique of the emotional manipulator is to make critical remarks, often disguised as humor or sarcasm to point out your flaws and make you feel foolish. Then when you complain about it, they’ll turn the situation around by saying you’re just too sensitive and critical. The goal is to make you feel inferior because then you are easier to control.
It’s Never Their Fault
The emotional manipulator has a knack for spinning the most ridiculous lies with the greatest conviction, and if it involves a problem it’s never their fault.
For example, you arrive at work to find you’ve missed an important meeting because your manipulator roommate never told you about the phone call with the change in time. Instead of accepting responsibility for not giving you the message, they become the victim by blaming you for being late getting home which ruined the dinner they worked so hard to prepare.
Manipulation is a common characteristic of emotional abuse that serves to slowly but steadily wear away at your confidence, sense of self and perception of reality.
They are Master Guilt Trippers
Emotionally manipulative people will keep a scorecard of every little thing they have ever done for you to guilt you into feeling like you owe them. If you refuse to go along with the ploy, they’ll accuse you of being insensitive and mean because you don’t appreciate them.
They Use Others to Control You
Rather than deal with problems directly, manipulators will talk behind your back and get other people to send hurtful messages or to blame you for their issues. If you attempt to confront them on their behavior they play innocent by blaming someone else for misinterpreting an innocent comment.
They Practice One-Upmanship
Whatever your problems may be, the emotional manipulator will always have it so much worse. If you tell your manipulator what a rough day you’ve had (hoping for a sympathetic ear), they’ll respond by telling you how their day was so much worse and how lucky you should feel that you don’t have their problems.
They Will Use Anger and Confrontation to Coerce You
Many people have a real issue about avoiding confrontation and manipulators use this to their advantage. For example, they may resort to anger or intimidation to interrupt a conversation that’s heading in a direction they don’t like, with the intention of coercing you into giving in to whatever they want just to “keep the peace”.
Manipulation Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum
Learning to identify common tactics of a manipulator is just one piece of the puzzle. Under the right circumstances anyone can fall victim to an emotional manipulator, however, they tend to look for people who are especially easy going, gentle, and sympathetic.
Following are additional traits of those who are particularly susceptible to emotional manipulators.
- The person who regularly sacrifices their own well-being for others.
- The person who craves approval and acceptance from others.
- The person who will give in rather than deal with conflict or confrontation.
- The person who has weak (or no) boundaries and can’t say “no”.
- The person who suffers from self-esteem issues.
Admittedly, this brief list represents issues that some people struggle with their entire lives, but the simple act of acknowledging your vulnerabilities can help you to be better prepared to protect yourself, especially if you commit to strengthening these areas.
Breaking the Cycle
Master manipulators spend a great deal of time developing a persona that serves their purposes and an environment in which meeting their needs makes you feel good, so they are highly unlikely to change simply because you ask them to. In fact, if you attempt to point out their faulty behavior you can expect them to quickly turn the tables on you.
The most important thing you can do is to focus on your own behavior beginning with setting and managing healthy personal boundaries. It also means learning to say “no” firmly and without guilt.
Of course, we all know that saying no without feeling guilty is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to friends and family. After all, not all manipulators are evil in fact some truly believe they have your best interest at heart.
So in my next post, we’re going to continue this conversation by looking at how to draw an invisible line in the sand to protect your own well-being by learning to say “no” in a way that is effective and at the same time compassionate.
Your Turn: Have you been able to successfully deal with emotional manipulators in your own life? Please consider sharing with us in the comments below.
Sometimes, adversity is what you need to face in order to become the person you were meant to be.
About Marquita Herald
Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.
She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.
To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click “here“.
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