Being manipulated is a key feature I see often when working with adult survivors of childhood abuse, neglect or trauma. I watch as clients begin to understand to what extent it has been at play throughout their lives.
I have found that there are survivors who have compliant relationships with either one or both of their parents, just so they can keep the peace. It’s easier just to put up with their behaviour rather than arguing with them. Or, it can be that the adult child is seen as the ‘rebel’, especially when trying to assert some kind of individuality that differs from the family norm. This can lead to being ostracised by their family.
As a result, and not surprisingly, survivors often deal with pent-up resentment, anger and helplessness underpinned by feeling worthless. It’s an agonising place to be.
Not an ordinary fight
We all have fights with our loved ones. It’s not that you fight that’s the problem is how you fight. When dealing with someone who manipulates, it’s not an ordinary, garden-variety fight. It’s targeted, specific and vicious.
What needs to be understood is that there is a particular pattern of behaviour when talking about manipulation. When survivors realise just how much they’re being manipulated, it can be very overwhelming and difficult to accept.
However, once clients have an ‘ah-hah’ moment it can be transformative. They often become more equipped to deal with the difficult people in their life, making them feel much more powerful than they did before.
So, how do you get there?
The online dictionary definition of manipulation is that it’s a way to manage people that’s usually unfair and it’s done with a degree of skill, and artfulness. That definition alone is enough to send shivers done your spine, well, it does for me.
5 Key Signs to Look for
Clinical Psychologist Dr George Simon Jr has spent his career studying manipulation and how it impacts people. In his book ‘’Understanding and dealing with manipulative people,” he outlines key tactics used by those proficient in the art of manipulation.
Here are just 5 of them:
1. Minimization – this is about trying to convince you that you’re making a big deal out of nothing. It wasn’t that bad, you must be exaggerating what I did to you, it was only once.
2. Diversion – Trying to stay on the one topic when challenging manipulative behaviour is a task all of its own. Rather than discussing the issue with you, another topic is adding into the mix deliberately taking your attention off what you really want to talk about.
3. Evasion – Dr Simon calls this a calculated use of vagueness. That is, you won’t get a straight answer in response to a direct question. You may think you’ve received an answer when in fact you haven’t. What you got was an answer riddled with omissions, distortions and lies.
4. Shaming – This emotion is awful but necessary in our makeup. To have it used deliberately against you is like a double dose of the worst feeling ever! Constant jibes, and little digs making you feel not valued or worthwhile. It’s designed to weaken you so that you can be more controllable.
5. Guilt-trips – This trip is not one anyone wants to take, especially if you’re someone who cares deeply about others. A person who manipulates knows this about you and will weaponize it. You may be told that ‘’you’re so selfish, you don’t care about me’’ when in fact, it’s the core truth of who they are. Dr Simon believes the guilt trip is about ensuring compliance, creating anxiety and foster self-doubt in you.
Gaslighting is another technique that is often used. The term gaslighting comes from a film called ‘Gaslight’ made in the 1940’s. It’s about a husband who plots and schemes against his wife, making her believe she is losing her mind, needing to go to an asylum. I’ll write more about this at a later date as I think it’s worth a blog post all of its own.
Characteristics of people who manipulate
Simon believes that at the heart of manipulation is the need to win at all costs without any thought of the impact it will have on the person who’s being manipulated. They will often buck the rules believing they don’t apply to them, opposing them in any way they can.
Aggression or sheer character attack that is either overt or covert is a tactic at work, says Simon. He believes all of this stems from having an ‘’impaired conscience’’, adding that their victims often have ‘’too much of a conscience’’. This is usually known by the manipulator, using the victims own conscience against them.
What can you do about it?
Dr Simon emphasises trusting your gut. If you think you’re being manipulated, then you probably are.
This can be particularly tricky for survivors. Many survivors experience low self-confidence, don’t trust themselves, or aren’t connected to their feelings and, can be especially hard on themselves. These characteristics can make it difficult to first, know that you’re being manipulated, then second, what to do when you are.
Here are some tips:
1. Know who you are: when the attacks come because you’re not doing as your manipulator wants you to do, you can stand strong in the knowledge of your personal truth. When you’re being told you’re being selfish, you can quickly know that’s not your truth. You’re being accused of that because you’re not complying.
2. Know that you’re stronger than you think you are: it can be easy to defer to someone who appears stronger or behaves in an overbearing manner. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Remember it’s all about ‘winning’ and getting their own way.
3. Build your self-confidence: everyone has basic needs and wants. In fact, entire social movements have started because of this fundamental principle. This can be tricky for survivors, especially when wants and needs can be a foreign concept. To ensure you can stand your ground, defending your rights, having the confidence to face this type of conflict is important.
It’s not surprising that you may find this subject daunting and overwhelming. The good news is that you’re not alone and help is at hand. Speaking to your therapist about this issue can bring light on a topic that’s very difficult for you.
To make an appointment with Rita call 0433 043 102.
More essential tips are available by downloading a FREE copy of my First Aid Kit to soothe a hurting heart and mind – 5 ways to feel loved and lovable again