By Jessika Endsley
Psychological manipulation is the social influence on perception of an individual using underhanded, and sometimes abusive, emotional persuasion tactics. The motive behind psychological manipulation is to wear down the self-esteem, confidence, trust in ones own judgment, and clear sense of reality in an individual so that the individual in question becomes a malleable product of the abuser. Human beings from everywhere and throughout all time have used subtle manipulation for personal gain as a means of survival; it is a human behavior that will never go away. If you are like me and other people on the Autistic Spectrum, however, these tiny social manipulations are horrifyingly deceptive, and are even worse when pathologically used by certain individuals (who are, unfortunately, drawn to those who are the least privy to it.) A deep understanding of these tactics and of the people prone to abusing them can ease the frustration and even protect us in our daily lives.
Manipulation is everywhere. Media influence (subtle or not) is a form of manipulation, and society is aware of this fact and often welcomes it. As a species, we do not seem averse to being told what to like, what to listen to, what to believe, what to watch or what to wear. Sales tactics are forms of manipulation, from commercials that visually scream "If you buy this brand of toilet paper, your life will be perfect," to interactive salesmen who assure customers that all competitive stores are incompetent. The skills needed for interviews, which can even be taught in classes, are manipulative. Someone looking for a job may be reminded that, during an interview, eye contact, using the interviewers name, certain body language, and particular terminology will make the interviewer like you and this will increase your chances of being hired. This is manipulation, along with various social skills that many learn with age such as "charm" and "charisma." These things are not inherently bad and they do serve an often non-harmful purpose for humans in general, that can often be mutually beneficial. We cannot escape influence. However, we can and should escape manipulative relationships lest we be in emotional slavery to another human being; knowing when and how to do this can be tricky and difficult. Manipulation and coercion take away a large degree of free will for an individual, and anyone living under the influence a pathological manipulator loses their functioning sense of "self."
Three Manipulative Types
There are countless types of pathological manipulators, and how they come to be is dependent on a variety of factors. Temperament, personality, disordered behavior, and psychological complexes may all lend chronically manipulative behaviors. Any combination these along with empathy deficiencies can be a recipe for disaster for anyone who comes into contact with the manipulative perpetrator. However, various degrees of aggressiveness in manipulators can make them stand out as "umbrella types," from those who seem passive, to the standard passive-aggressive types to outright aggressive. Recognizing kinds of manipulators based on their manipulation style is the key to escaping their control.
A gross perversion of the actuality of victim-hood exists in the world of the "Chronic Victim." Although those with a Victim/Martyr Complex are not inherently manipulative (and are often attracted to difficult people themselves,) there are those who use the guise of victim-hood as a way to control and gain sympathy from others (who then become the "real" victims!) The Victim is very sneaky and can be very hard to confront, especially for those with more passive personalities or who are inclined to fall into the role of "hero" very easily. Or even just people who have a strong conscience. Rest assured that unless you have a keen sense of what kind of person you are dealing with, the Victim will fuck you over.
Those who have dealt with the Victim and see through the charade that is their victim-hood often accuse the manipulator as "playing the victim." This is precisely what they do, sometimes going as far as to put themselves in harms way to attain sympathy. They will twist words, lie about events you may have witnessed with your own eyes, and will do all they can to make you absolutely certain that someone has it out for them. They throw their own pity-parties habitually, and invite as many people as they can. No matter the situation, these people will never recognize themselves as the faulty party and will not allow anyone else to recognize it if they can help it. The Victim cheated on her boyfriend? It was somehow his fault; he wasn't giving enough attention to her. The Victim ends up with a broken nose? The other person is a horrible human being - ignore the fact that the Victim threw the first punch. Victims loves to feel sorry for herself, and will revel in any actual victim-hood she faces. Additionally, A Victim may want to make others dependent on her so that she can gain psychological reward or sympathy for her "suffering" at a later date.
If you find yourself in a situation with a Victim, it is important to be aware that catering to her need for sympathy only enables her unhealthy thought-pattern and better prepares her for abusing others. Individuals who play the victim often refuse to be self-reliant for much of their own well being and happiness because they thrive off of their own self-imposed suffering. More disturbingly, they often get a thrill from seeing the person that they have turned into their own "bully" (and who is often the real victim) suffer the backlash from family and friends - a backlash that the Victim actually deserves. Setting boundaries with the Victim is important for your own sanity, and sometimes this means stating plainly, "I cannot help you and you're going to have to do it yourself," and then walking away. The closer you keep this kind of manipulator, the more likely you are to eventually be cast into the role of a villain in her delusional world. Although confronting the Victim on the behavior can lead them to pretend they have no idea what you are talking about and that you are "attacking" them, they often are so taken aback that they focus their manipulation on those who have not figured them out yet. Abusing the function of victim-hood is a punishment-based manipulative tactic. Always remember that the Victim is attempting to punish you and others in order to gain control. Save your sympathy for someone who actually needs it.
The most seductive and intriguing of manipulative types is the Snake, who, like the animal, will lie in wait for their victim and strike very quickly. Often taking on a very charismatic, nice-guy persona, the Snake is an an Anti-Social schemer and very efficient psychological manipulator. A Snake does not have empathy, although he can certainly fake it so as to enhance his opportunist nature. He can target any type of person, regardless of their emotional stability to temperament level. The Snake is a con artist who will sell you ideas and entice you to help actualize them, but you will never benefit from any work you put into the actualization. Whether it is in a business deal, friendship, romantic relationship, or casual acquaintanceship, these manipulators will gain something from you without you even noticing that you are being taken advantage of or abused. He may want money, a place to live, use of your car, or any number of other things that allow him to be parasitic. And he will make you believe he really needs it, and that he is doing you a favor by allowing you to help him. His logic will become your logic, and if you begin to break away and think for yourself, he will antagonize you.
The Snake is insensitive and callous and always has an agenda. His agenda is the most important thing to him; his sense of self-importance is grossly exaggerated to the point that his victims often begin to think of him as perfect. They use their deceit aggressively and in a predatory fashion. You donated money to cancer research? His aunt has cancer and one hundred dollars would really help her out right now! You just ended a marriage? It must be lonely in your house, and a Snake will not hesitate to keep you company (and live with you for free and contribute nothing other than their empty presence.) Any information you give Snakes will be used against you. He relentlessly uses flattery, emotional punishment, lying, denial, rationalization, promises, guilt, shaming, and even sexuality to get his way, and by the time you realize what is happening, you may have already lost too much to him to easily recover. All the promises he made were entirely empty, much like the rest of your life is now. The Snake has a tendency to jump from relationship to relationship (or even city to city) for this reason.
Dealing with The Snake requires a degree of self-confidence and a strong reality check. Compare your life before you met this asshole to how it is now, and whether or not this person has contributed anything good to your life. How much do you really benefit from his charm? How much do you really need his flattery? Because these manipulators usually have antagonistic Personality Disorders such as Anti-Social Personality Disorder or Histrionic, do not allow yourself to believe that they can or will ever change. He has no intentions of change, nor does he really have a concept of it; being a deceitful, parasitic predator is the only method of functioning that he has ever known. The only way to free yourself from a Snake is to cut social ties with him. Do not worry, he will find someone else to manipulate soon enough.
Although often less sly than other manipulative types, Aggressors can be the most directly damaging. The Aggressor is no stranger to nasty behavior, including intimidation, screaming, or physical assault. These manipulators rely on fear in their victims to acquire control, and they project their anger (real or fabricated) in a way that makes their victim feel trapped. Although some Aggressors use less directly violent methods of controlling their victims, such as blackmail and gossipy lies, they are just as dangerous as the Aggressors that gain control by pointing a gun at you. His Anti-Social behavior is not well hidden and he does not need it to be because it has very likely been keeping him company since childhood. Like a schoolyard bully who has scared another child to the point that she brings two lunches to appease him, Aggressors are sadistic and get psychological gratification from striking fear in others, which is even more important to them than the actual "lunch" he gets from his victim. Armed with threats, malice, aggression, and with no conscience to hold him back, the Aggressor will destroy your ability to function by making you feel unsafe when he is not even around.
The Aggressor likely learned his behavior very early in life from a parent or from having bullies of his own. These people gain control very quickly, and if you work with or are related to one, you may notice that people go out of their way to avoid interacting with them. The policeman who abuses power, the grandmother who threatens to ruin a wedding if you will not give her your vase, and the co-worker who says he can get you fired if you cross him are all examples of manipulators who fall under the Aggressor category. The victims of these adult bullies spend a lot of time avoiding and being anxious about their next interaction with the Aggressor. Victims will change jobs, move, and hide from these manipulators, which is exactly what this type wants. The Aggressor wants respect where none is due, and this means that they get what they ask for and that they are feared. If you do not cater to his requests, he wins by harming you or your reputation and causing havoc in your life. If you do cater to his requests, and then spend energy avoiding him to prevent further requests from being made, he still wins because your are reacting to his existence. These types often have God-complexes and they absolutely love their power trips.
There is not much mystery to the Aggressor, nor with how to cope with his existence. Since their manipulation tactics revolve around anger and threats, it is wise to respond to an Aggressor by being non-reactive to them and to show no fear (because they get off on that.) The most common advice for dealing with this manipulator is to avoid, avoid, avoid. Depending on his particular tactics, this may or may not work. If he is physically harassing you, it may help to get a witness or other form of proof that this is happening and to file a legal report. If this Aggressor is not quit as direct, it may be more beneficial to very calmly and professionally confront him; they are bullies, after all, and are not used to being on the other end of confrontation. They are emotionally immature and you can use this to your advantage. When avoiding the person is possible and does not interfere with your life in any way, it is a helpful tactic, but always remember that if you alter your behavior to avoid being controlled by the Aggressor, you are being controlled by the Aggressor.
Borderline and Manipulation
Certain Personality Disorders are marked by manipulative behaviors, and one of the most common is in Borderline Personality Disorder. It is important to be aware of the difference between emotional manipulation and emotional desperation. Borderlines experience extreme emotions, with the emotional intensity lasting much longer than in non-disordered individuals. Intense affect clouds judgment, depriving the sufferer of sanity and of clear thinking or behavioral control. This can lead a Borderline Personality to behave in outlandish, desperate ways in order to avoid real or imagine abandonment from a person who they probably over-value (and who they may have abhorred earlier that day.) The pain distorts perception so much, as in with Borderline when symptoms become most prominent, that it is closer to psychosis than to calculated manipulation. They do not make a conscious effort to manipulate, such as having an internal dialogue of "If I tell this person how my disposition is their fault, they will feel bad and therefore not abandon me." It is much closer to "I have this disposition because this person is definitely going to abandon it, and I will do anything to prevent this, but I'm in too much pain to think." Self injury is used as an emotional regulator rather than as a tool for manipulation, and their outbursts come from a genuine hurt rather than a desire to control.
Clumsy, desperate manipulative efforts of Borderlines often contrast with the more purposeful and typical sadistic motives of manipulative personalities. Nevertheless, the outcome for the victim of these Borderline manipulations is the same as if they had interacted with a sadistic personality. Their behavior is remarkably passive-aggressive, and their more genuine motive does not soften the harmful effect for the receiver. Because empathy is a spectrum that is elusive Axis 2 Personality Disorders, it is important to note that many people with Borderline Personality Disorder do develop coping skills that resemble Narcissistic or Psychopathic behavior and that the disorders are indeed related.
Ending The Manipulative Cycle
No one is immune to manipulation, but master manipulators certainly target particular traits in others to make them into victims. Low self-esteem, naivety, loneliness, and passive personalities make for easy targets for manipulators. However, it is important to note that the manipulators themselves have their own emotional and personality deficiencies that cause them to be what they are, and recognizing what is happening will help you regain control of your life. If a person has a need for control over others, a strong fear of abandonment, extremely self-serving priorities, or has a passive-aggressive personality, be assured that they are likely to be manipulative. A manipulator will either increase or decrease your feelings of self-worth and will likely stop influencing either if you do not appease their wishes. The first step to recovering from a manipulator is to be emotionally healthy on your own, regardless of positive or negative reinforcement. The less likely you are to be reactive to the words of others emotionally, the less likely you are to be manipulated.
Ending a relationship with a manipulator may not always be a possibility, and the next best option is to turn off the emotions they most use to control you when you are near them. They feed off of reactions, because the more reactive a victim is to their behavior, the more control they have. Do not tell them how their manipulation makes you feel; it will be used against you. Do not express anger; it will be used against you and they may like it. Do not allow yourself to feel guilt or shame due to their irrationality, and once you cast a manipulator out of your trust, do not allow them back in! All manipulative types store information about individual weaknesses to be used later; a short amount of time of "good behavior" from a manipulative person is no math for a life-long pattern of pathological emotional abuse. The manipulator only has genuine concern for himself and to ignore this fact is to put yourself in the line of fire.