Tactics Manipulators Use to Win and Confuse You
Ancient wisdom to “know your enemy” is good advice when dealing with a manipulator. It allows you to respond strategically. Most people react in ways that escalate abuse and/or play into the hands of the abuser to make you feel small, guilty, doubt yourself, retreat, and allow unacceptable behavior. Understanding what they’re up to empowers you.
When people behave passive-aggressively, what appears passive or defensive is covert aggression. It’s debatable to what extent their behavior is conscious or unconscious. To the victim, it doesn’t matter. The effect is the same. Being overly-empathic puts you in jeopardy of being mistreated again and again. When someone attacks you overtly or covertly, they’re being aggressive.
Psychologist George Simon argues that these covert manipulators intentionally say and do things to get what they want — for power and control. For people characterologically disturbed, such as sociopaths and narcissists and some people with borderline personality disorder, he maintains that their tactics aren’t unconscious in the way that defense mechanisms normally operate. However, their behavior is so habitual that over time it becomes reflexive. They don’t even think about it, but are still conscious of it.
Goals of a Manipulator
The goal of all manipulation is to gain influence to get our needs met, but habitual manipulators do so for power and control and use deceptive and abusive methods. Manipulators maintain domination through continuous, recurring, emotional manipulation, abuse, and coercive control. Often they’re passive-aggressive. They may lie or act caring or hurt or shocked by your complaints — all to deflect any criticism and to continue to behave in an unacceptable manner. In maintaining control to do what they wish, manipulators aim:
- To avoid being confronted.
- To put you on the defensive.
- To make you doubt yourself and your perceptions.
- To hide their aggressive intent.
- To avoid responsibility.
- To not have to change.
Eventually, you are victimized and can lose trust in yourself and your feelings and perceptions. Gaslighting is a treacherous, disabling form of manipulation.
Covert Manipulative Tactics
Manipulation may include overt aggression, such as criticism, narcissistic abuse, and subtle forms of emotional abuse. Favorite covert weapons of manipulators are: guilt, complaining, comparing, lying, denying, feigning ignorance or innocence (e.g.“Who me!?”), blame, bribery, undermining, mind games, assumptions, “foot-in-the-door,” reversals, emotional blackmail, evasiveness, forgetting, inattention, fake concern, sympathy, apologies, flattery, and gifts and favors. Typical tactics are described below:
Habitual liars sometimes lie when it’s unnecessary. They aren’t lying because they’re afraid and guilty, but to confuse you and do what they want. Some simultaneously put you on the defensive with accusations and other manipulative tactics.