Bill was frustrated. The more he tried to converse via text with his ex-wife and kids, the worse things got. He was advised to utilize text messages rather than verbal communication to have a record of what was agreed upon, clear up any confusion, and minimize the verbal assaults. However, his ex-wife found a way to manipulate him through text messages. Worse yet, she taught her kids the same tactics.

Abuse comes in many forms. The traditional 7 ways are physical, mental, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and spiritual. But text messaging is not typically thought of as a source of manipulative communication. Yet, it can be. Because the tone of a text message is impossible to discern, multiple meanings can be drawn from one message. This includes the desire to control, manipulate, and harm another person. Here are 29 examples.

  1. Texts in generalizations. Instead of being specific, broad-reaching statements are used. You know what you did. This is done to entrap a potentially guilty party or to frustrate an honest person.
  2. Refuses to answer questions. When a question was asked by Bill, his ex-wife would ignore it completely and not answer even when he repeated the questions.
  3. Says you cant take a joke. His ex-wife would make hurtful statements to Bill, Looks like you gained more than a few pounds from your trip. When Bill would respond negatively, his ex-wife would say that she was joking.
  4. Is inappropriately sarcastic. Sarcasm can make a great joke but over text message, it is difficult to discern whether the comment is humorous, devious, cutting, or serious.
  5. Changes the subject. Instead of remaining on the subject at hand, Bills ex-wife would dramatically shift the conversation as if they were not even talking about the same subject.
  6. Is excessively long-winded. Texting is designed to be brief communication, not paragraphs or page-long messages. These belong in an email.
  7. Refuses to use proper grammar. A comma placed in the wrong spot can change the meaning of a sentence. We are going to cut and paste kids. We are going to cut and paste, kids.
  8. Includes others who are not a party. The kids and I agree that you are a loser. Bills ex-wife would often include the kids perspective in the message to add emphasis to her point. However, the kids were not part of the message and had no idea what their mother was saying.
  9. Says you are too sensitive. When Bill would say that he was hurt by a comment, his ex-wife would respond by saying that he was too sensitive and took things too seriously.
  10. Makes false accusations. False general statements are difficult to prove or defend. A person making this type of statements is trying to control an outcome.
  11. Says there is a tone in the text. There is usually not enough of a message to infer a tone. This comment is designed to put someone on the defensive.
  12. Refuses to talk on the phone and insists on text messages. When things become confusing or too much to text, often the request is made to switch to the phone. Refusing to do so can be a manipulative tactic.
  13. Ignores messages for days. Bills ex-wife would ignore his text messages about the kids for days but when she demanded immediate responses when she would text.
  14. Sends multiple text messages to irritate. One day Bill counted 105 text messages from his ex-wife that were sent to him during working hours. There was no emergency, she just wanted more money.
  15. Sends one-word response. Bills kids were famous for responding to him with one-word answers even to questions that were not close-ended. This kept him from having a relationship with them.
  16. Uses vague emojis instead of words. The use of faces, hand gestures, or other vague emojis can give multiple meanings in response. This is done to frustrate the receiver.
  17. Wont use punctuation. Confusion is generated when the sentences all run together without any periods. This is hard to read and leaves the conversation open to multiple interpretations.
  18. Uses slang to a person who doesnt know or understand the terminology. Bills kids would often use abbreviations or slang words that they knew Bill was unfamiliar using. When he would ask for clarification, they would send lol.
  19. Says one thing on the phone or in-person and another thing via text. Bills ex-wife agreed to adjust the time-sharing so he could travel for work on the phone. But then claimed in a text message that she didnt agree to anything.
  20. Uses all caps unnecessarily. The use of caps in a text message indicates yelling. Sometimes, Bill would receive a paragraph long, all caps message that was difficult to interpret.
  21. Threatens self-harm. Self-harm includes cutting, taking pills, drinking too much, driving crazy, punching or scratching self, or other similar types of behavior. Making threats to do this via text is manipulative.
  22. Texts at times not available. Bills ex-wife knew that he was on a date, so she texted him about random things during the evening. When he stopped responding, she kept going. The total number of text messages over 4 hours was 145.
  23. Threatens to hurt you or others. Any threat of harm via texting is manipulative and an intentional cry for help. When in doubt, call the police.
  24. Sends photos of potential threats or self-harm. One night, Bill got a text from his ex-wife of a picture of multiple pain pills on a counter. There was no message and when he tried to respond, she didnt answer. He eventually called the police.
  25. Demands immediate response. Bills kids demanded an immediate response from their dad whenever they texted him. However, it was not reciprocal.
  26. Refuses to give specific information. Bill was asked to pick the kids up at the mall for his time-share. When he asked where in the mall, all he got was silence.
  27. Sparks a disagreement via text, takes a picture of part of the message, and forwards it to others. This was a typical tactic of Bills ex; she would often show the kids the messages as evidence that he was the problem.
  28. Assumes the worst possible meaning. Instead of asking for clarification, Bills ex-wife would assume the worst and respond harshly.
  29. Claims that something was never said even though it was in a previous message. Perhaps the most frustrating manipulative tactic was when Bills ex-wife would claim that they never agreed to something when it was agreed upon in text message a week prior.

Just understanding the abusive text message tactics helped Bill to gain a better perspective and not react negatively. Eventually, when his ex-wife and kids learned that he was not going to be manipulated, they stopped the frustrating messaging.