Dealing With Manipulative People Part 1

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words.  If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.

–Philip K. Dick

Not so long ago I had to finally put some issues to rest that I’ve been having with a family member my entire life.  Someone who had (Or so it seemed at the time.) been very subtle in their attempts to control and manipulate those around them.  I bought into it for an incredibly large amount of time, and I’m ashamed to say that this individual pretty much had me in the palm of their hand for the majority of my life.

It seems strange to people looking in from the outside, though.  They wondered how I could not see it, I’m sure.  I often wonder that now myself.  Perhaps they thought that I knew what was going on, but said nothing.  The psychology of people who witness this kind of very pervasive form of manipulation is strange.

In any case, my point in telling you this is that for over 20 years I was being manipulated and controlled and I didn’t realize it.  We all like to think that we’d know, immediately, if we were being manipulated, but that’s not how it works.  If we all knew when we were being manipulated, manipulation wouldn’t exist.  It is a subtle, covert kind of art that those who are practiced in know how to wield with incredible skill.  They have several backup plans for anything you could say to oppose them, and they deny any accusations like a politician caught up in a scandal.

Why people manipulate

First and foremost, I think it’s important that you understand that manipulative people are very often not manipulative because they are some sort of evil mastermind with plans for world domination.  Most often these manipulative techniques are bred over a life time, and are created and maintained by the individual who uses them as a method of self-defence.  Often their own lives are (Or, more likely, were,) so out of control that they sought a method of control– any kind of control, in order to feel as if they still had some sort of power over their lives.

The same happens with people who were abused, or who were around others who proved to be very dangerous.  This is especially true if these dangerous people were family members.

Ironically, sometimes being manipulated your whole life also causes manipulative traits to arise.  Having been controlled for so long, the individual then seeks to regain control in their life and does so by subconsciously manipulating others using the very same techniques that were used on them.

Don’t hate these people.  99% of the time, it isn’t their fault.  They usually got dealt a bad hand and handled it the best way that they knew how.  Most of the time they don’t even know that they’re manipulator’s and even when confronted with the information, they refuse to believe it due to a sub-conscious defence mechanism.

Nonetheless, it’s vitally important you protect yourself from the kind of abuse a manipulative person will inflict.  If you have a manipulative individual close to you, especially as part of your family, it can be absolutely soul sucking to deal with them on a daily basis.  Furthermore, because of how upset manipulative people get when they are not getting their way, it’s a huge amount of stress and drama that you are much better off without.

How to recognize manipulative people

There are many signs of manipulation and there’s no possible way to cover them all here, but there are some very typical traits that most manipulative people have that will help you identify them.

Note that we all manipulate to a small degree.  It’s a fairly human thing to do, and in small doses it is not the danger that a truly manipulative person poses to your mental health.  So if you know of people who do one or two things on the list, don’t immediately write them off as manipulative.  The truly manipulative people will use every item on this list, or at least 9/10ths of them on a regular basis.

1. Disguising questions as statements

“So I suppose you’ll…”

“I don’t know why you…”

“I wish you could…”

“Why don’t you…”

These are common ground for the manipulator.  Instead of asking you about your behaviour, or asking something of you that they want, they pose it like a statement so that you don’t have the chance to reject them.  This is also often used as a way of making what they know your answer will be seem ridiculous.

Consider this:

“I don’t know why you have to speak to him that way.”

Several things are implied here.  The first is that you’re speaking to ‘him’ improperly.  The second is that your behaviour is incomprehensible and thus ridiculous/outrageous and the third is that the speaker would like you to stop.  The phrase above is used instead of the following:

“Why do you speak to him that way?  I don’t think you should be so rude.”

This is essentially the same message, except that it’s straight forward.  The person speaking is very clear that they think you’re being rude, instead of implying it and they ask you point blank why you’re behaving the way that you are.  There is no hidden meaning.

It’s a basic example, but if you experience it on a regular basis with someone, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  The way to get around this is to respond only to actual questions.  Statements like “I don’t know why you have to do such and such” beg to be responded to, which is why manipulative people use them.

Instead of addressing them, ignore them completely.  Manipulators will often use such a statement in place of a question and then actually wait for you to respond.  When you don’t, it throws them off.  If they ask you if you have anything to say, simply reply ‘no.’ Or tell them that they didn’t ask you anything.  Most often the conversation will just continue as if nothing happened.

If they push the matter, point out that it was not a question, repeat what they said and then ask them if it was a question.  This will ensure that you get them out in the open with their intentions and you can continue having your conversation with both sides being clearly defined.  Manipulators love to tell others that they never asked about something, but that the information was offered.  Most often what actually happened was that it was provoked.  Forcing them to ask puts you on even footing.

2. Flattering you

Often those who are doing the manipulating will flatter you before asking for a favour, mentioning something they think you’ll disagree with or even insulting you.  Most often this is used before a asking you to do something they know you aren’t going to want to do.

It works quite often because you feel that you don’t want to disappoint the person, since you think that they think very highly of you (Since they just gave you all those compliments.) and thus you do what they asked you to anyway.  Often you’ll feel as if saying no would be rude after just having received a compliment.

This is also part of guilting you into doing something.  They compliment you before asking so that it seems as if the two are completely unrelated, but they’re not.

In order to avoid this, you may want to say something nice about them yourself and then decline.  Personally I think reversing the flattery to be unnecessary.  Simply look for signs of this happening, recognize when this tactic is being deployed and say no.  They will probably move onto guilt tripping you, but you’ll already know what they’re trying to do at this point, so that will be much easier to deal with.

3. Disguising statements as being said by others

This is a tactic my particular family member employed often and whenever possible.  It’s use is two-fold for the manipulator.  The first is to make them feel as if they are in the right.  If you are openly disagreeing with a manipulator, they will tell you that your friends and family are saying things about you that they often are not, or that they have confided in the manipulator.  You’ll notice that a lot of times they don’t say that the person said anything, they say that they feel a certain way.  That is an escape route, so that if you ever bring it up they will say that they never claimed that person said anything.

The second reason is to make you feel as if everyone is against the decision that you’re making– That you must be wrong because everyone disagrees with you.  Not only is this rarely ever true, even if it were, it would not mean the decision you were making is incorrect.

Here are some examples of statements that manipulators will use:

“George doesn’t understand why you’re doing this.”

“George completely agrees with me.”

“I don’t think that they are very happy with you right now.”

“We were wondering if…”

“Everybody thinks that…”

From my experience I can tell you that a lot of the time when manipulators say this they are out and out lies. I’m talking complete fabrications here.  I’ve had instances where I’ve approached the person in question afterwards and they don’t even know what I’m referring to.

It also happens fairly frequently where these statements are gross exaggerations of the truth.  Very rarely are these statements based on actual fact.

Most of the time the words that a manipulator puts in other people’s mouths are really their own words.  This is especially true when they’re not quoting someone but just telling you what they think or feel.  They’ll never tell you that the person in question told them that this was how they feel, they’ll just tell you it like it’s a fact.  It isn’t.

This one is foiled just by it’s recognition.  To discourage such behaviour, tell the manipulator that you will talk to that person about what they said.  This will frighten the manipulator.  Manipulators say these things so that you’ll take them on their word, and so that you’ll be afraid to talk to others about the situation because the manipulator has just told you that they are looking down on you for your decisions.

When you challenge what they’ve said and notify the manipulator that you’ll take it up with others directly, they have suddenly lost control.  Now not only are you endanger of gaining ‘allies’ against them (Manipulators often refer to social conflict as if they are fighting a war.  Frequently citing the need for ‘backup’ against their opposition.) but you have put the manipulator in a position to be uncovered as a liar.

Despite the dangers in using this tactic, most manipulators employee it often because most of the people on the receiving end are too scared by social pressure to bring it up with the party in question.  Noticing and challenging this tactic is all that’s needed to squash it.

Believe it or not, I’ve only scratched the surface.  I’ve got a monster list of tactics and advice on how to recognize and deal with them, so I’ll conclude this article later this week.  It’ll be up by Thursday, so check back then!

5 Responses to “Dealing With Manipulative People Part 1”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sara Lynn Paige, Thomas James. Thomas James said: – Traits of #manipulative people #advice #manipulation #article #wisdom [...]

  2. [...] usual, I’m not going to spend much time on the pre-amble since this is the second part to this post.  I would highly recommend viewing the first part of this post before you read this one, [...]

  3. [...] 1 is right over here, and Part 2 is here.  You’re already on part 3, so let’s waste no more time and get [...]

  4. Dani says:

    I wish I had read this months ago so I would have been able to handle a certain situation better. Wonderful breakdown of their “techniques” I guess you could call them.

  5. [...] because others have been through whatever you’re dealing with right now.  Whether it’s manipulative people, money problems, relationship woes or even how to tie a tie.  It’s on the internet, and [...]

  6. [...] because others have been through whatever you’re dealing with right now.  Whether it’s manipulative people, money problems, relationship woes or even how to tie a tie.  It’s on the internet, and [...]

  7. Reiss Johal says:

    The idea that manipulators have some sort of ‘insecurity at core’, is wholly untrue.

    Many manipulators are infact ‘covert aggressives’, and use manupulation for no other reason but to gain total control for the sake of control.

    I for one know two of these people, who have had loving, caring childhoods with no trauma. They behave this way purely from a frame of reference which is as follows:

    1) I have a sense of entitlement
    2) I will get what I want however I want
    3) I don’t care about who I hurt to get it

    They also lack the following:

    1) Lack of respect for boundaries
    2) Conscientiousness
    3) Deep level of maturity

    I personally believe that seeing manipulators as ‘victims’ sets us up as victims, which is not a safe way to conduct matters.

    • Tom says:

      I don’t believe in setting manipulators up as victims, and I wholly believe that anyone having to deal with serious manipulators needs to get away from them as soon as possible.

      I’m quite sure that a great many manipulators are exactly as you’ve said they are– after power, no matter the cost. In fact, I know it to be true. But they are still human, and I believe it safe to say that they obviously have their own deeply seeded issues that make them extremely unhappy. Whether that is from trauma or an unhappy childhood or not makes little difference. Anyone who acts in these ways all the time is not happy, because if they were they wouldn’t bother with the manipulation game they play to begin with.

      Even if manipulators are dangerous, even if they are an enormous weight on your life, even if they do everything in their power to stab you in the back and throw you under the bus for their own amusement, it is essential that they are not viewed as emotionless monsters. Don’t throw them under the bus just because they want to or have done it to you. Just get away from them. Remove them from the equation of your life and they cease to be a problem.

  8. Josh says:

    I’ve dealt with extremely manipulative family members for most of my life. I have my own family now and the games, schemes and lies are so draining. I just think of them as having a condition and let it go. It is really tough when a family member has a bad week and decides to ruin your life because you’re the path of least resistance. It’s trying but I’ve learned to keep my distance and ignore their harsher attributes. Feed the fire and it’ll grow.

    • Tom says:

      Yes, it will. I’m inclined to agree with you that it’s a condition, but there are different levels of manipulation as well. Some people can be extremely vicious, while other exhibit their manipulative traits in ways that are more of an annoyance. Keeping your distance is the best thing you can do in my experience, as trying to combat it simply doesn’t work.

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