In last week’s post (see: Manipulation Tactics: A Closer Look), we began a more in-depth discussion of some of the more common manipulation tactics as well as how and why they work. That discussion continues in this week’s post.
One of the more common responsibility-avoidance behaviors and a frequent manipulation tactic is minimization. This is when the disturbed character attempts to trivialize a wrong or harmful behavior. It’s their attempt to make a mole hill out of a mountain. You might confront them on something serious, but they try to get you to believe that you’re over-reacting, being overly judgmental, and unfairly assessing the nature of their wrongdoing.
Minimization works as a manipulation tactic because no self-respecting neurotic wants to think of him/herself as unfair or unreasonable. So, if I can get you to believe that you made a rash or unfair judgment of me or my actions, I can easily get you to back off or back down in your confrontation. I might even get you to question your assessment of me. Even if I am a monster, if I can make you think you’ve unfairly cast me as a monster, you’ll probably get to wondering if you’re not the monster yourself.
Now, in all fairness, all of us are prone to “catastrophizing” now and then. So, sometimes we might actually unfairly assess the behavior or even the character of someone else. And depending upon how neurotic we are, if we’ve erred once, we’re likely to be overly cautious the next time about making a similar judgment. But disturbed characters make a habit of trivializing really important things – things that reflect most strongly on their character. Maintaining a favorable social image is important to them, even when they know their character is deeply flawed. And their minimizations are frequently paired with other responsibility-avoidance behaviors and tactics such as excuse-making, blaming others, denial, feigning innocence, etc.). Once you’re intimately familiar with all the tactics they habitually employ to: 1) get the better of you; and 2) look good while doing it, you can be more sure of your judgments about your manipulator’s character.
Selective attention is a most interesting responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic. Disturbed characters, most especially the aggressive personalities, hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. It’s not that they’re attention-deficient (they can focus like a laser beam when it comes to something they want). Rather, everything they process goes through a peculiar kind of mental filtering. They hear and see “invitations” from others to pay better heed to the more commonly accepted rules for civil conduct. But they resist. And on the occasions when you have to confront them, they most likely began to “tune you out” before you even opened your mouth. Most of the time, they can anticipate the issue you want to bring to their attention. But they simply don’t want to pay attention to it because if they took it seriously and with an attitude of acceptance, it would mean two things: 1) the way they prefer to do things is erroneous and in need of change; and 2) they would have to work at changing, which would also mean paying some deference to you, and to the generally accepted rules, etc. And that’s way too much like respecting someone else’s needs, or the desires of a higher power. More importantly, it’s far to much like subordinating themselves – something narcissists feel no need to do and the aggressive personalities abhor.
The fact that so many times neurotics in relationships with disturbed characters waste their breaths expounding on things that simply fall on deaf ears is one of the main reasons I advocate simply taking action over trying to reason or persuade. It’s likely that half the time, disturbed characters aren’t really listening to you anyway. And to manipulate you even further, they might try to make you think they’ve heard you or taken you seriously by using the tactic of giving assent. Assenting is when the disturbed character gives you a superficial “Okay, okay, I hear you,” but has absolutely no intention of really taking to heart your concern or working on changing anything. What they really want is for you to simply get off their back. So, they’ll offer you what seems to be capitulation even though it’s anything but. It’s a tactic very close to false concessioning, which on the surface looks like they’ve actually given some ground when in fact they’re standing firm.
Disturbed characters are generally quite skilled in the use of various intimidation tactics. Most of the time, covert manipulators prefer the more subtle forms of intimidation (e.g., veiled threats, glaring glances, menacing gestures, etc.). But all disturbed characters are capable of more overt forms (e.g., bullying, brandishing rage, etc.) of intimidation to get their way. What’s been recently termed “gaslighting” (for more on this tactic see: Another Look at Manipulation Tactics) is a particularly interesting form of intimidation and a powerful manipulation tactic. The term comes from the play and movie Gaslight, about a man who uses the clever tactic of making his wife think she has lost her mind as a way to dispose of her. Because neurotics are by nature somewhat insecure and apprehensive, intimidation tactics of all types are effective means of manipulating them. Sometimes intimidation is very deliberate. But there are times when merely the disturbed character’s apparent level of passion and conviction is intimidating. Such passion and conviction can make you doubt yourself. Skilled manipulators know how to use all the various forms of intimidation to get you to doubt not only your judgment but also your very sanity. And if they can get you not only to doubt your own position but also to fear what might happen if you don’t see things their way, they strengthen their position of control even more.
As I say in my book In Sheep’s Clothing, a moving target is difficult to hit. When you try to address an issue with them, manipulators will use the tactic of diversion to change the subject or focus of attention, or the tactic of evasion to side-step the issue. The more skilled they are in subtle use of the tactics, the less you realize what they’re doing when they’re doing it. You start off talking about one thing, and realize much later that you’re somehow talking about something else. It’s always so important to remain focused and centered when you’re dealing with any type of disturbed character. One of my psychology mentors once made the analogy that trying to get a firm hold on an impaired character’s problematic traits is like “trying to grab a fish in a bucket of oil.” Getting a firm hold on a fish that’s already endowed with a certain sliminess and is wriggling like crazy not to be contained is hard enough work. But the task becomes monumental when both theirs and your skin are covered with oil. So it is with disturbed characters, especially the most manipulative. Pinning them down is always difficult. But when they use diversion, evasion, and other tactics as well, it’s an even more difficult task unless you’re extremely well-focused and persistent.
Lastly, there’s lying – the responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic that disturbed characters have turned into a virtual art form. And as I mention in both In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, there are numerous ways to lie, most of which are very hard to detect. Lying is, perhaps, the ultimate manipulation tactic (see also: Lying: The Ultimate Manipulation Tactic). It serves many purposes, two primarily: 1) to possibly prevent something you don’t want to happen (usually, the negative consequence of a behavior) from happening; or 2) to help ensure that something you desire happens. Some disturbed characters lie more often and in more sophisticated ways than others. And the most seriously disturbed characters and penultimate manipulators (psychopaths) lie, even when the truth would suffice. That’s because they simply can’t relinquish a position of advantage over you. So they’ll lie merely to keep the balance tipped. One of the most effective ways to lie undetected is to recite a litany of true things but leave out a crucial detail or two that would change the whole picture. It’s a way to give yourself credibility while simultaneously taking advantage through deceit.
I hope all the readers will do some sharing about how they encountered the tactics we’ve talked about and the tools they eventually used to confront and deal with those tactics. Next week we’ll be concluding the series on the aggressive personalities with an in-depth discussion on predatory aggressors (i.e., psychopaths, alt: sociopaths).