Are Manipulative Men and Women Different?

I’ve gotten many emails over the years asking about the differences between men and women with disturbances of character and who manipulate.  And very recently I received an inquiry from someone who had read some of my articles and wondered if I thought only men could be covertly aggressive.  Let me be clear:  women are just as capable as men of manipulation and the other kinds of problematic behaviors I’ve written about in my blog posts and books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance.  I also have an archive full of stories about manipulative girlfriends, ex-wives, etc. and two whole chapters in In Sheep’s Clothing that describe covertly-aggressive females.  Generally speaking, there’s little difference between manipulative men and women.  Both use the same tactics (although women might tend to prefer certain tactics over others) and both engage in covertly aggressive behaviors for the same reason:  to get what they want while not overtly exposing their agenda.

My experience has been that on the neurotic vs. disturbed character spectrum, female manipulators tend to be slightly more neurotic than their male counterparts.  And they are more often motivated to employ covert strategies because they either have little experience with or haven’t had much success with more direct, assertive approaches, while men who prefer covert-aggression do so simply because they’ve found it effective. Women who manipulate are also more likely to have other co-existing personality characteristics.  Still, it would be wrong to conclude that manipulative men and women are all that different from one another.

Gender bias can often color our judgment when it comes to correctly perceiving someone’s character.  So, when it comes to judging manipulative behavior, best to simply look for the tactics a person uses and how often they use them.  That’s the most reliable way to tell the kind of person with whom you’re dealing.

7 thoughts on “Are Manipulative Men and Women Different?

  1. I have a situation whereby, I see my sister is not happy in her life and I believe it is every aspect of her life!

    I have her 2 daughters coming to me (I am my sisters older sister by 2 yrs) with problems they have with their mum (my sister) and they are telling me awful things that she is saying and doing. I have had the older of the 2 (she is 18) come and stay with me and my hubby twice now due to the nasty and hysterical behaviour that my sister shows!

    I have even had her husband telling me what she says and that he is fed up with her and her beahviour!

    I have been told so much over the last 19 months that I am at a loss as to what to say and how to approach her! She has fallen out with my parents for the last couple of weeks, this was only due to my niece (their grandchild) going to them as she was upset and they took her home and tried to talk to my sister, but she just went hysterical at them and swore at them!

    We have had an issue of late whereby she has now fallen out with me.

    I am at a loss as to what to say to her and her family! I cannot keep taking on board their problems and issues that they do not want to sort out as a family! It is draining me and causing me to feel stressed all the time. I am growing further apart from them, but it is their doing as I am tired of just getting into heated discussions with them and hearing all the falling out!

    Have you any input on this situation that may help????

  2. Interesting. I find 1 article about manipulation by women and 9 on men. And yet, if I were to count every single male I have met who suffered from some sort of social illness, there would be ten women.

    I think modern medical science is actually the creator of mental illness. It’s not that they don’t have the tools to tell people what the problem is. It’s just that psychiatry has yet to actually cure one person of depression, which means psychology is just as ass-backwards and worthless.

    You are preaching to the choir of abused people in a society that is totally sociopathic. Just look at the 10 million Kim Kardashian followers.

    (Edited for spelling and punctuation only).

  3. I’m in an unusual circumstance (although probably quite typical in this topic), but we have recently met a couple where the husband (we’ll call him Pedro) has some narsistic tendencies and I believe the wife (we’ll call her Ree) to be manipulating my relationship of 5 years. My partner (let’s call him Ben)) & I have spent much time with them and Ben has formed a unique relationship with Ree, and, as my partner handed me his phone to respond to a received text, I noticed a text from him to her saying that he ‘wants, needs and loves her with all his being’. Needless to say, I’m hurting pretty badly at the moment. Now, being in on the swinging scene for the past 3 years has opened both our minds, however, and he has overstepped the boundaries and he acknowledges he has behaved like an ass, but says Ree fills a void that has been missing in him for 25 years and he stills feels the same for her, yet still loves me, even more now since we have been talking and growing so much together over the past few days. He has not been together with Ree behind my back, as his sincerity is real, having spent the last 4.5 years in therapy and witnessing him grow to a more empathetic and loving person. Although I am still very hurt, I have been trying to convince him that my gut feeling didn’t sit right with her..feelings I had felt in a previous relationship and, along with discussions with my best friend (who I trust to be perceptive on peoples behaviors, having been through 2 friendships & 1 relationship with people with manipulative tendencies) has met Ree on numerous occasions, has finally warned me Ree has these manipulative traits. I had wondered why I was feeling so bad about myself, why my partner & I having relationships problems over the past 3-4 months. Ree was pushing me to be her friend, pushing me to trust her and It still made me feel bad, with the sense that i was a bad person for not being able to trust her. It takes sometimes years for me to form full trust in even the closest of friends, being a wary person. She has also tried getting my 12 year old daughter o confide in her. After I advised her to cease this, as she has numerous aunts, uncles & closer family friends to confide in if she can’t talk to me, she still persisted and ‘chatted’ to my daughter. I’m not sure why she has made me her victim, but I do see that her ‘agenda’ is my partner. Ben isn’t the first man she has done this to, as another male married friend has also told her he could ‘easily fall in love with her’, according to Ree’s words to me..she must have said something for this friend to feel this. As I believe she has done with my dear Ben (yes, he’s a bit gullible, but usually has a heart of gold). I have listened to her talk at times, in one moment stating her opinion in one way, then once Ben states his opinion on he same matter, she’ll turn her opinion around to be in agreement with him, allowing him to hear what he wants to, in turn having him believe they have so much in common, yet saying I am more like her husband, Pedro, remembering his narcissistic tendencies. I don’t believe I have these tendencies, having had therapy myself over the past 2 years, I had thought I had come out finally acknowledging myself to be a reasonably intelligent and nice person, now I have become doubtful of of this. Also, I’m not usually an attention seeking person, yet one day while we were all together, I did receive some attention on the day, where I was asked what I’d like to do that day. Ree, who usually receives a lot of attention, made quite a huge vocal deal out of this, asking why didn’t anyone ask her what she wanted to do that day? I’m not sure how to approach my partner now, having done some research on manipulative people, I’d like to let him know that my gut feeling shouldn’t be discounted, she shouldn’t be interfering in our relationship and to take a closer look at Ree to see if he recognises where she’s duped him. She has threatened to leave her husband on numerous occasions due to his tendencies, yet tells me she loves Pedro yet her words don’t seem to reflect her actions. She calls Ben & texts him often, telling him how great etc he me crazy, but I do believe she wants to be in my position. I have suggested to Ben that I can leave if he wants (which was a difficult conclusion), but I don’t want to stand in the way of his happiness if Ree is the one to make him happy. He told me that he is content and happy with me and assures me he will not go behind my back, something he had done in a previous relationship yet found the guilt was too hard to bare, to him it was a dark place where he does not want to return. Ugh..what do I do???

    1. I’ll let the readers chime in, but I”m going to offer my two cents, too.

      Some people see boundaries and limits as chains that bind and curtail the freedom to enjoy. Others see boundaries and limits as the necessary parameters that protect the human spirit and make depth and meaning possible in our lives.

      If it’s happiness you desire, try imposing on yourself, and nurturing a relationship with a partner who imposes on him/herself, time-tested limits and boundaries.

      Oh, and please don’t cheapen the notion of legitimate guilt, which is that special something that actually keeps decent people from doing indecent things. So-called “guilt” after the fact of unseemly behavior is a very cheap, temporary, and functionally useless substitute for the noble but substantial suffering decent people endure when they commit themselves to self-denial for the greater good.

    2. “He told me that he is content and happy with me and assures me he will not go behind my back, something he had done in a previous relationship yet found the guilt was too hard to bare, to him it was a dark place where he does not want to return.”

      But he has. It’s actions, not words, that really count.

    3. I have exactly the same story only my story is ending with Divorce because I let him go to the so called friend of mine for only 2 years previous… I had been married for 26yrs and together for almost 30 and this “so called friend” of only 2 yrs walks in and literally took everything I was !! I changed my social places and freinds and phone 3 times to stay out of her path but she hunted me down like a dog almost like she has stepped straight into my comfy slippers… now i have councelling and a bad depression for all this … Oh and she was 10 yrs younger too so this obviously helped.. but my almost ex didnt even fight for me he just ran to her like a child in a sweet shop…

    4. While many character-disordered people acknowledge what they are doing with casual attitude, some people(leaning a little over the middle to the character-disturbed end of the spectrum of neurosis and character disturbance) can fool themselves to overlook their behavior, more specifically, their loose boundaries.

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