Manipulators and other disturbed characters use a variety of tactics to control and manipulate others. I’ve been posting on some of these in the past few weeks. But in this post, I wanted to outline some of the main reasons why manipulation tactics work. I also wanted to speak to issues about how people get themselves trapped in situations in which disordered characters of all types manipulate, abuse, or exploit them.
I’ve been posting a series of articles on a wonderful international blog: Psychology, Philosophy, and Real Life. In some of those posts, I’ve talked about how some longstanding principles of traditional psychology have become unfortunately so unquestionably accepted by both professionals and lay persons that they cloud a person’s judgement when trying to make sense of the behavior of an abuser or manipulator. Along the way, I’ve gotten some very interesting comments from readers.
In one of my posts, I made the point that “traditional” psychology paradigms tend to view EVERYONE as struggling with fears and insecurities. If we buy into that notion, trying to understand someone’s behavior always boils down to trying to figure out what fears and insecurities must be prompting the behavior. I further pointed out that how we “frame” a problem can often be as important as what we do to try and solve it. I lamented that counselors who are overly-immersed in traditional mindsets can inadvertantly do great damage when trying to help someone in an abusive, exploitive, or manipulative relationship simply be framing the problem incorrectly. A wonderful comment came from Sarah, who quoted me in one of my posts saying:
“For example, some disordered characters have such a passion for novelty and such a craving for excitement that they constantly seek shallow, intense, and short-lived high-risk sexual involvements and other interpersonal titillations. But this characteristic thrill-seeking behavior is sometimes framed as necessarily stemming from a “fear” of intimacy or commitment. I think this mistake is often made because it’s difficult for neurotic individuals (or traditionally-minded therapists) to imagine why a person wouldn’t necessarily prefer a stable and intimate relationship over multiple risky encounters unless they were in some way “afraid” of something deeper.”
Sarah commented that she has also come to be a believer in how holding onto outdated notions about why some people do the hurtful things they do only enables people to continue being abused or manipulated.
Another reader, Diane, voiced her agreement with my concerns about how traditional perspective can be a setup for abuse and exploitation:
“I agree if the therapist does not catorgorize (the true nature of the abusive party) and get a clear picture (of the abusive situation) he or she could damage their patient or patient! That’s why in a abusive relationship marriage counseling often times ( more so then not ) creates more damage. I am learning that they’re really aren’t very many therapists out there who can handle the job of (working with) a character disorder. They seem too afraid to judge it (character disturbance) as such! Funny that an expert actually fails the client under these circumstances. Right now I just talked to a women and her counselour is clueless… actually has been highly rated in the state.. But it is not a shock to me…Easily wrapped up for the controller manipulater type.. Actually it was a slam dunk. It is disappointing since so many seek help and don’t recieve it..”
These comments have been edifying for me to get. The point of this discussion, however, is that one of the principal reasons people get manipulated, abused and exploited by disturbed or disordered characters is because the legacy of traditional psychology has many of us (therapists and lay persons alike) thinking about the behavior of others and their motivations for that behavior in a manner that actually sets people up to be victimized!
Disturbed characters and skilled manipulators are not easily understood or effectively deal with using traditional frameworks. As I have posted about before both on my blog and other blogs, disturbed characters are very different from neurotics and the traditional frameworks were all developed to deal with the phenomenon of neurosis. So, step number one to overcoming all types of abuse, exploitation, and especially manipulation is to start questioning or even ridding yourself of all of the outdated notions traditional psychology promoted about why people do the things they do and adopt a new framework for understanding those individuals whose defects of character are the main reasons for the problems they cause.