Impression management is the art of looking good. And it requires a certain skillset, to be sure. But it’s a skillset that’s relatively easily learned. Some folks get quite proficient at this art. A good impression manager uses a variety of tactics to manipulate others into viewing them favorably. That’s why, most of the time, it takes a while to know the true character of folks who know how to put forth an attractive image.
There is a most troubling character type among all the various personalities. I first described the type in In Sheep’s Clothing. (Mira, tambien: Lobos con Piel de Cordero.) It’s the nefarious character who knows how to look good without being good. Some of these folks are just like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. They’re always out for something, harboring strictly self-serving agendas. And what they’re angling for is generally at your expense. So, they can be downright abusive and exploitative. Still, they also know how to appear benign while doing such things. And this masquerade creates a conflict between what what your gut instinct tells you and your brain judges. This conflict is, in a nutshell, the crazy-making phenomenon I first described years ago and that many now commonly call the gaslighting effect.
Understanding the Tactics – The Beginning of Empowerment
Gaslighting victims often question their very sanity. (See: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.) But once they understand the tactics of manipulation and control – and, especially how to respond to them – they recover both their sanity and a healthy measure of personal power. It takes a while to fully appreciate how calculating some folks can be.
Some manipulation tactics are powerful agents of positive impression management. Some unloving characters have natural charm and can be quite amiable, too. But neither charm nor amiability necessarily bespeak a capacity for genuine love. There’s nothing inherently evil about such personal attributes. But becoming a genuine, evolved lover (i.e. developing true character integrity) involves much more. It is indeed the task of a lifetime. And you have to have the heart for it. And not just any heart. Some folks skilled in impression managment have the heart of a thief. They know all the right moves to steal your heart. It’s up to us to remember that even the most magnetic theif of hearts is, first and foremost, a theif. And that never bodes well for a relationship in the long run.
Realizing that skilled manipulators know what they’re doing is in itself empowering. But understanding how they manipulate and how to respond is even more empowering. For too long, traditional perspectives had most of us believing that most folks were unaware of the ways they were hurting us, so we wasted time and energy trying to get them to “see” the error of their ways. Therapists did this, too. And sadly, some still do. There’s no empowerment in pointing out what a manipulator already knows. Empowerment lies setting limits and boundaries, and not allowing a manipulator’s tactics to sway.
The latest edition of Character Matters continues what will be a long discussion on what real love looks like. Real character is all about the commitment to love and developing the heart for that. (That’s partly why I wrote Essentials for the Journey.) And personal empowerment is largely about appreciating how different looking good is from being good. It’s also about recognizing and understanding the wide spectrum of character disturbance we experience these days and how to deal with it.