Manipulation and the Problem of Perspective

A while back I received the following (edited) note from a reader of In Sheep’s Clothing:

I saw several counselors to trying to help myself sort through the problems I was having dealing with a difficult person in my life.  I could readily see that I was quite neurotic, suffering as I do from anxiety disorders and always struggling with my self-esteem.  I also had the tendency to think that everybody must be pretty much just like me, at least at a deeper level.  The counselors spent most of their time trying to get me to be less upset about the things my manipulator was doing to me, and they speculated about all sorts of fears and insecurities this person must have, which of course made me feel bad about thinking ill of them.  None of them ever had any ideas about what I could do to cope with this person’s behavior.  Within minutes after digging into your book, everything became clear.  I wasn’t crazy after all!  I began to my manipulator for what she really was.  And once I started confronting her tactics, my whole relationship with her changed for the better.  I’ve since spread the word among several of my friends about what I learned.  Thank you so much for such a readable and practical book.


One of the principle motivations I had to write my first book was the difficulty I had with “traditional” perspectives and approaches with which most counselors and therapists (including myself) were most familiar and comfortable.  The old psychology is a psychology of fear, insecurity, self-protection, and conflict-avoidance.   The paradigms that followed from our traditional theories all had to do basically with how we run and hide.  But human beings have always done far more fighting than running and hiding in daily life, and in the modern era, many have become unscrupulous about the degree and manner in which they fight.  But there was no psychology paradigm that adequately explained how to understand and deal with those who go about getting what they want in less than responsible ways.  That’s why I was prompted to do some research, to more carefully scrutinize my cases, and eventually to write about what I’d learned.  The biggest lesson I learned was that the way that most of us, and most especially, mental health professionals, had traditionally been taught to view human nature and behavior was actually the biggest obstacle to understanding and dealing effectively with the unscrupulous and devious folks among us.  We needed to give more credence to our gut inclinations and less to the dominant view that everyone was really a frightened, insecure child underneath, striving for love and protecting themselves from harm in the only ways they knew how.  My whole outlook changed, and the people I was trying to help became more empowered.  And the most satisfying thing of all:  folks in troubled relationships who adopted a new outlook also found themselves in a position to better understand and deal with the problem person in their life.

Next year will mark the 17th year that In Sheep’s Clothing will be in print in one incarnation or another.  If history is any teacher, it will probably remain in print (though hopefully revised and updated from time to time) for several years to come.  It’s edifying to know it’s still a sought-after item.  I like to think that’s because it was the first (and some say only) book to expose manipulative behavior for what it really is.  But the most edifying thing of all for me is getting the literally hundreds of notes and comments every year just like the one I’m sharing in this post.  Giving people a perspective that helps them get a better handle on their lives – who could ask for anything more?

3 thoughts on “Manipulation and the Problem of Perspective

  1. Thank you for your book, “In Sheep’s Clothing”. It represented a great shift in my thinking.

    My mother is narcissistic and has covert aggression down pat. I grew up wondering just what I did to make her so nasty with me. I never felt I was good enough. I started my studies in psychology to answer that question, much to my mother’s dismay. Eventually, I completed my Master’s in Counseling and started practicing. I gave up on having a relationship with my mother, it was just too confusing and hurtful. She is 85 and in fine form, so I hear.

    After 20 years of practice in community mental health, I thought I’d just about seen all there was. I met a female psychologist who was looking for therapists to join her private practice. Oh, I jumped on the opportunity and my husband and myself packed up, sold our house and moved four hours to the south to start in the practice. Even thing was going pretty good until we moved into our new office suites. Then it started going downhill….First I was assigned the office closest to the director’s office, the psychologist I mentioned earlier. Then the games began! The other part time therapist was jealous over the office assignment. The director (psychologist) started splitting between us and when I asked her about what she was doing, she blew her top. She accused me of splitting, being out of line and being a bully. I was floored. I’m one who stays in her office working and out of office politics, being a vet of community mental health. The aggression continued until I finally had a full blown panic attack. The psychologist was oh so supportive. After a long conversation with her, I thought that things were okay and returned to my office to work.

    Of course, the game was now afoot and the psychologist played goofy game after game, splitting all the while. She brought in two more brand new psychologists and things really went sideways. On the 6th of July, my husband and I entered into what we thought was a normal weekly meeting. Instead, she ripped into us both: telling us we were awful therapists and ALL our patients hated us. She was in full on bully mode. When I finally spoke up after 15 minutes of her tirade, she started back peddling. If I had any questions about if I could work for her, they were answered for me. We went home to write our resignation letters. However, she beat us to the punch again and gave us lay off notices the next time we walked into the office. As far as I am concerned, she fired us.

    The next three weeks was hell and the covert aggressive behavior became full on bullying overt aggression behavior. I ended up having two little strokes, which I have recovered from, but they left their mark. Its been three months and I’m so glad I am out of there. However, I still hypervigilent in interviews and I’m a little afraid to return to the consulting room. That was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had in my practice. I expect this type of behavior from a patient, but not from a therapist. She is one destructive person and I sure don’t want to manage to find another one just like her. EEEKKK!

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words, “Recovering,” and for your illustrations for the benefit of the readers.

      One point, if I may. My pet peeve is the misuse of terms by mental health professionals and laypersons alike. One of the things I wanted to clarify in my book was that one often misused term: “passive-aggression” is not the same thing as “active” yet “veiled” or “covert-aggression.” Similarly, the term “splitting” has been misused to the point that it’s completely lost its original meaning (the same is true of “acting-out,” by the way – and I have a post about that). What your director was accusing you of was the tactic of “dividing” (sometimes called “dividing and conquering). Psychologists misuse the term (splitting) more often than I care to think about. Splitting is an unconscious (as opposed tot he conscious tactic of dividing) defense mechanism that separates a single intrapsychic representation (e.g., mother image) into separate polar entities. The most extreme form of this would be the splitting of the self into separate personas.

      I’m so glad you used your “shift in thinking” to sort through the mess the cast of character-disturbed individuals you were dealing with made for you. There’s no shortage of character disturbance, even among therapists. Best of luck to you. Stay empowered. And thanks for letting me vent about my pet peeve!

  2. Thank you, Dr. Simon. I appreciate your kind words. It has been a battle, but I am getting ready to start back in the consulting room with a practice I am starting with my husband. That was a real learning experience and when I found your book, it was like it was all opened up to me. I know that the goofy people I was dealing with are what they are. I can’t fix them (no matter the theraputic approach) and I don’t want to be around folks like that. Our move toward starting a practice has been greatly supported and I am glad I am far, far away from that nuttiness!

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