Understanding Manipulation Tactics Part Two

A while back I posted the first of three articles on understanding the nature of manipulation tactics (see: Understanding Manipulation Tactics Part 1).  That was followed by another article describing some of the more popular tactics (see: Manipulation Tactics Pt. 2 – Rationalization (Excuse-Making).  But I felt it necessary to post one more article on the subject, along with a link to another excerpt from my upcoming “webinar” series because of how crucial it is to correctly perceive and respond to the kinds of habitual behaviors manipulators and other disturbed characters display.  Not only is “getting it right” with respect to the true nature of these behaviors important to anyone trying to make sense of, survive, or extract themselves from an unhealthy or abusive relationship, but also it’s critically important to those who have sought help from counselors of various disciplines and persuasions, only to experience frustration and anguish over not feeling validated or understood. When it comes to understanding and dealing effectively with disturbed characters, it’s hard for helping professionals who still embrace traditional models of viewing human behavior to get things right.  And, as I discuss in the video clip this article links to, when the conceptualization of a problem is wrong from the start, not only is there little likelihood of successful intervention, but also the chances are great that “therapy” will only “enable” the problem to continue or even possibly become worse. A prime example of this is when the disturbed character in a relationship engages in what most therapists have traditionally labeled “denial” (see also: Manipulators:  Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?).  Sometimes a therapist will listen to a disturbed character engage in a well-crafted whitewash of their irresponsible behavior (using tactics such as feigning ignorance, feigning innocence, minimizing, rationalizing, lying by significant omission, etc.).  The aggrieved spouse listens in horror as the therapist appears to be swayed.  Based on the aggrieved party’s initial complaints, the therapist was expecting a monster.  But the “monster” has such good impression-management skill that the therapist starts wondering about the victim.  And when some clear issues do come to light and the manipulator has to acknowledge some things (typically using the tactic of giving minor assent coupled with “minimization” to candy-coat things), the therapist makes an interpretation that underneath the other disturbed character’s “defenses” must lie a mountain of shame and guilt that they’ve built a wall around – a wall that only time, compassion, understanding, and empathy can invite them to slowly break down.  So the abused party – figuring that the therapist knows best – decides to be patient, bite their tongue, and accept the notion that given enough time, understanding, and unconditional positive regard, the disturbed character will overcome their denial, come to “see” the error of their ways, and the relationship will grow even stronger as the two parties deal with the pain responsible for the emotional blinders the disturbed character had been wearing for years. But here’s the problem:  Lying and refusing to accept responsibility is NOT denial.  It’s just lying.  And it’s often an effective tactic of impression management and responsibility avoidance.  Besides, when it’s not confronted and dealt with right up front, it’s a fair bet that the victim in an unhealthy relationship is merely wasting valuable time and energy in their effort to secure “help” and make things change.  Hundreds of folks have written me testifying to the truth of this.  Some have even made multiple attempts at counseling, and in the process forfeited much precious time, emotional energy, and money.

As I’ve said countless times, most of the time, the disturbed character already “sees” the issues that need attention and correction, but still “disagrees” with the pro-social principles that would make the relationship work.  But before any problem can be dealt with, a person has to do more than see it, they have to “own” it.  If they’re not willing to admit the problem, they’re not likely to be of the mind to be rid of it.  And although it would be nice to think that the only reason person won’t own a problem up front is because they’re in so much internal agony over it (e.g., consumed with shame and guilt) that their unconscious mind won’t allow them to even recognize the problem consciously (i.e., they really don’t know what they’re doing and only time and compassionate guidance will help them “see”), such assumptions have time and again proven to be just another nail in the coffin of a person stuck in a relationship with a disturbed character.

For the all the aforementioned reasons, during the video clip from one of my workshops, I take some time to speak directly to the mental health professionals who are in the audience.  Their lay persons attending the workshop already understand well what I’m saying, and as the therapists in the audience look around, they can see the heads of others nodding in affirmation.  But I know that old notions and perspectives don’t yield easily, so I possibly belabor some points a bit.  But I do so out of necessity and with great purpose and conviction.  Because putting the right perspective on situations and interpreting behaviors correctly is absolutely essential to facilitating positive change.

Next week will see the launch of a brand new series of posts.  These  posts will contain fresh, new content and greatly expanded discussion on the topics that you, the readers, have highlighted through your comments are of the greatest concern to you.  And there will even be some material that can’t be found either in my books In Sheep’s Clothing  and Character Disturbance or even existing blog articles.  So, stay tuned! And click on the following link to view the workshop clip:


21 thoughts on “Understanding Manipulation Tactics Part Two

  1. This is a nut that so hard to crack, also for those of us who would like to pass on the awareness to friends and colleagues. I recently tried to convey this to someone who teaches consensus and is heavily invested in “we are all ok” inclusivity dogma. Did not get anywhere… and she demonstrated her “better” point of view by saying that even that “odious political candidate X” surely means well deep down. I said, no…. and nobody else dared to peep in. 🙂

  2. Here’s a thought. How come, in a culture where introverts are at least half of the population, and possibly a little more, they are treated like second class citizens, and the culture as a whole utterly caters to, and celebrates, the extrovert? Could it be because extroverts are more apt to use CA tactics, and introverts are more apt to retreat than facing them?

  3. I would like to respond to Vera. I understand extraverts as being people who are energized from being with people and those that are introverts as being people who are energized by alone time. I am considered an extravert and my husband an introvert. But I run from conflict and he faces it head on and deals with it immediately. I have also had CA people in my life that were considered introverts and CA people in my life that were extraverts. Most of the tactics Ca people use are in one on one situations because they dont want witnesses to their twisted stories so they can deny later ever saying such things. So to me a CA can be either one. Just like Dr. Simon has always said that it comes down to their character. I think that people who are extraverts are probably more likely to be Overt aggressives. But then introverts can be overt aggressives too. So I don’t think it really matters about whether you are an intovert or an extravert. Comes down to Character!

    That person you talked to is setting herself up for being a victim of CA. I would love to believe that everyone has a good heart deep down but that just isn’t really the case. I kept giving the Disturbed Charactor in my life the benefit of the doubt over and over but it just lead to depression and resentment and me being a door mat!

    1. Chris, I agree. The CAs in my life have tended to be extroverts, but that doesn’t mean anything. I am sure both orientations have CAs. What has been niggling at me, though, are the similarities in how the CA culture bullies the non-CAs, and similarly the extrovert culture bullies us introverts, telling us there is something wrong with us. Another parallel seems to be the way the smoker culture bullied non-smokers not so long ago.

      And so I am thinking that the skills we are learning while facing CAs can be of use when facing another social group — even if there is no malevolent intent — that is so oblivious in its entitlement that it consigns those who are not part of it to invisibility or pathology.

      What do you think?

    1. Good conversation here. But insofar as the introvert-extravert dimension and CA behavior is concerned, there’s no evidence to support the notion that extraverts are more prone to CA behavior. And there are numerous factors that could easily be thought of as “predisposing.” The biggest dimension of personality that appears to influence all forms of aggressive behavior is the soundness and maturity of conscience. Folks who have scruples rooted in genuine empathy-based regard for the welfare of others are less prone to all forms of aggressive behavior, even when stressors mount. And certain cultural factors play a big role in how difficult the task of developing such a conscience is.

      1. I don’t disagree. But I think you would find the book Quiet, by Susan Cain, interesting in places, particularly where she discusses how the US was transformed from a culture that stressed and celebrated character in the 19th century, to one that stressed and celebrated appearances and personality… in the rush to lionize those who could sell, sell, sell. Dale Carnegie and all that. And interesting too, that the path from encouraging gregarious likeableness to manipulation was indeed a short one, as Carnegie’s own writings attest.

        1. Cain’s points about the cultural shift are a drumbeat I’ve been sounding for years. And if character were still valued like it once was, the temptation to idolize the strictly self-serving “hustle” that defines gregarious, likeable, manipulation, would at least meat with some resistance. Folks like Carnegie (and Barnum) have always been among us, advocating their perspectives, but there were once more people that felt some qualms about following in their footsteps.

          1. I think her most chilling, and appalling chapter is the one where she goes to witness the aggressive extrovert cults at ‘Unleashing your power’ workshops, the Harvard Business School, and evangelical megachurches, where the drumbeat of in-your-face loud stimuli without let up, without any time for pensive self-reflection, creates training ground for those supporting conformism to extrovert aggression in all spheres of life.

            But recognition is the first step, and it heartens me that there are people facing this issue from several perspectives.

    2. the introvert ca seems more effective since the manipulation is quiet. the extrovert risks everything but requires skill the introvert lacks. otherwise it would simply be a matter of choice as to how the manipulation is conducted.

  4. “Most of the tactics Ca people use are in one on one situations because they dont want witnesses to their twisted stories so they can deny later ever saying such things.”

    Thank you, Chris, for writing that! I am working with a client right now who does exactly this — is just really, really rotten one and one and then completely lies (or uses my ideas as her own) later in front of others. And of course I’m so shocked that I never speak up.

    So it’s great to be reminded of this. Not only will I not continue to give her ideas, I’ll make sure I’m never alone with her again.

    Thanks! It’s a good plan.

    1. Thanks LR. I appreciate your comment too about not being alone with them. I too have come to that realization. I will never open up too them either to give them any amunition to work with. I found talking on the phone as a one on one situation as well that they use. So if the CA in my life calls I will not answer if no one is home. I would rather someone at least hear my side of the conversation. If I could I would love to record the conversations.

      I feel so bad for you Bob as well. But I am happy that you are out of that very bad situation. What I often wonder is how long it takes for spouses to realize what they are up against. Do they always believe everything the CA says or does it become obvious soon in the marriage that they are liars? I ask this because the CA in my life has a husband who seems oblivious to the fact that she lies her face off. He will back her and support her even though its obvious she is lying!!!!! That part I don’t get. I guess they want to believe that their spouse would never lie to them. Maybe they also need your book Dr. Simon so they have their eyes opened. Or maybe they get something from the CA that keeps them locked tightly in their grip. I don’t know. There I go trying to figure it all out. I need to stop doing that. Anyway thanks LR for your kind words.

  5. Dr Simon, I have another request. Could the people who participate here be cleared by the system so we don’t have to wait for our comments to be approved? It is hard to have a conversation when the comments just sit in queue for days on end. Thank you! (Most blogs are set up that way… only newbies need approval.)

    1. Thanks for the question, Vera. When the site managers are convinced that the WordPress-based platform finally has a strong enough firewall to prevent covert hack attacks through comments, I’ll be the first one to celebrate being rid of the “approval” requirement.

      1. I was sorry to hear that you’ve been targeted by hackers of late. Not surprising some don’t like what you are making public… it testifies to the power of your message!

        1. Thanks, Vera. We have good reason to believe the blog was deliberately targeted. But we remain undeterred. And the international presence of the work has only increased. I am so grateful for all the support.

  6. HI Dr. Simon,

    Just curious why you didn’t post my comment? Was it because I was off-topic? I was just struck by something Chris had written and wanted to thank her. I know different sites/blogs have their own rules, so if I broke one and that’s why my comment didn’t get posted, please let me know. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the alert! I actually had thought your other comment was approved and posted. Not sure why it didn’t post, but it should be on site now. And not to worry – no rules broken!

  7. Unbeknownst to me my wife and all her sisters had been sequentially and regularly raped by the father for around a decade, with the mother and brother knowing exaclty what was going on and doing nothing. Each left the home for college and marriage eventually, wherupon the predator began coaching little girls’ soccer and church groups.

    We had severe problems with covert aggression in the marriage, and when I finally was filing for divorce she sprung this little “secret” on me. I made two conditions to forestall divorce: I called the sheriff immediately and demanded honesty out of her to the authorities. Second: joint counseling.

    But she tricked me. She told me she wanted to first make sure she was “comfortable” with the counselor before I went in. Months went by, constantly asking why I was not coming yet, with her lying to say the counselor didn’t want me there. So I came in uninvited. It was surreal at first but then turned to horrifying as it dawned on me after two hours she had not even mentioned the years of sexual/mental abuse nor even the problems manifested in our marriage. She had told the counselor she was there for “depression” initially, which morphed into me being an abusive husband eventually. The counselor was helping her to “see” the abusive nature of things that had not happened! For two hours I was forbidden to speak while this unfolded.

    I was in shock, but I stood up at one point and asked the counselor whether it even mattered to her that my wife had been sexually and mentally abused by her father for so many years and that we had agreed we were going to joint counseling in order to address the impact it had on our marriage. She was not there for depression! She played dumb, showing not the slightest reaction to this bombshell.

    I begged for an answer. Doesn’t this MATTER?! Why aren’t you asking her if this is true?! Why aren’t you even looking at her? When the answer finally came it was that my wife was writing the checks.

    The look on my wife’s face was one of intense gloating and smugness, the one time when I really got a look at what a savage she was. All the years before she had concealed this glee over tormenting me, but the mask was off that day. These people know EXACTLY what they’re doing. There isn’t a shred of mercy in them.

    But I have zero respect for that counselor. Granted, she had been lied to for months. But to refuse even acknowledging the gigantic chasm between why my wife said she was there and the information I was divulging… Gah! Dr. Simon’s book had the answers for me, which was to avoid the covert aggressors that are on the hunt for people like me. I have an amazing wife and two beautiful children now because I learned to spot these leopards in the grass.

    1. Unbelievable to read “my wife’s face was one of intense gloating and smugness”!!!

      A perfect case to always remember what one is dealing with.

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