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Manipulators and Your Role in Their Game: How to recognize and remove manipulation in relationships

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Anyone can be manipulative – your friends, romantic partners, colleagues, employers, family members, and maybe even you. Not to be confused with healthy social influence and persuasion that is commonly present in constructive relationships, I’m talking about the kind of manipulation that occurs when someone is used to benefit another. The psychological and emotional manipulation that occurs when someone creates an imbalance of power and exploits victims to suit their needs. Or in its basic definition, “the use of devious means to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage.” While some forms are blatant, manipulation is often subtle; which is why it’s imperative for our mental and emotional health to be able to recognize manipulation, proactively address it, and learn how to set boundaries when a person refuses to acknowledge and/or change their behavior.

In its most maniacal form manipulation is a stratagem of tricksters, swindlers, and impostors who disregard moral principles; deceiving and taking advantage of others’ frailty and gullibility. And at its very least, manipulation is forced influence used to gain control, benefits, and/or privileges at the expense of others. People who engage in this kind of behavior may have a number of known or unknown causes including, but not limited to:

  • Interpersonal dynamics (how they interact with the world and people around them)

  • Personality characteristics (how a person is wired to behave)

  • A dysfunctional upbringing (childhood environmental factors)

  • Attachment issues (co-dependency, abandonment, betrayal, etc.)

  • Along with, certain mental health conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), BPD and NPD are just 2 of the 10 personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; otherwise known as the DSM. Research elucidates that, “nearly 40% of those with borderline personality disorder also have narcissistic personality disorder.”

The DSM covers all categories of mental health disorders for both adults and children. In its fifth edition, the DSM outlines that people with Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders are often very self-absorbed or egotistical.

This self-absorption rises to a clinical level when the behavior notably interferes with a person's relationships, career, and other significant domains in life. Experts believe that this egotistical approach is an attempt to deal with an underlying poor sense of self-worth, and that manipulators may feel stressed and anxious because they have to conceal themselves for fear of being exposed constantly. While others may be void of a moral compass, ethical crises and conflicts may also plague a manipulator quietly but persistently; as they struggle to live with themselves and their actions. Some may feel guilt, embarrassment, or even depressed as a result of a guilty conscience; using manipulation as a form of survival.

How do you recognize when someone in your life is manipulating you?

Classic manipulators are often people we know personally or who are in a position of power. Their main objective is to manipulate others to get what they want by identifying weaknesses, taking advantage of them, and using it to get others to do something that serves their best interests first. I say first because, there are times that a person can benefit from the manipulation of another, but this is more of an exception than the rule. Manipulators may use positive methods like fabricating closeness by sharing intimate and/or shocking details about themselves prematurely, or insincere flattery, but they will more than likely use negative tactics to ensure their desired outcome, if the former does not suffice.

The list of commonly used tactics by manipulators is rather lengthily. The goal with each tactic is to make you feel irrational and more disposed to agree to their demands. Some of the commonly known tactics include:

  • Feelings of guilt

  • Complaints/Destructive Criticism

  • Comparisons

  • Lies

  • Denial

  • Pretending to be ignorant/innocent

  • Accusations

  • Mind games

  • Gaslighting

The list goes on; however, in our next episode, I’ll break down 6 immediate ways to recognize manipulation, how to address it, and what to do when a person refuses to acknowledge and/or change their behavior.

If you need someone to talk, anonymous, confidential help, is available 24/7. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233

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