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How Are People Manipulated and Why ?

Emotional or psychological manipulation aims to influence the behaviour of another person by certain tactics which may not be clear to the manipulated or even to others. The objective may not be only to change the behaviour of the manipulated person but also to make him convinced that there is no other way to get out of the situation or that his relationship with the manipulator is unavoidable. It is a form of abuse, though it may not be as evident as other forms. Emotional manipulation is an emotional abuse which may or may not be associated with other forms of abuse, such as physical and sexual abuse.

There is a difference between persuasion and emotional manipulation. Persuasion is not coercive and respects the right of the person to choose and to accept or refuse the suggested behaviour. In manipulation, it may seem superficially that the person is allowed to choose. However, under the superficial pretence of freedom of choice, there is an under-current of emotional coercion.

The process of emotional manipulation involves two parties: the manipulator and the manipulated in a process of manipulation which has its own dynamics.

The Manipulator

Manipulators lie on a spectrum of different characters. However, they are all characterised by abnormality in personality. It is easy to identify the ruthless, cruel, callous and remorseless psychopath. However, some other disordered personalities may use manipulation to survive their own pathology and maintain their psychological integrity. An emotionally dependent person may seek his emotional needs by manipulating others. The same with narcissistic personality when someone tries fulfilling their craving for power, prestige, vanity and self-aggrandisement by manipulating others. The histrionic who is seeking attention, self-indulgence, satisfaction of superficial emotional and sexual needs may make use of all their seductive and dramatic exaggerations to manipulate others. People with Borderline personality with their chaotic emotions and sense of inner emptiness, dramatic mood swings, reckless adventures and acting out will manipulate others even by their aggression or self-harm.

The manipulator tries to control the manipulated to maintain his emotional or personal gains. Some manipulators can easily shift their focus from one victim to another but others my fight to the end to keep their victim under their claws.

The Manipulated

Not every one can be easily manipulated. This is true to some degree, although a clever psychopath can intimidate the least vulnerable by tactics of terror.

The most vulnerable to manipulation are those peaceful and timid persons who lack self-confidence. They are usually conscientious, submissive, honest, or sometimes naive. They may be lonely persons, traumatised and seeking refuge in the hands of the strong manipulator. They may actually lack self-respect, with a deep sense of guilt which is searching for punishment and a feeling that they must deserve to be punished.

Even those who have the ability to intellectualise their life dilemmas may deceive themselves by working their mind hard into the hidden understandable reasons for the manipulator to act in this way. They find excuses for the perpetrator but they overlook excuses to free themselves from the hands of the manipulator. They enjoy intellectualising their suffering as they find facing their vulnerability too painful to live with.

The Manipulation Process

Different tactics are used in the manipulation process. Some are overt and others are too subtle to explore or too complex to analyse.

1. Instillation of Guilt:

Guilt is a strong negative motivator. Manipulators know by experience that their victims can feel guilty quite easily. They see that the victim even confess of his faults and apologises and feels embarrassed unnecessarily. Gradually, they make the victim believes they are not good enough, they do not care enough or they are selfish, harsh, exploitative and even parasitic. In fact, in many cases, the manipulator has most of these features. The victim can not look rationally to see that this is not true because he/she has been programmed into self-doubt, self-blame and idealisation of others together with depreciation of self.

2. Shaming:

A manipulator uses tactics to make the victim feels unworthy, shameful and inadequate so that there is no escape. If the victim tries to challenge a manipulator, the latter makes the victim feels ashamed by intimidation, fear, guilt and self-doubt, with accusation of lack of ability to do anything,lack of stamina,of power or courage. Sarcasm, jokes, ridicule and negative comments or even just threats may be used. Sometimes the manipulator provokes the victim into an act of aggression out of frustration and pain. This usually fails to free the victim. However, the manipulator would use such incident to make the victim feels further shame, failure and guilt.

3. Gaining Sympathy:

The manipulator may take the role of the victim to gain sympathy and cooperation if other tactics fail. Invoking compassion, pity and sympathy from someone who is conscientious is not difficult as such persons can not stand seeing someone who is suffering or in pain. The manipulator goes on lamenting how unlucky they are, how unfair things are and how they are victims of such cruel life.

4. Intimidation:

Threats may be overt or covert. An intimidating look, ignoring the other person, expression of anger or disapproval are some of the intimidating acts. Sometimes, it is feigning rage and an explosion of emotion which is used to intimidate the person into submission. Threats may range from scandalous behaviour to ruin the social status of the victim up to physical attacks and sometimes threats to kill.

5. Seduction:

Sexual manipulation is used to give a false sense of intimacy and ensure the bond of the relationship. Emotional seduction by flattery, praise and charming attitude can be momentarily used to make the victims lower their defences and gain their trust. This is usually short-lived and unpredictable and through such intermittent positive reinforcement the victim is hooked into the game of manipulation.

6. Lying:

Lying is at the core of manipulation either by withholding a significant amount of the truth, omitting some important facts, or fabricating false stories. The manipulator may exaggerate or minimise facts, cheat and deceive the victim and build unreal picture of himself, his victim and their relationship. Feigning is another form of practical lying. The manipulator may deny that he has done anything wrong intentionally or that he was unaware of the effect on the victim or may put on a look of surprise or indignation. Stark lying in the form of denying "what you are talking about?" or pretending to be forgetful or confused is sometimes used. Feigning illness or pain,fainting or false fits may be used to gain sympathy and weaken the defences of the victim.

7. Rationalisation:

The manipulator may use different manoeuvres to explain the reasons for his behaviour which make use of the vulnerability of the victim. If the victim is naive or unable to critically judge an argument, the manipulator may use many of the fallacies of logic to overcome his victim's counter-arguments. If the victim is ridden with guilt, shame or harsh conscience, the manipulator uses all arguments which appeal to such vulnerabilities.

8. Denial:

The manipulator may bluntly deny any wrong doing or refuse to admit it or evade discussing the subject altogether. He/she may engage in a rambling, irrelevant confusing talk which may divert the attention to a totally different subject. Denial is different from lying if the person is unaware partially or fully of the truth.

9. Projecting the blame:

The manipulator may project the blame on the victim, accusing him of many of his own vices or sometimes accuse others who have wronged him throughout his life and who made him what he is. The victim may feel either guilt or he is put on the defensive to explain himself or he may feel sympathy and sorrow for the manipulator.

10. Aggression:

The manipulator may resort to actual aggression and violence to make the victim submit to his will, in particular if the victim is weaker or disabled. This may come out of a sudden in a feigned outburst of anger or intense rage. Any response of a similar nature from the victim is faced with more intense aggression which may be later blamed on the victim himself or a fabricated illness may be blamed or simply attributed to the emotional problems the manipulator claims to be facing.

Further Reading

1- In Sheep's Clothing Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K. Simon:

A great little book that in a light and clear way outlines the different kinds of manipulative people and the strategies that are most commonly used by the manipulators. It also gives steps and strategies of how to deal with manipulators. Dr. George Simon is the leading expert on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

2- Who's Pulling Your Strings?: How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life by Harriet Braiker

3- The Psychopathy of Everyday Life: How Antisocial Personality Disorder Affects All of Us by Martin Kantor

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