Surviving manipulative people is one of the most important abilities required to be successful in life. Manipulative people are all around us and are constantly trying to get us to do things that are not in our best interest. Watch the video or read a synopsis of the video below for the tips and tools necessary for surviving manipulative people.
1. What is Manipulation?
Manipulation is the devious and indirect use of information, relationships and emotion to induce others into acting against their own self-interest. While coercion involved direct threats, manipulation involves implied or subtle threats. Similarly, deception involves explicit lies and withholding relevant information, but manipulation tends to involve twisting and misinterpreting facts rather than frank lying and explicit deception.
2. Why do People Manipulate?
- Illicit or unearned material gain
- Psychological gains – being right, wanting others to fail, create chaos, etc.
- Controlling others or increased social standing
- Eliciting sympathy from others
- Avoidance of feared situation such as being alone or feeling abandoned
- Needing to feel like someone is taking care of them (often due to being neglected as a child)
3. Who Manipulates?
Basically anyone who is not in authority over you and can’t just order you to do something. Almost everyone from friends and family to co-workers and clients manipulates occasionally. However, certain people manipulate constantly almost like breathing, even if the manipulation harms them more than it helps them.
4. Who Manipulates Constantly?
Certain people are psychologically compelled to manipulate much like an addicted. They are unable to directly ask for help or assistance even when receiving the assistance they need is almost certain. This maladaptive behavior is often due to being emotionally neglected by parents as a baby or young child and having to use excessive methods to get their parents attention and support. Unsurprisingly, such compulsive maladaptive behavior is considered a mental illness and is referred to as a personality disorder.
5. Cluster B Personality Disorders
While there are 13 formally named personality disorders, the four cluster B personality disorders are characterized by compulsive manipulation or coercion. Here is the list with a brief description of how each disorder tends to manipulate:
- Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) – uses extreme emotion, from crying to seduction, to manipulate for attention due to fears of being ignored. While people with HPD are intense and dramatic, they are rarely dangerous.
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) – uses the illusion of superiority to feel important and to elevate their social standing. People with NPD seek to associate with powerful and famous people and then claim close relationships with such people. In reality, they only once shook the hand of the famous person, who wouldn’t recognize them.
- Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) – uses explicit threats, violence and deception to gain unearned rewards. Such people tend to be career criminals and often have to move around to find new victims. They can be highly charming, but in reality, they are dangerous and can’t be trusted.
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – master manipulators that uses all three styles along other techniques to manipulate their way through life. Given their superior ability to manipulate, being able to spot and resist their manipulations make resisting the other personality disorders simple.
6. How Borderline’s Manipulate – Part I – The Basics
Borderlines use a variety of manipulation techniques, but here are the basic ones that provide the foundation of all their other techniques. (Please be aware that people with BPD manipulate unconsciously and are not aware of what they are doing so confronting them is generally a waste of time. They generally only become aware as part of their recovery process, often after years of therapy and treatment.)
- Regression – will act overwhelmed causing them to behaviorally and cognitively regress so that they act and think like they are much younger, even as young a toddler. They have even been known to talk like a baby and hung teddybears. The point is that their childlike behavior induces rescuing and care taking behavior in others.
- Reactive Depression – if they are caught breaking a rule or making a mistake, they will develop extreme self-loathing, cut themselves and may even “attempt suicide” in dramatic (and usually non-lethal) ways. Their extreme self-loathing and self injury distresses others and manipulates others into forgiving them.
- Hysteria – Similar to HPD, uses extreme emotional displays to engage others and induce compassion in others. In reality, they make others so uncomfortable with their extreme emotions that people give them what they want just so they calm down.
- Splitting – They often manipulate groups by idealizing and sucking up to the leader while devaluing (complaining about) the rest of the group, thus “splitting” the group. If the leader resists their manipulation, they will flip and complain about the leader while sucking up to the rest of the group. They make one side the bad guys and play the victim to the other side.
7. How Borderlines Manipulate – Part II – The Deep Game
At a deeper level borderlines are trying to trigger strong emotional reactions in us, positive or negative, that induce us to behave in inappropriate ways. If they can get us to like them or feel sorry for them enough then we will break a rule or help them too much, which then becomes leverage to help them more. Even if we become too angry at them, we may treat them too harshly and over punish them, which enables them make us feel guilty and causes us to break rules and over help (giving them more leverage). Alternatively, they can threaten to report us for our excessively harsh treatment and control us that way. Basically, any strong emotional reaction we have, positive or negative, can be used to manipulate us.
8. How Borderlines Manipulate – Part III – Subtle Threats and Cognitive Distortions
Borderlines use a few special techniques to engage us emotionally and trigger those strong emotional reactions. A common subtle threat is to question your competence. This is especially effective with professionals like doctors whose identity is built around our competence at something.
They also use provocative statements that are questionably accurate to engage us. They use suicidal and self-injury threats and act to engage us such as “If no one will help me, I might have to kill myself.” They falsely accuse us or others of hating them or even harming them in some way. They will distort and misinterpret facts and situations to the point that they can even seem delusional because they seem to genuinely believe their distortions.
Alternatively, they will be seductive or excessively compliment you. They will say things like, ” You are the best doctor I’ve ever had and you really understand me.” even though I only graduated from medical school last month and don’t have a medical license yet.
9. Manipulation Survival Techniques – Part I
The first technique is to assume the position of powerlessness where you present your self as lacking the power or authority to do anything. This is the, “I just work here, I don’t make the rules” stance. This works because there is no point in manipulating someone that can do anything. You may get a huffy, “you’re useless”, but then they leave and go find someone else to manipulate. It also helps knowing how to say no with class.
The second most important helpful technique is taking the stance of benign neutrality where you are generally concerned for their wellbeing (ie you don’t wish them to be harmed), but beyond that you are neutral toward them. This works because you neither like nor dislike them, which prevents them from triggering strong emotions in you to manipulate you.
There are micro-techniques like slowing your conversation down which help you stay calm and maintain your stance of powerlessness and benign neutrality. Other micro-techniques include just being silent and not responding if they say something provocative like they are attracted to you or threaten to harm themselves. If you can stay silent for 30 seconds and just stare at them neutrally, they will often retract or modify the provocative statement to something more reasonable.
Acknowledging their distress about the situation (but without try to fix or change it and staying neutral) is another effective micro-technique. It allows them to feel heard and acknowledged, but stops short from doing anything inappropriate.
The goal is to be an honest, neutral, non-reactive listener that acknowledges their distress, but allows them to solve their own problems. This way, you avoid destructive interactions and promote their competence (hopefully decrease their need to manipulate).
10. Manipulation Survival Techniques – Part II
Staying neutral often increases their anger so be prepared. Their anger is the sign that they are failing to manipulate you. Ultimately, when they fail to manipulate you, they will probably hate you and leave. That is the only way the manipulation ends. If they are being nice to you, that just means that they haven’t given up and will probably try again later.
Frustrating a manipulator by resisting them is actually the kindest thing you can do for them. Ideally, it will flip them back to a competent state where they can solve their own problems, where you both win. But even if they hate you and leave, you still helped them some by not colluding with their self-destructive behavior.
In order to resist them, you also need to have clearly thought out your boundaries and rules or policies beforehand so you know what you will and won’t do before they put you under emotional assault. It is very difficulty to try to figure out the best way to handle a situation when you are upset and flustered.
Excellent self care also helps you not over react to their engagement. Getting enough sleep and taking care of your self physically and emotionally are keys to staying calm in such situations. Meditation and other contemplative practices like prayer also help.
Quiz – A client is banging her head on your desk, screaming she is suicidal. Your response is:
A. Beg her to stop.
B. Call the police to drag her to a psych hospital.
C. Personally wrestle her to the ground.
D. Go get a cup of coffee and check your email.
E. Patiently wait for her to stop, then continue.
The answer is E. You want be a calm and attentive listener that generally cares about her well being, but isn’t emotionally engaged in her drama.