Manipulators. We've all been taken in by them. All malignant narcissists are manipulators, though not all manipulators are narcissists. Either way, it is impossible to avoid them. It is possible to minimize our susceptibility to them.
The concept that has helped me the most in enabling me to recognize when someone is trying to force me into what they want from me is the reality that manipulators are aggressive, and most times they are able to hide their aggression. George K. Simon, Jr., Ph.D. of "In Sheep's Clothing" calls them "covert-aggressives". As I read his book I realized that my whole experience with my sister especially, but also my mother, was that of being up against a covertly-aggressive person. My sister is better at it than my mother is. Interestingly enough.
Simon makes a great case for opening our eyes to what is really happening in these interactions; that the character disordered individual, or simply aggressive person, is fighting to get their own way when they use certain tactics. And he points out that they are tactics. Not defensive reactions.
"...viewing someone who's in the act of aggressing as being defensive in any sense is a major set-up for victimization." pg. 95
He also describes the tactics of the covert-aggressive as being another form of lying.
One of the first things their tactics accomplish for them is to conceal the fact that they are fighting with you. They are refusing to allow you to have the opinion you have, the standards you have, the decision you've made. They are attempting to force your surrender to their way, their opinion, their standards (or lack thereof). But the first thing they must do is come at you in such a way that the first thing you'll think is that they are reacting defensively. They hide their aggressiveness under a cloak of pretense that they are simply acting out of defensiveness which, of course, means that you attacked them. So the next thing their tactics accomplish is putting you on the defensive. Now you are knocked off-balance and the covert-aggressive will likely start throwing so many different manipulative tactics at you at once that you end up falling for the ruse and capitulate.
Simon states that it is impossible to list all the tactics manipulators use, but he does make a short list of the most popular ones. He starts with "minimization". It is a 'oh my god' moment to see it spelled out. How many, many times have my mother or sister used this tactic on me and others?? It could not be counted.
Simon again contrasts the behavior of the neurotic with that of the character disordered as he explains this tactic:
"...the aggressor is attempting to assert that his behavior isn't really as harmful or irresponsible as someone else may be claiming. It's the aggressor's attempt to make a molehill out of a mountain...Neurotics frequently make mountains out of molehills, or 'catastrophize.' The disturbed character frequently trivializes the nature of his wrongdoing. Manipulators do this to make a person who might confront them feel they've been overly harsh in their criticism or unjust in their appraisal of a situation."
Then the money quote, in my opinion:
"Minimization is not primarily the way they make themselves feel better about what they did, it's primarily the way they try to manipulate my impression of them. They don't want me to see them as a person who behaves like a thug. Because they are most often comfortable with their aggressive personality style, they also want me to believe that there's nothing wrong with the kind of person they are." pg. 97
Can you see the lie that is the fabric of this type of manipulation? If you miss the lie, you can be convinced by the manipulator that you are the one aggressing against them. You are the one who is misapprehending the truth of what happened, the truth of what they are. You big meanie. Look at poor little defensive me trying to stand up against your mean and nasty aggression against me! I was only...fill in the blank...as they cut that mountain down to the size of a zit. You back down because suddenly they are the victim and you are hurting them. You fall for the wounded wing act. The one who was truly fighting for their own way is pretending that you are the one who picked the fight, who is being unfair, who needs to admit you are wrong!
I so loathe this sneaky way of lying to get ones way.
I had read this book some months before my last interaction with my sister. I had forgotten about the book, but some of the concepts I had learned were operational for me. My sister's aggression was immediately obvious to me. I did not allow her to minimize the mountain. I didn't believe the covert lie that by my having a certain opinion that I had put her on the defensive. I again highly recommend this little book. It can save your sanity when you're suddenly in a "fight" with a sneaky little lying f-ing manipulator.