Friday, November 30, 2007

A Common Tactic of Manipulators

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 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.


Jehanne said...

Hmmmmmm. My mother was artless and conversational this morning. She had been giving me the semi-silent treatment up until Thanksgiving when she needed my cooperation. It encourages me that my first thought was, "I wonder what she wants."

I'm learning.

I'm not sure I specifically know what the common tactic you're talking about looks like in practice. It was an effort to restrain myself from taking on the responsibility of seeing that my mother's wistful wish comes true. But all she minimized was the importance of her desire being realized. Can you expand?

Anna Valerious said...

I was speaking to the minimization of their bad acts.

They do something wrong, dirty low-down rotten, and then try to change your view of what they did by minimizing the behavior and the results of the behavior.

Cathy said...

And they are SHAMELESS at this tactic. And oh-sooo-good . . . until you are onto them. When one doesn't see the tactic for what it is, one is all too willing to take the blame on for "being too harsh", or for not seeing things "correctly". Their ploy is to confuse and divert and get YOU on the defensive. To make YOU feel bad. Like you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Then confusion comes in and they've got you where they want you. Second-guessing whether what they DID was
really that bad. And even if you allow yourself that what they DID really was "that bad", they are so cunning at minimizing and discounting your feelings that you begin to question whether you have a right to be IMPACTED by that said "bad act". If you are not wise they will have you on both counts - wondering if the act was "really that bad" AND wondering if you are entitled to your feelings of being impacted or hurt by their act to begin with.

Crazy-making, insanity-producing behavior that it is best to stay away from.

In my mind, it is not the bad act itself that makes these people so evil. We all commit bad acts toward one another. It is what they do with it when confronted. They have NO REGARD for anyone but themselves and to keep going back wide-eyed and thinking that "this time is going to be different" is to re-victimize yourself time and time again.

THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES . . . even if they call themselves "mother". It's evil.

Good post, Anna.

Jehanne said...

Thanks, Anna. I didn't notice I could refer to the original post and I lost track.
I started out pondering whether my mother could be described as minimizing when she began talking normally to me again. It's deniability - as "Chris" terms it. (God bless Chris whoever she or he may be. Saved my sanity about a year ago.) I still have a tough time being absolutely certain they ARE bad acts. As I've mentioned previously. It's diabolical, that's what it is! :) (I still have a sense of humor.)

Anonymous said...

This describes my STBXPDW (Soon To Be X Personality Disordered Wife) to the TEE !!!!!!!

Thanks Anna for your insight. You've made many things clearer.

BoB ;)

Anonymous said...

Before I moved 2000 miles away from my parents a year ago, my Nmom had started to slander me-- when I was still living in the same town. She was spreading lies far and wide, making me out to be an ungrateful and vicious daughter (while at the same time wearing a diamond Rolex watch that I had recently bought her). I had taken her on trips to Europe, bought her jewelry, all to make her happy, and of course it was never enough.

But when I confronted her about the slander, she had this huge reaction of minimizing what she had done, telling me, "I only talk to my close friends. Are you telling me I can't have friends anymore, or confide in them?" And then, if you can believe this, she said that since I worked at home and didn't socialize a lot, her slander didn't matter, because I didn't have a lot of friends anyway. And my enabler Dad chimed in with, "You're not even really a person in this town."

You're not even really a person . . .

Not a great thing to hear from your own father. But he was so desperate to take her side, that he would say anything. And I had always thought of him as a gentle, loving presence in our home. But minimizing and devaluing your daughter is not love.

Thanks, Anna, for your posts. Each time you add to a subject, it helps me to feel comforted and understood and pushes me a little farther along the path to healing.


Anonymous said...

"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." ~Anna

LOL...I'm laughing at myself now and the crazy way that maN had twisted my brain into a pretzel after wringing out my heart like a dishrag. He really did a number on me over the years and lordnose how on earth I'm still typing messages instead of scribbling notes on toilet paper using a crayon.

The X-husband was a 'rager' whose accusations escalated to telling his wife to "F-off!". Not too often, but frequently enough to become TIRESOME.

After ten or twenty years or more, LOL, I finally yelled back telling him to "Buck the F-Up!" Of course, that really hurt his widdle feewings.

What do you think a good target would do next? After he had sobbed crocodile tears on her shoulder?

Yea. You guessed it. I apologized for verbally abusing him.

He of course, was NOT being verbally abusive towards me since he's an INTENSE man who's powerful energy is frequently misunderstood by less-intense, less-energetic people.


If I didn't laugh at my naivete, I'd be hanging from the chandelier.


Anna Valerious said...


I'm so very sorry you too were given a weak-spined father who will sacrifice his own children to the Goddess of Narcissism in order to save himself a moment's discomfort. I can't tell you how much I loathe that kind of weakness. Your mother, is of course, vile and disgusting, but the kind of father you and I have is its own special brand of disgusting. "Your not even really a person in this town". Wow. That is all kinds of fucked up.

The happy side of this story is that you are now 2,000 miles away from these radioactive cockroaches. Good for you!

Your story is compelling. Thanks for sharing.

Anna Valerious said...


Obviously, part of the reason you aren't hanging from a chandelier is because you have a sense of humor!

Tragically, your story is not a unique one. It is scary how effective these manipulators can be on decent people. They use our decency against us. Our misguided conscience becomes our slave master in the hands of a skilled character disordered manipulator. You've come out the other side with your sanity intact. A testament to your resiliency. Thanks for reading and commenting.

So, what IS in a heart? said...

L.E, I hope you don't do anything for her anymore. I mean, you're "vicious and ungrateful", remember?

Anonymous said...

My NH's favourite quote to minimize his lies is to say "What is done cannot be undone and that I should just accept what has happened and move forward!" (His adulteries which I just found out about!) Then he projected on me with - I am "shitty, vengeful and aggressive!". (Like only they are ENTITLED to defense in the fact of transgression!) I just ignored his remarks and he "retreated"...probably to decipher what he can do to 'get back at me". Now his entire NSiblings joins in!
Anna, you are so right. They don't change, but they expect US to! They KNOW what they do is WRONG, but they just DON'T CARE for anyone else but themselves! What a waste of time they are!

Anonymous said...

Anna, thank you so much for this post. It illuminates so clearly what I have been dealing with in N spouse who recently left after nearly 20 yrs marriage. I didn't know how to explain this macabre "dance" even to myself, since I believed he was being agressive,and it always ended up with me "being the problem." He would provoke, then suggest my anger had no foundation, that he had done nothing because he was completely calm and I wasn't. Ironically, I even told him to "look in the mirror - these are your emotions, stop putting this ugly mask on me!" I only found out about narcissism since he left - so much is becoming clear. But what a hideous, painful vision. It has been an additional burden thinking no one would ever understand or believe me - but your post says it all. No matter how complicated or rare or severe the problem... it is still real. Maybe only those who have lived it, can really see the fabric down to the threads, the way you have done here. Thank you again for bravely declaring the truth we have to deal with, even when the N tries to drive us crazy to hide it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
Thank you. During the past year of reflection, finally being away from my parents, I've actually come to blame my father more than my mother. The absolute minimum a father should do is protect his children. To be sacrificed like this has been difficult for me to accept or comprehend. And he justifies everything. He'll never be sorry, or honest.

But putting all this distance between us has been the best thing I've ever done. My marriage is better, my two young children are obviously happier. And so am I. Even my career has gone on a big upswing.

For me it's not an uncompromised happiness, however. There's always this dark knowledge inside me that my parents are out there, my mother doing as much damage to me as possible, my father acting as her willing accomplice. I've lost the entire family . . . the cousins, aunts, uncles . . . everyone who has always known me as a devoted daughter, a "star", and now they all think of me as poison. With no shred of evidence whatsoever. After all the sacrifices I've made. Incredible.

So I guess I'm in the bewildering position of being happy, but also angry.

I think, Anna, that you're helping me to be okay with my own anger, and letting it be part of my recovery.

And "so what's in a heart"--LOL--I am definitely not doing anything for my parents anymore. Not even on speaking terms. And that is so good, because from now on everything I do will be for my husband and children, my friends, and sometimes even for myself :)

God bless you!


Anonymous said...

Anna, i love your blog and the post is so timely in my life. My N ex friend has just contacted me after a silence that lasted 7 months. She sent me the lyrics to the song The Grudge by Alanis Morisette. Apparently, I am the only one being hurt by carrying this grudge and I secretly want to let go but don't know how and I just don't know how to forgive both of us.
I stood up to her, and now all of a sudden after being her insightful wise friend I am an abusive person who turned HER into my punching bag. With distance and knowledge a lot of which I gained here, I can see exactly what she is trying to do. The best part is that I feel no desire to explain myself or my present life and most importantly:
I feel no need to apologize or try to make her feel better.

Greendaze44 said...

As usual you are right on the money Anna. You should write a book yourself. I hope this blog spot is leading to one.
I left my husband after 10 years of marriage a few months ago. He would get angry with me and say something to me and whatever I responded with he got even angrier and then say it was my fault and that I just wanted to argue. He would always claim that he was a "sensitive" person and always has been that way and can't change. Our arguements never made sense. I would end up so confused I didn't even know what we were talking about, but you can bet it was my fault, whatever it was.

I just filed for divorce last Friday and I feel such a relief. He makes a lot of money, so people keep asking me if I'm sure this is what I want to do. I said I would rather live on the streets than go back to him b\c of money.

The sad thing I feel right now though is, we have a 9 year old daughter together. I work at nights, so he has her most of the time. I only get her on my days off. I have got to get her away from him. I'm in the process of looking for a day job.

Oh, and of course, he is a devout Christian that attends church regularly and everyone at church thinks he's a great guy. I look like that "bad" woman who left him. And my Nfather called my soon to be ex to see how HE was doing. My nfather hasn't called me to see how I'm doing.

My nfather wouldn't even let me borrow $500 to leave my husband. He just started saying how I can't handle money and that I needed to come up with a plan and let him know what it was. I told him my plan but it wasn't good enough.

Last time the child support was due to me he wouldn't pay it. I told him over and over again for 2 days that I had to have it. I finally had to throw a fit in front of our 9 year old to embarrass him enough to give me money. Then he said, "Why are you doing this in front of our 9 year old?" I said you make me do it b\c you won't give me the money unless I embarrass you. See he's really good at looking good in front of everyone else. He saves all his craziness for me and then when I end up acting crazy, it looks like it's my fault. he brought the check the next day and gave it to our 9 year old to give to me.

With the divorce starting now, he's going to realize how fair I have been being. I can tell you , I no longer want to be fair. In fact I want to move to another town to get away from him and get our 9 year old farther away from him.

Thank you for your posts. You remind me that I'm not the crazy one and that other people deal with these issues. And you keep me determined to do what I need to do.

Cathy said...

Anna, if I could comment to "greendaze44":

Speaking from experience, I'd like to save you a little grief. It seems a common theme for those of us who are involved with Narcissists that we are genuinely "nice" people - to a fault. We tend to allow ourselves to get taken advantage of. And the Narcissist counts on that. Try not to be too "nice" or "fair" in the divorce proceedings. Fight for all that is due you and your daughter by law and do not feel guilty about it. He will try to make you feel guilty about it.

Remember you are taking care of yourself, probably for the first time ever and you have to do what you have to do to ensure the best outcome for you and your daughter. That means arranging right from the start with having the child-support garnished from his wages (this is now done automatically in my state, but may not be in yours). This takes the power struggle out of trying to collect the money that is rightfully yours by law and saves you much emotional turmoil. The only emotional turmoil will be up front as he tries to make you feel like dirt for doing this to HIM. Try to remain strong and stand your ground through a very emotional time. There will be a lot of pressure and even spiritual abuse as he weilds the Christianity part at you with respect to divorce.

In many ways you will feel all alone in this battle and everyone will try to make you feel like the crazy one. Keep reading Anna's blog and find other support from those who have been through this type of crazy-making. BECAUSE I CAN ASSURE YOU that what you are doing is not wrong. Those of us who have had to remove ourselves from "loved" ones who are poison know that this is not an easy decsion but a necessary one. Despite what well-meaning "Christians" try to throw at you, I have come to the conclusion that God is more interested in our well-being and value as a human being than in having us stay in a marriage or remain in contact with a mother or father who would destroy our very being and then blame it on us when we try to take care of ourselves. Remember, you cannot "win" with these types of people so don't spend precious amounts of emotional energy trying to play "fair" hoping that they will realize such. It ain't gonna happen. So take care of yourself and your child.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of us (who have felt 'crazy'....) are the ones who have spent years and thousands of dollars in therapy? Maybe this is 'off subject'....but it pisses me off. Why did WE go to the therapist? Why didn't the therapist recognize the N in our life? Is this so new? Why did they keep 'treating' US? I dunno....just felt pissed off this morning about the WholeDamnThing.

BUT....grateful to be here now. Grateful for all you share....grateful to not be alone and not to spend one more dime figuring out why I'm the 'crazy one'.

Anonymous said...

Oh Boy - this particular blog post has been most helpful to me.

Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Anna, I have been trying to climb up out of the "well" I was thrown into by the NH who left after escalating abuse, gaslighting, cruelty, etc. I am beginning to wonder if I will recover - I don't feel any better about myself, just confusion and despair about buying the endless lies and manipulation for nearly 20 yrs. You can't have yourself back again. The descriptor "covert agressive" sounds just like him - but I saw the outright Mr. Hyde too. Those moments of terror will live forever. How can we rebuilt our lives after the N uses us up and kicks us aside? He still is lying about me, and using me as a human shield for his misdeeds. It really is immoral... which unnerves you when it comes from someone you loved for many years. I can't go NC - we coparent. Thanks for your work on this site - at least I don't feel alone. "jewel"