Thursday, December 13, 2007

Denial as a Tactic of Manipulation

When we talk about someone who is in denial we believe what we are discussing is a psychological defense mechanism. To believe that a narcissist is using denial as a defense mechanism is to set yourself up to be manipulated and deceived. We need to examine the tactic of denial as something very different from the psychological defense of denial.

Denial as a defense mechanism is how the mind copes emotionally in the fall-out of a catastrophic event, major loss, or with anxiety. The woman who finds herself suddenly widowed may deny for awhile that her husband is dead. Or she may simply feel numb and unable to cry for weeks or months. This is because she can't deal with all the emotions of loss and shock all at once. Denial as a defense is how our minds protect us from overwhelming situations that we aren't equipped at the time to deal with emotionally.

This is something very different from denial as a tactic. George K. Simon, "In Sheep's Clothing", points out:

"...this is when the aggressor refuses to admit that they've done something harmful or hurtful when they clearly have. It's a way they lie (to themselves as well as others) about their aggressive intentions. This 'Who...Me?' tactic invites the victim to feel unjustified in confronting the aggressor about the inappropriateness of a behavior. It's also the way the aggressor gives him/herself permission to keep right on doing what they want to do." pg. 98

Denial as a lying tactic of manipulation is another in the list of tactics covert-aggressive manipulators (usually character-disordered individuals) use very frequently. Mr. Simon has kindly laid out a list of eighteen of the most common tactics. He calls that a short list. He stresses the importance of differentiating between denial as a defense and denial as a tactic to hide aggressive intent. Simon sums up the tactic thusly:

"In short, when Jeff [a juvenile caught in the act of bullying] is denying, he's not defending in any way, he's mainly fighting. He's not in a psychological state, he's employing a tactic, and he's very aware of what he's doing. The tactic he's using is often called denial, but it's really just another way of lying. And he's lying for the reasons people commonly lie -- to get out of trouble." pg. 94

I am sure you have many memories flooding into your mind right now of the times the narcissist has flatly denied their bad behavior, the effects of their bad behavior, and their bad intent behind the bad behavior. You are remembering how they managed to turn the whole situation around so that you were made to feel like you were the aggressor for not believing their denial...their lie. They put on their sweet angel face and deny, deny, deny until you lose the will to continue the fight. For that is what this creep is doing. Fighting. Fighting for his way. Fighting for his "right" to keep right on doing what he wants to do, all consequences to you be damned.

By his insistent denials you have often been made to feel like the bad guy. For trying to get an accounting from him for his actions you have succumbed to the accusation that you're being judgmental, unfair, bullying. So you gave up. You bought the lie that you are the mean one and he is innocent. Who would insist so tenaciously on their innocence except the innocent? Or so you rationalize. You are unwilling to believe that he can look you in the eye and lie his ass off from here to eternity. You want to believe that something about him, and about this relationship, is you succumb his denials.

Or perhaps you allow yourself to know that his behavior was bad and destructive, but you tell yourself that deep down he's really hurting so he is "in denial" because he can't face his own pain. This is never the case with the character-disordered. He is not "in pain". He has no anxiety about his bad behavior whatsoever. He is totally cool with how he is. The only thing he isn't cool with is that you're not accepting his behavior. He is trying to get a pass from you by this blatant denial of his actions. He has no intention of stopping what he is doing. He will buy himself another day by simply denying he did what he did. It is so childish that it is rather a wonderment that we fall for this as often as we do when this is done by an adult. We want to believe that the person in front of us is basically good. That they are basically honest. That they are not fighting with us in this moment.

Teach yourself to recognize when someone is covertly fighting for their own way. Never fall for the belief that the narcissist is in some sort of psychic pain which prevents them from knowing how their behavior affects those around her. She has no problem, no conflict in her own mind with her behavior. She is justified fully in her mind for what she does no matter the destruction it brings down on herself and others. Her only problem is with your perceptions of her behavior. That is what she is trying to deal with as she employs her massive denial of her misdeeds. You are the problem...not her. She is not fighting to repress some deep psychological pain. She is fighting to force you to repress your own pain and your own perception so she can carry on unpunished while doing what ever the hell she wants to do.


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

"Or perhaps you allow yourself to know that his behavior was bad and destructive, but you tell yourself that deep down he's really hurting so he is "in denial" because he can't face his own pain."

Even if this were true, it's not an excuse for bad behavior. IOW, it might explain certain acts, but it doesn't justify them.

Just out of curiosity, does that book tell you any countermeasures of "covert aggressive" nonsense?

Anonymous said...

This is a GREAT distinction about denial! Thank you, Anna!

My Nmom has such a 'twist' in her Nism. I don't think I can quiiitttteeee put my finger on it....but, I'll give it a 'go'. My Nmom is the FIRST to say that she is a 'child'....(the youngest of 5 in the Depression Era)....that she is 'irresponsible'...that she 'never learned to cope'....that life was 'too much for her'....that she feels 'left out'....that she 'doesn't know how to socialize well'. She 'can't cook'....'can't function'....etc etc nauseum. She FREELY offers all this information...WHY? She 'exposes' this helpless, victimized projection....WHY? I think she does it (always has) so that she feels like SHE exposed herself as she is....(so no one else can)...and then JUMPS to blame people and circumstances that 'held her down'......and are 'still holding her down'. She feels justified in her 'list' of what she ISN'T....and therefore: What? SHE THINKS SHE WAS AND IS EXEMPT FROM EVERYTHING EVERYONE ELSE HAS HAD TO DO FOR THEMSELVES, THEIR CHILDREN, FOR OTHERS!!!!! Her DENIAL is that everyone around her has suffered terribly from her 'dead weight'isms. We all had to work double-time to make up for what she 'couldn't do'....yet SHE called all the shots! She was like a child with authority! I did the work....she took the credit. 'HelplessVictim', my ass!

Anybody else have a 'victim' N in their life? I'd love to hear about it. I hear mostly strong, beautiful, socialite-type Nmoms out there. What's the 'twist' on this one? I s'pose any old attention will do, huh? Geez. Thanks....

Anonymous said...

Kroseloree, yes, there is a victim N in my life. Her excuse for everything is, "I've had a hard life." That's the fall-back line after "I didn't say/do that," "you must have misunderstood," and "I don't remember."

And a hard life is no excuse, either. Lots of people have hard lives, and they don't all turn into Ns. The hard life form of denial is especially ridiculous when you realize that most of their difficulties are consequences of their own actions.

It's just another denial tactic.

Anonymous said...


You have described my Nmother to a Tee. I could never quiiiiiittteee put my finger on it either LOL

My mother "acts" strong, independent etc. when its for putting on a show for the neighbours. But, when backed into a corner for her misdeeds, when she can no longer LIE, WIGGLE or DISTORT the TRUTH staring her in the face....out POPS Nmom the MARTYR.... what better to disarm the truth than a tirade about

a) how "tough" her life has been

b) how she left the old country and her entire family to give me a new life

c) how she struggled to raise us as a single mother after divorcing our father

d) how she suffered through marriage number 2 to our wicked stepfather

e) how all she has done her whole life is give, give, GIIIIIIIIIIVVVVE... and we children just take take TAAAAAKKKKE

f) how she doesn't know why we are so angry or what she has done

g) how she SPOILT us too much (this is where i usually look for a barf bag)

h) how her whole life all she has done is struggle.... everyone else has it better, easier, b/c they are richer, healthier or have stable love relationships

i) the piece de resistance: She stops, looks up to the sky and in a dramatic tone says "WHY? Why Lord? Why me? Why do I have to suffer so? Oooooooooooppppen their eyes...i can't take much more" (sob sob sob)

By now I feel so terrible. How can I even think my mother has evil intentions towards me? I'm apologizing to HER for HER bad behavior. I forced her to do X b/c i'm such an ingrate.

Anna Valerious said...

so,what is in a heart?,

Yes, the book's final chapter, "Redefining the terms of engagement" is where the author lays out some practical advice for countering covert aggression.

Anna Valerious said...


You asked, "Anybody else have a 'victim' N in their life?"

Even those of us who had "beautiful, socialite-type Nmoms" have experienced the martyr-victim N. My mother as she has aged, and as she has lost some of her power to control some many of her family members has now resorted to the full martyr-victim mode. I was rather startled when she first began this gig (about 10 years ago) because it was so foreign. Not knowing about NPD, I thought for a little while she had softened up. Ha. I found the hardened, cruel, selfish, controlling bitch of my childhood neatly hidden away under the victim play-acting.

Ns will play the victim the moment it serves their purpose no matter how they've played the game heretofore.

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's a long post that contain a lot of information, much of which isn't directly related to your post. For that, I'm sorry.

Nonetheless, I hope that it encourages some throughts. It was also cathartic putting this down. Please bare with me as I am still trying to figure my recent experiences out.

This post completely addresses a former N. They act as if they're completely self-contained entities, don't need anyone, never ask for help, and are pathologically afraid of showing that they care for other people's feelings.

When they've been slighted, everyone must care and show outrage. When they're implicated in having hurt someone, they completely shutdown and attempt to devalue their accuser, even if it's someone very close that's had their back for years.

They also were raised by a mother that was emotionally unstable and prone to very troubling behavior towards them; not physically, but emotionally. Their father was aloof and never around. He seemd to hide behind his job as a cover to not be an availiable husband or father.

Their family moved all over as well, making long-term relationships difficult to sustain.

They were always fond of saying to you how easy it was to see their friends/close ones move away and not let it hurt them.

I believe that this is a case of a person having become an N due to their emotionally unstable unbringing, which makes it painful to not express some sympathy for them, even if I'm the one that is devastated and lying awake at night.

I have a sick feeling that they haven't thought about it at all though. I guess I'm having a hard time emotionally accepting that what I thought was an ocean turned out to be no deeper than a pothole.

They once used their erradic upbringing as justification once, but never again since I called them on it a long time ago. Instead of accepting responsbility, however small the amount, they react as if the entire thing is a plot against them. They act as if I'm creating alibis of my own! Projection at it's finest.

In fact, I would describe them as the type that refuses to show cocern and empathy for the personal people in their lives. Instead, they seem to want to assuage this character fault by showing concern for abstract issues of which they have little, if any, emotional stake in.

I've found in my experiences that many N's are also extremely liberal and atheists. No offense to liberals, I just think that the "I care for the little people" approach that some liberals have, appeals to impersonal N's incable of interpersonal closeness, but find a cover there.

You raised an issue for me as I work my way through the emotional train wreck this person has left me in: Is the narcissist intellectually aware of what they've done and how bad they've hurt someone? Or have they truly convinced themselves of their blamelessness?

Is it a matter of them refusing to let this intellectuall knowledge penetrate their emotional barricade, and thus, their hearts and souls? Could it really be a defense mechanism in the end?

Or, are N's, at the end of the day, sociopaths that feel abosolutely nothing for themselves or others?

Thanks, I don't know if my rambling pertains directly to your post, but it was nice getting that out. I will have to see this person next month again, after having been ignored for five months, despite my numerous attempts to dialuge with them, and don't know how to handle the situation.

Lupita said...

Aaaahhh...N as poor victim. I remember that well. So many times as a teen I ended up apologizing to N mom for bringing up something she did to hurt me. Because i was the bad one for even mentioning it.

Once I foolishly told her something about my depressed dad in confidence....something about how what he had done the day before really hurt my feelings. I asked her to please keep this between us. Literally five minutes later she tells him right in front of me as I sat slackjawed watching.

Later in the day I told her how I felt betrayed by this. She went into waterworks mode about what a bad mother she was, how she couldn't do anything right, how she DIDN'T EVEN DESERVE TO BREATHE!!!!!! Sheesh...

Course, I fell into the trap and ended up telling her what a good mother she was, how I was the awful one for upsetting her and how sorry I was that I was such a bad daughter and so difficult for her to have to deal with.

Just one example but it happened numerous times till I wised up. So sick.....


Anna Valerious said...

"Could it really be a defense mechanism in the end?"

Hell. No. That is like asking if the predator attacks the rabbit because the rabbit is a threat.

No, the rabbit is no threat whatsoever. The rabbit has only one purpose to the predator. Dinner.

Until you wrap your mind around the most basic motivation of the narcissist you will wander around in confusion--they are first and foremost predatory. There is no awareness of your pain. Intellectual awareness of how badly they've hurt you? None whatsoever. They are not repressing this awareness. You were never a person to the narcissist in the first place. You were a means to an end. A tool. An object. None of those things have feelings the narcissist must take into account. Neither do you.

Ascribe a "defense mechanism" to a narcissist and miss the mark entirely while setting yourself up to be manipulated all over again. They are not defending. They are the aggressor. The attacker. They attack those they perceive to be helpless and harmless. The bunny rabbit who presents no real threat to them. Therefore, it is impossible that the narcissist's behavior is a "defense". A defense is a response to an attack. We are not attacking the narcissist when we demand they live in reality, when we refuse to surrender the truth for their fantasy. That is not an attack...therefore it is not a defense when they come at us with fangs bared. It is the reaction of a predator who sees no downside to going in for the kill. The only check on a predator is lack of opportunity. If you have been savaged by a narcissist it is because they had opportunity to go for the jugular with little fear of penalty. Free. Lunch. Yum.

They are not afraid of your pain. They are only afraid of their own. Hence, they lay in wait for the first opportunity to attack with little fear of consequence.

If you refuse to believe this to be true of the narcissist then you will be on the menu of a narcissist again. Guaranteed.

Cathy said...


Truer words were never spoken . . .

Once again, you NAILED it in your last comment. NAILED IT!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anna, for your comment on 'defense mechanism' and the N. I have gotten NO WHERE in all my years of prayer, therapy, and self-flagellation as long as I held to the assumption that my Nmom is basically a 'good person who means well and it just trying to figure life out just like me'. Funny. Wonder who put that idea in my head? I didn't start to make any headway until I started viewing her as a 'user and abuser'...with a mind and heart so twisted and bent that it is beyond anything I will ever understand. Ns plunder our bodies, murder our spirits, and rape our souls.....but only as long as we believe they are 'just like us'. Not. At. All.

Anonymous said...

Anna, Thank you for the brilliant posts. I have found the "manipulation tactics" posts to be particularly helpful right now, because I see these are some of the tools my N spouse used to control and abuse me for years. There is a subtle, creepy mind game he played with zest, contempt for me, and a vindictive enjoyment. I do wish others could see what he is doing, because he is masterful at lying and fooling others. "jewel"

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

Thanks for your blog, better than therapy! Speaking of denial and therapy, my mother's therapist called me today. She wanted to get info from me, and my mother knew this. Now, if this therapy was going anywhere than she would not have called me. O and also, she wanted to know on behalf of my mother whether I would resume contact. NO!

So I told her the truth, I said to her: isn't therapy about seeking the truth?

She acknowledged that my mother had told her a few things she had done to me, but still a bit different. Yes spindoctoring!

My mother OF COURSE uses denial to manipulate this therapist like a chiropractor manipulates a joint.

But how is a therapist to know? The only therapist I put my money on is one with a cop's instinct and a working bullshit-meter.

Anyway, she seemed to believe me and validate me (AND also she seemed to be surprised by some of the things I said, and not in a good way). And I noticed how elated I became from just a bit of understanding. Showing me how vulnerable I really am. And that is dangerous since there are all kinds of predators out there.

Since most people use real denial as method of keeping unpleasant truths away from them and since cop-like therapists are not going to be popular, indeed a therapist is the ideal place for a N to a)find attention and b) use the therapy as a way of becoming better at cunning and lying.

Furthermore, when an N says that he does not remember etc, then that might be just the case. It is their daily business to inflict pain, so they must simply forget about a lot.

So, as I also told the therapist, the ONLY way to deal with these people is NO CONTACT. She then came with the: but some people find it important to say in touch with a parent, despite the past.

AHA! So I said that because she is my mother and can not be excused in any way, no contact is the only SANE way. I indeed asked her why I should stay in touch with a person like this, who already had 18 years to f my up. Yes, well no answer from the therapist besides "OK I get you" and the "some people..."

I also said to her: who is caring about ME? Since you are her therapist, this still is about her. I do not care that she is so hurt that I do not want any contact. I care about being with healthy, sane people!

No, no therapy for me! I rather buy certain books, like the one discussed in the posting, and if it is BS than I can toss it out or sell it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your advice on my lengthy post Anna. I know that you are absolutely right in what you say.

Throughout my four years of being with this person, their true nature has been a nagging and unsettling feeling at times. Naturally, since I am not like them, I dumbly granted them the benefit of the doubt and made assinine excuses that I was perhaps out of line.

I know that this is for the best, and that even if I'm currently in the semi-denial stage, I realize that the emotional acceptance necessary to move on will come about in due time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Anna! This blog is a huge help to me right now, as we approach Christmas. My Nmom and Edad have sent big boxes of presents to my children, in their contiuing determination not to accept no contact.

After I dared to set boundaries and start living my own life, my mother decided that she would do her best to make our mutual friends and family despise me. She has played the part of victim beautifully and very convincingly, so for the first time in my life, there are no holiday cards from relatives in the mailbox. My only brother wants to visit me but is too afraid that my parents will think he's not on their side.

And--this is the kicker-- in spite of how terribly I've been treated, I occasionally feel guilty for depriving my parents of their only grandchildren. I am getting rid of this guilt by pulling it out like a weed whenever possible. My mother has caused all this, and she can't be a bully and a victim at the same time! And I won't be a victim by accepting that I somehow owe it to her to allow her to mistreat me, my husband, and my children.

But that's what she will always believe . . . that she is the ultimate victim of the ultimate betrayal . . . merely because her daughter got tired of being treated like garbage.


Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time poster.

This post reads like an indictment of my Nfather. I have had numerous conflicts with him over the years and the only apology I will ever get is something like "I'm sorry you took it that way" or some such crap. The last time he did this I cut off communication with him for an entire year. I totally cut him out of my life. This was the only way I could deal with him because of his out right denial of any wrongdoing.

A narcissist will deny wrongdoing at all costs. They will never fully fess up to bad behavior. To do so would admit weakness on their part. They will twist and turn events back onto you every time. They are masters of manipulation and denial. In their mind they are perfect and to call them out for wrongdoing is blasphemy.

Anonymous said...

So today I called the organisation of psychologists to find out how normal it is for a therapist to call somebody else (my N mother is in therapy because I urged her and she found now a nice substiture for me as I have gone no contact).

No surprise, it is not ok to for a therapist to call somebody else and propbe them for info and pressure them to consider things.

I am thinking about taking steps, anybody any ideas on this? Your input is highly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kroseloree,

You asked about N's disguised as victims, well my mother is one. She married when she was almost 40 a much jounger man who proofed to be a crazy, violent man. After a few years she deemed it a good thing to actually produce a child even though she never had wanted children (so she ahs told me a lot of times...) and though her dead beat toyboy husband loved to torture and terrorize.

So she plays the "I was sooo afraid" victim. Logical, isn't it?

And if you ask her to be responsible, tell her to that she is to be hold accountable for her actions, it is: can't remember. don't know, must have had my reasons etc etc. Of the mother of all oppressing and BS remarks": I AM YOUR MOTHER! Which means: you have to take al the crap I dish out.

Let me tell you something you probably already really know: you can't ever win when dealing with a N. They use everything and everybody that thet can put their hands on. One minute they are the queen bee who can do and say whatever the want, the next minute they are in victim-mode.

Anonymous said...

That tactic drives me crazy. I gave up trying to point out the things my mother did that hurt a long time ago. One time I tried to explain to her how much it hurt when she threatened to leave us if she got upset. My brother and father joined in and the conversation lasted till about two a. m. around this time we were all tired. My mother looked like a cornered animal.

My father brother each in churn put ourselves in a very weak position apoligizing for the things that we have done that have hurt her then waited for her reply. After a long restrained silence she looked at us angrily and talked about how we were teaming up on her and how cruel we were and we should never do that again. That is when I realized that she will never change.

The next morning she told us not to ever mention the incident again.

She denies things that she had said two minutes ago. Strong urge to slap her and say what is wrong with you!