By George K. Simon, Jr, PhD
Abusive, Manipulative Realtionships
Covert-aggressives use a variety of ploys to keep their partners in a subordinate position in relationships. Of course, it takes two people to make a relationship work and each party must assume responsibility for their own behavior. But covert-aggressives are often so expert at exploiting the weaknesses and emotional insecurities of other s that almost anyone can be duped. Persons in abusive relationships with covert-aggressives are often initially seduced by their smooth-talking, outwardly charming ways. By the time they realize their partner’s true character, they’ve usually put a significant emotional investment into trying to make the relationship work. This makes it very hard to simply walk away.
Recognizing the Tactics of Manipulation and Control
(Pgs 91 -113)
All Character disordered individuals, especially aggressive personalities, use a variety of mental behaviors and interpersonal maneuvers to help ensure they get what they want. The behaviors soon to be enumerated win this chapter simultaneously accomplish several things that can lead to victimization.
First, they help to conceal the aggressive intent of the person using them.
Secondly, their use frequently puts others on the defensive.
Thirdly, their habitual use reinforces the user’s dysfunctional but preferred way of dealing with the world. They obstruct any chance that the aggressor will accept and submit to an important social principle at stake, and thus change their ways.
Lastly, because most people don’t know how to correctly interpret the behaviors, they are effective tools to exploit, manipulate, abuse and control others.
If you’re one of those persons more familiar with traditional psychological models, you may tend to view a person using one of these behaviors as being “on the defensive.” But viewing someone who’s in the act of aggressing as being defensive in any sense is a major set-up for victimization. Recognizing that when a person uses the behaviors soon to be described is primarily a person on the offensive mentally prepares you for the decisive action you might need to take to avoid getting run over.
Covert-aggressive individuals are especially adept at using these tactics to conceal their aggressive intent while simultaneously throwing their opponents on the defensive. This increases the chances that they will get their way and gain advantage over their victims. Sometimes, a tactic is used in isolation. However, a good manipulator will often throw so many of these at you at once that you might not really realize how badly you’ve been manipulated until it’s too late.
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.
Consider also “lying by omission
The tactic of denial is not primarily a “defense” but a maneuver the aggressor uses to get others to back off, back down or maybe even feel guilty themselves for insinuating he’s doing something wrong.
· Selective Inattention
This is when aggressors actively ignore the warnings, pleas or wishes of others, and, in general, refuse to pay attention to everything or anything that might distract them from pursuing their agenda.
A rationalization is an excuse an aggressor makes for engaging in what they know is an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation or justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it. It is a powerful tactic because it not only serves to remove any internal resistance the aggressor might have about doing what they want to do (quieting any qualms of conscience they might have) but also to keep others off their back. If the aggressor can convince you they’re justified in whatever they’re doing, then they’re freer to pursue their goals without interference.
A moving target it harder to hit. When we try to pin manipulators down or try to keep a discussion focused on a single issue or behavior we don’t like, they’re expert at knowing how to change the subject, dodge the issue or in some way throw us a curve.
Closely related to diversion, this is a tactic by which a manipulator tries to avoid being cornered on an issue by giving rambling, irrelevant responses to a direct question or otherwise trying to skirt an issue. A subtle but effective form of evasion is the deliberate use of vagueness.
· Covert Initmidation
Aggressors frequently threaten their victims to keep them anxious, apprehensive and in a one-down position. They are adept at countering arguments with such passion and intensity that they effectively throw their opponents on the defensive. Covert-aggressive personalities primarily intimidate their victims by making veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats. This way, they throw others on the defensive without appearing overtly hostile or initimidating.
One thing that aggressive personalities know well is that other types of persons, especially neurotics, have very different consciences than they do. They also know that the hallmark qualities of a shound conscience are the capacities for guilt and shame. Manipulators are skilled at using what they know to be the greater conscientiousness of their victims as a means of keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position. The more conscientious the potential victim, the more effective guilt is as a weapon.
This is a technique of using subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. Covert-aggressives use this tactic to make others feel inadequate or unworthy, and therefore, defer to them. It is an effective way to foster a continued sense of personal inadequacy in the weaker party, thereby allowing an aggressor to maintain a position of dominance.
· Playing the Victim Role
This tactic involves portraying oneself as a victim of circumstance or someone else’s behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Convince your victim that you’re suffering in some way, and they’ll try to relieve your distress. One vulnerability of the conscientious, sensitive and caring soul, is that it’s easy to pay on his or her sympathy.
· Vilifying the Victim
This tactic is frequently used in conjunction with the tactic of playing the victim role. The aggressor uses this tactic to make it appear he is only responding (i.e. defending himself against) aggression on the part of the victim. It enables the aggressor to better put the victim on the defensive.
· Playing the Servant Role
Covert-aggressives use this tactic to cloak their self-serving agendas in the guise of service to a more noble cause. It’s a common tactic but difficult to recognize. By pretending to be working hard on someone else’s behalf, covert-aggressives conceal their own ambition, desire for power, and quest for a position of dominance over others.
Covert-aggressive personalities are adept at charming, praising, flattering or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty… Appearing to be attentive to needs of approval, reassurance and a sense of being valued can be a manipulator’s ticket to incredible power over others.
· Projecting Blame
Aggressive personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their aggressive behavior. Covert-aggressives are not only skilled at finding scapegoats, they’re expert at doing so in subtle, hard to detect ways.
· Feigning Innocence
This is when the manipulator tries to convince you that any harm they did was unintentional, or that they really didn’t do something that they’ve been accused of doing.
· Feigning Confusion
Closely related to feigning innocence, this tactic is when the manipulator acts like he doesn’t know what you’re talking about or is confused about an important issue you’re trying to bring to his attention.
· Brandishing Anger
A deliberate display of anger can be a very calculated and effective tool of intimidation, coercion and ultimately, manipulation. Moreover, when it comes to understanding aggressive personalities, it’s a mistake to think that anger necessarily precedes aggression… Aggressive personalities use overt displays of anger to intimidate and manipulate others. They’re not angry to start. They just want what they want, and they get angry when denied. Then, they’ll use whatever tactics will remove the obstacles in their way. Sometimes, the most effective tactic is brandishing sufficient emotional intensity and rage to shock another person into submission.
Excerpts from "In Sheeps Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People" by George K. Simon, Jr, PhD. Little Rock, AR: AI Christopher & Company. Original printing, November 1996; Ninth printing, September 2007.