mental health, poor judgment, psychology

When manipulators INSIST they’re being straightforward and honest…

A few days ago, I saw today’s featured photo on my social media feed. I decided to share it myself, mainly because I wanted to write a blog post about this phenomenon manipulative people use when they’re trying to get their way. Manipulative people try to frame your impression of them before they engage in manipulative behavior.

When I think about the people in my life who have turned out to be manipulative, I realize that they all seem to follow a pattern. At first, they’re super nice and flattering. Then, often at the beginning of a relationship, they tell you how “honest” they are. I remember very clearly, early on in a business relationship Bill and I had, our former associate told us how they didn’t care about money and wouldn’t look for money until at least a couple of days had passed the due date. This person tried to play themselves off as unconcerned about money. Instead, they stressed to us that they wanted us to be “happy”. I also remember hearing a pretty speech from them about how important “trust” is…

Later, when we had an issue that required bills to be paid, the person put all of the responsibility on us, even though the responsibility was actually not ours. I remember being told that they’d “never had a problem” like the one we were experiencing. I was invited to call other people and hear it from them. Something tells me that if I’d actually requested to make those phone calls, the manipulator would have been insulted… and they would have ultimately refused to give me the information, or had me call someone I suspect was a “flying monkey” type who was in cahoots with them.

As time went on, it became obvious that this person we were doing business with was neither trusting nor honest. I was blamed, personally, for everything that went wrong, and they went to great lengths to pass all responsibility to me, personally. We were subjected to guilt trips, insults, and devaluation. I remember it to be a very uncomfortable situation. Sadly, it ended with a lengthy legal battle that ultimately ended in our favor, but only after a lot of psychic pain and inconvenience.

That’s just one example. There have been others. In fact, just this morning, someone tried to manipulate me into doing something with which I’m uncomfortable. I don’t want to get into specifics because, frankly, I’m still a bit pissed about it. Long story short, this young guy sent me a PM late last night, asking me for help with a “fundraiser”. I don’t know this guy personally; he lives in another country, and he doesn’t speak English very well. I know of him because he’s the one who rescued Noyzi.

A couple of months ago, he asked me to help him share information about his dog rescue. I told him I would, once he had a Web site set up. I didn’t hear from him for weeks and forgot all about it.

Now, he seems to be saying that he wants me to set up a fundraiser for him. When I replied that I wasn’t comfortable doing that, he basically tried to guilt me using insults. He accused me of “playing games” with him and scolded me for saying I would help him and then declining to help. He insists that he’s not asking me to do anything dishonest, even though warning bells are going off in my head.

I explained to him that I had donated a lot of money when I adopted Noyzi. I gave money to help with vet care and food. I didn’t mind doing that, and I thought he was asking me to share information. But I don’t want to be in charge of setting up a fundraiser, collecting money, and sending it to him. I’m just not comfortable with that. Aside from that, it’s now Sunday, and I don’t want to spend my day setting up a fundraiser for a person I’ve never met in the flesh.

What’s more, before I realized he wanted me to set up a fundraiser for him, he sent me some screenshots of the Web site he has prepared, but hasn’t launched. I noticed a couple of typos. I asked him to fix them. He said he doesn’t have the password to the program he used to make the Web site. Then he told me to just share it as it is– very directive. He’s insistent that this must be done right now. When I demurred, he tried to make me feel bad, and implied that I wasn’t being fair and was reneging on a promise. This statement was meant to put me on the defensive. I don’t remember promising anything. I said I would help, but I never promised– and I certainly never agreed to do what he seems to be proposing.

Of course I want to be kind and helpful. I always prefer to be nice when I can. But I just became aware of all of this twelve hours ago. Now he’s pressuring me to help him with what seems like a sketchy proposal… just a little while ago, he brings up using Western Union. I finally decided to mute the conversation, because I just don’t feel comfortable with it. I quite clearly and firmly said “no”, but he’s still insisting, and has engaged in several manipulative tactics to get me to do what he wants, along with implying that I’m being “shady” because I am questioning what he’s asked me to do (which is still not altogether clear). It’s definitely not something I want to deal with on a Sunday morning… especially when the only thing I would get out of it is feeling like I did someone I don’t know very well a favor.

I am very grateful that he rescued Noyzi and has helped so many dogs. I would like to help him. But he’s come to me with a mess, and has insulted me to boot. Even if what he’s proposing is totally above board, I’m just not comfortable with it. Getting involved in these kinds of things can lead to big trouble if one isn’t careful. Or, at the very least, it can become a real hassle.

It’s interesting that this situation came up last night. I saved today’s featured photo two or three days ago, with no idea that this morning, I would be reading it and realizing that I’d be dealing with manipulative tactics this morning. I think most of us are manipulative sometimes… it’s part of being human. Some people take it to an art form. I don’t know this person well enough to know if he’s a manipulator or not, but I didn’t like his tactics this morning.

I just read a great article about characteristics of manipulators. Many of the signs in that list are familiar. Follow the link to have a look for yourself.

Maybe now he thinks I’m a bitch. He wouldn’t be the first. This is just one more reason why I hate Facebook Messenger… it’s so often the source of angst.

narcissists, psychology

Repost of a repost: Dealing with Manipulators

I originally posted this on a long defunct Web site I used to own. Then, back in 2010, I put it on the Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife. I’m sharing it again now, because it’s good stuff. The first paragraph is the introduction from my Blogspot post.

I’m shamelessly copying this entry from my Web site, which I’m thinking about taking down in a couple of months.  This page gets a lot of hits and I think it might be useful to my readers on this blog.  Bear in mind that I wrote this a few years ago, right before Christmas.

Dealing with manipulators…

The holidays are relentlessly approaching. As I write today, I’m reminded of the ghosts of holidays past, the ones where I eagerly awaited that special day and came away disappointed because I spent too much time with my dysfunctional family. I’m sure I’m not alone in being apprehensive about the holidays, especially Christmas, when families are expected to be together.

Not long ago, I figured out why I usually leave gatherings with my immediate family feeling a lot worse than I did before the “celebration”. It’s because in my family, there’s at least one manipulator. That’s a person who gets other people to do what they want by using guilt and sneaky, underhanded tactics. All the while, they somehow manage to come away looking completely innocent.

As I was trolling the Internet a couple of weeks ago, I came across an excellent piece about how to deal with manipulators. I mostly agree with the anonymous author’s advice. I want to include some of it here, expanded with my own observations. Since the dreaded Christmas holidays are approaching, I figure it’s appropriate. Of course, you may find this information useful every other day of the year, too.

How to handle manipulators

1. Try not to engage manipulators in the first place.

I know it can be hard to completely avoid dealing with manipulators, especially when they’re family members. The very nature of manipulative behavior is sneakiness, and family members, in particular, tend to know exactly which buttons to push. I’ve found that the best thing to do when someone I’m dealing with is employing obviously manipulative tactics is to excuse myself from the conversation or change the subject. Or, if I know ahead of time that the person is a manipulator, I try to limit my exposure to them.

2. Don’t allow manipulators to make requests by using underhanded tactics.

Manipulators are famous for making requests that don’t really seem like requests. Adults who want you to do something should learn to make their requests in an adult manner. That means they should make a direct request instead of using emotional blackmail, bribery, guilt, or other underhanded tactics. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Manipulative request: You know, your father’s getting older every year and he’s in such poor health. He’s so sad that he never gets to see you. He’s afraid he’s going to die before you get the chance to visit him again. Christmas is coming and he’s going to be so depressed if you’re not there.

Adult request: Your father would sure like to see you if you have time to visit. Would you please come celebrate Christmas with us?

Notice in the first example, the request is never actually made. Instead, the manipulator has disrespectfully dropped hints dripping with guilty accusations. In the second example, a clear, respectful request has been made. You can’t force someone to make an adult request of you, but you can learn to spot manipulation and avoid engaging by refusing to honor manipulative requests. That skill goes hand in hand with the next rule…

3. Learn to identify and ignore passive-aggressive behavior.

This is a tough one, but if you can learn to identify and ignore passive-aggressive behavior, it will make dealing with a manipulator easier. Manipulators are pros at passive-aggression, which is behavior that, on the surface, may seem innocent but actually isn’t. Manipulators employ passive aggressive behavior, which in turn, makes you angry. Then when you get angry, they retaliate by trying to make you look like the aggressor/screw up. Finally, they blame you for their retaliation. Meanwhile, manipulators loudly proclaim their innocence and the insignificance of their actions while you come off as unreasonable or uncooperative. It’s a maddening tactic and sometimes it’s impossible to ignore it. However, if you can learn to ignore the more minor digs, it will lessen a manipulator’s power.

4. Determine what your limits are; define them; and don’t be afraid to consistently enforce them.

Manipulators have an uncanny knack for getting their victims stuck between a rock and a hard place. Therefore, when you deal with the manipulators in your life, always try to have a way out of that tight spot. Make sure you have access to transportation, money, or whatever else you might need to rescue yourself from a bad situation. Don’t invite manipulators into your home unless you’re willing and able to make them leave. If they refuse to leave, make sure they know you’re going to call the police for help and then do it. Don’t threaten to call the police, however, unless you are actually going do it.

5. Forget trying to bluff a manipulator.

It’s impossible to set enforceable boundaries when you bluff. And if manipulators know there won’t be any actual consequences for their bad behavior, they won’t have any reason to change it. Besides, true manipulators are experts at the bluff and will always know when you’re bluffing. When it comes to enforcing your limits, say what you mean and mean what you say. If you make a threat or a promise, be sure to carry out that action promptly.

6. Spell out your expectations and try to leave nothing to chance.

Ambiguities give manipulators the leeway they need to engineer a situation that is advantageous only for them. If they are confronted, they will then try to feign innocence and insignificance. To avoid this, make sure both you and the manipulator are very clear about your mutual expectations during a meeting. Avoid vagueness at all costs. Sometimes, the manipulator will still get the upper hand, but having clear expectations will lessen their ability to pull a fast one.

7. Realize that some people will think you’re mean.

Manipulators are really good at making their victims look bad to other people. When they are in groups, manipulators will often try to come off as superior while making their victims look small. They’ll use subtle digs that will seem innocent to everyone but their victims. To combat this behavior, be prepared to look like a jerk for publicly defending your boundaries, especially when you call the manipulator on their rude behavior. Other people may initially see your reactions as excessive because they only know what they observe firsthand or hear from the manipulator. Understand that those other folks really don’t know the whole story. It’s really okay if other people temporarily think of you as a jerk. Chances are, they’ll eventually understand what’s happened, particularly if they too become ensnared in the manipulator’s trap. And if they don’t eventually understand, they’re probably not worth your time, anyway. Remove yourself from the situation if need be.

8. Do not owe a manipulator anything.

Manipulators love to employ guilt tactics and blackmail in their dealings with other people. That’s why it’s important never to borrow anything from or lend anything to a manipulator. If you must owe a manipulator, do everything you can to repay them as soon as possible. If a manipulator must owe you, make sure you have a signed and dated document that allows consistent repayment with all terms of the agreement detailed in writing. Remember that manipulators will use debts as a means of control, even if they’re the ones who owe you. Try not to let them have that power if you can possibly avoid it.

9. If you do lend something to a manipulator, be prepared to let go of it.

Sometimes being repaid is just not worth the hassle. If a manipulator borrows something from you, be prepared to never see it again. Then, if they ask to borrow from you again, remind them that you’ve made that mistake in the past and refuse to repeat it. If they protest or try to lay a guilt trip, tell them that you’ve decided not to lend to people who don’t repay their debts or return borrowed property. Then walk away from them or otherwise end the conversation.

10. Don’t let manipulators do you any favors.

Manipulators will often try to use kindness as a means of furthering their agenda and getting you to lower your guard. Remember that any kindness a true manipulator extends to you will eventually be used as a means of control in the future. It’s best to refuse favors extended by manipulators, especially if the nature of the favor lends itself to being extended for any length of time. Be especially wary of accepting help from a manipulator that makes you dependent on them for your livelihood or your home. It’s also good policy to avoid giving a manipulator any reason to take credit for your successes.

Manipulators will very often use kind deeds and favors as a means of accessing whatever you have that they want. Remember, do not owe a manipulator anything if you can help it. That includes favors.

11. Anything you say can and will be used against you.

Give the manipulators in your life information strictly on a “need to know” basis. Manipulators work most effectively off of information provided by their victims. The less information they have about you and your plans, the less control they can exert and the less chance they can use what you say against you. Try not to give them anything in writing unless you absolutely don’t care what they do with the information or you are entering a debt/debtor situation.

12. No means no…

Don’t waste time and energy justifying your actions to a manipulator. Manipulators are masters of using your own words against you. If you want to say “no” to a manipulator, say it and mean it. Don’t explain yourself and don’t make excuses. Just say no.

13. If you must, cut off relations with the manipulator in your life.

This is another tough one, especially when the manipulator is a member of your family or a close friend. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s better to remove toxic manipulators from your life rather than trying to deal with them. If you can’t completely cut especially toxic manipulators out of your life, do your best to limit your interactions with them to the bare minimum.

14. Understand that a true manipulator will probably never change.

Most people use manipulative behaviors ocasionally, but understand that those who have repeatedly used manipulative and controlling behaviors for the entire time you’ve known them are probably not going to change, unless it’s advantageous for them. Consequently, you will not be able to change them and they probably won’t change for your benefit. Moreover, their bad behavior is not your fault or responsibility. If you can’t cut an especially toxic manipulator out of your life completely, it’s best to limit your exposure to them and keep your relationship as superficial as possible.

Of course, what all of these steps ultimately boil down to is learning how to be assertive and sticking up for yourself. That can be a very difficult undertaking, especially when the manipulator in your life is someone who has real or imagined authority over you. Many people become victims of manipulators because they lack self-esteem and care too much about what other people think of them. A lack of self-esteem can be a difficult obstacle to overcome because it requires a person to change their own behaviors.

No one can be happy as another person’s doormat. Manipulators thrive on making other people their doormats. They count on their victims’ fears of how they look to other people and their reluctance to stand up to the manipulator’s bad behavior. Realize that you can’t control what other people think of you. You can only control your reactions to other peoples’ behavior. If the manipulator in your life is an adult, he or she is ultimately responsible for their own actions and reactions. You are only responsible for what you do. And no matter what, there are always going to be certain people who won’t like you or won’t approve of how you live your life. In my opinion, the best thing to do in a no win situation is whatever will ultimately make you the most comfortable and will cause the least amount of grief to innocent parties. I realize that sometimes that means giving in to a manipulator. But with practice, you can learn how to minimize the effects of a manipulator’s bad behavior on your life.


Putting on the brakes: not getting on the bus to Abilene…

A couple of nights ago, Bill had a Skype session with his daughter. She told him that not long ago, she got a phone call from her mother, beseeching her to jump in her car and drive to a hospital a few hours from where she lives. Evidently, younger daughter’s cousin had been in a car accident and Ex felt that someone from the family should go to her. Younger daughter, in her infinite wisdom, declined to drive to the hospital. She’s pregnant, and has a toddler aged son. The hospital was a few hours away from where she lives, and she’s not particularly close to her cousin. She also had no idea what condition her cousin was in. She could have loaded up her toddler in the car, driven several hours, wasted precious gas and spent money she didn’t have, only to find that her cousin had only gotten bumps and bruises and was released. She had the courage to say no, but was apparently feeling a little guilty about it.

I listened to Bill explain to his daughter that sometimes her mother gets these ideas that something has to be done no matter what. She doesn’t stop and think about logistics, costs, or practicality. She just jumps in the car and goes… or she manipulates someone else to go in her stead. She reacts, rather than thoughtfully responds. I’m sure these kinds of reactions make her feel better in the short term, even if they turn out to be disastrous decisions. She feels like she has to do something. If she can’t do it, she’ll get someone else to do it, and that will make her feel better about herself. She’ll even take all the credit, even if she’s not the one who actually did anything.

I was instantly reminded of a similar situation I experienced back in 2010. Bill and I were living in Georgia. My dad was still alive, and was being hospitalized in North Carolina, near where my eldest sister lives. I got an email from another sister who lives in the Midwest. This sister was feeling guilty that our oldest sister was exclusively taking care of our parents. She felt like I should be doing more, so she took it upon herself to try to convince me to drive to North Carolina to visit our dad.

I remember the conversation started in an underhanded, manipulative way. She asked me how long it takes to drive from Georgia to North Carolina. I responded that it would take a few hours. Then she delivered the pitch. She wanted me to drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister who lives in Virginia, and visit our dad. She said she couldn’t do it herself because plane tickets were too expensive and she had work. She assumed that I could go in her stead and “help out”, even though the people directly involved hadn’t asked me for my help and were fully capable of asking. They are also not the type of people who wouldn’t ask for help if it was necessary. My mom is direct to a fault. She doesn’t keep quiet to spare other people’s feelings. It’s one of her best, and worst, qualities.

It so happened that I had just talked to our mother, and she had expressly told me she didn’t want me to visit. I hadn’t wanted to visit, nor had I suggested it, but she said things were hectic enough as it was. So, since I had just talked to our mom and she’d asked me not to add to the stress of the situation by visiting, I told my sister out in the Midwest, who was probably feeling guilty and helpless, that Mom had asked me not to go up there. Moreover, even though I don’t work outside of the home, I had other responsibilities. For one thing, I had dogs to take care of. I couldn’t just hop in the car and go, just because she suggested it. I would have to do something with them, since Bill works long hours and they aren’t used to being alone.

It takes discipline to do this, but in the long run, it will spare you a lot of grief.

I sent a calm response to my sister, indicating that our mom had specifically asked me not to visit and that I had other things going on. My sister proceeded to send me a pissy email full of guilt trips, which, of course, really annoyed me. Still, I managed to stay calm in my next response. I explained that I wasn’t going to just jump in the car and go up there on her say so, but I would call Mom and ask her if there was anything I could do for her. My sister seemed alright with that. She responded with a gushing, appreciative email, and added that I should email her to let her know how our parents were doing. I never did do that, and she never said anything about it. So much for her concern. Really, though, she was just feeling helpless and wanted to feel helpful. She figured she could bully me in to acting, which would make her feel better about herself, even if it was disrespectful toward me.

I called my mom, and she clarified that she wouldn’t be upset if I visited our dad, but that he was being transferred back to Virginia, so we might as well see him there. Then, she said she would like me to go to our house in Gloucester, which at that time she was trying to sell, and pick up the piano. I inherited my mom’s piano. It’s currently sitting in storage in Texas. It’s extremely heavy, and she needed it out of the house.

This situation happened to be going on over Memorial Day weekend, so Bill went to UHaul, got a tow bar put on our SUV, and we made the arrangements to board our dogs and go to Virginia to get the instrument. We drove up to Gloucester, got a UHaul, and picked up the piano. Then, we visited my Dad, who was in a physical rehab hospital.

My dad was not in his right mind. He called me by my sister’s name and complained that I’d gained weight (my sister has dark hair and is a size two, and I’m a blonde and… not a size two), then he completely ignored me and talked to Bill, who was just great with him. In my dad’s mind, he was still an officer in the Air Force. My dad was talking as if he was in a briefing. Bill caught on quickly and started speaking to my dad as if he was a general. Dad responded in the most uncanny way. He calmed down. Afterwards, Bill and I took my mom out for a drink. Just as we were about to get in the car to take Mom home, a nurse called and asked her to come back and sit with Dad, because he was agitated. Mom bitched out the nurse, which made me feel a little sorry for Dad’s caregivers. I remember her telling them that she didn’t have the stamina to sit with him all the time and it was their job to deal with him. I guess they were able to, since we left and Mom got to rest.

What would have happened if I had just done what my sister had demanded? I think it would have turned into a wild goose chase. If I had gone up to North Carolina, I probably would have missed seeing my dad. I would have wasted gas, and there’s no way I would have been able to do what my mom ultimately needed done, getting that heavy piano out of the house. I needed Bill to help with that. Maybe my sister would have been temporarily happy that I’d done as she demanded, but in the long run, doing her bidding wouldn’t have been very useful. She thought she knew better, though, and incorrectly assumed she could still order me around. News flash… I’m not eight years old anymore.

My sister wanted to do something, but wasn’t able to do it herself. She was feeling guilty and helpless. She figured I wasn’t busy, and decided to use manipulative tactics to try to spur me into action. When I demurred, she laid the guilt on even thicker and heavier. The end result is that she really pissed me off. I lost some respect for her when she resorted, yet again, to manipulation instead of making a respectful request of me. But then, this is something my sister has always done. Somehow, despite being raised by very direct and forthright parents, two of my sisters have learned that in order to get their way, they have to be manipulative. It’s a very common strategy. I no longer have much patience or tolerance for it. When people use fear, obligation, and guilt to try to get me to do something, I usually resist.

I think sometimes people who have grown up in abusive situations, or are surrounded by people who are manipulative and prone to employing guilt trips, are conditioned to do the bidding of others without ever questioning it. My husband calls this “getting on the bus to Abilene”, although I’m not sure he quite gets the euphemism right. Getting on the bus to Abilene suggests group think– people giving into a bad idea because they don’t want to be the person who resists, even though secretly, everyone is against the idea. The trip to Abilene is pointless and uncomfortable, but everyone goes along to get along and everyone suffers for it. And then it turns out no one wanted to go in the first place.

Maybe this anecdote isn’t helpful for everyone, but it’s helpful for me. There’s no reason why I can’t rely on my own good sense to make my own decisions. I don’t have to respond to people who use guilt tactics and manipulation to get me to do their bidding. In fact, it’s in my best interest to teach them NOT to approach me that way.

You’re not a marionette. You can dance to your own tune.

I did end up helping our mom, but I did it in a way that was doable for me and ultimately more helpful for her. I’m glad to hear that Bill’s daughter has similarly learned to say “no” to her mom when she pulls this kind of manipulative shit. If you’re an adult, and you’re functional, you don’t have to take manipulation from other people. Manipulation is, at its core, a kind of bullying. It’s unfair and disrespectful. It may seem easier to give in to manipulation, but in the long run, it only encourages more of the same behavior. Set boundaries and enforce them. If someone proposes a bad idea, you don’t have to go along with it. Do what works for you.

Back in 2010, I wrote about this incident as it was happening. I was unusually calm about it. I would have thought there would have been more ranting and swearing, but in 2010, I was more circumspect than I am now.