Protecting Yourself from the Expert Manipulation of Psychopaths, Sociopaths and Other Difficult People
Have you ever been in a relationship where, for some reason, you couldn’t quite figure out, you felt as if you were being controlled or restricted in some way? A relationship where you started to doubt yourself, your actions, and your emotions, or felt as if something just wasn’t right? If you have, there’s an excellent chance that you were being manipulated.
What, Exactly, is Manipulation?
While it does have a negative connotation, manipulation is a natural, effective and useful tool that helps us survive and thrive in society. We start using unconscious manipulation as infants and small children. For example, when they get hungry, babies cry. This manipulates their parents into doing what they need, giving them food. Children will often do the same thing once they realize how powerful their cries are, for example, using them to manipulate their parents into purchasing them a toy.
This type of manipulation is, truth be told, relatively normal behavior. All children do it, so the last thing you want to do is judge them or deride them too harshly. At some point, with discipline, most children grow out of self-obsessed manipulation and mature into adults who are considerate of others, kind and don’t need to use manipulation to get what they want or need; they ask. But it doesn’t always work out that way and, for some, immature manipulation traits can continue into adulthood.
When adults use wanton manipulation, however, it often is emotionally and psychologically dangerous and damaging. That’s because, at its core, manipulation is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) form of control. Control of an individual, a group, team, or organization, or even an entire nation. When a car salesperson pushes you to make a purchase, they’re trying to control both you and the situation to create an outcome that favors them (i.e., more sales). The problem is when their wanting to sell the car is more important to them, than your need to buy one.
You can walk away from that type of situation, of course, but it’s not as easy if, say, the person manipulating you is your partner, a colleague, or someone in power, and they’re doing it to ‘keep you in line’ or otherwise derive some other benefit from your abject obedience. In short, manipulation is a typical human trait that, when selfishly abused, can be quite damaging.
The Different Types of Manipulators (And Why They Do It)
Manipulation covers a whole range of different scenarios and situations, from more ´mild´ forms, to those that are much more damaging and dangerous. To help us clarify, we´ve identified at least 3 types of manipulators:
- Immature – like a child, they don’t intend harm, but are merely self centred
- Entitled – they believe they deserve things to be their way, and don’t want to cause harm, but will justify hurting others, to get what they want.
- Pathological – they don´t care who gets hurt, or even enjoy causing harm to others. This includes sociopaths, who may act impulsively without thinking how others may be affected, and psychopaths who are cold and calculating and may even play along within societal rules to achieve their own objectives, but with zero regard for human life or emotions.
Identifying the Obvious (and Not So Obvious) Signs Of Manipulation
Some of us are very trusting people, and when we meet someone new, it may not even cross our minds that they could have ulterior motives, or not be completely trustworthy. You might dive into a new romance, friendship, or business partnership assuming that the person has none other than the best intentions, only to find a little while down the track that things start to go pear shaped.
If you´re nodding your head here, it´s likely that you may have been burnt before in this respect. You´ve probably had friends and family tell you that you´re too trusting or naïve. And they could be right.
On the other hand, some people (usually those who have been burnt too many times before!) err in the other direction, and could be very critical and closed off, even suspicious towards someone new.
As with all things, a bit of balance is called for. It is worthwhile as you are getting to know someone that you remain aware, but not hypervigilant, to the way they behave and communicate.
To know if you’re being manipulated, you need to know the signs and, if you will, symptoms of unhealthy manipulation. Like the early days of the flu, things won’t ‘feel right’ when you’re being manipulated. That’s the best time to nip it in the bud, frankly, so knowing what to look for (and all the many signs of manipulation) is vital.
Things Don’t ‘Add Up.’
One of the most common signs you’re being manipulated is when situations and circumstances don’t add up or make sense. If your new partner is trying to convince you, for example, to sign away your home to them so that you can save money on a new mortgage. That doesn’t make any sense and would be a big red flag that they may be manipulating you.
You Start To Question or Doubt Yourself
Some manipulators are very good at what they do. So good, in fact, that they can start to make you doubt yourself and start seeing things their way. Their manipulations can make you feel as if you’re going a little crazy as your brain tries to figure out what’s going on.
Something Feels Off (Your ‘Gut’ Is Telling You To Be Careful)
Knowing how to feel and trust your ‘gut feeling’ is essential to sniffing out a manipulator. It’s a little feeling that says ‘hey,’ this doesn’t seem right’ or ‘get the heck out of here, this is a bad situation´. If something feels ‘off’ to you, there’s a good chance it is and that you need to extricate yourself from the situation.
Understand the Common Manipulation Strategies
People who use manipulation for evil or immoral intent have specific tried-and-true strategies they use and use often. Knowing these strategies will make it easier for you to spot if you’re in danger of becoming the victim of a predator, sociopath or psychopath.
Initial Grooming and Creating Trust
This strategy involves being nice to you and creating a feeling of trust and security. It can happen quickly (within a few hours) or over a longer period of time (weeks or months).
Playing Your Emotions With a Sad Story
Human empathy is an excellent thing, no doubt. Manipulators know this and use sad stories to hit your empathy button. Portraying themselves as weak or a victim, ironically, is how they manipulate their victims.
Foot in the Door
A classic strategy of persuasion: I ask you to make a small concession, to which you reluctantly agree. Like the unwelcome houseguest who asks to stay for ´just a couple of weeks, til I get on my feet´ and is still living with you (rent free) a year later.
Separating You From Those Who Love and Care About You
This is one of the most wicked forms of manipulation, putting a wedge between their victim and those who care about them (and who may alert you to their ways). They create drama where there is none, making their victim believe that their family or friends have shunned them (or worse).
Praise or Putting You Up On a Pedestal
This is a prevalent strategy used by sociopaths. By showering compliments, they overwhelm their victim’s gut feelings, leaving them highly vulnerable. Manipulators have used this technique to steal from people for eons, preying on their victim’s vanity or lack of self-confidence. Praising you for following their orders or giving them what they want
Ridicule and Sarcasm
Praise can often be alternated with ridicule and sarcasm, designed to avoid addressing your concerns (no matter how legitimate), create shame and self doubt, and deter onlookers from even considering your perspective or supporting you.
Twisting the Facts
This can be the most frustrating, but sometimes you won´t even know it is happening. This can include exaggerating or understating the facts, bias, outright lying, feigning ignorance, making excuses, leaving out important details, using language to mislead, and so on.
Reciprocity & Guilt
They may go out of their way to do something for you. It could be just that they are nice, but beware, if they try to convince you that you ‘owe’ them, they’re using reciprocity as a manipulative tool. Or they may flat out blame you when something they have done doesn´t turn out well. This is where it starts to take a horrible turn and can often lead to…
Fear, Threats and Intimidation
Creating fear, threatening violence or to reveal intimate knowledge is a potent strategy and used by sociopaths and psychopaths frequently. Some will veil their threats (however thinly) with storytelling. For example, by telling their victim a story about “a lady who went to the cops but later disappeared and was never heard from again” or “imagine what would happen if your family found out about what you did¨.
Wearing you Down
All of these strategies can play with your mind and emotions to such an extent that after some time, you simply get worn down and end up giving in to the bully.
How to Protect Yourself
The very best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a sociopath or psychopath’s manipulation is to nip the problem in the bud as soon as it starts.
While most people are good, well meaning people just trying to do their best in this world, there will always be a small percentage,who are willing to trample on other people´s rights to achieve their own outcomes and agendas. Some of these are even wily or charismatic enough to make it into positions of power.
When it comes to protecting yourself, you really only have two options:
- Walk Away– If someone is trying to manipulate you, your best bet is to disengage completely and walk away. It might not always be possible, of course, but if it is, that’s your best course of action.
- Learn how psychological manipulation operates so you can spot it coming, and avoid you or your loved ones falling victim to it.
Either way, don´t allow yourself to be manipulated. The costs are simply too high. And when you see signs of psychological manipulation at play, whenever possible, speak out about it. If you don´t, you may find yourself or someone else in a world of trouble not too far down the road.
In our online learning course ´Psychological Self Defence´ we show you 18 different strategies you can use to handle a master manipulator, sociopath or psychopath, and how to protect yourself both in physically, mentally and emotionally.