A manipulative personality can take over your life, influencing your thinking and your decision making, controlling your actions and making themselves the center of your universe. You may feel like you are on a constant emotional roller-coaster with drama and chaos a regular thing in your life. You find yourself doing things and tolerating things that you would not have before getting involved with the manipulative personality.
I am not talking about a situation where you bought something from a sales man who had a manipulative personality and now you wish you hadn't bought it. Or where a particular person you know is selfish and more often than not they suit themselves and you feel a bit put out by it. Nor am I referencing a situation where someone is sick, or old, and is now demanding more of your time and you feel bad or guilty when you cannot give them everything they want.
There is a certain group where a manipulative personality is an inherent characteristic of their makeup and because of this they deliberately set out to control and dominate others. Their relationships are based on exploiting others and they are prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they want. They can be great actors, putting on a wonderful show at different points in their relationships, but underneath they are cold, calculating and callous. So who are these people?
There are people who are born with personality disorders which means that their relationship with themselves is distorted and so their relationships with others are affected in particular ways. They are very self centered with their self esteem coming from power and personal gain. There is an excessive reference to others in order to manage their sense of themselves.
They do not have any of the socializing emotions, those emotions that allow us as humans to live in harmony. There is no empathy, guilt, shame, love, compassion, fear, embarrassment. Yes, there exist people who do not have normal emotions! This means that they never feel bad for anything they do. They can do anything to others, literally anything, and it does not upset them. They do not feel somebody else's pain or suffering.
These people are commonly known as psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists.
Most people have an idea of what a psychopath is but these ideas are often based on movies and the media and may not be completely accurate. When someone believes they have a manipulative personality as a partner or friend, they have difficulty seeing the manipulator as a psychopath. A psychopath is typically thought of as a dangerous character who is a bit wild and has thoughts of killing on their mind a lot of the time. The spouse or friend is not like that at all!
But this is the first trick of the manipulative personality, of the psychopath or narcissist. They know that people won't want to know them if they show their true nature so they hide it. They pretend to be the perfect partner initially, offering friendship, happiness and a better life in general. Then, when the victim is committed to the relationship, the manipulative personality starts to act differently, changing the rules of the relationship, demanding more and more. The manipulator continues to manage the impressions, the ideas and the beliefs of the victim, changing the way they make decisions and very heavily influencing their behavior.
You can read more about this process in this article about controlling girlfriends.
The victims of psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists are changed in many ways by their manipulators. Basically their personality is molded and altered by the manipulators to be what the manipulators want. And what they want is someone who obeys, who is dependent and who is loyal. They want someone who believes in them and is willing to look after their needs.
This new personality imposed on the victims is called a pseudopersonality. It is a false personality that dominates and represses their real personality. It is this false personality that is programmed in the way that the psychopaths and narcissists want and because it dominates the real personality it becomes the master program for the victim's life. The person's own (real) needs and desires become secondary to the pseudopersonality, which is programmed to take care of the wants and needs of the manipulator.
This double personality (not the same as multiple personality) explains many of the problems of victims. They often talk about being torn, about being at war with themselves. One part of them wants one thing, another part wants the opposite. A major conflict occurs when one part of them wants to get out of the relationship (real personality) and another part needs to stay (pseudopersonality). This is the internal struggle between the real personality and the pseudopersonality and it does not settle until the pseudopersonality is removed.
These types believe that they are superior beings and they have a huge sense of entitlement. They believe they should be able to have what they want and they should be able to have it the way they want it.
For them, the end justifies the means. In other words, getting what they want is the most important thing and therefore in terms of getting it, anything is fair game. If they need to make friends (and fool the victim) to get it, that's ok. If they need to shout, scream, have a tantrum, insult or humiliate, that's acceptable. If they need to threaten, beat or sexually abuse to get what they want, then that's what they will do.
They also do these things to people because they can. Normal people have an 'inner policeman', a conscience, that stops them from doing many things that would be detrimental to others, or indeed, to themselves. Psychopaths and narcissists have no such system in place. They know the difference between right and wrong and they don't care about such judgments. It does not influence their decision making.
They want recognition for who they are, narcissists especially so, and they make sure that those under their influence give it to them. They get an ego boost from being in control. Some of them want the victim to recognize that very clearly. Some of them are happy to have total control over the victims without the victims recognizing this fact, for example, many cult leaders create such a position for themselves.
I have pointed out that the manipulative personality of a psychopath, believing it is above those around him or her, will mold the victims in a certain way. The psychopath will fashion the victims in it's own image, so to speak. The pseudopersonality has many of the same ideas and beliefs as the psychopath. It thinks and acts in accordance to the wishes of the psychopath.
Obviously there are significant differences: the pseudopersonality can never treat the psychopath the way the psychopath treats the pseudopersonality, the pseudopersonality cannot challenge or criticize the leader and so on.
But the pseudopersonality lives in a world where the psychopath is a superior being, the pseudopersonality is 'less', it is defective in many ways and it is always to blame. This is the world the psychopath lives in and the psychopath has created such a world in the mind of the victim.
In order to achieve such a thing, there are obviously many things that the psychopath has to intentionally do, and I want to have a look at some of these now. There are things that are fairly commonly known and there are other things that are not much spoken about. I will talk in more detail about some of these lesser know things here.
Here is a list of the more commonly used techniques used by a manipulative personality with links to more detailed information about each one:
We like people who are like us and who have the same interests as we do. This pattern is taken advantage of in many situations. Salesmen in flea markets call potential customers 'friend' as a way to try and build a relationship very quickly. Cults will often use the idea of being a family to build a certain familiarity between the members.
A manipulative personality will gather information about their potential target and then make out that both parties have lots of things in common. "You like traveling? I love to travel! Where is your favorite place?" the manipulator says. "You have just come out of a bad relationship? I know exactly what that's like. Wait until I tell you about my ex..."
This is a very powerful technique to start a conversation, get a person to open up and reveal things about themselves and to build a bond with someone. It happens all the time throughout the world. It's how many long lasting, healthy relationships start. There is nothing inherently wrong with it. I am not saying that you should never do something like this ever again.
The trick is to notice when someone is doing it on purpose with a view to manipulating you. How do you do that? If the person you are talking to seems overly excited or over the top in some way, you need to be careful. If their story does not add up, or if there are inconsistencies or contradictions present, these are warning signs. If you think that the person does not actually have a profound understanding of something that they are claiming to be an expert in, even if they are using some jargon, beware.
If you feel that you are very attracted to this person all of a sudden, this is not normal and should be a signal that you need to step back and not commit to anything right away. If you have a bad feeling, at all, about the other person, do NOT ignore it. Do NOT override your initial impressions or your instincts in such situations. It's much better to remove yourself from the situation, find out more about what is going on and make any decisions without any pressure. If the person is genuine, a time delay won't make any difference. And it will give you peace of mind.
A second very significant tactic to watch out for is where a person offers you two options and tells you that you get to choose. Until proven otherwise, consider this a mind control tactic being used by a manipulative personality.
Life is not black and white, there are plenty of grays. When somebody narrows your options to 2, they are pushing you into something, even moreso when one of the options is something they know you won't want.
"If you don't like what I am doing, there is the door. You choose!" is a classic presentation of this pattern. The manipulator knows it's not easy for you to leave or that you have no intention of leaving. Because of the nature of the relationship it seems to you that you are choosing to stay and so it's your decision to put up with whatever they are doing.
However, this is a set-up. A third choice is that the person change their behavior. A fourth choice is that the person engage in that behavior away from you. But you are not given these choices. That's where the manipulative trick is hidden.
What makes this technique insidious is that you believe that you have control. You believe that you are making your own decisions. And, of course, this will be used against you later. You will be reminded that you chose and that it was, and is, your responsibility. You will be told that if you didn’t like it you should not have made that particular decision, but, having made it, you now have to put up with it. Note, too, that you are not allowed to change your mind here either. This is another aspect of the situation that the manipulative personality uses to back their victim into a corner.
In dealing with young children this particular influence technique can be very useful. For example, asking if they want to put on their pajamas now or in five minutes time can avoid upset at bedtime. However, as an adult, if anyone tries to use this against you, you are better off treating it as a control mechanism being used by a manipulative personality.
There are other ways a manipulative personality will influence your decisions. A person's emotional state can have a profound effect on their decision making. The manipulators take advantage of this in several ways.
First of all, when a person is experiencing very strong emotions, they don't think very rationally or logically. For example, when someone has lost a loved one, the grief they experience colors their whole world view. This is not a good time to be making important decisions. When someone is euphoric their problems seem insignificant and they feel as if anything is possible for them. Again, this is not a good time to be making life changing decisions.
A manipulative personality will use this by keeping their victims unbalanced emotionally. They will make them feel incredibly good and also incredibly bad. They will even alternate these things frequently so that the victim hardly knows whether they are coming or going.
At the start of a relationship they make themselves out to be the perfect partner, providing everything the victim wants and needs. They make the victim feel amazing and marvelous to such an extent that all the victim wants is to keep the good times going and they make decisions and act to do just that. By making the victim feel so good, the manipulator gets the victim to think and act the way the manipulator wants, i.e., to believe the psychopath is a wonderful person and to continue in the relationship.
Later on, the manipulative personality will use the opposite approach, mostly making the victim feel bad, worthless and broken in some way, to motivate them to act the way the manipulator wants, which at this stage, is to treat the manipulator as a superior being who must be obeyed and taken care of.
The very strong emotions of the victim mean that they are unable to recognize the reality of their situation, they cannot see that they are being abused and controlled.
Another frequent tactic involving emotions is to put time pressure on the victim to act or make a decision. The manipulative personality makes it seem that what they want is time sensitive. The victim feels that they have to decide or act straight away. This can be very stressful and does not give the victim time to think and reflect on what is happening. The emotional stress means that what the victim usually chooses is the option that most quickly alleviates that stress. And this particular option just happens to be exactly what the manipulator wants!
Do you find yourself rushing to answer your phone when the manipulative personality in your life calls? Or as soon as you see an email from them, you get anxious and you just have to read it and respond to it as soon as possible? Or maybe when they ask for something you decide to get it done right away so as not to cause any problems later? This is how the time pressure thing works...
A more subtle way to manipulate is to directly criticize thinking and 'head stuff' and claim to support 'going with your gut' or 'listening to your heart'. The problem with this is that the manipulative personality has already distorted these systems.
For example, the manipulative personality gets angry every time you ask for money for yourself or whenever you bring up a particular topic. This has happened often enough that you know what to expect. The next time you want money for yourself, you know an argument will follow if you ask and it makes you feel bad. So you don't bother. Instead of thinking, for example, that the money is yours, that you have a right to buy things for yourself and insisting on that, you 'go with your gut' which says 'Let's avoid feeling bad so it's best to say nothing'.
In the same manner, you know if you buy the manipulative personality something that they mentioned that they liked, they will give you compliments. In that way, they feel good, they will praise you and you will feel good. The pleasure of potentially feeling good in the future motivates you to act in a certain way. Once again, the manipulator gets what they want and it's all driven by your emotions and it totally ignores the fact that you cannot afford the item!
Flattery is excessive or insincere praise. Most people know when someone is trying to flatter them because what is said is patently not true. However, even when people know the words are not accurate, they still have an effect on the listener. The listener may recognize the exaggeration but they still have a strong emotional response to it.
This is frequently used by a manipulative personality because these types recognize the power of compliments and even flattery, no matter how outrageous.
Combined with other techniques, flattery becomes a very powerful influence technique.
For example, a manipulative personality and cults often have a process that they lead people through in order to 'capture' them. There is a sequence where the victim is led to take the first step and once that they done that it is easier to take the next step and so on. If a person is skeptical about taking the first step, the manipulator may flatter the person ("You are an intelligent person, you are not going to be easily tricked, are you?") and because the person is now in a different emotional state, including having the feeling of owing the manipulator something, it becomes very difficult for them not to take that first step.
In situations where you are dealing with a manipulative personality, whether it is in an intimate relationship, a cult, a work situation or a social situation, information is the key to sorting things out.
If you don't understand these types and specifically how they do what they do, you will get caught. And if you have already been caught, you have to learn what they did to you in order to free yourself from them.
The more you understand about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists as well as mind control, the less they control you. The more you know about the techniques, the less they affect you.
I see many people who know that the manipulative personality in their life was lying to them and saying nasty things and doing hurtful things and so on. But they have known these things for years and just knowing that these things occurred is not enough.
Learning about the subtleties of the techniques, why those techniques were chosen for you, what effect they had on your beliefs, your emotions, your decision making, your behaviors and your perception of reality is fundamental to undoing their influence.
You can read about some of the common beliefs that trap people in abusive situations in this article about abusive mothers.
As people learn about healthy influence versus destructive mind control, they invariably get to a point where they do not want to be around anyone with a manipulative personality. If you are going to separate from them anyway, you may as well do it sooner rather than later. This is not easy to do because of the dependency of the pseudopersonality. But the sooner you get away from them, the sooner the abuse stops.
There are lots of things written about how to deal with a manipulative personality and much of it just won't work. You can read more about these things in this article about narcissistic wives.
You cannot manage them, deal with them or put up with them. They will destroy you. There are very, very few situations where it is worth continuing the relationship with them. You are much better off getting out, getting rest and getting help.
Get professional help. An expert in this field will save you time, money and suffering. A professional will help you to understand how the pseudopersonality was imposed on you and recognizing these mechanisms allows you to get rid of the pseudopersonality and have your own real personality take over control.
Not undoing the pseudopersonality makes you vulnerable to being caught in other abusive relationships. See this article on why do I attract narcissists and sociopaths?.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
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