Manipulators and predators are everywhere! Unfortunately, most of us have found ourselves in the hands of a manipulator at least once in our lives. We often feel guilty and ashamed, telling ourselves we should have known better. Yet manipulators—especially those who are truly experts at their craft—can be exceedingly difficult to detect. Yet you can learn to notice manipulators’ tactics and set boundaries when red flags arise. And if you’ve suffered at the hands of a manipulator, it’s not your fault. If you’ve been manipulated, you deserve to heal and move forward with wisdom, self-compassion, and TLC. As this episode touches on sensitive information, listener discretion is advised.
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Manipulators and Predators are Everywhere! Discover How to Spot Red Flags and Heal from Manipulation!
Explore Manipulators’ Toxic Traits and Strategies for Breaking Free and Healing
Manipulators are everywhere. Unfortunately, most of us have found ourselves in the hands of a manipulator at least once in life. We often feel guilty and ashamed telling ourselves we should have known better. Yet manipulators, especially those who are truly experts at their craft, can be exceedingly difficult to detect, but you can learn to spot manipulators before it’s too late and get on the path to healing if you’ve suffered or are suffering at the hands of a manipulator.
In this episode, we’ll focus on this listener’s real-life question, “I’m in my 40s and fresh out of a long-term relationship filled with manipulation. I need to heal, but I’m now faced with an aging dad who is being manipulated by a so-called girlfriend. Can you help both of us?” That question is the focus of this episode. Please note as this episode touches on sensitive information, audience discretion is advised, as well, if you need support due to manipulation or concerns about predators, please look for the resources provided.
What is Manipulation?
As we dive into addressing the question of the day about healing from manipulation and also extricating yourself from a manipulative relationship or helping someone else move out of a manipulative relationship, it’s important for us to understand a few key pieces. First, what is manipulation? Manipulation is the use of psychological tactics, often coercion, to negatively influence another person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
Manipulation can create harm in a wide variety of areas, including mental health, emotional health, physical health, sexual health, spirituality, and financial well-being. Various terms are used to define manipulators. You might hear somebody call a manipulator a predator, schemer, exploiter, or Machiavellian. When we look at manipulators, we also want to see that manipulation occurs on a continuum. There are degrees of manipulation. Somebody can be mildly manipulative, not that’s healthy, moderately or extraordinarily manipulative, and that’s the most unhealthy.
Who do manipulators target? Manipulators tend to target those who are vulnerable in some way. Sadly, manipulators tend to prey on those who are good-hearted, trusting, weak, or naive. It’s regrettable that manipulators seem to have a sixth sense, and they choose to use that sixth sense to be damaging and self-serving. Manipulators rarely target those whom they perceive to be strong, dominant, wise, or highly assertive, but no one is immune from a manipulator.Manipulative people take a toll on your emotional, mental, and physical health! Join Dr. Carla for an exploration of manipulators' toxic, red flag behaviors, and discover how to heal from manipulative relationships. Let go of guilt and shame as… Click To Tweet
They strive to gain leverage so that they can have power and control over the target. Many people will say, and this is part of the healing process, “Is it me? Do I attract manipulators? Do I have a sign on my forehead that says, ‘Manipulate me?’” No, it’s not your fault. Manipulators are skilled at targeting their victims. They read a room, situation, party, online forum, or parking lot.
They read situations to find out who will be a good target. Although you may have a history such as unresolved childhood abuse or parents that modeled manipulation that make you more vulnerable to predatory behavior, it’s not your fault. The good news is if you are prone to be receptive to manipulators, simply because it was something that was modeled as being okay or normal, you can learn to heal and learn to spot the red flags. The manipulator, not the victim, is fully responsible for their vile behavior. Sadly, the targets of the manipulation often take on that sense of, “It’s my fault,” but it’s not your fault.
Your best protection moving forward on the road to healing involves increasing your self-awareness, boundaries, and other awareness, especially about red flag behaviors. We will dive into that quite a lot. Another piece is that our world is very disconnected. In the past, we tended to live in smaller towns where schemers and manipulators were caught more easily and held accountable more easily. In today’s world, we’re often very isolated, lonely, and disenfranchised. The online world is the perfect screen for manipulators.Manipulation is at epidemic levels in today's world. Discover how to spot manipulators and keep them at a distance. Join Dr. Carla as she discusses the toxic traits of manipulators and offers support for healing from the pain of manipulative… Click To Tweet
There are more places for the manipulators to hide. You didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’d like to be manipulated today. Let me put out a welcome mat for manipulators.” No. Manipulators slither into your life. It’s their Modus Operandi or MO. They sneak in and they target you slowly and surreptitiously. That’s the piece to know about manipulators. They are so crafty that you don’t realize you’re being manipulated.
One day you wake up, whether it’s days, weeks, months, or years. you say, “I’ve been manipulated. I’m so stupid.” You are not stupid. It’s simply that manipulators are very skilled at taking advantage of other people and they work very hard, especially at first to not alert you to how devious they are to the true nature of their personality. Where can manipulation occur? Manipulation can occur anywhere there are people. In any environment, you are sure to find some manipulative people. They can be present in family environments, friendships, professional environments, investment realms, work environments, and certainly in romantic relationships.
Where Manipulators Come From
Manipulators present in a wide variety of ways. There may be a very overtly bullying manipulator at work or down the block. You can see the love-bombing manipulator in the dating world, the crazy-making manipulator, the guilt-tripping manipulator in a family, or the charismatic salesman-type manipulator in a social investment or personal romantic setting. Where do manipulators come from? How do they get to be manipulators?Manipulators are everywhere. From cybercrime at the hands of strangers to predatory behavior in romantic relationships, manipulators prey on others' vulnerabilities. Join Dr. Carla for a look at the toxic world of manipulators. Learn how to spot… Click To Tweet
In general, most of our personalities are a combination of genetic factors, childhood environment, and innate personality. That’s the same with manipulators. A manipulator may be born with a propensity for being manipulative. It might be part of the personality. Often, it’s the childhood environment, not always, but often the childhood environment where there’s abuse, neglect, substance abuse, and alcohol addiction. All of these components that a child may learn from parents modeling the behavior, the child may learn to imitate that behavior and think it’s normal.
As that child grows up and moves through life, the behaviors become more ingrained and more hardwired. Often, it’s the childhood environment that is a big part of it. Does that mean that we can’t have somebody be a manipulator if they grew up in a lovely childhood environment? Absolutely not. There are manipulators who definitely come from good, solid, and secure backgrounds. When we’re looking at attachment, often it is someone who has a very insecure attachment and is manipulative. They learn that in childhood as a way of getting their needs met. It started as a coping skill, and then it became part of their character. That’s an important piece to know.It is someone who has a very insecure attachment who is manipulative. Click To Tweet
Also, there are underlying mental health issues when we have someone on that continuum or that spectrum where we can have very low manipulation of a child learning to test out the world and might try to manipulate a parent into giving them ice cream or a treat. That’s normal learned and experimental behavior. In a healthy environment, the parent would say, “No, let’s talk about things. Let’s be straightforward and respectful, and ask for what we want. We don’t want to cry or throw a temper tantrum or be passive-aggressive,” and those things. The parent would model healthy behavior and teach the child how to engage in healthy ways.
However, somebody who is learning to be manipulative just learns and observes more and more and uses those strategies more and more. Rather than learning healthy behaviors, they learn how to manipulate them better and better over time. We often see that for somebody who is on that continuum of manipulation or on the far end of the spectrum, there’s often an underlying mental health personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder are two of the common personality disorders we see in exceedingly manipulative people. That doesn’t mean that every manipulator has an underlying personality disorder. I want to be clear about that.
A Manipulator’s Characteristics and Personality Traits
The next piece is what are the personality traits of someone who’s manipulative. The personality traits also occur on a spectrum. We can see some of these characteristics occurring in mild ways or extremely severe ways. They tend to be highly exploitative, self-serving, dishonest, and overconfident. They may certainly lack empathy. They can tend to be very suspicious, dominant, remorseless, impulsive, coercive, inconsiderate, lack of accountability and merciless. They will do what they need and want to do to get their needs met. Manipulators also tend to admire other manipulators. For example, they may idolize a manipulative politician and talk about how impressed they are by the highly calculated strategies. Those are some of the personality traits and characteristics of manipulative people.
Stages of Manipulation
Let’s look at the stages of manipulation. The question of the day, and we think about this woman who’s out of this long-term manipulative relationship, and then the dad or this older man who is in the throes of manipulation with a so-called girlfriend. It doesn’t generally happen overnight. There are four stages. The first is targeting. The manipulator is in a party, a bar, or an online forum. It can even be a church setting or a work setting. Any setting is a game for the manipulator. They’re targeting the person. They’re looking in saying, “Is this person single? Do they have any financial resources? Do they have people in their lives who are watching over them and caring about them?”
If the person being targeted is a child, they’re looking to see, “Does that child have a safe and secure home environment? Are the parents very watchful? Will the child tell on me? Will the child report me to his parents?” All of these things are part of the targeting stage. In a romantic relationship, the manipulator is looking and saying, “Is this somebody I can take advantage of? Are their finances accessible? Maybe they’ll let me move into their home so I can save on rent. What can I get out of this situation?” That’s what the manipulator is looking for.
In financial schemes like pyramid schemes, they’re looking at how gullible is the person. Do they have money that they can invest? They don’t care if it’s your last ounce of savings that they’re extracting from you. They care that they get that last ounce of savings. They don’t care if it leads you penniless. That’s the remorseless part. In the targeting stage, the manipulator is factoring in all of these components. They’re doing the math, then once the manipulator has found the right target, “This is good. This person is ripe for the picking,” then they start building a friendship.
They may do this online or in person. They may do it through love letters or any sort of maneuver that will help them build a friendship connection. They may say, “I love doing this with you. You like to walk. I like to walk. You like to hike. I like to hike. You like to cook. I like to cook,” even if it’s not true. They’ll pretend to like what you like to build that friendship.
Especially in the cyber or online world, for example, an elder person can be targeted by somebody saying they’re a young female who wants to be their girlfriend, and it may be a male in another country. We have to be very aware that these predators are out there. They build a friendship and then they build love. Third is the love stage. They take the friendship to another level. They’re grooming the target to be connected to them emotionally. They’re trying to build this bond. Are they in love? Are they trying to build love? No, they’re trying to get their hold of you in a more concrete way. They don’t even know what love is in the true sense of the word.
The love-building stage doesn’t have to be romantic love. It can be a sort of familial or spiritual love, a sense that we are soulmates. In financial schemes, it can be a sense of indebtedness like, “We’re in this together. Let’s have this family of love,” like a cult-like type of love. In the third to the fourth stage comes the abuse. Right in between the love building and the abuse, there is enough power and control that the abuse starts. It doesn’t start overnight. That’s why the person wakes up and says, “How did I get here? Why am I tolerating this?” It’s because it happens slowly.
The abuse doesn’t happen all at once. It’s love and abuse, then more abuse, and then a little dose of love. We’ll talk about that later, but that is how it works. Targeting, friendship formation, love building, and abuse are not for discreet stages. They become merged as one moves to the other. That is how the manipulator works. It’s always that four-stage process. Interestingly enough, at the very beginning, and it’s not a surprise, no one would open their heart to somebody who’s heavy-handed and mean. The manipulator moves in very shiny, very charismatic, and it’s slowly over time that they become heavy-handed and more of an overt abuser. That’s how they work.The manipulator moves very shiny and charismatic. And slowly, over time, they become heavy-handed and more of an overt abuser. Click To Tweet
Signs of manipulation. How can we become more aware of manipulators? This is part of the path to healing for both the person who wrote in and for her father. As we learn to be aware of the signs, we can step back and see that it’s not our fault. We were vulnerable, but we can start healing by saying, “Now I can recognize this. Now I can learn to detach. I can spot this for myself and for other people. Now that I’ve been through this and know this firsthand, I can help my child, sibling, partner, parents, and my best friend.” That’s part of the healing journey.
Signs of Manipulation
Let’s look at some of these signs of manipulation. They vary depending on the type of relationship. One common theme is the creation and use of a power dynamic that serves the manipulator’s end goal. What ultimately harms the target is the power dynamic, abuse, and manipulation. For example, in a romantic relationship, the manipulator often tends to crush over time the victim’s sense of self-worth and sense of reality. Why? To have control in the relationship.
In a family environment, we might see a manipulative parent or caregiver gaining power and control over a child to engage in emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual exploitation. Sometimes it’s ongoing over time where a parent will be the manipulator for the sake of guilt-tripping a child to have emotional control. In a work environment, a supervisor may use manipulative tactics to gain sexual favors or unfairly increase or take credit for a coworker’s work products.
In society as a whole, we often see signs of manipulation that are overt corrosion, which are threats and force or more subtle manipulative tactics for personal gain. It’s often financial. For example, financial fraud, manipulating a person by selling them a product we know the person can’t afford or doesn’t need, or using private behaviors such as nude selfies to extort money from someone. That’s where the manipulator might take advantage of a child or an adult and get them to send them nude pictures or somehow get them indebted to them to have control over them, then extort money often with dire consequences for the person who is manipulated. They feel so ashamed that they may even take their own life. We’re seeing more of that.
We want to be aware that if a manipulator has their hold on you, it’s not your fault and you can’t get help. You get support. Whatever that manipulator has over you, you can get help and support. It is not your fault. You may have done something you’re not proud of, but it’s still not your fault. It’s not your fault that you are at the mercy of a manipulator. Let’s look at some of the specific common signs of manipulation.
At first, you may feel very seen and heard by the manipulator. That’s how they get entry into your life. In the beginning, as long as you’re giving them their way, they are often uplifting and they make you feel good. While you’re thinking, “This is authentic. I’ve never been seen like this before. This person cares about me,” there’s an end game with the manipulator. They don’t know genuine love. They only know how to get you to do something they want to do. They’re often very patient at the beginning.Manipulators don't know genuine love. They only know how to get you to do something they want to do. Click To Tweet
Another piece is you may feel strangely drawn into an unhealthy situation despite sensing that something Is off. You might doubt your own perceptions of the situation. This is the allure of the manipulator. They almost get you in a little bubble where you might be feeling like there’s something strange going on, but you’re not sure what it is. Often it’s a sort of heady feeling or this “Oh my goodness” feeling.
The next piece is that you may be ignoring red flags and your own gut instinct. In fact, the manipulator may tell you everything is fine, that you’re imagining something, or that your radar is off. You may be feeling anxious or a creeping sense of self-doubt, but the manipulator or you may be saying, “Everything is fine.”
The next piece is what you may experience as the relationship moves on, especially as we get closer to that abuse stage, you may feel lower self-esteem, constant self-doubt, confusion, anxiety, depression, and certainly helplessness that comes from being disempowered. This leads to the next piece. If you say no or show doubt to the manipulator, that switch may flip you may see that dark side. It might be covered up very quickly by a skilled manipulator, but you may notice that you’re getting glimpses of their personality.
Red Flag Strategies that Manipulators Use
Let’s look at the key red flag strategies that the manipulator uses. They tend to be very artful when it comes, and we’ve talked about this by reading people’s needs, weaknesses, and blind spots. Their strategies are consciously and unconsciously crafted so that they can achieve their end goal. They’re working somewhat hard, but it’s natural for them to use the right strategies for the right target. First, pressure by the manipulator. They can be subtle or overt, but manipulators, although they can appear authentic, you can see that if you step back. You can see the salesman-like quality of them.
You can see the sheen has crackles in it because there’s inauthenticity underneath. Time, which is one thing the manipulator doesn’t have, will generally unmask the manipulator. That’s why the manipulator knows that time works against them. They’ll often push and you’ll feel a sense of urgency because they know they need to get you before you become wise to them. That’s that initial targeting, friendship, and love-building stage. There’s often urgency in there because they need to get you in their trap before you become aware because once you’re aware, you might leave.
Next, manipulators tend to be very gifted storytellers. They can be very good at crafting tales that make it difficult for you to separate fact from fiction. If you talk to them and ask them about the stories or if you say, “This part didn’t add up in this story,” they’ll find a way to go around it and continue to tell another story so that you get lost in more stories. They often have a self-serving goal with their stories, whether it’s to boost their own ego, or your ego, to attack somebody else’s self-confidence, or to attack someone else in your life who is supportive.
Pay attention to their art of storytelling. They also tend to lack congruity. That’s a piece with the storytelling things. If you step back, you’ll start seeing that things don’t add up. As you learn to observe, you’ll see that their details are often inconsistent. Although we sometimes think manipulators must be highly intelligent, it’s more that they’re crafty. They’re exceedingly devious, often charismatic. It is their duplicitous self-serving natures that make them dangerous. We want to notice again that they tend to not have congruity. The stories won’t match up. If you say, “Could you explain more?” They’ll clamp down or get defensive.
The next piece is they have a mask of kindness, this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality. Especially if confronted or questioned, that kindness will turn to anger. Another piece is they can be very evasive. They’re skilled at doing everything they can to line their own pockets and to get their own needs met. For example, they may take you to dinner and run to the bathroom when it’s time to pay the bill.
They may say, “I’ll get you a gift and you could get me a gift in return.” You show up with this gift that maybe you couldn’t afford. They’re like, “I’m not bringing you a gift. I didn’t say I was bringing you a gift.” Evasiveness, and they’ll have a reason for it. Somewhere in their mind, they will have come up with a reason why they don’t need to keep their end of the deal. That leads us to the next piece. They avoid responsibility.
They are highly gifted at avoiding responsibility, and they don’t like personal accountability. If you try and get them to be accountable for something they’ve promised, they don’t like it. If you try to get them to write a promise down, they don’t like it. They don’t like accountability. Something that the manipulator proposes as an idea and you follow it, if it goes awry, it’s never their fault, then it becomes your idea. If something goes well, it was the manipulator’s idea, even if it wasn’t their idea.
They also will always find a way to make an excuse for whatever they did. It’s your fault. It’s their boss’s fault. It’s the system’s or somebody else’s fault, but never the manipulators. The rules don’t apply to manipulators. According to them, there are two standards. One for the manipulator and one for the rest of the world. Last but not least, manipulators tend to go into a cycle of reward and pain. This is difficult. I’ll explain why.
If you try to get away from a manipulator, especially in a romantic relationship, they’ll often say, “I’ve learned my lesson. I’m so sorry. Everything will be different,” then they draw you back in, “I will change.” What this does, and it also happens in family relationships, the abusive manipulative cycle erodes self-esteem, self-worth, and the ability to notice and engage in healthy intimate dynamics. The manipulator will do the pain and reward cycle to the point where you are almost getting through the pain to get to the next reward because you know that somewhere down the line they will give you something positive.
This is called intermittent reinforcement. Research shows it is the type of reinforcement that can do the most damage because it keeps us engaged. We are like little puppy dogs waiting for that next pet and treat in between the abuse. That is a specialty of the manipulator. When we look at some of their verbal tactics, they’re very good with words. Manipulators use their verbal tactics to boost their ego and self-confidence.
That’s why people who tend to have low self-confidence or low self-worth can be especially vulnerable to manipulators and in romantic relationships phrases such as, “I love you. You deserve to be loved. You are everything to me,” especially when you’ve been on five dates with them. In romantic, family, and friendship settings, manipulators may use the word love as bait or as honey, even when their actions are anything but loving.
They will say, “I love you.” At the same time, they’ll be kicking you. They’ll be talking about you behind your back or stealing from you. That’s the piece. Manipulators don’t know love in the authentic sense of the word. We’re not talking about imperfect love here where we all mess up a little bit and we try and do better. The manipulator is very interested in using the word love to get their needs met, never to do better in the relationship, not authentically. They also are known for their salesman-like phrases such as, “You’ll feel so much better if you do this. You need to do this for yourself. Everyone will think the world of you if.” Their phrases are crafted to often boost your ego. Why? So that you’ll do something for them and you’ll be compliant.
They’re also very good at wordplay and double-speak. Anyone who knows a manipulator has known that they have an artful way of getting you to believe in whatever they want you to believe. They may say, “Give me money” or nudge you to let them move in, and then later say, “Thank you. That was such a good idea of yours to give me that money or to invite me to move in.” You’re saying, “What? I don’t recall doing that.” This creates confusion, and manipulators thrive when they create confusion in somebody else’s mind.Manipulators thrive when they create confusion in somebody else's mind. Click To Tweet
Manipulator’s guilt. They thrive on using guilt to make people do what they want. They use guilt to foster compliance, “You should do this. You owe it to me. If you loved me, you would. You are part of my religious group. God wants you to do this. I want you to do this. The world wants you to do this.” See the guilt-tripping part of it, not using general basic human compassion and respect for boundaries, but instead using guilt-tripping tactics to get their needs met.
They’re also very good at blaming other people. It’s your fault. Why did they do this? Because if it’s your fault, they avoid responsibility. They feel better, and they increase your self-doubt. They’re very good at shaming. They’ll often mercilessly shame their victims into meeting their needs and doing what they want. Why?
Again, if you can be shamed, you become more compliant because your sense of self-worth is lower. Manipulators are exceedingly good at shaming people. We see this with the use of somebody’s past behaviors, even if they’ve apologized for them or moved forward in life, they’ll use somebody’s old behavior or maybe a selfie or something like that to shame them into submission.
They’re also very good at deflecting. What is deflecting? Deflecting is when they divert attention to something else. You’re trying to get an answer. You’re trying to talk to them about one thing, and they’re talking about something completely unrelated. Why? To create confusion and to avoid responsibility. They also tend to, especially in the later stages where there’s more abuse, complain and make always or never-statements when there’s no foundation or evidence, but they’re very good at complaining, especially about you if you are not doing something that they want you to do.
They’re also very good at being critical with pointed sarcasm. Why? To erode your self-esteem. The manipulator, especially in that abusive stage, will say things like, “If you were smart, you would. If only you weighed a little less, I’d be attracted to you. It’s not my fault I look at other women or men, it’s just that X, Y, Z. It’s not my fault that I took money from your bank account, it’s because you did this.” This ties back into the part about excuses, but they will always have a way to justify their critical or unsavory behavior and attitudes.
How to Respond to Manipulators
Let’s look at how we can respond to manipulators. Our listener who is healing and now wants to help her dad, extricate himself from that situation and move forward. Here’s how we can respond to manipulators. First, before I go even any further into it, remember that your physical, emotional, mental, sexual, spiritual, financial, and all areas of your health are paramount. If you are currently in an abusive situation, some of these steps may not apply. It may be directly to 911 or to some of the resources on cyberbullying and that sort of thing.
Sometimes we don’t want to pause. We want to immediately get the support we need. That’s the first thing. Always, if you are in an unsafe situation, a child, or an elder is in an unsafe situation, or you know somebody that you’re aware of needs immediate help, there are resources, police departments, and Federal government departments. That’s the first step. Always assess for safety.
Next, if you are in a situation with a manipulator, family, or romantic social setting, where you are safe generally, but want to respond in healthier ways, use these tips. First, this one is so important. Work to observe the manipulator. As you learn to step back and become more objective, like a researcher, rather than getting drawn into that web, you’ll see the red flag behaviors that we talked about. They’ll become more obvious. When they become more obvious, they become easier to avoid.
You can use your boundaries and other coping skills more mindfully once you learn to step back and observe the manipulator, to absorb their traits and tendencies. As you’re doing that, this is the next piece. Give yourself time to evaluate. Take a step back and assess. This works against manipulators, thus it works for you. Take a timeout. Leave the room. Say you need to consider your options and say you need to think. Get yourself out of the hot seat.
Whether it’s a financial situation, romantic situation, or something with your family or work, you have the right to say, “I need to consider this. I want to reflect on this. I want to research this,” or a simple, “No,” and you get to exit the situation. That leads us to the next piece. Use your boundaries. Your boundaries are critical. Many people who fall prey to manipulators don’t have good boundaries because they didn’t learn good boundaries growing up. It’s important to know boundaries, to state them, and to be willing to walk away from the manipulator.
The best boundary and many of us are not familiar with it is the word no. You don’t need to give an explanation or an excuse. You can simply say no. If you want, you can say, “No, I won’t. No, I don’t want to. No, that’s not right for me.” Saying no is one of your best strategies. Manipulators don’t like the word no. Why? Because it works against their agenda. If you’re in a relationship with a manipulator, use I-messages. You can say, “I feel confused when you do this. I feel concerned when that happens. I feel irritated when you deflect. I feel angry when you tell me you’re going to do something and you don’t.”Manipulators don't like the word “no” because it works against their agenda. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t mean that the manipulator will be able to reflect back to you or use I-messages, but no one can argue with how you feel. Those are your feelings. You get to state them. The manipulator, sadly, can even take your I-statements and try and twist them, but you just hold your ground and use your I-messages, “I feel. I need.” That’s one of your best tools.
Next, don’t engage in conflict with the manipulators. Manipulators love the confusion they can create in conflict. Try not to take the bait. I know it’s hard, but learn to disengage and observe because manipulators don’t want to listen. They don’t want to have a healthy dialogue with you. They want to win and they never want to hear reason. They want you to be compliant.
Next, avoid using your energy to try to outsmart or get back at a manipulator. It’s not worth it. Instead, use your energy for self-care, personal growth, and journaling so you can process and track your reality. This is all if you’re choosing to stay with a manipulator or sometimes we have manipulators in our families and we want to be part of the family environment, but we want to be able to do better with the manipulator. In cases like that, we want to use our energy to engage in good self-care. For example, after maybe a family dinner with people who are guilt-tripping and manipulative, you might go home and journal about it so that you realize, “I didn’t engage. I did better this time. I used I-messages. I’m stepping back.” One of the best things we can do is learn to step back and not engage.
Next, consult with someone you trust to get support and validation. Have a place to talk. This one is important. This is the next piece. Try not to label yourself as a victim because then you can create a pattern in your head that you are a target rather than saying, “I was victimized and manipulated, but I’m not going to tolerate that anymore. I am going to learn how to spot these manipulators. If I get taken advantage of again,” and the world is full of manipulators so you might, you’ll know how to extricate yourself more quickly. That’s the wonderful thing.
Get support for healing, from a psychologist, a domestic violence support group, or your primary care physician. In many cases, domestic violence resources can be incredibly helpful because of the abuse. It’s not just physical abuse. It’s the emotional, mental, often financial, and spiritual abuse that comes with it. Domestic violence support groups and their resources are for people who’ve been abused or been abused in any way, not just physically. Remember that when you help yourself, you help others because when we help others and not judge them, then we can help stop the manipulators by holding the manipulators accountable and spreading the word about health and red flag awareness.When we help others and do not judge them, we can help stop the manipulators by holding them accountable and spreading the word about healthy awareness. Click To Tweet
Back to the question with this individual’s dad, she could then go to her dad using all of this information and say, “Dad, I think that this is what’s happening with your so-called girlfriend or your girlfriend. This is what I’m observing. I want you to know, I want to be honest with you, I’ve been manipulated and taken advantage of and that’s why I’ve left my relationship with so-and-so. That’s why I can see what’s happening. I’m not judging you. I’m just concerned for you. I love you. I want to be vulnerable with you, tell you what I experienced and how hard it was. Let’s use these skills I learned to step back and look at your relationship to see if we can step back and observe what’s happening.”
The dad must be vulnerable in some way. Maybe he’s lonely or craving companionship, which is natural. We crave companionship. One of the things she can do to evaluate the situation is get him involved in a senior center or in groups with like-minded people who are safe and in real-time, rather than the virtual world, which can be a little more iffy. Give him the ability to interact with people who are loving and care about him. He may also need psychological support, a therapist, or somebody to look at his finances to see if those have been intact, and maybe to create some safety around his finances so that he is not prey for other people.
We can see how all of these pieces weave together when we approach it in a non-judgmental way, not blaming, shaming, or guilting ourselves, but realizing that the manipulator is the one who is responsible for their incredibly heinous behavior. It’s our responsibility to stand up in safe ways, to reach out for help, and not be ashamed. The people that we reach out to, the law enforcement and the government agencies, and the psychological support, no one would ever be appropriate in judging you. Instead, they are there to support you, to help you heal and move forward.The manipulators are the ones who are responsible for their incredibly heinous behavior. Our responsibility is to stand up in safe ways, to reach out for help, and to not be ashamed. Click To Tweet
Last but not least, if you choose to stay with a manipulator, you can try to seek mutual counsel, but often even in couples therapy, the manipulator doesn’t want to change because it’s generally at this degree, characterological, it’s within who they are. They don’t want to change. It has served them. They’re afraid of the change and they want to stay in the same behavior patterns. If they do want to change, with concerted effort and with hard work, we can all rewire our brains.
That’s the beauty of neuroplasticity. We have the power to change for the worse and for the better. That’s the piece that we can all change. If a manipulator wants to change and do the work to change step by step, they can absolutely become a healthier and more whole human being, rather than being stuck in this dark segment of their personality.
For those who have been manipulated or have been taken advantage of, the key is to work on boundaries, getting emotional and often physical distance from the manipulative people, creating good self-care such as journaling, exercising, eating in healthy ways, getting good sleep, getting support from friends, family, mental health support, group therapy support, and time. Time on its own will never heal our psychological wounds. We want to realize that it’s the time coupled with the self-work that allows us to heal and the support of other people.
Remember, aside from domestic violence support groups. It’s not just about people getting battered. Domestic violence involves all of these other forms of abuse. People of all different backgrounds are part of domestic violence groups, wealthy people, people without financial resources, homeless people, people in the community that you might think, “They would never be abused.” There’s a lot of abuse out there. That’s its own episode.
As you move forward, one of your key strategies is to review what happened in the manipulative relationship. Never blame, shame, or guilt yourself, but review it through the lens of a researcher with objectivity where you can see what happened, where you were vulnerable, and how the manipulator got into your world like you’re watching a movie objectively. Why are we doing this? So that we can replay it in a positive way or shift it and say, “That happened, but in the future, I’d do it this way.” You’re increasing your wisdom and your awareness by doing that. You’re never guilting or saying, “I was so stupid.”It's the growth and the healing that help us get stronger in the face of the next manipulator. Click To Tweet
Don’t do that to yourself. Instead be, “I’m getting more aware and wiser. Now, I can share this with my friends, my family, and myself,” and see that it’s the growth and the healing that helps us get stronger in the face of the next manipulator. It helps us keep them at bay and helps us protect the people we care about. That’s self-awareness. That’s what we’re talking about. Increase your self-awareness and your other awareness. Remember the red flags, and there are many more I didn’t mention, but you want to increase your awareness of these very foundational characteristics of manipulators.
As we bring things to a close, remember, it’s not your fault. You deserve to be loved, safe, and secure. You deserve to be able to trust. Sadly, in the real world, not everyone deserves your trust. Moving forward, your best defense against a manipulator is to make them earn your trust and your respect. Make them earn it. If they won’t or can’t earn both your trust and your respect, you might want to walk or run away. I’m doing my best to help raise your awareness and help you through these very imperfect parts of life.
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