Tag Archives: manipulation tactics

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

The Art of The Lie

The fictional TV character Gregory House is famous for unabashedly asserting that “everybody lies.”  He’s also notorious for saying or doing whatever he thinks he has to do to achieve his ends.  He’s a cantankerous yet somehow lovable character who often doesn’t have the best intentions but sometimes does a world of good for folks in desperate situations.  He’s also the consumate manipulator, and the writers behind the character knew well that a master manipulator like House would have to be a truly artful liar, well-versed in the many subtle ways to deceive.

House was right about one thing: we all lie from time to time.  Sometimes the lies we tell are pretty innocuous.  It’s not necessary (and many would say it’s unwise) to be perfectly truthful about  how hideous we think someone looks in a particular outfit, or how “lame” we think the joke a friend of ours just told really is.  Sometimes, it’s a mark of civility to be less than fully candid. But as we all know, being untruthful can be a real problem, too, especially when we do so with malicious intent, when the truth would do just as well, or when we do it so habitually and convincingly that we begin to believe our own falsehoods (for more on this see the articles: Seeing the World as They Want to See It:  The Self-Deceptive Thinkin of Disturbed Characters and Manipulators:  Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?).  And we also know that ardent, troublesome liars often try to justify themselves by pointing out the truism that we all have flaws.

There’s been a lot of research on lying in recent years, and when you closely scrutinize the 12 or so reasons science now tells us people generally have for lying it boils down to 2 basic motives:  to secure something we find desirable but don’t think we can get honestly, or to prevent something we find undesirable from occuring. Lying, in a scientific sense, is an instrumental behavior, a purposeful, goal-directed act of will.

Lying and manipulation are, and always have always been, close partners.  Covertly aggressive individuals know that if they’re to succeed with their hidden, nefarious agendas, they have to  be able not only to deceive but also to do so without being readily detected as being conniving.  And, as I first pointed out in In Sheep’s Clothing, this strategy is at the very heart of manipulation.

Manipulative people are among the most skilled liars.  As masters of deception, they know the many and subtle ways to lie.  Perhaps the biggest single reason their tactics of manipulation and control work is because their surface-level behaviors can easily have you believing one thing while underneath the surface something else is really going on. That’s why in my first book I stressed the importance of getting intimately acquainted with the most common tactics covert aggressors use and why I stressed even more in Character Disturbance how important it is to recognize above and beyond all else that when someone is using any of these tactics, they’re primarily fighting for a position of advantage, looking for ways to get something from you without your fully realizing it or to take advantage of you in some way without being uncovered as someone out to abuse or exploit you.

In the current series of articles, we’ll be taking a deeper look into the “art” of deception. I’ll be presenting vignettes that illustrate how craftily covert aggressors use various tactics to deceive and thereby manipulate and control.  The examples along with my commentary will be designed to help you attune yourself to clues that someone’s trying to put one over on you before they succeed in doing you in.  I’ll also be presenting some examples that illustrate what can happen when a person’s incapacity/unwillingness to be truthful reaches a level that they begin to believe their own lies.  I hope the commentators will also share some examples of how dishonesty on the part of a relationship partner dealt a death blow to that relationship by eroding all sense of trust (for more on trust and relationships see the series on trust, beginning with Trust:  The Foundation of Any Relationship).

Sunday’s Character Matters program at 7 pm EDT will be a live broadcast, so I can take your calls.  The topic will be on narcissism and especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder and some prime examples of this character disturbance in our political arena.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Primer – Wrap Up

As I both point out and illustrate in my book Character Disturbance, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the intervention of choice when it comes to dealing with the dysfunctional attitudes, ways of thinking, and behavior patterns of disturbed and disordered characters (For more on CBT, see the article:  Abusive Characters and Treatment: The Essential Requirements and the primer series on CBT beginning with A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy).  But CBT is also a highly appropriate mode of treatment for addressing a variety of other issues, including overcoming anxiety and depression, recovering from the trauma of a toxic relationship, and building a better sense of self-efficacy.

In last week’s post, I provided some excerpts from worksheets that I developed over the years to coach folks with varying levels of character disturbance through the process of character change.  The primary purpose of the worksheets is not to “inform” the individual about what they’re doing.  As I’ve written about many times, disturbed characters pretty much already know what they’re doing and why.  Rather, the purpose of the worksheets is to accurately label the various behaviors, attitudes, and thinking patterns of concern, draw their attention to them when they occur, and provide a structure for their self-correction.

In last weeks post (see: The Mechanics of Genuine CBT) I provided an example of the worksheets I developed for use with disturbed characters. But I also developed a version of the worksheets for the relationship partners of disturbed characters.  The purpose of those worksheets is not to provide a laundry list of issues that the relationship partner needs to bring to the disturbed character’s attention but rather to give the relationship partner a way to both reliably spot and accurately label problem patterns, to set and enforce important expectations, limits, and boundaries, to empower themselves by leaning how not to be swayed by the disturbed character’s responsibility avoidance tactics, and to better hold their partner to account (more on the tools needed to avoid manipulation and empower oneself can be found in my book In Sheep’s Clothing).

Here’s some examples from the worksheets designed for relationship partners dealing with a disturbed character in their lives:

ERRORS IN THINKING

Modified and adapted from the work of Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.

by

George Simon, Ph.D.    (Latest revision: 03-15-06)

 NOTE:  There are many erroneous or problematic ways to think.  These are just some of the more common thinking errors.

EGOCENTRIC THINKING.  Thinking only of themselves and what they want.  Thinking that the world revolves around them.  Not thinking about others or whether what they want is right, good, legal, or might hurt someone else.  This kind of thinking promotes a self-centered attitude and a disregard of social obligations. When you notice this kind of thinking and that it is not self-corrected, it’s essential that you confront it and respectfully assert your rights and needs.  And when you observe any effort on the disturbed character’s part to be less self-centered and more considerate, it’s helpful to both acknowledge and reinforce that effort.

COMBATIVE THINKING.  Viewing the world as a combat stage.  Seeing every situation as a contest  they have to win.  Only seeing I win-you lose or you win-I lose scenarios in life.  Being unwilling to back down or give ground.  Being unable to see how they might gain more in the long-run if they would just be willing to give a little ground sometimes or on some things.  This way of thinking makes it more likely they will keep fighting too much, too hard, too often, and too unnecessarily in the various aspects of life and promotes defiant, hostile, and confrontational attitudes.  When you notice this kind of thinking you have to resist the bait of being drawn into unnecessary conflict.  The disturbed character in your life most likely both knows and understands the values and principles you’d like them to endorse, so there’s no need to get sucked into a wrestling match.  Just respectfully take a firm stand on the principles and reinforce any efforts on the disturbed character’s part to concede or give some ground, especially on the most important principles. Label combative thinking for what it is when you spot it, encourage the disturbed character to self-correct it, and recognize and reinforce them for their genuine efforts to do so.

There are similar worksheets that address common manipulative and responsibility-avoidance behaviors:

RESPONSIBILITY-AVOIDANCE BEHAVIORS

Behaviors that Obstruct the Internalization of Standards and Controls and often Used as Tactics to Manipulate Others

(Revised 1-28-11)

 NOTE:  There are many tactics a person can use to manipulate others and resist accepting responsibility.  These are but some of the more common ones.

 1.  Rationalization.   This is when the disturbed character attempts to justify a behavior or make an excuse for it despite knowing that most people would think it inappropriate, harmful, or wrong.  It’s when they have an answer for everything, so that when you confront a behavior you know in your heart is a problem, they give you a litany of reasons why you should doubt the legitimacy of your concern.  Getting you to “buy into” their excuses is how they manipulate you into backing-off or backing-down in any necessary confrontation. Empowerment tool:  Accept no excuses when it comes to inappropriate behavior.  The purported “reasons” the disturbed character may offer for their inappropriate actions are always irrelevant.  Besides, as long as the disturbed character is making excuses, you know they’re still resisting the idea of accepting and internalizing necessary values and controls (which is what’s impairing their development of a sound conscience), and because of this, they’re almost certain to repeat the problem behavior. Avoid playing the game of “Don’t you see?” because the likelihood is they already “see” but still “disagree” with the principle you want them to adopt. Rather, hold firm on essential values and principles and when you catch them self-correcting their old habit of making excuses and making some attempt to modify their behavior, recognize and reinforce their efforts toward greater accountability.

4.  Minimizing.  This is when the disturbed character tries to make a molehill out of a mountain.  It’s when they try to convince you or even themselves that what they did really wasn’t all that bad or harmful.  It’s also when they admit only a small or insignificant part of what they did wrong.  Sometimes this is a tactic to make you think they’re not such a character-impaired person after all (this is “impression management) and sometimes it’s the way they resist admitting to themselves the full extent of their character deficiencies and problems.  Empowerment tool:  Know well and affirm the difference between life’s “trivialities” and its important principles and values.  And when it comes to behaviors that violate important principles, stand unapologetically firm. Don’t try to convince the disturbed character about the true importance of matters that you bring to his/her attention for correction. Rather, reinforce any efforts you see them genuinely making to take more seriously the behaviors and attitudes they need to correct.  

The above excerpts represent but a few of the helpful ways these worksheets can help both disturbed characters self-correct problem attitudes and behaviors and help their relationship partner empower themselves.  There are other ways properly designed and administered CBT can help folks who are not character disturbed but who still need to develop greater strength of character and acquire better self-care skills.  A future series will examine some of those ways.

Sunday’s Character Matters program (7 pm Eastern, 4 pm Pacific on UCY.TV will again be a live broadcast so I’ll be able to take your calls.

 

 

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

The Mechanics of Genuine CBT

I’ve been posting on the power of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) when properly and faithfully applied to help ameliorate a variety of problematic psychological conditions (See also:  A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Primer – Pt. 2).  CBT is an especially helpful approach in dealing with character disturbance but it’s also proven its worth in many other areas including anxiety disorders and anxiety-related conditions, trauma recovery, mood disturbances, and impulse control problems.  But as I have noted previously, it’s not uncommon for the most important part of the CBT paradigm (i.e. the behavioral component) to be afforded less than optimal or even no attention.  As I have asserted many times, genuine change always occurs in the here-and-now moment, and for change to be properly promoted and reinforced, problem behaviors must be reckoned with at the very moment they occur.  Toward that end, over the years I developed worksheets that both individuals with character impairments and their relationship partners have used to confront and correct dysfunctional behaviors, thinking patterns, and attitudes (These behaviors, thinking patterns, and attitudes are also outlined in my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, and to a certain extent, in The Judas Syndrome).  I developed two versions of each worksheet, one to assist the person with the thinking errors and problem behaviors both spot and self-correct them and another to assist a relationship partner with recognizing and calling out these dysfunctional habits.

To give you an example of how both problematic behavior and thinking patterns are targeted with CBT, here are some excerpts from the worksheets fashioned for persons with character impairments:

From the worksheet on Thinking Errors:

ERRORS IN THINKING

Adapted from the work of Stanton Samenow, Ph.D. and modified and expanded on

by

George Simon, Ph.D.    (Latest revision: 03-15-06)

NOTE:  There are many erroneous or problematic ways to think.  These are just some of the more common thinking errors.

1. EGOCENTRIC THINKING.  Thinking only about myself and what I want.  Thinking that the world revolves around me.  Not thinking about others or whether what I want is really right, good, legal, or might hurt someone.  This kind of thinking promotes a self-centered attitude and a disregard of my social obligations.

6. DECEPTIVE (WISHFUL) THINKING.  Seeing things as I want to see them, rather than as they are.  Lying to myself and trying to hoodwink others so I don’t have to take an honest look at things.  Distorting the reality of situations so I don’t have to change my point of view or ways of doing things.  This way of thinking causes me to live in a world of my own fantasies and promotes an attitude of disregard for the truth.

8, EGOMANIACAL THINKING.  Thinking I’m so clever, important, or bright that I can and should do whatever I please and get away with it.  Thinking I’m so special that I am entitled to have whatever I want just because I want it.  Thinking the world owes me because I am special and important, rather than being willing to earn the things I value. This way of thinking promotes attitudes of arrogance, superiority, and especially, entitlement.

And from the worksheet on problem behaviors:

RESPONSIBILITY-AVOIDANCE BEHAVIORS

 Behaviors that Obstruct the Internalization of Behavioral Standards and Controls and are often Used as Tactics to Manipulate Others

 By

George Simon, Ph.D. (Revised 1-28-11)

 NOTE:  There are many tactics a person can use to manipulate others and resist accepting responsibility.  These are some of the more common ones.

1.  Rationalization.   Attempting to justify a behavior or make an excuse for it despite knowing that most people would agree it is inappropriate, harmful, or wrong.  Having an answer for everything, so that when others confront a problem behavior on my part, they might begin to doubt the legitimacy of their concern.  Trying to get others to “buy into” my excuses so they can be manipulated into backing-off or backing-down.  Telling myself that what I really know is wrong is okay, so that I have false justification to do it again.

4.  Minimizing.  This is when I make a molehill out of a mountain.  It’s when I try to convince myself or others that whatever I did wasn’t really that bad or harmful.  It’s also when I admit only part of what I did wrong, and usually not the most serious part.  Sometimes this is a tactic to make others think I’m not such a bad person.  Sometimes it’s the way I keep myself from admitting the full extent of my character or behavior problems.  If I keep minimizing, I certainly won’t take seriously the problems I need to correct.

10.  Giving Assent.  This is when I pretend I agree or pretend to give-in on an issue in order to get someone off my back.  It’s when I say I’ll do something while I still know in my heart I don’t want to and probably won’t.  It’s a tactic I use to disarm others while still actively resisting the standards or controls I know they want me to internalize.

Now, these are just a few selections from each worksheet.  And the biggest reason I crafted the worksheets is that the responsibility for change rests truly with the person, not the therapist.  At the outset, a fair-minded therapist might call to attention certain behaviors, tactics, and thinking patterns but eventually the issues of concern have to be self-monitored, self-caught, and self-corrected by the person who exhibits them.  Providing someone a worksheet and reinforcing them for faithful practice (reinforcement being the most essential aspect of behavior therapy) is how good therapeutic “leverage” is maintained.

To the many out there who’ve written me to say they had experience with CBT but got no help:  When’s the last time you can remember getting tools of a nature similar to this or being coached on how to use them to change dysfunctional patterns or to empower yourself?

In next week’s concluding article, I’ll provide some excerpts from the worksheets custom-crafted to help folks in a relationship with a disturbed character, are recovering from such a relationship, or have other issues of their own that CBT has been shown to be helpful in addressing.

This week’s Character Matters Program will again be a live broadcast, so call-ins can be taken.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Primer – Pt. 2

As I mentioned in my last post (See: A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), a lot of folks who say they have either administered or received Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have never actually engaged in a process that focuses heavily on the most crucial aspect of the paradigm: behavior.  Affording attention to the thinking patterns and attitudes that predispose harmful behavior patterns is important to be sure, but when it comes to gaining the skills to empower oneself – and especially when it comes to overcoming character deficiencies – perhaps nothing is as important as confronting, correcting, and ultimately replacing dysfunctional behavior patterns.

In Character Disturbance, I present some vignettes that illustrate the very different nature of therapy that remains true to the cognitive-behavioral model.  Disturbed characters readily display their problematic behavior patterns, even when they’re in the process of impression-management (i.e. doing their best to create a favorable impression and manipulate the opinions and judgment of the person evaluating them). and an astute clinician should be able to “spot” and label these behaviors when they occur.  And what makes CBT so different from other forms of therapy is that because change always takes place in the here-and-now moment, therapists employing the paradigm have to be willing to call out the behaviors of concern at the very moment they occur, then artfully “invite” the person to correct these behaviors and replace them with more pro-social ones, providing them afterward with much needed reinforcement for the person’s willingness to conduct themselves in a healthier way.

When I was doing research for In Sheep’s Clothing, I encountered a man who had some level of genuine care and affection for his wife and who truly didn’t want to loose her as he feared was very possible but who was also prone to some casualness about his frequent “flirtations” with other women and the few times he’d “slipped” and had an affair.  One would think he was “clueless” about the detriment his behaviors posed to his marriage.  And at some level, I suppose you could say he was indeed clueless.  But he was quite “aware” at least at an intellectual level that a marital bond that is both deep and mutually enriching is necessarily founded upon trust and fidelity. However, his habitual behaviors of minimizing the seriousness of his constant flirtations and episodic indiscretions, his persistent lying to himself about the consequences of his actions, his willingness to gaslight his wife whenever she suspected him of betrayal, and willingness to use a whole host of other behaviors (e.g., victim-blaming, feigning innocence, feigning ignorance) to manipulate her into sticking with him only “enabled” him to perpetuate the pattern. Something in this vicious cycle of abuse would have to be altered for the cycle to be broken, and that would necessarily mean some behavior would have to change.  Now, I’d always been taught that a therapist should always set an atmosphere where the client would feel “safe” to sort through the “underlying feelings and dynamics” always presumed to be at the root of such problematic behaviors (e.g., “fear of intimacy, fear of commitment, unmet love needs, unmet needs for adulation or affection, etc.).  And I’d especially been taught not to call out behaviors in a judgmental sense, lest I run off a client who’d not yet come to trust me and would likely become too “defensive.”  But I quickly learned that unless destructive behavior is confronted and corrected, almost nothing really changes, despite all the possible flowery talk and promises a person might make.  I also learned that there simply cannot ever be trust and respect between a disturbed character and a therapist (or anyone else for that matter) unless their tactics are both accurately labeled and confronted and a commitment to certain principles and values are firmly upheld (Over my career, I’ve seen far too many cases in which a disturbed character will “string along” both the therapist and an aggrieved relationship partner while all the time holding only both mistrust of and disdain for the person they were able to manipulate).  And perhaps the most important thing I learned is that behavior always has to be confronted the very moment it occurs.  So for awhile, I would confront this man every time he would minimize or trivialize, or when he would allow himself to distort the reality of circumstances.  Only then did he come not only come to a fuller level of awareness of the destructive nature of what he had been doing but also become more amenable to changing the kinds of thinking patterns and attitudes that predisposed him to conduct himself in a way so hostile to the nurturing of a wholesome, healthy relationship.  Just as the model predicted, changing behavior helped him reshape his attitudes, and as he changed his problematic ways of thinking, his behavior only improved all the more.  Most importantly of all, he began to change.  And as he became more willing to self-correct both his thinking and behavior without my prompting, I became even more reinforcing, until he was more consistently willing to engage in his own self-endorsement. Now, I’ve mentioned before that not all problem characters change their “internal stripes” as a result of outwardly changing their behavior.  But many do indeed change.  And it’s important to remember that for there to ever be any possibility of real and lasting change a person has to be willing to change behavior and thinking patterns in the here-and-now moment.

In next week’s post I’ll have some more detailed information about the actual mechanics of CBT (I have long made available to therapists and lay persons specially-designed worksheets for addressing and changing problematic thinking and behavior patterns).

Also, look for some more specific information about this fall’s upcoming webinar (we’re hoping to make it a fully interactive forum) in the next few weeks.

Sunday night’s Character Matters program will be a live broadcast, so I’m again happy to take your calls.

 

Manipulators and Charm

Skilled manipulators can be quite seductive and charming. Still, I confess readily in my book In Sheep’s Clothing that when I first began my clinical research, I wondered how the victims of covert-aggressors could be so blind to their manipulator’s true character without having a lot of issues of their own.  Only after I got much deeper into the study of covert aggressors did it become clear to me not only how adept they can often be at using various tactics but also how powerful the tactics themselves inherently are.  So while there were exceptions to be sure, most of the time there were some pretty good reasons why someone fell under the spell of someone who would later be exposed as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Also during my research, I came to realize something rarely mentioned in mounds of information now available on disturbed characters:  not all charm is of the same character. Moreover, the power a manipulator has to seduce and eventually exploit depends not only on their intended target possessing certain attributes that might make them more vulnerable but also on the nature of the charming behavior the manipulator displays.  Because there are numerous, complicated issues involved in charm and seduction, it’s going to take more than just this article to really give fair treatment to the subject. But hopefully this article will serve as a good introduction to the topic and a fair springboard for discussion.

Most of us want to be liked and valued. So, when someone shows us attention or behaves toward us in a way that invites us to feel somewhat special, we’re likely to be drawn to them to a degree.  And we almost never assume the person is mounting a calculated “charm offensive” merely to get something they want or that perhaps they even have intent to take advantage of us in some way. Rather, we’d like to think there’s something really remarkable about us that is motivating the person to behave in an appreciative and kindly manner.

Some folks are charming in the most benign and appealing way.  They are not only sincerely well-mannered but also genuinely positively regarding of others.  The very way in which they conduct themselves and the authentic respect they have for others is “attractive” in its own right.  But there are those characters whose display of charm is a farce, part of a calculated use of seduction to take advantage of others.  Unfortunately, sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference between benign charm and malevolent seduction, but armed with sufficient information and with some careful scrutiny a person can distinguish the two (which will be the subject of a follow-up article).

As a general rule, mature, non-disordered characters go after the things they want in direct, fair, disciplined, respectful, and non-destructive ways (the very definition of assertiveness). Disturbed and disordered characters lie, cheat, and sometimes “shmooze” to get what they want. They hate to be denied.  So, rather than approach things in an open and direct manner with their prime agenda clearly exposed (which might raise the other person’s defenses and increase the risk of them not winning), they prefer to approach things on the sly and catch the other person unaware and with their defenses down.  A disarmed target is a much easier to control target, so they’ll play to the desire of the other person to be valued and liked which becomes a powerful manipulation tool.

Seduction and flattery devoid of malicious intent is relatively harmless.  And much of the time, the person on the receiving end is aware enough to know that they’re being buttered-up and will enjoy the flattery while not taking it so seriously or being unduly swayed. But sometimes, seduction can be carried out in such a carefully crafted manner or with such intensity that the other person is completely swept away, blinded to the true character of the seducer. Only after the manipulator gets what he or she wants will their true character become clearer, and by then it’s generally too late.

Great-sounding words and awesome gestures have been the eventual ruin of many a relationship. I’ve counseled many individuals over the years who’ve told me how completely swept off their feet they were in the initial stages of their relationship. But then slowly over time, the reality of their partner’s character and patterns of behavior once hidden but deeply ingrained became more evident and life changed from what seemed to be the promise of heaven on earth to a living hell. Words you see, simply cannot be trusted, especially in a character-impaired age. Even gestures can’t be trusted sometimes.  Habitual behavior patterns alone can be trusted (for good or for bad), and there’s abundant scientific evidence supporting the notion that the best predictor of future conduct is past behavior. Someone’s words won’t really tell you what you can expect from them. But you can be fairly sure their behavioral history will.

Because we live in a markedly character-impaired age, one of the main pieces of advice I offer in Character Disturbance  is that folks pay much less attention what people say and more attention to their track record.  I also advise that when we do listen, it’s often more important to listen for the subtle cues that character issues might be present (i.e. we need to listen carefully for various tactics and manifestations of problem thinking patterns and attitudes) as oppose to listening to what the person is saying. Listening in a receptive, accepting way to manipulative or other character-disturbed individuals can be quite risky. If we simply take what they say at face value, we’re likely to be unduly swayed. Once the irresponsible character has our ear, we become more vulnerable to all sorts of possible further exploitation. So, it’s important to listen for those subtle indications that a person is trying to curry favor without really earning it (through consistent, reliable actions) or trying to promote a positive image of themselves without demonstrating a legitimate basis for it.

Next week’s article will examine the many ways we can be charmed, some of which are benign but some fraught with danger.  And we’ll take a closer look at some of the more “charming” personality types – including those that are relatively harmless and pleasant to be around and those who, while capable of mounting impressive charm offensives, are primarily out to win at your expense.

As always, if you have questions about this or any other issues discussed on the blog, or have stories to share and have the time to tune in to Character Matters this Sunday at 7 pm Eastern time, I’d love to take your call.

Judging Character – Part Three

This series of posts has focused on the importance of making sound judgments about a someone’s character prior to entering into a serious relationship with them (see also: Becoming a Better Judge of Character and Judging Character – Part Two).  The following is a story of how one man, who, in his own neediness and through his own negligence, allowed himself to be blindsided.

Emma was probably one of the most beautiful women Paul had ever laid eyes on.  And she was ever so charming and outgoing.  Everybody seemed to like her, though no one seemed to know her all that well.  Paul was so excited the first time she agreed to meet him over coffee he could hardly contain himself. But it wouldn’t be long after that first meeting that they would be dating steadily, and not too long after they began dating that Emma indicated she wouldn’t mind moving in with Paul’s at his townhouse.

Paul didn’t know a whole lot about Emma but he felt he knew enough.  She was bright, charming, and so much fun to be with.  She had 2 young children, but she seemed really good with them and they seemed like great kids.  Besides, he liked the children and they seemed to like him, too. He didn’t know all that much about Emma’s prior relationships except that she married only once, “way too young,” and had lived with two other men who turned out to be “creeps.”  She also had run up lots of debts. But she  had good explanations for that:  Her last boyfriend was laid off from his job twice and never did his fair share while they were together.  Emma was really bearing her burdens all alone and her paycheck simply couldn’t cover all the bills and the kids’ needs.

Paul felt for Emma and her history of “bad luck.”  She was estranged from her parents who “threw [her] out” when she was 18, and just never seemed to catch a break.  So he didn’t mind paying off her credit cards and helping her out.  He felt sorry for her, and he had to admit, it felt really good to feel so appreciated.  Emma was good about showing her affection, too.  She made him feel both valued and needed.

Paul was pretty much in a state of shock for days after the first time Emma failed to come home until the next morning.  He had been frantic with worry about what could have happened to her.  And it was insult on top of injury when it became clear how “high” she was when she eventually did show up.  How could she do this to him, he wondered?  And how could she just leave the kids?  Just who was this woman that just days ago he thought was so wonderful?

Eventually Paul would learn that Emma’s story about being “thrown out” and abandoned by her “emotionally abusive” parents at age 18 wasn’t very accurate. In reality, her parents, were decent folks who tried to get her help in adolescence but she was always non-compliant.  They even had her admitted to an inpatient facility that had an intensive program.  But when she turned 18, they could no longer force the issue of treatment.  They told her she could live with them if she observed reasonable rules and limits but Emma had a mind of her own.  Emma’s parents didn’t abandon her.  Rather, Emma did as she usually does: she bolted when faced with the prospect of having to submit herself to rules and authority.  

Paul also learned that the pills Emma always had around for her “Fibromyalgia” weren’t really legitimately prescribed medicines and that she had a history of abusing multiple substances.  And he eventually learned that the reason she didn’t come home was because she’d spent the night with an old boyfriend.  He also found out that her two children were not from her first marriage as he was led to believe but rather the result of indiscretions during the times she lived with her prior two boyfriends.  And by the time he realized he needed to end the relationship immediately and take back the duplicate bankcard he’d given her for household expenses, his account had already been cleaned out.  

Eventually, Paul would learn a lot about himself, especially the things that make him vulnerable to exploitation and prone to making inadequate judgments about a person’s character.  Paul always wants to see the best in people.  He also tends to be too trusting and to take things at face value.  And when his gut is churning – like all those times when he would ask Emma about things and her answers were so vague that he never really felt like he got a real answer – he doesn’t afford the feeling that something’s amiss enough credence.  He’s also the kind of guy who’s so genuinely insecure that when an attractive woman shows him attention and interest, any good judgment he might otherwise have goes straight out the window.  He’s a soft touch whose poor judgment allowed him to be taken to the cleaners.  But warning signs were always there if he’d simply been a bit more objective:  a failed marriage, at least two other failed relationships, estranged family, financial irresponsibility, etc. (the history of irresponsible sexual behavior could have been easily flushed out as well with just a little probing).  And while it’s possible that all these things could have had a perfectly legitimate or more benign explanation, the very fact that they were present begged for Paul’s more ardent investigation.  If he’d done his homework and really gotten to know the character of the person he was hooking up with, he’d have spared himself a lot of heartache and saved a lot of money as well! 

Had Paul already been armed with some of the information I give in my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, he might have picked up on all the manipulation “tactics” Emma displayed from early on, especially the careful use of vagueness as a means of deceit, adept display of superficial charm and other forms of seduction, always having excuses or rationalizations for problem behaviors, and ready externalization of blame.  And he might have spotted certain thinking errors, too, such as circumstantial thinking and hard-luck thinking.  These things would have been a tip-off that he was dealing with someone of disturbed character.  Paul knows these things now, but he didn’t know them in time to avoid being taken in by Emma.  Paul also understands that in order to judge the character of others objectively and accurately, you also have to know yourself pretty well.

One thing I feel compelled to mention is that even though Emma was in treatment on several occasions, the diagnoses she was given spanned the gamut (Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Histrionic Personality traits, etc.) but never included either a Conduct Disorder diagnosis or a diagnosis of personality or character disorder.  If “Emma” were male, it’s quite likely someone would have at least entertained the possibility she had a Narcissistic or Antisocial Personality Disorder.  It seems that when it comes to making sound judgments about character-impaired females, professionals sometimes have as much trouble as do potential relationship partners.  And the purpose of this series of articles has been to help you ask the right questions, gather the right information, and look for the telltale signs that someone’s character poses big problems for any relationship you’re considering having with them.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Manipulation Tactics: A Deeper Look

Most folks who’ve been manipulated find themselves asking afterward:  “How did I let this happen?, How do they manage to do this to me time and time again?, What is it that I’m not seeing?”  I did my best to address these very questions in the earliest edition of In Sheep’s Clothing.  At the time, the perspective I was offering to explain the whole phenomenon was considered fairly radical and even erroneous by my peers, but it almost instantly resonated with those stuck in manipulative and abusive relationships. Basically what I was asserting was that we get manipulated because:  1) we don’t trust our gut instincts, and 2) commonly accepted but erroneous notions about why people do the things they do cause us to misperceive and misjudge the actions and the character of the person taking advantage of us.  I also suggested that while it’s tempting to fault ourselves for being duped, the tactics covertly aggressive and other character-impaired people use are inherently powerful manipulation tools because they throw us on the defensive while simultaneously concealing obvious aggressive intent.  And universally, folks familiar with my work reported that merely adopting the different perspective I offered about how to view their manipulator’s behavior was key to them putting an end to future victimization and empowering their lives.

Classical psychology had most us believing that many of the behaviors I label as “offensive power tactics” (the tactics that facilitate manipulation) were actually “defense mechanisms” the person unconsciously employed to deal with guilt, shame, feelings of inferiority and insecurity, etc.  So when the character disordered person in someone’s life pointed the finger elsewhere (externalized the blame) when they were confronted, it was too quickly assumed that they were defending themselves against pain or perhaps even actually felt victimized in some way as opposed to merely employing a fighting tactic to make the accuser feel bad and back off.  But how we perceive the character of an interaction makes all the difference in the world in how we’re likely to respond to a situation.  And if we think that someone is “defending” in any way as opposed to “fighting” not only us but also the reasonable standards of conduct we want them to adopt, or we see them as unconsciously protecting themselves against feelings of shame or low self-esteem as opposed to behaving in an entitled and defiant manner, we’re going to end up successfully manipulated.

I don’t think it’s possible to stress enough how important it is to correctly perceive the nature of covert fighting if you’re going to avoid being victimized by a manipulator.  And I think this best illustrated through example.  Let’s just say you’ve confronted someone about not being truthful with you and therefore damaging yet again any sense of trust you’d like to have in your relationship with them. When they respond with something like:  “What am I supposed to do when you’re always exploding whenever I level with you (using the tactic of externalizing and shifting the blame)?,” and “It was just one little thing and I misspoke, okay, it’s no big deal (using the tactic of minimization)!,” and “You always make me out some kind of monster (exaggerating) when you’re no one to talk (subtly adding some ‘guilting’ and ‘shaming’),” and you perceive this behavior as defending themselves as opposed to merely fighting for position, you’re bound to lose.  When the character-impaired person engages in these behaviors, they’re primarily doing 3 things simultaneously:

  1. Fighting you (trying to back you into a corner and get you to back-off or back-down) for a position of advantage in your relationship.
  2. Fighting to maintain an undeserved positive image.
  3. Fighting against internalizing the principle they know you’d like them to accept (i.e. that trust in relationships is based on the willingness to be honest with your partner).  And it’s this last reality that tells you unequivocally that the behavior you find troubling will definitely occur again. A person simply can’t fight against a principle and internalize it at the same time.  It’s just not possible.  Accepting the principle and making a commitment to improve would sound something like:  “You’re right, I shouldn’t have lied to you. I need to do better on that score.  And I’ll prove myself worthy of your trust by doing things differently in the future.”

These behaviors are “tactical” maneuvers, designed to play on the other person’s good nature.  And of course, when someone is engaged in these behaviors, they’re largely doing so consciously (although they might be doing them reflexively, out of habit).

Knowing all the common tactics is not the most reliable key to avoiding victimization.  Because, as I point out in Character Disturbance, folks who either place themselves above (narcissists) or are at war with (the aggressive personalities) the principles that build integrity into a person’s character, can use just about any behavior or tactic you can think of for manipulative purposes. So your greatest protection against victimization is correctly assessing the character of the person with whom you might have a relationship.  It’s admittedly no easy task to find someone with a level of character development sufficient to give a relationship a fair chance these days.  As I point out in both Character Disturbance and, more especially, The Judas Syndrome, there are too many socio-cultural factors enabling, encouraging, and even rewarding the things that impair character development, so character disturbance has become fairly widespread.  But you at least have to be able to be able to distinguish those folks who lie at the mildly to moderately impaired part of the character-impaired spectrum as opposed to those at the more extreme end if you’re to have a good shot at things. In some upcoming posts, we’ll be taking a closer look at the neurotic vs. character disturbed spectrum and discussing how to better judge where someone lies on this continuum.

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Throwing You On The Defensive: The Art of Covert-Aggression

Covert-aggression is at the heart of most interpersonal manipulation.  What the artful, subtle fighter knows is that if they can get you to doubt yourself, feel like you have to explain yourself, and question your perceptions and judgment, there’s a good chance they can get you to back down, back-off, or better still, cave-in.  Covert fighters count on the fact that you won’t trust your gut instincts or pass simple judgment on their character or the true character of their actions. They count on you being far too conscientious for that.  And they know that if they don’t come across as openly out to defy the generally accepted rules for civil behavior, exploit your good nature, and get the better of you, you’ll ignore that feeling in your gut that tells you you’re simply being played.

I once counselled a woman who’d been suspicious of her husband’s womanizing for many years.  And several times she thought she had some pretty good evidence that at the very least he wasn’t too trustworthy. She would find out he was somewhere other than where he had claimed, he would fail to show up where he was expected, offering “explanations”  just didn’t add up, and he would make claims that later turned out not to be true.  But whenever she would confront him about these things, somehow she always ended up feeling like the crazy one. He’d always have an answer which “seemed” to make sense until she thought about it for awhile, but by then it was too late. And he’d appear so convicted when he expressed outrage over being “constantly hounded” and “falsely accused.”  He’d have her believing she may indeed have “over-reacted” to the “one and only time” he admits he gave her any real cause to suspect him.  And he’d emphatically point out that “nothing physical actually happened” anyway in that one instance of “harmless flirtation.”  He’d also insist that she “misinterpreted” the emails and text messages she found suspicious or unnerving.  He’d deftly side-step the issue of all the other “little reasons” he might have given her over the years to mistrust.  And when he sensed her backing down, he’d launch into how unbearable it was for him to face such “constant accusations” and throw up his hands complaining that there was no way to satisfy her. Before long, she’d start feeling like the heartless aggressor herself and eventually relented.  Then she’d start questioning herself again, each time more intensely than before about who the real problem was in their marriage.

Now in the case I referenced above, the man had actually squandered a significant amount of the family’s funds on alcohol and partying with friends, and had engaged in multiple affairs over the years, wining and dining women with great abandon, and beginning not long after he was first married.  And he didn’t have any real use for any of the other women he got involved with either.  They were not the “conscientious” type, and he needed someone with a conscience to maintain a household and raise the kids.  The only purpose these other women served was pure entertainment.  He didn’t want to lose his wife because it would cost him too much.  But he didn’t want to live by “her rules,” or expectations either.  He felt entitled to his lifestyle.  So, he fought for it.  He fought not only to keep his wife at bay but also to keep right on doing what he felt entitled to do.  But the manner in which he fought made it hard for his wife to see exactly what he was doing.  And that’s almost always the secret when it comes to manipulation.

In In Sheep’s Clothing, I point out that certain manipulation tactics work as well as they do because they simultaneously conceal aggression while effectively throwing the party on the receiving end of the tactics on the defensive.  And when it comes to covert-aggression and the art of manipulation, it’s not so much “what” but the “how” the various tactics are employed. Sometimes just the manipulator speaking with apparent conviction can invite the overly conscientious person to doubt themselves.  And often, manipulators “bundle” tactics together, giving vague, misleading, half-answers, distracting, minimizing and rationalizing, and when they see their target back-peddling and suspect they have them “on the ropes”, they might pull out a “trump card” like playing the victim, leaving the real victim feeling not only unjustified but guilty for taking a stand.  The bottom line is that such tactics work because the victim has a certain level conscientiousness.  The victim is usually not willing to make harsh judgments in the absence of clear, convincing, objective evidence.  They don’t trust their gut, and as a result, they get taken in.

As I point out in Character Disturbance, the willingness of covert-aggressors to prey upon the conscientiousness of others says all anyone really needs to know about the depravity of (and lack of empathy in) their character.  But to readily pick up on this fact, you really have to understand the various character types, the various disturbances of character, and the kinds of behaviors impaired characters use to manipulate others and resist change.  Next week’s post will have some other examples of covert-aggression and the discussion will focus on the multiple roles the behaviors I call manipulative power tactics play perpetuating a person’s character disturbance.

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Manipulation Tactics: A Closer Look – Part 2

In last week’s post (see:  Manipulation Tactics:  A Closer Look), we began a more in-depth discussion of some of the more common manipulation tactics as well as how and why they work.  That discussion continues in this week’s post.

One of the more common responsibility-avoidance behaviors and a frequent manipulation tactic is minimization.  This is when the disturbed character attempts to trivialize a wrong or harmful behavior.  It’s their attempt to make a mole hill out of a mountain.  You might confront them on something serious, but they try to get you to believe that you’re over-reacting, being overly judgmental, and unfairly assessing the nature of their wrongdoing.

Minimization works as a  manipulation tactic because no self-respecting neurotic wants to think of him/herself as unfair or unreasonable. So, if I can get you to believe that you made a rash or unfair judgment of me or my actions, I can easily get you to back off or back down in your confrontation.  I might even get you to question your assessment of me.  Even if I am a monster, if I can make you think you’ve unfairly cast me as a monster, you’ll probably get to wondering if you’re not the monster yourself.

Now, in all fairness, all of us are prone to “catastrophizing” now and then.  So, sometimes we might actually unfairly assess the behavior or even the character of someone else.  And depending upon how neurotic we are, if we’ve erred once, we’re likely to be overly cautious the next time about making a similar judgment.  But disturbed characters make a habit of trivializing really important things – things that reflect most strongly on their character.  Maintaining a favorable social image is important to them, even when they know their character is deeply flawed.  And their minimizations are frequently paired with other responsibility-avoidance behaviors and tactics such as excuse-making, blaming others, denial, feigning innocence, etc.).  Once you’re intimately familiar with all the tactics they habitually employ to:  1) get the better of you; and 2) look good while doing it, you can be more sure of your judgments about your manipulator’s character.

Selective attention is a most interesting responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic.  Disturbed characters, most especially the aggressive personalities, hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.  It’s not that they’re attention-deficient (they can focus like a laser beam when it comes to something they want).  Rather, everything they process goes through a peculiar kind of mental filtering.  They hear and see “invitations” from others to pay better heed to the more commonly accepted rules for civil conduct.  But they resist.   And on the occasions when you have to confront them, they most likely began to “tune you out” before you even opened your mouth.  Most of the time, they can anticipate the issue you want to bring to their attention.  But they simply don’t want to pay attention to it because if they took it seriously and with an attitude of acceptance, it would mean two things: 1) the way they prefer to do things is erroneous and in need of change; and 2) they would have to work at changing, which would also mean paying some deference to you, and to the generally accepted rules, etc.  And that’s way too much like respecting someone else’s needs, or the desires  of a higher power.  More importantly, it’s far to much like subordinating themselves – something narcissists feel no need to do and the aggressive personalities abhor.

The fact that so many times neurotics in relationships with disturbed characters waste their breaths expounding on things that simply fall on deaf ears is one of the main reasons I advocate simply taking action over trying to reason or persuade.  It’s likely that half the time, disturbed characters aren’t really listening to you anyway.  And to manipulate you even further, they might try to make you think they’ve heard you or taken you seriously by using the tactic of giving assent.  Assenting is when the disturbed character gives you a superficial “Okay, okay, I hear you,” but has absolutely no intention of really taking to heart your concern or working on changing anything.  What they really want is for you to simply get off their back.  So, they’ll offer you what seems to be capitulation even though it’s anything but.  It’s a tactic very close to false concessioning, which on the surface looks like they’ve actually given some ground when in fact they’re standing firm.

Disturbed characters are generally quite skilled in the use of various intimidation tactics.  Most of the time, covert manipulators prefer the more subtle forms of intimidation (e.g., veiled threats, glaring glances, menacing gestures, etc.).  But all disturbed characters are capable of more overt forms (e.g., bullying, brandishing rage, etc.) of intimidation to get their way.  What’s been recently termed “gaslighting” (for more on this tactic see:  Another Look at Manipulation Tactics) is a particularly interesting form of intimidation and a powerful manipulation tactic.  The term comes from the play and movie Gaslight, about a man who uses the clever tactic of making his wife think she has lost her mind as a way to dispose of her.  Because neurotics are by nature somewhat insecure and apprehensive, intimidation tactics of all types are effective means of manipulating them.  Sometimes intimidation is very deliberate.  But there are times when merely the disturbed character’s apparent level of passion and conviction is intimidating.  Such  passion and conviction can make you doubt yourself.  Skilled manipulators know how to use all the various forms of intimidation to get you to doubt not only your judgment but also your very sanity.  And if they can get you not only to doubt your own position but also to fear what might happen if you don’t see things their way, they strengthen their position of control even more.

As I say in my book In Sheep’s Clothing, a moving target is difficult to hit.  When you try to address an issue with them, manipulators will use the tactic of diversion to change the subject or focus of attention, or the tactic of evasion to side-step the issue.  The more skilled they are in subtle use of the tactics, the less you realize what they’re doing when they’re doing it.  You start off talking about one thing, and realize much later that you’re somehow talking about something else.  It’s always so important to remain focused and centered when you’re dealing with any type of disturbed character.  One of my psychology mentors once made the analogy that trying to get a firm hold on an impaired character’s problematic traits is like “trying to grab a fish in a bucket of oil.”  Getting a firm hold on a fish that’s already endowed with a certain sliminess and is wriggling like crazy not to be contained is hard enough work.  But the task becomes monumental when both theirs and your skin are covered with oil.  So it is with disturbed characters, especially the most manipulative.  Pinning them down is always difficult.  But when they use diversion, evasion, and other tactics as well, it’s an even more difficult task unless you’re extremely well-focused and persistent.

Lastly, there’s lying – the responsibility-avoidance behavior and manipulation tactic that disturbed characters have turned into a virtual art form.   And as I mention in both In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, there are numerous ways to lie, most of which are very hard to detect.   Lying is, perhaps, the ultimate manipulation tactic (see also:  Lying:  The Ultimate Manipulation Tactic).  It serves many purposes, two primarily:  1) to possibly prevent something you don’t want to happen (usually, the negative consequence of a behavior) from happening; or 2) to help ensure that something you desire happens.  Some disturbed characters lie more often and in more sophisticated ways than others.   And the most seriously disturbed characters and penultimate manipulators (psychopaths) lie, even when the truth would suffice.  That’s because they simply can’t relinquish a position of advantage over you.  So they’ll lie merely to keep the balance tipped.  One of the most effective ways to lie undetected is to recite a litany of true things but leave out a crucial detail or two that would change the whole picture.  It’s a way to give yourself credibility while simultaneously taking advantage through deceit.

I hope all the readers will do some sharing about how they encountered the tactics we’ve talked about and the tools they eventually used to confront and deal with those tactics.  Next week we’ll be concluding the series on the aggressive personalities with an in-depth discussion on predatory aggressors (i.e., psychopaths, alt: sociopaths).

 

Dr. George Simon, internationally recognized authority on manipulators and other disturbed characters.

Manipulation Tactics: A Closer Look

Covertly aggressive people are among the most manipulative personalities.  They use certain tactics to accomplish two things simultaneously:  1) conceal their aggressive intentions, and 2) invite you to fear, be doubtful, or optimally, to concede or give in.  And there are a handful of tactics covert aggressors tend to use more frequently – tactics that are generally the most effective in manipulating others – especially neurotics.  Recognizing these manipulation tactics and knowing how to respond to them are the keys to personal empowerment.

I can’t stress enough how capable the more skilled manipulators are of using just about any behavior imaginable to accomplish their aims.  This is especially true when the manipulator has a “good read” on the character of their target of manipulation.  When a covert aggressor (CA) knows his or her “opponent” inside out (i.e. knows their sensitivities, fears, insecurities, core beliefs, level of conscientiousness, etc.), a vast opportunity opens up for using that person’s traits (often, their most socially desirable traits) against them in a covert war for dominance.  Because it’s so unrealistic to list all the possible ways a covertly aggressive individual can get the better of another person, I find it helpful to focus attention on the more common tactics CAs employ and to explain in depth why the tactics are so effective.  Understanding the basics of how manipulation works gives the potential victim of covert-aggression a better intuitive grasp of the nature of troublesome encounters with all disturbed characters and heightens their sensitivity to the many possible tactics a manipulator might employ.

Let’s talk first about the tactic of rationalization.  Actually, a better term for this tactic would be “excuse-making” or “justifying.”  The term rationalization derives from the Freudian notion that people sometimes unconsciously defend themselves against the anxiety they might experience by engaging in actions that violate their conscience.  By finding reasons that seem to make their actions more benign, appropriate, acceptable, or understandable, any qualms of conscience are assuaged.   But this scenario, of course, assumes that the person actually has a well-developed conscience.  And this type of rationalization is a strictly internal and largely unconscious process.

When disturbed characters make excuses for their behavior, they know what they’re doing.  They have a clear purpose in mind when they’re seeking to justify themselves.  They use this tactic only when they know full well they’ve done something or plan to do something most everyone would regard as wrong.  But even knowing it’s wrong, and knowing how negatively the action reflects on them, they remain determined to do it.  They might feel “entitled” to do it (as in the case of more narcissistic individuals) or they may simply pit themselves against the generally accepted rules (as in the case of the aggressive personalities.  What’s most important to recognize is that at the very moment they’re making the excuse, they’re not “defending” at all or unconsciously fending off any anxiety.  Rather, they’re actively fighting against a principle they know society wants them to adopt.  And more importantly, they’re also trying to get you to go along with it.  Covertly aggressive folks prefer this kind of tactic as opposed to open defiance because it not only helps conceal their aggressive intentions (as well as some telltale aspects of their character) but also simultaneously helps them maintain a more favorable social image (by getting someone else to see things their way or buy into the purported reasonableness of their actions).   And once they get the other person to become more accepting of their premise, they’re well on their way to winning the contests of image and interpersonal control.

Think just a little bit more about this tactic.  It’s a testament to what I’ve said all along about disturbed characters and their level of awareness (for more on this you might want to read the post:  They Know What They’re Doing).  Why are the elaborate “explanations” and justifications necessary if the person doesn’t realize how most people would judge their actions?  It’s not that they don’t know most folks would regard their behavior as wrong.  And it’s also not that they truly believe in their hearts that what they’ve done is okay.  Rather, they simply don’t want you to negatively appraise their character and possibly be done with them.  And, more importantly, they don’t want to accept and internalize the notion that such behavior should not be done again.  The very fact that at the moment they engage in the tactic they’re resisting accepting a principle and obstructing the internalization of that principle into their own social conscience is the best indication they’re likely to do the very same thing again in any similar circumstance.  Think about it.  How many times have you relented after half-heartedly accepting someone’s lame excuse only to find yourself dealing with the exact same behavior time and time again?!

Let’s look at another tactic: denial.  Now this is also a term that had its roots in classical Freudian psychology.  Freud conceived it as a primitive and unconscious defense against unbearable emotional pain.  And there actually is a type of denial that fits this classic definition.  I give an example of it in my book Character Disturbance:

A woman has been married to the same man for 40 years.  She has just rushed him to the hospital because, while they were out in the yard working, he began having trouble speaking and looked in some distress.  The doctors later tell her that he has suffered a stroke, is virtually brain-dead, and will not recover.  Yet, every day she is by his bedside, holding his hand and talking to him.  The nurses tell her that he cannot hear, but she talks to him anyway.  The doctors tell her he will not recover, but she only replies, “I know he’ll pull through, he’s such a strong man.”  This woman is in a unique psychological state – the state of denial.  She can hardly believe what has happened.  Not long ago she was in the yard with her darling, enjoying one of their favorite activities.  The day before, they were at a friend’s home for a get-together.  He seemed the picture of happiness and health.  He didn’t even seem that sick when she brought him to the hospital.  Now – in a blink of an eye – they’re telling her he’s gone.  This is far more emotional pain than she can bear just yet.  She’s not ready to accept that her partner of 40 years won’t be coming home with her.  She’s not quite ready to face a life without him.  So, her unconscious mind has provided her with an effective (albeit most likely temporary) defense against the pain.  Eventually, as she becomes better able to accept the distressing reality, her denial will break down. When it does, the pain it served to contain will gush forth and she will grieve.

This is classic denial.  And to this day it’s simply amazing to me how many people, especially mental health professionals, will simply assume that this is what’s always at work when character disturbed people deny their wrongdoings.  Character disturbed patients will resist admitting things everyone knows they have done and the therapist might say: “Give him (or her) time, they’re still in denial.”  And they make equally unwarranted assumptions, like mounds of shame and guilt must certainly underlie the denial.  Why else would they deny, especially the obvious?  They must have more shame and guilt about what they’ve done than they can bear, right?  Wrong!  Refusing to acknowledge the truth is not the same thing as neurotic denial.  It’s simply lying and very different in character from the phenomenon I described in the first example.  At first glance, someone’s denial might look like classic, neurotic denial.  But when CAs and other disturbed characters engage in denial, it’s a very different thing.  I give an example of denial the manipulation tactic at work in my book also:

Joe, the class bully, strolls up to one of his unsuspecting classmates and engages in one of his favorite mischievous pastimes – pushing the books out of her arms and spilling them on the floor.  It just so happens that the hall monitor catches the event and sternly hollers:  “Joe!” to which Joe, spreading his arms wide open and with a look of great shock, surprise, and innocence on his face retorts:  “Whaaaat?”  Does Joe really not understand the reality of what has happened?  Does he actually think he didn’t do what the hall monitor saw him do?  Is he in some kind of altered psychological state?  Is his possible altered state brought about by more emotional pain than he could possibly stand to bear?  Is he so consumed with shame and/or guilt for what he’s done that he simply can’t allow himself to believe he actually did such a horrible thing?  More than likely, none of the aforementioned possibilities is correct.  Joe is probably more concerned that he has another detention hall coming, which means another note to his parents, and possibly even a suspension.  So, he’s got one long-shot tactic to try.  He’ll do his best to make the hall monitor believe she didn’t really see what she thought she saw.  The hallway was crowded.  Maybe it was someone else.  Maybe it was just an “accident.”  If he acts surprised, innocent, and righteously indignant enough, maybe, just maybe, she’ll begin to doubt herself.  He hopes that, unlike him, she might be just neurotic enough (i.e. has an overactive conscience and excessive sense of guilt or shame) to think she might have misjudged the situation.  Maybe she’ll even berate herself for jumping to conclusions or for causing a possibly innocent person unwarranted emotional pain.  This tactic might have worked before.  Maybe it will work again.

Manipulators will often couple denial with other tactics such as feigning innocence.  This is when the person you’ve confronted acts like they have no idea what you’re talking about or pretends in a self-righteous manner that they’ve done absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or guilty for.  Sometimes they can use denial and feigning innocence with such intensity and seeming conviction that you begin questioning your perceptions and your sanity.  You start out knowing that you’ve nailed them on a behavior and somehow they get you to wondering if you haven’t gotten it all wrong.  A very effective one-two manipulation punch indeed.

By far, however, the biggest weapons in any CA’s arsenal are the tactics of shaming and guilt-tripping.  And the reason for this is quite simple:  neurotics, by definition, have a high degree of conscientiousness and hate to think they’ve said or done anything wrong or shameful.  So, the perfect way to control them is to make them think they’ve done something about which they should feel guilty or be ashamed.  Sometimes conscientious people try to lay guilt or shame on disturbed characters, thinking it will somehow prompt them to modify their behavior.  But they quickly learn that these tactics don’t work on disturbed characters.   You have to have a big sense of right and wrong and an equally big desire to be a good person for these tactics to have any effect.  In short, you have to have a pretty well-developed conscience, something disturbed characters lack.

In next week’s post we’ll discuss some of the other more popular manipulation tactics.   Then, in the following week’s post, we’ll be concluding the series on the aggressive personalities by taking a close look at predatory aggressors (i.e. psychopaths, sociopaths).  Following that there will be some posts on topics that readers have been asking for information about.  So, stay tuned!