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The Dark Psychology of Manipulation: Tactics Used to Control You

February 8, 2023

Most of us are unaware of the dark psychology of manipulation. You don’t realize that you were cunningly manipulated into doing something until much, much later. What’s more, you end up hating yourself more than you hate those wolves.

It has taken me a long time to accept that there are devious, scheming and evil people in this world. Moreso, it is devastatingly hurtful when they also happen to be family, friends and close associates. The cognitive dissonance of what you believed and what is the actual reality undermines your core being.

How can they blatantly use and abuse me – the thoughts keep you stuck in this default state of disbelief? Their seemingly covert manipulative tactics are psychologically traumatic. The betrayal cuts a deep wound into your psyche. Your trust is shattered – in yourself and the world.

The feeling of being used is terrible. You want to kick yourself for being so naive and stupid. In retrospect, it all seems plain as day. Nonetheless, it’s too late, your mind’s been fucked with. All you can do is learn and become wise.

Cluster-B Personality Disordered Manipulators

Most manipulators come under the spectrum of Cluster-B personality disorders – Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), and Narcissistic Personality Disorder(NPD).

Furthermore, the ones most likely to employ covert, coercive tactics are those who have a co-occurrence of NPD and BPD. In addition to the chaotic emotional life and fears of abandonment associated with BPD, a person with co-occurring NPD may also take advantage of or manipulate others while having little empathy for others’ concerns.

These combo-characters are emotionally empty, desperate for attention and adulation. And they want it fast and easy. Use and throw is the name of their game. They have a keen nose for reading people. Predators like them know how to pick their targets and what tactics to use and with whom.

They are masters in the art of deception. The satisfaction of their needs is the paramount goal and you are just the means to fulfilling their selfish agenda.

However, one must bear in mind that human beings are complex and behaviors are not usually cut and dried.

Anyone can be manipulative, depending on the situation and their needs.

What Makes Us Easy Targets for Manipulation?

Not surprising, our childhoods.

Growing up in dysfunctional families means survival of the fittest, smartest or plain cunning. More often than not, the adult caregivers were inadequate and were themselves manipulative. The child is looked upon as an object to satisfy their own personal agenda, needs, and beliefs.

As a child, you had to hide your needs and play the compliance game or else violence and rejection. Unsurprisingly, growing up in this environment compromises our self-esteem. We become doormats, people-pleasers, codependents. Any crumb is good enough.

Thus the stage is set for a lifetime of manipulation; unless you learn from the experiences and learn the art of warknow the enemy and know yourself.

Yes, knowing my weaknesses and trying to heal from my abuse, neglect, and abandonment has tremendously helped me avoid situations that could end up becoming dicey.

My antenna goes up whenever I encounter potential manipulators. Knowing the enemy is knowing the tactics the usually employed to sway and manipulate.

Here are some common manipulative tactics used and how to avoid getting deceived:

1) Beware of that Gift – Check the Strings Attached

Recently, I had a lucky escape from a friend who was always giving gifts – either food or other things. It felt good being so starved of material things in my childhood, particularly having experienced protracted food trauma., I was so grateful. But gradually I began seeing a pattern in the gifting process. It was soon followed by expectations, take care of the kids or help out in the housework, always be ready to accompany her on her social or business outings.

I learned the hard way the altruistic narcissist always has an agenda – to get her own needs met. You are just the means to her selfish end. Being in this relationship demoralizes your self-worth and undermines your self-esteem.

Yes, beware of those gifts they usually come with strings attached. And, they could turn out to be very expensive and dangerous.

2) The Gum Bait – Subtle Prodding into Acquiescence

This is aptly played out in this scene from the TV serial Shield where one of the key players Lt. Kavanaugh offers gum to the character David Aceveda, the councilman:

David Aceveda: No, thank you.

Lt. Kavanaugh: Come on, this is a fresh pack – it’s Juicy Fruit.

David Aceveda: I said no – thank you.

Lt. Kavanaugh: You hold it out long enough, some people feel compelled to take the gum. It’s a sign they’ll crack under pressure.

David Aceveda: I know.

Later Kavanaugh plays the same gum bait on the main protagonist, Vic’s wife Corinne. She succumbs to his persuasion out of politeness.

Yes, our wanting to appear nice and good, many a time overrides our sixth sense warning us to not take the bait. But then our childhood indoctrination of being compliant is deeply embedded in our psyche. We have to overcome that toxic childhood habit of over-accomodating.

So stop playing nice and polite. If you are not comfortable doing something, speak up loud and clear. When dealing with cunning, deceitful, duplicitous manipulators rude and nasty is the best strategy.

3) Moaning Molly – Poor Me Tactic

I had an aunt named Molly, who was always playing the record ‘anyone was in my place would have left Rudy long back.’ She not just made me the receptacle of all the bile she spewed out but also simultaneously expected me to help in her housework because she was ‘poor me‘ whose burdens had to be eased. She did not consider that I was an 11-year-old child who had just lost her mother. No, her problems were more important and distressing.

Only recently, did I did realize how much my grandmother used the ‘poor me’ tactic to manipulate me. Her husband was a mean guy and she had to do so much. No doubt she had a hard life but getting a child to play therapist. What was worse was when she wanted me to do something she was all sugar then wham she’d turn cold as ice if she had no need for you. That kind of intermittent reinforcement really skewed my mind.

Many a time these covert manipulators, use the ‘help I am drowning look‘ most kids use this to get their parents to run to their aid. Manipulators have not developed emotionally beyond their childhood and thus use this ploy successfully.

Healing for me has meant becoming more stone-hearted. I am slowly, getting over my faulty Christina programming and misplaced empathy. When I am drowning, sorry, I have to save myself first.

4) Manipulative Touch – Oxytocin Bind

Physical touch is critical for our survival and well-being. Babies who don’t get enough of hugging, cuddling and carrying fail to thrive and grow optimally. Their right brain does not develop properly.

For those of us coming from abusive homes, we rarely experience the soothing feel of a warm hug or the encouraging pat on our backs. All we receive are whacks and shoves. That’s why we get so easily entrapped in toxic and sexually exploitative relationships.

When I met my partner even after I came to know he was married, I still continued the relationship. It was not the sex, it was the oxytocin transfusion I got from our interaction. My craving to be held was stronger than the red flags warning me of the potential danger. I ignored them to my own detriment.

Touch is ten times stronger than verbal or emotional contact, and most manipulators know how to use it to persuade and con you. When my mother died, this scheming Aunt Molly, came and put her arm around me and consoled me saying ‘ don’t worry, think of me as your mother.‘ At that moment I was so relieved. However, whenever she wanted me to do something, she’d put her arm around me. For a long time, I was duped into compliance.

Additionally, those who have learned Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) know the subtle ways to anchor their prey via touch. You may not even be aware of being touched but your subconscious brain immediately releases the cocktail of feel-good hormones, and before you know it you are putty in their hands.

5) Eye Control – Gaze Compliance

Our eyes play a very important role in our social interactions. Positive parent-child attunement involves a lot of mutual eye-gazing. That look of love is what shapes our sense of self.

People adept in the art of manipulation know how to read their prey’s eyes. Are their eyes downcast? Do they shy away from eye contact? Do they glow when looked at?

Most of us are unaware of the micro-facial messages we transmit when we interact with people. However, manipulators adroitly pick the subtle clues to help them gain an upper hand.

In the beginning, they will engage in lingering warm eye contact. You feel you are the center of their universe and lo, you are in their ‘Reality Distortion Field’. You become their slave, ready to do their bidding.

However, this honeymoon period does not last, gradually you will find yourself under their glowering gaze threatening you into obedience.

My father was a master manipulator at giving looks that could kill. The rage in his eyes was all the warning we needed to fulfilling his selfish demands.

I truly believe that the evil eye is not some mumbo-jumbo. Eyes can be deadly weapons of manipulation.

6) Guilt- Shame Loop – Passive-Aggressive Manipulation

Manipulative people know how to instill shame and guilt to coerce you into doing exactly what they want. They will nonchalantly share what someone gave them or did for them all the while subtly hinting about your lack of inputs to their welfare.

Slowly, that feeling of self-doubt creeps into you, you feel maybe I have not done enough.

If one is unaware of this passive-aggressive ploy, one’s reaction is bristling inadequacy – not good enough. You immediately think about what can I do to gain their acceptance and praise. You try to outdo their perfect friend, sibling, child, etc.

Many parents stoke the fires of sibling-rivalry by this dubious method to get their children to meet their needs.

My father was constantly playing off my brother and me against each other. Publicly, he’d shame either one of us of how bad one of us was while the other was so good.

Sometimes manipulative people will use humor to undermine your self-worth. They may start off giving a friendly smile but then their snide jokes and sarcastic put-downs, totally shatter your defenses. No one likes being made fun of and one will do anything to avoid being laughed at.

When in such a situation follow Psychologist Ross Rosenberg’s technique Observe Don’t Absorb Technique (ODA).’ Safe emotional detachment from manipulative people is the best way to protect ourselves if walking away is not an option.

Avoiding Manipulation – Protective Boundaries

The secret to overcoming the manipulators in your life is simple, ‘you have to change’. Become aware of the soft spots and weak links of your psyche. You can rewire your brain and re-program our faulty belief system through neuroplasticity. Try and build your self-worth by indulging in self-care.

Listen to sound healing music and positive affirmations to subconsciously raise your self-esteem. Read inspiring words, listen to uplifting talks, watch inspiring movies that will empower and change your outlook. You don’t have to be a life-long victim.

Most importantly, never let your good sense be swayed by flattery, praise, and love-bombing

Keep your boundaries up even in close relationships. Don’t just ignore or let something pass because you don’t want to seem ‘not nice.’ Raise a stink if someone behaves oddly or tramples on your rights and feelings. Stop giving a damn about what they will think of you.

If you don’t protest about bad behavior, it gives the toxic person a free pass to continue behaving entitled, expecting you to lay yourself out for their benefit.

Yes, coming from abusive and neglectful homes makes you more desperate for support, connection, and acceptance. But for heaven’s sake, don’t wear your vulnerability on your sleeve. Desperation invites predators, not healthy relationships.

Most importantly, listen to your gut, your intuition, your feelings. Does this person feel off? Do they make me feel bad? Is their shitty behavior a consistent thing? Pay attention to those small details, the inconsistencies between words and action,

The truth is most people are only looking out for themselves, so its only imperative you start protecting your own interests.

Further Reading:

48 laws of power – Robert Greene


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