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Manipulation - The practice of steering an individual into a desired behavior for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal.

Collateral Damage

People with Personality Disorders often engage in behaviors which appear manipulative and controlling to those around them. While these manipulative acts may be deliberate and conscious on the part of the Personality Disordered individual, their focus is often not so much on the person they are controlling as it is on themselves. In many cases, the person is attempting to soothe internal feelings or fears by creating a focal point in a close relationship, rather than attempting to produce certain feelings in others - a bit like the way a puppeteer seeks an audience response through the puppet’s antics.

This helps explain why appeals for fairness or logical arguments are often ineffective in persuading people with Personality Disorders to behave more fairly or lovingly. For them, their own feelings take precedence, while the feelings and needs of others may appear small and insignificant. This can result in a dysfunctional Situational Ethic in the mind of the person with the Personality Disorder in which the end (resolving the internal feelings) justifies the means (controlling, manipulating or hurting someone close).

This does not qualify as an excuse for manipulative or hurtful behaviors. It can be helpful for Nons however to understand that this disconnect exists in the minds of some Personality Disordered persons, and that the manipulative or controlling behavior is not somehow deserved, or even on some levels personal.

How it Looks

  • Behaving in an outrageous or violent way in order to provoke an angry response - known as Baiting.
  • Casting oneself as a victim in order to evoke a sympathetic response - also known as Self-Victimization.
  • Overt acts of self-harm intended to generate a crisis for loved ones.
  • Overt cheating or flirting to evoke a sense of jealousy in others.
  • Withdrawal, avoidance or silent treatment designed to get the other person to pursue closeness.
  • Proxy Recruitment, or pitting two other people against each other in order to create conflict between others.
  • Chronic empty promises.
  • Raging with the intent of maintaining a state of conflict or to force another to pay greater attention.
  • Hoovering to persuade a withdrawing abuse victim to return to a state of closeness.

How it Feels

Acts of manipulation often evoke the greatest feelings of betrayal and anger in those who are affected by them. It is humiliating to discover that someone has been controlling you without your consent.

Learning To Cope with Manipulation

Your thoughts and feelings are your own property and nobody has a right to manipulate or control your feelings without your consent. Therefore it is important to establish boundaries to protect yourself and to detach emotionally from the manipulative person so that your own feelings cannot be used as a tool to control you.

What NOT to Do

  • Don’t fly off the handle when somebody does something outrageous. Just get away from them.
  • Don’t take it personally when someone tries to manipulate or control you - chances are they are so focused on themselves that your feelings are insignificant to them.
  • Don’t argue or plead for compassion or justice from a controlling person. They may be looking at the situation through a very different lens than you and be blind to your logic.
  • Don’t retaliate or try to get revenge on a person who manipulates you. This will only make the situation worse, and you will likely regret it.
  • Don’t put yourself in a position where you can be easily controlled. If the manipulative person gets to you by spending your money or breaking objects which are valuable to you don’t allow them access to those things.
  • Don’t let your guard down when a manipulative person switches and starts being kind. Most abusive behaviors are cyclical and are based on the ebb and flow of the abuser’s feelings.
  • Don’t become isolated and suffer in silence. You need support to cope.

What TO Do

  • Quickly, calmly and without drama, leave the situation and get to a place where you are treated with respect.
  • Work on boundaries which will protect you, your loved ones and your property. Make people and things which are vulnerable off-limits to those who don’t have the ability to control their own behavior.
  • If appropriate, state clearly and calmly what the offending behavior is one time only - such as “when you do this, I feel that”.
  • Get support and discuss your concerns with someone who cares about you and who understands Personality Disorders.
  • Spend time with people who will treat you with genuine respect and honor and uphold your dignity.

For More Information & Support...

If you suspect you may have a family member or loved-one who suffers from a personality disorder, we encourage you to learn all you can and surround yourself with support as you learn how to cope.

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