“It may have short ears and it may have long ears; it may have a lot of hair and it may have no hair at all; it may be brown or it may be gray; but if it’s big and has tusks and a trunk, it’s always an elephant.”
We all deal with manipulative, narcissistic, and people with personality disorders on a daily basis at work, marriage, family, and life in general. According to Dr. George K. Simon: “Manipulative people have two goals: to win and to look good doing it. Often those they abuse are only vaguely aware of what is happening to them.”
When you’re being manipulated, chances are someone is fighting with you for position, advantage, or gain, but in a way that’s difficult to readily see.
Although the extreme wolves in sheep’s clothing that make headlines grab our attention and pique our curiosity about what makes such people “tick,” most of the covertly aggressive people we are likely to encounter are not these larger-than-life characters. Rather, they are the subtly underhanded, backstabbing, deceptive, and conniving individuals we may work with, associate with, or possibly even live with. And they can make life miserable. They cause us grief because we find it so hard to truly understand them and even harder to deal with them effectively.
Favourite Take-Aways : In Sheep’s Clothing
On the surface they can appear charming and genial. But underneath, they can be ever so calculating and ruthless. Cunning and subtle, they prey on your weaknesses and use clever tactics to gain advantage over you. They’re the kind of people who fight hard for everything they want but do their best to conceal their aggressive intentions.
Manipulators often know us better than we know ourselves. They know what buttons to push, when to do so and how hard to press. Our lack of self-awareness can easily set us up to be exploited.
So, while our gut tells us we’re dealing with a ruthless conniver, our head tells us they must be really frightened, wounded, or self-doubting “underneath.” What’s more, most of us generally hate to think of ourselves as callous and insensitive people. We hesitate to make harsh or negative judgments about others. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they don’t really harbor the malevolent intentions we suspect. We’re more apt to doubt and blame ourselves for daring to believe what our gut tells us about our manipulator’s character.
Two Important Types of Aggression
When you’re determined to have your way or gain advantage and you’re open, direct, and obvious in your manner of fighting, your behavior is best labeled overtly aggressive.
When you’re out to “win,” get your way, dominate, or control, but are subtle, underhanded, or deceptive enough to hide your true intentions, your behavior is most appropriately labeled covertly aggressive.
“Concealing overt displays of aggression while simultaneously intimidating others into backing-off, backing-down, or giving-in is a very powerful manipulative maneuver. That’s why covert-aggression is most often the vehicle for interpersonal manipulation.”
The term personality derives from the Latin word “persona,” which means “mask. Personality can also be defined as the unique manner that a person develops of perceiving, relating to and interacting with others and the world at large.’ Within this model of personality, biology plays a part (e.g., genetic, hormonal influences, brain biochemistry), as does temperament, and of course, the nature of a person’s environment and what he or she has learned from past experiences are big influences, also.
A person’s interpersonal interactive “style” or personality appears a largely stable characteristic that doesn’t moderate much with time and generalizes across a wide variety of situations.
character-disordered personalities, unencumbered by qualms of conscience, passionately pursue their personal goals with indifference and often at the expense rights and needs of others, and cause all sorts of problems for others and society at large.
Distorted Thinking Patterns
“• Self-Focused (self-centered) thinking. Disordered characters are always thinking of themselves. They don’t think about what others need or how their behavior might impact others. This kind of thinking leads to attitudes of selfishness and disregard for social obligation.
• Possessive thinking. This is thinking of people as possessions to do with as I please or whose role it is to please me. Disturbed characters also tend to see others as objects (objectification) as opposed to individuals with dignity, worth, rights and needs. This kind of thinking leads to attitudes of ownership, entitlement and dehumanization.
• Extreme (all-or-none) thinking. The disordered character tends to think that if he can’t have everything he wants, he won’t accept anything. If he’s not on top, he sees himself at the bottom. If someone doesn’t agree with everything he says, he thinks they don’t value his opinions at all. This kind of thinking keeps him from any sense of balance or moderation and promotes an uncompromising attitude.
• Egomaniacal thinking. The disordered character so overvalues himself that he thinks that he is entitled to whatever he wants. He tends to think that things are owed him, as opposed to accepting that he needs to earn the things he desires. This kind of thinking promotes attitudes of superiority, arrogance, and entitlement.
• Shameless thinking. A healthy sense of shame is lacking in the disturbed character. He tends not to care how his behavior reflects on him as a character. He maybe embarrassed if someone exposes his true character, but embarrassment at being uncovered is not the same as feeling shameful about reprehensible conduct. Shameless thinking fosters an attitude of brazenness.
• Quick and easy thinking. The disturbed character always wants things the easy way. He hates to put forth effort or accept obligation. He gets far more joy out of “conning” people. This way of thinking promotes an attitude of disdain for labor and effort.
• Guiltless thinking. Never thinking of the rightness or wrongness of a behavior before he acts, the disturbed character takes whatever he wants, no matter what societal norm is violated. This kind of thinking fosters an attitude of irresponsibility and anti-sociality.
Children aren’t equipped to handle a lot of power. They don’t have the emotional maturity or necessary life experience to wield power responsibly.
Five basic aggressive personality types
Unbridled-Aggressive personalities are openly hostile, frequently violent and often criminal in their behavior. These are the people we commonly label antisocial. They tend to be easily angered, lack adaptive fearfulness or cautiousness, are impulsive, reckless, and risk-taking, and are overly prone to violate the rights of others. Many spend a good deal of their lives incarcerated because they simply won’t conform, even when it’s in their best interest.
Channeled-Aggressives are overtly aggressive personalities who generally confine their aggression to socially acceptable outlets such as business, sports, law enforcement, the legal profession and the military. These people are often rewarded for being tough, headstrong, and competitive. They may openly talk about “burying” the competition or “crushing” their opponents. They don’t usually cross the line into truly antisocial behavior but it really shouldn’t surprise anyone when they do.
The Sadistic Aggressive personality
The Sadistic Aggressive personality is another overtly aggressive personality subtype. Like all other aggressive personalities, they seek positions of power and dominance over others. But these individuals gain particular satisfaction from seeing their victims squirm and grovel in positions of vulnerability. For the other aggressive personality types, inflicting pain or injury on anyone standing in the way of something they want are seen as merely hazards of the fight.
The Predatory Aggressive
These characters are radically different from most people. Their lack of conscience is unnerving. They tend to see themselves as superior creatures for whom the inferior, common man is rightful prey. They are the most extreme manipulators or con artists who thrive on exploiting and abusing others. They can be charming and disarming. As highly skilled predators, they study the vulnerabilities of their prey carefully and are capable of the most heinous acts of victimization with no sense of remorse or regret. Fortunately, most manipulators aren’t psychopaths.
Some professions, social institutions and fields of endeavor provide great opportunities for covert-aggressive personalities to exploit others. Politics, law enforcement and religion are some prime examples.
The Slot Machine Syndrome
“There’s a syndrome that can develop in abusive, manipulative relationships that prompts a victim to stay even when they’ve often thought about leaving. I call it the Slot Machine Syndrome. Anyone who’s played one of those “one-armed bandits” knows that it’s difficult to stop pulling the lever even when you’re losing pretty badly.”
There are primarily four reasons why a person can get trapped in this syndrome.
First, there’s the appeal of the “jackpot.” People often jump at the chance to get a lot of something that’s very valuable to them for what initially appears a relatively small investment.
Second, whether or not you will get anything for your efforts depends only on the degree to which you are willing to “respond” (behaviorists call this a ratio schedule of reinforcement). With a slot machine, you have to do a lot of “responding” (investing) to even have a chance at winning.
Third, every now and then, a “cherry” (or, some similar small jackpot) appears and you “win” a little something. This reinforces the idea that your investment is not for naught and that “winning” a larger payoff is really possible if you just keep investing.
Fourth, after you’ve been worn down by the machine’s “abuse” and are tempted to walk away, you’re faced with a most difficult dilemma. If you leave, you leave behind a substantial investment. You not only have to walk away from your “abuser,” but from a huge chunk of yourself. To disengage with nothing to show for your time and energy but a broken spirit is hard to do. You’re tempted to delude yourself by saying: “If I just put in one more quarter…”
In any abusive relationship, the other person is never the real object of the aggressor’s desire, the position is.
Self-esteem is not a unipolar attribute. A person can just as easily have too much as too little self-esteem. And, a person who is acting “too big for their britches” is not always compensating for an underlying insecurity (neurotics sometimes are, but character-disordered individuals usually aren’t). Someone who has managed to corral inordinate power and thinks, from all immediate evidence, that they’re invincible can easily come to overly esteem themselves.
Self-Esteem vs Self-Respect
The word esteem derives from a word meaning to estimate. Self-esteem is the intuitive “estimate” we make of our worth based on an assessment of our innate talents, abilities and the success we’ve had at getting what we want in life.
The word respect literally means to “look back.” Selfrespect arises, therefore, out of a favorable retrospective assessment of one’s personal effort, commitment to socially desirable goals and, if luck would have it, achievement.
To put it more simply, our sense of self-esteem derives from what we know we have, while our sense of self-respect derives from what we’ve done with what we’ve been given.
Recognizing the tactics of Manipulation and Control
Rationalization is the excuse an aggressor makes for engaging in what they know is an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation or justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it.
It’s very important to remember that disturbed characters of all sorts lie just for lie readily, even when the truth would easily suffice. Lying by omission is a very subtle form of lying that manipulators use. So is lying by distortion. Manipulators will withhold a significant amount of the truth from you or distort essential elements the truth to keep you in the dark.
One of the most subtle forms of distortion is being deliberately vague. This is a favorite tactic of manipulators. They will carefully craft their stories so that you form the impression that you’ve been given information but leave out essential details that would have otherwise made it possible for you to know the larger truth.
Selective Inattention (or selective is when aggressors actively ignore the warnings, pleas, or wishes of others, and, in general refuse to pay attention to everything or anything that might distract them from pursuing their agenda. Often, the aggressor knows full well what you want from him when he starts to exhibit this “I don’t want to hear it!” behavior. By using this tactic, the aggressor actively resists submitting himself to the tasks of paying attention to and refraining from the behavior you want him to change.
Manipulators use distraction and diversion techniques to keep the focus off their behavior, move us off-track, and keep themselves free to promote their selfserving hidden agendas. Sometimes this can be very subtle. You may confront your manipulator on a very important issue only to find yourself minutes later wondering how you got on the topic you’re talking about then.
Whenever someone is not responding directly to an issue, you can safely assume that for some reason, they’re trying to give you the slip.
Aggressive personalities of all types use guilt-tripping so frequently and effectively as a manipulative tactic, that I believe it illustrates how fundamentally different in character they are compared to other (especially neurotic) personalities. All a manipulator has to do is suggest to the conscientious person that they don’t care enough, are too selfish, etc., and that person immediately starts to feel bad.
It is the technique of using subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. Covert-aggressives use this tactic to make others feel inadequate or unworthy, and therefore, defer to them. It’s an effective way to foster a continued sense of personal inadequacy in the weaker party, thereby allowing an aggressor to maintain a position of dominance.
Playing the Victim tactic
Playing the Victim tactic involves portraying oneself as a victim of circumstance or someone else’s behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. One thing that covert-aggressive personalities count on is the fact that less calloused and hostile personalities usually can’t stand to see anyone suffering. Therefore, the tacually can’t stand to see anyone suffering.
Covert-aggressive personalities are adept at charming, praising, flattering or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty. Covert-aggressives are also particularly aware that people who are to some extent emotionally needy and dependent (and that includes most people who aren’t character-disordered) want approval, reassurance, and a sense of being valued and needed more than anything.
Projecting the blame (blaming personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their aggressive behavior. Covert-aggressives are not only skilled at finding scapegoats, they’re expert at doing so in subtle, hard to detect ways.
Redefining the terms of engagement
The most fundamental rule of human engagement is that the aggressor sets the rules. This is because once attacked, weakened in position, or emotionally on the run, any victim of aggression (including covert-aggression) is always scrambling to establish a more favorable balance of power. So, it appears that any person willing to launch the “first strike” has already defined the initial terms of engagement.
Knowing Yourself Better
Any manipulator’s real leverage is in knowing the character of his victim well enough to know how that person will likely respond to the tactics he uses. He may know the victim will give him the benefit of the doubt, buy his excuses, be hesitant to ascribe evil intention, etc. He may know how conscientious the individual is and how effective shame and guilt will be in getting him or her to back down. Manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and weaknesses of their victims.
Put Your Energy Where the Power Is
Making headway in conflicts with aggressive and covertly aggressive personalities (or, for that matter, any personality) can only happen when you’re willing to invest your time and energy where you have unquestionable power: your own behavior. Besides, investing yourself in something in which you will necessarily experience success is exhilarating and confidence-building. The more confident and energized you are, the better your chances for achieving success in dealing with the problems at hand.
ACCEPT NO EXCUSES.
Don’t buy into any of the many reasons (rationalizations) someone may offer for aggressive, covertly aggressive behavior, or any other inappropriate behavior. If someone’s behavior is wrong or harmful, the rationale they offer is totally irrelevant. The ends never justify the means. So, no matter how much an “explanation” for a problem behavior seems to make sense, don’t accept it.
JUDGE ACTIONS, NOT INTENTIONS.
Never try to “mind-read” or second-guess why somebody is doing something, especially when they’re doing something hurtful. There’s no way for you to really know, and in the end, it’s irrelevant. Getting caught up in what might be going on in an aggressor’s mind is a good way to get sidetracked from the really pertinent issue. Judge the behavior itself. If what a person does is harmful in some way, pay attention to and deal with that issue.
SET PERSONAL LIMITS.
Becoming more empowered in interpersonal interactions necessarily involves setting two kinds of limits on behavior. First, you must decide what kinds of behavior you’ll tolerate from another before taking some counter-action or deciding to disengage. Second, you must decide what action you’re both willing and able to take in order to take better care of yourself.
MAKE DIRECT REQUESTS.
When asking for things, be clear about what you want. Use “I” statements. Avoid generalities. Be specific about what it is you dislike, expect, or want from the other person. Use phrases like: “I want you to…” or “I don’t want you to… anymore.”
STAY FOCUSED AND IN THE HERE AND NOW.
Focus on the issues at hand. Your manipulator will probably try to throw you off track with diversionary and evasion tactics. Don’t let those tactics steer you away from the problem behavior you’re trying to confront. You must make the effort to stay focused, regardless of the tactics thrown at you.
Don’t bring up past issues or speculate about the future. Stay in the here and now. This is very important. No change takes place unless it takes place in the moment. Even if some change does take place, it may not last very long because old habits are hard to break. Stay focused on just what you want your aggressor to do differently at that very moment and don’t let any diversionary tactics take you to another time and place.
“Wishful thinking is foolish. Only the willingness to change course at the time of confrontation (and not just one time, either) provides any reason to hope things will be different.”
SPEAK FOR YOURSELF.
Use “I” statements and don’t presume to speak for anyone else. Besides, using others as a “shield” broadcasts your insecurity. Deal with your “opponent” on a one-to-one basis. Have the courage to stand up for what you want openly and directly.
Aggressor’s point of view
From an aggressor’s point of view, there are only four types of encounters that they can have with you.
The first is they win, you lose. This is the scenario they most relish
The second is you win, they lose. This is the situation they find most abhorrent and will fight you the hardest to prevent.
The third situation is they lose, you lose, too. Aggressive personalities so detest losing, that if it’s apparent they have to lose, they’ll often do their best to see that you lose, too. As morbid as it is, this is essentially the scene that all too often plays out in the extremely conflicted relationships that end in murder suicide.
The fourth scenario is they win, you win, too. This is not as desirable a situation for the aggressor as the “they win, you lose” circumstance, but it’s a highly tolerable second best choice.
Remember that an aggressive personality will do almost anything to avoid losing. So, once you’ve defined some terms and conditions by which the aggressor can have at least something they want, you’re half way home. Seeking out and proposing as many ways as possible for both of you to get something out of doing things differently opens the door to a much less conflicted relationship with both aggressive and covert-aggressive personalities.
Love is Behaviour
Even though a person may begin life as a prisoner of what natural endowments he was given and the circumstances under which he was raised, he cannot remain a “victim” of his environment forever. Eventually, every person must come to terms with him or herself. To know oneself, to fairly judge one’s strengths and weaknesses, and to attain true mastery over one’s most basic instincts and inclinations are among life’s greatest challenges. But ultimately, anyone’s rise to a life of integrity and merit can only come as the result of a full self-awakening. He must come to know himself as well as others, without deceit or denial. He must honestly face and recon with all aspects of his character.
Only then can he freely take on the burden of disciplining himself for the sake of himself as well as for the sake of others. It is the free choice to take up this burden or “cross” that defines love. And it is the willingness and commitment of a person to carry this particular cross even unto death that opens the door to a higher plane of existence.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.