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Manipulative Family Members or Partners

on March 2, 2012

Have you ever wondered how the emotional manipulator behaves when he/she returns home to their family?  Usually the manipulation continues on some level.  We are going to address the subject of the Manipulator at home.  If you have a partner or family member with these behaviors, please do not take your new found knowledge and confront them.  Depending on the temperament of the Manipulator, there could be consequences that will be far more radical than you would expect.  If you must talk to the Manipulator about their behavior, be sure that you and any vulnerable people (i.e., children, elderly or disabled) are safe before you do so.  Understand that your confrontation will not bring enlightenment to the Manipulator; he/she may take their behavior to the next level.

The website, Bully Online,org/related/family.htm, states that the serial bully (Manipulator) commits psychological violence on their family, because that type of violence leaves no physical scars or bruises and no evidence.  The manipulation takes place in the following ways:

  • Verbal abuse,
  • Emotional abuse,
  • Nit picking criticism,
  • Constant fault-finding combined with a simultaneous refusal to recognize, value, acknowledge and praise,

The Manipulator’s objectives  are Power, Control, Domination and Subjugation and the techniques used in the process of victimization was best described by George K. Simon, in his book, “In Sheep’s Clothing:  Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People”.

  • The manipulator’s aggression is not obvious.  Our gut may tell us that they are fighting for something, struggling to overcome us, gain power, or have their way.  We find ourselves unconsciously on the defensive, but because we cannot point to clear, objective evidence that they are being aggressive against us, we can’t easily validate our feelings.
  • The tactics Manipulator’s use can make it seem like they are hurting, caring, defending…almost anything but fighting.  These tactics are hard to recognize as merely clever ploys.  They always seem to make just enough sense to make a person doubt their gut feelings that they are being taken advantage of or abused.  Besides, these tactics not only make it hard for you to consciously and objectively know that a manipulator is fighting, but they also simultaneously keep you consciously or unconsciously on the defensive.  It is difficult to think clearly when someone has you emotionally “on the run”.
  • All of us have weaknesses and insecurities that a clever manipulator might exploit.  Sometimes we are aware of these weaknesses and how someone might take advantage of them.  Yet, when someone pushes that button, it is hard to think clearly about what is going on. Sometimes we are unaware of our own vulnerabilities and manipulators know us better than we know ourselves.  They know what buttons to push and how hard.  Our very lack of self-knowledge can set us up to be abused or manipulated.
  • Our gut tells us what a manipulator is like; challenging everything we’ve been taught to believe about human nature.  We’ve all been inundated with a psychology that has us seeing everyone, at least to some degree, as afraid, insecure or “hung-up.”  So, while our gut tells us that we are dealing with a ruthless conniver, our head tells us that they must be wounded underneath or frightened.  What’s more, most of us generally hate to think of ourselves as callous and insensitive people.  We hesitate to make harsh or seemingly negative about others.  We want to give them the benefit of a doubt and assume they really don’t harbor the malevolent intentions we suspect.  We’re much more apt to doubt and blame ourselves for daring to believe what our gut tells us about our manipulator’s character.  This is the time to learn to trust your gut feelings, because we have been given the ability to identify when we are in the presence of a predator and we have to learn to believe what we are feeling.

Control is the primary identifier of a serial bully (manipulator) at home:  control of finances, control of movements, control over the choice of friends, control over the right to work, control over what to think and so forth.  All of these tactics are designed to take power away from the victims.

A favorite tactic of the manipulator in the family is to set people against each other.  He/She then gains the following benefits:

  • Gratification (a perverse form of satisfaction) from encouraging and provoking arguments, quarreling and hostility.  He/She then watches other engage in adversarial interactions and conflict.  The approach may be as simple as, “Well, your father said that you…. (Fill in the blank).  Now I’m mad at my father for making such a harsh judgment when he doesn’t know anything about this.
  • Distraction and diversion:  the ensuing conflict ensures that people’s attention is distracted and diverted away from the cause of the conflict.

Family manipulators are masters of manipulation and are fond of controlling the victim (target) through the victim’s emotions, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions.  She/He sees any form of vulnerability as an opportunity for manipulation and is especially prone to exploit those who are most emotionally needy (i.e., elderly relatives, those with infirmity, those with the greatest vulnerability, or those who are or behaviorally immature).  When the victim (target) lives with someone who is constantly denying what they said or did, the victim feels crazy.  When the symptoms of injury to health start to become apparent, the manipulator (bully) will tell others that you have a “mental health problem.”  You are in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario and you are feeling angry, powerless and inadequate ALL of the time.

When the manipulator (serial bully) is close to being outwitted or exposed, they feign victimhood and turn the focus on themselves which is another example of manipulating through emotion or guilt.  Their tearful reaction seems way out in left field in light of the fumbling attempt of confrontation.  They will make themselves the center of attention by claiming to be the injured party and portraying their victim (target) as the villain of the piece.  Then when the victim tries to explain the game, they are immediately labeled “paranoid” and the game continues.

In my opinion, there is not much the victim (target) can do to change this situation other than distance from the manipulator (serial bully).  The prognosis for the manipulator is grim and although they may be very capable of figuring out your vulnerabilities, they are often blind to their own behaviors.


10 responses to “Manipulative Family Members or Partners

  1. Well written and very true.

  2. Paula says:

    When it gets to the point that the victim feels like the crazy one, it’s tough to walk away from the manipulator. He convinces you that only he knows how to make you better; everyone else is ignoring what the victim needs most. It’s such a twisted existence. Great post!

  3. Chiffon37 says:

    My “bossy cousin” (no blood relation) is covertly manipulative. She’s ~14 years older than me and likes to portray to the outside world that she helped to raise me and my younger brother; often referring to herself as our aunt to elevate her level of authority over us in the eyes of others. Over the years I’ve become more attuned to her manipulative ways- as both an observer and a victim- and have managed to limit my interaction with her to the obligatory family gatherings once or twice a year. During those occasions when there’s an audience, she smothers me with compliments and “I love you’s” and asks me pointedly if I’m “still her baby” (as if I ever was) or if I’m going to answer the next time she calls/texts/emails/instant messages via social media (often within minutes of each other). I always respond honestly (No), and she acts wounded then reflects aloud about how I used to be such a sweet little girl (I really don’t care as I’m nearly 40 years old). Unfortunately, bossy cousin has established herself as my mom’s pseudo-BFF and keeps herself abreast of my business through my mom (everything from my weekend plans with friends to how much of a raise I got with my last promotion). For example, when my mom told my cousin that I was creating the invitations for my best friend’s wedding, bossy cousin called and told me to send her an invitation. I refused, explaining (unnecessarily) that it was not my place to distribute my friend’s wedding invitations to anyone other than those on the guest list. The next day, bossy cousin called me back to inform me that she’d be attending my friend’s wedding with my mother (who was on the guest list). I’ve been annoyed with my cousin and my mom for the past 5 years about that. Most recently, bossy cousin asked to borrow money to avoid a late mortgage payment, promising to pay me back by the end of the week as soon as she got paid. My every instinct told me to tell her no, but I begrudgingly agreed ONLY because I could schedule an electronic payment directly to her mortgage lender. As I suspected, she’s using this as an “in” to wedge herself into my personal space again. She insisted on paying me back in cash in person, thereby securing herself an invite to my house (to which she had not been personally invited in the year since I moved in). She arrived at my house with her mother in tow and they proceeded to make theirselves at home, assuming that I had no other plans for the day besides entertaining them. Bossy cousin brought over a DVD of some movie that I’d previously told her I wasn’t interested in watching, the Nook she’d gotten for Christmas and a photo album of pictures of her dog which was “accidentally” left wedged between the passenger seat and center console of my car when I drove them out to lunch. She texted me 10 minutes after they left my house to ask if her mother had left the photo album in my backseat. I was tempted to reply that I would drop her photo album in the mail along with the DVD that she keeps insisting I watch…

    • Dear Chitton37,
      Sometimes, watching these folks manipulate you and those around you can be a source of wonderment! You recognize that they know full well what they are doing, yet can be so secure in their belief that anyone else cannot see through them! Their belief system is simply BS. Remember that. Dr. Phil McGraw calls these types of folks, “Baiters” and identifies their characteristics in his new book, “Life Code”. Fortunately, he devotes a good portion of his book on how you can learn to manage your emotions and stay above the manipulator’s goals to manipulate. Certainly worth the read.

  4. joe says:

    Moved in with a relative and she immediately stated she would protect me from all(I am in my 50’s nothing to protect me from). She continually turns everyone in the family against each other, mother against child and visa versa. When she is close to being found out she becomes the victim instantly. I have sat and watched her play this out day after day, leaving everyone feel guilty and fighting amongst each other. She manages to control everything and everyone. At times wishing bad out loud to her children and grandchildren if they refuse her wishes. Shortly after I became the target when she wanted me to do her a favor and I refused for ethical and moral reasons. Since then she has told me in so many ways that I am paranoid. I finally had to move out. Still she is causing problems for me indirectly. This is a sick thing she does and is destroying lives. Her family is imprisoned by her mind. I’m just glad I’m out and don’t plan to visit or call. This behavior is so abusive and extremely damaging to those around her.

  5. Nic says:

    The manipulator in my family is my eldest sister. For years she has worn down my other sister (the middle child of 3 – I am the youngest), constantly undermining her, criticising everything she has done, and frequently recalling all kinds of tales to my mum and I. Things got so bad for my middle sister that she moved over 100 miles away with her 3 children. Fortunately, I was, at that time, living close to her new destination due to work.

    Despite the distance, the eldest sister continued to comment, almost obsessively, on the wrongs of the middle sister whenever she thought she had an audience. Each time my middle sister came home to visit my mum, the old behaviours would strike right back.

    Over time, my middle sister has been accused of: being a terrible mother (not true); being a slut (not true); deliberately causing fights (how ironic!!); being a terrible partner to her children’s father. My eldest sister even told her to abort her two youngest children, and told my mum and I that the children would be better off in care!

    Three years ago, I became ill with moderate/severe myalgic encephalomyelitis. After struggling on my own for a year, I was forced to move back in with my mum so that she could help care for me. Thankfully, my mum is fantastic and I don’t know what I would do without her. The unfortunate part of this scenario is that my eldest sister lives literally around the corner from my mum (and now me as well).

    Last year, after losing my career to the illness and struggling to cope with the high level of disability it brings, I lost all will to live. I stopped eating and simply wanted to die. In her worry, my mum called my sister round. Rather than offer support, all she did was hurl abuse at me. I was called a selfish cow who didn’t care what effect I was having on my mum, and the worst of all, she told me to put myself into a nursing home so I wouldn’t be a burden on anybody!

    Needless to say, I have refused to speak or have anything to do with her since. She has vehemently denied this to everyone, and even tried to deny it to me – telling me that I was imagining things! There are some things you simply can’t imagine or forget once they have been said.

    Via text message, I made it absolutely clear that I wanted NOTHING to do with her again. A few weeks later she tried to give me a gift for my birthday – it was sent straight back! She tried the same trick again after an operation I had done a few months after this – again it was sent back!

    As she has not been able to manipulate me any further, she has attempted to do so via my mum – a horrendous trick as I have tried to keep my mum out of this. My mum used to go round once a week, and would come back asking me not to bad mouth my nephew to my middle sister!! My argument has never been with my nephew and I would have nothing to gain by causing trouble. I am ill and far too tired to stir up unnecessary arguments. Luckily, my mum believed me.

    As I rarely leave the house or have contact with anyone, I have no way of knowing what is going on unless I am told. I now have an agreement with my mum that she doesn’t discuss my sister or her family with me, that way, I can end any loose credibility my sister has ever had with her attempts to make me look like the guilty party.

    I very much doubt I, or indeed my middle sister, will ever speak to our eldest sister again. My life is so much better without dealing with a toxic relationship. So sad that some people seem to be born to make the lives of others hell.

    • Wow! It sounds like your family has a raging attack dog in it. I am sorry to hear about your disability and your sister’s game plan to keep your family in crisis. I believe you have made the right choice for yourself by just simply removing yourself from your sister’s influence. I hope that your mother learns to ignore your sister’s venom as well. Good luck and take good care of yourself.

  6. sankoji says:

    My husband has a middle-aged family member who is quite manipulative; it makes the concept of “in-laws” fun indeed. We moved across the country to her metropolitan area last year, and her family was instrumental in helping us with so much of the move. After a few months of her help, however, we realized that it was coming at a price: every time we tried to enforce boundaries and make decisions that were in our best interest (but not hers), she would become hysterical. Never mind that she regularly flaked out on us whenever it was something that didn’t meet her needs/interests/wants. When I made plans that didn’t involve her – she had flaked out of mine yet again – she called/emailed me 15x overnight and attempted to get other family members to coerce me into doing what she wanted. When we were unable to accommodate another change in plans a few weeks later, she went hysterical again and spread rumors to the rest of the family that had zero basis in reality.

    As a new mom who had gone through a cross-country move, was facing anxiety issues and was also grappling with the transition to being a stay-at-home mom, the non-stop drama wasn’t what I needed emotionally. My husband and I were just trying to sort out where we stood in our new city and with each other as a family; meanwhile, this family member interpreted any sign of our not including her in our lives as full-blown rejection. Anything that didn’t go according to her plans would lead to up to 3 phone calls per hour, false rumors spread to the family, heavy guilt, tears, and drama. This was happening at least weekly. We finally realized that it wasn’t helping us as a couple or as individuals. We’ve since limited our relationship with her to a more superficial one with better defined boundaries. From what we’ve heard, doing so has only caused a lot of drama on her end of things…but we’re just relieved to not be on the receiving end of so much manipulation.

    This very limited relationship is not what she wants, but anything more will just hurt us; her manipulation was just exhausting and not healthy for us. In retrospect, we wish we had defined our boundaries more clearly and earlier in the relationship. However, we were both in pretty vulnerable positions and I have always been desperate for approval from my husband’s family; she gave us the impression that she was the one who would fill that role. The chaos that ensued, however, has taught us a lot about dealing with manipulative people, setting boundaries and trusting our own intuition. I wish anyone else going through this the best of luck…it’s not a fun situation to be in.

    • Be kind to yourself about this. Setting boundaries is a challenge for manipulative people and although you can go into a relationship with a manipulative person with GREAT BOUNDARIES, you will find your boundaries attacked from every angle, including some angles you never thought of. Definitely she sounds like a person who would drain you emotionally dry and demand even more from you. Keep your distance and be very kind to your little family. Good luck.

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