In his weekly blog, Dr. Simon gives tips on how to deal with problem personalities, stop being manipulated, and how to empower yourself by recognizing power tactics and responding to them in an effective way. Some of the blog posts for the past year are archived on this page. For access to recent posts as well as the complete blog archives, use this link www.manipulative-people.com to access Dr. Simon's blog. Dr. Simon regularly reviews feedback from book readers, book reviewers, and persons who have attended workshops or contacted him by email and fashions his blog in a way that addresses the concerns of visitors to his website. This makes his Blog a truly interactive experience. After reading the posts, you might want to leave a comment. Dr. Simon reads and responds to comments whenever possible. Dr. Simon is also on the faculty of an international blog: Psychology, Philosophy, and Real Life, and is a regular contributing author. After contemplating the blog discussions, you might also want to contact Dr. Simon. It's easy to do. Just click on this link to the contact page.
Manipulators are often quite skilled in the various ways to decieve, con, and otherwise lie. One of the most subtle but yet effective ways to lie is lying by omission. A very skilled manipulator might even recite a litany of very true facts but then (possibly unbeknownst to you) deliberately leave out a key detail that would shed an entirely new light on the reality of a situation. All of this is done for the purposes of impression management and outcome manipulation.
An incarcerated female criminal offender put in an “emergency” request to see the consulting physician. She told him that she had been treated for “anxiety” and “depression” in the free world but that no anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication had been prescribed for her since arriving at the prison (true fact). She rattled off the names of several persons she knew who had been prescribed medicine, whereas she had not (again, true facts). She stated that was being discriminated against because she had filed an official grievance (it was factual that she had filed a grievance). She painted a picture of a hurting, unfairly treated person with a serious condition who only wanted help but was denied. She was the victim, the “corrupt system” was the victimizer (playing the victim role is an effective tactic in itself). The consulting physician was unfamiliar with treating individuals with severe disturbances of character. When the physician consulted with the rest of the staff, she was leaning toward prescribing medication to this inmate. She then learned what the inmate “left out” of the story. She had been to many clinics (i.e. “doctor-shopping”) in the free world and along the way managed to score many different diagnoses and abusable drugs until the medical community in and around her town became aware of her game. She didn’t say that she had been given two independent and complete psychiatric evaluations, with both psychiatrists deeming she had no true mental illness (unusually, she even had no chemical addiction issues of her own - her criminal ”business” was dealing in abusable prescription drugs) but was merely trying to secure drugs she could sell even in prison. In fact, she had been caught selling drugs she entered the prison with and that was one of the many reasons she was screened so carefully with regard to any possible real need for them. It was also no accident that this inmate put in her “emergency” request on a day that she found out that a consulting physician who had never consulted to the prison before would be on duty.
This particualar case illustrates not only how subtle and crafty lying can be, especially when the main technique is omission, but also how convincing and unnerved a liar can be while exercising his or her craft. A good “con” can get the better of anyone. They paint the picture they want you to see. If you look no further, you’re likely to be duped.
In future posts, I’ll be talking about other various tactics of manipulation and why they’re often effective.
9-4-08 Neurotics vs. Character Disorders Criterion 5 - Awareness The “problems” neurotics experience often stem from emotional conflicts that rage deep within their unconscious minds. They’re typically unaware of what’s at the root of the “symptoms” they report. If a woman already knew that the unexplained funk she’d been in lately was related to her suppressed feelings of grief and loss that just happened to be re-surfacing on the “anniversary” of her mother’s death, she might not even need to see a therapist to help her sort out why she was suddenly feeling so blue.If the man with an ulcer already had awareness that his obsessive worry over losing his job, which was in turn fueled by his deep-seated mistrust of authority figures based upon his experience with his abusive father, he might never have needed to knock on the therapist’s door.In short, neurotics often have little awareness about the reasons for their problems.
The problems associated with disturbed characters might be so engrained that they occur “automatically,”but the disordered character is fully conscious of them.He knows exactly what’s going on, what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and even why others consider his behaviors problematic.Lying is one of the more common of his problem behaviors.Sometimes the disordered character lies so “automatically” that he lies even when the truth would have done just fine.That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know he’s lying.He knows – he just does it so often and readily that he does it without even thinking about it.
A fair amount of the time, when disturbed characters are confronted about why they did something hurtful, they will reply:“To tell you the truth, I don’t know.”In my experience, this is most always a lie designed to manipulate and impression-manage others as well as to evade responsibility. “I don’t know” doesn’t really mean that the disordered character is oblivious to his motivations (i.e. has no conscious awareness of his intent).Instead, it often means“I’ve never really thought about it;” or “I don’t want to talk about it now;” or “I don’t want to tell you because they you’ll have my number, the con game will be over, and you’ll start holding me more accountable.” I get weekly testimonials from readers of my writings and former workshop attendees that often attest to how much their lives changed once they stopped taking “I don’t know” for an answer when confronting the disordered character they’d been dealing with. In contrast to neurotics, disturbed characters do the hurtful things they do intentionally, albeit habitually.
Disturbed characters are ever so different from most of us. I’ve posted on how they differ from neurotics on issues like anxiety, conscience, and the ability to experience genuine shame and guilt. In the coming weeks I’ll highlight more of their key differences.
8-28-08 Neurotic vs. Character Disorder Criterion 4 - Shame Disordered characters don’t feel shame like neurotics do. Although pop psychology has given shame a bad name, the ability to feel it is a mark of good character. I wrote recently about how neurotic individuals and disturbed characters differ greatly on the issue of guilt. Guilt and shame are related. Guilt is the bad feeling we get about something we’ve done. Shame feeling badly about who we are. It’s when we indict our character, not merely our behavior. The popular wisdom has been that shame is always bad and should be avoided. That same popular wisdom is that it’s only helpful to feel guilt about a specific harmful behavior. Neurotics not only feel guilt more easily that disturbed characters, they’re also more prone to feeling ashamed of themselves when they do something they think reflects negatively on them. As a result, they often motivate themselves to become better people by working hard to fashion a self-image that they can live with. So, when they do something reprehensible, they not only feel badly about what they’ve done, but they also feel badly about the kind of person they imagine could have done such a thing. This is not bad, especially when they vow that they will sincerely strive to be the kind of person that won’t do such things again.
One mark of a character disorder is a person’s relative incapacity not only to be deficient in feelings of guilt when committing harmful acts, but to lack any sense of shame for the kind of person they must be to commit such acts. Shamelessness is a major distinguishing characteristic of the disturbed or disordered character. It’s hard to be genuinely repentant and also hard to make good on a pledge to not commit the same kind of hurtful act again when you don’t really feel like a shmuck for doing the bad thing you did in the first place. Neurotics, of course, tend to be overly sensitive and get far too down on themselves when they mess up. So, too much shame can be a bad thing. But shame in itself is not necessarily bad, especially in the right doses. The disturbed characters among us would not be so unhealthy if they could reflect on the history of harm they’ve done to others and feel just badly enough about themselves to consider changing the kind of person they are. 8-25-08 Neurotic vs. Character Disorder? Criterion Three - Guilt People often get manipulated because they misjudge the character of their manipulator.We have a tendency to want to see everyone else as basically pretty much like us.We want to think that they think the same way, care about the same things, and feel the same way we do.But individuals with disturbed characters are very different from most people, especially those who tend to be neurotic.
In prior posts, I’ve highlighted how different character disorders are from neurotics when it comes to matters of conscience and the degree to which they experience anxiety.The third major criterion on which these two personality types differ involves their capacity to experience genuine guilt.Having the well-developed consciences that they do, neurotic individuals are quick to feel badly if they think they’ve done something wrong or harmful.They beat themselves up internally and pledge to themselves that they will do better or try harder.In contrast, disturbed characters don’t feel guilty enough when they hurt someone else or engage in wrongdoing.When others point out the error of their ways, they shrug it off.They don’t beat themselves up but rather they often attack their accusers.
In emotionally abusive relationships, the disordered character will often use “guilt-tripping” as a manipulation tactic.This is because neurotic individuals are easily swayed when their guilt button is pushed.So the task for the manipulator is simple:make the other person feel guilty and you’ll be able to have your way with them.On the other hand, when the conscientious person tries to lay guilt upon the disordered character, it has no impact.This is one way to tell if the person you’re in a relationship with is for the most part neurotic or character disordered.
In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I outline all the major tactics disordered characters use to manipulate others. In a soon to be released book, I present an in-depth look at what makes disturbed characters so different from most of us and how we have to approach relationships with them 8-18-08 Neurotic vs. Character Disorder? Criterion Two - Conscience
Neurotics have well-developed and overactive consciences (i.e. superegos), whereas disordered characters have consciences that are under-developed and impaired.Neurotics have a huge sense of right and wrong and always want to do the right thing.They often set standards for themselves that are so high they’re virtually impossible to meet, causing themselves a significant amount of stress.They tend to judge themselves overly harshly when they fail to meet expectations.They take on inordinate burdens, proverbially carrying the “weight of the world” on their shoulders. When something goes wrong, they quickly ask themselves what more they can do to help make a situation better.
Most disturbed characters don’t hear that little voice in their heads that urge most of us to do right or admonish most of us when we’re contemplating doing wrong.They don’t “push” themselves to take on responsibilities and don’t “arrest” themselves when they want something they shouldn’t have.Any qualms of conscience they might experience can be eliminated with great ease.In the most severe disturbances of character (i.e. the psychopath or sociopath), conscience is not simply weak, underdeveloped, or flawed, but can be absent altogether.
It’s really hard to fathom and accept that there are people in this world who simply don’t have the same degree capacity most of us have to be inwardly troubled when they contemplate doing things that are potentially very harmful to others or even themselves. Not being able to accept this key difference between neurotics and disturbed characters can be a setup for possible victimization.I’ve written about other important differences between neurotics and character disorders, such as how they differ with respect to experiencing “anxiety” and will be elaborating on other differences in future posts as part of a series on the key differences between these two very different types of individuals. 8-12-2008
Neurotics are very different from individuals with a character disorder on the dimension of anxiety. Anxiety is that primal emotion (i.e. fear response) that we get when we feel threatened in some way.When our fear is attached to a specific, identifiable circumstance, such as being in a room filled with a lot of people, having to take a test, or coming face to face with a snake, we call it a phobia.When our apprehension does not appear connected to a specific thing or circumstance, is unidentifiable, unknown, or unconscious, we call it anxiety.Experiencing too much anxiety, especially with regard to urges or issues that shouldn't normally evoke high levels of anxiety is the number one way to know if someone is neurotic as opposed to character disordered. Neurotics can suffer several a host of maladies that are either directly caused or exacerbated by their anxiety such as stress-related ulcers, tension headaches, fear-based avoidance of crowds or open places (i.e. agoraphobia), obsessive worry, fear of abandonment, etc.
Character disordered individuals are notoriously nonchalant about the things that most others get upset about. They don't experience enough anxiety when it would be normal or even beneficial to do so. The disturbed character doesn’t get apprehensive enough about his conduct.He is too indifferent and unshaken when problems arise as the result of the way he does things, and he remains too unnerved and unperturbed in the face of conflict. The disordered character doesn’t do the dysfunctional things he does because some past trauma has him too hung-up to do otherwise.He does what he does because unlike the neurotic, he lacks the capacity to get hung-up enough to think twice about his behavior and inhibit himself and restrain his conduct.A little of the neurotic’s typical apprehension would go a long way toward helping the disturbed character be more cautious or hesitant when it comes to doing the things he does that frequently cause problems.
For several reasons that I have never fully understood, traditionally-oriented therapists and relatively neurotic individuals seem to insist upon ascribing fears and insecurities to disordered characters that simply don’t exist.They will frequently misinterpret the behavior and motivations of character-disordered individuals and frame things inappropriately.For example, some disordered characters have such a passion for novelty and such a craving for excitement that they constantly seek shallow, intense, and short-lived high-risk sexual involvements or other interpersonal entanglements.But this thrill-seeking behavior is sometimes framed as a “fear” of intimacy or commitment.I think this mistake is often made because it’s difficult for neurotic individuals to imagine why a person wouldn’t necessarily prefer a stable intimate relationship over multiple risky encounters unless they were in some way afraid of a deeper relationship.This kind of thinking also reflects a long-held but unproven tenet of classical psychology theories that everyone will naturally gravitate toward the healthiest life choices unless they are hung-up by unconscious fears born of early trauma. The disordered character is very different from the neurotic on this key criterion. For the most part, neurotics experience too much anxiety. Disturbed characters don't experience enough anxiety, especially at times when some gut level apprehension would serve them and the rest of society well.
Recently, a woman was complaining about how an ex-boyfriend was badmouthing her around town because she broke up with him.The friend she was talking to replied:“Oh, he’s just being passive-aggressive.”In fact, in his anger the boyfriend is deliberately trying to hurt this woman by smearing her reputation. You can call it passive-aggressive, but this game of indirect get-back is anything but “passive.”I also frequently hear people use the term passive-aggressive to describe all sorts of subtle, hard to detect aggressive tactics that people sometimes use to emotionally brow-beat others into exceeding to their demands.This kind of behavior is also not “passive.”In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I point out that this behavior is very active, albeit carefully veiled or “covert” aggression, and it’s generally the culprit in manipulative behavior.
So, just what is “passive-aggression?”Well, as the name implies, it’s aggressing through passivity.It’s passive-resistance to cooperating with someone you don’t feel like cooperating with (generally because you’re angry with him or her for some reason).It’s not talking or pouting when someone is trying to engage with you.It’s not-so-accidentally “forgetting” to do something for someone who you didn’t really want to do that something for in the first place.In extreme forms, it can take the form of a sit-down strike, hunger strike, or some similar act.
Passive-aggression is not a very effective strategy generally speaking (a notable exception would be the passive mass resistance of Ghandi and his followers in their nonviolent opposition to British rule) because it usually inflicts a higher cost on the person resisting than it inflicts on the person who is the target of the resistor’s anger.
Lay persons are not the only ones who misuse the passive-aggressive label.Professionals often misuse the term, also.In fact, there is a particular personality type, the passive-aggressive personality, which was removed from the official diagnostic manual in large measure because of the often contradictory and unclear descriptions clinicians in the field provided. Most of the time, when people use the term "passive-aggessive" they're generally trying to describe someone's active but covert-aggressive behavior. In Sheep’s Clothing provides a comprehensive definition and makes a very clear distinction between passive-aggressive and covert-aggressive behaviors and passive-aggressive (ambivalent, negativistic, and often self-defeating) personalities and their covert-aggressive (deceptive, conniving, and manipulative) counterparts.
So remember, if someone’s trying to hurt someone else or play “get-back” even through indirect means, there’s nothing “passive” about their aggression.Remember also that getting to know all of the subtle, hard to detect ways people can beat you into submission without you knowing how they managed to do it (i.e. learning the tactics of covert-aggression) is the secret to never being manipulated again.You can find the most common manipulative tactics and the best ways to respond to them discussed in my book In Sheep’s Clothing.
Recently I came upon a blog post by "Jennifer" who rightfully complained that parents or separated or divorced partners will frequently use children as pawns in their covert wars with one another. She wrote:
Some parents get blinded by their own emotions and stuff going on in their lives that they fail to see the affects, hurt and damage caused by their actions. One of such examples is a parent who use and manipulate their children to get their own way against the other parent.
In my opinion, anyone who uses innocent children in that way is a coward.
So what do you do if you find yourself in the position of having your partner or your ex use and manipulate your children to get back at you or get their own way?
Well, first and foremost be clear and acknowledge that this has nothing to do with your child (children) and that it is you that your partner or ex is really attempting to get back at or hurt in some way. Also, be clear that your son/daughter is NOT responsible for being used in this way.
Jennifer is right on about how damaging it is to abuse children in this way. However, she makes two assumptions frequently made by individuals overly steeped in traditional psychology frameworks. First, she assumes that the warring parties are "blinded" by their emotions (i.e. aren't really aware of what they're doing); and second, she holds the opinion that people do these things out of cowardice (i.e. out of fear to more openly and directly reveal their agendas).
While such assumptions can be to some extent true when dealing with neurotic parents or ex-partners, if either or both parties is character disturbed, they know full well what they're doing, they simply don't care enough to restrain themselves because all that matters to them is that they have their way. Further, if character disturbance is involved, these kinds of actions aren't the result of cowardice but rather the steely determination to have one's way, regardless of the cost and the recognition of the fact that one of the easiest ways to thwart resistance from your partner is to cloak your self-serving agenda under the guise of serving the interest of the child.
I recently read a blog post in which Jeremy presented submissions from his readers about the "psychobable" they find the most irritating. Interestingly, two of the comments (numbers 4 and 9) are very much in line with my posts on "acting-out" and "denial," which are part of a series I'm doing on the top 5 most frequently misused terms in mental health. Here are some exerpts from Jeremy's post on PsyBlog:
Thanks to everyone for the great response to my request for psychobabble you love to hate. Here are the best 30 submissions (including a few of my own)....
4. "Every time I hear someone misuse the term acting out, I begin experiencing homicidal ideation. Of course 'acting out' is a psychoanalytic term denoting the enactment of an internal dynamic in the external world. You can't recognize the internal feeling states and so it is necessary to 'act it out.' But even among fully trained, licensed clinical psychologists this term has come to mean 'behaving badly' -- which of course makes it a useless term." David Godot
6. "I'm not a drug addict, I've been self-medicating." Ron Frederickson
9. "I'm stuck at denial (without a paddle, ha ha). A reference to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' 'five stages of grief' which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Dr. Kubler-Ross never suggested one stage had to be completed before the next and there's little evidence for these stages anyway." Me
10. "Since I am not a native English speaker I didn't come across someone calling me anal until I started to study in England. At first I was shocked, since I didn't immediately understand my friend was not referring to my anus, but to my personality. I don't think many people realize that they are referring to one of the personality traits emerging from the failure to successfully complete one of Freud's developmental stages." Anon
15. "In every mental health job I have worked, the real pain in the ass clients are referred to as borderline. Borderline has now ceased to be a disorder; it's psychobabble for 'this client is so annoying and needy I would gladly chew off my own foot to escape'." Danny
16. "What annoys me most is conversational psychoanalysing - when someone you know (outside of a therapeutic context) frequently tells you that you don't really mean what you're saying, that you're in denial about your true feelings or ignoring what is going on at a subconscious level. Particularly annoying is when they then go on to tell you what you're really feeling!" Lirone
17. "The most irritating one is the word schizophrenia which is wrongly used whenever someone refer to split personalities. I just can't hold myself back from being a besserwisser and telling them that they have no idea what schizophrenia is." Violette
In some future posts about misused psychology terms, I'll be expanding upon some of the other complaints mentioned above.
“Acting-Out” Top 5 Misused Psychology Terms – Part 2 July 18, 2008
In the "jargon" of mental health professionals one frequently hears the term “acting-out.”It is amazing how frequently this term is misused.As was the case with “denial” (see post of 7-16-08) true acting-out is an unconscious ego defense mechanism. Without knowing it, persons who act-out engage in some kind of behavior (as opposed to a psycho-physiological or other kind of “symptom”) that serves to ease the emotional pain and anxiety associated with an unconscious conflict between their primal instincts and their conscience.A good example would be an overworked and underpaid worker who slaved all night to finish a project and when he placed it on his boss’s desk, the only thing this taskmaster had to say was “Well, it’s about time!”On his way back to his desk, the worker mutters under his breath “That SOB!.”He then enters the washroom and begins to wash his hands.He washes, and washes…..and washes.He washes until his hands turn red.He’s not aware of it, but he seems to engage in this compulsion whenever he feels bad inside about thinking ill toward another.That’s not right, after all.On the one hand, he wants to tell his boss where to go.On the other hand, he’s grateful to have a job and he’s been taught well that bearing ill feelings toward another is the work of the Devil.He feels so unclean when he “slips” and says those things under his breath.His compulsion is an instance of displaying through an action the conflict that rages within him.It helps relieve the anxiety he feels to some degree, but it doesn’t really solve the problem.Yet it gives him enough relief that he does this over and over again in similar situations, with no insight into the “dynamics” of the situation.In the end, we have a behavior (handwashing) that is a "symptom" (called a "compulsion") that represents an unconscious way to mediate underlying emotional pain.This is what the term “acting-out” has historically meant to describe.
Acting-up, (i.e. conscious, deliberate misbehavior) is NOT acting-out.It is truly appalling how many times people use the term acting out to refer to someone’s who's simply exhibiting undesirable behavior.I hear TV commercials by behavioral therapists offering to fix your child’s “acting-out” behaviors, and see rules in psychiatric hospitals and residential centers forbidding “sexual acting-out” or other inappropriate conduct.One online psychiatric glossary even gave two definitions for acting-out, one correct, the other being the mistaken notion that has so deeply crept into the popular lexicon that it’s made a correct understanding of the concept almost impossible.
The real danger in misusing this term is that one can make a disastrous presumption that every time someone acts in an inappropriate manner, they’re necessarily and unconsciously playing out some kind of inner conflict (i.e. unresolved “issues”), when the fact may be that they’re simply engaging in immature, irresponsible behavior which they’re aware they shouldn’t be doing and that’s completely within their ability to control.Misperceiving the nature of circumstances is a major way people end up being abused by irresponsible characters.It’s also how clinicians inadvertently enable irresponsible behavior instead of fostering real change.Words mean things.We can’t communicate effectively unless we use words correctly.To do that, we have to know what the words actually mean. Acting-up is not acting-out.
6-18-08 PSYCHOLOGICAL MANIPULATION
At a psychological level, the art of manipulation primarily involves two things:concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors while simultaneously throwing another on the defensive.The latter is done by knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of an opponent well enough to know what tactics are likely to be the most effective weapons against them.Psychological manipulation is most often accomplished through covert-aggression or aggression that is so carefully veiled or so subtle that it’s not easily detected.Manipulators want what they want and fight hard to attain their goals.But the tactics they use can make it appear like they’re doing almost anything but simply trying to get the better of you.The tactics are also very effective weapons of power and control.That’s because even though they’re hard to recognize as aggressive moves at a conscious level, at an unconscious level others feel backed into a corner and are thrown on the defensive.This makes it more likely that they’ll back down or give in to their manipulator.
Skilled manipulators know the vulnerabilities of their opponents.If vanity is someone’s weakness, a seduction tactic might be the best manipulation tactic.If over-conscientiousness is their weakness, perhaps guilt-tripping would be the most effective way to gain the upper hand.Most manipulators have a significant disturbance of character (i.e. have too little conscience or sensitivity).Their easiest prey are neurotic individuals (i.e. people with high levels of sensitivity and conscientiousness).Tactics like Playing the Victim, or Shaming will effectively manipulate the average neurotic because conscientious individuals neither want to see someone else as suffering, nor do they want to feel badly about themselves.If a neurotic person were to try these same tactics on a disturbed character, they would soon learn that they have no effect.
7-11-08 EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION
Psychological manipulation is most effective when a manipulator can successfully play on another’s emotions.For example, a manipulator might be keenly aware that the other party has a tender heart and can’t stand to see anyone in pain.So, all the manipulator has to do is act “wounded” and the other party will start to feel bad for them.Perhaps the manipulator is in a relationship with an overly conscientious person who hates to do wrong.Convince that person that they’ve committed the unpardonable sin by not giving you what you want, and they’ll probably cave.
The remarkable thing about emotional manipulation is that it only works on folks who have the kind and degree of sensitivity and emotional vulnerability that can be played upon.There are some people who lack such sensitivity and emotional vulnerability.These are individuals with disturbances of character.They are not easily manipulated.Rather, they are more often those who manipulate others.They look for signs of neurosis (e.g., hypersensitivity, over-conscientiousness) in their victims because such individuals are easier to manipulate.
7-7-08 UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
In most unhealthy relationships, at least one of the persons is likely to have a significant disturbance of character.Relationships can be particularly unhealthy if one person is significantly character disturbed and the other is overly neurotic.The primary defining qualities of the disturbed character are a deficient, immature, or absent conscience, ego inflation, problematic attitudes and thinking patterns, and irresponsible behavior patterns.When a neurotic individual hooks up with a disturbed character, they often try to be the conscience for both parties.When the disturbed character defaults on yet another debt, the neurotic floats another loan.When the disturbed character cheats again and blames the neurotic’s lack of attention, the neurotic tries harder to please.The neurotic may feel in his or her heart that the blame lies with the disordered character, but the disturbed character manipulates the neurotic into believing that everything is his or her fault.The disturbed character in such a relationship never has to develop any kind of conscience, because the neurotic frequently exercises conscience enough for both of them.
Relationships between disturbed characters and neurotics stay unhealthy because the neurotic doesn’t learn to assert him or herself and the disturbed character has no reason to modify his or her patterns of manipulation, exploitation, and abuse.If the attempt to secure professional help is successful but the therapist is not trained to accurately diagnose character disturbance or skilled in the radically different methods of dealing with it, the likely fruitlessness of the encounter can lead the neurotic partner to believe that there is no choice but to maintain the status quo.
Unhealthy relationships can be either physically and/or emotionally abusive.Most of the time, the physical abuser has a significant disturbance of character.All of the old notions about abusers being insecure or cowardly underneath it all (i.e. neurotic) have been demonstrated to be fallacious.So have the old and harmful notions that only the psychologically “weak” and “dependent” types of personalities stay in relationships with abusers.Victims of abuse, especially physical abuse, more often stay in such relationships because of the gut knowledge they have about the character of their abuser.They know from experience that the abuser will stop at nothing.No restraining order, temporary detainment or incarceration, or attempt at relocation will stop them sometimes.The victim often fears that there is no true escape.The victim also knows that the most dangerous threat to their very lives can occur if indeed they are on the verge of escape.
Emotionally abusive relationships can be equally if not more severely damaging than physically abusive ones.The dynamics of such relationships are very similar to those of physically abusive relationships.The aim of the emotional abuser is to keep the victim in a perpetual one-down or disadvantaged position.The emotional abuser seeks the dominant position and uses tactics of psychological intimidation and manipulation to keep the victim in line.
6-26-08 MANIPULATIVE CHILDREN
Children learn how to manipulate at a very young age.While parents are investing considerable time and energy attempting to care for and guide their children, children are spending all their time learning about the world around them, and most especially learning about their parents and significant others and what makes them tick.They learn quickly where their emotional “buttons” are, how, when, and how hard to push those buttons, and most especially, how to play one parent against another.
Children are natural manipulators because unless they come out of particularly oppressive environments, they are natural fighters.It is basic to human nature to fight for the things we want.Children have to be taught how to fight fairly, constructively and for a noble as opposed to purely self-serving purpose.They have to also be taught what kinds of things are worth fighting for and what things in life should be avoided at all costs despite their tempting nature.They have to be taught when it’s in their best interest to give-in or concede, and when they are safest subordinating their own will to that of a higher cause or power.Children who don’t learn these lessons become the most unscrupulous of fighters, not only learning how to run roughshod over others in pursuit of their desires, but also learning the subtle, clever maneuvers they can use to get others to cave in to their demands.
6-22-08 MANIPULATIVE TEENAGERS
By the time they are teenagers, most children know full well what makes their parents “tick” on a psychological level.So, they’re acutely aware of where their parents’ emotional buttons are and how and when to push them. What complicates matters is that teens are biologically (the surge in testosterone levels especially affecting boys) and culturally (adolescence being in most western cultures a time for rebelling against the established order and shaping an independent identity) predisposed to fight harder for the things they want, and especially to fight for independence, resisting most efforts to get them to subordinate themselves to a higher authority.
When teenagers challenge their parents openly and directly, they can expect resistance and consequences.So, if a teenage boy says directly: “The reason I want to stay out late tonight is my girlfriend’s parents aren’t going to be home and we think it’s a prime opportunity for us to have sex,” he knows it’s not likely that his parents will willingly oblige him.But if he complains: “All the other kids are going to this party and I’m always the one that has to be in early and they all think I’m weird and have unreasonable parents.I’ll never fit in unless you let me do normal things sometimes,” it’s just possible at least one of his parents will relent.
Intimidation is a powerful means of psychological manipulation.In fact, carefully cloaked intimidation is often at the heart of several of the most effective manipulation tactics.Let’s say that a strong, domineering type of personality is in a relationship with a relatively insecure, retreating type of personality.Sometimes, a mere look of pure disdain from the dominant party (i.e. sending a non-verbal message that a person is crazy or stupid for holding their point of view) can be unnerving enough for the insecure personality to cave in to a demand.
Intimidation always involves can involve an open and direct or implied threat of some kind.Implied threats are some of the most effective tactics of manipulation.Subtly suggest to an insecure woman who fears abandonment that unless she sees things your way you’re walking out, and she might well relent.Suggest to a man who loves his children that if he doesn’t give you everything you want in the divorce that you’ll move to another state with your new beau and no matter what the judge’s decree is, he’ll never have the access he wants to his children, and he might cave-in as well.
6-18-08 DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE
When dealing with people who are difficult to get along with, it’s crucial to establish ground rules for their engagement with you and to do so very early on in any encounter you might have with them.Many people make a big mistake by waiting until a situation becomes all too unbearable before finally drawing a line in the sand with such people.Setting limits and drawing boundaries must be done straightforwardly and quickly.Difficult people have to know very early on where you stand.
Most people who are difficult to get along with are so hell-bent on winning that they almost automatically and habitually run rough shod over others.Thinking creatively about how to fashion win-win scenarios is the second key to getting along more bearably with them.Although they’d rather have it that they win and you lose, they’ll reluctantly accept a situation in which you both get something you want, especially if they get a lot of what they want.
When it comes to manipulative behaviors and tactics, men are not all that much different from women.Men do generally tend to be more aggressive than women, and they are generally more comfortable with aggressive modes of behavior, so they tend to use all forms of aggression (including covert-aggression or manipulation) simply to get the things they want.
Many women do not trust their abilities to fight openly and effectively. Such women may resort to covert maneuvers when they percieve that they aren't likely to win an open and fair fight. Some women get manipulated by men because they have a hard time accepting and recognizing how readily and frequently people - especially the men in their lives - fight for things and how many suble, deceptive, and underhanded ways these men have at their disposal to help ensure that they get their way.
5-29-08 The top 5 most misused terms in mental health - Part 1 "Denial"
Anyone familiar with the "jargon" of mental health professionals of all persuasions has undoubtedly heard the term denial. What you may not know is that it's fairly common not only for professionals but also for others to use the term improperly or in a poorly defined or overgeneralized manner. In classical (psychodynamic) psychology, denial is an unconscious ego defense mechanism. Basically, that means that a person unconsciously puts up a barrier to experiencing what is too painful to consciously bear. An example might be a situation in which a woman who has been married to the same man for 40 years has just had to rush him to the hospital because while they were out in the yard working, he began having trouble speaking and appeared in some distress.The doctors later tell her that he has suffered a stroke, is now virtually brain-dead, and will not recover.Yet, every day she comes to his bedside, holds his hand, and talks to him.The nurses tell her he cannot hear, but she talks to him anyway.The doctors tell her he will not recover, but she tells herself, “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 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 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 yet to face a life without him.So, her unconscious mind has provided her with an effective (albeit likely temporary) defense against the pain.Eventually, as she becomes better able to accept the distressing reality, her denial mechanism will break down, and when it does, the pain it served to contain will gush forth and she will grieve. Now, let’s take another example of so-called "denial."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 sees 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 asks:“Whaaaat?”Is Joe in an altered psychological state?Does he really not understand the reality of what has happened?Does he really think he didn’t do anything?Is he in an altered mental state brought about by more emotional pain than he could possibly bear?Is he so consumed with shame and/or guilt for what he’s done that he simply can’t bear to believe he actually did such a horrible thing?More than likely, no.Joe is probably more concerned that he has another detention hall punishment coming, which means another note to his parents, and possibly even 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.He prays that unlike him,maybe she is neurotic enough (i.e. has an overactive conscience and excessive sense of guilt or shame) to possibly think she might be misjudging him, maybe she’ll even berate herself for jumping to conclusions or for causing a possibly innocent party emotional pain.This tactic may have worked before.Maybe it will work again.
Professionals and lay persons alike often misuse the term denial. They fail to consider that not all "denial" is the same. Sometimes, denial is truly an unconsious psychological state. Sometimes, it's a refusal to admit a problem. Sometimes, it's a tactic of manipulation and impression management. Sometimes, it's merely a way of lying. The problem is that these distinctions are not always made. Often, when a person denies, it's simply assumed that their denial is a "defense" against the unbearable. In my experience, the term "in denial" is widely overused. Disturbed characters of all sorts frequently engage in denial. It's a rareity however, that they do so because they are in such inner distress over their behavior that they simply can't consciously accept what they're doing.
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