Six Most Commonplace Tools Used For Manipulation

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Guilt Trip, Silent Treatment, Threat, Attacking Self Esteem, Excessive Criticism, Competition Provoking: Tools of Manipulation

Guilt Trip,

Silent Treatment,


Attacking Self Esteem,

Excessive Criticism and

Provoking Competition

all can serve one goal:

make you doing what the “provocateur” wants you to…

What people consider manipulation might be defined differently case by case. The common outcome is making the target feel seriously uncomfortable if they don’t perform the will of the “operator”. The different ingredients include guilt, shame or anxiety.

Manipulation has a hidden agenda against straightforward communication.  It has to be covert because it serves the manipulator’s interest in direct opposition to the target’s desires.

Making you feel guilty, ashamed or worried can occur by verbal statement or question. It can come in the form of hints, stories, and comparisons. It often happens by the tone of voice, facial expression or gesture.

Common manipulative tools:

1/ Guilt trips

Guilt trips can come in many forms: “If you were a good…, you would do…” “If you loved me, you would…” “If you knew what I have been through…” Naturally it involves that if you don’t do what I ask for, you are not a good (wife, husband, parent, or child) or it means you don’t love me. Hence, you better comply!

A guilt trip can derive from a situation as well. Unfortunately, children learn to use it very early on. For example, a freshly separated mother had difficulties disciplining her daughter. The minute she made the child accountable for her mischief; she began to cry that she misses her father. It provoked guilt in the mother, and she stopped the discipline action and began to comfort the child.

Tip to handle:

Don’t cave in even when feeling guilty is difficult. Be firm about what you want to accomplish and do it anyway. You can accompany your decision with comments like: “I am sorry you feel that way.”

(Note: you might feel guilty, but you don’t have to take all the responsibility for the situation. Making you feel guilty is not necessarily based on the “truth”, but created for compliance with the hidden agenda.)

2/ Silent treatment

Silent treatment works by withdrawing communication, emotion, and eventually sex from the target until s/he accomplishes the manipulator’s demand. In essence, it is controlling the partner behavior by fear: fear of disconnection, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment.

Tip to handle: Don’t show your fear and don’t nag for communication. Respond in a neutral, easy-going manner: “I see you don’t want to communicate with me right now. I am going to garden (read, work on my project…) a bit. Please tell me when you are willing to communicate with me again.”

3/ Threats

This category is well known from Domestic Violence cases and even some famous crimes: “I will harm you if you don’t do what I tell you.”  It operates with the purest fear of staying safe and sound. It can be blackmail to destroy anything important for you – career, relationship or reputation.

Tip to handle: If you are in physical danger, escape, find outside help.

In the case of yelling you can say: “I don’t accomplish requests told with yelling.”

Warning: The more you give in, the less likely it would stop.

4/ Attacking Self-Esteem

Put downs, labels, judgments or contempt – maybe a simple roll of the eyes make you feel inferior. These forms of communication are harshly criticizing the character. It does not have to be completely straightforward; it might be a dirty comment like: “Only ‘working girls’ are wearing lipstick in the daylight.” You know this is the covert way of saying you’re a wh…

Feeling belittled and ashamed, you do what your manipulator expects you to do in order to avoid similar – disrespectful – treatment. This treatment profoundly undermines self-esteem.

Tip to handle: First of all, don’t take it seriously; it is just a tool in order to control you. Even your manipulator doesn’t think it’s true.

Second:  Never allow anyone to talk to you disrespectfully! Whenever you receive a comment like this, please respond in a calm but firm voice: “This is not acceptable.”

Third: Do what you think the right thing to do is independently of other’s opinion.

5/ Excessive criticism

In some circumstances, criticism can be useful. However, I think it is less likely than people usually think. Reinforcing desired behavior is much more fruitful than pointing out mistakes.

More often than not, I find criticism is a means of controlling the other’s behavior by weakening their confidence and self-reliance. People who are constantly criticized feel inferior; they allow themselves to be controlled in order to avoid criticism.

Tip to handle: Paradoxically, if you ask for more critiques – details or something else s/he does not like in you – they run out of steam sooner than if you argue with them. Being in defense mode is oil on fire: they’re eager to prove you wrong.

6/ Competition provoking

 “This morning, who will dress up first??” “Whoever brings home better grades will have access to the new games.” “Whom will you spend the Holidays with, me or with your parents?” Unfortunately, many parents use this tactic because it makes parenting easier – on the account of the children. Where competition rules, there is always a loser.

Tip to handle: There is always a way of cooperating, negotiating. Arrange the situation differently, set the goals differently, and find out different “games”. – Instead of “Who will be first today? –say: “Please help each other to get ready in time.”

Keep in mind: Compliance reinforces manipulative tactics!


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