If you have been thinking, "My son's girlfriend is manipulative" then you have already seen many of the signs.
She is isolating him from you and your family, she lies to you and to him, she belittles him in public, you recognize that he is afraid of her, she may be overtly controlling, he cannot make a decision without running things by her first, she can be very temperamental while also putting on a mask where she can be seemingly helpful and friendly.
She does things that horrify people in the family and she is a frequent topic of discussion. Many people are tiptoeing around her controlling what they say and what they do in order not to upset her. Some people in the family believe she is wonderful. Others hate her.
You may be wondering how to deal with the situation. You may have tried various things already and you've realized that the situation is actually quite complicated.
Whenever you bring her up your son gets defensive and even aggressive. He refuses to see your point of view and sides with her each time. You may even be afraid of losing him altogether.
In order to know what to do, some background information about the dynamics in abusive relationships is useful, so let's deal with that first.
Whether it's a cult of 5,000 people or an abusive relationship involving 2, the manipulators use the same techniques with the same effects on the victims. In the same way that cult members are very similar because they have been trained to perceive, think, make decisions and behave in the same way, the victim in an abusive relationship has their perceptions, beliefs, thinking strategies and behaviours controlled by the manipulator. To a large extent they have all had their personalities changed, or more specifically they've had a new, false personality, or pseudo-personality, imposed upon them.
This pseudo-personality dominates the real personality. The real personality is never destroyed, rather it is repressed by the pseudo-personality.
This idea of the pseudo-personality is a very useful way to think about somebody who has been subjected to mind control. The pseudo-personality is programmed to believe the manipulator, to trust the manipulator, to take care of the manipulator, to be dependent on the manipulator and also to defend the manipulator. Basically, the manipulator is controlling the thoughts, decisions, behaviour and emotions of the victim. There are more details about this in these articles about narcissistic boyfriends and narcissistic husbands (just substitute girlfriend for boyfriend and wife for husband!).
With this idea in mind let's have a look at some of the myths around abusive relationships.
He is an adult, he can make his own decisions. If your son is in an abusive relationship, then it's incredibly useful to learn about mind control. One of the fundamentals is that the victims are not actually making their own decisions. There has been a lot of information hidden from them and things done to them behind their back such that their decisions are not fully informed. They have been lied to and deceived and have heard stories from the manipulator. These stories are designed to create an impression in the victim's mind. Based on the reality that the manipulator creates for the victim, the victim responds in a way that seems to make sense to them at the time. So, for example, if the manipulator convinces the victim that their family are bad in some way, then it makes logical sense for the victim to stay away from their family. The victim believes they are making their own decisions but because of the distorted reality they're living in, they end up not acting in their own best interests.
He must be happy, if he wasn't he would leave. Again, this belief assumes that the victim is making their own decisions. It's actually very difficult for victims to recognise that they are being manipulated. Unless somebody outside the system points out to them what's going on, it can take years or even decades for people to realize for themselves what's being done to them.
He says he's happy and I don't feel it's my place to interfere. Cult members have been programmed to tell outsiders that they've never been happier and that they have no problems. You have to take what the pseudo-personality says with a pinch of salt. If it's the real person talking, then you pay attention. If the pseudo-personality is dominant then you respectfully listen but you don't necessarily believe as factual what you hear.
Mind control is not a thing, or, nobody has that much control over another person. Most people don't bother learning about mind control because they believe it would never happen to them. It's a real eye-opener when somebody does start to learn about what's possible using destructive mind control.
If he thinks he can treat me that badly, well then, he is on his own. She can look after him. It's very common that families will blame the victim because they believe it's the victim's choice to treat their own family so badly. Again, you have to keep in mind that the victim is behaving as the manipulator wants. Now, the manipulator may say to the family that she is pushing the son to speak to his parents. She may actually say those words to him, but the message behind it for the son is, "Don't you dare go there!"
There must be some good in her, otherwise he wouldn't have got involved with her in the first place. Most people think that humans are basically good, and if they make a mistake, with enough time, love, attention and so on that the person will come around. This is not the case with abusers and manipulators. Many have a personality disorder and they are called psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. These people have no emotions and a huge sense of entitlement.
If you are dealing with a psychopath, a sociopath, or a narcissist then you really need to understand what you're dealing with. These people's relationships are built on coercion and exploitation. They control for the sake of controlling. There is lots written about how people control because they feel insecure, or anxious, or that they had a poor childhood and so on and so on. If you are dealing with a personality disorder, forget that stuff, these people control for the sake of controlling. That's where you need to start with these people because for them the rules are different. They know what they are doing.
Okay, now that we've cleared up some of those misconceptions, let's have a look at what you can actually do when you think, "my son's girlfriend is manipulative."
Learn about mind control and psychopaths. I know, I know, this is a big deal. It takes time. It takes effort. However, people struggle with their family members who are in abusive relationships when they don't understand what's going on. They have arguments with the victim. Sometimes they're afraid to speak out. Sometimes they don't know what to say. Sometimes they say things that cause a major blow up.
Understanding the mindset of a mind control victim goes a long way to alleviating these concerns. You learn which moments are good moments to start a conversation. For example, when the real personality is dominant then the victim is much more amenable to accepting information. When the pseudo-personality is in full flow, it's a waste of time trying to criticize the manipulative girlfriend. All you end up doing is reinforcing the ideas of the pseudo-personality and causing a deterioration in the relationship with the victim.
You will also learn how to listen out for what the manipulative girlfriend is saying to your son. You will hear it in the words he uses and how he says things. This gives you an opportunity to prepare challenges to his beliefs.
In situations like this the help of a professional can be invaluable.
Make notes of all the things that you know about the manipulative girlfriend. The things she says, the things she does, start keeping meticulous notes about what goes on. Record dates, events, words said, et cetera. You may not use them immediately but such memories will be useful as evidence for your son further down the road.
Instead of trying to talk to your son about the issue all the time, make friends with him again. Spend time where you deliberately don't talk about her. Engage in activities that are pleasant for everyone, especially when she's not around. Talk about memories and events of the past, how he used to be before he met her, look at photographs of happy family times. All these things will stimulate his real personality and remind him of how life was before her.
You can also talk about other people being in abusive relationships and what it was like for them. In this way you're supplying information about manipulation in a nonthreatening way for your son. It's not directly about him so he won't feel the need to defend her.
Offering things to read about abusive relationships is often an easier way for victims to accept information. Reading things in black-and-white is not the same as having somebody directly challenge the relationship. A good idea is to sit with him while he reads and then you have an opportunity to talk about the information. You can send things by email or text, but you never know if they've read it or not.
Be patient. Remember that your son is not making his own decisions. He may have lots of internal conflicts between the real personality and the pseudo-personality. The real personality loves his family, the pseudo-personality is programmed to argue with them. He may agree with his family, but he's too afraid of his manipulative girlfriend to challenge her.
On top of that, you're not looking for the one thing that you can say where the lightbulb goes off in his head any he understands everything. Think about it as presenting him with information over time so that he can begin to think for himself again and question what's going on in the relationship.
Did I mention getting professional help?
It may be useful to educate others around you about what's happening. But be careful here. It takes too much time and effort to get everybody on your side. Much better to get a few key people to understand so that they can help.
You can try and be friendly to her, but it's usually a waste of time. The manipulators know who they are controlling and who they are not. As soon as you start working with your son to educate him, she will know about it. That does not mean you should not talk to your son about her in case she finds out. It's much better that he has the information necessary to realize what is going on. And besides, when you spend a lot of time trying to be friendly, she will be pumping you for information which will be used against you and against your son.
Read more here about my stepdaughter is manipulative, my wife is abusive, how to spot a sociopath, controlling girlfriends, the stages of an abusive relationship and how to leave an abusive relationship.
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