The answer to "what does being manipulative mean?" has to do with intention. To manipulate is to move or control or to utilize something, often skillfully. A person who is deliberately manipulative is someone who controls or dominates others, often unfairly and insidiously.
We often think of cult leaders, politicians, con artists and dictators as being controlling and manipulative but the fact is that many, many manipulators are hidden in society. They are hidden because they use tactics to blend in and most people don't recognize manipulation for what it is. They don't know how to spot a manipulator.
Lots of people think, "Oh, if someone tried to manipulate me, I would just walk away!" But it's not that easy, as we shall see.
Let's be clear about a few things. Manipulation and influence occurs along a spectrum. Parents will manipulate their children at times because they want them to grow up as contributing members of society who exercise their own free will, make their own decisions and live independent lives. Marketers influence and manipulate to sell their products and make money. We all know this when we watch advertisements. Teachers influence the pupils as a means to educating them and often there is an exchange of information between both parties as a way to increase the learning.
Propaganda occurs in political circles as a way to persuade masses of people. Again, we know this is going on when we are listening to various speeches. People are indoctrinated into the organizational values when they join a new company. This is not hidden from the new employees. Nor is it deceptive.
Destructive manipulation, or destructive mind control, is none of these things. The victims are changed without their knowledge, the communication and influence is one-sided, even though the victims do not recognize this. It is deceptive in that the victims are not aware of what is actually happening. In fact, they are often blissfully unaware of the psychological forces being used against them. The manipulator does not change, but the victim does. The victim believes they are making their own decisions when, instead, they are losing their autonomy and independence.
The type of manipulator I am talking about here is one whose relationships are based on domination and exploitation. They take advantage of people for their own personal gain, often to the detriment and even destruction of the other parties.
If you knew you were going to be taken advantage of in a big way by the person in front of you, you would run a mile! So these people often disguise themselves at the start of relationships. They pretend to be kind, friendly and helpful. They will typically offer the new acquaintance exactly what they are looking for, a relationship, money, a job, a special relationship with god, martial arts training or whatever. They trick people into committing to a particular relationship.
Once the person is committed in some way, the manipulative behavior changes in nature. All the time and attention initially given now become conditional. The victim has to start acting in a particular way to keep the relationship. The rewards get less and less and the punishments begin to creep in.
In this way, the victim's behavior starts to change, little by little. The way they perceive the world begins to change. They way they think is altered. Their decisions are influenced by the manipulator. The manipulator exercises more and more control over the emotional life of the victim.
In short, all these changes add up to a change in personality of the victim. The victim has been turned into the kind of person that the manipulator wants to have around (think slave!). This explains how all the members of a cult believe, talk and act similarly. It explains how people in abusive relationships say that they lost themselves in the relationship. It explains why family members say that they don't recgonize their loved one since they started in that latest relationship. You can read more about how this false personality, or pseudopersonality, is imposed here.
This pseudopersonality idea is very useful. It helps to explain many of the things that are seen in manipulative relationships. The pseudopersonality is programmed to trust and believe the manipulator. It is basically programmed to take care of the manipulator, putting the manipulator's wants and needs before it's own. It is made to be dependent on the manipulator. This is a big deal and you can read more here about the dynamics of the dependency in abusive relationships.
Getting out of such a situation is a complex task. The dependency stops the victim from being able to recognize that they are in a dangerous situation, it stops them from being able to rationalize and think clearly and it inhibits them from separating from the manipulator. I know, it's twisted, but that's the way it is in a mind control situation.
As I mentioned, there are people who live to control and dominate others. They are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. These are people with personality disorders. Their interpersonal relationships are not normal and healthy. While not every manipulator is a narcissist or a psychopath, it is wise to consider every psychopath or narcissist to be a manipulator.
This may be a shock to some, to think that the manipulative person in your life may be a psychopath. The image you have of a psychopath or a narcissist does not line up with the person you are having issues with.
But what if your image of a psychopath is not accurate? What if the person you are concerned about is actually a psychopath? Or a narcissist?
It is vital to establish if you are dealing with a psychopath or not. If you are, the rules of the game change substantially. For that reason you must figure out some important things about this other person. Why are they controlling? What else are they up to? What are their other relationships like? Are they lying to you?
Coming to terms with the fact that you could be dealing with a psychopath or a narcissist is a major undertaking, I know. But you have to figure it out if you want to protect yourself. I cannot stress this point enough.
I have mentioned the pseudopersonality already, how a victim of manipulation has had their personality changed. Remember that this change was done by someone who was apparently friendly and trustworthy. The victim also believes that it was his or her decision to get involved with the manipulator. The victim believes they are partly or wholly responsible for what happened. They are not aware of all the things done to them behind their back.
In a manipulative, abusive relationship, the pseudopersonality is imposed on the victim without their knowledge or consent.
When a person leaves the manipulative environment, this pseudopersonality does not just disappear, much as people would like it to be so. The victim often thinks, "Oh, I am out of that bad situation now, I can just put it behind me and carry on with my life."
However, it doesn't work like this. The pseudopersonality persists.
Firstly, it was put in place without the victim being aware of it so they cannot mentally resist.
Secondly, they believed they were making their own decisions so they are not aware which decisions they were making on their own and which were heavily manipulated. (Spoiler alert! All the decisions were heavily manipulated....)
And thirdly, most people don't understand how many influence techniques work so that they don't know which ones were used against them.
For these reasons, among others, the effects of the manipulator persist unless the victim actively works to undo them. In other words, the programming of the manipulator continues to work even after the manipulator is no longer with the victim.
This has 3 important effects. The first is that the attitude of 'servitude' persists and the victim continues to put other people's wants before their own, they have difficulty saying no, they have difficulty making their own decisions etc.
The second is that this pseudopersonality, or the attitude, is obvious to other manipulators. So when the victim meets another manipulator, the manipulator knows the person has been controlled before and they will quickly target such easy prey. They just take over where the last manipulator left off. This is why people end up in one abusive relationship after another (NOT because the victim goes looking for another dominant partner!)
The third is that when people have problems later on (because of the programming) they tend not to make the association with the manipulator ("I am out of that situation now, it no longer affects me") and they go looking for help to try to fix themselves. In other words, they try to modify the pseudopersonality to be better somehow. But, remember that the pseudopersonality was put in place for the benefit of the manipulator and not the individual. It is not possible to 'fix' or 'adapt' the pseudopersonality so the individual's life improves. It has to be undone altogether so that the individual's own identity can take the reigns again and take back control of one's own life.
It is imperative that someone undoes their pseudopersonality with a professional in order to avoid ending up in abusive relationships repeatedly. Working with health professional who do not understand mind control also has it's problems.
You can read more about things manipulative people say, dealing with controlling people, how to detect a sociopath, how to avoid a manipulative person and the characteristics of an abusive relationship.
Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?
If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.
You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...
Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?
Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?