Manipulation can be very subtle. We often talk about how manipulative addicts are. And in particular we talk about how sex addicts manipulate others in order to avoid discovery, throw their partner off the scent and “gaslight” their partners. In gaslighting, a term taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, a person controls another person by finding ways to make them think that they are imagining things or that they are actually delusional.
Manipulation as a weapon of the weak
By definition manipulation is indirect and devious. It is neither aggressive nor passive-aggressive, although it is a cousin to both. It is a way of getting what you want without directly asking for it.
Manipulation does not involve overtly aggressive behaviors like threats or bullying although manipulative people may do these things at times. It is also different from mere passive-aggressive behaviors such as being late for something we don’t want to do or “forgetting” something we were supposed to do.
Someone who resorts to manipulation is doing so as a way to stay safe. Often the manipulator is in a low-power position in a relationship or unconsciously adopts that position. A manipulator is acting out of fear, fear of being direct, fear of being honest, and above all fear of being assertive and vulnerable.
Signs of manipulation
There are some subtle types of communication that suggest you may be dealing with a manipulator. All of them are designed to ultimately control what you think or do in ways that have plausible deniability. The manipulator is hiding their real selfish motive.
- Arguing you out of what you want
You are leaving the house and you remember something else you need to bring. Your friend who is impatient to get going may say ” you don’t really need that do you?” or “You don’t want to be late do you?” The “logical” manipulator always has a reason why it is in your interests to do what is actually in his/her interests. This can apply to all kinds of things including things you want to spend money on that are important to you but that the manipulator doesn’t care about. He or she may try to convince you that this or that expenditure is not necessary, when that is actually beside the point (and maybe wrong). I honestly believe that some manipulative addicts try to talk their partners out of things on general principle, as if the idea of someone else getting their needs met is almost threatening in itself.
- Non-stop talking
This is one that I observe in highly exploitive people including some sex addicts and sex offenders I have interviewed. Some people are just naturally very talkative, but monopolizing the conversation can also become a habit of people who are furtive and/or insecure about getting their needs met. If it is hard to get a word in edgewise, you may be talking to someone with a very powerful agenda that is hidden from view. This too can become a habitual way of interacting; control the conversation to control the outcome of the interaction.
- Derisive joking and sarcasm
In this instance the manipulator is actually pushing you toward or away from something by means of shaming you. This could relate to anything: a movie you want to see, a person you like or don’t like, even your philosophy of life. The manipulative person is trying to influence you in a rather aggressive way without it seeming aggressive. He or she is staying in a safe place but trying to make your position seem trivial, silly, uninformed, unimaginative or wrong. All this is done by making fun of you and seeming to have no malice. But in fact it is a rejection of you.
- Reframing your reality
This is a common form of persuasive communication and is not always done in an illegitimate way. I remember I once said that I didn’t want to invite someone to my wedding, someone I had a petty resentment against. My friend said “You are better than that.” This was actually a helpful thing as it helped me get over the resentment.
But when a person attempts to change your reality out of their own self interest it’s a different matter. This is the person who may want you to do something that you think is wrong and argues “life is short” or “if you are really my friend…” etc.
Manipulation in recovering addicts
If you have ever lived with a sex addict, or maybe any untreated addict, you may be saying that this is old stuff to you. You may have experiences so much manipulation that you had it wired.
In recovering sex addicts there is a lot of emphasis on living in integrity and not trying to be devious or controlling toward other people. But even in addicts with long term recovery it may be the case that the habitual ways of relating during the addiction will linger.
Arguably the recovering addict’s most difficult challenge is learning to function in intimate relationships. Intimacy requires trust and openness, and the recovering addict will be working toward becoming more direct and transparent even when the addictive behavior is long gone.