Red Flags Of A Manipulator

October 22, 2012

Like a puppet on a string

Manipulators exist everywhere. Not all are obvious grifters and hustlers, some are co-workers, acquaintances, clients, even family. And that is precisely the problem: they appear benign, but slowly and steadily they seize control. Just as bullies stake out victims, so do manipulators, though not always consciously. Our one defense is to remain vigilant of red flags. Whenever I encounter more than one of these within the same person, I know to keep a distance.

Effusive Flattery: Manipulators are charm personified–but only when they need you. I once had  a patient repeatedly tell me that all of the nurses were dumb and lacking in common sense. But me, I was the one exception. I fell for it at first, but soon clued in to what his game was. Then he did not hesitate to slag me off also.

Promise of Rewards: They’ll promise you the world, but always vaguely and in the future. Though the favors they need are here and now. Michael, a hairdresser friend of mine used to specialize in elderly women clients, some of whom were widows who had mobility issues. One of his ‘old dears’  promised him she would leave him a tidy sum of money in her will (because she had no one to leave it to) if only he were kind enough to do home visits, and of course not charge her for the shampoo and set. Michael soon discovered that she had made the exact same promise to her house cleaner, the gardener, the grocer and who knows who else. Naturally, when the old dear did finally die, her estate went to charities. All those small business people who had extended their generosity received a big fat nothing.

A variation of this is the threat of being disinherit by a grandparent (if you marry the wrong person).

Divide and Control: The British built an empire with this technique, and it happens at the office also. One such manipulator was hired as my co-worker. He soon confided  to me that his wife was dying of cancer. Oh and, please don’t tell anyone else, because I trust you but not them. I felt burdened by his deeply personal secret. I extended favors to him out of obligation. What I did not know was that he had confided the same ‘secret’ to a few others within the organization. By drawing us individually  into his curtain of secrecy, he effectively created a divide among the rest of us. The others were also feeling obligated to do him favors.

Milking Pathos: They are expert at using guilt to make you run after them. Financial hardships, extreme ill-health, a family tragedy, all are exaggerated for effect (passive-aggressive). Bob routinely calls our house, breathless and panicked: Help, I’m dying.  Last week he was dying because of a malfunctioning DVD player. We have learned not take his cries seriously anymore. He is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I wonder what will happen when he does have that fatal health crises, will his friends just assume it is another cry for attention?

Emotional Blackmail: This is more sinister. If you do confide some deeply intimate secret of your own to a manipulator, he or she will not hesitate in using it against you. Make no mistake, manipulators are utterly selfish. And thoroughly shameless. They don’t care if you get hurt, just as long as they get what they need.

Win or Lose: Just like card-sharks manipulators are excellent at concealing. And they have the patience to call your bluff, should you try to resist. Stan went for a meal with his long-time friend, Cathy, a seasoned manipulator. Stan was fed-up of always picking up the tab. He decided to ignore the check when it was placed on the table. His defiance did not go unnoticed. Though the annoyed waiter kept on hovering, Cathy went on chatting for an hour after the check was presented. Finally Stan caved in to the waiter’s glares and paid up. Cathy knew he would, for manipulators it is all about control. For manipulators it is a game of win or lose. They do not believe in win-win.

Non-listener: A subtler signal of a manipulator is that during conversation you can’t a word in edgeways. It is all about him. If you do manage to interject something from your life into the conversation, it flies by without response. Such one-sided conversations are harbingers of wholly one-sided relationships. Keep away.

Possessiveness: Manipulators see you as their property and hence expect you be at their beck and call. If you make a vague excuse why you cannot help them, they get indignant and demand to know what is so urgent that you have to leave them. They are resentful of other people in your life. Because I am soft-spoken and empathic, I am sometimes mistaken for a chump by manipulators. Particularly in my volunteer work, where my role is that of carer and giver, hence just tailor-made for a one sided relationship–NOT.

I am ever vigilant for these red flags, though I refuse to give up on being kind.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Please do share any other tactics that have been used against you.


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