Manipulation (psychology) is behavior designed to exploit, control, or otherwise influence others to one’s advantage. Definitions for the term vary in which behavior is specifically included, influenced by both culture and whether referring to the general population or used in clinical contexts. Manipulation is generally considered a dishonest form of social influence as it is used at the expense of the others.
Manipulation can often derive from personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder. Manipulation is also correlated with higher levels of emotional intelligence, and is a behavioral component of the Machiavellianism personality trait.
Manipulation differs from general influence and persuasion. Influence is generally perceived to be harmless as it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject it and it is not seen as unduly coercive. Persuasion is the ability to move others to a desired action, usually within the context of a specific goal. Persuasion often attempts to influence ones beliefs, religion, motivations, or behavior. Influence and persuasion are neither positive nor negative, unlike manipulation which is strictly negative.
The motivation for manipulation can be self-serving or it can be intended to help or benefit others. Anti-social manipulation is using "skills to advance personal agendas or self-serving motives at the expense of others",pro-social behavior is "a voluntary act intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals".
Studies of the predictors of emotional manipulation indicate that the mechanisms behind emotional manipulation differ as a function of gender:
"For males, higher levels of emotional intelligence, social information processing, indirect aggression, and self-serving cognitive distortions significantly predicted emotional manipulation".
"For females, being younger, higher levels of emotional intelligence, indirect aggression, primary psychopathic traits, and lower levels of social awareness significantly predicted emotional manipulation. However, for females, emotional intelligence acted as a suppressor".
Manipulators typically exploit the following vulnerabilities:
Naïveté or immaturity
People who find it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and ruthless or are "in denial" if they are being taken advantage of.
People who are too willing to give another the benefit of the doubt and see their side of things.
Deceitfulness and exceptional manipulative abilities are the most common traits among antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder is unique in the grouping as "borderline" manipulation is characterized as unintentional and dysfunctional manipulation.Marsha M. Linehan has stated that people with borderline personality disorder often exhibit behaviors which are not truly manipulative, but are erroneously interpreted as such. According to Linehan, these behaviors often appear as unthinking manifestations of intense pain, and are often not deliberate as to be considered truly manipulative. In the DSM-V, manipulation was removed as a defining characteristic of borderline personality disorder.
Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized as feelings of superiority, a sense of grandiosity, exhibitionism, charming but also exploitive behaviors in the interpersonal domain, success, beauty, feelings of entitlement and a lack of empathy. Narcissists employ two strategies to maintain their grandiose self: assertive self enhancement (self promotion) and antagonistic self protection (self defense). All of these factors can lead an individual with narcississistic personality disorder to manipulate others.
Emotional manipulation scale (EMS): EMS employs a ten-item scale to characterize the approaches used by individuals to manipulate.
Managing the emotions of others scale (MEOS): MEOS measures the ability to change the emotions of others. The test measures six categories: mood (or emotional state) enhancement, mood worsening, concealing emotions, capacity for inauthenticity, poor emotion skills, and using diversion to enhance mood. The worsening and diversion categories have been used to identify the ability and willingness of manipulative behavior.
One example of manipulation is seen in the workplace psychopath, who may rapidly shift between emotions to manipulate people or to cause high anxiety. One approach to management in general identifies a very fine, almost non-existent dividing line between management and manipulation.
Traumatic one-trial learning: using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.
According to Braiker, manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities (buttons) that may exist in victims:
the desire to please
addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others
emotophobia (fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval)
a desire to gain a feeling of power over others in order to raise their perception of self-esteem
furtherance of cult dynamics in recruiting or retaining followers
boredom, or growing tired of one's surroundings; seeing manipulation as a game more than hurting others
covert agendas, criminal or otherwise, including financial manipulation (often seen when intentionally targeting the elderly or unsuspecting, unprotected wealthy for the sole purpose of obtaining victims' financial assets)
not identifying with underlying emotions (including experiencing commitment phobia), and subsequent rationalization (offenders do not manipulate consciously, but rather try to convince themselves of the invalidity of their own emotions)
lack of self-control over impulsive and anti-social behaviour - leading to pre-emptive or reactionary manipulation to maintain image
According to psychology author George K. Simon, successful psychological manipulation primarily involves the manipulator:
Concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors and being affable.
Knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim to determine which tactics are likely to be the most effective.
Having a sufficient level of ruthlessness to have no qualms about causing harm to the victim if necessary.
Techniques of manipulators may include:
Lying (by commission): It is hard to tell if somebody is lying at the time they do it, although often the truth may be apparent later when it is too late. One way to minimize the chances of being lied to is to understand that some personality types (particularly psychopaths) are experts at lying and cheating, doing it frequently, and often in subtle ways.
Lying by omission: This is a subtle form of lying by withholding a significant amount of the truth. This technique is also used in propaganda.
Denial: Manipulator refuses to admit that they have done something wrong.
Rationalization: An excuse made by the manipulator for inappropriate behavior. Rationalization is closely related to spin.
Minimization: This is a type of denial coupled with rationalization. The manipulator asserts that their behavior is not as harmful or irresponsible as someone else was suggesting.
Selective inattention or selective attention: Manipulator refuses to pay attention to anything that may distract from their agenda.
Diversion: Manipulator not giving a straight answer to a straight question and instead being diversionary, steering the conversation onto another topic.
Evasion: Similar to diversion but giving irrelevant, rambling, or vague responses.
Covert intimidation: Manipulator putting the victim onto the defensive by using veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats.
Guilt trip: A special kind of intimidation tactic. A manipulator suggests to the conscientious victim that they do not care enough, are too selfish or have it too easy. This can result in the victim feeling bad, keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position.
Shaming: Manipulator uses sarcasm and put-downs to increase fear and self-doubt in the victim. Manipulators use this tactic to make others feel unworthy and therefore defer to them. Manipulators can make one feel ashamed for even daring to challenge them. It is an effective way to foster a sense of inadequacy in the victim.
Vilifying the victim: This tactic is a powerful means of putting the victim on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent of the manipulator, while the manipulator falsely accuses the victim as being an abuser in response when the victim stands up for or defends themselves or their position.
Playing the victim role: Manipulator portrays themself as a victim of circumstance or of someone else's behavior in order to gain pity, sympathy or evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Caring and conscientious people often cannot stand to see anyone suffering and the manipulator often finds it easy to play on sympathy to get cooperation.
Playing the servant role: Cloaking a self-serving agenda in the guise of a service to a more noble cause.
Seduction: Manipulator uses charm, praise, flattery or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and give their trust and loyalty to the manipulator. They will also offer help with the intent to gain trust and access to an unsuspecting victim they have charmed.
Projecting the blame (blaming others): Manipulating scapegoats in often subtle, hard-to-detect ways. Often, the manipulator will project their own thinking onto the victim, making the victim look like they have done something wrong. Manipulators will also claim that the victim is the one who is at fault for believing lies that they were conned into believing, as if the victim forced the manipulator to be deceitful. All blame, except for the part that is used by the manipulator to accept false guilt, is done in order to make the victim feel guilty about making healthy choices, correct thinking and good behaviors. It is frequently used as a means of psychological and emotional manipulation and control. Manipulators lie about lying, only to re-manipulate the original, less believable story into a "more acceptable" truth that the victim will believe. Projecting lies as being the truth is another common method of control and manipulation. Manipulators may falsely accuse the victim of "deserving to be treated that way". They often claim that the victim is crazy or abusive, especially when there is evidence against the manipulator.
Feigning innocence: Manipulator tries to suggest that any harm done was unintentional or that they did not do something that they were accused of. Manipulator may put on a look of surprise or indignation. This tactic makes the victim question their own judgment and possibly their own sanity.
Feigning confusion: Manipulator tries to play dumb by pretending they do not know what the victim is talking about or is confused about an important issue brought to their attention. The manipulator intentionally confuses the victim in order for the victim to doubt their own accuracy of perception, often pointing out key elements that the manipulator intentionally included in case there is room for doubt. Sometimes manipulators will have used cohorts in advance to help back up their story.
Brandishing anger: Manipulator uses anger to brandish sufficient emotional intensity and rage to shock the victim into submission. The manipulator is not actually angry, they just put on an act. They just want what they want and get "angry" when denied. Controlled anger is often used as a manipulation tactic to avoid confrontation, avoid telling the truth or to further hide intent. There are often threats used by the manipulator of going to the police, or falsely reporting abuses that the manipulator intentionally contrived to scare or intimidate the victim into submission. Blackmail and other threats of exposure are other forms of controlled anger and manipulation, especially when the victim refuses initial requests or suggestions by the manipulator. Anger is also used as a defense so the manipulator can avoid telling truths at inconvenient times or circumstances. Anger is often used as a tool or defense to ward off inquiries or suspicion. The victim becomes more focused on the anger instead of the manipulation tactic.
Bandwagon effect: Manipulator comforts the victim into submission by claiming (whether true or false) that many people already have done something, and the victim should as well. Such manipulation can be seen in peer pressure situations, often occurring in scenarios where the manipulator attempts to influence the victim into trying drugs or other substances.
According to Simon, manipulators generally take the time to scope out the characteristics and vulnerabilities of their victims. Manipulators exploit the following vulnerabilities that may exist in victims:
Naïveté – victim finds it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and ruthless or is "in denial" if they are being victimized.
Over-conscientiousness – victim is too willing to give manipulator the benefit of the doubt and see their side of things in which they blame the victim.
Trusting – people who are honest often assume that everyone else is honest. They are more likely to commit themselves to people they hardly know without checking credentials, etc., and less likely to question so-called experts.
Carelessness – not giving sufficient amount of thought or attention to harm or errors.
Lonely – lonely people may accept any offer of human contact. A psychopathic stranger may offer human companionship for a price.
Narcissistic – narcissists are prone to falling for unmerited flattery.
Greedy – the greedy and dishonest may fall prey to a psychopath who can easily entice them to act in an immoral way.
Masochistic – lack self-respect and so unconsciously let psychopaths take advantage of them. They think they deserve it out of a sense of guilt.
The elderly – the elderly can become fatigued and less capable of multi-tasking. When hearing a sales pitch they are less likely to consider that it could be a con. They are prone to giving money to someone with a hard-luck story. See elder abuse.
^ abcBraiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. ISBN978-0-07-144672-3.
^Giovacchini, Peter L. (1996). Treatment of Primitive Mental States. Master work series. Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson. p. 24. ISBN9781568218083. Retrieved 24 July 2021. These are early ego states that are characterized by megalomanic feelings. Freud's (1914a) description of 'his majesty, the baby' well illustrates this situation of omnipotent manipulation.
^Halperin, David A., ed. (1983). Psychodynamic Perspectives on Religion, Sect, and Cult. Littleton, Massachusetts: J. Wright, PSG, Incorporated. p. 364. ISBN9780723670292. Retrieved 24 July 2021. [...] theologians and philosophers have, for the most part, avoided other questions which usually fall within their purview: ethical questions, for instance, like those highlighted by the calculated deceit and crass manipulation integral to many cults.
^ abSimon, George K (1996). In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. ISBN978-1-935166-30-6. (reference for the entire section)
^Kantor, Martin (2006). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: How Antisocial Personality Disorder Affects All of Us. ISBN978-0-275-98798-5.