30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics

Today, I listened to 30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control in Personal Relationships by Adelyn Birch. It was a short but intense listen of under two hours. It took more than two hours for me to get through it, because I had to pause to take notes.

Emotional manipulation methodically wears down your self-worth and self-confidence, and damages your trust in your own perceptions. It can make you unwittingly compromise your personal values, which leads to a loss of self-respect and a warped self concept. With your defenses weakened or completely disarmed in this manner, you are left even more vulnerable to further manipulation.

Adelyn Birch

Here is her list of tactics with my notes on each:

  1. Intermittent reinforcement – The manipulative person randomly rewards behavior to drive up the need and increase the desired behavior. This is a dopamine hit. Because reinforcement is random or at least capricious, the target has more anticipation and less reward. This causes dependency.
  2. Negative reinforcement – The manipulator subjects the target to a negative behavior until the target displays the desired behavior. “The beatings will continue until moral improves.
  3. Backing into an emotional corner – This is elsewhere called reactive abuse. The abuser abuses you until you react. They cause you pain until you push or hit back. They then play-the-victim. They call you an abuser.
  4. Shifting the focus – This can be done by subtlety or directly changing the subject. The focus will always change to one where you are the problem and you are on the defensive.
  5. Premature disclosure – They disclose early prompting you to do the same. When they are accepting of your disclosure, it creates a bond.
  6. Triangulation – The manipulator uses a 3rd person to play their victim against. “How do you think he really feels about you? I don’t know… I was talking to him yesterday… Don’t you think he must find you high maintenance?” The conversation with the 3rd person can be real or imaginary. The messaging can be real or lies.
  7. Blaming the victim – The manipulator holds the victim responsible for problems in the relationship.
  8. Indirect insults – The aggressor makes and insult sound like offering help, or uses a backhanded complement. “Hey, you would be really good at that if you practiced more.
  9. Insinuating comments – Double meanings in complements that cut. “You answer the phone like a sex-talk line.” They can claim innocence.
  10. Guilt – This is straight up guilt tripping. It can include passive aggressive prods. Guilt is used to punish for what we do.
  11. Shame – Shame is used to make the other person feel unworthy. Shame is for what we are. Shaming damages your sense of self-worth.
  12. Empty words – This is the use of meaningless promises and fake complements.
  13. Crazy making – The manipulator denies saying something. They said it. They know they did. You know they did. They just deny.
  14. Gaslighting – The manipulator denies and invalidates reality. They tell you you have a bad memory or are imagining things. They move objects like keys or clothing. Then they act like you are crazy and imagining it.
  15. Minimizing – They downplay your reaction to their often deliberate behavior. “You are overacting.” “You are over thinking.
  16. Silent treatment – They stop communicating with you. It includes stonewalling. It squelches communication. It is highly abusive mental torture.
  17. Lies – False statements. Lies of omission –does not tell you he is married. Deliberate vagueness.
  18. Invalidation – Rejecting, diminishing, and making fun of other people’s feelings.
  19. Charm – Manipulators make us laugh and flatter to disarm us. This is superficial and glib. There is lots of smooth talk and very little emotion.
  20. Intentional forgetting – Examples are commitments, things they have said they would do, and life events.
  21. Brandishing anger – This is also called traumatic one trial learning. The aggressor acts ultra angry to shock and awe their target into compliance. It is faked.
  22. Scapegoating – Blames you for other people’s problems. One person is usually targeted in a family or workplace. This is also called the whipping boy.
  23. Belittling – The abuser plays down the victims thoughts and opinions.
  24. Putting you on the defensive – They shift you to where you are defending your thoughts, actions, and feelings.
  25. Creating fear – They push you to fear loosing them. This causes us to give them all of the power in the relationship. Usually, the opposite is really true, because manipulators are inherently weak needy people.
  26. The pity play – The manipulator plays the victim of something to push you to help them. This can be anything from a direct sob story to a subtle needy ‘help me‘ demeanor.
  27. Rationalization – The manipulator creates logical reasons for their behavior. There is always a reason for everything no matter how bad. “I had to do that because you did this, that, and something else…
  28. Flattery – Excessive or false praise. It is used to build up the target. This can include asking for advice. It would even include putting someone on a special customer advisory panel.
  29. Love bombing – This is a special form of flattery. It is non-stop intense flattery and gifts. The key is the rapid pace. This is the over-night soulmate at work or in a romance.
  30. Trance and hypnosis – They put you into an altered mental state. This is the mental flow state. It can be done with flickering light, massage, meditation, and flowing conversation. This is the worst with psychopaths. These are all used for manipulation by increasing suggestibility. Pleasure is heightened in this state.

Sources & Resources

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