Recognising Manipulation & Emotional Abuse (2): Characteristics & Behaviour of The Manipulator/Abuser

[Emotional Abuse Is Harder To See From The Outside But Equally Devastating To The Victim]

Emotional Abuse Is Harder To See From The Outside But Equally Devastating To The Victim

In this Second Part of a series of 5 articles, I examine the personal characteristics & behaviours of the abuser/manipulator.  There may be some overlap with the next part (issued tomorrow).

Over many years I have witnessed & been on the receiving end of emotional abusers & manipulators.  The problem is that at the time it is often very difficult to see or understand what is happening: we just assume that there is something wrong with us or it is something of our making.  Unless we are able to recognise the situation, the abuser & their behaviours for what they are, we will become entrapped in a mesh of confusion & be constantly unhappy, stressed or even neurotic.

If you haven’t seen Part 1 about Typical Scenarios Within Which Abuse & Manipulation Happen use the link to read it.


It is important to remember that the driving force of abusers is the need to be in control, often at any cost. Below is a list of behaviours often used for successful emotional manipulation & abuse.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Use Secrecy

Abuse & manipulation are most effective when they are hidden.

It allows the perpetrator to work unchallenged & also makes it easier for them to gain support for their cause.

Secrecy is a powerful tool.

We sometimes use the expression ‘being kept in the dark‘ for secrecy & this is a great description of emotional abuse.  It works on two main levels:

  1. Preventing onlookers from seeing what is actually happening so that it can remain unchallenged
  2. Preventing the victim from realising what is happening.

If those around cannot see what is happening they won’t think to ask questions.  It is also a powerful way of being able to persuade those same onlookers to back you up if necessary.

It may be hard to believe  but those who are being manipulated &/or abused often do not recognise it.  They only see part of the story (the side that the abuser wants them to see) & may even be convinced that they are being overly sensitive or seeing problems where there aren’t any.

But secrecy is a risky game & once the veneer begins to be peeled-off & the abuse is exposed, we can expect all sorts of ducking, weaving & denial by the abuser, including some or all of those described below.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Use Stonewalling & Silence To Punish

Failing to answer or give away any information is another powerful weapon in the manipulator’s arsenal.

If they are challenged about their behaviour (which can be threatening) rather than sitting down, discussing it & resolving issues they resort to silence & stonewalling.  This gives them a sense of maintaining control where it could so easily be lost if they say the wrong thing: so they say nothing.  Silence is also a great way to put pressure on the victim & make them feel guilty, even if they don’t know what for: they simply assume that they have caused upset by doing or saying something wrong.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Are Erratic & Inconsistent

Anyone who has been around an abuser will know that chaos & uncertainty rule.

Whether it is intentional or simply the way their mind works, abusers rarely stick to the same story.  They change their mind: often!  This may be manifest by giving different versions of the same story with total conviction, so much so that the abuser assumes they must have misheard.  Changing their mind often enough can result in Gaslighting (see below) where the victim doubts their memory & even their sanity.

Another trick of the abuser, especially when it comes to negotiation is that they have no constant baseline.  They consistently change their baseline e.g., value of a house, depending upon what offer they wish to make (or receive).  It is not unusual for them to quote a lower value when they are giving something away & then use a higher value when they want something back.

Whatever they do, it will be done with such conviction & lack of moral conscience that the abused person is either highly confused or once again, assumes they have got it wrong.  This weapon works very well in combination with lying & deceit.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Use Lying & Deceit

Abusers lie without apparent conscience & in some cases are compulsive liars.

They will argue that black is black, then black is white, then black doesn’t exist if it means that they can exert control or authority.  Unfortunately, the result is once again doubt, lack of clarity & chaos.  Be prepared for abusers to give selective (or alternative) truth; those parts of the story that support their case, whilst either omitting totally or modifying the rest to create the picture they want.  Thus it is possible for people outside to receive a totally biased & untrue picture of reality & if the abuser has been skilled at their other weapons, they will have the outsiders backing them up & the abused person isolated very quickly & with little effort.

Once again, lies & deceit need a good memory & although victims of abuse & manipulation may be thoroughly confused of what is certain & what isn’t, the cracks do start to appear to those outside of the situation BUT only if they are looked for.  Very often the abuser is also highly skilled in smoke & mirrors so that the cracks are missed, even when in front of our eyes.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Have Pendulum Swing Emotions

Emotional abuse & manipulation are aimed at … our emotions.

There are few things that can affect our emotions as much as extremes.  One minute an abuser may be totally kicking-off & then they are sweet, tender & loving.  This is a cruel weapon which, once again, lowers resistance in their victim.

It is also quite common for abusers to throw  tantrums, in private & in public to humiliate the victim, play on their sense of guilt & wear them down so that eventually they simply stop challenging or asking.

One of the awful things about prolonged emotional abuse is that it erodes resistance so that control can be maintained with less effort & often in less overt ways.  Once a victim is hurt, the one thing they crave most is comfort & consolation.  Abusers are always ready to console once they have destroyed, but their consolation does not restore anything; it simply reinforces negative emotions like guilt & shame in the victim.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Use Sarcastic & Cutting Comments

Sarcasm (lit. tearing of flesh) is a devastating weapon in the hand of the abuser.

There is no better way of keeping someone under control than either undermining & draining their self-esteem in front of others or by criticising them at their level of personal core beliefs.  Manipulation is about maintaining control & there are few ways as effective as stripping away the self-confidence & reinforcing self-doubt in their target; the abused person.

Once our self-esteem & self-confidence have been consistently undermined & destroyed, we have little to fight back with & our brain seems to default by taking the path of least resistance (agreeing with the abuser).

Remember that control can be established either through domination of the other person or by reducing them to the level of the abuser; or lower.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Often Have A Dual Personality

Abusers often have two personas or personalities: the one they show in private to the victim & the one they show in public.

These are poles apart.

The side shown to the victim is about lauding it over them whereas the side shown publicly is one of being caring, understanding; even concerned.

The side shown to victim is about control; the side shown publicly is about gaining support & affirmation for themselves & consequently, their actions.

How often do we hear people say, “I had no idea they were like that,” or “That is completely different to what I have seen & been told: I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t heard both sides of the story.

What you see is NOT what you get!


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Seem To Make Strong Decisions

The root of many abusive behaviours is the upbringing of the abuser & what they have, or have not, experienced during that time.

Most are extremely insecure, particularly about their own value & worth, so they seek it from outside.  They may come across as confident, even arrogant people, or they may be the shy wallflowers that seem to hide away in crowds.  In whatever guise they choose to show themselves, they often lack the conviction to make good, mutually beneficial, rational decisions & relationships.  They are driven by insecurity. So, they may compensate for this deficit in their self-esteem or self-confidence by being overly strong or definitive when making decisions, especially where the abused person is concerned.  It is not unusual for the abuser to use absolutes: you ARE or WILL do this; you are NOT doing this.

If we look carefully in amongst all of the noise & the abuser’s behaviour, we can often see just how indecisive they are. They will use terms like, “Can do,” “Could do,” “If you like,” etc.  This puts them in a powerful position because if anything goes wrong they are then able to use one of their dominant weapons: it is never their fault but someone else’s


It Is Never The Fault Of The Emotional Abuser Or Manipulator

One of the biggest risks to an abuser or a manipulator is that they have to take responsibility for their behaviour & actions.  For many, the very thought of being accused or being seen to do wrong makes them turn ice-cold.

Denying responsibility is an important flaw in an emotional abuser.  They will go to great, even unbelievable lengths to prove their innocence (usually by either deflecting blame or finding a suitable scapegoat (which may be another person or situation) on which to hang ‘blame.’  Abusers see things in terms of blame: whose fault is it?  If it can’t be their fault then they will pull out all of their tricks to hang the blame on something or more often, someone else.  That ‘other person’ nearly always includes the person who is being abused.

Abusers are highly skilled in the transference of blame.  It is often highly honed to the point of being a reflex action.  It simply cannot be their fault so the blame must lie elsewhere & they will pile it on whoever is in the way or the right position for them at the time. Of course, the abuser also wants to establish themself as being justified or right in the eyes of those around, so they will pour guilt on an already broken victim whilst using their other manipulative skills to isolate that victim, thereby removing their voice for defence.  One cannot argue a defence if there is no-one to hear.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Are Loners

Despite efforts to be sociable, real, open, honest relationships are a real threat to an abuser or manipulator.  Therefore, they may mix with the crowd but that is often on a superficial level or tactical way when they need to get people on their side.

It is not unusual for a somewhat historically reclusive, perhaps even antisocial abuser to suddenly become highly chatty & sociable, the life & soul of the party, when they have dirt to dish & others to defame.

Sadly, this sociability is transient & flawed: others see through it, get bored with hearing the same story, don’t want to get involved or just lose interest.  Abusers can rapidly become detached & then cave-in because they lose the safety shield & support of those around them.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Are Cowards

If you want to control someone, what are the best methods of doing so?

  1. You can laud it over them, dominating them with aggression
  2. You can keep it secret & hidden from public view
  3. You can take away their voice through undermining them with criticism
  4. You can take away their voice by turning people against them so that they are isolated

It is so much easier to do numbers 1-3 above if you also achieve number 4: Isolation.

Abusers & manipulators are cowards.  They don’t like to fight their own battles & will often enlist the help of others.  So, they may get in quickly to a group of mutual friends, spread rumours about the person they are victimising, which leads to those friends ‘taking sides‘ & turning against the victim.  Ultimately, the victim is isolated, stripped of any chance of defending themselves & pretty much left to the mercy of the abuser to do what they want, when they want & how they want because one can be assured that the abuser will use smoke & mirrors, lies, deceit & the rest to maintain their advantage.

Emotional abusers & manipulators are also very shrewd when it comes to identifying the most strategically important people to fight their case:

  • In business it could be managers
  • At home it could be parents or siblings
  • In churches it could be the leadership.

Whichever they choose, the abuser will be sure to hide behind the decisions of others to evade blame: ‘The victim obviously brought this on themselves.‘  It will also give them an escape route if the truth begins to unfold, because these others will have ‘Taken sides rather than thinking for themselves or asking more‘ which, of course, the abuser has already made didn’t happen.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Are Deluded

Because abusers & manipulators hide behind others, it is very easy for them to become deluded: they must be right because ‘everybody agrees with them.’

When you are on a roll, backed by a mass of people, be they friends or people in authority & you hide your real actions from them, there is very little to prick your conscience, challenge you morally or ethically & tell you that you are wrong.

For these reasons, emotional abusers often walk a very thin line between maintaining control & being exposed.

Deluded people who cannot make mistakes often become more arrogant in their attitudes & more daring in their adventures. But delusion also lowers their guard & they become less careful.

Delusion can even be of a magnitude where the abuser feels they are above the law & have licence to do what they like, when they like, how they like.  This delusion may lead them to become stubborn, unable to accept the views of others, even those who know more or understand the situation better.

However, many abusers & manipulators are already stubborn before they reach the delusional stage.  Their life is based around control, so they see that accepting help & guidance from others is risky because it means that they have to trust others, which can be very hard for them to do.


Emotional Abusers & Manipulators Use Gaslighting

This is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Confusion reigns but in abundance & to such an extent that the mental health of the victim is affected.  Many victims of emotional abuse & manipulation suffer from extreme anxiety &/or depressive episodes: in some cases leading to suicide.

Emotional abuse is so serious that it was incorporated as a criminal offence into UK Law in 2015.  The consequences are dire for all concerned.


It is important to stress that emotionally abusive & manipulative behaviour may have become so much part of the fabric & life of the perpetrator that they are a habit, rather than a conscious  decision.  This doesn’t excuse them for bad behaviour but it may explain why they can seem startled or surprised if it is pointed out to them.  If that is by a friend their response may be friendly denial or surprise: if it is their target who mentions it, then the abuser may be provoked into a powerful, defensive, even aggressive response.

Abusers & manipulators are to be pitied BUT they should never be encouraged or given sympathy for their actions.  As we have already mentioned, one of their aims is to divide & conquer. Achieving isolation of their victim is key to successful control (abuse) without  interference from friends.  Therefore, any perceived support for their actions will only strengthen their case in their own mind & encourage them to continue down a path which they are convinced is both right & justifiable.

In Part 3 we will be looking at how these characteristics & traits are used by the abuser to gain advantage, maintain cover & feel in control.  I will use real life examples to show how each can be applied by the abuser to achieve their effect.

If you are concerned that you may be in an abusive relationship it is always good to confidentially talk to someone outside of that relationship such as your doctor.  Being able to share your concerns is the first step towards breaking free.  The UK has a great resource in Relate a relationship counselling service.


Until next time, take care  …


About waywood

Hi & Welcome to my thoughts. I share subjects that are important to me. As you’ll notice, these subjects can be quite broad & varied. I like variety; I like breadth & I like a challenge. I am passionate about helping others overcome their fears, grow in confidence & succeed. Although many people would label me as an achiever, I have battled low confidence, low self-esteem & a couple of nasty, long periods depression over the years. I can’t say, “I know how you feel” but I can hopefully empathise & offer some of the things that are helping me to turn my life around. Please feel free to comment, share & enjoy. Take care, best wishes & keep well Stuart
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