Emotional Manipulation Tactics



  • Discrediting you by making other people think that you’re crazy, irrational or unstable.
  • Using a mask of confidence, assertiveness, and/or fake compassion to make you believe that you “have it all wrong.” Therefore, eventually you begin to doubt yourself and believe their version of past events.
  • Changing the subject. The gaslighter may divert the topic by asking another question, or making a statement usually directed at your thoughts, e.g. “You’re imagining things—that never happened!”  “No, you’re wrong, you didn’t remember right.”  “Is that another crazy idea you got from your (anyone)?”
  • Twisting and reframing. When the gaslighter confidently and subtly twists and reframes what was said or done in their favour, they can cause you to second-guess yourself—especially when paired with fake compassion, making you feel as though you are “unstable,” “irrational,” and so forth.  For example, “I didn’t say that, I said _____” “I didn’t beat you up Johnny, I just gave you a smack around the head—that’s what all good fathers do.”  “If you remember correctly, I was actually trying to help you.”

  • Minimization: The disturbed character frequently trivializes the nature of his wrongdoing. Manipulators do this to make a person who might confront them feel they’ve been overly harsh in their criticism or unjust in their appraisal of a situation.

  • Lying: Consider also “lying by omission

  • Denial: The tactic of denial is not primarily a “defense” but a maneuver the aggressor uses to get others to back off, back down or maybe even feel guilty themselves for insinuating he’s doing something wrong.

  • Selective Inattention: This is when aggressors actively ignore the warnings, pleas or wishes of others, and, in general, refuse to pay attention to everything or anything that might distract them from pursuing their agenda.

  • Rationalization: A rationalization is an excuse an aggressor makes for engaging in what they know is an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation or justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it.

    It is a powerful tactic because it not only serves to remove any internal resistance the aggressor might have about doing what they want to do (quieting any qualms of conscience they might have) but also to keep others off their back. If the aggressor can convince you they’re justified in whatever they’re doing, then they’re freer to pursue their goals without interference.

  • Diversion: A moving target it harder to hit. When we try to pin manipulators down or try to keep a discussion focused on a single issue or behavior we don’t like, they’re expert at knowing how to change the subject, dodge the issue or in some way throw us a curve.

  • Evasion: Closely related to diversion, this is a tactic by which a manipulator tries to avoid being cornered on an issue by giving rambling, irrelevant responses to a direct question or otherwise trying to skirt an issue. A subtle but effective form of evasion is the deliberate use of vagueness.

  • Covert Initmidation: Aggressors frequently threaten their victims to keep them anxious, apprehensive and in a one-down position. They are adept at countering arguments with such passion and intensity that they effectively throw their opponents on the defensive. Covert-aggressive personalities primarily intimidate their victims by making veiled (subtle, indirect or implied) threats. This way, they throw others on the defensive without appearing overtly hostile or initimidating.

  • Guilt-tripping: One thing that aggressive personalities know well is that other types of persons, especially neurotics, have very different consciences than they do. They also know that the hallmark qualities of a shound conscience are the capacities for guilt and shame. Manipulators are skilled at using what they know to be the greater conscientiousness of their victims as a means of keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position. The more conscientious the potential victim, the more effective guilt is as a weapon.

  • Shaming: This is a technique of using subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. Covert-aggressives use this tactic to make others feel inadequate or unworthy, and therefore, defer to them. It is an effective way to foster a continued sense of personal inadequacy in the weaker party, thereby allowing an aggressor to maintain a position of dominance.

  • Playing the Victim Role: This tactic involves portraying oneself as a victim of circumstance or someone else’s behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another. Convince your victim that you’re suffering in some way, and they’ll try to relieve your distress. One vulnerability of the conscientious, sensitive and caring soul, is that it’s easy to pay on his or her sympathy.

  • Vilifying the Victim: This tactic is frequently used in conjunction with the tactic of playing the victim role. The aggressor uses this tactic to make it appear he is only responding (i.e. defending himself against) aggression on the part of the victim. It enables the aggressor to better put the victim on the defensive.

  • Playing the Servant Role: Covert-aggressives use this tactic to cloak their self-serving agendas in the guise of service to a more noble cause. It’s a common tactic but difficult to recognize. By pretending to be working hard on someone else’s behalf, covert-aggressives conceal their own ambition, desire for power, and quest for a position of dominance over others.

  • Seduction: Covert-aggressive personalities are adept at charming, praising, flattering or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty… Appearing to be attentive to needs of approval, reassurance and a sense of being valued can be a manipulator’s ticket to incredible power over others.

  • Projecting Blame: Aggressive personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their aggressive behavior. Covert-aggressives are not only skilled at finding scapegoats, they’re expert at doing so in subtle, hard to detect ways.

  • Feigning Innocence: This is when the manipulator tries to convince you that any harm they did was unintentional, or that they really didn’t do something that they’ve been accused of doing.

  • Feigning Confusion: Closely related to feigning innocence, this tactic is when the manipulator acts like he doesn’t know what you’re talking about or is confused about an important issue you’re trying to bring to his attention.

  • Brandishing Anger: A deliberate display of anger can be a very calculated and effective tool of intimidation, coercion and ultimately, manipulation. Moreover, when it comes to understanding aggressive personalities, it’s a mistake to think that anger necessarily precedes aggression… Aggressive personalities use overt displays of anger to intimidate and manipulate others. They’re not angry to start. They just want what they want, and they get angry when denied. Then, they’ll use whatever tactics will remove the obstacles in their way. Sometimes, the most effective tactic is brandishing sufficient emotional intensity and rage to shock another person into submission.

Excerpts from “In Sheeps Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People” by George K. Simon, Jr, PhD. Little Rock, AR: AI Christopher & Company. Original printing, November 1996; Ninth printing, September 2007.


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