by Mac McGregor -
Special to the SGN
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles on personal self-defense.
Psychological manipulation defined is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.
People with ill intent use tools of manipulation to lure people into going along with them. In this segment of our series on safety and self-defense I will go over the most common tools of manipulation used on victims of crime. It is also important to understand that all people who have family, have been in relationships, or have had close friends and co-workers will recognize these tools. We all use them to some extent in our lives, but when one understands what they are, it is more difficult to be victimized by them. The challenging thing to decipher is that some of these same tools are taught in "rapport-building" seminars for executives, business, and salespeople around the world. Remember even in business these tools are always used to persuade you to the manipulator's side or opinion.
When one understands these tools, one can make the conscious decision whether to call a manipulation tool out in a relationship, or just keep an eye on it, or view it as a total red flag and get outta Dodge. It is certainly important to consider the context these tools are used in. If used on you by a stranger in a bar or someone trying to pick you up, that should be a reason to pay very close attention. When used in families it may be as benign as a parent trying to get a teen to do their chores or homework. When you do not go along with these tools of manipulation there is always the chance you will appear rude. I have made the decision that even though I am a Southern gentleman, I am willing to appear rude to save my life or hold to my consciously set healthy boundaries.
With that, here are some common manipulation tactics everyone should be aware of.
o Forced teaming: A way to establish trust through the "we are in the same boat" mentality. Makes one feel rude to not believe or acknowledge and therefore is a way to establish false trust. You share a predicament or experience with this person. This creation of a shared experience is an elegant and intentional way to breach a person's boundaries and at times build false trust.
Defense: The way to combat forced teaming is first to recognize it and second to make it clear that you did not ask for that person's assistance or understanding.
o Too many details: When people lie they generally include more details then necessary, because they feel that they need all of that support for their story. When people speak the truth they don't need a lot of extraneous details. These details become a distraction from the far-fetched story. All manipulators rely on distractions to keep the person that they are trying to manipulate from catching on. It is a trick stage magicians use all the time.
Defense: Look for the main meat of the story and then ask yourself if those extra details were important, and how many of them there were.
o Discounting the word NO: Actions are more important than words! Anyone who discounts the word NO is someone to be wary of. This is a sign that the person does NOT respect your boundaries and is working to gain control whether consciously or unconsciously. This to me is the biggest RED FLAG! It can even be a guy offering to help you carry something - you decline and he insists. This can be dangerous and can open the door to more access. Last week, in the article about setting healthy boundaries I mentioned intuition, the feeling that can arise when something is not right. Pay attention to that here! When you get that feeling, LISTEN!
Defense: Simply ask yourself, why is this person trying to control me? Because he is.
o Humiliation: This tool will show everyone around that you don't fit in and are just wrong and make you feel smaller and useless. This can be used in public or private and reduces a person to feeling incapable, unacceptable, and unworthy to the point of submission. A person who feels this vulnerable will easily allow the person humiliating them to be in control. This is like a wild animal circling its prey.
Defense: Ask yourself, why does this person need to belittle me to make themselves feel stronger and in control? If they were really confident in themselves they would not need to belittle anyone else.
o The unsolicited promise: This tool almost always has a questionable motive. A promise is NOT a guarantee! This tool is used when a manipulator feels you are hesitant. They use it to ease your mind about their intentions and it only shows that the person promising is trying hard to convince you of something and be more believable.
Defense: Ask yourself, why is this person working so hard to convince me of something? Why are they making promises when I did not ask for them?
o Loan-sharking: This is where a person is eager to go out of their way to help you, mainly because it places you in their debt. This happens in families all the time, such as a parent who helps you out of a financial bind and now says you must abide by their way of living your life because you "owe" them. They now have a sense of control. With a stranger or new person you are dating this is a definite FLAG!
Defense: Ask yourself, why would someone I barely know want me to be in their debt, especially since I did not ask for their help?
o Flattery and niceness: Controlling and drawing you in by being overtly nice or flattering is something we have all experienced in our family lives, such as when a normally hostile or aloof sibling is all of a sudden super- sickeningly sweet to you. Naturally, the first thing that comes to your mind is, what do they want from me? But most people don't ask this question when a similar situation arises with a stranger or person they don't know well. We should.
Defense: Ask yourself what this person's motivation is for being overly nice.
o Typecasting: This is when a person labels you in a way that you feel the need to prove them wrong. They lure you in like a fisherman lures his dinner with bait such as, "A hot guy like you would probably never give a guy like me the time of day." Then you don't want to be considered a jerk or stuck up, so you work hard to prove him wrong and show that you are a nice, friendly, accepting guy. They have hooked you. It involves a deceptive small insult to draw you in.
Defense: Recognize that you are being lured in and ask yourself why. Then follow your gut. You can say to the person, "You are probably right," and leave it at that. It stops this tactic in its tracks.
HOW VICTIMS ARE CHOSEN
Victim selection was widely studied by the FBI after serial rapist and killer Ted Bundy was arrested. Bundy did not look or sound like anyone's idea of a bad guy. He was charming, articulate, and extremely creative in how he lured his victims in. Many things were learned through the study, and one of the most important is how violent criminals choose victims. They do something that FBI agents call "the interview." Some of the interview is done by reading body language and some can be done though causal contact and seeing how a person responds to these tools of manipulation.
When you understand how to set healthy boundaries, how to recognize the tools of manipulation, and how to carry yourself in a way that your body language says that you would be very difficult to control, chances are extremely high that a criminal or other potential victimizer will move on to someone else. These are the psychological parts of self-defense and safety training, and are the most important because they remove you from the selection pool almost all of the time. Information like this is also in the book The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker, which is required reading for all my students and a gift I give to those I care about. Next time, I will discuss body language and the nonverbal cues we all give off, and statistics that will help us be more knowledgeable about crime in order to avoid it.
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