Narcissistic Mother's Emotional Manipulation
While we can all be manipulative at times, there are those among us who chronically emotionally manipulate others. While some people may be manipulative in their communications simply because they have not learned to communicate clearly and directly, there are those who are intentionally manipulative, and even take pride in their trickery. My narcissistic mother not only consistently used manipulation tactics, sometimes it almost seemed as if she perfecting her craft.
Speaking as a survivor of a narcissistic father and mother, this article highlights some ideas to begin processing and paying attention to as we begin or continue coming to terms with the idea that we are not all the same. In other words, we can run into trouble if we put ourselves in the position of the narcissist, decide what we would be thinking or feeling in that situation, and deal with the narcissist accordingly. We are not all the same.
First of all, beginning to notice when someone is pulling us over into emotional reactions in order to get a response that we probably would not otherwise freely give. Secondly, while there are many ways to manipulate, this article draws special attention to manipulation with pity. Although playing the victim while vilifying true victims is covered in a separate article, and we certainly do not want to lose our compassion for true victims, we may want to begin to pay closer attention when someone is inducing pity in us. Lastly, we need to be on the lookout for relationships where FOG is developing: fear, obligation and guilt.
What is Emotional Manipulation?
What is emotional or psychological manipulation? To manipulate is:
- "to negotiate, control or influence something or someone cleverly, skillfully or deviously."
- "to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner."
This is someone who is trying to influence or control another, "especially in an unfair manner."
So emotional manipulation is to use a person's emotions to manipulate them. Moving up the spectrum, emotional blackmail begins with a demand, followed by pressure to fulfill the request, and finally, a threat with punishing consequences. The threat can be blatant or subtle. Subtle threats come in the form of pouting, sulking, passive aggressive comments, while blatant threats are overtly articulated consequences of 'if_____, then _____.'
Why Emotional Manipulation?
When someone is operating out of emotion, such as pity, fear, or guilt, rather than reason the person is more easily manipulated. For example, my narcissistic mother especially loved to manipulate with pity. I find this of particular concern because it seems to me the average person is not especially comfortable being pitied, and that when the situation naturally occurs, let alone seeking out or orchestrating and framing situations in order to garner pity. Upon reflection it makes sense.
Think about the process you go through when you pity someone, and this may be especially true of empaths. You immediately let your guard down, and you become helpful. You may display sympathy, and even look for something you can do for the person to make things better.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Explained
Who Are the Emotional Manipulators?
Ross A. Rosenberg provides a strong foundation by defining an "emotional manipulator" as one with pathological narcissism, including these three personality disorders:
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
- Or, someone suffering from a chemical or behavioral addiction, such as sex addiction or gambling, is also considered an emotional manipulator because their addiction drives them to pathological narcissistic behaviors.
Manipulation with Pity
Manipulation with Pity
While this is concerning psychopaths* rather than narcissists specifically, note Dr. Martha Strout's experience she shared in The Sociopath Next Door.
Dr. Martha Stout had this to say about pity in The Sociopath Next Door:
I first learned this when I was still a graduate student in psychology and had the opportunity to interview a court-referred patient the system had already identified as a "psychopath." He was not violent, preferring instead to swindle people out of their money with elaborate investment scams. Intrigued by this individual and what could possibly motivate him - I was young enough to think he was a rare sort of person - I asked, "What is important to you in your life? What do you want more than anything else?" I thought he might say "getting money," or "staying out of jail," which were the activities to which he devoted most of his time. Instead, without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "Oh, that's easy. What I like better than anything else is when people feel sorry for me. The thing I really want more than anything else out of life is people's pity." (page 107)
*Note: Narcissistic personality disorder can present with antisocial personality disorder (comorbidity) or with or without antisocial personality disorder features.
Dr. Martha Stout warns, "When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning sign on a conscienceless person's forehead as you will ever be given."
Also note it is generally advised that if and when you recognize you are dealing with such a personality that your primary concern be your safety and that of your loved ones, then consult a professional regarding an opinion of a more precise diagnosis.
Abusers Envelope Victims FOG: Fear, Obligation, and Guilt
It's no secret that abusive personalities groom their targets to - you guessed it - take their abuse. They do this through a variety of methods, however, in order for any of their unconscious and conscious manipulations to work, they first need to envelop you in FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). More Thoughts on FOG, Hoovers and No Contact When Ending a Relationships with a Narcissist, Borderline, Histrionic and/or Sociopath - Dr. Tara of Shrink4Men.
Manipulation That is Emotional Blackmail
Manipulation becomes emotional blackmail when it is used repeatedly to coerce us into complying with the blackmailers demands at the expense of our own wishes and well being. Dr. Susan Forward, Emotional Blackmail: When the People In Your Life Using Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You, p. 7.
FOG: A Sign of Emotional Blackmail
Emotional blackmail, although incredibly powerful and hurtful,can become normalized by both the receiver, and the doer. Another way to know if you may be being emotionally blackmailed is to check in on if you feel as though you are in a fog. FOG stands for Fear, Obligation, and Guilt. These three components cause us to feel overwhelmed and make it so it is difficult to find our way out of an imbalance of power, unable to clearly see the dynamics, and make us have a tendency to comply. Dr. Susan Forward, Relationship Alive, Episode 55
We Are Not All the Same
It is important to understand we are not all the same. This sounds so simple, but it is important. For example, a lack of empathy is one hallmark of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Empathy allows us to be compassionate human beings. However, you can quickly find yourself rather confused if you attempt to understand a narcissist by putting yourself in her shoes and assuming she thinks and feels what you think you would be thinking and feeling in her situation.
Narcissists play by vastly different rules than most of the rest of us. They fight when we may not even realize we're in a fight. They are sneaky, petty, and deceitful. Narcissists do not fight fair, nor do they have any remorse about it. It can be easy to fail to recognize her behavior, and quite honestly, that may be because you are giving her way more credit than she deserves. There may be a chronologically aged 40, 60, or even 80 year old woman in front of you, but ignore the exterior for a moment. Consider what a rotten, self-centered six year old with the narcissist's resources would do, and you'll often be in the ballpark.
Our emotions and positive character traits are gifts never intended to be used against us, which is what narcissists so often do. The goal is not to rid ourselves of the positive character traits, but to protect ourselves from having them manipulated or used against us, along with our emotions.
In my own personal experience, I think narcissists absolutely know what they are doing. I think my late mother knew exactly what she was doing, knew it was hurting me or someone else, and could control it when she wanted to.
This is a painful realization, but I think it is the truth. I think it is truth that puts us in the best position to defend ourselves in the future. Here are some of the reasons I think my mother knew exactly what she was doing:
- Many of her schemes were premeditated, intricate and systematically carried out.
- She was very much able to control her rages in public and around most people, reserving the behavior only for certain people, and only at times when there were no witnesses. Thus, she not only knew what she was doing, she could control her behavior but chose not to at times.
- My mother could instantaneously switch from raging monster to sweet talking angel upon the unexpected arrival of a flying monkey. (A term taken from The Wizard of Oz where the Wicked Witch sent her flying monkeys after Dorothy.)
- If you watched closely you might notice the glimmer in her eye or the slight smirk she could barely contain at times.
Understanding Manipulation Tactics
Pitying Abusive Manipulators
Dr. Simon makes an extraordinarily important point that each adult son and daughter of narcissistic mothers or fathers needs to consider. It is so important because it may greatly affect how we deal with the narcissists in our lives. The difference here is between viewing a narcissist's behavior as resulting from defending a fragile part of themselves as opposed to offensively fighting you. Experts do not agree on this point, as Dr. Simon points out in his video. However, it warrants special attention from the adult sons and daughters of narcissists, to understand both sides of the issue, and to contemplate the issue for themselves, or to decide at this point in time which expert they agree with on this issue.
In this excellent video, Dr. George Simon is spot on in my opinion and sums it up succinctly:
When the emotional manipulator is engaging in the manipulative behavior, he is not defending anything. The emotional manipulator is primarily fighting. Who are they fighting? He is fighting the person he is trying to manipulate, you.
Manipulation with Guilt
If You Really Loved Me!
My narcissistic mother accused me of not loving her, but I know this was just another projection actually revealing her feelings toward me. It is also important to remember that like cults, narcissists redefine terms, and have double meanings and standards.
So, for example, what she thinks it means for you to love her may be along the lines of you doing, saying, and giving her everything she wants and never questioning or confronting her while she slanders and abuses you. What it means for her to love you may never even enter the equation, but it certain does not rise to the standard placed on you loving her.
After All I've Done for You!
This is the guilt trip that is so often combined with gaslighting in an attempt to spin an abusive childhood into some great gift narcissistic mother gave you because after all you had a roof over your head while you were being abused. Even though I would have rather grown up naked with a pack of wolves in the wilderness, I was to be grateful to have clothes on my back and a roof over my head while my narcissistic mother and alcoholic pedophile step-father used and abused me.
In my experience, this guilt trip is also used for attempted blackmail. After all she's done for you, how could you? A more accurate description is how could you seek healing and validation when it will cause her such embarrassment for you to tell the truth about her? Then, even if she has to reach back a decade to think of something she did for you, she will spin it into an accusation of you being ungrateful. Notice it is never the abuse itself that is considered the problem in this scenario, but you for speaking the truth and exposing it.
How Can You Be So Selfish?
The utterly self-absorbed narcissistic mother loves to redefine selfishness, especially for her scapegoat children. For narcissistic mother your most basic, dire need pales in comparison to her every whim. In the rabbit hole of the narcissistic mother this is in no way selfish for her. Like everything else she has double meanings assigned to selfishness. One meaning for her and a much different one for you.
Being accused of being selfish is often an intricate part of being a narcissistic mother's scapegoat, so all she may have to do is imply you are being selfish and she gets her way. If she managed to convince you of her definition of selfishness for you, she will pull this accusation out of her bag of dirty tricks every chance she gets.
We can all be manipulative at times, but there are those among us who chronically emotionally manipulate others. It is for this reason, we begin noticing when someone is attempting to pull us into emotional reactions or when FOG is developing in a relationship. As we begin or continue to come to terms with the idea that not all human beings are the same, we need to ponder where on the spectrum we believe the narcissist in our life is defensively protecting their inner fragile self or offensively fighting us using manipulation.
In retrospect, it appears Dr. Simon is exactly right. It appears there was a war going on for several years without anyone declaring war! When we recognize we are dealing with a narcissist, the primary concern is to protect ourselves and our loved ones, then consult a professional to seek a better idea of a diagnosis.
© 2018 Gail Meyers