Manipulators want to avoid being confronted and taking responsibility at all costs. They may avoid conversations about their behavior by simply refusing to discuss it. This might be combined with an attack, like, “You’re always nagging me,” putting you on the defensive with blame, guilt, or shame.
Avoidance can be subtle and unnoticeable when a manipulator shifts the subject. It may be camouflaged with boasting, compliments, or remarks you want to hear, like, “You know how much I care about you.” You might forget why you were upset in the first place.
Another avoidance tactic is evasiveness that blurs the facts, confuses you, and plants doubt. I once went out with a man who claimed we were incompatible because I was too precise and he was a “gloss-over” kind of guy. Precisely! He felt uncomfortable when I’d ask questions or note inconsistencies in his half-truths. It became apparent that he was a skilled, manipulative liar.
It’s easy to give someone the benefit of the doubt and go into denial yourself when you’re hopeful about a relationship. When you have doubts, trust them!
4. Blame, Guilt, and Shame
These tactics include projection, a defense where the manipulator accuses others of his or her own behavior. Manipulators believe “The best defense is a good offense.” By shifting the blame, the aggrieved person is now on the defensive. The manipulator remains innocent and free to carry on, while their victims now feel guilt and shame.
Abusers typically blame their victims or anyone else. Be wary of an apology that is really another manipulation. Addicts typically blame their addiction on other people, their demanding boss or “bitchy” spouse. A criminal defendant with no defense will attack the police or their methods of collecting evidence. Rapists used to be able to attack the reputation of their victims.
I counseled a couple in a domestic violence case, where the violent husband blamed his wife for his violence. I said to him, “I’m surprised your wife has that much power over you.” He was dumbfounded since his whole agenda was to gain power over her.
Guilt-tripping and shaming shift the focus onto you, which weakens you while the abuser feels superior. Martyrs use guilt when they say or imply, “After all, I’ve done for you…” sometimes combined with criticism that you’re selfish or ungrateful.
Shaming goes beyond guilt to make you feel inadequate. It demeans you as a person, your traits, or role, not just your actions. “The children would behave if they had a father who knew how to parent (or, made a decent living.)”
Comparing is a subtle, but powerful form of shaming. It’s harmful when parents compare siblings with each other or with playmates. Some spouses compare their mate to their ex to have the upper hand by making their mate feel inferior.
Guilt and shaming may include “blaming the victim.” For example, you find evidence on your partner’s phone that he or she is flirting. Your partner acts outraged that you went into the phone. Now he or she has switched the focus onto you.
By blaming you, your partner has avoided a confrontation about flirting, and may also lie about it, minimize, or circumvent it altogether. You, the real victim, feel guilty for spying, undercutting any justified anger, and may thereby allow the flirting to continue unaddressed.
Related: How To Spot Manipulation
Intimidation isn’t always with direct threats, but can be subtle.
Intimidation can be achieved with a look or tone and statements like: “I always get my way;” “No one’s irreplaceable.” “The grass isn’t any greener;” “I have methods and friends in high places;” “You’re not so young anymore;” or “Have you considered the repercussions of that decision?”
Another strategy is telling a story meant to provoke fear, such as: “She left her husband and lost her kids, their house, everything.” “I fight to win. I once almost killed a guy.”