"Find someone who is proud to have you, scared to lose you, fights for you appreciates you, respects you, cares for you, and loves you wholeheartedly". -Unknown
Beautiful People, Let's Go!!
The fact that we tend to walk around assuming that a good person is the one who is altruistic, or who appears harmless is a misnomer on so many levels. We’ve been conditioned to think and believe that if someone is kind to our face, then they must be acting with our best interests behind our back. It is this very misconception that keeps covert manipulation in full swing, where we’re only finding out in hindsight and in the emotional aftermath that we were being manipulated.
Overt manipulation is easy to spot. We know when someone is obviously manipulating us — words and situations are twisted into their favor where they play a victim, half-truths run amok, gaslighting happens, and lies prevail. We may get an immediate “wtf?” feeling coming over us where we either instinctively know something is off, or we figure it out sooner or later based on situational behavior. Yet, there is another type of manipulation that you may be unaware of.
Covert Manipulation When manipulation is covert, their behavior is going under the radar, so our radar is likely to miss it or dismiss it. Whereas overt manipulation has their agenda as outwardly self-directed, covert manipulation is the other side of the coin: their agenda is outwardly “you” directed, where their true intentions are underhanded and subtle. What we’re seeing is a person who seems to be altruistic and looking out for others; what we’re getting, is anything but that. With covert manipulation, it’s how it plays out as to why people may not realize they’re being manipulated. Covert manipulation holds the other person emotionally captive where the process of victimization comes on like a slow burn, often unnoticed.
Silent treatment by Baiting. The silent treatment is used to gain (or maintain) control over someone. And baiting is done to set the other person up to fall into the trap and then shame them. For example, when disagreements happen, the natural inclination is to talk it out and reach a mutually beneficial outcome. However, when covert manipulation is happening, they may deny saying or doing something, or push your buttons to get a reaction out of you, and then storm off in mid-conversation, refuse to answer your text, or hang the phone up on you if you react. These are all passive-aggressive forms of silent treatment. These are all made to gain (or maintain) the upper hand. And, these are all done as power and control. The end result is that you often wind up feeling responsible for wanting to talk it out, or guilty for voicing an opinion. If you “chase” them trying to get closure or a solution, you may be further shamed or silenced.
Intellectualizing. With covert manipulation, they may use excessive jargon that is specific to their field and then use loaded comments such as, ..”Oh, I forgot. You don’t know much about (insert concept, theory, or field you may know little about), here. Intellectual manipulation has two main goals: to make you look incompetent or ignorant while making themselves look good; and, to shame and gaslight you into believing you need them around. This is a common covert technique in business and intimate relationships. This is a common covert technique in business and intimate relationships. For example, let’s say you aren’t very tech-savvy but the other person is. Instead of calmly and kindly explaining what’s-what, they may shame you for not knowing how to do something, condescendingly laugh that it’s a good thing they’re there to help, or otherwise shame you.
Passive-Aggression. Non-action is what is ruled by passive-aggression. In this situation nothing is being done, when in fact it should be. If relating to an intimate relationship, perhaps you both discussed who does what regarding chores. Or, if at work, a coworker and you may have agreed upon a deadline date for an upcoming project. When passive-aggression is in play, the script gets flipped where they aren’t upholding their end — pinning you as overbearing, nagging, or too pushy for asking how their part of the project is coming along or why they didn’t bother with their chores. There is a distinct difference between covert manipulation and human error. If they fell behind on their project, they should be OK admitting they lost track of time or chose to binge Netflix instead. Similarly, they should be OK being emotionally vulnerable with their partner if they honestly forgot the chore or just didn’t want to do it that night.
Making the Relationship All About You. This is the biggest red flag and warning sign of whether you’re a victim of covert manipulation. While this can be used in business (upward mobility, or to knock the competition out of their way), it’s commonly used in intimate relationships. Interests are feigned by pretending to like any — or all — of the same things as you. If you like the river, they love the river. If your favorite workout is jujitsu, so is theirs. If you’re into gaming, so are they. Or, on the flip side, they can casually and skillfully lull you into liking the same things they do. While you may be thinking you’re spending quality time with your partner and trying out new hobbies together or that they’re interested in the same things you are, it’s done as a way of using you to get their needs met. They may use a new partner to try and make their ex jealous. Or, they may use a partner for sex, upward mobility, to covertly shame their family as being “beneath” them…the list goes on. Here is where the insidiousness of covert manipulation really comes to light because the victim is under false pretenses thinking their partner shares the same passions they do. By making the relationship ’all about you’, you’re lulled into a false sense of romance, security, and love. None of which it is.
Bad Communication Skills vs. Manipulation Sometimes, we’re just bad at getting our point across or have trouble expressing our feelings. No one is perfect and struggling with communication does not mean manipulation is in play. To decipher whether it’s based on communication skills-deficit versus manipulation, it boils down to their intent: the goal that’s being conveyed. There should be nuances in place when it is appropriate communication. Everyone is heard. Boundaries are respected. Word and deed are adding up. And most importantly, you’re able to look at what’s happening behind the scenes to examine their intentions — in other words, what’s in for them? It’s damn near impossible to outsmart human nature and human behavior — what they’re doing speaks louder than what they’re saying.
Empowering Yourself It’s common to feel uneasy, bad about yourself, or as if you’re entirely to blame. You may feel like you sabotaged the relationship, or that a feeling of love has been replaced with a fear of being abandoned; the proverbial walking on eggshells. These are common feelings and experiences. Unfortunately, this is also the reality of the aftermath of covert manipulation. On the high side, this is hopefully all you may feel. And if so, you are among the lucky ones. On the low side, you may feel depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, or symptoms of PTSD which may include a fear of people from having had your trust abused and your heart used.
Please know you’re not alone. I wish I could say covert manipulation is an isolated event, but it’s not. While this experience can be extremely painful to move past, it can be used as a teaching opportunity. From experiences like this, it teaches us to tighten our existing boundaries if they’re shaky or to establish some new boundaries. This type of situation usually includes heartbreak when dealing with an intimate relationship because you’re forced into a place of acceptance — that the relationship was a lie, that their intentions were self-serving, that they don’t love; they covet.
From this experience, you’re offered the chance to look within, to recognize how beautiful of a person you truly are, and to ask yourself why you believed you only deserved opportunism. From these experiences, they teach us to learn about ourselves, our Self-identity, our needs, and what we value in a partner. This type of experience can have you rehashing the memories, taking them apart piece-by-piece, and looking at them from a more objective point of view. This is where red flags and warning signs that were missed or dismissed the first time around, become the blueprint for what to avoid, moving forward.
You become more intuitive, you rely on gut-feelings more and you’re easily able to walk away from anyone whose energy feels off, regardless of how much you may have cared about them. From this experience, it opens our eyes to codependency, and whether you’re trying to please others at the expense of your own happiness. From this experience, it teaches us to question things — to be comfortable having a voice, in putting our needs first and asking…. “W hat’s in it for us if we stay?”