I read this book because of other reviews on Goodreads that I saw, which highlighted some tactics that manipulative people use against others. They struck a chord of familiarity for me, as I've known various people in my life who have used these methods repeatedly to avoid responsibility for their aggression. I found the book most useful in clearing away the fog of confusion that such characters use to hide their true colors and avoid taking responsibility.
The biggest insight the book contains is the idea that not everybody has a conscience. That's something that the rest of us find really hard to understand and accept. Not everyone is motivated by desire to do what's fair and right. Not everyone feels rewarded by being part of a social structure in which everyone is loved and appreciated, and works for the good of the team. Some people don't get good brain chemistry from loving and being loved. They just don't feel it. So instead, since their brains don't reward them the usual way, they tend to focus more on trying to win, to control, and to be in power in every situation. That's what makes them feel good, so that's what they pursue.
The heart of the book is chapter 9, in which 18 common tactics are listed. There is a good bit of overlap between tactics, but they are worth memorizing, I think. It's important to recognize these people when we encounter them in our lives, to prevent the damage they can do if unchecked. I numbered the tactics for ease of reference. They are as follows.
1. Minimization -- e.g. "I barely touched her. She doesn't even have a bruise. She's just being a crybaby."
2. Lying –- Covert-aggressive people have no compunctions about lying, and indeed will say anything at all that gets them out of facing the consequences of their behavior.
3. Denial -- Simply saying the aggression didn't happen, doesn't happen, the victim is just crazy, the child has false memories, or whatever.
4. Selective Inattention -– Refusing to pay attention to anything said about the person’s aggression, to any attempt to address the problem. Being too busy to listen right now. Stonewalling.
5. Rationalization -- e.g. "She hit me once so she's only getting what she deserves. Beating kids teaches them how to protect themselves from bullies they'll meet in life. I'm teaching her fighting skills." Things that sound just plausible enough to turn aside the wrath of any accuser.
6. Diversion -- e.g. "What about what you did yesterday?" Any change of subject, especially to put the other person on the defensive, that has the effect of confusing the issue at hand and letting the aggressor off the hook.
7. Evasion (deliberate vagueness) -– e.g. “I’m not sure. We did a lot of things,” when asked a direct question. Any answer that isn’t a straight answer, particularly one meant to deceive by implying something that isn’t true.
8. Covert Intimidation (veiled threats) -– e.g. “jokes” about firing you (a boss), physically harming you (an abusive family member), euthanizing pets, abandoning children, self-harm, etc. Can sometimes be implied through posture or facial expressions. Often subtle.
9. Guilt-tripping –- Aggressive people are aware that others are more conscientious than they are, so they play on this to keep them insecure and on the defensive. If they suggest, even imply, that the person who's trying to address their aggression may be an imperfect spouse, parent, boss, or worker, their feelings of responsibility and conscientiousness kick in and keep them from pressing the original issue. The aggressor has no such concerns or compunctions about their own behaviors, but they’ve learned to use the fact that others do worry about such things to sidestep their own issues when confronted.
10. Shaming –- Use of subtle sarcasm and put-downs to increase self-doubt and decrease self-esteem of the people being manipulated. Sometimes this can be conveyed in glances or sighs, without even using words.
11. Playing the victim role – sometimes aggressive people can recast defense against their aggression as aggression by others toward themselves. They then pretend to be the victim of the aggression instead of the perpetrator, e.g. “You hate me. Why are you always picking on me?”
12. Vilifying the victim – In an attempt to gain the upper hand, the aggressor may simply resort to insults, e.g. “you’re a terrible spouse (parent), you suck, you’re boring, ugly, stupid, you have Asperger’s, you don’t understand people” etc.
13.Playing the Servant Role –- apparently some aggressors can gain control by pretending to be the servant. (One of the few of these tactics I haven’t personally experienced.)
14. Seduction –- apparently some aggressors gain trust and cover their aggressive intent by praising or flattering the victim. (Another tactic I haven’t seen in use.)
15. Projecting the blame –- this is finding someone else who is at fault for whatever the problem may be. It could be birth parents, friends, coworkers, ex-spouses, or the one who's bringing the issue forward. Anyone else will do to get the discussion off track and leave the manipulative person's own choices out of the question.
16. Feigning Innocence –- Sometimes all it takes to not be held accountable for aggressive behavior is simply to look innocent and pretend it never happened. Since such people have no compunctions about lying or deceiving, they’re quite likely to fool others in this way.
17. Feigning Ignorance or Confusion –- the same basic tactic as in 16 above.
18. Brandishing Anger –- people who manipulate can sometimes deflect accountability by flaring up in anger whenever they’re confronted. This keeps other people timid and off-kilter and prevents the true problem from being addressed.
19. Threatening self-harm –- this last one is one I added, something depressed or suicidal people can use to manipulate those who love them. It’s used often enough that I think it deserves its own number. Since the suicidal person cares less about their own well-being than others do, they can use direct or implied threats of suicide or self-harm to prevent anyone from upsetting them by calling them out on their aggressive behavior. In a sense, they hold themselves hostage, “Do what I want or I’ll injure your loved one (myself).”
That’s the complete list of tactics mentioned in the book, plus the last that I added. There are also 14 ways to stop letting oneself be manipulated in these ways. I’m going to give the letters for ease of reference.
a. Accept no excuses.
b. Judge actions, not intentions.
c. Set personal limits – if you have thoughtfully decided up front what you will and won’t tolerate, this helps you make the correct call in the heat of the moment.
d. Make direct requests – people can more easily comply with straightforward requests and requirements.
e. Accept only direct responses – don’t accept vague non-answers.
f. Stay focused and in the here and now – it’s more effective to address aggression as it happens, rather than talking about things that happened much earlier.
g. Keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor – don’t let him or her shift the blame, lay guilt trips, or otherwise wiggle out of the issue.
h. Avoid sarcasm, hostility, putdowns – it’s far more effective to calmly and factually address problems rather than lashing out or letting annoyance or anger show.
i. Avoid making threats that you won’t carry through – only make if-then statements that you’re sure you will follow through on.
j. Take action quickly – the sooner you address a problem the more easily it can be corrected.
k. Speak for yourself – don’t bring up other people’s issues. Make “I” statements.
l. Make reasonable agreements – be willing to bargain and find win-win solutions whenever possible. Some things should never be bargained away, i.e. physical safety of all concerned or equal partnership in marriage, for instance.
m. Be prepared for consequences – if the aggressor has choices he or she can exercise, be prepared for the worst they can do. Accept the possibility that the aggressor may try to cause you harm in indirect ways, and do what you can to protect yourself.
n. Be honest with yourself – I think this means be sure you aren’t using one or more of these manipulative tactics yourself. Be willing to change anything that needs to change about your own self, too.
This book has been life-changing for me. The dynamic in our home is so much more positive now, and we’re able to make real progress. I recommend it for everyone who has coworkers, family, spouse, or children.