30 Manipulative Tactics That Break Your Self-esteem
Recognize the highly exploitative and emotionally abusive techniques used to silence you, take your power and make you feel worthless…..
All relationships hinge on trusting yourself to someone else. Social predators such as narcissists, psychopaths and others with antisocial traits, charm, manipulate, and shamelessly plow their way over that trust, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, empty wallets, and shattered expectations. No one does “mean” like these toxic abusers who exploit your compassion, empathy and ability to love. In effect, your most vulnerable and beautiful parts are targets of their attack, rather than pearls to be protected and nurtured. Recognize their effective abusive tactics:
A psychopath’s and narcissist’s goal is to control. This begins subtly, but the abuser eventually might even tell you what to wear, how to fix your hair, when to speak or what to think; how to spend your money. They will show up uninvited to your home/job/events, check your cell phone and emails, follow you and sexually coerce you.
The abuser will insist you spend more time with them, isolating you, establishing control over your social connections. They will especially toy with your emotions. As they gain more power over your emotions, you will trust reality and the truth about the abuse you’re absorbing less and less.
2. Grooming and Intensity in a relationship
Psychopaths express intense caring in the early stages of the relationship. They make you feel special and chosen—as if you were the only one who could ever matter to them. They bombard you with calls, texts and emails, work to charm your friends and family and insist you get serious quickly. In a matter of weeks, he/she takes over your life, consuming your mind and body with pleasure.
You are being groomed to fall in love – the strongest of all human bonds – which makes you more easily manipulated to become the perfect partner.
3. Idealization and devaluation in a relationship
In the grooming phase, the abuser seems fascinated with you. He learns your strengths, hopes, dreams and interests. He mirrors them back to you much like a chameleon in order to form a rapport and bond with you. Since the psychopath is empty on the inside, creating a copycat version of you gives him a focus and entertainment as he becomes your perfect match, your “soul mate”.
You couldn’t have dreamed of someone more fitting to spend your life with. His constant charm and attention breaks down your guard, unlocks your heart and modifies your brain chemicals. You will identify the pleasure centers firing away— as “love”. When you’re sufficiently hooked and invested in the relationship, the devaluation begins. He insults the very things that were admired in the first place and pokes at you to find your weaknesses and insecurities, thus ensuring he is controlling how you see yourself.
4. Overt and Covert Abuse
Abuse is about exploiting a power imbalance to control someone else. The abuse involves a consistent set of ingredients: control, entitlement, disrespect, excuses, justifications, and victim blaming. These are often accompanied by physical and/or sexual abuse.
The abuser uses anger to intimidate. He/she overreacts to small problems, could have violent outbursts and severe mood swings, may drink or party excessively when upset, makes threats, and picks fights.
He/she switches to passive aggressiveness making your head spin between the display of childlike innocence, cruelty and subtle devaluation. The abuser’s aim is to keep you in his/her control, insecure and helpless. A psychopath can erode your identity to the point that you won’t even recognize the abusive nature of your relationship until long after it’s over.
5. Gaslighting Thought Control
Gaslighting is a form of thought control used by these abusers to silence your voice. Because of its effectiveness, an abuser uses it habitually as a quick fix to end a conversation he doesn’t want to be in, and more specifically, to redirect the focus to what he calls the victim’s issues – e.g., nagging, being too emotional or too controlling.
This form of psychological abuse trains the victim to not do what is natural and to feel that her thoughts, feelings, ideas and opinions are not valid. You feel doubt, confusion or that you are going crazy. You’re conditioned to not protect yourself because when you try to bring up these issues the abuser shifts the blame onto you.
To resist gaslighting, it’s important to ground yourself in your own reality–writing things down as they happen, telling a friend or reiterating your experience to a support group can help.
6. Boundary Testing and Erosion
Narcissists and psychopaths continually test boundaries to see which ones they can trespass or erode. In the abuser’s mind, breaking through those boundaries gives him control over the victim. As he succeeds, he can lure the victim back in with empty promises, apologies and fake remorse about how he will change. But the abuse continues. The more violations he is able to commit without consequence, the more the boundaries will be pushed and the more cruel the abuse.
7. Blank Stares
You desperately try to explain how they might feel if you were treating them the way they treat you, but you’re usually met with a hollow look, silence or annoyance. The psychopath or narcissist lives in emotional poverty, limiting the range and depth of their feelings of empathy, guilt or remorse.
8. The Ultimate Hypocrite
Initially, these abusers present with a sweet, charming and childlike innocence, treating you well before others. Eventually, another side emerges when you are alone: jealousy, callousness, inconsideration, disrespect and laziness surface. As the mask comes down, the true self is revealed to be terrifyingly cold, heartless and contemptuous.
These are confusing double standards as the abuser has high expectations for fidelity, respect and adoration, but after the idealization phase, little is given back to you. As the relationship progresses more of their selfishness surfaces and you’re left wondering what went wrong.
9. Projection within Social Relationships
Abusers use the defense mechanism of projection to displace responsibility for their negative behavior, flaws and traits onto you or others. Unwilling to be introspective, they prefer to dump their toxic shame unto their victims and have you take responsibility and feel ashamed of yourself.
10. Blame Shifting and Excuses
Nothing is ever their fault and there’s an excuse for everything. They spend more time rationalizing their behavior than improving it. Even when caught in a lie, no remorse or embarrassment is felt or expressed.
It’s pointless to argue with these abusers! He is certain his perspective is completely accurate and will convince you that yours is wrong and stupid. He’s diverting attention, to challenge your reality.
11. Need for Adoration
Abusers drain the energy from you with their selfishness and insatiable need for attention; no matter how much you give, it is never enough. However, once in their control, they will withhold attention from you, give you the silent treatment or become bored with you.
12. Provoking Emotional Reactions
The insecurities the abuser provokes in you isolates you from how everyone one else sees him, making you feel like you’re the crazy one. You’ve never been the jealous type and consider yourself sensible. Yet, you find yourself playing detective about the abuser’s unexplained gaps in their time, their giving attention to others or even blatantly flirting with them.
After intentionally ignoring you for days or sabotaging holidays, anniversaries and special occasions, they will call you needy and paranoid. Although your jealousy and insecurities are unacceptable to him, he can have jealous fits when you interact with others, accuse you of flirting and/or cheating, resent your time with your friends and family and demand to know private details of your life.
13. Fear of Losing the Relationship
Conflict is a normal part of any relationship, but psychopaths and narcissist make it clear that challenging them or not complying with their demands will jeopardize the relationship. Rather than tackling disagreements or compromises maturely, they give an ultimatum—implied or real threats to harm you or leave you. You start living afraid of losing the relationship. You find yourself giving in, forgiving quickly, and apologizing in order to maintain peace.
The abuser’s possessiveness masquerades as love. At first, it seems sweet they want you all to themselves, but the jealousy and control undermine your other relationships. Later, when you’re discarded, you are depicted as “crazy” to friends and family. They cleverly reverse reality by making you look like the abuser and depicting themselves as your victim. The isolation continues.
15. Your Mistakes
Abusers will criticize and nitpick not to help you improve but to pull you down. By pointing out one irrelevant fact or thing you did wrong and developing a hyper-focus on it, abusers get you to divert from your strengths and pull you into obsessing over flaws or weaknesses instead. You may begin to adopt perfectionist qualities, subconsciously aware any mistake can and will be used against you.
16. Word Salad
Words don’t have emotional value or meaning for psychopaths. Words are used in circular conversations in order to distort, discredit, confuse, frustrate, and distract you from the main problem—their abuse. Words are used to knock you off your center and to make you feel guilty for your thoughts and feelings.
17. Blanket Statements and Generalizations
Psychopaths are master manipulators, but at the same time, they are intellectually lazy. Rather than taking the time to carefully consider a different perspective, they make blanket statements that don’t acknowledge the specific points in your argument, relying on diversion to generalizations to establish mental power over you and spin your reality.
18. Evading Accountability
Narcissists don’t want you holding them accountable, so they will reroute discussions to benefit them. Changing the subject redirects attention to a different issue altogether, usually turning your expression of frustration on any issue around to their frustration.
Don’t be derailed – stay focused on your points, stating the facts and ignoring the distractions.
Calling you overweight, ugly, stupid or crazy, ridiculing your beliefs, ambitions or friends, telling you he/she is the only one who really cares about you—conditioning you to feel worthless and more dependent. Name-calling is a quick way to degrade you and insult your intelligence, appearance or behavior while invalidating your right to be a separate person with your own perspective.
It’s important to end any interaction that consists of name-calling and communicates that you won’t tolerate it.
20. Pity Plays
A psychopath always has a sad story rooted in how they were abused by an ex or a parent or suffered from some other misfortune. The stories will tug at your heart for empathy, compassion, protection and nurturance. He/she will tell you they hate drama and doesn’t tolerate it, but the reality is that soon you’re surrounded with more drama from him/her then you thought was ever possible.
21. Playing the Martyr
The psychopath methodically, covertly and deliberately builds a case about you, “proving” your reactions show that he is the real victim. When the abuser can’t control you, he will start to control how others see you. This smear campaign is a preemptive strike to sabotage your reputation so you won’t have a support network to fall back on when you detach from him. He may even stalk and harass you or the people you know as a way to “expose the truth”, which is truly a reversal of reality.
The best way to handle a smear campaign is to stay mindful of your reactions and stick to the facts. Your character and integrity will speak for itself.
Focusing on their needs and wants, psychopaths and narcissists, keep you busy taking care of them and impose punishments when they aren’t being met. They’ll keep you up at night arguing, having meltdowns, getting sick, wanting sex, breaking up with you; anything to control your focus. They may hide your keys, wallet, textbooks or phone, or even steal your belongings. They’ll ruin holidays, celebrations, your birthday and anniversary with little thought to how these things affect you— sabotaging your peace of mind.
The abuser relies heavily on your ability to forgive. They may apologize preemptively, even calling out the bad behavior with an apology so they can escape accountability and real change. He isn’t really sorry. It’s just another way to keep you hooked, controlled and under his power.
The psychopath surrounds himself with former lovers who haven’t escaped the cruel charade, new targets, people who are hooked with sympathy or pity play, and other individuals who hope to rescue the toxic person. By triangulation, the toxic person uses the third party’s opinions to validate his abuse while invalidating the victim’s reactions to the abuse. Triangulation also manufactures love triangles to make you feel the psychopath is always in demand in order to evoke jealousy and uncertainty in you.
To resist triangulation tactics, realize that everyone is essentially being played by this one person. Seek your own validation with individuals not under the psychopath’s influence.
25. “Crazy Exes”
Ex-partners who managed to escape from the narcissist are labeled crazy, hysterical, bipolar, jealous, controlling and so on. The abuser will tell stories of how he suffered because of his ex in order to garner your sympathy and compassion. He’ll speak about you in the same way to the next target.
26. Need for Excitement
When you question a psychopath on a behavior, you may hear, “I did it because I can”, “I felt like it” or “Don’t over think it”. Because they are empty on the inside, psychopaths have an ongoing and excessive need for excitement and entertainment. He lives on the edge, concerned only for the moment, doing degrading things to you just for kicks. His lack of loyalty plus impulsiveness causes him to be unpredictable, irresponsible, careless, and untrustworthy. He will show you a good time, but you will always get the bill.
Despite the humble, sweet and “innocent/dummy act” presented, cracks appear in the abuser’s mask, giving way to his true nature—profound entitlement. He talks down to you, disrespects your stated boundaries, and imposes his desires without any consideration for you. At the end, he pridefully and shamelessly flaunts his new targets while you’re still trying to figure out what happened.
28. Verbal Abuse Jokes
A narcissist will use condescending remarks, sarcasm and jokes at your expense to taunt you while still maintaining an innocent, cool demeanor. Yet any time you’re outraged at an insensitive, harsh, deceptive remark, you are accused of having no sense of humor. It’s a way to gaslight you into thinking his abuse is a joke to divert from his cruelty and onto your perceived sensitivity. You may start to develop a sense of hypervigilance about voicing your thoughts and opinions.
Make it clear that you won’t tolerate this type of behavior. Calling out an abusive person on his covert put-downs may result in further abuse but maintain your stance that his behavior is not okay and end the interaction immediately.
With a narcissist or psychopath, shaming is an effective method used to target any behavior or belief that might challenge their power over you. It also whittles away your self-esteem: if a victim dares to be proud of something, shaming you for that specific trait, quality or accomplishment diminishes your sense of self and stifles any sense of accomplishment you may have.
The narcissist will even shame you about any abuse or injustice you’ve suffered in your lifetime, which wounds you again, somehow making it your fault or something you deserved. He aims to make you feel deficient and unworthy.
30. Destructive conditioning
Toxic people condition you to associate your strengths, talents, and happy memories with frustration, disrespect and abuse. You eventually become afraid of doing the very things that once made your life fulfilling. The psychopath parasitically bleeds your power, dignity and sense of self. He takes what he wants, callously neglects your physical and emotional well-being by treating you as an object. You once were the center of a narcissist’s world—now the narcissist has become the center of yours.
Remember, these queens and kings of mean exploit empathy or compassion and respond only to consequences, so beware of any of these red flags. Recognizing the emotional abuse is happening is the first step to recovery. With professional help, you can break the cycle of abuse, regain your power, heal and live happy and free.
From Love Trauma To Fearless Love: 7 Tango Steps for Breaking Free From Narcissists and Predators
Download the Free Excerpt: Lovetrauma.com.
Bancroft, Lundy; Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Penguin Publishing Group, 2004
Hare, Robert D., PhD; Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Guilford Publications, Inc., 1999
MacKenzie, Jackson; Psychopath Free: Recovering From Emotionally Abusive Relationships With Narcissists, Sociopaths and other Toxic People.Tantor, 2015