Emily is confused. She wakes up after a fitful night, tossing and turning in her bed. She remembers the exhaustion of crying herself to sleep, the anxiety of listening for his footsteps outside her room. She gets up and prepares breakfast like she does every morning. Her three children wake up one by one, each oblivious of what their mother has been through. She has decided a long time ago that under no circumstances would her problems with their dad be theirs. They must be allowed the space for happiness, fulfilment and joy. Then comes the encounter with him. He ignores her and his jokes and hugs with the children make it blatantly clear that he is unaffected by last night’s row, that he will get away with his violent behaviour and make her believe that he was justified to do so, worse that she is hysterical.
The children see a dad who looks calm and rested compared to their ever-tired bleary-eyed mum. Using her exhaustion, he will later say that her foot got trapped accidentally between the door and the frame. After all, she didn’t want to listen nor respect his opinion and he’ll pretend that she is exaggerating the severity of the incident.
This prelude could equally have portrayed a man being abused by a woman, a sister bullying her younger sibling or an employee mistreating his colleague because toxic manipulation does not only happen behind closed doors but in any context where human beings interact with each other.
The introduction may ring true to some ears, others may suggest that never would they allow someone to treat them the way this man is treating his wife. Still others may comment that there is never just one side to consider and even though generally it can be said that a disagreement requires at least two opposing parties, when a toxic manipulative person is at work, things are different. Little do we know about the ease a narcissistic manipulator slips his poisonous behaviour into people’s minds. Little do we know that a friend, sibling, parent or neighbour is the victim of verbal abuse that has stripped them from seeing the bigger picture. We may even shake our heads in disbelief and conclude that it is their own fault. Yet, the abuser will have captured their prey through a gradual breakdown. It is as if the personal identity of someone we used to laugh and spend time with has been replaced with someone who will defend an arrogant dominant partner with teeth and claws or has become a mere shadow of their former self.
Further, despite existing research and data about abuse, statistics cannot reflect the sad fact that too few victims report to the police, seek help or treatment, therefore remain unaccounted for. Toxic manipulation can be found anywhere, at any age and in many guises.
What is the manipulator’s greatest weapon? Diversion!
There is always something or someone else a manipulator can blame. It can be a tearful tale of having been unloved as a child, worse abused and misunderstood by people at home and school. Strategically employed these personal stories will be effective in getting what the manipulative person wants: appear special and fulfil their need for domination. The day that their deceit is discovered, it is often too late for the victim to backtrack. Their very emotions and beliefs are in pieces if they admit to themselves that the person who has been telling them to understand their outbursts and frustrations has actually used them purely to achieve their selfish goals.
So, after successfully using the tool of diversion will come the threats because the moment a manipulator realizes that you doubt their integrity and that you could topple their precious fabrication of a magnified ego, they will turn to intimidation.
Following the diversion and intimidation, come the appearance of excuse and remorse (after all they do not want to lose out on your steadfast support), and then the perversion of the truth. If you have landed in that spiral, you are the victim of a narcissistic pervert. They may tell you one thing one day, the next day claim to have never said it, belittle or even laugh about the suggestion that their behaviour is abusive. You will start doubting your own words, your world, your capacity for rational thought unless you are lucky enough to understand the deceit or a bystander unveils the toxic manipulator by coincidence.
The first painful step is recognizing that you are the victim of manipulation and that it is not your fault. The next is to realize that the only way out of the vicious circle is to plan your way out – completely – and know that you are not alone and that there are helplines you can reach 24/7.