Is Understanding and Spotting Manipulative Behavior Essential?

Yesterday, my wife and I went to our local car dealership to “purchase” our leased vehicle.

manipulative behavior

We met Beth (not her real name), the sales representative, who escorted us to a comfortable desk and chairs.

She told us that we could purchase our vehicle for the quoted amount on our lease — plus $2000 extra.

Well, we do not have $2000 that we can easily spend above the expected purchase price.

My wife, Vicki, asked her to explain why we would have to pay $2000 extra.

She said something about the state of Illinois charging taxes for everything, and that the dealership isn’t making any money on the deal.

Fortunately, my wife, unlike me, is a great negotiator and researcher. Her friend recently went through this same process and told her not to back down when the dealership tried to tack on extra fees and charges. So she didn’t.

Beth, the sales rep, brought her boss over, who was very friendly, very smooth. But neither he nor Beth were telling the truth. When we called the leasing division of the dealership, we found out that we could pay the $2000 lower asking price if we obtained our own bank loan.

So we did.

If my wife hadn’t come to the meeting armed with the facts and didn’t have a negotiator’s mindset, we would have been in trouble. The sales rep and her boss seemed nice to me, and they seemed sincere. But they were not telling us all the facts, and we would have lost $2000 on the deal.

All adults, including Asperger adults should understand and spot manipulative behavior.

What Is Manipulative Behavior?

According to Preston Ni, in her article, How to Spot and Stop Manipulators,

Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.

Why should we (including Autistic and Asperger adults)  be able to understand and spot manipulative behavior?

1.  Autistics can fall prey to manipulative behavior because of differences in communication styles.

Asperger adults say what they mean, and mean what they say.  NTs (neurotypicals), however, often speak metaphorically and in generalizations, so it may be difficult to decipher what is their regular mode of communication versus actual manipulation.

If, therefore, an Asperger person is expecting that the neurotypical person is speaking precisely, they can be in for a rude awakening when they find out that the other person is actually taking advantage of them.

(This is NOT to say that all neurotypical adults are going to try to manipulate you.  But there will be some who will).

Aspergerians and Autistics often experience manipulative behavior early on.

For example, here’s an illustration of how an autistic or Asperger child could be bullied without knowing it:

Impaired language skills and inability to read social cues also mean that many autistic children are bullied without ever realizing it or being able to report it.   Riley-Hall recalled an incident involving her daughter in elementary school. “Little boys were getting her to say dirty words and laughing at her. She thought this was a good thing and that they were being friendly, but they were really making fun of her,” she says, describing how another girl, who knew it was wrong, told the teacher. But until the classmate reported it, Riley-Hall had no idea that her daughter was being bullied.”    Time Magazine – Why Autistic Kids Make Easy Targets For School Bullies.

2.  Understanding and Spotting Manipulative Behavior Can Protect You From Personal Injury and Loss.

Neurotypicals and Asperger adults alike can fall prey to others’ manipulative behaviors. Think about senior citizens who buy into financial investing scams. Or think of me, who might have bought into the auto dealership trying to “sell” me my wife’s leased car for an extra $2000!

When you and I are better able to understand and spot manipulative behavior, we limit our chances of being bullied, injured, or victimized.

3.  Recognizing Manipulative Behavior Can Help Us Grow In Ways That Will Protect Us.

This article from Wikipedia, called Psychological Manipulation, identifies personality characteristics that can make us vulnerable to manipulators.

Here’s the list of personality characteristics that can make us vulnerable to others’ manipulative behaviors:

the “disease to please”
addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others
Emotophobia (fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval)
lack of assertiveness and ability to say no
blurry sense of identity (with soft personal boundaries)
low self-reliance
external locus of control
naïveté – victim finds it too hard to accept the idea that some people are cunning, devious and ruthless or is “in denial” if he or she is being victimized.
over-conscientiousness – victim is too willing to give manipulator the benefit of the doubt and see their side of things in which they blame the victim.
low self-confidence – victim is self-doubting, lacking in confidence and assertiveness, likely to go on the defensive too easily.
over-intellectualization – victim tries too hard to understand and believes the manipulator has some understandable reason to be hurtful.
emotional dependency – victim has a submissive or dependent personality. The more emotionally dependent the victim is, the more vulnerable he or she is to being  exploited and manipulated.
too dependent – dependent people need to be loved and are therefore gullible and liable to say yes to something to which they should say no.
too immature – has impaired judgment and believes the exaggerated advertising claims.
too naïve – cannot believe there are dishonest people in the world, taking for granted that if there were they would not be allowed to operate.
too impressionable – overly seduced by charmers. For example, they might vote for the seemingly charming politician who kisses babies.
too trusting – people who are honest often assume that everyone else is honest. They are more likely to commit themselves to people they hardly know without checking credentials, etc., and less likely to question so-called experts.
-too lonely – lonely people may accept any offer of human contact. A psychopathic stranger may offer human companionship for a price.
-too impulsive – make snap decisions about, for example, what to buy or whom to marry without consulting others.
-too altruistic – the opposite of psychopathic: too honest, too fair, too empathetic.
-too frugal – cannot say no to a bargain even if they know the reason it is so cheap.
-too materialistic – easy prey for loan sharks or get-rich-quick schemes.
-too greedy – the greedy and dishonest may fall prey to a psychopath who can easily entice them to act in an immoral way.
-too masochistic – lack self-respect and so unconsciously let psychopaths take advantage of them. They think they deserve it out of a sense of guilt.
-the elderly – the elderly can become fatigued and less capable of multi-tasking. When hearing a sales pitch they are less likely to consider that it could be a con. They are prone to giving money to someone with a hard-luck story.

This is a long list!  Try not to get too lost in analysis with these terms.  If you’re not sure that you struggle with one of these characteristics, think about times you feel you’ve been manipulated (in a bad way, that cost you).  Do you have personality characteristics that may have made you vulnerable?  Or ask a friend or family member you trust to help you know whether any of these characteristics apply to you.

Summary and Conclusion


Understanding and spotting manipulative behavior is the first step in defending against it

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b.  The type of manipulative behavior to watch out for, as summarized above, is:

the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.  How to Spot and Stop Manipulators.

c.  As you understand and become better at recognizing manipulative behavior, you’ll lower your chances of personal injury and loss at the hands of manipulators.

d.  Action  Step: Study the list of characteristics above that manipulators prey on and see which ones stand out to you.

For example, I’ve had to work on the “disease to please”, so that I am less likely to speak my mind or disagree, or to ignore my intuition that a manipulator is trying to take advantage of me. So, I’ve been working on saying “No” and stating my opinions more clearly.

e.  Action Step: Read the following resources –

I’d like to hear from you in the comments section:

Have you ever been a victim of manipulative behavior?
How have you learned to understand and recognize manipulative behavior?

photo credit: Ignacio Conejo via photopin cc

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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