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Manipulation is the practice of using indirect tactics to control behavior, emotions, and relationships. As defined by Psychology Today, manipulation is “the utilization of undue power (social, relational, familial, sexual, financial, professional, etc.) for the purpose of benefiting the manipulator at the expense of their victims.” There is a wide range of behaviors that may be considered manipulative, with varying degrees of severity. Manipulative behaviors may be caused by interpersonal dynamics, personality characteristics, a dysfunctional upbringing, attachment issues, or certain mental health conditions. There are different categories of manipulativeness which include the following:

  • Negative manipulation (e.g., persistent criticism, shaming, social exclusion, social pressure, hostile threats, etc.)
  • Positive manipulation (e.g., fake friendliness, insincere flattery, appeal to vanity, false promises, etc.)
  • Deception and intrigue (e.g., lying, cheating, stealing, unethical shortcuts, excuse-making, blaming, evading responsibility, etc.)
  • Strategic helplessness (e.g., playing weak, playing martyr, guilt-baiting, etc.)
  • Hostility and abuse (e.g., bullying, temper tantrum, intimidation, physical/ mental/ emotional abuse, etc.).

Manipulation often begins as a survival mechanism to cope with a challenging or competitive environment and/ or maybe the result of family, social, societal, or professional conditioning. The motives behind manipulation can vary from unconscious to malicious. Although a person may have initially relied on manipulation as a survival instinct for self-preservation, these behaviors are quick to morph into pathological acts of exploitation.

Is It A Personality Disorder?

No, manipulation is not a personality disorder. While a chronic pattern of manipulation can indicate an underlying mental health concern, a manipulative personality disorder is not recognized as one of the ten standalone personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Personality disorders are defined as “enduring patterns of inner experience and behaviors that are dysfunctional in two or more of the following areas: cognition (e.g., distorted ways of perceiving self, others, and the world), emotion regulation, interpersonal functioning, and impulse control.” Manipulation is, however, particularly common with personality disorder diagnoses such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

For Information and Support 

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Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.

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