There are many ways in which the manipulative parent may manipulate their offspring, including:
- emotional blackmail
- verbal aggression
- implicit or explicit threats
- use of ‘the silent treatment’
- control through money or material goods
- positive reinforcement of behaviour which is damaging to the child
- behaving in a passive-aggressive manner
- denial of obviously destructive behaviour
- causing the child to believe that s/he will only be loved by complying with the parent’s wishes at all times; in other words, there is an ABSENCE of unconditional love (indeed, some parents are emotionally ill-equipped to love their children).
- causing the child to feel excessive guilt and ashamed for failing to live up to the parent’s expectations and demands.
- with-holding love as a form of punishment to cause emotional distress
- direct or implied threats of physical punishment
- making the child feel s/he is intrinsically bad for not always bending to the parent’s will
- Financial manipulation. Some parents may manipulate their child using money for a whole host of reasons, including spoiling the child and then accusing him of ingratitude; as a tacit way of keeping the child quiet about abuse; to compensate the child for emotional neglect and ameliorate feelings of guilt; to make the child feel indebted; to increase the child’s dependence; to induce feelings of guilt in the child either explicitly or implicitly; as a tool to regulate the child’s behaviour; as an expression of the parent’s superiority and contempt for the child; as a superficial way of acting ‘the good parent.’
- making the child believe he is uncaring for not fully meeting the parent’s needs
Such parents may also be very controlling; if our parents were overly controlling the characteristics they may have displayed include the following :
- Did not show respect for, or value, our reasonable ideas and opinions
- Imposed over-exacting demands on us and refused to listen to even the most reasonable and considered objections
- Were preoccupied with criticizing us, whilst minimizing or ignoring our good points
- Were excessively concerned about our table manners (for example, failing to hold a knife and fork correctly)
- Were excessively rigid about what we eat
- Discouraged us from developing independence of thought, especially if it led to a mismatch between our opinions, views and values and those of the parent
- Imposed excessive demands on us regarding household rules, duties and regulations which we were not permitted negotiate even if any reasonable person would regard them as inappropriate
- Never admit to being in the wrong, even in very clear-cut circumstances
- Were excessively and unreasonably controlling regarding our appearance; not respecting our wishes to express our individuality (for example, choosing all our clothes without any interest in our opinion about them).
- Did not respect our choice of career and made demands on us to reconsider and instead pursue a career the parent regarded as more suitable even when this would make us very unhappy.
- Expected us to reach standards that Concept sign of parent manipulating her child like a marionette were impossible to attain and berated us when we inevitably, in their eyes, failed.
- Did not allow us to voice reasonable objections (for example, about the family dynamics and how they caused us unhappiness).
- Were unnecessarily rigid regarding who we ‘ought’ to associate within a way that reflected prejudice and discrimination against individuals we wished to associate with
- Tried to make us suppress perfectly normal emotions such as anger, fear and unhappiness.
- Violated our privacy (for example, searched our bedroom for our personal diary without a good cause).
- Tried to control us with emotional blackmail, psychological manipulation, intimidation and threats.
Whilst some parental attempts to manipulate and control are fairly blatant, as can be seen from the above examples, some are far more subtle. This means that when we were young we may not have been aware that we were being manipulated; we may only come to realize it, in retrospect, with the extra knowledge we have gained as adults.
Let’s now look in more detail at some psychological techniques a manipulative parent might make use of in order to gain power and control over his/ her offspring :
Techniques That Manipulative Parents May Use:
1) Preventing the victim from expressing negative emotions:
With this technique, the parent maintains that it is not what they themselves have done that is the problem – according to them, the ‘real problem is the offspring’s reaction to what they have done.
For example, according to the manipulative parent, if the offspring is distressed and upset by what the parent has done then this is due to the ‘fact’ that the offspring is oversensitive.
Or, if the offspring is angry about how s/he has been treated by the parent, the parent may say that the offspring’s anger is caused by him/her being so unforgiving.
A final example: if the offspring feels a desperate need to express how hurt s/he is by the parent’s behaviour, and so keeps bringing the subject up in an attempt to understand and process what has happened, the parent may high-handedly dismiss the victim as ‘sounding like a broken record’.
In such cases, then, it can be seen that the manipulative parent can be skilfully adept at redirecting the blame onto the victim and invalidating his/ her claims.
In this way, the offspring are forced to suppress powerful emotions at the expense of his/ her mental health – such suppression actually has the effect of intensifying the emotions, and, therefore, it is only a matter of time before they burst out again, their vigour redoubled. This process will frequently lead to the development of a vicious cycle.
2) Blaming the victim :
For example, a father who hits his son may claim that it was the son’s behaviour that ‘drove him to it’
Or a drunk parent may blame his/ her habitual drinking on the stress of bringing up the offspring.
In my own case, my mother threw me out of the home when I was thirteen. Due to my ‘behaviour’, apparently. And, whenever I cried (pretty much a daily occurrence around this age, admittedly), her favourite cutting, demeaning and belittling response (and the contemptuous tone in which it was delivered is still ringing in my ears, decades later) was that I should ‘turn off the waterworks.’
3) Inappropriate personal disclosure:
Prior to my forced eviction when I had only just become a teenager, my mother had essentially used me as her personal counsellor; indeed, she used to refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist’. During these, for want of a better term, ‘counselling sessions’ she would very frequently discuss with me the problems she was invariably experiencing with the latest man she was seeing (particularly one who was highly unstable and frequently in and out of jail and lived with us for two years, but that’s another story).
She would also discuss her sex life. She once told me, for example, that, despite the fact that she had been married to my father for about fifteen years (before they divorced when I was eight), she had only ever had sex with him twice. As she has two children (I have an older brother) this was highly unlikely (and subsequently transpired to be a falsehood). Manipulators often disclose such inappropriately intimate details to encourage the other person to feel close to them, which, in turn, makes the victim easier to take advantage of and exploit.
4) Empty words (talk is cheap):
Examples of this include:
‘I’d make any sacrifice for you.’
‘Your happiness is my number one priority.’
‘I think about you all the time.’
However, the manipulator’s actions fail to substantiate these claims time and time again. Indeed, the contrast between his/her words and actions is depressingly stark. Empty words, of course, cost the manipulative parent nothing but s/he knows that by using them s/he can gain great power and control over the offspring, even making the victim feel ungrateful and indebted to him/her. It can also cause mental illness in the victim by invalidating his/her own perceptions and making him/ her question his/her very sense of reality. Indeed, it places the victim in a double bind.
5) Minimising :
For example, I was always told I was overstating the negative effect my childhood had on my psychological well-being (I have since discovered, however, that I was dramatically understating it).
Minimisation, then, involves the manipulative parent telling the offspring that they are essentially ‘making mountains out of molehills’, even ( or, indeed, especially), when the accusation is grotesquely inaccurate.
6) Lying by commission or by omission:
The former refers to saying something that is not true whilst the latter refers to withholding a significant part of the truth so as to generate a false impression.
7) Rationalization :
Providing a false explanation for behaviour that would otherwise reflect badly on the person.
8) Selective attention / selective inattention:
This involves only focusing on what supports the manipulator’s case whilst studiously ignoring anything that undermines it.
9) Diversion / Evasion:
This involves not responding directly to questions but instead going off at tangents, being vague and attempting to steer awkward conversations away from anything that might cast the manipulator in a negative light.
10) Covert Intimidation:
This involves making implied, subtle threats to force the victim into a defensive position.
11) Placing The Victim In A Bad Light:
If the victim does indeed go on to the defensive, due to the manipulator employing ‘covert intimidation tactics (see number 10, directly above), the manipulator may take the opportunity to ‘shine the spotlight on the victim and claim that his/her (what is actually defensive) behaviour is abusive, thus cunningly turning the tables.
12) False / Controlled Anger:
The manipulator might fake anger to intimidate the victim, ward off suspicion (e.g. by using ‘outraged’ phrases like, ‘how dare you suggest such a thing!’ or close down the discussion/argument.
13) Seduction :
This involves manipulating the victim by using flattery, charm and praise and gaining his/her trust and loyalty.
15) Projection: this involves the manipulator attributing his/her own faults to the victim.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).