manipulate, manipulation, relationship, manipulated,

Everybody manipulates to get what they want, even 3 year olds. I believe manipulation is part of our defense system. Manipulation are ways to win, to have power & control. There are socially acceptable positive manipulations in trying to win card games, smiling at someone to welcome them or a politician trying to win votes. Negative manipulations are all about not being vulnerable & having power over others. People often would rather hide out in playing games than communicating more directly about how they are hurt or what they want.


Everybody manipulates to get what they want, even 3 year olds. Manipulation is part of our defense system. Manipulation are ways to win, to have power & control. There are caring & acceptable ways in trying to win games or a politician trying to win votes.

There are tons of ways to be manipulative. The one everyone talks about is gaslighting which is getting someone else to doubt their own reality. Another would be using fear to control or using someone’s insecurities against them. Burying someone else in a mountain of lies, the silent treatment, bullying, isolation, making excuses or moving the goalposts so there is never enough. Ultimately the price people pay for manipulating is ending up very disconnected from others.

Manipulators always avoid taking any responsibility for problems, mistakes or failures. They are all about blame which helps them avoid grappling with hard truths about themselves. They are unlikely to negotiate because they are the one that matters most, so there really is no US to take care of for a manipulator.

Today I’m interviewing my first ever return guest in 7 years of doing shows. In October of 2020 Dr. George Simon was on Episode #71. Dr. Simon, who is a psychologist and internationally recognized expert on manipulators and other problem personality disorders and the author of three bestselling books, including in sheep’s clothing, understanding and dealing with manipulative people, which has over 1000 reviews on Amazon for five stars. Dr. Simon also recently retired as a supervising psychologist for the Arkansas department of corrections. He also writes a blog on his website, Thanks so much for joining me AGAIN today! (You Respond)

#1. So when I was reviewing our last conversation together one of my favorite parts was why people get manipulated, because they don’t trust their own instincts. I work hard to convince people to listen to that little voice inside. I still remember visiting my grandmother who let me walk to town on my own, maybe I was 9 or 10. An older boy saw me & told me he’d show me a dollhouse under the bridge. It’s such a distinct memory & I told him no thank you & went on my way. Another time when no one was around I went & looked & of course there was no dollhouse. It’s just so important to trust your own instincts, could you talk about that again?

Dr. George Simon: Well, this is exactly what happens in the gaslighting effect. Some folks talk about gaslighting like it’s a tactic in & of itself, it really isn’t. & when I discovered it back in 1996, just before publishing my first book. Nobody had a name for it. We only knew that there was a certain kind of crazy-making behavior that certain folks were good at inducing in people, where they felt crazy because their gut told them one thing, but their manipulator made them believe something else or invited them to believe something else, & they started to mistrust themselves. 

So, for example, when the person felt victimized, truly victimized, truly aggressed against, bullied or mistreated in some way, & then dared to confront the manipulator. & then they turn things around & play the victim themselves & cast the real victim as the perpetrator, the person begins to wonder, “Well, am I crazy? I just thought that they really said something horrible to me or did something horrible to me, they got me feeling like the bad person now, how is that possible?” That crazy-making feeling we didn’t have a name for at the time, but I described it in the book. & it’s the effect of all of the tactics that skilled manipulators use to get the better of you. 

And when we conceptualize these behaviors as rooted in defensive postures, it really biases our perception about the nature of human interactions. There are fighters among us. Psychology has been very slow to come to the game in this respect. Most of psychology for years, for decades, for several decades, has been steeped in a paradigm that concerns itself with people’s fears & insecurities. But we are as a species, pretty dedicated fighters. & we don’t always fight because we’re afraid. We fight to get things that we want, to get things we think will please us. & that kind of aggressive behavior characterizes much of our interactions. 

Now when we fight for a just thing, for something that’s truly worth fighting for that has value. & in that fight, we take care not to needlessly injure anybody else, to take their feelings & their welfare into account. That’s called assertiveness. But the dirty, underhanded little fighters among us, the folks that will leave nothing unturned will do you any which way they can to get advantage over you. These are the manipulative folks that I describe in all my books. By the way, I have five bestselling books. The latest one, I really poured my heart into, Essentials for the Journey

I took up a part of the book, Character Disturbance that describes what I call the 10 commandments of character & amplified those with my coauthor & created a whole new work that really explains the character phenomenon that we’re witnessing in our time, & what we need to do to turn things around. So, my heart is really with that book. & I hope it enjoys the same success eventually, as my first one.

Rhoda: I’m sorry, I didn’t get it & read it before the interview today, but maybe I’ll have you come back again. That really sounds important. I think a lot about therapy is changing values & getting people to think about values & what’s important to them & what their priorities are. & I think that’s a really interesting book that you have.

Dr. George Simon: Oh, you just said something that triggered a thought in me. You talked about therapy, getting people to think about values. This is another peeve of mine. We know from hard evidence, that what we think & how we act are very connected, there very related. So, if I hold certain attitudes, certain beliefs, etc. If I, for example, think that women are inherently inferior, are not up to par with men, etc. etc., I’m going to enter a relationship with a whole different kind of attitude. & I’m likely to treat my partner in a particular way. So, we know this relationship. But here’s the dilemma—& I’ve driven this point home in training sessions all across not just the country, but the world. We waste considerable time & energy; therapists do this & people in relationships do this—we waste our time & energy, trying to get people to think differently, in the hopes that they will act differently. 

We have it 100%, backward. They need to do differently because doing differently repeatedly over time, not only changes your mind, but it has the potential to change your heart, too. Yeah. I urge therapists & I urge people in relationships… & I use little rhyming phrases, you know, we try to get them to see, we try to get the disturbed character to see. & my response to that is, they already see, there isn’t anything you can tell them they haven’t heard ten thousand times before, I promise you. It’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree – that’s the little rhyming phrase. & it’s not that they’re not aware, they’re plenty aware, the problem is their lack of care. 

And until they do differently & until you set the limits & the boundaries & force that issue. Until they do differently, things won’t change here or here. & I will tell you, that’s another reason why most therapists think that people with various degrees of character disturbances can’t be helped, because they waste all that time & energy trying to get them to see what they already see.

Rhoda: I was in a workshop once, & the woman who led it on personality disorders, said, “How many people here believe personality disorders can change?” & there are probably 80 people in the room. & I was one of like four people that raised my hand. & she said, “Maybe that’s the problem.”

Dr. George Simon: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so it’s just hopeless. In some cases, where the person has had so much reinforcement over time, & they have so many natural predispositions to behave a certain way, in some cases, with our current methodologies, especially, it is virtually hopeless. But it has much more to do with the mindset of the therapist, & the intervention strategies. & with this crazy notion that somehow we have power to do what only the person can do. Only the person can decide to do differently. & that requires a change of heart, & that occurs only over time. 

So in my workshops & my training workshops, I give vignette after vignette, after vignette, & I show what kind of different work it is. It’s just different work. True, the methods don’t work. Nothing we’ve been trained to do works. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t methods that don’t work, it only means that most therapists have no clue about those methods.

Rhoda: Well, how do I come back from that? I want you to talk about the gift of fear.

Dr. George Simon: Yes. That’s not me. That’s Gavin de Becker. He wrote a book by that very title. & that’s part of trusting our instincts. When somebody is on the attack—not defensive, but on the attack, they want something, they want something of you. They want you to capitulate. They want you to cave in, they want you to give them something. When somebody is on the attack, something in most of us says… just like that little intuition you had when that person approached you, when that young man approached you & said, “You want to see this dollhouse?” Most of us are hardwired to have this little sensor in us, that makes the hair on the back of our neck stand up a little bit & tells us you know what, this doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel good. 

And we naturally get apprehensive. & we naturally go on the defensive. & we need to pay attention to that, because that’s the confirmation that our whole biology is telling us, we’re under attack. Somebody is trying to prey on us. & so we have that reaction, but we don’t trust it. This is another little bit of advice that I give therapists & people in relationships with good manipulators. We listen. We listen to the liars, & their spin, & their machinations.  I always tell the folks in the workshops, stop listening & judge the behavior. If the behavior is hurtful, whatever else comes out of their mouth is totally irrelevant. So, why listen?

Rhoda: & in the culture that we’re in right now, I think that’s excellent advice, I really do. So, the gift of fear, I like that so much. I’ve made a drawing that I handed out to clients called the Cartman Drama Triangle that I studied in the 70s, from transactional analysis. It’s got three positions: Victim, Rescuer, Persecutor, people seem to favor two of the three roles & then they go around & round the triangle. What do you think about the usefulness of understanding this triangle?

Dr. George Simon: Okay, I do think that there is some value in all of the major paradigms that have been developed over the past couple of centuries. However, I like to say in my workshops that they were all developed by, for & about neurotic people. & the problem we have today is that we have too few neurotics & way too many disturbed characters. So, even though the paradigms have some value, when it comes to the predominant scourge of our time, not too helpful, sorry to say. They have value. If I’m working with a good old fashioned neurotic client, somebody with a real conscience, dealing with inner insecurities & fears & anxieties that they barely even understand, some unresolved childhood wounds that they’re still carrying around that need processing & all that stuff. Wonderful. All those paradigms are beautiful. 

But they won’t help in dealing with the character disturbed, however. So, I do relish using some of the other methods. & I have always, in my professional life, when I was actively in practice, I always made sure to have a mix of good old fashioned neurotic clients along with ones with severe character problems, because otherwise, you might lose your mind just a little bit, if you didn’t know a balance there. 

Rhoda: That’s true. & I made an opposite triangle for my neurotic clients, for greater mental health, about what to invest in instead of drama. So, one corner is to be fiercely honest with yourself & others. Another corner is to respect yourself & respect others. & the third corner is to think a lot about negotiation, being able to make deals. It’s just a word that I don’t think couples think enough about, it’s one person tends to cater to the other. & I think negotiation is fairer. & so what do you think of any improvement on the second triangle?

Dr. George Simon: I don’t see any real improvement on it. I think that’s great advice. Those are great terms & limits & expectations to set in any human encounter. So, as a matter of fact, two of them that you mentioned are among the commandments that I talked about in my latest book. However, we don’t have to talk about those things. Even in a therapy session. All we have to really do is insist upon on those things. Talk is cheap, as they say. All we have to do is really expect the proper behaviors, to reinforce them when they occur, & to fail to reinforce, or to otherwise consequent when they don’t occur. This discussion can’t move forward, unless we get back to some civility, honesty, brutal honesty, & respect. Then we can continue, it’s fine. We just have to hold the line, enforced the limits & the boundaries & the consequences.

Rhoda: One of my favorite scenes – & I only made it through two seasons of The Sopranos. But Tony’s wife went to therapy, & the psychiatrist said to her – she started to pay him out of her wallet for the session – & he looked at her & he said, “I’m not taking blood money. That’s the money that bought you that coat, that bought you that necklace. I’m not going to participate in that. You can go.” & I thought, wow, that is such a… because I think there’s so much syrup. Even when I got coaching for podcasting, I would say that – & I never got it, though. I never got what I wanted – I would say, “Please don’t just say positive things. Please give me honest feedback, so, that I know how to tangibly improve, because it’s really important to me.” & I never did, people really avoid & dodge, they want to do all the syrup, & it just leaves me untrusting. 

Dr. George Simon: It’s supposed to. There’s that inner voice again, it’s supposed to leave you untrusting, because when people do that, they’re manipulating, & for their own gain.

Rhoda: It is not real. 

Dr. George Simon: So I talk about what you were just talking about, I have a name for it, I call it “benign confrontation”. & what I mean by that is that when you see something, when you know something, & it needs to be outed or exposed & dealt with, it’s not the what, it has to be called, but how you do that is everything. & if your only intent, if your sole intent is to stand for something bigger than both of you, to stand for principle of value, something that is good for human existence, if that’s your sole intent, it becomes evident in the way you confront the issue. & that lays the seed for trust, because even if the disturbed character is not prepared to hear you all that well & even if they’re especially not prepared to receive you, the very fact that you dared to speak truth, & to do it in a non-hostile way, clearly serving something bigger than both of you, when & if their heart ever opens, who do you think they’re going to come to?

Rhoda: That’s right.

Dr. George Simon: That’s where the magic is. 

Rhoda: It is about trust. It absolutely is, yes, I agree. I would say to my kids, I know I’m a challenging mom, because I make you think about things & I talk about hard things. But I know you’re going to trust me down the road because I’m never going to lie to you.

Dr. George Simon: & also whether or not they do trust you down the road is irrelevant to serving the value itself, because we don’t know. We don’t know if or when it’s ever going to happen. & that’s not the point. If we’re doing it because we’re expecting something to happen, then our motives aren’t that noble in the first place.

Rhoda: All right. Many people suffer with excessive guilt & increasing guilt is such a powerful manipulative tool. What can someone do to protect themselves from feeling even more guilty?

Dr. George Simon: Oh, my goodness.

Rhoda: Well, that’s the problem I run into.

Dr. George Simon: Having a conscience is a good thing. Having the capacity to feel guilt & shame & they’re related & we’ve had some poor notions about their strengths & weaknesses & benefits & like that. But basically, people of good conscience can feel both guilt & shame. Well, character disturbed people & manipulators, they know this very well & they really appreciate this. Because this is how you manipulate; you use basically the other person’s conscientiousness against them. 

So, if I can invite you to feel guilty about something you probably reasonably shouldn’t feel all that guilty about, or if I can make you or invite you to feel ashamed of yourself for daring to confront me etc. etc., then the battle is half one. So, if I’m a disturbed character, or a good manipulator, I’m pleased as punch that you have this overactive conscience, & that you feel guilt & shame so easily. Now, the test of character is to try that same thing on the other person. Just try guilting or shaming a disturbed character into changing their behavior. Just try it, that will not work. It only works if you are conscientious. 

Rhoda: So, is there anything that they can do when they recognize that’s what’s happening?

Dr. George Simon: Absolutely, dismiss it. I liken it to a tap on the door, an invitation, a knock on the door. Decline to open the door, decline the invitation. 

Rhoda: Another manipulative tactic is someone who insists on closeness prematurely when it hasn’t been earned. Or in today’s term – which I’ve been hearing way too many times – love bombing. So, many of my folks who are dating are hungry, & fall into this trap. Any advice for them?

Dr. George Simon: Oh, my goodness. In a way, we’ve opened up a can of worms here because the general public has gotten to play so fast & loose with words, that the words have ceased to lose meaning anymore. & therapists are among the worst offenders many times. So, there’s nothing loving about what we call the love bombing. It’s a term we’ve given to a behavior that is pure seduction. That’s what it is. I see something in you of value. & by the way, the number one thing that sucks people into a potentially abusive relationship is that they equate interest with regard. Somebody can be interested in you for a lot of reasons. They can have a whole lot of interest in you. 

Maybe they see that you are the very conscientious giving type. & maybe you’re just the kind of person they would love to exploit. So, they will throw everything at you, seductively. You don’t know that on the front end, but you mistake their intense interest for care, for concern, for regard. It’s not love, love bombing has nothing to do with love, leave the love out of it. It’s seduction pure & simple. & when somebody is on the make, you have to decide, & you have to do your homework, because we live in the age of rampant character dysfunction. This is the age in which we live. & we’ve been in it for a long time. 

What we have to decide at the front end of a relationship is: “okay, this person is pulling out all the stops, & they’re coming in hard & fast. I need to back up. Is this person worth my time? Does this person have the character to warrant my interest back?” & do our homework & do the serious vetting that we used to do instead of being bowled over by the interest that somebody shows. I wish we had another name for love bombing, but I understand.

Rhoda: & there was a scene in Friday Night Lights, which is a wonderful show about a Guidance Counselor married to a football coach. & there are just lots of rich ideas in this show. It’s long over but you can still watch it. But there was a scene of a football player giving intense interest to a young woman, but it was about manipulating to get laid & it had happened under the football stands, but it really was just so clear that he was using what you described as intensely interest to get something which is different from having character.

Dr. George Simon: Right & it’s different from having true regard. Love is regard for the other person’s welfare. & frankly, love, not the sentiment, but the behavior. Frankly, love is work. To show regard for another person, even on a day when you’re not quite feeling like it, & even on a day when the person you’re trying to show real regard for hasn’t been on their best behavior either, that kind of regard takes willful effort. It’s a conscious, heartfelt decision to regard someone else’s welfare, regardless of how you feel that day, or what the other person has been doing that day. & it’s not easy. It’s not the sentiment, it’s not the interest. You can be interested for all kinds of reasons, some of which might be noble, others of which might not be too noble. This is the main reason I wrote my latest book, Essentials for The Journey. We’re here to learn to love. That’s what we’re here for, so that when this temporary journey is over, as it’s going to be for all of us, we will know love when we see it. That’s why we’re here.

To get the entire interview listen to the episode above. Dr. George Simon’s website:

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