“Acting Innocent and “Playing Dumb” as Manipulation Tactics” Comments, Page 1

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29 Comments (7 Discussion Threads) on “Acting Innocent and “Playing Dumb” as Manipulation Tactics”

    1. Thanks for the question, Mariana. No, it is not the same. Although the term is often applied, it would be erroneous to do so. Manipulative tactics like described above are very ACTIVE but veiled attempts to exploit, abuse, or control. There’s nothing passive about them. The correct term is COVERT-AGGRESSIVE, although many, including professionals use the other term. I have some prior posts on the subject. You might find the articles interesting and/or entertaining. Check the archives, as I’m not exactly sure of the titles. I think one has to do with when passive aggression is not passive and another article has to do with commonly misused psychological terms.

  1. This one hit particularly close to home for me right now. Almost 2 years ago, I snapped out of my co-dependent and neurotic denial and finally started to “confront” (at first this meant very gently pointing out issues in an extremely sugar-coated way) my hubby about unacceptable behaviors.

    He feigned innocence AND loudly protested. Once he even insisted that I “take it back”! Of course I did exactly that.

    I finally got strong enough to stop backing down which resulted in a 5 month separation, at my insistence. We almost got divorced. He eventually came to realize that he did need to make changes and we got back together a little less than a year ago. I never considered him a “disturbed character”.

    I’m starting to wonder now because he recently initiated a conversation in which he defended his prior unacceptable behaviors. He basically re-wrote reality, even though there was no purpose in doing so, except to once again, justify his old patterns. It’s very bizarre and troubling to me as I consider it to be imperative that we are on the same page about the roles each of us played back then.

    If he truly believes that he was innocent then, was he lying before or is he truly a disturbed person or what?!

    I’m sure you can’t answer this question with any certainty since you don’t know either of us. These are just the questions running through my head right now.

    1. Very good questions, Marianna. There is a difference between “neurotic denial” which is truly based in an unconscious fear to acknowledge something far to emotionally painful to bear, and the kind of re-writing of history and lying that disturbed characters do is the motivation for it. Disturbed characters can even lie to themselves. After a time, they can even come to somewhat believe their lies. The motivation for that, however, is not that there is such emotional pain over the reality of things that they just can’t bear it,, but rather because they resist changing their core beliefs about what is right and wrong and their PREFERRED ways of going about getting the things they want in life. So, when life tells them: “No, you must consider another way of looking at things and doing things,” they resist with a passion. Then, they try to re-write and re-frame things so that everyone else sees things their way. When counseling succeeds in such cases, it’s always at least in part because the counselor (and eventually both parties) have an appreciation for the very different kinds of denial and their roots. I have a couple of prior posts on this very subject.

    2. We did go to marriage counseling for about a year. We stopped a few months ago as things seemed to be moving along swimmingly and we had to make some budget cutbacks. We are both still in individual counseling though. We left marriage counseling with the agreement that if either of us felt it necessary, we would return. I have scheduled the appointment based on the recent developments I described in my original comment. I guess I’ll have to wait to find out if his backtracking is neurotic denial or the other more sinister re-writing history. I’m afraid he acknowledged his unacceptable behaviors and made changes while separated in order to get back together and is now starting to fall back into the same old patterns, starting with denying his previous role. Ugh.

    3. Dr Simon, I’ve come to realize with the help of my girlfriend that I’m like this, however I don’t realize I’m doing it. It makes me think that I’ve lied to myself so much. When you write about feigning ignorance, I feel like I’m not understanding when she tells me that I’m doing it. Are there articles you point me to that can help me improve myself?

  2. Hello,
    I want to ask a question concerning a young woman at church. She has bi-polar. She shows no signs of being able to function in a normal way. If money comes her way, which it had recently, it is spent quickly and illogically.

    Presently she must move from her rented home, and is apparently unable to focus on preparation to vacate. She’s depended on her husband to make the effort and plans in the past; but now he is very ill and on lots of pain medication due to a physical illness, and unable to work. They now depend on her income. They are presently in terrible pressing position and from what I gather is a permanent condition, in the past as well as now.

    She is own SSI, so her budget is limited and as I mentioned before,
    she spends money on things that are strange for such a limited income. She did this even while her husband worked.

    She always will take from others if it is offered and is usually
    on the list for free food baskets from the church. She will order
    things from other members, such as Avon or Mary Kay, but does not pay for them.

    She protrays herself as a victim and I wonder how much of this
    is the actually bi-polar. She is impossible to help, as she stays
    always in need financially/life style in some form or fashion. We’ve all tried to assist her, but she is in a chronic need for assistance. Very dramatic and always some terrible crisis in her life. Again,is her problems typical of a bi-polar person?

    1. Thanks for the question, Barbara. It’s not really possible for me to speculate with any accuracy about a case with which I have no direct familiarity. Some of the behaviors you describe are indeed congruent with bipolar disorder. However, other conditions can also prompt similar behaviors. In addition, some of the other behaviors you describe are not necessarily typical of bipolar disorder. Also, it’s extremely rare that one diagnosis excludes all other possibilities. For example, it’s possible for a person o have another mental disorder at the same time. Again, it’s to be bipolar and to have a character disturbance or even treally difficult and inappropriate for me to speculate. Especially at this woman’s age and given the vast number of issues that could be going on, I think only a thorough diagnostic workup by an adequately trained professional could determine the problem(s).

    2. Hi Barbara,

      What you mentioned about her being “in a chronic need for assistance” and everyone doing their best to help her, reminded me of a mind game that actually consists in one person being always in dire need of help and (sucessfully) managing to have everyone help him/her fullfill his/her needs which lets the person go on with his/her life without taking any responsibility for change.

      It’s like a user, who lives on other people’s good intentions and voluntary assistance. Similar to what in Spanish we call a sponger. They will live on charity, and will expect everyone to excuse them if they incur in debts because they are always “poor” so how will they ever pay for their debts.

      It seems to me that this woman is a keen manipulator and uses people, counting on their good heart. She doesn’t really want to solve her situation, she has learned to make a living that way, on everyone else’s expense and efforts to help.

      It’s like those people who are always wasking for other people’s opinion to make an important decision and then end up saying, “Yes, but…”. They ask for other people’s opinion only to end up rejecting each and every opinion they get.

      This seems to work in a similar way. She asks for help all the time, but she will not do anything to fix her financial situation.

      Maybe my perpective is a bit too simplistic, but she sure looks like someone who profits from playing the victim’s role.

  3. This information is very helpful. I have a family member who exhibits the behaviors that you’ve described exactly. It has been extremely difficult to deal with her because she keeps “rewriting” history to fit her particular need at the moment. Personally, I feel the relationship has reached a dead end, because we seem to live in alternate realities. Am I wrong? Is there hope?

  4. Hello, I had a partner who come off as very loving and caring. When we met she told me she loved me after the first week of dating. She would get really upset when I said to her that I needed more time to know her before I tell her this. She always cried, said that “noone loves, “why do people always leave her?”, “Is she beautiful enough or smart enough? Eventually, I did confirm my love to her but it was something about her that I couldn’t figure out but bothered me and I always felt that she somewhat jealous and envied me. After some years together she always wanted to do everything for me. Wanted to lend me money, buy gifts or whatever I wanted. She offered And offered but I refused. I didn’t need any help but we did exchange gifts, went out to restaurant and so on. Then I began to notice she would do things (copying everything I did, sneakily flirted infront of me, saying things
    or asking in a way to get information) to upset me but when I confronted her she could lie about it or pretend she did know
    what I was talking about. And would refer to me as jealous and paraniod. If we had arguments in public (which I definatey tried to avoid) she would act like I was verbally abrusing her and she would get very loud so people would here her. Once I pushed her because I felt that she was urging me to get angry. She began to accuse me of abusing and blaming her. After awhile I left. But for some reason she keeps contacting me saying she can’t live without me and I’m the best thing that ever happened to her and wants me to come back. I love her but feel she provokes me to be angry. Any advice?

    1. For various important reasons, it’s not really possible for me to give direct advice or to remotely assess a situation. And your situation sounds replete with a variety of “issues.” Probably best to work them through with some professional guidance. But perhaps some of the readers have some insights or similar experiences to share.

  5. Thank you for your wise words, Dr Simon. They are of great help to me, as I have to deal with this in my family.

    You write:

    I advise neurotics who want to empower themselves in their potential dealings with disturbed characters to “judge actions, not intentions.”

    which is so apt. In my situation, it is “judge actions, not intentions or speeches.” My father is always complaining how he didn’t mean this or that and when that doesn’t work, he will feign, “how awful this is” and “how sorry I am” and “I understand how you feel.” He will do this with a tear in his eye and it is very hard not to believe his sincerity. I remember that I have heard it many times and there never is any action or follow up and the same thing happens again and again. I feel that the only way to protect myself from him is to have nothing to do with his feigned sorry ass.

    1. Thanks so much for the comment.

      Both Carl Jung and Alfred Adler purportedly said that “guilt is a cheap substitute for legitimate suffering.” That is, it’s a heck of a lot easier to feel bad (or feign feeling bad) over something horrendous you’ve done than to do the hard work and self-sacrifice involved in making a decent person of yourself.

  6. Doc you have no real clue how much of a God send you truly are. From reading only a couple of topics from you I now have a name for his actions, he a.k.a stepdad I’m 44 so you can only imange how long i’ve let him get away with the abuse. Well the fat lady has sung a sweet ballad because it stops now or he can find another person for his tricks.

  7. I have been with a BPD lady for almost two years. Within the first few months I knew something was askew. I began to read everything I could online (and I mean everything) about personality disorders and especially BPD.
    I have never read anything so spot-on as your assessment of character disordered individuals, Dr. Simon. FINALLY all of her “tactics” make sense to me. Most, if not all, of the online sources of information regarding personality disorders coddle and make excuses for the behavior. I have been frustrated for 20 months as I’ve searched for the low down on disordered character…I have now found what I’ve been looking for and my insights have been validated.
    I will be ending this “relationship” soon.
    Thank you so much for your wisdom!
    Best regards,

    1. Thanks so much, Brian for the kind words. The validation truly means a lot. I never get tired of hearing when someone comes to one of those “Aha!” moments after reading my work.

      All the best.

  8. Hi there,

    I’ve only just discovered your site today and your evaluations Doc are spot on! I am the carer for my disabled mother, she’s a master at manipulation, disregards anyone’s problems except her own but above all she makes certain to ‘play dumb’ and simply will not work out the simplest thing for herself. Anywhere from working a vacuum cleaner to knowing that saffron is a herb, thus I’m the one who has to drop -everything- physically, mentally and emotionally and come and run to her aid. She belittles everything and everyone, but refuses to even acknowledge that someone -might- have a health problem, but her epilepsy she plays on and does it so well that you honestly could believe it’s the people around her being selfish and not considering her needs or how she feels. My god! Anyone who goes through this or similar has my deepest condolences, I truly feel sorry for you all.

  9. Dr. Simon,
    What would you say about a situation where a character disturbed individual was accusing you of crazy things that you definitely did not intend nor were you doing. And when you try to defend yourself the CD accuses YOU of feigning innocence and ignorance !?! How do you know which one is truly the one with a CD?! I promise you that if my ex read this and many of your articles he would self righteously point the finger at me! Ugh, so painful and it leaves me pulling myself apart yet again and questioning myself and my sanity!
    Thanks in advance for your time.

    Ps. I was a little disturbed to read of the poster who mentioned pushing his girlfriend. Whether she is cd or not I believe she had the right to call abuse once she is pushed. Always better to walk away. Jmho.

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