“Leveling as a Manipulation Tactic” Comments, Page 1

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38 Comments (9 Discussion Threads) on “Leveling as a Manipulation Tactic”

  1. I have a question regarding this manipulation tactic. For example,a husband tells the wife -“you know that you will be making the exact amount of money than in your previous job”? and then the husband start talking about how his contributions(financial and sacrificing his time)to the family are never recognized. This is ironic b/c in the example,is actually the husband the one that is always “wasting money” inappropriately. Is this leveling? To me it is, and it is also and attempt from the husband to minimize and put down the wife.

    1. Hi Lunna, it sounds a bit more like the “Playing the Servant Role as a Manipulation Tactic,” you know, your husband would say “Look at all I do for everyone and nobody cares.”

      The way I see it, when a husband tells the wife -“you know that you will be making the exact amount of money than in your previous job”? it makes me think of emotional abuse in the form of financial restriction because a wife that works and makes money means she does not depend financially on her husband (totally, at least) and might become independent and not need the husband in the future. Certainly, a threat to any abuser… how dare the victim of abuse become independent?

      The question on the amount she will make lets us read between the lines something like “It’s not really worth that you go back -or keep- working.”

      Money is also a symbol of power and control. And manipulators aim to control people and whole situations.

      So here you have this kind of service thing from the husband that nobody recognizes, plus a pity party thing, plus a blame game thing, a leveling thing and an attempt to exert control through finances, which also serves the purpose of belittling the wife.

      All in one, for free, what a deal!

  2. I am constantly amazed how my dh has used every single one of the manipulation tactics that has been written about. I am constantly on the look-out for anything, anywhere, anyhow, that can be used as a means to twist my thinking toward his. I feel it more than I know it being a more intuitive person.
    I believe the choices are endless for him to observe and implement anything that will serve a purpose. The only time it truly goes away is when I have power in the relationship. It is a huge upheaval in my life but the peace from the tactics is a welcome time.
    Power is not something to be admired or sought after as it can be used to abuse, however, when it is used in love to help the relationship, I am all for it.

  3. This is a first for me. This has, in fact, happened to me but I’ve never read anything about it as a manipulation tactic by itself. At least in this particular example, would this also qualify as a diversion tactic and/or even vilifying the victim?

    It’s interesting that calling you “Dr.” is a problem for these folks. I wonder if they also call their MD by their first name. I’ve never in my life asked a doctor who I am seeing as a patient if I can call them anything other than their title and last name. Unreal.

    1. Maybe they have some “social” issues… Seriously. Think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm book, where they state… All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others… That social hypocrisy where some governments proclaimed total equality of their people when that was not true. And, perhaps, that is the same kind of hypocrisy disturbed characters attempt to use when they try to level things.

      You know, if “we” are equal, we can both be right, we can both agree, etc. The thing is that “we” are not equal because “you” are a disturbed person while I’m not. (A disturbed patient is not equal to a healthy doctor)

  4. Great comments, all! From what I can tell, everyone is really “getting it” with respect to the gist of this tactic. Lunna, you’re right on about some of the variations the tactic can take. So Much More than a Mom, absolutely diversion was embedded in the example given to illustrate the leveling tactic, as well as vilifying the victim. Two general things: First, the list of tactics is endless. I’m only posting on some of the more frequent ones I’ve encountered in my years of work. Second, most of the time, disturbed characters are so skilled at their craft that a simple phrase can contain a handful of tactics rolled up into one crafty maneuver. Good manipulators don’t even have to think about it (that doesn’t mean they’re not consciously very aware of what they’re doing), they’ve used their tactics so often and experienced their effects that they produce them abundantly and automatically.

    Karen, your comments about power in relationships is so important it’s why a whole chapter of my first book is devoted to the tools of empowerment people need to acquire to deal with disordered characters more effectively. The most empowering thing, however, is to be able to recognize the tactics manipulators use AT THE MOMENT THEY’RE USING THEM, so that you’ll not be taken advantage of and can use your own empowerment tools to stand ground.

  5. Off-Topic, so I apologize in advance, but when I read “May I call you George?” it reminded me of Sarah Palin addressing Joe Biden during their first debate… “May I call you Joe?”

  6. Hi Mariana,
    A few months ago weren’t so clear to recognize how skillfully my partner used this tactics. Today everything is becoming more transparent and I am not letting him manipulate me as in the past. Your interpretation of my previous comment makes a lot of sense to me and shed light over . I feel thrilled with so many good things happening in my life (in spite of the usual bad ones)! Thanks for the good vibes!

    1. Hi Lunna, it’s great to hear you’re putting all the pieces together! I honestly believe that information is key to taking control of our lives and learning to deal with “maladjusted” people. For a long time I sustained that, many times, we make mistakes out of not knowing, out of not having key information or knowledge on certain matters. So, in such cases, the more we learn and the more we find places like this to discuss things openly, the more we become aware of how things work, and the better armed we are to deal with such situations and people who are disfunctional and add some odd noise to our lives ;)

  7. I would like to add this very insidious form of leveling, which took me a long time to grasp. My partner frequently has a negative response to my very presence (I say “presence”…because not only confrontation caused this behavior – even taking up too much space for his taste i.e. talking about a bad day or happy memories). The slow but tactical weaving of confusion starts until I am a mess of tears and frustration and fall into his beautifully set trap of behaving “irrationally, childishly, and insultingly.” I think this is probably a combination of leveling and some other impression management tactic…but it is THE ONE that leaves me feeling bad about myself. How perfectly successful. I have stopped doing this. I feel his confusion and the hamster running in his head trying to come up with a new tactic. For now he has pulled back. Maybe that is already the new tactic – then I can call and chase him – but now we are onto sadistic personality.
    One more thing…I feel more confident and powerful than ever and I can clearly see why I am in this relationship. What a filing board to get rid of all my jagged edges. I am using this as a groth opportunity – with a person like this its like “emotional growth bootcamp”. I can sometimes feel my anxiety rise when practicing healthy boundaries. Breath, wait, don’t respond – and it only takes a day or so and the anxiety is gone and confidence has grown.

  8. I’m confused as to how a person’s professional degree is their ‘character.’ Isn’t a person’s ‘character’ something else — their personality characteristics, how they treat people, virtues/vices, etc.? It certainly takes a lot of advantages and dedication to achieve an advanced degree, but is this truly a person’s character? Similar characteristics can also be used for bad things (the extreme dedication of addicts to score their drug of choice comes to mind), so is ‘character’ equatable with professional degree?

    A patient in therapy wouldn’t know much about their therapist’s ‘character’ anyway would they? I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of any therapist telling a patient about their personality and life in the same way that patients reveal themselves. So it seems to be fairly unequal, the therapist knows all about the patient, but the patient pretty much only sees some letters around the therapist’s name. Couldn’t a patient legitimately want to feel more personally connected with somebody they are sharing so much personal information with?

    Many people honestly and sincerely communicate freely and more openly without the appeal to authority of any professional who is so wrapped up in the ‘Dr.’ ‘Father’ ‘Sir’ ‘Your Honor’ ‘Master’ ‘Your High Holiness’ ‘Supreme Ruler’ ‘Warden’ titles. In a previous generation, medical patients were comfortable using no definite article when referring to their doctors, ‘Doctor said…’ and questioning the pronouncements of a medical professional was unthinkable. It seems unlikely that patients in therapy are not fully aware that their therapist has a professional degree, so if somebody feels more comfortable using first names, what’s the big deal? The Dr. Phils and Dr. Lauras of the world insist on the pseudo ‘Dr.’ title for a reason.

    Asking meaningful questions regarding any professional service (whether it be a heart transplant, psychoanalytical theory, automotive clutch repair, cell phone plan, you name it) isn’t necessarily manipulative, a person paying for and receiving a service has a right to know about what they are receiving and if they feel more comfortable using first names, isn’t it a bit controlling and manipulative to insist on the professional title? Is a therapist providing a service to the patient, or is the patient providing a service to the therapist? If a person is honestly trying to feel more comfortable and safer with a therapist or medical professional or anybody with a larger education and experience base by using their first name, isn’t it disrespectful and demeaning to them to judge them for just trying to be more comfortable?

    Maybe I’m not getting the problem with first names in this context because I’m a casual and happy person who is fully aware of my limits of knowledge and experience in many (most!) areas and rather than seeing informality as an effort to manipulate, see it as a way to connect more deeply and freely.

    1. I didn’t read anything in this article to indicate that the author was suggesting a title of “Dr.” equals any type of statement about his/her character or that a patient shouldn’t perform his/her own due diligence when selecting a medical professional. Personally, I have no problem communicating with medical professionals without using their first names. Maybe I’m missing something.

    2. First two paragraphs: “I’ve been posting a series of articles on behaviors commonly displayed by persons with disturbed character. These behaviors interfere with the normal process of socialization and character development, and they also often serve as tactics to manipulate and control others.

      One of the more subtle but nonetheless highly effective responsibility-avoidance and manipulation tactics is “leveling.” Leveling refers to the disturbed character’s attempt to put himself on equal standing with others of different character. It generally takes two forms: setting oneself up as a person of equal stature to a person in authority; and trying to equate one’s own character, personal value, integrity, etc. with someone else’s, especially one of more mature or superior character.”

      And then the connection in paragraph five: “The tactic of leveling surfaces as an insidious and subtle challenge to the therapist’s authority whenever disturbed characters enter counseling.”

      Maybe I’m missing the ‘disturbed personality’ connection. Conversing with a professional using their first name is insidious? Equating one’s inferior and immature character with the superior and mature character of a professional by using their first name when it might just be an innocent expression of a informal and casual personality? Humm, I will use my primary care physician (14 years and mutually enjoyable) by his first name as he calls me by my first name without feeling inferior, insidious or immature. If somebody chooses to call their professionals by their title+family name, that’s fine. I don’t call my neighbors Mr./Mrs./Miss.+family name and haven’t since the early 1960’s. The title thing seems a bit patriarchal and controlling and rather manipulative itself. I wouldn’t call President Obama by his first name unless he asks me to. I wouldn’t call a judge in court by his/her first name unless he/she asks me to. However a pharmacist, lawyer, gardener, teacher, doctor, police officer (unless I’ve just been pulled over for shooting an amber light because the car in front of slammed on the brakes…), banker, etc., all get the personalized first name as I’d like them to use my first name. It’s not challenging authority, it’s being informal and personal and my medical professionals encourage it.

    3. “I always politely say that I prefer “Dr. Simon” and then observe carefully their response to my endorsement of the authority position for indications that they have any modicum of motivation to accept therapeutic guidance.”

      I understood this to mean that the Dr. is attempting to determine that the patient has done his/her research and has chosen him/her as an authority and expert in a position to assist him/her with mental health issues AND that the patient is actually receptive to doing the work required of therapy as guided by the chosen professional. If a patient is voluntarily seeking therapy, it is assumed that the therapist is the expert and the patient is not equal to the same task or they wouldn’t be seeking assistance in the first place. I’m guessing by “character” the author is referring to the therapist’s professional character and qualifications.

      “By the way, many of my long-term “neurotic” patients call me George (and I’m very okay with that) even though their own high levels of conscientiousness and respect for authority prompted them to address me as “Doctor” at first.”

      I took this paragraph to mean that the author does not have a problem being called by his first name but that in his experience patients who ask to do so at the initial visit MAY be of disturbed character, have a problem with authority and/or not be serious about doing accepting guidance so this is one method of either dismissing or confirming that red flag.

    4. I’ve been following this discussion with some interest. Certainly, I don’t mean to suggest that one’s level of education or professional degree is synonymous with their level of character development (although the willingness to develop oneself for the purpose of making a meaningful contribution to society says at least something positive about one’s character. Unfortunately, I know several well-educated and professionally credentialed individuals of questionable character.

      I make the point also that many therapeutic encounters are more informal and that there is no inherent problem with being on a first name basis. But disturbed characters need very different intervention than do neurotics. And because they often enter therapy begrudgingly and with a characteristic haughtiness and defiance of authority, they tend to resist what they need the most — principled, benign, yet authoritative guidance. And they often express this resistance in very subtle ways. Subtly chipping away at the status of the counselor is just one of the possible ways.

      Disturbed characters use the tactic of leveling in many of their daily social interactions. They do it mostly with persons whom they know in their hearts are of more solid character than they are. They then attempt to elevate themselves by knocking others down a notch and they can do this in a variety of ways. Although dishonest and otherwise flawed, this strategy is a lot easier way to self-validate that doing the arduous work of really reckoning with and improving one’s character.

    5. Dr. Simon – just to clarify, when speaking of “disturbed characters”, my understanding is that you are referring to those with serious, diagnosable personality disorders (narcissist, borderline, etc.). Is that correct?

    6. Hi, Cyndi.

      I’ve written a couple of posts on the topic of character disturbance – what it is and what it isn’t – and how character is not synonymous with personality but refers to those aspects of personality that reflect one’s level of social conscientiousness and virtuousness. I also have posted on the continuum of neurosis vs. character disturbance and how some personality disorders are rightfully considered more neurotic than character-disordered (e.g., avoidant personality) and some (e.g., narcissistic, antisocial) are most often more character-disturbed than neurotic. The various borderline subtypes vary on this dimension, too (dependent borderlines being much different in character than borderlines with prominent antisocial features).

      I hope I’ve clarified a bit as opposed to muddied the waters even further! : )

  9. Thank you for elaborating and clarifying. From what I’m reading in your response, a ‘disturbed characteristics’ patient who entered therapy begrudgingly and with a defiant agenda wouldn’t be really conducting the due diligence and entering therapy with a goal of self-improvement that most other patients seeking psychological help would. The critical thinking skills of these individuals must be significantly compromised also, right? Certainly in these cases, the use of first names would be more of a challenge than an attempt to be more personal and informal based on personality. Rebellion for rebellion’s sake, defiance for defiance’s sake, as well as flattery for the sake of flattery would be equally suspect.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your articles and they certainly have stimulated thought and discussion in my group of friends today.

    1. Eloquently stated, Darin. And you’re right on the mark. Interesting that you should mention the flattery possibility. I didn’t use it as an example in this post but I’ve sure encountered it and written about it. (see the post on seduction as a tactic). I’m glad you’ve found the articles interesting.

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