Throwing Others on the Defensive: Manipulation via Overt or Covert Intimidation

Overt and covert intimidation become more effective when the manipulator is skilled in communicating emotional tenacity, determination, and resolve, sending the message that the other party is no match in a contest with them.

We’re nearing the end of a series of posts on behaviors disturbed characters commonly display that both impair their ability to internalize pro-social values and also frequently serve as tactics to manipulate and impression-manage others. We’ve discussed such tactics as guilt-tripping and shaming, externalizing the blame, rationalization, minimization, and feigning ignorance:

While I’ve presented several of the major tactics disturbed characters use, the list is by no means exhaustive. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I note that disturbed characters have generally acquired a vast repertoire of techniques that they can use to resist accountability and manipulate others. Tactics can also be fired off so quickly that they’re hard to identify and separate, and some slick maneuvers can utilize several tactics at once.

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One of the things I emphasize in my writings is that all of the tactics have the power to be effective because they conceal clearly obvious aggressive or exploitive intent while simultaneously putting the other person unconsciously on the defensive. No tactic works better at putting others on the defensive than the tactic of intimidation, which can be overt or covert.

Overt intimidation occurs when the disordered character engages in deliberate, intense confrontation designed to challenge your legitimacy or validity, or the value of your complaint or issue. In its extreme it can amount to bullying. Most of the time, it’s a matter of “posturing.” Because “neurotic” individuals tend to be somewhat self-doubting and uncomfortable with assertion, it often doesn’t take much in the way of such posturing to get them to back down. I remember a student who had to confront a teacher about having been promised a review of his grades which had not been done and the teacher forcefully retorted: “Are you calling me a liar?!” Not wanting to be seen as “challenging” of authority himself, he quickly backed off and lost sight of his legitimate issue.

Covert intimidation is more subtle. Sometimes, all it takes is a particular facial expression, non-verbal gesture, glance, glare, stare, or shrug. Sometimes the manipulator will send a carefully veiled “Now there’ll be some hell to pay!” message without making any direct threat of any kind. I’ve encountered countless situations in divorce actions where one party says something like “I know you’ll cooperate because I know how badly you want to have contact with your child” — which is often a not-so-subtly veiled threat to seek full custody and limited visitation if one party doesn’t cave in to everything the other party wants.

Both overt and covert intimidation become more effective when the manipulator is skilled in communicating emotional tenacity, determination, and resolve, sending the message that the other party is no match in a contest with them. If the other party is in any way unsure, ambivalent, mistrusting of themselves, or squeamish when it comes to going head-to-head with the aggressor, they’re bound to be defeated.

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