You probably heard a fable as a child about a frog in a boiling pot of water.
In the cautionary tale, the water is slowly getting hotter and hotter, but the frog doesn’t notice because it’s such a slow burn. Eventually, the frog ends up being boiled alive.
Falling under someone’s control and being manipulated can feel distant, a situation that couldn’t happen to us… until we find ourselves in the boiling water.
The majority of manipulators hide their true colors in the beginning stages of a relationship. They are playing the long game, gaining control over months, years, or even decades.
Here are four subtle ways manipulators will begin to set the stage for control and power over their victims.
#1. They will begin to subtly deny your shared experiences.
Years ago, I went on vacation with my narcissistic ex (before he showed his true colors) and his friends/girlfriends. While in our room unpacking for the trip, we heard one of the couples in a massive fight in the room adjacent to us. There was screaming and wailing, but eventually, it stopped. I told the narcissist that I was worried, and he agreed it was alarming, but that they fought all the time and it wasn’t our business.
A couple of weeks later, I brought it up, and he rolled his eyes. He claimed that I had been a little drunk and that he hadn’t heard anything but agreed so I would feel validated. This tiny seed of doubt caused nothing but confusion and anger on my part, but it did what was intended. It made me feel like I was going crazy.
What better way to control someone than to make them question their reality? Gaslighting is one of the most harmful forms of psychological abuse.
#2. They will never accept any fault
Financial abuse played a part in my relationship with the narcissist. He never paid for things, and at times would take my credit card without even asking.
There came a weekend trip where I fronted the bill for everything, including his alcohol intake. Finally, I was fed up. I pulled month over month of expenses and wrote down everything so he couldn’t gaslight me into believing that we were paying equal amounts.
When confronted, he tried to deny it until I finally just threw the piece of paper at him that showed the discrepancies in our finances. Instead of accepting responsibility, the narcissist changed the subject and tried distracting me. The physical proof that I provided didn’t cause him to bat an eye.
No manipulator wants to take responsibility for their hurtful actions. They will avoid owning up to anything, and no amount of logic will rectify the situation.
#3. They will spin the story in their favor
The narcissist had a tragic backstory to explain his abusive behavior, along with plenty of stories about why his prior girlfriends were all “crazy.”
He could easily justify his lack of care and violent outbursts on his non-existent father and a mother that verbally abused him. During the beginning stages of dating, I asked why his ex was “crazy.” He spun a story about her getting drunk and stalking him after they had broken up. At the time, I bought it but later found out that he had made it up.
Playing the victim is a great way to gain sympathy and cause everyone to sit in your corner.
If you try to confront a manipulator, they will pull a sob story out of their pocket, and you will find yourself feeling pity even when you know what they are doing.
#4. They will paint you out to be the bad guy
Last year a childhood friend that I grew up with caught her manipulative husband in bed with another woman.
In the aftermath, her husband sobbed that he loved his wife, but they hadn’t been as intimate for months, and she had left him with no choice. He explained that if she had been more willing to satisfy his physical needs, then he wouldn’t have needed to stray.
By the end of the conversation, my friend found herself wondering if it was her fault instead of holding her husband accountable for his atrocious actions.
No matter what, manipulators can turn their worst actions and decisions into logical reasons as to why it was all your fault.
Self-educating can help protect you.
We are the only ones who can ultimately shield ourselves and cut manipulators out of our lives.
Educating myself about gaslighting, invalidation, and the manipulative tactics used by narcissists and toxic individuals ultimately changed my life.
By equipping myself with knowledge, I became more aware of others and got to a place where I could instantly recognize when someone did not have my best intentions in mind.
Don’t assume that manipulation is always blatant. Remember that we often lose ourselves slowly, and paying attention to the subtle cues and arming ourselves with information is the ultimate defense.