It was not my intention to write about this episode as I am somewhat embarrassed (actually, very embarrassed) at how I was wholly nailed by a 23-year-old woman who was so sweet, butter-would-not-melt. I must at this juncture admit, it is not the first time I’ve been well and truly floored by someone close to me, so I must assume I am a bit of a sucker. As a result, I’ve started being a little firmer with the person staring back at me in the mirror; being a little more introspective. It is my responsibility to self. To be perfectly frank, I must learn my lessons and wisen the f*** up. They say when given lemons, make lemonade… and sharing is caring, so here we go.
A couple of months ago, I was going through a particularly busy period with my work and at the same time renovating our home (while living in it). Coupled with being a single mum to three busy tweens, one of me was simply not enough. I decided to hire an au-pair/PA for 3 months to tie us over the crunch time. I interviewed a few girls, but nobody came close to this one person that I could see just “got it”. Like us, she had a big, boisterous family, she had been a prefect at my children’s school so understood their system well, her references were people I had in my phone book (who checked out fine). The cherry on the top: she was a third-year psychology student and as a result, related well to the children. Puuuur-fect! I wanted to dance and sing hallelujah from the rooftops of suburbia.
We cracked on with the job, got a backlog of laborious admin out the way over my busiest work season and she took over negotiating with the electrician/painters/plumbers who were breaking my balls and who should have been off site weeks ago. I think they preferred my bottomless cups of tea and hourly wages. I was impressed with her ability to slap them into shape and deliver the goods. She was at times ruthless, but I figured it was in my best interests. We started most days with a cup of tea in the garden and a to-do list. She was funny, engaging and superbly smart and intuitive – best of all I felt this girl had my back. She was “approved” and allowed into my inner circle. I wish I listened to my mother who said it was too good to be true – but what do mums know, right?
So elated and impressed was I, when she asked, I obliged her a one month advance on her salary as she was getting married (poor sod) and they were funding their own event. I also offered to do her wedding photography for free and (wait for it) gifted her a beautiful, expensive piece of furniture from my online business. She got little tears of gratitude in her eyes when I also arranged the courier to deliver it to her new flat.
Then, rather suddenly little things started happening where the cleverly crafted veneer started slipping. I had asked her to return unopened boxes of handmade tiles to a store for a refund. She took a half a (paying) day off work, confirmed it was “done” and told me how shabby their admin was that they did not give her a credit note. When I noted the credit had not reflected in my account, she had a rather “ballsy” fight with them over the phone in my office, in front of me about what they owed me. A couple of days later, I walked past the open trunk of her car; my stomach churned at the site of the boxes of tiles, my blinds and a few other things that were “returned” weeks ago. The pathos made me instantly nauseous. I kept it to myself and gave her a few days of leave, my defence was to go silent… and forensic.
In every corner of her remit, I found intentional deceit for personal gain. The admin work she claimed overtime for, could not be found on my servers. She had systematically used my bank cards fraudulently for personal shopping. I checked my work outbox, she lied to my customers, short changed me on cash sales, stole our clothes and so on. She even impersonated me telephonically, falsified documents and kept cash intended for schools. I admit, I found it very difficult to process, almost as if my brain was stuck and all it could churn out was “it can’t be!” The reality took long to sink in as this kind of prolific deceit is so far out of my realm of possibility. (Eureka moment, that is why I get suckered, I am chosen for my tendency to believe people have good intentions)
My new found knowledge must have radiated off me like a four-day-old nappy, she feigned illness and disappeared. She had in fact (without permission) set up an automatic forwarding of all my personal emails to her account. Unbeknown to me, she was still watching my every move, reading every email of my “forensic audit”. I finally realised this and I wrote her a formal letter of demand. She refused to repay the salary that was forwarded in good faith, she kept the cash, clothing and furniture and lied to her normally sweet husband, who then wrote me two intimidating and threatening messages about upsetting his wife and not paying her salary (!). I sent him statements and some related information and he quickly went quiet after that. No doubt this poor guy is going to see his hole soon, but I digress.
I did, however, feel I had a moral obligation to meet with her psychology school to share the dossier of alarming evidence as to the pathological make-up of their student. They were like me, incredulous and informed me they would have a hearing, but are yet to reply to any of my follow-up messages. I find it worrying that a psychology school will knowingly allow a scrupulous manipulator to be qualifying as a therapist, working with malleable minds of young children. I’ve done what I can to protect others and decided to chalk this up to experience.
More recently, however, a group of us went for a mountain bike ride on a wine farm out of town. My bike’s chain kept slipping so I was falling behind the group and getting stuck, and there was the little matter of an aggressive cobra on the track which can shatter even the most confident rider’s nerves. All in all, I was not having a good day. I wished my own partner was not 3km further up the mountain, but around to give me a bit of a moral support. I was annoyed. Another rider’s (new) husband stepped in, he was kind and soft spoken, got his hands dirty on my chain a few times, he gave all the girls a little push up the hills, shouting instructions on the technical sections and drop offs where I would otherwise have lost my front teeth. What an awesome guy !
Urm…. no! It turns out he is a wanted man for fraud, he has never held down a job for longer than a few months; his poor (new) wife was just been contacted by his girlfriend in another city, who also just found out he had a wife. As my partner told me what had recently unfolded, I must have appeared totally unmoved as he prodded me with a raised eyebrow, “aren’t you shocked?” Sadly, ‘no’ is the answer, while my heart felt crushed for his poor wife, I’ve learned they really do walk among us, these wolves in sheep skin. It would be naive to think not.
Just like a predator knows which are the weaker animals to hunt, so do these people know who the perfect supply is. You don’t stand a chance of working it out before it is too late…… or do you?
You do, is the answer. While being superbly intelligent, sociopaths will resort to the same bag of tricks time and time again, so they can be detected if you know what to look for. This comes more naturally to some than to others (ahem, clearly).
You can work them out if you invest time in learning. So on a more serious note, this is a potted summary of what you need to know:
Tactics manipulators use :
- Seduction: She charms, praises, flatters you and overtly supports you to get you to lower your defences and surrender your trust and loyalty. Your manipulator is particularly aware of your weaknesses, or where you are particularly vulnerable. If she knows where you desire approval and reassurance most, she will craft this and feed it to you and in doing so melt your defences.
- Evasion Your manipulator uses vagueness to avoid being cornered on an issue by giving rambling, irrelevant responses to a direct question. She deliberately uses vagueness to confuse you, to make you think you have an answer when you don’t. If you feel your question has not been answered, ask your question again.
- Lying, omission, distortion. Your manipulator will stop at nothing to get what he wants; therefore, you can and should expect him to lie. They have refined lying to an art and will not even flinch, which will make you doubt your intuition. They also believe their own lies, which means they could probably pass a lie detector test . He uses smooth, calculated omissions to deceive you.
- Guilt Tripping and Shaming (How could you think that of me? Do you really think I would hurt you deliberately ?) Your manipulator keeps you self-doubting, anxious and submissive. This is one of their favourite weapons, the other is shaming. They also know that the admirable qualities of a healthy conscious are the ability to feel empathy, guilt and shame. This is something a narcissist/sociopath lacks, which is why they can be so ruthless. All your manipulator has to do is suggest or imply that you don’t care or that you’re being selfish/unfair and you immediately start to feel bad. Whereas you can try until you’re blue in the face to get your manipulator to feel remorse for his hurtful behaviour, acknowledge responsibility and admit wrongdoing, to absolutely no avail. They do regret mistakes IF it inconveniences them (example : no sex); they do NOT feel remorse for what it does to you (example: passing on an STD)
- Rationalisation: A rationalisation is an excuse your aggressor makes for engaging in what she knows is an inappropriate or harmful behaviour. If he can convince you she is justified in whatever she’s doing, then she is freer to pursue her goals without interference. She will often use shame and guilt to coerce you into buying her theory. For example that she is so stressed at work that you feel sorry for her and excuse her behaviour.
- Diversion: When you try to pin your manipulator down or keep a discussion focussed on a single issue or behaviour you don’t like, he is an expert at changing the subject. Get this: they know you better than you know yourself and they use this knowledge to pull your strings and make you dance like a cat on a hot tin roof. Sometimes they will distract you with a well-honed insult (e.g. you are being a control freak/ you have trust issues ). He utilises this manoeuvre to keep the focus off his behaviour and to keep you unsure of yourself, which helps him maintain the freedom to promote the self-serving/hidden agenda. A slippery bar of soap is hard to catch!
- Minimising: He trivialises the nature of his wrongdoing “stop making this a big deal / you are being silly”” He tries to convince you that you would be wrong to conclude that his behaviour is as wrong. Since they are often pathological liars/cheaters/addicts/
gamblers/”victims”. At first, this aspect is well-concealed behind their congenial personality and you will buy their story, but at some point, these qualities inevitably start to bubble to the surface and cause your overwhelming confusion, especially when you appear to be the only one noticing the inconsistencies. It is truly “crazy making.”
- Projection : Any time you mention your concerns or frustration, they’ll flip it over to make it your fault. They might, for example, declare their hatred of drama, imply you are slightly insane and make you feel bad for reacting to their horrible behaviour instead of addressing the behaviour itself. One their favourite lines when you pressing their buttons, is “I really hate drama” and yet there is more drama with them in your life than ever before. Once you have severed the umbilical cord, you will finally see that those moments you had that nagging intuition that he/she was cheating/pulling the wool over your eyes, you will find many of your suspicions were well-founded.
- Feigning Innocence and Gas Lighting : Who me? She attempts to convince you that any harm she may have caused you was unintentional. When they intentionally do things to make you feel on-edge or paranoid, they want you to doubt your intuition, to make you anxious and then blaming you for having that anxiety. We need to notice when this becomes a pattern, do not become an ostrich and put it down to accidental behaviour when they do this often.
- Stonewalling: Withholding affection and giving the silent treatment or ignoring someone is a power and control issue. In a healthy relationship, a reasonable time-out period is to be expected, but manipulators will use this tactic especially at times they know it will bother you most. Examples would be if you apologised (even when not your fault) and are awaiting a response for an unreasonable time. Or deliberate silence at times of necessary communication (fetching kids, picking up medication.) Stonewalling is a means to create one-upmanship. After ignoring you for days on end, they wait for you to react. When you finally do, they will name-call you and accuse you of being over-sensitive/over-
reacting/ demanding– or all of the above. This can turn even a normally happy-go-lucky person into snivelling wreck, which will result in your manipulator making you look “unstable”.
- Victim Stancing: Once you appear a little unstable, he plays the victim role to gain sympathy, evoke compassion in order to get something from you or others. If your manipulator can convince you/others that he’s suffering as a result of your actions, they get sympathy (even yours)
- Vilifying the Victim: Even the sanest person is going to get frustrated and lash out when being played so ruthlessly. Vilifying you is when he makes it appear that he is merely responding to and defending himself against YOUR aggression, making you, the victim, feel like the villain while he masks his covert aggressive behaviour by pointing the fingers at you.
- Servant Role: Your manipulator cloaks his self-serving agendas in the guise of caring. She may loudly profess her subservience while fighting for dominance. I really just tried to help you/ Sorry, I’ve really tried my best/Nothing I can do will ever make you happy.
- Shaming: Your abuser uses subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in you. Perhaps you overcooked the dinner he would say what is that supposed to be? If you fumble under pressure and drop something, he might say well did you not see that coming, whereas the kind thing to do would be to help. He shames you to make you feel inadequate and unworthy so you will defer to his dominant position.
- Blame Shifting. Your manipulator is always looking for ways to shift the blame away from himself when you confront them e.g. I think you are tired. He is expert at finding scapegoats in subtle, hard to detect ways.
- Covert Intimidation: This is your abuser’s use of veiled threats to keep you, his victim, anxious and apprehensive. This way he can threaten you without appearing overtly hostile and aggressive (for example: I’ll kill you/myself if ever you leave me) This grooming is quite intentional to make you compliant and tread on eggshells.
- Brandishing Anger: A calculated and deliberate display of anger he may or may not feel in order to intimidate, coerce and manipulate. When you get that “pre-explode” look, you back off. Or throwing you off course by intimidating you “if you leave, you will walk out with nothing!“
There is NO winning for you in any given situation if you are dealing with people like this:
- In professional environments, they want you to blow up so that co-workers and superiors see you as unstable; that they are heroic or the victim.
- In romantic settings, they want you to lash out so that they can use your “hysterical” reactions to show potential partners/friends how crazy you’ve become. No one will trust a crazy person’s opinion anyway.
- In divorce settings, they want the professionals (lawyers and therapists), in-laws, new partners and even the kids, to see you as unstable in case their parenting/behaviour every comes under scrutiny
There is, however, a little ‘good news’. When you realise that something is seriously fishy about them, you will start being more out of their “psychological grasp”. This is NOT part of the game plan. Making you doubt your intuition will be getting harder for them and invariably their loss of control is when they get very, very nasty. Brace yourself, for when they know you’ve seen them for what they really are, you become a danger to them and you need to be crushed. You risk outing the cleverly crafted wolf in sheep skin. This is certain death to the person that spends their waking hours crafting what people think of them and make no mistake you are now in the way of their self-serving agenda.
Once you have made yourself clear, do NOT (just because you finally called it, and meant it) expect true remorse. A fish would rather climb a tree than a sociopath feel remorse; if they appear sorry, allow yourself to see it is regret (for the consequences to themselves for being “outed”), not remorse (for causing you pain). Do not forget they conned you in the first place by being oscar worthy actors and so too, they can act sorry if it means the consequences are less.
Sociopaths walk among us every day – it may be our employee, boss, teacher, neighbour, friend or partner and yes, we can feel compassion for their disordered minds, but not at the cost of our own well-being. Hold a steady gaze, watch your back, develop your original thinking and trust yourself; you will be less of a target if you are hard to manipulate.
PS: Useful article – click here to read: How to spot a Sociopath / How to get away