Feb 15, 2016


Divorce and General Articles

By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW

Keeping Your Sanity and Control when Dealing with a Manipulator

During divorce, the experience of being on an emotional roller coaster is common. Feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, confusion, and relief come in waves and can rapidly change throughout the course of a single day. In some circumstances, however, there is an additional challenge of trying to divorce an emotionally manipulative spouse.

Emotional manipulation can be overt or it can be subtle. The common personality types that create “crazymaking” are passive-aggressive individuals, people with borderline or histrionic Personalities, narcissists, and abusers. The unpredictability of living with someone suffering from addiction can also create an atmosphere of distrust and unreliability.

When interacting with individuals, the following behaviors may be seen:

• Words and actions are inconsistent with one another.

• Compassion and empathy are lacking.

• Selective memory.

• Selfish behavior, without regard to the impact on others.

• Perpetual crisis or chaos that distracts from dealing with issues at hand.

• Blaming others and a lack of personal accountability.

• Charm and flattery in an effort to get their own needs met.

• Lack of follow through on promises.

• Double-Bind messages where insults cloaked in positive messages. (“It’s a good thing I love fat women”).

• Inconsistent praise alternated with withholding.

• Lying.

One of the primary goals in divorcing a manipulator is maintaining your own sanity and establishing a sense of control. Some strategies for reaching those objectives are:

SETTING BOUNDARIES. This is perhaps the most important tactic in reducing emotional distress. Physical separation during the divorce process is a boundary that creates space to think more clearly. Using written communication via email or text is another way of reducing mixed messages and also provides a permanent record as a reference when disagreements or selective memory are issues. Interpersonal boundaries identify “who owns what” and they maintain personal accountability. If your spouse makes a decision that has poor consequences, it is not your job to pick up the pieces or fix the situation. If they rage or overreact, those responses are not your fault.

OBJECTIVITY. In dealing with an unreasonable person, using the thinking part of your brain is much more effective than reacting with frustration, disbelief, tears or anger. Creating boundaries sets the stage to allow rational thought rather than hair trigger responses. Once set, it can be helpful to utilize a pre-established chart that specifies the situation, emotional response, and rational thought in three separate columns. When a situation arises, take your time in responding and use this tool to get from a place where you are emotionally out of control to objective problem solving. Consulting a friend, mentor, pastor, attorney or psychotherapist can also be helpful in garnering decision-making advice.

CULTIVATING SELF-WORTH. Emotional manipulation, over time, can erode feelings of good self-esteem. In order to feel more content and empowered, it is critical to pay close attention to the messages you are giving yourself. Positive self-talk, written affirmations and surrounding yourself with loving, supportive people are ways to redefine your image of yourself. Love and respect yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Become aware of negative messaging, say “STOP,” and replace that message with a kind and nurturing one.

SPIRITUAL HEALING. Focusing on how to heal yourself internally includes dedicating quiet time to restoring your soul. This can be done with mediation, prayer, and yoga. Visualizing goodness and hope are critical to recovery. Other themes to focus on are resilience, faith, and love.

Marriages often end because one spouse is irrational, unreasonable, deceptive, abusive, or unfair. Know that, in time, you WILL be able to build a life of contentment, stability, and love. Promise yourself that you will heal, as many others have done before you.

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©2016 Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation