Have you ever been in a conflict with someone over their bad behavior, but somehow at the end of your interaction with them, you’re the one who ends up apologizing?
Have you ever tried to confront someone about something hurtful they’ve said or done and they respond to you with something like: “I didn’t say/do that. You’re always looking to start something! What’s wrong with you?”
If you’ve had one of these experiences, you know how confusing, frustrating, and painful it can be. These are just 2 examples of the kind of psychological tactics emotional abusers, users, master manipulators, and narcissists use to control those around them. When it comes to these toxic personality types, the regular boundary rules don’t apply.
The best defense against emotional manipulation is a good offense, and that means knowing how to spot the red flags. In this week’s episode, I’m shedding light on how you can identify and protect yourself from “Boundary Destroyers”!
A boundary destroyer has limited ability to listen to how you’re feeling or understand what’s happening for you. Even if they present a good front (and they usually do), they don’t actually care about your needs, wants, or preferences. They feel entitled to your time, care and attention, and trying to reason with one is, honestly…a dead end.
The way we interact with the rest of the world does not apply to people whose mode of operation is emotional manipulation. Boundary destroyers think they are above the rules. No matter how skilled you become at establishing healthy boundaries and effective communication, a true boundary destroyer will disregard you in service of themselves.
What this all means is WE have to learn a different way of interacting. The first step is to learn how to identify a boundary destroyer’s different tricks of the trade so you can spot their emotional manipulation for what it is.
Flipping the Script
Boundary destroyers are experts at shifting the focus from their own bad behavior and shadiness. They are reactive, petulant, and contentious. Any expression of your limits or boundaries can set them off.
Have you ever made a totally reasonable request only to have this person respond as if you just punched them in the face? Their tantrums are designed to flip the script, taking the focus away from what you want in a calculated effort to control you and get you to do what they want.
Another maneuver is pretending to make you the object of their concern, especially when you attempt to call them on their bad behavior or mistakes. They might counter by saying something like: “Are you ok? You seem extra sensitive these days. I’m worried about you.”
Or they might deflect any potential negativity by raking you over the coals with something like, “I can’t believe you’re bringing this up when YOU’RE the one who… XYZ.”
These are straight-up diversionary ploys to get you to stop talking about what they did wrong and start defending yourself instead. In communication power dynamics, the person asking the question is the one in the dominant position.
Pay attention when you bring up issues…does the person listen or do everything they can to get back into a position of dominance?
I encourage you to really take a closer look at the nuances of your interactions with someone you think might be manipulating you. They might split hairs or outright distort what you’ve said or agreed to and insist their truth is THE truth. You might have the feeling they are purposely misunderstanding you.
A boundary destroyer’s game is to distract you, get you to doubt yourself, and question your own reality…which brings us right to the next emotional manipulation tactic.
Gaslighting is truly insidious. A gaslighter seeks to sow seeds of doubt in your mind to maintain control over you and over the relationship. They will use denial, misdirection, contradiction, and straight-up lies so you end up questioning your memory, your perception, and sometimes even your sanity.
If you’ve ever walked away from a conversation or conflict with someone and thought to yourself…”Wait. Am I crazy?” Beware.
What makes us vulnerable to gaslighting? If in your childhood an adult you trusted denied your reality, this can set you up to be vulnerable to these types of plots in adulthood. Example: you witnessed your caregivers have a huge fight and the next day when you asked about it, you heard something like, “Oh, honey, we weren’t fighting! You have such a wild imagination!”
The purpose of gaslighting is to delegitimize your beliefs and make you question your reality. It is incredibly painful and lonely to be a victim of this experience. If you’re in deep, it really does make you feel like you’re losing it.
Even talking about it to others can make you feel like there’s something wrong with you, so there tends to be a lot of secrecy, which only perpetuates the cycle of abuse. When the gaslighting starts working, we start to doubt ourselves and isolate ourselves from others…and that’s the Boundary Destroyer’s point.
Love bombing is a very common manipulation tactic narcissists use to lure in their victims, but it is only phase one of a cycle of emotional abuse. There is always eventually a pivot to the next phase, in which the opposite starts to happen, and that can be devastatingly painful.
The narcissistic cycle of abuse has three stages: (1) idolize, (2) devalue, (3) discard. When you’re getting love bombed, the manipulator lavishes you with attention and flattery, feeding your ego and building up a fantasy of true love. Sadly, once they’re sure you’re hooked, everything changes. The boundary destroyer starts becoming highly critical, disapproving, even hostile. Eventually, disdain turns to total rejection.
Love bombing is driven by the boundary destroyer’s desire to gain full control. It can be seductive because it is marked by grand romantic gestures in the beginning. It can feel like a dream come true. But if it feels too good to be true, proceed with caution.
Assert yourself in a healthy way. Make a simple request about something. State that you would prefer to do something other than what they have planned. If their reaction is to withdraw love, give you the cold shoulder, cut off their affection or attention…it’s a red flag.
In this week’s downloadable guide, I’ve included more resources for you on how to spot emotional manipulation and how to protect yourself from boundary destroyers.
Download your “Spot Emotional Manipulation” guide here now.
Sadly, I think sometimes there can be a tendency to minimize emotional abuse, like, oh, well, it’s not really abuse if they are not physically harming me, but emotional abuse can be just as devastating.
If any of these behaviors are resonating with you, please don’t minimize it. If you are having similar experiences, please know, you don’t deserve it. There are ways for you to change your situation and your safety is of the utmost importance.
My goal is to help you learn how to limit harm from unhealthy relationships. This means learning how to set limits in a safe and healthy way. Stepping back from a relationship with a boundary destroyer can be complicated, and you need to be extremely cautious in your approach.
The reason I am sharing these manipulation tactics with you is that knowledge and awareness can create the opportunity for you to protect yourself effectively. Arming yourself with clarity on what emotional manipulation looks like in practice is the first step to avoiding it.
If you are in a situation where someone is denying your reality or using any of these manipulation tactics, you want to be able to step back and say something like, “We’re going to have to agree to disagree because I know what I experienced.” (Only if it is safe to do so.)
If the person is more clueless than abusive, there is a possibility that they will respect the boundary you draw. The more trust you have in yourself and the more confidence you gain in your boundary skills, the less vulnerable you will be. In the guide, I’ve given you some questions to help you get more clarity on any problematic relationship or situation you might be in right now, and you can download it right here.
I want to hear from you! Does this resonate? Please drop me a comment here or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole and let’s keep this conversation going.
If the episode added value and you think there’s someone who needs this information, please share it with the people in your life.
I can’t wait to see what you have to say about this. I hope you have an amazing week and as always take care of you, first.