I believed I had found the man of my dreams in Seattle. According to his profile, Justin was professionally successful, believed in long-term commitment, and wanted to have a wife and children one day. I began communicating with Justin when he friended me through a mutual friend. I instantly fell in love and even posted on my wall that I was very happy and was considering moving to Seattle. I bought a ticket to Seattle, but I decided to ask some mutual friends more about him. I discovered that Justin had two children with different women, did not provide child support to either of them and never even graduated college. I felt completely betrayed and heart-broken. I was so depressed that I couldn’t even get out of bed. Just thinking about it made me have panic attacks. It got so bad I had to go to therapy. When I finally unfriend him, he proceeded to publicly slander me on his own wall. - Jackie, 29, San Francisco, California
When we begin to realize we are being manipulated online and finally begin to see someone for who they really are, we feel confused and angry, as Jackie did. Confusion and anger can give way to anxiety and eventually self-doubt: Why would someone act this way? Was it me? What made me fall for this? If the growing feeling of self-doubt persists, what happens next is the most psychologically damaging: many will spend hours, or days, overanalyzing, interpreting and misinterpreting all of these comments and posts, and this becomes a way of living, a way of defending and having to protect oneself. We search through our comment history, trying to make some sense of how this could have happened, without understanding that it’s not possible to find the “real” meaning or logic to this behavior, because there is no real meaning or logic. People post what they want to post. Our reaction—whatever it may be—gives Emotional Manipulators the ultimate payoff they were hoping for. For some, even negative attention is validation because it’s still attention.
The first step in beginning to heal from interaction with an Emotional Manipulator is to realize that the Manipulator knows exactly what he’s doing. They fully understand the effect their Facebook posts have on your life. In fact, they’re counting on it. Whether the Facebook Manipulator is a Saboteur, a Narcissist, a Martyr, a Seducer or a Stalker their aim is to get what they want without any consideration to your feelings. Once you realize that you are interacting with an Emotional Manipulator, you can take these steps to remove them from your life:
1. Notice the difference between what the Emotional Manipulator posts on Facebook and what they actually do.
Start by noticing the difference between what the Emotional Manipulator posts on Facebook and what they actually do. Emotional Manipulators almost always start out as charming and captivating individuals. They make you the center of their universe. You may feel like you’re getting everything that you’ve ever wanted in a partner/friend, but the affection they display is given a bit earlier in the relationship than is appropriate. They make multiple promises and “talk a good game” on their Facebook walls, but with some investigation, you may notice inconsistencies in their presentation.
Write down a list of inconsistencies they have either posted or shared with you personally. Ask yourself if they’re still lying or if they’ve shared conflicting stories. Consider whether they’ve given you any false hopes or if their attention and support was conditional. Writing down the discrepancies will help you get a clearer picture of what is going on and will make it easier to distance yourself from an Emotional Manipulator. Resistance to manipulation can begin only when you understand the manipulator’s intentions and methods.
2. Check for signs of Facebook stalking
Notice if the Manipulator fails to leave you alone despite numerous hints and attempts to stop leaving wall comments or sending you messages. Are they trying to make contact through mutual friends? Are they suggesting that your friendship/relationship is closer than it actually is? Are you noticing a lot of commentary on photos of your partner or family members? Are they leaving sexually suggestive or inappropriate comments? Being stalked on Facebook is not the same as being stalked in person, but the emotional effect is the same. There is no reason why you should have to put up with inappropriate or abusive behavior.
If you notice any of these signs, it may be time to firmly set limits and/or block them from your profile. If you believe that they’ve created a false account or have tried to contact you through mutual friends, inform your mutual friends of the situation and ask them not to share any information about you and not forward you any messages from them. If the situation continues, report them to Facebook or contact local authorities.
3. Tell your friends and family
Emotional Manipulators will often try to isolate you from those you trust. This is because they do not want anyone else interfering in their plans. Let your friends know what you’re experiencing. You may find that all you need is support and an objective point of view on the situation. When it comes to setting boundaries with an Emotional Manipulator, the more support you can get the better. Increase your communication with your other friends and use silence towards the Manipulator.
When you’re involved in a toxic relationship for a prolonged period of time, you may find yourself adjusting to the dysfunction. You may not realize how unhealthy a relationship is until you’ve left it. Once you’ve stopped communication with the Manipulator and increased communication with your healthier friendships, you will begin to feel relieved that they are gone.
4. Do not try to sooth a Manipulator’s feelings by giving them what they want
Whether they demand attention, money or praise, giving an Emotional Manipulator what they want is not always what they need. Focus on what is a healthy versus an unhealthy friendship. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, put down, insulted, confused or emotionally attacked you are likely involved in a toxic relationship. Even on Facebook, comments carry a punch and even the best of us get punched sometimes. A Manipulator will try to get a reaction, by any means possible, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give that to them.
People need to learn to cope with situations; you can’t save everyone. It’s important for people to take personal accountability for their actions. Manipulators are very good at twisting information to place blame on you, but if you can realize what they’re doing and are able to not react to their statements, they may eventually leave you alone. It’s the reaction from you that they’re after. For some Manipulators even negative attention is still attention. Know that you have the choice as to where you place your attention and it’s by far better to place your time and energy on friendships that are mutually respectful.
5. Forgive, heal and move on
Moving on is the act of releasing the desire to seek revenge or punish someone for an injury. Choosing to ignore toxic behavior does not mean you are a push over. It means that you have instead chosen to refuse to act in an equally destructive manner. You can’t change your past, so any anger, resentment or regret you are holding onto is like “Drinking poison, expecting the other person to die.” More than anything, Emotional Manipulators do what they do because they’re insecure. The only way they know how to get attention is through provoking reactions in others—especially negative reactions.
A powerful way to stop online manipulative abusive behavior sometimes entails doing absolutely nothing. Silence truly is an incredible communicator and sometimes the best “revenge” is giving no response whatsoever. If Emotional Manipulators can’t read you, they are left feeling frazzled, confused and powerless to control you. When they realize that their attempts to manipulate you have backfired, they will end up feeling anxious and abandoned. This is the first step at turning the tables around and regaining your power.
Dr. Suzana E. Flores is the resident clinical psychologist to Prose & Cons and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives due out October, 2014 through Reputation Books.
Dr. Flores frequently presents at universities and organizations, and was recently quoted in Esquire.com, Mashable.com, Everyday Health Magazine, Dame Magazine, The Nation, SheKnows.com, New Parent Magazine, Newlyweds, Upwayve.com and Moms.me.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her literary agent, Liz Kracht at email@example.com.