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6 Manipulative Behaviors at Holiday Gatherings

Holiday gatherings with friends may foster toxic dynamics due to diverse personalities, drawing my attention to subtle manipulative behaviors tactics.

Manipulative Behaviors

Naturally, my area of interest is in subtly manipulative behaviors tactics. Attending holiday get-togethers with friends, relatives, or coworkers can result in toxic behavior due to the mix of personalities, festive mood, and unrestricted alcohol use.

My ex-wife and I had to travel many hours to a little town in another state to see her family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. In that town, her elder brother also resided. The brother and his family would always arrive one or two hours after the scheduled mealtime. My in-laws insisted that we wait to eat until they were here, which encouraged this impolite conduct.

When I finally had enough, I made my wife tell her parents that we had to drive for several hours but were always on time. Every time we came, the brother kept everyone waiting even though he only needed to drive for a little while. Naturally, this was a purposeful act of passive aggression.

Only by waiting until the brother had attempted this prank multiple times was I able to stop this repulsive conduct. He could have pretended to be incensed and labeled me an unreasonable troublemaker if I had complained after just one or two of these occurrences. To his credit, though, my father-in-law stood his ground and the tardiness ended.

Gonna Find Out Who’s Naughty or Nice

This holiday season, if you keep an eye out for manipulative behaviors tactics, you’ll undoubtedly witness any or all of the following behavior at social gatherings. Here are six typical strategies to watch out for these manipulative behaviors:


Merriam-Webster designated this term as their “word of the year” in 2022 due to the volume of searches for manipulative behaviors. This particular form of deceit aims to make the target doubt reality, facts, or their own judgment. For instance, a family member may be gaslighting a lady if they keeps hinting that she is overweight or overeating while her weight and appetite are normal.

Backhanded compliments:

The old joke of the socially shy boy praising his girlfriend by stating, “You don’t sweat much for a fat girl” is surely familiar to you. That is a disparaging remark. “You seem happier now that you’re finally employed,” or “You look good in that dress,” are two more grounded examples. Something similar was mine, but I donated it to Goodwill.

Pushing your buttons:

The practice of my ex-brother-in-law being late for family dinners was his way of getting under my and my ex-wife’s nerves. By applying the appropriate countermeasure at the appropriate moment, I managed to break through his passive-aggressive tactics. Machiavellian Advance Detection and Resistance, or MADAR, is a skill set used to identify and outmaneuver master manipulators. In my book Machiavellians: Gulling the Rubes, MADAR is explained. Leverage is one of these abilities, and I employed it against my brother-in-law who was purposefully late. The key to using MADAR effectively is matching the appropriate strategy to the given circumstance.

Boundary blindness:

There are limits that are enforceable by law. For instance, I might face criminal charges if I strike you. However, the majority of our borders aren’t shielded by the law. For example, when someone is chatting loudly on their phone in public, we have three options: ignore them, move on, or run the danger of getting into an argument with them.

When someone keeps whispering in a theater or drumming his or her fingers on the table in a conference without thinking, what are your options? These careless folks don’t respect the boundaries set by others. During the holidays, you could run into the following kind of bothersome inquiries and actions:  “So, when are you two going to get married?” “Wow, that’s a nice car. How much did you pay for it?” “Here, have some more eggnog. No, I insist. Don’t be a party pooper.”

The silent treatment:

This is yet another act of passive aggression. Whatever reaction you choose gives the offender the opportunity to act shocked and accuse you of being “overly sensitive.” The best course of action is typically to take no action at all. Give the offensive individual no gratification and ignore their actions. Dealing with the silence, however, could be the only choice if it cannot be ignored (for example, if the person rejecting you is the host, one’s own spouse, or a visitor in one’s home). It is generally preferable to leave or to ask the guest to leave. You could ask them nicely if they’re silent, but you can probably expect a defensive answer that won’t work toward a solution.

Triangulation: (Manipulative Behaviors)

Children occasionally beg a parent to side with them against their siblings in arguments with them. Using a third party as leverage in a relationship or a conflict is a well-known example of triangulation. Certain adult siblings may still employ this strategy, particularly if there has been a familial history of triangulation for a long time. In actuality, there is a term for this type of intra-family triangulation: the Karpman drama triangle. Triangulation is particularly common in discussions pertaining to politics and religion, which are the scourge of family get-togethers during this season.

In most cases, confronting someone who is using these Manipulative behavior tactics is not the best course of action. Simple questions like “How much did you pay for your car?” are best answered with a curt response like “Oh, the usual price—an arm and a leg.” You can always “leave” an event if you have to be among troublesome people; in this case, “leaving” can just entail withdrawing to a separate room from your provocateur.

Read More: How to Be Less Insecure

You continue to be in control of your responses, not the offending party. You’ve given someone the upper hand if you allow them to incite you to overreact. As the Deciding says, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence,” mentally get ready. I hope you have a peaceful and happy holiday season.