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Psychological Self-Defense: Plausible Deniability and How To Deal With It

Cain Parish

In This Article:

Psychological self-defense is just as important as the physical kind. We train our bodies to be resistant to attack or strain, but we don’t train our mind. Here’s an article about plausible deniability, a common tactic used by manipulators and liars to disguise what they’re doing.

A man performing a high kick, demonstrating self-defense and plausible deniability

Table of Contents

The difference between a practised liar and an amateur liar is whether they get caught. Lying and other deceptive practices are very much pass/fail. It either works or it doesn’t. All the nuances in the world serve to increase your odds, but you can never escape the binary nature of a lie.

Except when you can.

Simply put, Plausible Deniability is the ability for a manipulative person to excuse everything they do based on context.

Picture this.

A husband has snooped through his wife’s phone.

He’s seen suspicious texts and concerning pictures. He’s almost convinced his wife is cheating. But, he’s a manipulative man. He doesn’t want a confrontation unless he is absolutely certain of his wife’s indiscretions. So, he chooses the manipulative way. Through careful questioning and Plausible Deniability, he can confront his wife without ever being at fault for snooping or seeming insecure.

He cannot be held accountable.

Plausible Deniability is the smokescreen between a manipulative person and their deceit. You, the victim, are led to believe something about this person that justifies or in some way validates their story. Even when you catch them red-handed in a bold-faced lie, if the liar has plausible deniability, they may escape the consequences.

The husband strikes up a conversation. Talking about smartphone upgrades, he asks his wife how she feels about her phone.

This establishes a segue to talking about her phone, allowing him to broach the subject in a way that makes sense to her. He was simply asking about phone upgrades. For her to question his intentions would be downright paranoid at this point.

He casually mentions, in between some other unrelated information, that his current phone has stopped lighting up when it gets a text. This may be true, it may not. It really doesn’t matter, because all a manipulative person wants from sharing this fact is the ability to then ask about her phone in a way that doesn’t raise concern.

You may start to see a pattern here.

Each step in the conversation is a smooth transition towards the topic the manipulator has in mind. Nothing so far has been of any concern to an unfaithful wife. No accusations have been thrown around, no confrontation has happened. If she becomes suspicious, he can simply feign ignorance. All he’s done is ask whether she likes her phone and if it has an issue displaying text messages.

This is how manipulators get away with weaving their narratives. The worst of the bunch are clever, slowly submerging their targets into a web of lies in a non-confrontational way. Only later does the victim realise that they were coerced into a conversation they did not plan to have, or reveal information they otherwise wouldn’t.

Even after the victim sees how they’ve been played, it’s difficult to confront people using tactics like this. They intentionally disguise their true motivations in superficial excuses. When confronted with their deceit, they will retreat into these excuses, often feigning ignorance or suggesting it was not their idea in the first place.

Eventually, the husband asks more and more pointed questions. His wife, feeling unthreatened by the minutes of dull, unrelated conversation, is lulled into revealing that she has been having no trouble with her text messages to her male coworker.

The husband can then leverage this. He’s been given a perfect excuse. He exclaims his envy, saying that her phone seems to work fine, quoting a line of the suspicious conversation he just ‘happened’ to see when her phone lit up.

From there, the topic has been reached. His wife is in hot water. Of course, he’d not been snooping, it was just his irritation with his own technology that caused him to take a peek. And of course, she’d mentioned her coworker first, so he couldn’t be blamed.

Everything he has done so far is blameless. To be angry at someone with Plausible Deniability is to encounter a world of reasons why your feelings are unjustified. It’s nobody’s fault, the situation was just unfortunate…

Plausible Deniability gives manipulative people a way out of every criticism, every note of fault. It is the platform on which all manipulation stands, because it hides your true intent perfectly. For someone to execute this tactic perfectly, nobody will ever suspect him of manipulation, merely some trivial mistakes and ignorance.

So how does someone combat this sneaky tactic?

By nature, it’s difficult to spot. As with gaslighting and other forms of manipulation, it is imperative to keep a strong grasp on reality, preferably with proof or other outside sources.

This type of manipulation works best when you otherwise trust the person, and the two of you are generally alone for your conversations. It’s much harder to maintain Plausible Deniability in a group, because of how many perspectives the manipulator has to keep track of.

There are some red flags to watch out for. As with any manipulation, most of the solution is in spotting the coercion in the first place.

Most people using this tactic do so instinctively to avoid blame. It’s very rare to find someone able to do it intentionally to serve a purpose. Knowing that, if you struggle to hold your partner accountable to any of their actions, that might be a sign they’re employing this technique.

They may often do things like tell you reasons your feelings are invalid, or give excuses as to why it doesn’t make sense for you to be mad at them. If you care about the person, it may be tempting to accept their excuses at face value. But ask yourself, does what they’re saying actually make sense? Does what they’re saying actually absolve them of responsibility?

Be wary of conversations that start and end in drastically different places. Sometimes conversations can spawn many tangents, and innocently reach many topics, with no cause for concern. Other times, one person may seem to be driving, with questions that almost seem out of the blue. They may be directing you to a topic you had no intention of discussing, or probing for information you didn’t want to give.

One technique I used very heavily myself was to find a way to place the responsibility of the conversation on the other person. I would often accuse the other person of the very thing I was trying to do. These sorts of bold accusations, even if untrue, signal to everyone listening that I am not interested in the thing I am criticising, despite my true intentions being the exact opposite.

Now, here are some strategies to combat Plausible Deniability.

Commit these red flags to memory. Spotting a situation that you think may be manipulation will make you more critical and alert. We obviously don’t want to be paranoid, but in situations that concern you, being careful about what you say and who you say it to can only be a good thing.

Use other people. Describing a situation to others will often reveal the truth about the matter. If you hear yourself speaking and become confused as to how or why a situation took a turn, you may have recognised some manipulation.

Other people can also be a great asset to maintain your sense of reality. As with gaslighting, it is much harder to mislead someone with a strong support structure and close confidants. People outside the situation can give excellent advice, unbiased by potential manipulation.

Become comfortable with confrontation. Often, a manipulator will have very little experience with direct, honest and genuine confrontation. They may dance circles around the truth all they like, but if you hold steady to what is real, they cannot win.

Plausible Deniability is a philosophy that many manipulative people use as a basis for their way of life. Con artists, abusive partners, liars and cheats, all types of deceitful people will use plausible deniability to shield themselves from responsibility and consequences of their actions.

Remembering what I’ve outlined here today will give you the tools necessary to combat this type of manipulative behaviour where and when you spot it. If you feel you have a situation on your hands that might be manipulation, feel free to post a summary in the comments and I’ll happily assist you to work through it.

I also encourage anyone that is currently going through or has gone through psychological manipulation or abuse to seek the proper support and help. Each country has their own helplines and counselling systems in place to deal with these issues, and I would recommend you explore these options if you think that is something you need.

Best of luck.

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Cain Parish

Cain Parish is the owner of A prolific writer, educator and relationship coach since 2019, he specializes in dating, relationships, emotional intelligence and social skills. He is also the author and creator of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for dating and relationship advice, which can be found on his website. His first book, I’m Sorry I Egged Your House, is due to be published in 2024.

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