Manipulation refers to making attempts at indirectly influencing someone else’s behavior or actions. As human beings, our emotions often cloud our judgments, making it difficult to see the reality behind hidden agendas or motives in different forms of behavior. The controlling aspects linked to manipulation are sometimes very subtle and may be easily overlooked, buried under feelings of obligation, love, or habit. You can recognize the signs and avoid being a victim.
EditWatching Their Behavior
- Notice if the person always wants you to speak first. Manipulative people want to listen to what you have to say so they can find out your strengths and weaknesses. They will ask you probing questions so that you will talk about your personal opinions and feelings. These questions usually begin with “What,” “Why,” or “How.” Their responses and actions are based on the information you have given them.
- Always wanting you to speak first should not be considered manipulation on its own. Take into consideration the other things the person does as well.
- The manipulative person will not reveal much personal information during these conversations but focus on you instead.
- If this behavior happens in the majority of the conversations you have with them, it may be a sign of manipulation.
- Although it may feel like genuine interest, keep in mind that there may be a hidden agenda behind all this questioning. If you try to get to know the person, and or they refuse to answer questions or quickly changes the subject, it may be not be genuine interest.
- Notice if the person uses charm to accomplish things. Some people are naturally charming, but a manipulator uses charm to get something. This person may compliment someone before making a request. They may give a small gift or card before asking or say they will do a favor to get the other person to do something.
- For example, someone may cook a nice dinner and be very sweet before asking the other person for money or help with a project.
- Look out for coercive behavior. Manipulators will persuade people to do something using force or threats. They may yell at a person, criticize a person, or threaten a person to get him to do something. The person might begin by saying, “If you do not do this, I will ___” or “I won’t ___, until you ____.” A manipulator will use this tactic to not only get a person to do something, but also to get him to stop doing a certain behavior.
- Be aware of how the person handles facts. If a person manipulates facts or tries to overwhelm you with facts and information, they could be trying to manipulate you. Facts may be manipulated by lying, making excuses, withholding information, exaggerating, or making excuses. Someone may also act like an expert on a subject and bombard you with facts and statistics. The person does this to feel more powerful than you.
- Notice if a person is always a martyr or victim. This person may do things that you did not ask them to, and then hold it over your head. By “doing you a favor,” their expectation increases that you have to return the favor and they may complain when you don’t.
- A manipulator may also complain and say, “I’m so unloved/sick/victimized, etc.” in an effort to gain your sympathy and to get you to do things for him.
- Consider whether their kindness is conditional. They might be sweet and kind to you if you do a certain task well enough, but all heck breaks loose if you dare do it wrong. This type of manipulator seems to have two faces: one angelic one for when they want you to like them, and one awful one for when they want you to fear them. Everything seems fine until you fail their expectations.
- You may be walking on eggshells, afraid to make them angry.
- Observe patterns of behavior. All people engage in manipulative behavior at times. However, people who are manipulators engage in this behavior on a regular basis. A manipulator has a personal agenda and intentionally tries to exploit another person for power, control, and privileges at the other person’s expense. If these behaviors are happening on a regular basis, this person may be a manipulator.
- When you are being manipulated, your rights or interests are often compromised and are not important to the other person.
- Recognize that disabilities or mental illnesses can play a role. For example, a person who has depression may go into a genuine guilt spiral with no manipulative intent, and a person with ADHD may have trouble checking their email regularly. This does not make someone manipulative.
EditExamining Your Communication
- Notice if you are made to feel inadequate or judged. A common technique is to pick on you and ridicule you to make you feel inadequate. No matter what you do, this person can always find something wrong. Nothing you do will be good enough. Instead of offering any helpful suggestions or constructive criticism, the person only points out the negative things about you. 
- This can also be accomplished through sarcasm or jokes. A manipulator may make jokes about your clothing, the car you drive, where you work, your family, your appearance, or anything. Although the comments may be disguised as humor, the humor is used to take jabs at you. You are the butt of the jokes. And it is used to make you feel poorly about yourself.
- Notice if you are getting the silent treatment. A manipulator uses silence to gain control. They may ignore phone calls, text messages, and emails for an unreasonable amount of time. This is done to make you feel uncertainty or to punish you because you have “done something wrong”. The “silent treatment” is different than just taking some time to cool off and then re-connect; it is used as a way to try to make the other person feel powerless.
- The silent treatment may be provoked by your actions, but may be unprovoked. If a manipulative person wants to make the other person feel insecure, randomly cutting all communication works well.
- If you ask the person the reason for the silence, they may deny that anything is wrong or tell you that you are being paranoid or unreasonable.
- Recognize a guilt trip. A guilt trip seeks to make you feel responsible for the manipulator’s behavior. It also puts you in control of the other person’s emotions: happiness, failure, or success, anger, and the like. You will end up feeling obligated to carry out things for his sake even if it is unreasonable.
- Guilt trips are usually prefaced with statements like, “If you were more understanding, you’d…” or “If you really love me you’d…” or, “I did this for you, why won’t you do this for me?” (For something you did not ask for).
- If you find yourself agreeing to things that you normally would not or things that make you uncomfortable, you may be a victim of manipulation.
- Notice if you are always apologizing. A manipulator can flip a situation to make it feel like you have done something wrong. This can be done by blaming you for something that you did not do or making you feel responsible for a situation. For example, if you said that you and the person were going to meet at 1:00 pm, but they show up two hours late. You confront the person, and they respond with “You’re right. I never do anything right. I don’t know why you still talk to me. I don’t deserve to have you in my life.” The person has now made you feel sympathy for them and changed the nature of the conversation.
- A manipulator will also misinterpret anything you have said in the worst possible way which may make you apologize for what you have said.
- Be aware if the person is always comparing you to other people. In an effort to get you to do something, a person may tell you that you do not measure up to other people. They may also tell you that you will look dumb if you do not do it. This is done to make you feel guilty and to pressure you into doing what they have asked you to do.
- “Anyone else would __,” or, “If I asked Mary, she would do it,” or, “Everyone else thinks this is okay except you,” are all ways to get you to do something by comparison.
EditDealing with a Manipulative Person
- Know that it’s alright to say “no.” A person will continue to manipulate you as long as you allow him to. You need to say “no” to protect your well being. Look in the mirror and practice saying, “No, I cannot help you with that,” or, “No, that isn’t going to work for me.” You must stand up for yourself, and you deserve to be treated with respect.
- You should not feel guilty about saying “no.” It is your right to do so.
- You can politely say no. When a manipulator asks you to do something, try: “I’d love to, but I’m too busy in the upcoming months,” or, “Thanks for asking, but no.”
- Set boundaries. The manipulator who finds everything unfair and falls to pieces, they are attempting to gain your sympathy in order to use it to further their own needs. In this case, the manipulator will rely on a sense of “helplessness” and will seek financial, emotional, or other forms of help from you. Look out for attitudes and comments like, “You are the only one I have,” and “I have no one else to talk to,” etc. You are not obligated or equipped to meet this person’s needs all of the time.
- If the person says, “I have no one else to talk to,” try countering with concrete examples: #**”Remember yesterday when Grace came over to talk to you all afternoon? And Sally’s said she’s more than happy to listen over the phone whenever you need a sounding board. I’m happy to talk to you for the next five minutes but after that, I have an appointment I cannot miss.”
- Avoid blaming yourself. The manipulator will try to make you feel inadequate. Remember that you are being manipulated to feel bad about yourself, and you are not the problem. When you begin to feel bad about yourself, recognize what is happening and put your feelings in check.
- Ask yourself, “Is the person treating me with respect?” “Does this person have reasonable requests and expectations of me?” “Is this a one-sided relationship?” “Do I feel good about myself in this relationship?”
- If the answer to these questions is “no,” the manipulator is likely the problem in the relationship, not you.
- Be assertive. Manipulators often twist and distort facts to make themselves appear more attractive. When responding to a fact distortion, seek clarification. Explain that this is not how you remembered the facts and that you’re curious to get a better understanding. Ask the person simple questions about when you both agreed to an issue, how they believed the approach was formed, etc. When you meet on common ground again, take this as the new starting point, not their distorted one. For example:
- The person says, “You never back me up in those meetings; you’re only in it for your own gains and you’re always leaving me to the sharks.”
- You respond with, “That’s not true. I believed that you were ready to talk to the investors about your own ideas. If I had thought you were erring, I’d have stepped, in but I thought you did a brilliant job by yourself.”
- Listen to yourself. It is very important to listen to yourself and how you feel about the situation. Do you feel oppressed, pressured, obliged to do things for this person that you’d rather not do? Does his behavior seem to impact you endlessly, so that after one form of assistance, you are expected to grant yet more help and support? Your answers should serve as a true guide to where your relationship with this person is headed next.
- Curtail the guilt trip. One of the key things to keep in mind when escaping the guilt trip bind is that the sooner you nip it in the bud, the better. Take a return-to-sender approach with guilt trips and don’t let the person’s interpretation of your behavior determine the situation. This approach involves taking what the manipulator has said and telling them how they are being disrespectful, inconsiderate, unrealistic, or unkind.
- If they, “You don’t care about all the hard work I’ve done for you.” Try saying, “I sure do care about the hard work you’ve done for me. I’ve said as much many times. Now it seems to me that you don’t appreciate how much I care.”
- Shorten the person’s hold on you. When a manipulator tries to guilt-trip you by suggesting that they don’t matter, do not buy into it.
- Put the focus on the manipulative person. Instead of allowing the manipulator to ask you questions and make demands, take control of the situation. When you are asked or being pressured into doing something unreasonable or that makes you uncomfortable, ask the person some probing questions.
- Ask the person, “Does that seem fair to me?” “Do you really think this is reasonable?” “How will this help/benefit me?” “How do you think this makes me feel?”
- These questions may cause the manipulator to back down.
- Do not make any quick decisions. A manipulator may try to pressure you into making a quick decision or demand a quick response. Instead of giving in, tell the person, “I’ll think about it.” This will keep you from agreeing to something that you do not really want to do or backing yourself into a corner.
- If an offer disappears if you take time to think, then it may be because you wouldn’t do it if you had time to think. If they’re pushing you to make a split-second decision, the best answer is likely a “no thanks.”
- Build your support network. Focus on your healthier relationships, and spend time with people who make you feel happy and confident. Look to family members, friends, mentors, a partner, and/or friends from the internet. These people can help you stay balanced and happy with yourself. Don’t let yourself be isolated!
- Stay away from the manipulator. If you find that it is becoming too difficult or harmful for you to interact with a manipulative person, keep your distance from them. It is not your job to change them. If the manipulator is a family member or coworker that you have to be around, try to limit your interactions. Only engage when it is absolutely necessary.
- Manipulation can happen in all types of relationships, including romantic, familial, or platonic relationships.
- Look for a pattern in certain behaviors. If you can safely predict how someone will behave in order to achieve certain ends, you are most likely on the right track to picking up on manipulative behaviors.
- How to Recognize a Controlling Person
- How to Cope With a Controlling Person
- How to Recognize a Manipulative or Controlling Relationship
- How to Notice When You’re Being Manipulated
- How to Get Rid of a Manipulative Boyfriend
- How to Deal With a Manipulative Person
- How to Imply to a Manipulative Friend That You Are Angry
- How to Cope With a Controlling Person
EditSources and Citations