20 Signs Of A Manipulator And How To Protect Yourself From Them

No one likes being manipulated. But the sad reality is that we have all experienced manipulation at one time or another. It hurts even more when the person doing the manipulation is someone you trust or even love.

However, it happens. Manipulation can occur in many forms. It can even be subtle. For instance, at one point, Facebook manipulated its users by exposing them to specific feeds to see how they would respond.

Facebook got a lot of heat from the experiment as they did it without the consent of the users. Yet this was not the first time that the technology giant has emotionally manipulated its users.

No one likes feeling like a lab rat or a string puppet. So what are the signs of a manipulator, and how do you protect yourself from them?

Below, we share the top signs that will help you spot a manipulator and how to protect yourself from them.

Clear Signs of a Manipulator

Manipulators have the skill of making you do what they want. They can play with words with the intent of distorting reality, draining your energy, and attacking your emotional stability. This manipulator can be a friend, family member, or romantic partner.

Since they have had time to understand your weaknesses and strengths, they know how to deceive you so that they can get what they want.

That’s the thing about a manipulator; they are not particularly concerned about your well-being. Instead, they are always focused on themself.

No wonder manipulators are associated with personality disorders such as narcissistic personality (NPD) and borderline personality (BPD). Manipulators learn the habit of manipulation from childhood. That makes it difficult for them to unlearn the habit in their adult life.

Below is a list of 20 ways manipulative people coerce others to their advantage.

1. They Enjoy Playing Mind Games

Mind games are a form of psychological manipulation that’s used to control or coerce you. They often twist previous conversations you have had to hurt or confuse you. For example, a manipulator may have promised to surprise you with a gift for your birthday.

However, your birthday passes, and they were nowhere to be seen. When you bring it up, they claim that they were so busy that they forgot. In fact, they may claim that they even have a hard time remembering their own birthday.

Some manipulators are so skilled at mind games that you’ll not even notice what’s happening. They will twist what you say to suit their needs. They justify their actions, twist the truth, and eliminate certain information so that you doubt your interpretation of things.

2. They Resist Authentic Communication

Resisting authentic communication is one of the top signs of manipulation. To get what they want, a manipulator will avoid candid conversations.

They avoid honest communication in favor of passive-aggressive tactics. For instance, they’ll seek to intimidate you with aggressive language or subtle threats.

When they see that you’re angry, they’ll keep calm, yet they are rigid and unbending. You’ll get frustrated trying to point out their flawed way of thinking because they’ll make you appear completely irrational.

For instance, your partner may be texting someone continually, and they won’t tell you who it is, so you glance at their phone. You noticed that your partner had asked another person out for coffee. When you read the conversation, it seems like they’re flirting.

But when you try to talk to them about it, they say that you don’t trust them or that it’s all in your head because all they did is ask them out for coffee as a platonic friend. This is one way they make you feel belittled and insecure. 

Related: Assertive Communication: Important Benefits, Techniques and Examples

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3. They Are Habitually Inconsistent and Irresponsible

Manipulators are inconsistent and irresponsible. You’ll notice that they’re irresponsible, and when you call them out on their behavior, they’ll turn it around and make you feel guilty.

Other manipulators are more skillful in that they’ll apologize but still repeat the same mistake.

Manipulators can easily say yes and agree to make a small commitment with you. Yet, when it’s time to follow through, they conveniently forget or deny the fact that they agreed to anything in the first place.

Manipulators tend to live with their own set of rules and struggle with accepting responsibility for their actions. 

4. They Fear Vulnerability

Manipulators rarely express their true feelings, desires, or emotions. Instead, they want to know the vulnerability of others so that they can use them to deflect their motives and take advantage of them.

If you’ve ever encountered a manipulator, you’ll realize they have a hard time showing remorse, empathy, love, or guilt.

Often to a manipulator, life is purely an opportunity to get what they want. They do this by taking control and power. They view vulnerability as a weakness and see staying in power as a way of masking who they truly are. 

5. They Consistently Judge & Criticize You To Bring You Down

When dealing with a manipulator, you’ll realize that they pick on you. They do so constantly by utilizing nasty tactics, such as dismissing, marginalizing, and ridiculing you. This is one way for them to maintain an advantage over you.

A manipulator deliberately creates, builds, and maintains an impression that there’s something wrong with you and that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never measure up.

The manipulator constantly looks for the negative without giving you reasonable and productive solutions that will help you.

Related: Gaslighting Parents: 7 Symptoms, Why it Occurs and How to Deal with it

6. You Are Always To Blame

Whatever they said or did not say, whatever they did or didn’t do, you’re always to blame. Even if you can try and point out the issues, you’ll most likely end up looking self-centered and sad.

It will also be hard for you to prove anything against their vague communication and deceptive words.

Manipulation works when you regularly begin questioning yourself and even feel guilty for challenging them. That person will never admit they’re wrong. This is because it will put them at a disadvantage. Also, manipulators are great at keeping scores.

So don’t be surprised if one day they blame you when things don’t go their way. When they help you, watch out because the help will come at a price. 

Related: How to be Kind to Yourself: Why It’s Important and Personal Benefits

7. They’ll Make You Doubt What You’ve Seen

Manipulators will make you doubt your reality. They do this through gaslighting, which is a tactic aimed at making you doubt your instincts.

When you feel that you’re questioning your integrity or sanity, it’s a sign that you’re being manipulated. When you are uncertain about your reality, the manipulator can easily persuade you to follow them.

Since they’ve implanted doubt in your mind, they have the upper hand and can easily make you feel that you’re wrong and they’re right.

Related: How to Deal with Self Centered People in the 10 Best Ways

8. They Can Play The Victim

Playing the victim is a common strategy that manipulators use when they know that you care for them. They are a master at reversing roles and justifying their behavior.

However, when you confront them, they’ll pretend to be the victim to mask their intentions.

This strategy is a classic example of emotional manipulation. You know that you’re right, but when you confront the manipulator, you end up feeling sorry for them, and to some extent, you can even feel guilty.

This tactic can work well if you struggle with issues, such as low self-esteem or are afraid of being alone.

Related: Toxic People: Definition, Examples and 5 Ways to Deal with Them

9. They Can Use Silent Treatment

Another way that a manipulator behaves is by choosing not to take your calls, emails, or text messages and essentially giving you the silent treatment. The manipulator exerts power over you by making you wait.

The silence keeps you uncertain, anxious, and constantly concerned about them. Yet that’s what they want. Manipulators ultimately use silence as a form of leverage.

Related: How to Deal with Passive Aggressive People in 6 Actionable Steps

10. Your Gut Feeling Tells You Something Is Wrong

When it comes to a manipulator, one of the best ways to spot them is by listening to your gut instinct. Human beings have the innate ability to tell when someone is taking them for a ride.

Science demonstrates that what we call “gut feeling” is usually the work of the enteric nervous system.

It’s a part of the autonomic nervous system and lives in our gut and intestines. This system discerns sensory cues and transmits that information to the brain.

Their combined efforts appraise threats, and this happens outside of our conscious awareness. We call it, ‘gut feeling.’

Psychologists point out that gut feeling is essential for assessing manipulation. As such, you should listen to your gut when it alerts you of a potential manipulator.

11. They Want You To Depend On Them

Manipulators can easily get what they want if they have no one else to turn to. They will attempt to limit your resources or to isolate you (either socially, physically, or financially) so that you can be highly codependent on them.

12. They Constantly Compare You To Others

Comparing you to other people is another form of manipulation. Experts indicate that manipulators thrive on the idea of people competing for their attention.

They will frequently compare you to others to make you feel inadequate. For example, if your partner is a manipulator, they may say things like, “If you maintained your weight like so and so’s wife, our relationship would improve.”

Related: Red Flags in a Man to Never Ignore and Avoid at all Costs

13. They Have a Tendency For Being Passive-Aggressive

As indicated earlier, manipulators will avoid candid communication in favor of passive aggression. Manipulators can subtly do this; for instance, they’ll avoid talking to you when they realize something’s off or you haven’t done what they wanted you to do. 

The silent treatment is one of the ways that manipulators deceive you into responding as they desire. The manipulator will also make snide remarks, backhanded compliments, and use other microaggression tactics to manipulate you.

14. You Feel Insecure Around Them

Since manipulation aims to exert dominance over you, a manipulator will always want you to feel insecure. They do this by pointing out your weaknesses or making you feel bad about yourself.

For as long as you’re vulnerable, they see themselves as being superior.

Related: How to be Less Self Conscious in 10 Easy to Follow Steps

15. They Never Give You A Chance To Decide

This tactic is common in sales and marketing, where marketers bombard you with catchy products and services while at the same time giving you little time to decide.

Manipulators also use this tactic by putting pressure on you before you’re ready. They apply pressure so that you’ll break under pressure and give in to their expectations.

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16. They Want You To Talk First To Understand Your Weaknesses

A skillful manipulator often wants you to open up quickly so that they’ll know your weaknesses and be able to use them later on.

Your weak spots are a chance for them to make you more vulnerable and get you to a state where you cannot fight back. A manipulator aims to destroy your self-esteem as it provides them complete power over your emotions.

When someone damages your confidence in close relationships, you’re likely to look to them to restore it. 

Related: Trust vs Mistrust: Learn about Psychological Development Stage 1

17. Sometimes They Use Negative Humor To Disempower You

Some manipulators make critical remarks that are disguised as humor or sarcasm to make you feel insecure and less superior.

For instance, they may comment about your appearance, the things you own, your background or credentials, your behavior, etc. They are out to make you look and feel bad with the intent of imposing psychological superiority over you.

18. You Can Tell That The Relationship Is Emotionally Intense

The manipulator leverages the connection you have with them as groundwork for seizing power and control over your life. This is especially the case in romantic relationships.

When involved with a manipulator, you’ll experience chaos, love bombing, and intense moments that keep you confused, disoriented, and distracted. Their actions aim to deceive you so that you’ll focus on the good times you’ve had with them.

A healthy relationship has elements of reciprocity and cooperation. However, emotional manipulation focuses on seizing power and using it to victimize someone else.

Related: How to Stop Being Insecure in a Relationship: Rebuild Your Self Esteem

19. They Have a Way of Getting Your Loved Ones To Side with Them

Manipulators will always try to paint themselves in the best light as a means of creating a rift between you and your support system.

For example, if you have a friend and they have set up a business, the manipulator will be the first person to reach out to them. The manipulator will post pictures with them on social media of how they visited their new business and had such a good time with them.

When you log onto your social media, you’ll be met with pictures of your partner with your friend. Yet they did that behind your back. The two of you would have gone together to congratulate the friend and check out their new business in a healthy relationship.

Getting close to your friends and loved ones is a classic manipulation tactic designed to make you feel like you’re the one with an issue. This tactic often worsens the in-fighting and increases the feeling of isolation from your end if you’re the victim.

20. They Use These 7 Tactics

There are many other tactics that manipulators use; they include:

  1. Frequent lies
  2. Guilt
  3. Denial
  4. Intimidation
  5. Blaming you
  6. Shaming you
  7. Demand secrecy

There are many other tactics that they can use. If you’re not careful, the manipulation can turn toxic and quickly lead to abuse.

For instance, if a romantic partner demands secrecy, downplays or minimizes your concerns, and exhibits moodiness, their manipulative behavior could lead to an abusive relationship.

Related: 20 Red Flags in a Relationship that you Should Never Ignore

How To Protect Yourself From Manipulation

Once you realize that you’re dealing with a manipulator, the best thing you can do is set boundaries. Avoid being sucked into their world.

Distance yourself from them emotionally, socially, and, if you can, physically. Also, approach interactions with them cautiously, being mindful of the ways they’ll try to suck you in.

Do your best to prevent them from pushing your buttons, especially when you can’t figure out what’s happening. Say ‘no’ to their manipulation by refusing to agree to things that are against your better judgment. You should never feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to them or for failing to live up to their expectations.

The more you maintain your stand, the easier it will be to escape their deception. Choose to set goals for yourself (personal improvement, professional career, financial and relationship goals).

When you have a solid frame of mind about where you’re going, it will be harder for a master manipulator to dissuade you.

Lastly, pay attention to your gut. When you sense you’re being manipulated, you’re probably right. Rather than let that person continue manipulating you, be responsible for your actions (good or bad) and avoid getting emotionally involved.

Dealing with a manipulator can take a psychological toll on you. Whether it is a friend, loved one, or coworker – it’s not only your feelings that could be harmed, but it can also negatively affect your mental health.

In this case, feel free to seek the assistance of a caring therapist. 

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