How to Spot Psychological Manipulators

Editor’s Note:

Great article! And spot-on! I’ve known several “manipulators” in my life. Fortunately, I can spot them miles away and don’t buy into their little games. But it really hurts when I see my loved ones not only being manipulated, but are recruited into Enablers, allowing this behaviour to manifest in many, many areas of their lives. I know love can be blind, but c’,mon! Wake up and Smell the Coffee! It becomes the antithesis to a true give & take relationship…you give, they take!



By Eric Perry, PhD-c

“You learn a lot about people when they don’t get what they want.” ~Anonymous

Like the waves that forcefully crash on the shore and later gracefully retreat, there is an ebb and flow to life. The seasons change and the flowers bloom, only to later wilt. We all give and take in our daily lives. Our interactions with one another are overall based on a healthy exchange of emotions, ideas and positive social interactions. There are some individuals, that like crashing waves have a disruptive influence in our lives. They seem only interested in profiting from the relationship and will give little or nothing in exchange. They use psychological manipulation to disguise their true intent.

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that uses deception, underhanded tactics and abuse in order to achieve the interests of the manipulator. The manipulator may use these tactics for personal gain, to advance a covert agenda, gain a position of power and superiority in the relationship or simply because they are bored.

Manipulation may be a factor in a number of  mental disorders. It appears to be part of the psychopaths M.O. (modus operandi), in order to gain what they (Anti-social Disorder, Narcissistic Personality disorder, Histrionic Disorder) want. While not all people who manipulate are suffering from a mental disorder, it is important to know how to identify manipulation and how to deal with it. Manipulative individuals are able to detect your weaknesses and use them against you. You may encounter them at work, social settings or within your own family.

When you assert your boundaries, it is important to pay attention to how people react to your defense of a set boundary. If they react with a negative emotion such as anger, hostility, intimidation, silent treatment or playing the victim, you have found the border where their respect for you ends.

Here are some signs of manipulation:

1. Lying – Overtly or by omission, they will play with the truth to facilitate their goal. See my blog post How to Spot Deception for a more detailed look at deception.

2. Denial – They will deny doing anything wrong, even when caught red handed.

3. Anger/Defensive – When confronted, they will react with excessive anger or defensiveness. They will use anger to scare you into submission. They may even use controlled anger to shock their victim and get them to focus on the anger instead of the harm.

4. Rationalization – When confronted with their manipulative behavior they will explain it away and put a positive spin to it.

5. Minimization – They will explain their behavior in a way to minimize it. For example, after insulting you they may claim it was only a joke.

6. Diversion – When confronted or they feel you may be on to their manipulative ways they will divert your attention to another topic or may switch gears and physically do some act to get your attention.

7. Intimidation – The manipulator may resort to direct or implied threats in order to get a person to act or not act.

8. Guilt trip – To get a person to act, the manipulator will make statements to the victim such as “You don’t care,” “You are selfish,” “You have it easier” and other similar statements. What they say will depend on their perceived weakness of the target. They will use guilt to make the victim feel bad, doubt their boundaries and act according to the manipulators plan.

9. Shame – The manipulator may use shame and ‘put downs’ to create fear and self doubt. They may use sarcasm and mocking behavior to create a sense of inadequacy in their victim. This perceived inadequacy will cause the victim to doubt themselves and not dare to question the manipulator.

10. Playing the victim – The manipulator may play the role of victim in order to gain sympathy and pity. They will make up stories of hardship and pain and will use this tactic to manipulate good hearted individuals who wish to help.

11. Vilify the victim – The manipulator will falsely accuse the victim of a perpetrated act that they themselves are accused of. For example, they will claim that they are the ones being abused in order to put the victim on the defense. They will also project the blame to the victim. They will try to convince you and others that you are crazy or you are the abusive one.

12. Seduction – A manipulator will use flattery, charm and praise to get the victim to drop their guard and to gain the trust of the victim. This approach will be used repeatedly throughout a person’s relationship with the manipulator. It is often seen after the victim has pointed out past manipulative behavior. It is a way to lull a victim into complacency and acceptance of the behavior.

13. Feigning innocence – When confronted with their manipulative behavior, they will act surprised and appear not to know what the victim is talking about. They will make it appear as if it is a misunderstanding and that it is the victim who is seeing things in a negative way. This is another way of making the victim feel inadequate and confused.

14. Peer pressure – The manipulator may try to convince the victim that they should act a certain way because others are ‘ok’ with and engaging with the behavior. Remember, you are in control of your life and you always have the right to say “NO” to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Psychological manipulation is a form of mental bullying. Manipulators feed on their perceived weaknesses of others and will not stop unless confronted. The intention of this post is to help you identify these behavior so you can put a stop to it or to avoid entirely. If you found this post to be helpful or insightful please remember to like, comment and share.


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