All of us have come across manipulative people who pretend to be nice in our lives. And, once you fall prey to their manipulative ways and become aware of it, you often come up with strategies to avoid being trapped in their web. You are sometimes successful, sometimes not.
The difficulty you face when dealing with a manipulative person is how to know they are manipulative. Most times they come disguised as nice and friendly personalities that despite all your preparation, you fall prey to their little schemes.
Until you are neck-deep in trouble, you are not aware of the mess you walked into.
These selfish schemers have a knack to draw you in with their magnetic personality and keep you close to themselves even if you wanted to escape desperately. Their tactics remind one of the spiders perched upon their intricately designed web, enticing the prey to get trapped. Once you get caught there is no escape.
Other than using you to their advantage and making you do things against your will, the worst thing these manipulators do to you is to destroy your natural instinct to trust people. You start distrusting others and their intentions in befriending you. You doubt their genuineness and start second-guessing their motives. You turn suspicious and skeptical. And, this will lose you more real friends than you can imagine.
Every time you get caught in the web of a manipulative person, you ask yourself the question.
How could I have avoided this?
Is there any way to detect a manipulative person?
How to stay out of the clutches of a manipulative person?
Naturally, your mind will be teeming with such questions. Because you lose so much more than you can ever imagine by letting them in your inner circle.
This article attempts to find the common traits of a manipulative person so that you know what to look out for. Most of them are too innocuous and sugar-coated that it is easy to miss when you are not aware and not looking for them.
What is a manipulative person like?
Manipulators are people who exploit others mentally and emotionally and trick them to do their bidding. Often this would be against the will of their victims. A manipulative person rarely asks what they want outright. They sneak into the inner circle of their victims, gain their trust and friendship, and force them to do what they want without being obvious about it.
Most of us are manipulative on a small scale as this is a defensive mechanism to help us in our lives. We do this without being aware of it. But it becomes problematic or toxic when the victim feels trapped and is forced to do harmful things, either to themselves or others.
Manipulative behavior is a personality disorder that stems from the need to stay under the radar, get things done, and refuse to own up to the deeds. The act of manipulating reaches ominous proportions when the victim is not aware of being manipulated.
Manipulative behavior is so vast and varied and differs widely in severity. This makes it hard for its hapless victims to detect the signs and stay alert to avoid being taken for a ride.
What are the signs of being manipulated?
As it is hard to distinguish between genuine friendliness and the fake overtures of a manipulative person, it would be easier to look out for signs in your own behavior and feelings to know whether you are being manipulated.
So, rather than focus on the behavior of the manipulator, you should pay attention to how someone is making you feel or the changes in your behavior.
Here are some common behavioral patterns in the victims of manipulation.
- You feel coerced into doing things you don’t want to or would consider wrong.
- You feel an obligation, guilt, and dread.
- You feel you have done something wrong even though you know for sure that you haven’t.
- You begin to doubt yourself.
- You feel being gaslighted.
- You find your conversations and friendships being hijacked.
- For every favor received, you are expected to return favors.
- You graciously give them a toehold and before you know it, they ask for the moon.
- Ludicrous demands are made on you and you find yourself settling for smaller ones.
Types of manipulative behaviors
Manipulative behavior comes in a wide range of behavioral patterns and intensities. At times, manipulators are aggressors, while in other instances they play victims. Manipulative behavior in some forms is obvious and easy to spot when in many cases, they are disguised so well that even if you have experience and are mentally prepared, you would still fall for it.
Here is a list of common manipulative behaviors.
- Verbal abuse
- Deceit and lying
- Criticism and blaming
- Flattery and backhanded compliments
- Cribbing and whining
- Playing victim
- Feigning innocence
- Passive aggression
- Withholding affection or sex
- Love bombing or excessive display of affection or concern
- Projective identification
- Passive-aggressive social media posting
Why are some people manipulative?
In most manipulative people, this behavior is an aftermath of childhood trauma. When your needs are not met as a child, you tend to find ways and means to make it happen. In some cases, this behavior is copied from their parents or influential adults who are themselves manipulative. When a child sees how easily they have their needs met and sail through life, the child imitates the same behavior.
The rewards of being a manipulative liar are so lucrative that it becomes part of the person. When you can get something done the easy way, why would you look for other options?
In some people, manipulative behavior starts as a defense mechanism against abuse and trauma. This is a course of action they adopt as a means for self-preservation and not to feel abandoned or go into depression. As the saying goes, offense is the best form of defense.
In people with distorted or perverted personalities such as narcissists and sociopaths, manipulation is merely part of their overall behavior. The severity of manipulation in a person is directly related to the level of trauma they suffered that led to their manipulative behavior.
Common characteristics of a manipulative person
Manipulative people come in all shades, making it extremely hard for a normal person to identify. At times they come across are passive-aggressive personalities who bulldoze their way into your life. Or else they play victims and try to corner your affections by taking on the mantle of the hunted or that of an underdog.
It is common for you to feel unsure and confused whether a person is manipulative or not. More often than not, if you have doubts about the manipulative nature of someone, you are right.
To help you figure this out, here is a list of common manipulative behaviors you may encounter in your everyday life.
- They make you feel remorseful for the sake of familial obligation, friendship, love, or professionalism.
- They transfer the onus of responsibility onto you and absolve themselves of obligations.
- They are unclear and vague about their feelings, beliefs, opinions, needs, wishes, requests, and demands.
- Their response to your queries is again imprecise and unintelligible.
- Their behavior, response, and opinion vary based on people and circumstances.
- They always manage to justify their behavior, action, and demands with their own strange sense of logic.
- They always manage to convince others that they are perfect, resolute in their decisions, highly knowledgeable about everything under the sun, and are always helpful and available for everyone anytime.
- They are always obliquely questioning your intentions, behavior, competency, attributes, or even integrity. They judge and demean you without being obvious about it.
- They are reluctant to meet you face-to-face or converse directly. They use others to convey their messages or use phones, emails, or notes for communication.
- They thrive on stirring things up and creating confusion, misunderstanding, and ill-will. They are good at creating disagreements between people, causing breakups in relationships and alienating you from your real friends.
- They play the role of victim to perfection to gain your sympathy, to force you to offer help and evoke the feeling of protective behavior in you. They may feign vague illness, overworked, abusive family, or even depression.
- They ignore your request for help all the while reassuring you that they are always there for you.
- They evoke the moral standards in others to get what they want. Such as honesty, compassion, empathy, and gratitude.
- They have no scruples in resorting to threats or blackmail to get what they want.
- They change the topic of conversation abruptly to suit their purpose or because they feel so.
- They are at their slippery best in avoiding topics, conversations, or gatherings they are not interested in or consider threatening.
- They display their superior wisdom and knowledge, reckoning on the ignorance and inexperience of others. They are confident that their utterances will not be questioned.
- They have no moral compunctions about telling lies to suit their purpose.
- They use dishonest means to discover facts. They interpret and twist facts to serve their purpose.
- They are vain and self-centered.
- They are selfish and jealous.
- They don’t tolerate criticism and don’t hesitate to reject truths and facts.
- The rights, wants, wishes, and aspirations of others are irrelevant and do not matter to them.
- Their demands and requests are often made at the last minute, leaving you with no time to make decisions.
- Their words often agree with the image they project but their behavior, actions, attitude, and lifestyle are at odds.
- They seduce you with flattery and by being overly attentive. Showering you with compliments, attention, and gifts are their hallmarks.
- They project the image of being in distress or not enjoying freedom.
- They always get what they want at the expense of others.
- They coerce you to do things that you would not have done otherwise.
- They often feature in conversations among people who know them, even in their absence.
- They exploit your weakness and use it against you.
- They can identify your insecurities and misuse them.
- They can convince you to relinquish something that you hold dear to make you more dependent on them.
- They block all your attempts to escape their stranglehold and free yourself.
- They lure you out of your comfort zone to make you feel vulnerable.
- They generalize and exaggerate to distort truths.
- They poke fun at you to feel superior.
- They have no respect for the boundaries you have set.
- They are constantly justifying and rationalizing their behavior.
- They are always bad-mouthing people in their absence to create disharmony and competition.
- They often tell half-truths to suit their purpose.
- They are rude and caustic and have no dilemma in insulting you.
- If nothing else works, they bully you into doing their bidding.
- They make light of their behavior until they feel the need to be assertive.
- They have no clue how they are perceived by others.
- They exploit your conscience and sensibility to get what they want.
- They often talk behind people’s backs, including you.
- They are not interested in knowing or understanding the real you.
- They claim to know you better than you know yourself.
- They hide behind a facade of respectability and socially acceptable behavior.
How to handle someone with a manipulator personality?
You need to keep in mind that manipulators know how to detect your weaknesses and use them against you. They can convince you to do things that serve their purpose even if you don’t want to. They can use positive tactics like fake closeness and insincere flattery or negative tactics like deception, criticism, silent treatment, and emotional abuse.
The first step in this regard is to accept that you are being manipulated and you want to put an end to it. Only then you could consider ways to stop the person from taking advantage of you.
You need to be resolute in your decision to stop being manipulated. Manipulators can be persuasive and you may have to summon all your willpower to overcome them. If you waver in your decisions, it is a lost cause.
Here are some steps you can take to handle a manipulator effectively.
- No means no
- Resist the urge to say sorry
- Restrain the impulse to react
- Avoid correcting them
- Know your mind
- Decide what you want
- Set clear boundaries
- Don’t get coaxed into making instant decisions
- Call them out
- Let them know that you understand
- Stay away from them
- Find real friends you can trust
They play with your emotions, make you do things you don’t want to, make you feel guilty, or twist your words – you come across manipulators everywhere in your daily life; right there at home or at the workplace or hiding in your friends’ circle.
There is no escaping them. You just need to wake up to what they are trying to do and toughen up. If they are refusing to accept your boundaries, ask yourself, “Do I really need them in my life?”.
If your family member is manipulative, you need to recognize the signs and break the cycle. You may also want to look at our guide on dealing with codependent parents of adults.