7 classic tactics manipulative people use to control others

Cat Harper by Cat Harper | March 21, 2024, 7:47 pm

Have you ever wondered how to identify manipulation in relationships?

The first thing to note is that manipulation can show up in all types of relationships. It could be a close friend, someone at work, your romantic partner, or even a family member. 

It might feel crazy to think a friend or partner is trying to control you. But, if you’ve got a gut feeling about something, it’s worth looking into. 

The tricky thing about manipulation is it can be quite hard to spot, as it often starts very subtly and it usually comes from someone who we care about. 

But don’t worry, today we’re talking about 7 classic tactics manipulative people use to control others, to help you spot the signs. 

If you recognize any of these in anyone in your life, it could be a big red flag. 

Let’s get started. 

1) They flatter you with excessive compliments

Have you ever met someone who makes you feel fantastic? They shower you with compliments and flattery. You feel so confident because of them and love being around them. 

Maybe it’s the start of a genuine and healthy relationship. Or maybe you’re falling victim to one of the early tactics manipulators use to control people and you need to proceed with caution. 

As outlined by psychologist and author, Leon F. Seltzers, PhD “It would be wise to consider whether the person praising you might not be craftily maneuvering for something in return..particularly if their compliments seem overblown, the chance of their having some ulterior motive to take advantage of you may be something you need to explore”.

Look, I get it: it feels great to be around someone who builds you up. Anyone would find it hard to resist. But the thing is, this is how manipulation starts. You like this person, they gain your trust. 

And then the real trouble begins. 

2) They guilt-trip you 

One of the oldest tricks in the book that manipulators use to gain control of you is to guilt-trip you. They prey on your good nature and loyalty so that they can get you to do what they want.

Liza Gold social worker and mental health professional says “A guilt trip is best defined as the intentional manipulation of another person’s emotions to induce feelings of guilt,” as outlined by PsychCentral.

Imagine this: you’ve had a long week at work and you’re looking forward to relaxing at home on Friday night. Your friend texts to see if you want to grab a drink. You’re too exhausted so you decline the offer politely.

“I thought friends were supposed to be there for each other! You know how much I’ve been going through lately and when I need you to cheer me up, you’re too tired, Thanks a lot!”

That message packs a punch, right? 

You feel guilty for being a “bad friend” and you’re torn between prioritizing your well-being and the needs of your friend. 

Here’s the thing: the manipulator knows you’re a good, loyal friend and if they make you feel guilty, they’ll probably get what they want.

If someone is making you feel guilty to influence you for their benefit, it’s a warning sign to pay attention to.

3) They give you the silent treatment

Have you ever been on the receiving end of the silent treatment? 

Healthy conflict resolution involves acknowledging the problem and allowing negative emotions to diffuse before talking it out, as noted by clinical psychologist Leigh W. Jerome PhD.

But this doesn’t happen if you’re dealing with a manipulator

One of the classic tactics they use to control you is to give you the silent treatment when they’re not getting their own way. 

And here’s the kicker: the punishment doesn’t seem to match the crime. For example, your other half won’t talk to you for a week because you took too long to text them back. That doesn’t seem fair, right?

The silent treatment makes you feel like you’re a terrible person and you’ve done something really bad when you probably haven’t. The manipulator knows that ignoring you gives them the upper hand.

It’s a classic tactic manipulative people use, it’s all about control and manipulating your emotions to get whatever they want. 

4) They isolate you from friends or family

If you notice someone bad-mouthing your friends or family, discouraging you from seeing them, and making you feel guilty for having plans with them, it’s a major warning sign. 

My friend James had a girlfriend who almost completely isolated him. She forbade him from having female friends, complained when he spent time with his guy friends, and always “needed” him whenever he wanted to visit his family. 

It took a while but thankfully we got through to him that he was being manipulated and he broke things off with her before it got too serious. 

Think about it: if you care about someone, you’ll choose to see the good in them. However, your friends and family won’t be fooled so easily. 

By cutting you off from your support network you’re less likely to have anyone telling you what’s going on and making you question anything.

If you do notice any signs you’re being isolated from your nearest and dearest, it’s time to question why someone would do that.

5) They always play the victim 

We’ve all seen this one, right? You’ve got someone in your life who, no matter what happens, they’re the victim in every story

A few years back, I had a friend, Hannah, who always played the victim. 

At first, I felt awful for her. In every story she told me, she was dealing with someone really nasty and it never seemed to be her fault. I wondered why she had such bad luck with people in her life. 

However, I soon started to see a pattern – she was always the victim.

I met some of the people she had previously bad-mouthed, and they didn’t seem to be the monsters she’d described at all.

I finally realized that playing the victim like this was a classic manipulation tactic that Hannah used to make me feel sorry for her. I felt bad for her and it made it easier for her to get her way with me. 

6) They emotionally blackmail you

Has anyone ever used this phrase on you, “If you loved me, you would..”?

If you answered yes, chances are, you’ve fallen victim to one of the classic tactics manipulative people use to control others – emotional blackmail. But it’s not your fault. 

My ex-boyfriend loved this phrase. Anytime he didn’t want me to do something he’d say “If you really love me you won’t go out tonight” or “…go away for the weekend”. At the time I didn’t realize he was manipulating me and I’d stay to “prove” my love. 

He knew what he was doing. He took my love for him and used it as a way to manipulate me. And it worked.

If you think you’re being emotionally blackmailed, it’s time to recognize it for what it is and remove yourself from that situation as soon as possible. 

7) They spread lies and rumors

Spreading lies and rumors is yet another classic tactic manipulators use to control people. 

“A manipulator will lie to you..or strategically share facts about them and withhold other truths” as outlined by WebMD.

When they realize they can no longer control you, they resort to spreading lies and rumors about you, so that they don’t look like the bad guys in the story. 

Pay attention to how the people in your life talk about others. 

If they’re willing to lie and spread rumors about other “friends” behind their backs, chances are they’ll do the same to you. 

The bottom line

Realizing that you’re being manipulated by someone you care about really hurts. 

Firstly, you never expected to be the type of person who would “fall” for manipulation tactics so you might feel silly or embarrassed. And secondly, you can’t believe someone you care about would do this to you. 

But remember: manipulation only works if you care about and trust the manipulator. It’s not your fault and you’ve got nothing to feel silly about. 

But it’s up to you to recognize it and put a stop to it as soon as you do.