If someone displays these 9 behaviors, they’re a master of manipulation

Tina Fey by Tina Fey | May 8, 2024, 12:04 pm

Have you ever felt like you’re being subtly controlled, but can’t quite put your finger on how? 

Well, that’s often the handiwork of a master manipulator. Unlike straightforward influencers, manipulators pull your strings without revealing their true agenda.

They play on emotions, twist facts, and employ tricks with such finesse that you might not even realize it’s happening.

Being able to spot these puppet masters is crucial because forewarned is forearmed. 

Keep an eye out for these signs, and you might just save yourself from becoming someone’s puppet.

1) They always seem to have the inside scoop

You know the type, right? There’s always that one person who seems to know just a little too much about everyone and everything. It’s like they have a direct line to the grapevine and all the secrets it holds. This isn’t just good networking or being well-informed—it’s a calculated move.

Manipulators are experts at gathering information and using it to their advantage. They’ll drop hints of confidential tidbits or imply they have exclusive knowledge, making you feel privileged to be in the know. 

But here’s the kicker—they’re not just sharing; they’re trading. For every piece of ‘insider information’ they give, they’re expecting something in return, often your trust or a favor down the line.

And before you know it, you’re caught in their web of influence, looking up to them as the all-knowing oracle. It’s a subtle play, but by making themselves seem like a key information hub, they become a go-to person, positioning themselves as an authority figure you’d feel inclined to please or follow. 

2) They play the victim like a pro

Let me tell you about a time I got played—hard. I had this coworker, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah was the queen of sob stories. Every day, she had a new tale of woe: issues at home, problems with the car, a never-ending stream of bad luck.

At first, I felt sorry for her. I mean, who wouldn’t? I found myself offering to help, covering her shifts, doing bits of her work just to ease her ‘burden.’ But after a while, I noticed a pattern. Sarah’s problems seemed to crop up whenever she needed something or wanted to avoid responsibility.

That’s when it hit me—Sarah was using her endless sob stories to manipulate those around her. She’d learned playing the victim got her sympathy and favors, and she milked it for all it was worth. By the time I caught on, I was already playing a supporting role as her personal assistant in the drama that was her life.

It’s a tricky situation because your natural instinct is to help someone in distress. But manipulators like Sarah use that against you, creating a sense of obligation and guilt to bend you to their will. 

Watch out for the perpetual victim—they might just be setting the stage for their next manipulation.

3) They’re experts at backhanded compliments

Ever received a compliment that didn’t feel quite right? It’s like when someone says, “You’re really smart for someone who didn’t go to college.” It stings because it’s not just praise—it’s a stealthy jab. This is the realm of the backhanded compliment, a manipulator’s go-to tool for sowing seeds of doubt while wearing a friendly disguise.

It may appear to be a positive remark but carries an underlying insult that can undermine your self-confidence and self-worth. It’s designed to throw you off balance, making you more susceptible to influence because you’re too busy trying to decode the mixed messages.

The use of backhanded compliments is deeply ingrained in social interactions, often going unnoticed because of its subtlety. 

When someone consistently uses backhanded compliments, take note. They’re not trying to lift you up; they’re cleverly trying to keep you on a leash that’s just short enough for them to maintain control.

4) They’re champions of the guilt trip

Ah, the guilt trip—an all-time favorite in the manipulator’s toolkit. You’ve probably encountered this before: someone does something for you, and the next thing you know, they’re reminding you of that favor at just the perfect moment to make you feel duty-bound to them.

It’s a sneaky move, turning their past kindness into a currency that you’re now obliged to repay, often with interest. “After all I’ve done for you, you’d really say no to this?” they might say, and suddenly, you’re not just declining a request; you’re denying all their previous generosity.

Manipulators excel at keeping a mental ledger of good deeds, ready to cash them in when most beneficial. Leveraging your conscience as a means of control, often making you act against your better judgment or personal interest out of a sense of indebtedness.

Bear in mind, real kindness doesn’t come with strings attached. If someone repeatedly uses guilt to influence your decisions, it’s not about what’s fair—it’s about what they can gain from you.

5) They subtly shift blame

Picture this: something’s gone wrong, and by some dark magic, it’s never the manipulator’s fault. They have an uncanny ability to dodge accountability and can even make you question your own memory. “I never said that,” or “You must have misunderstood me,” are their go-to phrases.

This tactic is known as gaslighting. Manipulators use this technique to erode your confidence in your own perceptions, making you more reliant on their version of events.

It’s a dangerous game that leaves you apologizing for their mistakes, shouldering burdens you shouldn’t carry, and feeling responsible for situations outside of your control. They create an environment where you’re always the one at fault, and they’re always the aggrieved party.

Beware of those who can never admit when they’re wrong and who artfully twist the narrative to avoid blame. It’s a red flag that they’re not just influencing; they’re manipulating with precision.

6) They weave a web of excessive emotional dependency

It’s a delicate subject, really. When someone starts relying on you for all their emotional needs, it can feel like a testament to your bond. But there’s a fine line between closeness and manipulation.

Often they create a scenario where they’re your ‘only’ friend, the ‘only’ one who understands, or the ‘only’ one who truly cares. It’s flattering at first, the idea that you’re someone’s rock. Yet, this is how they lay the groundwork for an emotionally dependent relationship—where your actions are dictated by their needs and moods.

This kind of dependency isn’t about genuine connection; it’s about control. When you’re the sole source of comfort or happiness for someone, it becomes incredibly hard to say no or set boundaries without feeling like you’re abandoning them or being cruel.

True emotional bonds are mutual and freeing, not shackling. So if you find yourself feeling more like a caretaker than an equal partner in a friendship or relationship, it might be time to assess the emotional dynamics at play.

7) They use your secrets against you

There was a time when I confided in someone I thought was a close friend. I shared things with them that I hadn’t told anyone else—my insecurities, fears, and dreams. It was liberating, at first, to have someone who knew the real me. But then, the dynamic shifted.

During disagreements or when they wanted to sway my decisions, my ‘friend’ would remind me of my past, my vulnerabilities. It was subtle, never overtly threatening, but it was a clear message: they knew my weak spots and weren’t afraid to prod them if it suited their needs.

It hits home hard because it’s a betrayal of trust. When someone uses your own stories—the ones you gave them in confidence—as ammunition, it’s a clear sign of manipulation. They’re not just playing on your emotions; they’re exploiting your trust to keep you in line.

Be careful whom you trust with your inner world. The right people will guard your secrets like precious treasures. The wrong ones, the manipulators, will use them as leverage to get what they want.

8) They dangle the carrot of future promises

Manipulators are masters of the future promise, the proverbial carrot dangled in front of you to keep you chasing. “One day, I’ll make it up to you,” or “I promise things will be different soon,” they say, and with those words, they bind you to the hope of a better tomorrow that never quite materializes.

It’s a powerful strategy because it preys on our natural optimism, our desire for positive change and rewards. But these promises are hollow; they’re just another way to prolong your commitment to a situation that benefits them more than it does you.

The future is always just out of reach. You are being strung along with just enough hope to keep you from walking away. It’s a cycle that can trap you in unfulfilling jobs, relationships, or agreements.

So watch for those who often make grand promises about what’s to come but fail to deliver. Real intentions are shown through actions, not empty words about what’s supposedly just around the corner.

9) They isolate you from others

The most crucial thing to know about manipulators is their tendency to isolate you from your support network. Sowing seeds of distrust about your friends and family, subtly suggesting that they don’t have your best interests at heart or that they’re just jealous of your relationship.

Isolation is a manipulator’s dream because it makes you more vulnerable to their influence. Without the perspective of others, it becomes easier for the manipulator to twist your reality and make you count on them for advice, support, and validation.

When someone consistently drives wedges between you and your loved ones, take a step back. Healthy relationships encourage strong bonds with others, not cut them away. This behavior is a significant red flag and perhaps the most telling sign that you’re dealing with a master manipulator.

Bottom line: Awareness is your safeguard

Being aware is your vital defense against potential emotional and psychological harm. The subtleties of human interaction are complex, but recognizing the patterns of manipulative behavior can be the shield that protects you.

As you move forward, carry with you the insights from these red flags. Take a closer look at your relationships. Are they rooted in mutual respect and honesty, or are they tainted by manipulation? Trust that you will be able to spot genuine intentions from manipulative strategies.

In the end, it’s not just about avoiding manipulators; it’s about nurturing healthy, authentic connections with others—relationships that uplift rather than undermine. By staying vigilant and informed, you are empowered to navigate the complex social landscapes with confidence and clarity.

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