Perhaps it’s a colleague, friend, parent, or partner.
Whichever the case, you’ve landed here because you’re dealing with a manipulator and want to push back.
Are there tricks?
How do you recognize one?
For that matter, what makes manipulative people the way they are?
What about ghosting (the act of cutting off all communication without warning)?
Does that get them off your back?
Get comfortable because we’ve got answers.
How Do You Recognize a Manipulator?
Step one is recognizing when a manipulator waltzes into your life.
It may be a new partner, an old friend who’s changed, a neighbor, or a colleague. It could be your parents, siblings, or extended family members in the most challenging situations.
Typically, manipulators use threats, guilt, blackmail, and flattery to achieve their goals and control a given situation.
They push other people around like pawns on a chess board.
Be careful, though, because manipulative people can be charming and funny at face value.
They’re often intelligent, witty, and quick. But after a while, all that impressive ebullience erodes into something much uglier.
What clues should you weigh to determine if someone in your life is siphoning your joy and causing undue chaos? Let’s take a look. Don’t dismiss these red flags!
They’re Emotionally Draining
Is there someone in your life that’s a whirlwind of drama? Do you find yourself drained after spending just an hour in their presence?
Sure, everyone goes through intense periods, but sometimes fierce turns toxic. When it reaches that point, putting distance between you and the emotionally draining person is wise.
Self-Check: Make sure you’re not the one who’s being close-minded or hypocritical. Is the person going through a difficult time? Have you leaned on them when you needed support, but you’re refusing them a shoulder to cry on when they need it?
They Don’t Respect Boundaries
Both narcissists and manipulators aren’t particularly great at honoring boundaries. They’re not interested in other people’s problems, feelings, and situations.
As a result, they’re terrible listeners who forget 80% of what comes out of your mouth — including boundary-setting conversations.
Manipulative folks typically have one-track minds that are fixed on their needs, wants, and goals. They’ll plow right through if your boundaries get in the way of their ambition.
Self-Check: Have you made your boundaries clear? Or do you expect people to read your mind? You can’t fault someone for not respecting your space if you don’t clarify the parameters.
They Love To Gaslight
Gaslighting is the act of making someone question their truth and sanity. It’s a highly manipulative technique that can eviscerate your mental health.
Gaslighting is effective because it’s confusing and knocks us off our games. Instead of seeing clearly, we stop and think: Wait? Am I to blame? Am I going crazy?
When someone is dismissive and their actions don’t align with their words, take notice and be careful.
Self-Check: When people let their shadow selves rule the roost, they project their judgments, insecurities, and fears onto other people. It’s a form of gaslighting; sometimes, it’s near impossible to see when we’re doing it. So dig deep and stare down your baggage before pointing the finger at someone else.
Deflecting Blame Is Their Game
Like narcissists, manipulators cannot handle being wrong or faulty. They find it threatening because, in their minds, it’s equivalent to losing power and control.
Double standards are another irritating symptom of the manipulation blame game. Manipulative people will force other folks to take ownership of mistakes, but they’re incapable of doing the same.
When you bring errors to the attention of manipulative people, they’ll double-down and have ten excuses ready at their fingertips.
Then, they’ll immediately start insisting you’re wrong in some way.
Self-Check: It’s easy to get defensive when confronted with criticism. Moreover, we’re all blind to some of our faults. So before you blow up and accuse someone else of being manipulative, make sure you’re not to blame — in part or whole.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been passive-aggressive.
Everyone should have a hand in the air. Yes, it’s annoying — and yes, we’re all guilty of doing it at some point.
But people with manipulative tendencies take passive-aggression to another level. It’s in their blood. They feast on it.
These hyper-passive-aggressive types are constantly lobbing snarky digs at all who cross their path. Frustratingly, manipulators think their targets aren’t smart enough to recognize the subtle slights.
In the rare instances when someone confronts them about their passive-aggressive snarkiness, they play dumb and say things like, “Oh no! I didn’t mean it that way!” or “You’re crazy! Of course, I didn’t mean that!” In other words, they leverage plausible deniability.
Another favorite of passive-aggressive people is saying “thank you” to criticism instead of having a mature conversation. They also love to say things like “I guess” while rolling their eyes when they don’t agree with something you’ve said.
Bonus Tip: Becoming entangled with people who rely on passive-aggressive behavior can turn dark quickly — especially if you’re a straightforward person. So be on the lookout.
Manipulators Play the Victim
“Playing the victim” is something we all do at some point. (And if you don’t think you do, you’re lying to yourself.)
But manipulators take it to extremes.
They always see themselves as the innocent party. Instead of engaging in self-reflection, they’ll graft their insecurities and judgments onto their targets and accuse others of being mean and judgmental.
If they feel they’re losing control of a relationship or situation, they’ll embellish stories and raise the stakes to steer the attention back to them.
Self-Check: People who frequently play the victim always accuse others of the same “sin.” Consider your actions and beliefs. Are you also guilty? Be honest with yourself.
They Constantly Change Their Minds
Manipulators are recidivist flip-floppers. Sure, we all have the right to change our minds, but manipulative people will flip-flop during a conversation to jockey for position.
They expect people to ignore their rapid course change, which is disorienting. It’s hard to know where you stand with people like this.
Bonus Tip: We usually overlook frequent flip-flopping early in a relationship. We dismiss it as nerves or something acceptable. So pay attention. If it continues, it may be a red flag.
Dishonesty is another manipulator red flag. They lie for various reasons: insecurity, fear, and shame are the three primary motivators. Bluntly speaking, they do it to keep up appearances.
A lying habit can be mental hell because you always try to keep your stories straight and “cover” yourself. It’s a heavy cognitive load that can cause people to break down and act out.
Bonus Tip: If you uncover that a close friend, partner, or family member has been lying, gently ask them if everything is OK instead of yelling at them. It could be a cry for help.
What Are Manipulators Afraid Of?
Manipulators share similar behaviors with narcissists. Underneath the hubris and toughness, cauldrons of insecurity and fear bubble constantly.
But why? Why do manipulators need to present themselves as “the best”?
Typically, their neurosis is rooted in childhood trauma, and as a result, they’re afraid of:
- Being Vulnerable
- Looking foolish / feeling embarrassed
- Not getting what they want
- Being exposed for who they truly are
To protect themselves, they wear “masks” and try to control every factor in their orbit, including other people.
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13 Ways To Put a Manipulator in Their Place
We’ve talked about the habits and motivations of manipulative people. At this point, you may be wondering how to put a manipulator in their place. Buckle up because we’ve got a baker’s dozen worth of suggestions.
1. Don’t Automatically Apologize
Some people say sorry entirely too much. Instead, try putting your foot down!
If you didn’t do anything wrong, don’t apologize. Taking responsibility for someone else’s poor behavior or actions is not your outlook.
When manipulators stumble across someone who’s a fountain of apologies, they latch on quickly, thinking they can be puppet masters. Stop them by standing your ground.
2. Say “No!”
Manipulators look for subservient targets. They’ll likely move on to the next mark if you stand up and say no. No point wasting time on someone hip to their behavior.
Saying no doesn’t need to be rude. By all means, be civil — but also be firm.
3. Minimize Contact
No rule says you must constantly interact with people you find toxic. Sure, if this person is a colleague with whom you must work, you cannot ease them out of your life. But in these situations, only make contact when absolutely necessary.
If the manipulator can tell you’re trying to keep your distance, they may sense a strong personality and sniff around other folks.
4. Diffuse Drama
Manipulative people love drama, and making chaos is a favorite pastime (although they’ll swear they’re the most laid-back people on the planet).
Because they like to keep people off their toes. When drama swirls, they can scheme and maneuver.
But manipulators usually won’t bother people who don’t take the bait. So resist the urge to gossip and chit-chat with the potential offender.
5. Don’t Correct Them
People who like to manipulate others almost always hate to be corrected. It feels like a threat because they’re preoccupied with putting up a perfect facade.
So if things are particularly fraught and the temperature escalates, don’t keep the argument going. If possible, also try not to correct them. Let things simmer down and revisit the topic when everyone has calmed down.
6. Work On Your Self-Confidence
Inure yourself from manipulative people by bolstering your self-esteem.
Self-confidence is one of the best mental health shields out there. People with self-confidence know who they are. They recognize their faults and weaknesses — which is kryptonite to manipulators.
Confident people don’t flip out at the whiff of constructive criticism. Moreover, they can smell a con from 10 cubicles away.
The need to “fit in” often erodes our confidence because we crave other people’s approval. In some ways, it’s coded into our DNA and therefore feels profound.
But as we live and learn, we realize that self-confidence feels just as good as “fitting in” — if not better. So we stop trying to appease everyone else and get down to the business of crafting our own lives.
7. Be Self-Reliant
One way to avoid clashing with manipulators is self-reliance. If you handle all your business yourself, you won’t need to trade on the Favor Exchange Market.
If someone brings you unsolicited “gifts” at work to curry favor, thank them profusely but politely explain that you cannot accept them.
In a phrase: stay nice but neutral.
It’s fine to collaborate and coordinate, but don’t become entangled in a transactional relationship that leaves you drained and emotionally frustrated.
8. Throw a Bit of Snark Yourself
Most manipulative people think they’re smarter than you and everybody else. It’s not uncommon for them to fling a snarky dig and expect you not to notice.
It’s condescending and can ruin personal and professional relationships.
So how do you tell someone you’re not interested in being toyed with and condescended to? When they sling the snark, toss it right back and keep it moving.
Doing so will throw them off their pedestal, and they’ll likely steer clear in the future. After all, inveigling an easier target takes less energy.
9. Make Eye Contact
Is manipulating a manipulator a good idea?
Yes! It throws them off their games, and most find it exceptionally jarring because they’re accustomed to wielding all the control.
One of the easiest ways to manipulate manipulators is by making intense eye contact. It’s a trick they use, and mirroring it back to them can be off-putting. Stare steady and true; convey that you’re not to be trifled with.
10. Be a Broken Record
Manipulators pester. If you find yourself with one of them hovering around, be a broken record. Strip your voice of emotion and explain that you simply cannot handle their request.
Eventually, they’ll move on to the next target.
11. Use Their Name
Strategically using a person’s name in conversation has its benefits. Sometimes, it signals that you see them and are connecting in some way.
In fact, Dale Carnegie, the godfather of self-help, advised readers in “How To Win Friends and Influence People” to repeat a person’s name several times upon meeting.
On the flip side, it can be done authoritatively, which signals that you’re not one to be manipulated. While others may not think twice about you saying someone’s name, the manipulator will see it as a red flag.
12. Ignore Them
What happens when you ignore a manipulator? Typically, it goes one of two ways:
- They become preoccupied with getting your attention.
- They move on to someone else.
If you try this tactic, pretend there’s a wall between you. Don’t respond. Instead, do what you do when a child or partner starts blabbing on and on about something you care nothing about.
13. Don’t Let Them Generalize
Manipulators love to generalize. For example, they may say something like “You ALWAYS do [insert task]!” when, in reality, you only performed the task once.
When they try to trap you in this type of verbal web, ask for several examples of you completing the task in the past.
Additionally, call them out when they demand info from you but never return the favor.
We hope our list has given you a few ideas about how to stop a manipulator in their tracks.
Remember: the goal isn’t to be rude — it’s to get out of their way. After all, the last thing you need is a manipulative malingerer siphoning your energy.