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We are social beings, and our prosperity depends a good deal on how well we can work with others in our society. That means we frequently find ourselves in positions where we must persuade others to help us, work with us towards some shared goals, do business with us, or the most interesting of all, marry us.
There’s no doubt we wouldn’t get far without learning the art of persuasion.
At the same time, fairness demands that we also keep others’ well-being in mind as we convince them to do whatever we want them to. And in most cases, it works out okay since the different parties involved are smart enough to guard their own interests and have some code of ethics guiding them.
But there are people out there who do not live by any idea of fairness or justice, at least in most of their relationships. And some of them are masters at manipulating others. It makes them a very dangerous lot because they can force you to behave in ways that will benefit them but hurt you severely.
The worst part is, you may not even realize until they have played with you for a long time.
Thankfully, certain telltale signs can help you spot attempts to manipulate you or trick you into doing something. Being able to identify such attempts and the people behind them will put you in a better position to protect yourself and make better choices, those that will be good for you, while also being fair.
So here are 7 of the most common signs you are dealing with a manipulative person.
They Lie and Twist Facts
Truth is the biggest enemy of a manipulator. If you could see reality without any distortion, it would be tough to make you act against your interests to benefit someone else (who, by the way, doesn’t even care about you).
So a manipulative person must keep you trapped in an alternate reality in which you have no choice but to do their bidding. Depending on the situation, it could mean projecting themselves as a victim, your savior, or whatever suits them.
For example, if they want you to stop seeing someone, they might invent lies to disrupt your relationship.
Or they might promise you something in exchange for a favor. And later assert that there were some other conditions you don’t remember. Thus using the sunk cost fallacy to extract more favors out of you.
They Spread False Information About Others
When it comes to mind-games, perception is everything. By weaving a false narrative about you, they take control of how society views you. It weakens your position and strengthens theirs. Wherever you go, you find people speaking the language of your manipulator.
Take this, for example. Say you want to break up, while your manipulative partner wants you to stay. They might go around telling people how you are acting immature and impulsive or how you are disregarding all the great things they have done for you. They might convince people into believing you need to be stopped from doing something that stupid.
So when you go out with your friends, even if they don’t say anything directly, the way they talk makes you doubt your decision. It makes you feel pressured to act against your judgment.
The point is, by planting their story in the minds of others, manipulators reshape your whole ecosystem. No matter where you go, you find it difficult to escape their influence.
They Guilt-Trip You
Guilt is a powerful emotion. For ages, people and societies have used it to control human behavior. No wonder it’s an essential tool in every manipulator's kit.
One way this works is, they would make you feel guilty for not behaving a certain way. For example, if their friend is going on a holiday trip when they can’t, they might say, “I feel so sad I can’t join you. I will be lonely and miserable here, stuck with the shitty project.”
And the moment you drop a hint that you don’t feel good about it either, they will suggest ways in which you two could have fun if you stayed back.
Another way they use guilt to their advantage is to blow up and constantly remind you of a mistake you made in the past. It helps them gain the upper hand at that moment, making it easier for them to influence you.
They Never Accept Blame
It’s easy to see why not. For people who are obsessed with staying ahead in the power dynamics, it makes no sense to accept blame. Conceding that they were wrong would give you leverage over them. Knowing very well what that means, why would they do that to themselves?
So they would do everything to deflect blame. Ideally, they would want to blame you. That would give them another button to press against you.
But when that seems like a bad option, they would target someone else. Either way, it’s never them that did anything wrong.
They Undermine Your Ability to Think
People who are wise and feel confident about their decision-making abilities are tough to manipulate. But if you can somehow be made to feel like you lack the knowledge or skills necessary for good judgment, everything changes.
Manipulators want to live in a state of perpetual doubt. Your doubt gives them the room to play their dirty games. In fact, they would ideally want you to become so unsure of yourself that you outsource all your thinking to them. So you trust them and not yourself.
Here’s an example. When you are looking to hire someone for any service, they will do everything they can (like overwhelming you with technical jargon) to make you believe you don’t know anything about the industry, and so you should leave everything to them. They might also tell you why you must not trust other service providers.
Or maybe it’s your boss explaining to you how you are too naive to understand why you are not fit for the job you want. Or a promotion. Or a raise.
They Praise You Excessively
Being in a manipulative relationship of any kind is hard. You feel constrained and suffocated. The other person knows that. So give you some space to breathe and make you feel valued, they may shower you with excessive amounts of insincere praise and love.
But if you look closely, even that praise is often used as a tool to condition you in a certain way. For example, if they want your help with something (say finish their coding project), they might say that you are a great programmer or that you are a kind and selfless soul who loves helping others.
They Get Too Friendly Too Soon
It is clear that manipulators need you to like, trust, and feel close to them. But they don’t have the patience or the will to build a good relationship with you the right way.
So a common trick they use is to overdo the act of friendship in the hope that you will reciprocate. They will go out of their way to do you certain favors. They will share their personal lives with you—all before you can call yourselves friends.
In most cases, it works. People feel compelled to give back the kindness and trust they believe they are being offered. And before they know it, they are deep inside the trap to manage an easy escape.
Caveats and Closing Thoughts
Before you start thinking that anyone with any of these traits is trying to use you or make your life miserable, I must state that a few of these methods are used by normal people to do normal everyday things. Like a parent trying to get their kids to study or to discipline them. Or someone trying to win the affection of their crush.
Besides, manipulation is not always bad. We are all trying to manipulate each other, almost all the time.
What you need to focus on is the intent behind it. You need to evaluate the people employing those tricks. And for that, a good starting point would be to work on building your knowledge and confidence. As I said earlier, a wise and confident person isn’t easy to manipulate.
But yes, if someone is a liar or spreads false information, that’s a huge red flag. There is no justification for that.
Anyway, once you identify a manipulator, don’t try to reason with them. You will only walk further into their trap. Simply, refuse to listen to their demands (or “requests”). And keep a safe distance.