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How to stand up to manipulative people: My confession

Manipulative people are some of the most difficult people to stand up to.

Do you know what makes them so difficult?

Manipulative people don’t know they are being manipulative. They live a life full of lies and deception. They create a story putting themselves at the center of their own life. Their story justifies treating people around them like they don’t matter.

How do I know this?

I was once a manipulative person. At the time, I never knew I was being manipulative. I believed my cause justified my behavior. I believed in my superiority and this belief about myself justified a whole range of manipulative behaviors.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned some important life lessons that have brought me back down to earth. Thanks to these life lessons, I’m more emotionally mature, grounded and living my life very differently.

I can now see manipulative people for who they are. I understand their mindset, and I’ve now identified 10 classic traits of manipulative people. I’ve also learned some powerful strategies for how to deal with manipulative people in your life.

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This is what I’m going to share with you in this article. Let’s begin.

The mindset of manipulative people

Here’s the key thing you need to know about manipulative people.

They have excessive admiration for themselves.

This is how I used to be. I was a covert narcissist. Deep down I believed I was better than people around me.

When I first started Ideapod, I had an enormous amount of self-confidence. At the time, I was doing a Ph.D. with a very prestigious fellowship awarded by the European Commission. I had an impeccable academic background. I felt like I could achieve anything I turned my mind to.

My academic credentials made me think that I was smarter than others around me. I developed a big-picture vision for Ideapod. I even wrote an article for Forbes about why you need to think big to be successful. The enormity of my vision fed my ego and justified the illusion of my superiority.

My manipulative behaviors were subtle. I saw others as tools for me to achieve my plans. I was selfish. I focused people’s attention on my vision rather than on my actions. I played the victim if things went wrong.

Manipulative people often have had a similar experience to me. It may not be their academic success that justifies their illusion of superiority. But there will be something in their past that gives them justification for thinking they’re better than others. For example, their parents may have raised them to believe they were more special than others. They may have excelled in sports at school. They may have received a promotion at a young age.

It doesn’t matter what it is. Manipulative people often have a core foundational element in the story they tell themselves about who they are which puts them on a pedestal.

When you live your life from a pedestal looking down at people around you, manipulative behaviors are the natural result.

The problem is that this belief system about being superior is usually so deeply entrenched that you can’t simply explain it to them.

If someone had have tried to explain that I was being manipulative, I would have laughed at them. I would have explained that the work I was doing was very important and was going to benefit the world.

It’s usually the same with manipulative people. They’ll find a way to justify the central role they play in their own story.

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This is the first key point I want you to understand. If you’re facing manipulative people in your life, it’s usually incredibly difficult to simply explain to them that they are being manipulative.

As for how I managed to figure out that I was a manipulative person and needed to change my mindset, I’m going to share that soon. First, let’s go through the 10 classic traits of manipulative people so you know how to identify it.

10 classic traits of manipulative people

Manipulative people are interested in you insofar as you are a character in their story. They want to make you an unwilling participant in their plans.

Please note that I’m not advocating that you label people in your life as “manipulative people”. Rather, I’m sharing these 10 traits so that you can identify the behaviors of someone being manipulative and placing their needs above yours.

When you noticing someone showing any of these 10 traits, put up your guards. Be aware of what’s happening so that you maintain a connection with your power.

Here are 10 classic traits to look out for.

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1. Manipulative people believe their approach is the right one.

Lachlan Brown explains this well on Hack Spirit. He says that manipulative people tend to be so sure that their approach is best that they won’t consider other alternatives.

You may explain the benefit of a different approach to them. The manipulative person may consider it for a time, but they’ll always find a reason why their approach is the right one.

2. Manipulative people are experts in the art of deception.

They will lie without a moment’s hesitation. The problem is that they believe in their lies. Added together, their lies make up the story they tell about the life they’re living.

People lie because they are afraid of the consequences of social disapproval. But lying doesn’t just come from not telling the truth. It also comes from leaving out crucial bits of information that may have helped you arrive at a well-informed decision.

3. Manipulative people will find a way to make your ideas their own.

They’ll push you to share your plans first and will find a way to incorporate what you’ve just said into their explanation for what needs to come next.

They do this because they have such a strongly-held belief that their way of thinking is superior to yours. Even if they hear something new from you, they won’t acknowledge the originality in your suggestion. They’ll believe they had already thought of it before you did.

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4. Manipulative people play the victim, making it seem like you’re the one who caused the problem in the first place.

It’s usually your fault, not theirs. They won’t take ownership for what’s happening. You’ll be made to feel guilty for it.

5. Manipulative people won’t take responsibility for their actions.

This is one of the key lessons I learned about manipulative people. They’ll believe so strongly in their superiority that they won’t be able to critically self-reflect about their actions.

Taking responsibility is one of the most important characteristics of successful people, yet it’s something manipulative people find very difficult to do.

(I created an online course based on this key insight. It’s called Developing Your Personal Power – Taking Responsibility. Check it out.)

6. Manipulative people will focus on their intentions instead of their actions.

This is another critical lesson I learned about life. Your actions matter much more than your intentions. But manipulative people are often fooled into focusing on what they say they will do as opposed to what they are doing.

When you know this is a classic trait of a manipulative person, you can hone your focus on what they are doing. Focusing on what they are saying about what they are doing is the surest path to becoming wrapped up in their lies and deception.

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7. Manipulative people blame you for their problems.

If you’re dealing with someone who you think may be manipulating you, consider this: How many times have you walked away from a conversation feeling bad for causing a problem in their life? Manipulative people will do anything they can to avoid taking responsibility for their problems.

8. Manipulative people will get you to justify their mistakes.

They may have made mistakes in the past that have resulted in something negative happening to you. Instead of taking responsibility, they will find a way to get you to justify why the mistake happened so they don’t need to feel guilty for it.

9. Manipulative people play on your emotions.

They’ll make you feel bad for the emotions you’re feeling, even though you have very little control over your emotions. If they know you’re an emotional person, they’ll use that against you.

Do you want to be a stronger person? You need to develop a more resilient mindset. Find out how in our latest eBook: The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Mental Toughness.

10. Manipulative people blame others for bad things and claim ownership for good things.

When something bad happens, it’s never their fault. Manipulative people will find a way to point the finger at someone else. Yet when something good happens, it’s always part of their grand plan.

How to stand up to manipulative people

Manipulative people have created a story about their superiority and want to make you a character in their story.

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They probably haven’t done this intentionally. Instead, over time they have developed a set of beliefs about why their story is more important than yours. These beliefs operate unconsciously, meaning that they’re not thinking about it.

Therefore, there’s very little point in trying to change the behavior of manipulative people. Instead, you need to see that manipulative people are providing you with an opportunity to stand up for yourself.

Here are three steps I suggest you undertake to stand up for yourself in the face of manipulative behaviors.

1. Recognize the behaviors of a manipulative person. 

I shared the 10 classic traits of manipulative people above so you can recognize manipulative behaviors to look out for.

The point isn’t to label people in your life as “manipulative”. Everyone is capable of behaving in manipulative ways at times.

Rather, it’s important to recognize manipulative behaviors so that you know when to stand up for yourself.

When you notice that someone is behaving in manipulative ways, you now have an opportunity to recognize that this person has created a story of being superior so that you can actively choose not to participate in this story.

It’s a reminder to focus on your own story about yourself. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what that story is yet. It’s enough to turn your focus inwards rather than trying to change that person’s behavior.

2. Get angry about it and use your anger to fuel your personal power. 

The second step is to get angry.

Most people will caution against getting angry. They see expressing anger as a sign of losing control. The result is that they deny themselves the feeling of anger.

When you deny yourself the feeling of anger, you become someone who is easy to manipulate. You feel guilty and end up becoming a character in other people’s stories.

This is why I suggest you get angry. Your anger can become fuel to your personal power. Allowing yourself to feel anger is the most effective way to start to create a story where you are the central character.

I learned about the importance of expressing your anger from the shaman Rudá Iandê. It was such an important lesson for me that Rudá and I put together a free masterclass teaching how to embrace your anger and turn it into an ally.

Check it out: Embrace Your Inner Beast: Turning Your Anger into Your Ally (Free Masterclass)

Get angry about being manipulated. Use your anger to focus on yourself rather than the other person.

3. Focus on your own story and experience of life.

This brings us to the critical step to take.

It’s now time to focus on the story you tell yourself about your own life.

If you’re bothered by manipulative people in your life, it is probably a sign that you’re focusing more on other people than focusing on yourself.

This is a sign of weakness and is the surest path to draining your personal power.

Instead, use your frustration about being manipulated as inspiration for focusing on your own story. Become angry about it and turn your attention inwards.

This is what I did.

I was once a manipulative person. It wasn’t my intention to be manipulative.

I became aware of being manipulative when I noticed manipulative behaviors in other people. I started to see how they used me as characters in their own story, where the story they told about themselves was more important than my own story.

Rather than turn my frustration towards them, I used my anger as fuel to focus on myself. I realized I had created my own story resulting in me being a manipulative person, just like the people I was frustrated with.

The story I tell myself now is much more nuanced. I came to the realization that my life is actually quite simple. I valued my relationships and simply wanted to be someone who adds value to the lives of others around me.

I understood that my purpose in life came from helping others rather than living for myself.

(Do you want to increase your resilience especially when dealing with manipulative people? Check out our popular eBook on developing mental toughness here).

Closing thoughts

This brings me to the key point I have been trying to make throughout this article.

The key point is this:

You can’t change how other people behave, even if you can see how manipulative they are being.

Yet, there is something you can change.

You can change how you react to manipulative people in your life. You can use it as an opportunity to become a stronger person with an enhanced level of self-awareness.

If you’re interested in joining me on the journey to becoming stronger, I suggest checking out the free masterclass on embracing your inner beast and turning your anger into your ally.

Here’s what the masterclass covers:

  • The importance of feeling anger. You’ll learn how sacred the energy of anger is and why anger often does more to change your life than love does.
  • How powerful people try to manipulate you by making you hate their enemies. You’ll have the inner-understanding and personal power to stand up to bullies and take back control of your life.
  • Politicians and the mainstream media’s perverted tactics of “divide and rule”. You’ll now immediately recognize when this happens and will be able to keep your power within rather than let it be used for purposes that aren’t your own.
  • How to claim ownership of your anger. Rudá Iandê’s breakthrough method will support you turning your anger into personal power.
  • Understand your own reactions to anger. This will help you to identify the moments when you need to apply what you’ve learned in this masterclass so that anger becomes a productive force.
  • And so much more…

You can register for free here.


Are you tired of being pushed around?

If you answered "yes" to this question, there's something very important you need to do...

You know why?

Because it sucks to be taken for granted, treated like you don't matter and manipulated without a moment's thought.

The problem is worse than many people realize. It's not just people in our personal lives treating us like dirt. It's also our politicians and corporate leaders.

That's right. Our society is based upon us acting like sheep, letting the powerful people do what they want.

But there's something you can do right now to change the game.

You can embrace your inner beast. You can get angry. And you can do something powerful with this anger.

That's what we teach in our latest entirely free masterclass:

How to Embrace Your Inner Beast: Turning Your Anger into Your Ally

It's playing for a limited time, so register now and check it out.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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