Manipulative people are skilled at hiding their intentions.
They know all the right words to say and the right ways to play on your needs, desires and fears.
But if you pay attention to these following behaviors, you’ll be able to spot a manipulator before he or she can drag you down.
Gaslighting is the practice of misleading and blaming people for your own mistakes and wrongdoing.
Manipulative people love to gaslight because it has a very high success rate, especially on well-meaning people.
Say you notice a number of unknown extra charges on your smartphone bill this month, for example, and call up the provider.
You are certain you didn’t select any changes to your plan or make any calls or data usages that would justify anything remotely close to the massive new charges.
You express concerns and say you want the charges reversed. You are passed up the chain of command until the highest-ranking person you speak to has the following verdict:
“Thanks for your concerns, but we have reviewed this case and are quite sure that you selected the ultra deluxe mega package last month and will be charged accordingly. Have a great day!”
You have just been gaslighted.
Bullying isn’t always something that ends in middle school, unfortunately.
It shouldn’t happen at all, and it’s particularly nasty when people close to you engage in it.
Manipulative people often cycle between a pleasant, agreeable side and a vicious, bullying side.
When you’re on their bullying side it’s like you can’t do anything right.
Whether this is a boss, a romantic partner, a friend or a family member, it’s incredibly frustrating.
You may feel like you deserve it or even play it off as no big deal, but bullying and things like criticizing or mocking you are never OK.
There are times when all of us feel a bit sorry for ourselves and honestly sometimes there are good reasons.
But self-pity is also a common tactic of the manipulator.
He or she plays the victim and emphasizes the sadness and tragedy of their situation to goad and pressure you into doing what they want.
For example, your friend says you should be loaning her $10,000 because she just recently had her car break down and a breakup and her life is a mess.
To be clear: your friend is really sad, but she’s also using that sadness to get something from you.
The two are not the same thing.
You feel awful about it but you’re also short on money and don’t really know if you can swing it right now.
But her sadness and situation make you feel like it’s something you must do if you’re a real friend.
4) Provoking jealousy
Manipulators will use any tactic they can get their hands on, and jealousy tends to be one of the most powerful.
The classic example is the popular kid in high school wearing “cooler” clothes and fashions than others and manipulating them into adoration and copycat behavior.
The larger-scale version of this is the online influencer, who has brand partnerships and displays their life on Instagram as a giant advertisement.
Everything they do and say is more or less some form of selling themselves and their image.
They make others jealous of their lives and their experiences and help sell products and brands accordingly.
Like it or not this is manipulative behavior.
5) Fear mongering
Fear is another powerful tool in the manipulator’s toolbox, and it can be deployed in many different ways.
Gossip is another tool of manipulation and mind games.
The manipulator will often use gossip as a kind of threat and instrument at the same time.
What I mean is that they will use gossip to manipulate and influence other people by what they say, but they will also use the threat of gossip as a way to get you to do what they want.
“If you don’t do this for me I might have to post what you said about Joe last week,” and so on.
You’re being told that gossip about you or something you did or said will be used against you if you don’t do what the manipulator wants.
This ties into the next point…
Manipulative people tend to use blackmail quite a lot.
It’s quick, dirty and effective.
The manipulator may threaten to post something, tell something, sabotage your career or relationship or otherwise negatively impact your life.
They will then present an alternative course of action you can take to avoid this outcome.
The most skilled blackmailers don’t present this as a threat or even a negative situation.
They will try to package it as a somewhat transactional or casual issue.
“Well, after what happened last week with you and her, I think it’s just best if we do it my way for now on this one,” and statements like this are blackmail disguised as casual commentary.
8) Cold shouldering
Getting the cold shoulder is an awful experience, and many of us have also done it to others (intentionally or sometimes even without fully realizing it).
But cold shouldering is also a favorite tactic of a manipulative person.
That’s because they can often get what they want most of all by simply ignoring you or playing with your emotions.
This can play out at work, in relationships and in many other situations.
Instead of fighting or turning to other tactics like blackmailing or making you jealous, the manipulative individual simply pretends you don’t exist until you break down whatever opposition you had to doing their will.
The most common example of this is a kid ignoring their parents until they get what they want, but this behavior carries over well into adulthood for some folks.
9) Mind gaming
Playing mind games in general is an art form for some people.
What exactly are mind games?
That really depends, but it can be anything from making you think you might get fired at work to test your reaction and then giving you a promotion…
…To making you extremely jealous on purpose and then accusing you of being possessive and insecure.
Mind games come in all shapes and sizes but their common element is a desire to play with the emotions and rational judgment of other people.
It’s a form of gaslighting that’s very ugly indeed.
Benching is the practice of treating a romantic or sexual partner as a part time substitute player.
The manipulator will take an interest in you or use you when they want you (emotionally, sexually, for help), then “bench” you again and call in other players (partners).
You become like a passive spectator in your own intimate life, only called to play when this person wants you around.
It’s a very disempowering feeling, especially if you develop feelings for the person, as a manipulative man or woman will only use whatever feelings you have for them in order to control and boss you around even further.
Being benched is no fun at all.
Zombieing is a different twist on benching.
It’s especially common to be used by those who have an avoidant attachment style, and in some cases it can be combined with benching.
It’s more or less what it sounds like, at least without the consumption of brains.
Zombieing is a person who is an intense part of your life as a friend or partner and then cuts you off and disappears.
They go off the radar and barely answer messages and calls or ignore them altogether. You may even wonder if they’re OK.
Then months and sometimes even years later they pop back up and express an interest in you once again.
It’s disorienting and upsetting to say the least.
Usually it’s because the zombie wants something from you, or because they are emotionally troubled and go through a cycle of attachment and pulling away and want you to play along.
What should you do next?
If you’re dealing with a highly manipulative person, the first thing to do is to be aware.
The second thing to do is to use this as an opportunity to improve your personal boundary-setting and standing up for yourself.
This may involve exiting the situation or interaction if possible and verbally standing up for yourself if you don’t have the option to leave right now.
Highly manipulative people know what they’re doing, and often all it takes to get them to stop is to show them that you know what they’re doing as well and you won’t fall for it.