If you recognize these 14 behaviors, you’re dealing with a high-level manipulator

Anna Delvey, Jim Jones, Elizabeth Holmes – what do these notorious personalities have in common?

They all displayed highly manipulative behaviors and successfully fooled many. 

At least until they got caught.

If this list of names is anything to go by, manipulative people are everywhere.

So if they’re all over society, how do you avoid falling into a high-level manipulator’s web of deceit?

Like anything preventative, knowing what you’re trying to avoid is the first step. 

With this in mind, let’s dive into 14 behaviors that indicate you’re dealing with a high-level manipulator:

1) They condition you

A study conducted by psychiatry experts identified conditioning as among the top 5 behaviors common among manipulative individuals.

But what is conditioning?

Essentially, it’s a manipulator’s ability to “condition” their victims into entering a reciprocal relationship with them to get what they want in the future.

And what does this look like in everyday life?

It could be a colleague showering your work with compliments only when they need help with their projects. 

Or a neighbor who only offers help when they have a favor to ask soon.

Be wary of people who only shower you with niceties right before making a request of their own.

2) They take advantage of your weaknesses, needs and desires

Manipulative individuals love to prey on your vulnerabilities.

Case in point: Elizabeth Holmes.

Holmes effectively used her victims’ hopes and desires to get what she wanted from them.

She did this in the guise of her blood-testing start-up Theranos, that appealed to her target’s weaknesses:

  • The healthcare industry’s desire for innovation.
  • The investors’ and business partners’ interest in groundbreaking technology that translates to massive profits.
  • The general public’s need for more accessible healthcare solutions.

Before being ruled a fraud, her tactics proved to be effective – Theranos reportedly raised a whopping $9 billion at its peak.

The Theranos scandal is a crucial reminder to keep your guard up. 

There are people in this world who use your needs and weaknesses as opportunities for exploitation.

3) They play on your insecurities and fears

Trigger warning: the following paragraph contains a distressing historical event of mass casualties and suicide.

Ever heard of the Jonestown Massacre, where around 900 people died after drinking poison at the command of their leader, Jim Jones?

One would wonder how he managed to gain and retain control of his cult-like following.

Psychologists believe he used a combination of mind-control techniques, including self-incrimination or the use of humiliation, to instill fear and obedience.

It turns out Jones asked his followers to put all their fears, insecurities, and mistakes in writing. 


So if they dared disobey him, he had information he could use to shame them during public meetings.

Moral of the story: 

Share your fears and insecurities wisely. Not everyone will handle them with care.

4) They isolate

Moving on from one cult following to another, let’s explore how Charles Manson used isolation as an effective tool for manipulation.

Manson was really good at fueling an us-versus-them mentality.

He painted the outside world as corrupt and dangerous, making it easier for him to isolate his followers from their family, friends, and the rest of society. 

Don’t ever fall for the “everyone else is bad” narrative. 

Nothing good ever comes from someone who wants to keep you all to themselves. 

5) They play hot and cold

One minute, it’s all “I love you”s and “You’re amazing”s. 

The next minute, it’s “I can’t stand you; you’re annoying.”

This classic mixed signal charade is a manipulator’s favorite move in personal relationships.

As a result, their victims start walking on eggshells around them in an attempt to stop the back-and-forth of emotions.

And just like that, manipulator: 1, victim: 0.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, win the game by seeing through their manipulation and pushing for clear, honest communication.

6) They give the silent treatment

Also known as stonewalling, high-level manipulators use the silent treatment as a calculated move to assert dominance.

Why is this effective?

Because it feeds off our basic human need for connection and communication.

The silent treatment makes the victim feel invisible. They’re left wondering what they did wrong. 

It creates a power imbalance where the manipulator has all the cards. And this triggers a destructive cycle of the victim having to bend over backward just to gain their favor.

Recognize this tactic for what it is, and don’t let it shake your self-worth.

7) They misuse their authority

Speaking of power imbalance, let’s talk about people in authority and how they use their position as a tool for manipulation.

Here’s the thing:

Their authority is not the problem.

It’s how they use this that makes it potentially dangerous.

High-level manipulators are experts at exploiting your trust and respect for authority to keep you under their thumb.

It has nothing to do with leadership or guidance.

Instead, it’s about keeping you in a spot tight enough so they can always call the shots.

8) They weaponize guilt

psychological games narcissists play to manipulate and control you If you recognize these 14 behaviors, you’re dealing with a high-level manipulator

Guilt-tripping is a high-level manipulative tactic that takes advantage of our empathy and compassion.

You know you’re dealing with a high-level manipulator when they throw words like:

“After all I’ve done for you, you’re not going to do this for me?”

If you read that again, you’ll realize it’s not simply asking for a favor.

It also implies that you’re an ungrateful (essentially bad) person for refusing.

Scripts like these are a manipulator’s brilliant move to gain control indirectly – not by coercion, but by playing into your inherent desire to be a good person.

9) They gaslight

“Gaslighting is mind control to make victims doubt their reality.”

– Tracy Malone

High-level manipulators get a kick out of messing with your head.

They will keep doing this until you question your own judgment and reality.

And once this happens, the manipulator sweeps in for the kill.

Protect yourself from these predators by sticking to your reality. After all, nobody knows your truth better than you do.

10) They curate the information they share 

Circling back to truths, high-level manipulators are also masters at carefully crafting half-truths or whole lies.

It’s about having control of the information they give you, which essentially means having control of how you perceive and react to certain situations.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s also about creating a narrative where they’re always the hero.

When a manipulator becomes selective with the information they give away, it’s nothing more than plain and simple power play.

11) They play the victim card

They love playing heroes, but they also love playing victims.

Pretending to be the one suffering is how a high-level manipulator controls the emotional climate. 

Ultimately, their goal is to control your behavior towards them.

Look at it this way:

How can you confront the real issue if you’re too busy comforting their “hurt” feelings?

Or try another perspective:

How can you challenge them when they’re already down in the dumps?

See how subtle yet effective this manipulative behavior is?

12) They constantly shift the blame

If playing the victim doesn’t work, high-level manipulators have another card up their sleeve:

Blame shifting.

Most of the time, this has nothing to do with you.

It’s really all about them.

The only reason they try to pin the blame on you or others is to escape accountability.

Manipulators don’t like facing the negative consequences of their actions. 

They only ever own up to something if it leads to favorable results.

13) They rationalize their behavior

Rationalizing is another creative way a manipulator spins a story to make their actions seem reasonable.

It’s a manipulative tool designed to make you think that their questionable behaviors are justified and for the greater good, no matter how damaging and self-serving it may be.

And that’s not all.

Aside from controlling the storyline, they also rationalize to keep their image intact and untarnished. 

Stand your ground.

Don’t let a manipulator’s charm blur the lines between right and wrong.

14) They minimize

If they can’t rationalize their way out of it, manipulators will resort to minimization instead.

They use this tactic to downplay the impact or severity of their shady actions.

And here’s how this can be dangerous:

If repeated over time, their sketchy behavior becomes “normalized.”

What was once unacceptable suddenly becomes trivial. And your once valid grievance is suddenly considered an overreaction.

The ending?

The manipulator wins the freedom to continue their behavior unchallenged. 

But more concerningly, it leaves you believing your reactions are not warranted, making you less likely to stand up for yourself next time.

Prevention is better than cure

In the world of manipulators, avoiding their web of deception is better than trying to escape entanglement from it.

Your first line of defense against this dark web is knowledge and awareness of the manipulator’s games and tactics. 

Be on your toes.

Trust your gut.

And remember, if something feels off, it probably is.

Picture of Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.