9 little-known psychological tricks to outsmart a manipulator

The line between outsmarting a manipulator and becoming one can be a thin boundary. Any wobbles, and you’re looking at sinking to their level and becoming just as wiley and calculating.

So how do you protect yourself and escape their trickster games without letting their maliciousness rub off on you?

Well, the key lies in understanding.

By being able to suss out the psychological tricks manipulators use and effectively counter these, we can effectively disarm them – while ensuring we’re not sinking to their level.

Below, I’ll be sharing 9 little-known psychological tricks that will help you outsmart any manipulator in your life. 

And these tricks aren’t about manipulating manipulators, but rather about protecting yourself and maintaining your autonomy.

With these tricks up your sleeve, no manipulator will ever be able to pull one over on you again!

1) Understand their game

The first step to outsmarting a manipulator is to understand their tactics.

Manipulators often operate under a guise. They pretend to be your best friend, then play on your emotions, using guilt, fear, or flattery to get what they want. They may also constantly twist your words, avoid certain subjects, or paint themselves as the victim to confuse and control you.

Now, the trick is to identify these tactics. Once you recognize them and don’t fall prey to their charm and ploy, they lose much of their power over you.

It’s unfortunate that the best way to learn is to experience firsthand, but hopefully with this knowledge you’ll avoid learning by experience and getting hurt at the hands of a manipulator.

So next time you find yourself constantly feeling guilty for no good reason in the presence of just one person, or if you’re constantly second-guessing your own memory around them, you’ll be swifter to expose them as a manipulator before any damage is done. 

And the more you understand about manipulation tactics, the less likely you are to fall for them.

2) Maintain your boundaries

This one’s tricky if you’re big-hearted and kind, but it’s the best way to protect that golden heart of yours.

And this applies not only to manipulators but everyone you have close to you.

Setting boundaries that protect your space, your time, your values and yourself generally involves contemplating what your limits are and communicating them to outsiders.

Know also that manipulators often react badly when their tactics stop working. They may try to guilt-trip you even more, but stand your ground. Eventually, they’ll stop trying to manipulate me.

Setting boundaries is absolutely vital when dealing with manipulators. It’s the best foundation you can set to protect your mental and emotional health, and it sends a clear message that you won’t be pushed around.

3) Use the ‘fogging’ technique

Fogging is a psychological technique designed to disarm criticism, without inviting further attack or riling a manipulator up so that they act even more aggressively.

This method involves agreeing with any truth in the manipulator’s statement, even if it’s delivered in a negative or critical way. This can often catch the manipulator off guard, as they’re generally expecting you to get defensive – not agree with them!

Somewhat similar to the steel man debate method (whereby one largely agrees with a conversation partner and then swoops in with points of critique), this confuses a manipulator and throws them off course.

For example, person 1 says, “You never help around the house.”

Instead of getting defensive, person 2 replies, “You’re right, I’ve been really busy lately and haven’t been able to help as much as I’d like.”

Rather than quibbling over who has done what chore, this response throws off person 1 who now has less ground upon which to accuse or smite their target. 

‘Fogging’ is so aptly named because fog is difficult to grab – just like a non-defensive response.

Manipulators thrive on conflict. So, by responding in a calm and composed manner, you take away their ammunition and maintain control of the situation.

4) Practice assertive communication

When dealing with a manipulator, it’s important to communicate assertively

This means expressing your thoughts, feelings, and needs in an open and honest way, while also respecting the rights of others, yet not bowing down or rolling over when you feel the heat.

Assertive communication is also not about being aggressive or confrontational (which would only be sinking to the manipulator’s level). 

Instead, it’s about standing up for yourself in a respectful and confident manner.

So, if a manipulator is trying to guilt-trip you into doing something you don’t want to do, you would respond in a calm and composed voice: “I can see that this is important to you, but I have other commitments that I need to prioritize at this time.”

The sort of assertive communication helps establish a balance of power, making it harder for the manipulator to take advantage of you. It also demonstrates that you value your own needs and rights, and are not easily swayed by manipulation tactics.

pic1809 1 9 little-known psychological tricks to outsmart a manipulator

5) Stay grounded in reality

Manipulators are maestros at twisting and contorting reality to fit their own narrative. They can lead you to question your own perception, your memory, or even your sanity, known as gaslighting.

Hence why it’s crucial to stay grounded in reality and remind yourself of what is left, what is right, what is up, down, etc.

Trust your instincts and your gut, and don’t let anyone convince you to dismiss your feelings or perceptions.

Know that if you feel like something is off, it probably is. And if something a manipulator says doesn’t match up with your own memory or experience, don’t be afraid to question it.

6) Don’t lose your compassion

While it’s important to protect yourself from manipulation, it’s equally just as important not to lose your compassion. This includes your kindness, your altruism, your empathy and all those good bits of your heart.

Manipulators are often people who have been hurt in the past. Their manipulative behavior is usually a misguided attempt to protect themselves from further pain. 

But, just because you understand why they behave in the way that they do does not mean that you should let them hurt you.

Nonetheless, holding onto your empathy can help you navigate these tricky interactions with kindness and understanding.

This can involve acknowledging that they are hurt people hurting other people, but not allowing them to continue hurting you.

And sure, it’s tough to remain compassionate when someone is trying to manipulate you. 

But doing so can remind you that you’re dealing with a fellow human being who, like all of us, is flawed and struggling. This approach can make it a little bit easier to respond in a way that respects both your rights and theirs.

7) Seek support

Think of manipulator’s as predators. The best defense herd animals have is to group together, as one lion can hardly take 20 buffalo all at once…

So, don’t be afraid to rely on those you trust, and group together. 

Safety in numbers, after all.

United, you can turn to them to validate your experiences if the manipulator leads you to doubt them, to stand up for each other when needed, and just have one another’s backs.

Dealing with manipulation can be incredibly challenging if you’re doing it alone. So, it’s crucial to reach out to others who understand what you’re going through.

(Just make sure you’re not looking for support from manipulators on both sides.)

Whether it’s a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor, having someone on your side who can offer perspective and support can make all the difference in standing your ground against a manipulator.

8) Keep your emotions in check

I’m all for feeling your emotions and owning them, but know that manipulators often play on these emotions to get what they want. 

It’s unfortunate, but they might try to make you feel guilty, afraid, or insufficient, all to control your reactions and play you like a puppet.

This is why one of the most effective ways to counteract manipulation is emotional regulation.

This doesn’t mean by completely suppressing them, but rather not letting them dictate your response and not reacting to heightened states of emotions.

So if you feel your anxiety or frustration rising, take a deep breath and give yourself a moment to process before reacting. 

By maintaining control over your emotions, you deny the manipulator the opportunity to use them against you. 

This can feel incredibly challenging at first, but with practice, it will become a powerful tool in your arsenal against manipulation.

9) Don’t try to change them

The most fundamental thing to remember when dealing with a manipulator is that you cannot change them. 

You can only control your own actions and responses.

No matter how understanding or patient you are, it’s not your responsibility to fix the manipulator or make them see the error of their ways. That’s a journey they need to undertake themselves, and if they’re not willing to, it isn’t your job.

Your focus should be on protecting yourself, maintaining your boundaries, and ensuring that you’re not being taken advantage of; not being a manipulator’s saving grace.

Beating a manipulator

…but not sinking to their level?

Interactions with manipulators are forever tricky. In trying to outmaneuver them, we must also avoid dabbling in malicious, manipulative behavior.

It might be easiest to outsmart a manipulator by manipulating, but this is never the answer.

Hence why learning the ins and outs of how they operate is the best first step you can take in protecting yourself.

From there on out, it’s about learning how to step away from the force of their will without getting riled up (and letting them win.)

It’s also not about winning an argument or outsmarting someone at their own game, but rather about preserving your mental and emotional health.

Ultimately, dealing with manipulators is a journey of self-discovery and resilience. It’s about understanding your worth and asserting your boundaries. 

And perhaps most importantly, it’s about acknowledging that you have the right to protect yourself from emotional harm.

Remember, you can’t control how others behave, but you can control how you respond. 

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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.