8 mind games manipulators play to gain control over you

Have you ever been in a relationship where your partner pulled all the strings, leaving you puzzled and powerless? 

If so, you’re not alone. 

We can encounter manipulators in all sorts of relationships – romantic, professional, family, and friendships. 

Manipulators are like cunning chess players, and our emotions and thoughts are the pieces. They can mess with our minds and make us question ourselves, destroying our self-esteem in the process.

So, how do you spot (and avoid) a manipulator?

In this article, I’m shedding light on the 8 most common mind games manipulators use to gain control, helping you to recognize the signs and reclaim your power. 

1) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is one of the most common mind games that manipulators use. Gaslighting refers to making another person doubt their memory, perception of reality, or sanity. 

To do this, manipulators may:

  • Downplay events
  • Withhold critical information
  • Alter the truth
  • Deny that something happened
  • Disregard your emotions

The purpose of this mind game is to make you think that you are overeating or going crazy.

Common phrases that suggest someone is gaslighting you are:

  • “You’re acting crazy.”
  • “If you really think that, you must be out of your mind.”
  • “I was just joking, you’re overreacting!”
  • “You’re being paranoid.”

Gaslighting is common in romantic relationships. But, according to Paige L. Sweet, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, this mind game can be used in many situations

From her research, Sweet found that gaslighting can also happen among family members (particularly parents) and in the workplace (institutional gaslighting). 

2) Guilt-tripping

A manipulator may use guilt-tripping to make you feel guilty about something that isn’t your fault. 

Courtney Humeny from Carleton University, who studied the complexity of guilt in relationships, defines guilt-tripping as follows…

 “Manipulating how a person feels to get a certain outcome by coercing them into doing something they don’t want to do.”

A typical example of this is blaming you for their inability to control their anger. 

In this situation, they will say something like, “If you didn’t wind me up, I wouldn’t get so angry,” or “If you didn’t say such stupid things, I wouldn’t shout.”

Another common type of guilt-tripping is to blame their negative emotions or behaviors on you not loving or caring about them enough. 

For example, they might say, “If you loved me, you would know what I need without asking me.” 

Manipulators may also guilt-trip you by comparing you to others, such as “You’re just like everyone else who’s let me down” or “You’re just like my ex.” 

When you get guilt-tripped in a relationship, you start to believe you’re not trying hard enough or being a good enough partner. By acting like the victim, the manipulator makes you think you are the culprit and that you must “make it right.” 

Of course…

This is also the perfect tactic to get the manipulator (the one who is really in the wrong) off the hook.

It’s also very similar to this mind game

3) Projection

Projection refers to someone projecting their negative traits or behaviors onto you. 

Like guilt-tripping, this aims to shift responsibility, making you feel guilty or responsible for their actions.

So, how does projection work?

Essentially, they will accuse you of having a flaw that they have.

For example, if they are unfaithful, they will accuse you of hiding things or acting shifty. 

This tactic directs your focus onto yourself, so you start defending yourself. As you’re busy doing this, you don’t notice that they are actually the one who is being secretive. 

4) Love bombing

love bombing ways narcissists use it control you 8 mind games manipulators play to gain control over you

Love bombing is a tactic that a manipulator will use at the beginning of a romantic relationship to make you fall for them.

With love bombing, the manipulator will initially shower you with affection, gifts, compliments, and attention. 

The purpose is to create a false sense of intimacy and connection, which they hope will make you dependent on them.

Now, here’s how this tactic is so clever…

After an initial period of love bombing you, the manipulator will pull back. 

For example, if they texted you good morning daily and called you as soon as they got home from work for several weeks, they would suddenly stop doing these things.

But they will time it just right…

When you’ve already fallen for their charm and can’t believe your luck. 

So, when they suddenly withdraw their attention, you’ll be left confused, hurt, and craving that attention again.

This craving will make you become putty in their hands, acting desperate. As a result, you’ll be willing to tolerate them mistreating you. 

You will tell yourself maybe they are just going through a bad patch, so you will allow them to treat you like sh*t, believing any moment now, they will start treating you like a queen again.

5) Stonewalling

Stonewalling (or giving silent treatment) is when the manipulator refuses to communicate with you to exert control.

There are various intentions a manipulator may have when they stonewall you:

  • Control – If you do not agree with them on something (or show you have a contrasting opinion), a manipulator will use the silent treatment to take control of the conversation or situation. By ignoring you, they hope you will back down and agree with them.
  • Punishment – Similarly, they may use silent treatment to punish you for not agreeing with their opinion or complying with their demands. This is very common among parents – for example, when a child misbehaves, they may punish them by giving them silent treatment.
  • Isolation – If a loved one suddenly seizes all communication with you, you will feel lonely and like you don’t exist, as Kipling D. Williams explains in his book, Ostracism: The Power of Silence. The manipulator knows this, so they isolate you until you can’t take anymore and back down, resolving things on their terms.

Note that stonewalling refers to a prolonged period of silent treatment. If you have disagreed with someone and they don’t want to talk to you for several hours, this doesn’t mean they are stonewalling you.

Instead, they may stay silent because they don’t want to speak from anger and say something they would regret later.

However, if someone ignores you for days, speaks to everyone except you, or seeks alliances from others, this is a clear sign of stonewalling.

6) Ghosting

What if silent treatment becomes permanent?

A different mind game to stonewalling is ghosting. Rather than ignoring you for an extended period, when a manipulator ghosts you, they suddenly cut all ties with you.

But here’s the kicker…

They don’t tell you.

Ghosting is not someone breaking up with you by sending you a “It’s not working out text.” They don’t text you at all.

Instead, they cease communication altogether. They stop replying to your messages and ignore all your calls. 

This mind game can drive you absolutely crazy. At first, you might think something terrible happened to them. 

Then, you will mentally replay your last interactions, trying to figure out what YOU did wrong.

If you’ve been ghosted, know that you didn’t do anything wrong.

You’re just the victim of a manipulative mind game

So why do people do this? What do they get out of it?

Someone might ghost you for several reasons, but in terms of narcissism, it is the ultimate control tactic – to make them feel like they had the last word in the relationship.

One way to tell that someone might ghost you is if they’re already playing the following mind game

7) Blowing hot and cold

Blowing hot and cold is another manipulative tactic to gain control of the relationship and make you dependent on them.


They will act interested one minute and then be totally unavailable the next. This tactic throws you off balance and creates a permanent feeling of uncertainty.

When dealing with a hot and cold partner, you always feel unsure about where the relationship is going. Each time they start to withdraw, you feel more and more desperate. 

As a result, you will try harder to please them and, thus, are more willing to be mistreated if it means they won’t leave. 

8) Triangulation

phrases seem friendly but actually passive aggressive 8 mind games manipulators play to gain control over you

Triangulation is a highly clever mind game as the manipulator involves a third party to create tension in the relationship. By using this tactic, you will likely see the third party as the one to blame, setting the stage for them to make themselves look good.

Here are a few examples of triangulation:

  • Telling you your friend or family member said something negative about you to turn you against your loved ones and make you more dependent on them.
  • Texting an ex-partner (but making it look like they initiated contact) to make you jealous and create an opportunity to gaslight you.
  • Telling you someone tried to chat them up to trigger insecurity and make you worry if you are good enough or attractive enough for your partner.

Final thoughts 

Dealing with a manipulative individual can make you feel confused, anxious, and emotionally drained. If you notice you always feel this way around someone and any of these mind games seem familiar, there’s a good chance this person is trying to gain control over you!

But there is hope! Spotting the signs puts the power back in your hands, enabling you to run, not walk, away from their toxic behaviors.

Picture of Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space. I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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