People who are engaging on the surface but manipulative deep down usually display these 12 specific behaviors

Have you ever been swept off your feet by someone’s strong interest in you, only to find it was all just for show?

If you have, go easy on yourself.

It happens to the best of us. 

But that’s not to say we’ll allow it to happen again. 

People who are engaging on the surface but manipulative deep down usually display these 12 specific behaviors. 

Let’s unpack and understand them to ensure that we never fall into their trap again:

1) They’re excessively charming

When someone is overly charming, it can seem like they’re really interested in you, and that can make you feel good. 

But be warned:

Sometimes, people use their charm to quickly gain your trust, and then they take advantage of that trust. 

They’re really good at making you like them, which makes it difficult to pinpoint when the genuine interest ends and the manipulation begins.

They’re the personification of this quote from an unknown author: “My charm is merely a disguise for my manipulative nature.”

2) They dish out frequent compliments

As much as we all want to receive compliments from time to time, receiving them excessively can be a red flag of someone’s manipulation.

A manipulative person uses compliments as their way to butter you up, so you’re more likely to do what they ask of you later.

Think of the workplace, for example. 

I bet we all have at least one colleague who always starts with how great we are at our job but then asks us to cover shifts or do their tasks for them. 

3) They gaslight

Like compliments, gaslighting is tricky to catch.

It’s a tactic where the manipulator makes it seem like they’re concerned about your well-being by helping you correct your mistaken beliefs. 

They might insist something you remember didn’t happen or that something you thought was wrong is right.

This can make you rely more on them because you start questioning your own memory and feelings. 

So, if you think about it, they really don’t intend to help. They only want you to doubt yourself enough for them to gain control over you.

4) They have a selective memory

Some manipulators get you to doubt your memories, while some pretend they’ve lost theirs.

Manipulators have this habit of forgetting things that happened, when it is convenient for them. It’s their way of dodging any responsibility and making you question your own thoughts. 

This can be very frustrating and will do your head in thinking about whether you remembered right.

The key is to recognize the pattern and refuse to engage with it. 

5) They play the victim

A pity party is one of the specific behaviors people who are engaging on the surface but manipulative deep down usually display. 

When someone is almost always after your (or other’s) sympathy, they are more likely manipulators. 

Playing the victim is their way of using your concern to distract you from something that they did (or about to do). 

They do this to make it hard for you to confront them without feeling like you’re the bad guy.

Sadly, I have worked with someone exactly like this. 

They always pull out the “my life is so hard right now” script whenever I try to talk to them about their unproductiveness and poor quality of work, making it hard to point out what they can do to improve their performance.

6) They pretend to be helpless

Another thing they can do to gain your pity is to act like they can’t do something on their own.

They do this to feed on your compassionate nature, resulting in you naturally wanting to help.

But before you start and help them, STOP!

Again, do a bit of research combined with logic and gut instinct. 

Remember, manipulative individuals often use helplessness to get others to do things for them all the time. 

It’s their way of avoiding doing their share of work while still looking sweet and innocent.

7) They make you feel really extra special – and then…

This is something you should be really alert of as it can be really dangerous.

Some manipulative people want to keep you all to themselves. But to effectively do that, they make you feel special first – the kind of special treatment like you’ve never had before. 

Once they’ve got you smitten, they’ll start pulling you away from your friends and family. 

They’ll do this very stealthily so much so that you wouldn’t realize you haven’t talked to any of your friends or family for nearly a year.

When it starts to feel like you’re disconnected from your social network, that’s your sign to reassess things. 

8) They use secrets to “bond” with you

cunning phrases manipulators use to isolate you from your loved ones People who are engaging on the surface but manipulative deep down usually display these 12 specific behaviors

Let’s be real.

It feels like having a badge of honor when someone shares a secret with you. It can feel like they really trust you, and that secret creates a special connection.

But here’s the thing:

Manipulators often intentionally share secrets to quickly create a close bond with you. 

And the catch?

They will later use this bond to make you do things for them, playing on the idea that you’re both in it together. 

Or it could also be the other way around. 

They will do everything to gain your trust, and then use whatever secret you share with them as leverage to get something they want out of you.

9) They mirror your behavior

Do you know someone who copies your actions, interests, or ways of speaking? 

If so, how do you feel about them?

While this can be flattering, like you’ve found a kindred spirit in this someone, be careful. 

Some people do this on purpose to make you like them more, which they then use to easily influence your decisions. 

To you it may feel like that someone really gets you, but here’s the truth you can’t see:

It’s a carefully crafted illusion – a  manipulative person’s sneaky way of making you think they’re more like you than you really are. 

10) They change their opinions to match yours

It’s not always easy to copy your actions, manner of speaking, and interests – especially as there are external factors beyond the manipulator’s control. 

So what do they do instead? 

Change something within their control – like their opinion. And they intentionally do it so that it matches yours.

Their goal is to make you feel smart and validated by having them agree with your views.

While it’s reassuring to have someone on your side, beware.

They might just be doing this just to make you feel good and agreeable, so later you’re more likely to support them back. 

11) They play hot and cold

My ex had a way of messing with my head that I didn’t catch onto until years later. 

One day he’d be all loving, and the next day he’d act like we were on bad terms, even if nothing had happened. This kept me always trying to get back on his good side. 

He liked to pull this move especially when he wanted to skip our planned weekends together for last-minute drinking sprees with his buddies.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to hang out with his friends, but he used it as an excuse to ditch our plans. 

Playing hot and cold was his game to keep me on my toes and always working to please him when he decided to be nice. 

This inconsistency made me keep trying to win back his affection, which he sadly exploited to his advantage.

12) They love publicly declaring affection or friendship

If hot and cold won’t work for them, they use the public to their advantage.


They could shower you with praise in front of others or they could also resort to public displays of affection.

The rule of thumb is this:

If they’re more affectionate and appreciative in public than they are in private, chances are whatever they’ve shown in public is just for show.

Manipulative people use this strategy not only to deceive the public into thinking they’re good for you. But they also want to create a sense of indebtedness in you. 

They want you to feel obligated for all their public compliments and expressions of love, which ultimately gives them more control over you.

It’s cunning, yet pretty effective, especially when you’re one who is easily swayed by public opinion.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf

Read that headline again. If there’s one thing to take away from this article it’s that single line. Go ahead, give it another glance and let it sink in.

Remember that people who are engaging on the outside might be hiding manipulative motives. 

Be vigilant. 

Trust your gut. 

Open your eyes to even the subtlest of signs. 

Remember that rough intentions are often hidden beneath polished exteriors.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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