People who psychologically outsmart manipulators tend to look for these 9 weak spots

Manipulative people make life an uphill climb. 

They turn friendship into a transaction, work into a minefield and relationships into the mind game Olympics.

But not everyone falls for their tricks. Certain individuals who are able to outsmart and bypass manipulators look for the following weak spots.

We can all learn from their insights into the best ways to beat manipulators at their own game. 

Let’s get started. 

1) Observe how the manipulator plays with emotions

Understanding the emotional vulnerabilities used by manipulators can be a key strategy.

There is usually some part of their target’s personality or background that the manipulator goes after and focuses on. They look for unresolved insecurities, fears or traumas to break somebody down and influence them.

The manipulator often does this in a “nice” way at first, pretending to provide sympathy or support in a way that allows them to control their target.

Those who outwit the manipulator can see how hollow their strategy really is: the manipulator has no power over somebody who is sure of themselves and confident.

As psychologist Margalis Fjelstad Ph.D., LMFT writes:

“Letting go of an emotional manipulator means giving up needing their approval, their validation, and their view of the world—and tuning into your own self-approval, self-validation, and self-view.”

2) Shut down the manipulator’s ‘foot-in-the-door’ tactic

Some manipulators depend on others for validation and support. They ask bigger and bigger favors in sometimes very sneaky ways. 

Recognizing their dependency and refusing to provide unwarranted assistance or compliance can disrupt their manipulative tactics.

The manipulator will often resort to a “foot-in-the-door” technique where he or she tries to ask small favors and move up to bigger ones. By not doing even the small ones and ignoring their guilt-tripping or inducements, you escape their manipulation loop.

As Soeiro writes:

“Often, manipulative people demand immediate responses, even if we’re not prepared to respond. 

“To satisfy these demands, they use the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique, making small requests that we agree to, and then following with increasingly larger demands.”

3) Identify the manipulator’s emotional blind spots

Manipulators often lack empathy for others and have an almost pathological selfishness and egotism. 

This tends to come out after their initial charming shell comes off and their true self emerges. 

Highlighting their disregard for others’ feelings and emotions can expose them to public disapproval and embarrass them. 

Even if they don’t care about being shown to be uncaring and cynical, you can let them know that you have a different moral code and won’t go along with their agenda. 

Prevent manipulation in the first place by letting the manipulator know that you have a different moral code.

As mental health consultant Jamie Cannon, MS, LPC writes:

“Learning some prevention to keep yourself safe from manipulation is an important step in avoiding the long-lasting repercussions of falling prey to it.”

4) Defuse the manipulator’s desire for dominance

Many manipulators have a strong desire to steer conversations and interactions. 

Recognizing their need for dominance and authority can be effective in outplaying them. Like a psychological matador, you can then wave their obsessions in their face and use it to influence them. 

They always want agreement and affirmation? 

You stop responding positively or negatively to what they say, causing their feedback loop to crash! 

They will soon go looking for somebody who will affirm them or at least argue and allow them some drama to feed off of. In other words: refuse to play their twisted ame.

“When we say or do what they want, they dispense praise. When we cross them, they label us as disappointing and hurtful,” notes Psychology Professor Emeritus Robert N. Kraft Ph.D.

“Both stances simplify and dehumanize. We are neither gods nor devils.”

5) Calling out the manipulator’s gaslighting 

Manipulators often exhibit inconsistencies in their behavior or statements, trying to make their target responsible for how they feel or demanding that others shift their perceptions to match the manipulator’s reality. 

Observing patterns of contradiction and gaslighting can reveal potential weak spots and can sometimes help the manipulator engage in critical self-reflection. 

Blaming you for what they do wrong, for example, or praising you one day when you do what they want and then sulking at you the next when you don’t do what they want is very manipulative. 

When you make it clear to them that they are responsible for their own behavior (not you!) it can be a real wake-up call.

As psychologist Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. explains:

“Make it clear that you are responsible for your choices, just as the other person is responsible for his or her behavior. 

“If the other person tries to pivot to another topic, confuse the issue, or shift the responsibility onto you, don’t be distracted.”

6) Efforts at secrecy

show a master manipulator you wont play their games People who psychologically outsmart manipulators tend to look for these 9 weak spots

Manipulators often fear exposure and losing their power over others. 

Threatening their secrecy by bringing their manipulative tactics to light or ceasing to fear what secrets they will tell about you is the power move here. 

The manipulator thrives on secrets:

“Don’t tell anybody about this, it can just stay between us.”

“I’m not offering this deal to anybody else right now, so let’s keep it private for now.”

“I understand your past and how hard it was, other people don’t have to know about that. If you let me help you we can move past that.”

These kinds of implied threats and inducements are manipulative catnip, but you escape their power when you cease wanting or fearing what the manipulator is offering in a secretive way.

7) Refuse to go on manipulator’s guilt trips

Many manipulators respond to rejection and disappointment by playing the victim

If you get even more upset or fall into the trap, the cycle intensifies. 

Those who overcome this simply refuse to submit to the manipulator’s demands and refuse to give in to the guilt tripping. 

This isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s always worth the trouble and certainly beats the alternative. 

“If we criticize, manipulative people will try to induce guilt for this criticism,” notes Soeiro

“They will state directly or imply, ‘after all, we’ve done for each other.’”

8) Craving for validation

Manipulators often have a deep-seated need for validation

Identifying their craving for approval and recognition can be a way to counter their manipulative tactics.

Instead of refusing to validate them in a frustrated way or showering them with validating, do your best to not provide any input at all. Neutrality is the key.

As Kraft explains:

“When being manipulated, we should minimize our responses—getting angry and arguing backfires because we engage when we don’t want to. If possible, we should maintain our distance and avoid interacting unless we absolutely have to.”

9) Replaying their playbook

Manipulators often rely on repetitive tactics to maintain control. 

Identifying recurrent patterns of manipulation and refusing to engage can weaken their influence over time.

Once you’ve had a peek into their psychological playbook, it just doesn’t hold the same power. 

You can roll your eyes and walk away without second-guessing yourself. 

As Cannon notes:

“Master manipulators can mold themselves to fit any situation. Are you someone who connects over sports? 

“They will immediately be able to ‘talk the talk’ enough that you believe they are a fan and have been for years.”

Seeing through a manipulator

Seeing through a manipulator is all about trusting yourself and asserting your own value. 

As much as possible, refuse to engage with a manipulative individual and learn to recognize their tactics. Warn other people around about their tactics as well. 

Do your best to remain safe and establish clear boundaries, and never forget that your own safety (psychological and physical!) is of paramount importance.

Having a person you trust  to talk to and let them know what is going on is also highly advisable. 

As Soeiro cautions:

“Find a person you trust and explain the situation in detail. If your home environment doesn’t feel safe, take yourself out of it temporarily (or permanently, if need be).”

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Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on and visit his website at

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