40 signs of psychological manipulation (the only list you need)

Knowing that somebody is pulling your strings and psychologically manipulating you is maddening.

But it’s not always obvious.

Here’s what to look out for if you want to know the more subtle signs that somebody is jerking you around.

40 signs of psychological manipulation (the only list you need)

1) Appeal to authority

The first of the important signs of psychological manipulation is appeal to authority. This is a common trick of conmen, scammers, sleazy gurus, low-quality romantic partners and other scum of the world.

How it works is this:

Instead of speaking honestly and reasonably with you, people reference a higher authority figure, power or “established” truth to get you to shut up.

You: “So what about all these negative reviews I’m reading that say this product has a lot of defects and breaks down a lot?”

Conman: “No, no. Everyone knows the X300 hairdryer is the best in the world. Calvin Klein endorsed it. Come on..”

Appeals to authority in response? Two. “Everyone,” and “Calvin Klein.”

2) Gaslighting you

Next up is gaslighting: This is where somebody will get you to doubt your own perceptions or blame things that are not your fault on you.

Common gaslighting techniques include a cheating partner telling their spouse that their suspicions are paranoid and strange, or, if discovered, blaming their partner for somehow “pushing” them into cheating.

In other words, gaslighting is the tactic of a weak person trapped in the victim mentality and a narcissistic worldview.

One: I didn’t do it, you’re crazy.

Two: fine, I did it, but it was your fault, so you’re the one who should be apologizing and begging forgiveness not me.

Sleazy sh*t if I ever heard it.

3) Undermining your goals

Another of the worst signs of psychological manipulation is those who undermine your goals.

They tell you that your objectives are stupid, unrealistic, too high or badly thought-out.

“You want to do what? Yeahhh…Good luck with that man!”The solution to this kind of sabotage is extremely simple: be so sure, and so dedicated to your goals that other people’s doubts and negativity doesn’t even touch you.

When it comes to experiencing peace from other people’s mind games and exploitation, it’s often the case that you’re not living your life aligned with a deeper sense of purpose.

The consequences of not finding your purpose in life include a general sense of frustration, listlessness, dissatisfaction and a sense of not being connected with your inner self.

This leaves you wide open to the gaslighting, manipulation and disrespect of other people.

I learned a new way to discover my purpose after watching Ideapod co-founder Justin Brown’s video on the hidden trap of improving yourself. He explains that most people misunderstand how to find their purpose, using visualization and other self-help techniques.

However, visualization isn’t the best way to find your purpose. Instead, there’s a new way to do it which Justin Brown learned from spending time with a shaman in Brazil.

After watching the video, I discovered my purpose in life and it dissolved my feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. This helped me to overcome the manipulative psychological tactics of various people in my life who had been dragging me down.

4) Playing the victim

Another calling card for the psychological manipulator is playing the victim.

This is a common tactic that scammers and passive aggressive people use because it can be so effective.

You know what:

Some people have had horribly hard lives and enormous disappointments and injustices. There is no reason to doubt or downplay that.

But playing the victim is a different sort of animal.

It relies on making others feel as if they “owe” this person something or must put up with their sh*tty behavior because of past injustice.

But you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t.

If you do decide to participate in the victim olympics or be manipulated by a victim, you end up standing a real risk of beginning to use the victim mentality as well.

It’s a really nasty cycle.

5) Causing jealousy

Jealousy is a powerful emotion.

Anyone who’s experienced it strongly knows exactly what I mean.

It rises up inside you like a tidal wave and floods everything around you, causing you to often act impulsively, aggressively or stupidly.

It’s also a very useful tool of psychological manipulation.

This is one of the top signs of psychological manipulation because it’s so common.

Even take a look at common advertising techniques. They often try to make you jealous of someone’s life, romantic partner or “coolness” and get you to whip out your credit card in an attempt to attain it.

Of course there are a thousand other ways to use jealousy too:

  • Making a partner jealous
  • Exploiting someone’s jealousy of your lifestyle to attract them or sleep with them
  • And so on.

6) Pushing of peer pressure

Peer pressure is a powerful force, and it goes far beyond middle school.

The reason it’s so influential is dead simple:We are tribal animals whose deepest instinct is to crave the approval and fellowship of our fellow creatures.

When we don’t get that or have conditions attached to it that we must satisfy, it’s a huge force.

Now I’m not saying that peer pressure is always to blame for the stupid things we do.

But it’s certainly something we should pay attention to.

Especially even in cases like the corporate media which so often influences us into misery and disempowered victimhood.

7) Escalating an emergency

When things get tense or urgent there are two basic responses: The first is to do your best to calm down and address the threat or emergency as soon as possible in whichever ways possible. The second is to panic and roll over in a ball and scream until somebody else comes and deals with it.

Those who respond in the second way are often legitimately just scared out of their minds.

But one of the most common and disturbing signs of psychological manipulation is to escalate an emergency on purpose to pressure people into taking an action the manipulator desires.

“Oh my God, this attack is horrific. We must go to war immediately to get revenge and spread democracy or we’ll all die in a mushroom cloud” (thanks for that one, Condolleezza Rice).

And so on.

8) Plying you with gifts or favors

Gifts and favors can help swing the balance in your favor in many cases.

It’s one of the savviest signs of psychological manipulation because it can sometimes appear to simply be a nice touch.

Many times it really is, at least at first.

But then the strings start to become visible.

Well, yes this person was your confidante and shoulder to cry on for months, but now they want a small $10,000 loan just for…a “while.”

Well, yes, your spouse bought you a beautiful necklace that was thoughtfully engraved with your initials.

But now they are here to tell you that they’ve actually met someone new and maybe you can think about opening up the relationship?

After all, they did buy you that thoughtful gift…

9) Falling back on family pressure

Family can be such a force for good and integrity in this world, but it can also become a den of toxic gaslighting and manipulation.

Falling back on family pressure to get you to do or not do something is one of the most common signs of psychological manipulation.

“But dad said…”

“But you know mom always wanted…”

“But I’m your sister, and you should respect what I…”

And so on.

It would seem like people in a family should love and respect each other as much as possible and leave the controlling and manipulating to strangers.

Sadly, this is often not the case.

10) Trying to run your life

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Is it possible somebody else knows what’s better than you more than you do?

Honestly, yes.

If a mechanic told me that how I was driving was damaging my vehicle I’d respect his or her opinion more than my own.

Advising or telling someone the right way to do something can be valuable and proactive.

However, trying to run someone’s life for them is a different matter.

The key to this is to figure out your own life and put yourself in the driver’s seat.

What does it take to build a life filled with exciting opportunities and passion-fueled adventures?

Most of us hope for a life like that, but we feel stuck, unable to achieve the goals we wishfully set at the start of each year.

I felt the same way until I took part in Life Journal. Created by teacher and life coach Jeanette Brown, this was the ultimate wake-up call I needed to stop dreaming and start taking action.

Click here to find out more about Life Journal.

So what makes Jeanette’s guidance more effective than other self-development programs?

It’s simple:

Jeanette’s created a unique way of putting YOU in control of your life.

She’s not interested in telling you how to live your life. Instead, she’ll give you lifelong tools that’ll help you achieve all your goals, keeping the focus on what you’re passionate about.

And that’s what makes Life Journal so powerful.

If you’re ready to start living the life you’ve always dreamt of, you need to check out Jeanette’s advice. Who knows, today could be the first day of your new life.

Here’s the link once again.

11) Sowing doubt about your values

Our values are kind of like the roadmap that help us get where we want to go.

Without values, you might attain all your goals but betray who you are and what’s most important to you.

Values matter immensely, because they are what constrain and liberate our actions to act in accord with them.

Sowing doubt about your values is one of the worst signs of psychological manipulation.

This is like cutting away the foundation of a home.

How are you supposed to stand tall when you’re being told that the roadmap you’re looking at it invalid and south is actually north?

This is one of the worst kinds of gaslighting out there and it’s disturbingly common.

12) Planting seeds of suspicion about others

Paranoia can be a very powerful force of control if you can use it to divide and conquer others.

Exploitative and dishonest people know that well.

Even leaders looking to drum up wars will often plant seeds of suspicion about entire groups who are the “enemy,” making them out to be monsters and demonic creatures.

They are not human, nor do they experience love and sadness the way you do: they are dehumanized barbarians who must be stopped.

Planting the seeds of suspicion about others is one of the key signs of psychological manipulation.

It makes you easy to influence and get to do things if you distrust and hate people around you.

13) Gossipping as a means of intimidation

At its best, gossip can be a kind of joke and entertaining.

Did you hear what happened to this celebrity and that affair? How ridiculous and bizarre.

Yeah, great.

On a personal level, however, gossip can be one of the most dangerous signs of psychological manipulation.

It can be used as a way to influence and control you in various ways.

  • Do what I say or I’ll tell people that you…
  • Oh I can’t believe you’re dating that girl, haven’t you heard…

Well, sure, you could sign a deal with that company

14) Bullying you into compliance

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Bullying is far from a childhood phenomenon. It continues throughout life.

Personally I have experienced the worst bullying from its supposed opponents, who use victimhood and shaming to spread hate and division on anyone who disagrees with them.

Bullying people into compliance is massively effective.

“Support this or else…”

“Sign this contract or we’ll portray your company as…”

“Delete this tweet or you’re evil and we’ll incite the mob on your home…”

And on and on. It’s a tiring game. And it’s a dangerous game.

15) Sending you mixed messages

If you are interested in someone and they’re ambivalent, chasing them too intensely right off the bat can lead to rejection.

We all know that.

But mixed messages are something else entirely.

These happen when somebody intentionally leads you on to play with your emotions or control you in some way.

Sadly, love all too often involves a ton of confusing crossed wires and immense frustration.

But that raises the question:

Why does love so often start out great, only to become a nightmare?

And what’s the solution to partners and dates trying to lead you on?

The answer is contained in the relationship you have with yourself.

I learnt about this from the renowned shaman Rudá Iandê. He taught me to see through the lies we tell ourselves about love, and become truly empowered.

As Rudá explains in this mind blowing free video, love is not what many of us think it is. In fact, many of us are actually self-sabotaging our love lives without realizing it!

We need to face the facts about manipulation in love.

Far too often we chase an idealized image of someone and build up expectations that are guaranteed to be let down.

Far too often we fall into codependent roles of savior and victim to try to “fix” our partner or chase after them and gain their approval, only to end up in a miserable, bitter routine.

Far too often, we are on shaky ground with our own selves and this carries over into toxic relationships that become hell on earth.

Rudá’s teachings showed me a whole new perspective.

While watching, I felt like someone understood my struggles to find love for the first time – and finally offered an actual, practical solution to feeling so frustrated by being treated like sh*t in my love life.

If you’re done with unsatisfying dating, empty hookups, frustrating relationships and having your hopes dashed over and over, then this is a message you need to hear.

Click here to watch the free video.

16) Playing with your emotions

Playing games with your emotions is a favorite tactic of the manipulator.

If you’ve had a toxic relationship or bad time with a coworker or boss then you know exactly how they can twist and mess with your feelings to take control of you.

They make you feel guilty…

Gaslight you…

Tell you you’re a bad person..

And more and more. The bottom goal is simple: take away your power and

17) Exploiting familial and relational rifts

The problems that many families have are no laughing matter, and they can be very hard to solve.

Manipulators don’t see a group of kin struggling to get through hard times, however:

They see easy marks.

Either within or external from the family, the manipulator will use the problems of the family unit to gain or keep power.

This could be through any number of ways, including playing off kids against each other during a divorce to getting someone to cheat on their spouse due to financial problems he or she is having.

What kind of person preys on a family that’s in trouble?

I hate to say it, but this kind of person is all around us…

18) Using isolation to weaken you

Nobody likes to be lonely, but being lonely is about a lot more than just being physically alone.

It’s about feeling like a stranger in a strange land, who can’t translate your thoughts and emotions to those around you.

It’s like being inside an airtight bubble and screaming for oxygen but people just walk by laughing.

The manipulator loves meeting a lonely person.

They will dangle affection in front of them and make them feel worse in order to turn this person into a sycophantic slave.

19) Insulting your significant other

Insults are so easy to spit out and point in someone’s directions, and quite hard to take back.

They make most of us feel bad after we say them.

We reflect and realize maybe we were being unfair or unkind.

But for a manipulative person, who often tends toward narcissism and sociopathy (or just being downright evil), insults are simply a tool.

And they’re quite an effective tool.

This is especially and sadly the case in romantic relationships, where the people we care about most often find ways to make us feel terrible. Do what I want, you f*cking b*tch. What are you some scared piece of sh*t coward? Pathetic…

20) Inflating your expectations

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Playing with someone’s expectations is one of the top signs of psychological manipulation.

You can see a salesperson do this in the way they might sell a vacation or a car, but you can also see it in romance and interpersonal relations.

The manipulator will build up your expectations to huge heights in order to convince you that he or she can build the future of your dreams.

But they usually can’t, or at least they won’t.

They simply want to take you for a ride.

21) Deflating your expectations

On the flip side, manipulators will sometimes build up your expectations just so they can break them down.


They become Shiva (the creator and destroyer) of your world.

They gain the power to bring you to the peak of the mountain and then chuck you off the cliff like a ragdoll.

They get the power trip of knowing that they are able to pull the rug out from under you and leave you desperate for a way to reattain hope and excitement about the future.

22) Amplifying your low self-esteem

Imagine a common scenario:

A guy opens up to his girlfriend about ways in which he doubts his self-worth or value.

She says she understands and hears him out.

Then, a week later when he is being lazy or having a hard week she brings up those doubts about his value.

She then amplifies them, gaslighting the boyfriend into thinking he’s a horrible person for being unhappy.

This is disgusting, it’s common and it’s one of the dirtiest signs of psychological manipulation.

23) Inflating your ego

The other side of the table from pumping up your doubts to influence and shame you is inflating your ego.

When we inflate someone’s ego it can be for a variety of reasons, and it’s not just to make them feel good. From a manipulator’s point of view, boosting someone’s ego can be a way to make sure they stay stupid.

If I believe I’m an excellent investor and a fraudulent advisor wants to get more of my money, he or she might encourage my belief in myself.

“Absolutely. I love your insights on how the volume relates to future growth and I completely agree.”They then use flattery and this bond to trail along behind you and shear away your money.

Nasty stuff.

24) Leading you into making a mistake

If someone was walking off a cliff without realizing it, would you save them?

I think 99% of us would say yes.

But what if you change the scenario to someone who’s about to sign a bad deal for a credit card…

Or start dating a psychotic and horrible individual…

It gets a little more complicated then, especially if you’re the agent benefiting from the bad credit deal, or the partner who’s a psycho and wants someone to date you.

Manipulating someone into making a mistake is a classic, and it can have very bad implications.

25) Sabotaging your career prospects

Finding a rewarding and interesting job is hard enough these days without snakes in the grass trying to ruin it for you.

Unfortunately, one of the common signs of psychological manipulation is people trying to sabotage your career prospects.

Whether it’s a coworker, a jealous ex, a family member who doesn’t support you or just critiques of your career from strangers, this can be very exhausting.

26) Shooting dark looks your way

What’s up with scowling and giving people bad looks?

Well, sometimes it’s just that a person is in an awful mood and wishes the world would burn.

But other times it’s a way to manipulate you.

For example, a street vendor might shoot you a really dark look if you say that you don’t want to buy his or her product.

The message? You are making their life worse. They hate you. Buy the product.

27) Making snide and cruel comments

Cruel and snide comments are very effective barbs for lowering someone’s self-confidence and making them doubt their worth and value.

They use sarcastic and biting commentary to make a person feel awful and bend to their will.

It’s a cheap trick, but it can be very effective.

28) Playing hard to get

Playing hard to get is sometimes effective in manipulating a person to your will, particularly in a romantic context.

The idea is that you get someone interested in you and then remove your time and attention from them, making them chase and pursue you.

Playing hard to get is one of the top signs of psychological manipulation and it’s very common.

Is it always bad? I think it depends a lot on the context.

While this can be a cynical ploy, it can also be fun and seductive in small doses.

29) Siding with your enemies

One of the top signs of psychological manipulation is to side with somebody’s enemies in order to manipulate them.

These people don’t even have to be somebody that is well-liked or agreed with.

The cliche holds true in this case:

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Brutal, but often effective.

30) Financially targeting you

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Money is powerful, and using it to influence or blackmail those you want to control can be extremely effective.

Financially targeting someone by buying them off or by threatening their financial interests is extremely common and is one of the most effective signs of psychological manipulation.

Using money to get their way is a tried and true tactic of the ruling class and elites throughout history.

It can also just be what a jealous person does to get control of you.

Be careful of this one.

31) Threatening your wellbeing

Threats are the oldest type of psychological manipulation tactic in the world.

They induce fear in the one being threatened and cause him or her to do what the threatening party wants done.

“Do this or else…”

“Believe what I do or else…”

32) Putting your job in jeopardy

One type of threat that ranks among the worst signs of psychological manipulation is putting your job in jeopardy.

Whether it’s a coworker, your boss or someone else interfering, putting your job in jeopardy is a brutal but effective tactic.

This essentially says you could lose your living and your ability to care for yourself and those you love unless you satisfy the conditions and demands being placed on you.

33) Flirting with your partner

If you’re dating or married to someone who’s beautiful or handsome, you may be accustomed to them getting desirous looks.

But when it crosses the line into outright flirting this can become a more complex issue.

Either your partner starts flirting back and then holds that over your head to make you jealous or tease you…

Or you start feeling insecure and the person flirting with your partner tries to anger or make you uncomfortable to start pulling your strings and pushing your buttons.

34) Acting crazy around your friends

Imagine you’re dating someone new and you invite her out with some friends of yours.

She actually thinks your friends are a bad influence on you and wants you to start changing the kind of person you are.

So she starts acting crazy around your friends and giving a bad impression.

The purpose:

To cause you to make a choice that is her or your friends.

35) Using your parents against you

Even those of us who have good relationships with our parents may clash with them from time to time.

Sadly, this kind of issue can be leveraged by someone trying to manipulate us.

Using your parents against you may sound like the lowest of the low, but it happens all the time.

“You have to marry this guy, mom and dad want it. Stop complaining.”

And so on.

36) Making you worried about how they feel about you

This is a very common tactic, especially in romantic relationships.

Your partner or prospective partner uses their feelings or lack of feelings about you to manipulate you.

She loves me, she loves me not…

The age-old dilemma that has kept many a lover up at night and drowning in mental anguish.

37) Pathologizing your problems

We all have problems and we all have situations in life that make us feel terrible, insecure and afraid.

This can reach a point of fixation on the negative, but it can also simply be that we are very overwhelmed at times.

Sadly, many in the psychological and wellness community tend to pathologize problems.

They say that your grief over the loss of a loved one is clinical depression…

They say that your “negative vibrations” are the reason you are poor…

They say that you have anxiety disorder because you are worried about a medical scan showing you might have cancer.

Careful of these kinds of people, they do not always have your best interests at heart.

38) Sapping your confidence

If you’ve ever watched pro athletes or fighters go up against each other in the ring or on the field, you will see a strange thing that often happens…

Words are exchanged between the fighters or players. Intimidating words, weird words, confidence-sapping words.

They can get downright nasty and creepy:

“Me and your sister had fun last night, bro. Have a good game.”

Anything to throw someone off their game, get them to take it personally and make them bitter and unfocused.

The recent Adam Sandler film Hustle has this in it, when a Spanish basketball player is getting thrown off his game by the personal insults and ribbing of an American player who wants him to fail.

Be careful of this one.

39) Encouraging your vices

Just have an another cigarette, man, don’t worry about it. You can quit another day…

I mean, stealing that thing from the store was kind of sneaky but it’s really not that bad, right?

Everything’s based on theft in a way anyway you know, like theft of labor and stuff?

Encouraging your vices is one way that people can psychologically manipulate you.


Either to lower your social or personal value, or to get you to do bad things that they have some interest in you continuing to do.

Sometimes it is also so they can hold what you’ve done against you at some future time.

40) Directly betting on your failure

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Another of the most important signs of psychological manipulation is directly betting on your failure.


A company planning on shorting your company’s stock and investing in its failure unless you sell it your product at a reduced rate…

A parent actively trying to sabotage your career because you didn’t follow in the career footsteps they wanted you to.

Putting up a fraud-proof firewall

Putting up a fraud-proof firewall is all about becoming the most purpose-driven and strong person you can be. Stop looking to others for validation and stop allowing them to invalidate you.

You are worth a huge amount and you have the tools it takes to succeed at life.

Picture of Paul Brian

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 www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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