9 signs someone is using psychological tricks to manipulate you

Sometimes, our relationships are plagued with manipulation that is subtler than we think.

It’s so subtle that even in hindsight, it’s hard to see if what we experienced was actual manipulation or just a simple misunderstanding.

So how do you differentiate between the two?

In this article, we’ll discuss the 10 signs that could help you discern if there is subtle manipulation going on in your relationship.

If these seem familiar, it might be time to confront some difficult realities.

The aim here is to equip you with insight and knowledge, so you can understand your relationship better—and perhaps run at the sight of red flags waving.

1) They use gaslighting to distort your reality

“Gaslighting” is a term that has been used so many times that it has turned into a buzzword, but it’s probably because of how common it happens—especially in romantic relationships.

Merriam Webster defines the term as:

“Psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

In other words, they lie to you to twist your reality in their favor and make you think they’re always right. That’s how they control you, so you stay with them and keep thinking about them as people who have never done you wrong.

That’s how you end up finding yourself in situations where your recollection of events doesn’t align with their narrative. You may even start to question if you’re overreacting or being too sensitive.

This constant state of confusion and self-doubt is the manipulator’s playground. And often, they twist reality to make them look like the victim in every situation.

2) They play the victim card

Another common manipulation tactic is playing the victim. This is when a person consistently portrays themselves as the innocent party or the one being wronged, regardless of the situation.

You might notice that when conflicts arise, they manage to twist the narrative and shift the blame onto you. You end up feeling guilty, even when you’re not at fault, and they use this guilt to control your actions and decisions.

Remember that everyone should take responsibility for their own actions and feelings. Don’t let someone else make you feel responsible for theirs.

3) They isolate you from your support system

One of the more insidious tactics manipulators use is isolating their victims from their support system. This way, they limit your access to outside perspectives and make you more dependent on them.

This is something I’d witnessed from my friend’s past relationship.

Her then-partner would often make subtle comments about me and our closest friends, suggesting that we didn’t have her best interests at heart. Over time, she started seeing us less and less, until one day, she realized she was completely isolated and reliant on her partner for emotional support.

This isolation didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process, subtly orchestrated by her partner to establish control, and it’s a trap that can be extremely difficult to get out of.

4) They use “love bombing” to win you over

Love bombing,” like “gaslighting,” is a term that has been thrown around so much that it’s become a buzzword, but it’s actually a psychological tactic often used by manipulators at the start of a relationship.

Interestingly, the term “love bombing” was first coined by the Unification Church of the United States in the 1970s to describe their method of converting people to their cause. But it has since been adopted by psychologists to describe a manipulation technique used in personal relationships.

Essentially, in relationships, the other person will shower you with excessive affection, compliments, and gifts in order to gain your trust and affection.

They might do this by giving you expensive gifts, taking you on all-expenses-paid trips, saying “I love you,” all within weeks of knowing each other, and maybe even asking you to move in when you barely know anything about each other. 

By doing this, they make sure you’re committed and into them by making you think they’re committed and into you.

It seems like love at first, but they’re actually doing this to manipulate you by making you feel indebted to them.

5) They make you feel constantly indebted

I remember a time when a former friend would always insist on paying for our meals when we went out. At first, it seemed generous, but I soon realized it was a way for him to hold something over me.

He would bring up these “favors” whenever he wanted something or during arguments to make me feel guilty and oblige his demands.

That’s when I realized that he wasn’t being generous simply because he saw me as a friend—he was doing it because he wanted me to feel indebted to him so he could manipulate me into doing the things he wanted.

If you find yourself in a relationship where you’re made to feel constantly in debt and this is used as a means of control, it could be a sign of manipulation.

True generosity comes without strings attached and should never be used as a bargaining chip.

6) They belittle your accomplishments

excuses men give in relationships when theyre afraid of commitment 9 signs someone is using psychological tricks to manipulate you

A manipulator often undermines your achievements to make you feel less confident and more reliant on their validation.

This could be through dismissive comments or by downplaying the significance of your accomplishments.

And the thing is, they will never give you the satisfaction of giving you the recognition you deserve. They will keep on attacking your self-esteem until there’s nothing left.

If this is something you experienced, know that you didn’t deserve it. Your accomplishments are valid and worthy of celebration, regardless of what anyone else may say.

7) They use silent treatment as punishment

When you really look at it, the silent treatment is not simply petty; it’s cruel.

Because when someone refuses to communicate with you or engage with you as a form of punishment, they’re closing every possibility for resolution until they decide they finally want to talk to you.

It’s designed to make you feel guilty or anxious, pushing you to appease them.

But silence and communication should not be weaponized against anyone in a relationship. You don’t deserve to feel guilty for things you didn’t do.

Communication is key in any relationship, and using silence as a tool of control isn’t healthy.

8) They constantly change the goalposts

Manipulators often use a tactic known as ‘moving the goalposts’, where they continuously change their expectations or demands just as you’re about to meet them. This keeps you in a constant state of trying to please them.

It’s exhausting, but in a way, it can also be addicting. The farther you get from the expectations they set, the more determined you become to meet them.

But the thing is, with a manipulator, you never will. That’s what they do to keep you on their toes so they can continue controlling you.

9) They create a sense of urgency

Manipulators often create a false sense of urgency to pressure you into making decisions without giving them much thought.

They might give you an ultimatum—an “all or nothing” kind of approach—so you’re pressured to do things their way.

And this is definitely not a normal thing in relationships.

You deserve to be given the proper time to make decisions, not just for the relationship but for yourself as well, without being given an urgent deadline to make them. 

Final thoughts

It’s never easy dealing with a manipulator.

They twist your words, manipulate your reality, use your insecurities against you…

…and it’s just impossible to win.

So if you’re in a relationship with someone—regardless of whether it’s platonic or romantic—remember, you deserve to be treated with genuine love and care, not manipulation and conditional love.

Picture of Joyce Ann Isidro

Joyce Ann Isidro

Joyce is a writer who believes in the power of storytelling and changing lives by writing stories about love, relationships, and spirituality. A bookworm and art enthusiast, she considers herself a creative-at-heart who likes to satisfy her childish wonder through new hobbies and experiences.

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