When you think master manipulator, you might think of an overexaggerated, villainous figure. Dr. Evil, leaning back in his chair and stroking a white fluffy cat, staring you down with beady eyes. Someone plotting your demise, always five moves ahead.
Unfortunately, master manipulators aren’t always so easy to spot. Quite often wolves in sheep’s clothing, master manipulators tend to disguise themselves and blend in as those around us.
Whatever their purpose, master manipulators tend to have the same goal; to influence and control those around them to their own benefit through using calculating and underhand moves.
Worried you’re dealing with someone who has above-average manipulation skills? Here are 8 things to look out for that will help sharpen your manipulator-detecting skills.
1) They love bomb you
I love having a word of the day written up on my fridge.
Obsequiousness, which was written on my fridge for a week, means to excessively flatter and fawn over someone.
Master manipulators are very obsequious and spend a lot of time and effort building you up (to only tear you down later, but we’ll get to that).
They have to be highly charismatic and charming. How else would they win you over?
It’s kind of sad really, but keep an eye out for anyone who seems excessively nice.
Master manipulators might come in the form of a first date telling you that you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to them, showering you with gifts and compliments, and getting down on one knee within two weeks.
They might also show up Regina George-style with targeted compliments.
“I love your skirt!”
I’m not saying run for the hills at the first compliment anyone pays you, but be cautious of targeted compliments and flattery with ulterior purposes.
Ask yourself, do they really love my skirt?
2) They share too much, too soon
To be able to manipulate someone, you need that person to trust you.
To build up that trust, master manipulators don’t just flatter. They also overshare.
Admittedly, most of us could benefit from being a little more open.
Master manipulators, however, swing far on the other side of the scale.
If it’s the first time you’ve met someone and they’re diving deep into their childhood trauma, telling you all their deepest and darkest secrets, be cautious.
Oversharing prior to knowing someone well enough can be a sign that someone is trying to win over your trust and make you feel sorry for them.
3) They make you doubt yourself
Having built up a platform of trust through feeding you a steady stream of compliments and oversharing about their own past, manipulators then start to spin your perspective of reality.
Unfortunately, master manipulators are often really good at lying.
Going back to the last point, this can sometimes mean that they fabricate or exaggerate bits of their own life story.
On top of that, they start to turn everything back on you. They’ll insist something didn’t happen when it in fact did. They’ll call you crazy, overly sensitive, or paranoid, and say you’re remembering events wrong.
This is all a form of gaslighting whereby the manipulator will cause you to question your memory and sanity. You end up feeling guilty and shameful.
Worried your own perception of reality is wrong, you start turning to the master manipulator when in doubt, to lead you in the ‘right’ direction.
4) They always play the victim
Master manipulators will present themselves as the true victims of the world.
You really ought to feel sorry for them. Their elaborate and tragic life story leaves you feeling like you should pity them.
If you ever do end up trying to call them out, they manage to spin the story around and call you the bad guy.
And what does this look like? Well, using their gaslighting skills, it might sound a bit like the following:
“I can’t believe you’re accusing me of messaging other people. You know I would never do that. Honestly, I’m so hurt that you would even suggest that”.
Cue you feeling guilty and apologizing profusely, when honestly, you should probably check their social media.
And if you do find some incriminating evidence?
“Well, I only messaged that person because you’re so distant and cold and unlovable. You really drove me to cheat.”
5) Their actions don’t line up with their words
Does this person constantly overpromise but underdeliver? And they’re not your insurance company?
They might be flaky.
They might also be extremely good at manipulating and telling you what you want to hear.
Master manipulators will promise you the world, but when it actually gets round to it, they won’t give you so much as a crumb.
Maybe they promised they’d introduce you to some highly influential people to score a new job. Maybe they promised they’d take you on lavish holidays. Maybe they just promised they’d meet very simple requests like regular communication or showing up on time.
Master manipulators will be quick to pledge their unwavering support, but when the time comes, they’ll gaslight you, tell you they never said they’d help, and make you feel like a huge burden for asking.
Or, if they do end up helping you, you’ll never forget about it and basically be indebted for life.
6) They constantly one-up you
You’re having a bad day?
The manipulator has it worse.
Your parents weren’t so kind to you as a child?
No point in comparing; the manipulator suffered an incomparably tragic childhood.
You’re happy about a big project you submitted?
No time to celebrate, as the manipulator just got a massive promotion.
Master manipulators just don’t have the time or patience to deal with your achievements or struggles.
You might go into this a little blindly as they were so quick to dole out praise in the beginning. But now, you can’t get a word in without being one-upped.
Whether you’ve achieved something amazing or need a little more support than usual, a manipulator won’t let you get away with it. Their narcissistic tendencies mean they constantly need to be the center of attention.
7) They know how to push your buttons
Having built up a relationship of trust, you’ve probably shared key insights to yourself and your feelings with this person.
Someone kind and genuine will protect your insecurities and vulnerabilities with their heart. On the other hand, master manipulators will see this as ammo.
Made an offhand comment about how you’re not feeling great about your body? You’ll be met with sly passing comments, perhaps wrapped up quite nicely.
“You chubby-cheeked little princess!”
Or maybe you mentioned how you’re a bit nervous about an upcoming work presentation. Out of nowhere, you get a “I’ve never noticed what a weird little stutter you get when you’re nervous!”
8) They try and isolate you
You know how in the nature documentaries, big lions will chase one zebra or buffalo or whatever their meal of the day is away from the herd?
Master manipulators use the same tactic.
It’s easier to manipulate and distort someone’s perception of reality when they don’t have friends or family to confide in, or when they feel like they have no one else they can rely on.
Knowing this, manipulators will try and wean you away from your confidants. They use the same tactics of gaslighting and lies.
“Your friends? Didn’t you know that they all gossip about you behind your back?”
“Your mother? She doesn’t like me too much and it’s getting in the way of our relationship… She’s just jealous of your youth anyway, she doesn’t have your best intentions at heart.”
“I do, though.”
Sound familiar? If so, watch out.
Master manipulators are experts at turning you against the people you love so you become reliant on them alone.
I think I’m dealing with a master manipulator…what do I do now?!
If you think you’re dealing with a master manipulator, it’s best to get away (if possible).
Master manipulators are predators, and their targets the prey. They weaken and disarm their victims by building up trust only to tear it down. They then use the knowledge about their victims’ weak spots to cripple their self-confidence, leaving them feeling paralyzed and hopelessly reliant upon the manipulator.
You can spend all the time in the world trying to find out why someone is trying to manipulate you. The truth is people start engaging in manipulating behavior for all sorts of reasons, including personality disorders as well as a coping mechanism for past trauma.
But it’s never your job to change or ‘save’ somebody else.
If you feel like you’ve sussed out that someone is highly manipulative, have tried calling them out, and have only been left feeling hurt and belittled, it’s best to remove yourself from the relationship.
Leaving probably won’t be easy as once manipulators have their claws in, they don’t let go without a fight. But educate yourself about their tactics, try to stay one step ahead, and remember that no matter how much someone tries to tear down your self-worth, you deserve more than being a puppet on someone else’s string.
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