10 signs you’re dealing with an intelligent and manipulative individual, according to psychology

Psychological manipulation is defined as “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.”

People use manipulation techniques to gain an unfair advantage over another person for their own purposes. The manipulator skillfully manufactures a power imbalance to exploit their victim, tricking them into serving their hidden agenda.

And manipulators always have a hidden agenda.

Creepy, isn’t it? And yet, despite their prevalence, most of us have to learn to deal with manipulators through trial and error.

After all, it’s not like they wear uniforms to distinguish themselves, or even make it easy to spot them in the wild. That’s because most manipulators are very intelligent. Cunning, even.

Many times, manipulators are viewed as charismatic or misunderstood at worst. And that’s just fine with the manipulative people in our lives. They’d rather be mislabeled than called out as the emotional predators they are.

That’s why it’s vital to arm ourselves with information that can help us identify when we’re being manipulated and how we can deal with it.

Let’s be mindful that not everyone who exhibits the following behaviors is attempting to manipulate you. Some people lack social skills or have picked up bad habits.

With that said, it’s crucial to recognize these behaviors and put your guard up, especially if your safety is at stake.

So, let’s take a look at ten signs that you’re dealing with a high-level manipulator, according to psychology.

1) Love bombing

No matter the nature of the relationship, emotional manipulators are always in a big rush. They overshare and overindulge, which overwhelms you.

This is called love bombing, and it’s a favorite tool of manipulators, especially at the beginning of your relationship.

And they want you to match that energy, to boot. 

A manipulative individual will try to sell themselves as sensitive, bordering on vulnerable, but it’s just a part they play to gain your trust. 

Their “character” wants you to feel honored because they allowed you into their secret clubhouse so fast.

Don’t you feel special?

This is when they gather most of the intel that they’ll use against you later.

2) Gaslighting galore

Emotional manipulators are world class deceivers. They’ll insist that something didn’t happen when it most definitely did, and they’ll just double-down on the lie if you dare to challenge it.

Psychologists refer to this charming attempt at subterfuge as gaslighting. And a manipulative person can even start believing their own ruse, as well.

A practiced manipulator is so skilled at gaslighting that you may end up questioning your own mental stability.

They’ll tell you that the issue is just the product of your vivid imagination. This is all your fault, you see. Not theirs.

3) Hypercritical

To keep you off-balance and maintain the upper hand, the manipulator initiates and keeps up a steady barrage of ridicule and dismissiveness.

The manipulator deliberately leads you to believe that something is inherently wrong with you (more gaslighting), and that no matter what you do you’ll never measure up.

4) Intellectual bullying

According to Psychology Today, some manipulative people engage in “intellectual bullying” where they assert themselves as an expert in one area or another.

Some people use this technique for no other reason than to feel a sense of intellectual superiority. Some people clearly need to get a life.

After the manipulator establishes their superior knowledge, they may take advantage of your “ignorance” by bombarding you with supposed facts and questionable statistics.

By claiming the intellectual high ground and holding their expertise power over your head, it’s easier for the manipulator to push their agenda through.

5) Feigning ignorance

This is the time honored passive-aggressive  “playing dumb” technique. A true manipulative classic!

Here’s how it works. By pretending that they have no idea what you’re talking about when you ask them to do something, the manipulator shifts the responsibility back to you.

You may sigh and mutter as they conveniently lose 75 points from their IQ, but odds are that you’ll also do the thing.

Kids pull this stunt to stall for time and manipulate the grownups into doing what they don’t want to do.

Isn’t it sad that some adults use this tactic as well when they are trying to hide something or avoid their obligations?

6) They tell you what you want to hear

Smooth talker Manipulator 10 signs you’re dealing with an intelligent and manipulative individual, according to psychology

Emotional manipulators are quick to tell you what you want to hear but they’re all talk and no action.

They’re notorious for promising their support, but aren’t the best with follow through.  A manipulator will also act like your requests are unreasonable, even if they had no objections beforehand.

They assure you how happy they are to have you, and then they’ll behave like you’re a huge burden. This is just another way the manipulative person undermines your belief in yourself and your sanity.

7) Expert button pushers

According to experts, emotional manipulators work hard to learn your weaknesses so they can use that information against you.

If you’re not confident about your appearance, they’ll be sure to comment on your brand new zit or how your shirt fits weird.

It’s what they do.

They have their finger on the pulse of your emotions, but unfortunately, they use that knowledge to manipulate you, not to understand and empathize with you better.

8) Masters of the guilt trip

By heartlessly attacking your emotional weak spots, the manipulator convinces you to accept their unreasonable demands.

Manipulative people are experts at leveraging your guilty feelings to their advantage.

If something’s bothering you and you try to broach it in conversation, they make you feel bad for even mentioning it. And if you don’t mention it, they’ll guilt trip you for keeping it to yourself and not sharing it with them.

The bottom line is that when you’re dealing with manipulators, whatever you do is the wrong thing and whatever problems you have as a couple are all your fault.

9) Always the victim

The ultimate goal of manipulative victimhood is to exploit your good disposition, sense of obligation, guilty conscience, or nurturing instincts so the perpetrator can extract benefits and “compromises” (surprise! The only one compromising is you.)

When you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator it’s important to remember that nothing is ever their fault.

This bears repeating.

No matter what they did—or didn’t do—it’s someone else’s fault, most likely yours.

Emotional manipulators never take accountability or own their actions.

10) A martyr complex

The phony initial eagerness to help quickly turns into pained groans and complaints. Why are you burdening the poor, hapless manipulative person with your problems? Why are you always such a test?

If you have the gall to call them out on their jerky behavior, they’ll counter by making you out to be the problem.

They’re just trying to help you. Why are you so paranoid? 

The manipulative person’s end game is to make you feel inadequate, guilty, and even crazy. You’re easier to control then.

Final thoughts

If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that trying to beat a master manipulator at their own game is a humongous waste of time.

Instead, learn to emotionally distance yourself and remember that you don’t need to participate in every toxic exchange you’re invited to.

Grey rocking is a good way to go with a manipulative person you can’t avoid interacting with.

If you create iron-clad boundaries and decide under what circumstances you’re willing to engage with a manipulator, you can increase your peace of mind by leaps and bounds.

But you have to remain resolute and not let your guard down. Keep those boundaries firmly in place and guard them with your life.

Because it’s not a question of whether a manipulator will attempt to violate your boundaries, it’s a question of when.

Picture of Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden

Kathy Copeland Padden lives in a New England forest paradise with her cats, kid, and trusty laptop. She has been writing since age 8 and is such a pack rat she can back that up with physical evidence. Music is her solace and words are her drug, so her house is strewn with records and books. Watch your step.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.