8 subtle mind tricks used by master manipulators

I used to be the most gullible person out of all my friends. I’d believe almost anything you told me simply because I thought everyone’s intentions were as pure as mine.

Surely, everyone strived to be as honest and authentic as possible?

It’s safe to say I had a lot of growing up to do. And once I learned all the ins and outs of psychological manipulation, I realized that manipulators were actually nowhere near as rare as I’d thought.

What about you? Are you familiar with the most common subtle mind tricks used by master manipulators?

If not, buckle in. It’s going to be one hell of a ride…

1) The yo-yo technique

Let me introduce you to the yo-yo technique, a term coined by me at this precise minute.

Yo-yo is something I went through in one of my past friendships without ever realizing it, which is why I always try to watch out for it now.

You know those people who flatter you one day and demean you the next? Yeah. They’re not just “moody”. Whether they realize it or not, they’re employing a subtle mind trick that serves to keep you on your toes, shifting the dynamic in their favor.

We all value the opinions of those closest to us. And if your partner or friend offers praise that sends you to cloud nine, only to bring you down a few days later, they’re creating an atmosphere of insecurity.

You simply never know where you stand. Every piece of flattery will have you earning for more; every mean comment will send you crashing down, wondering if you’ve done something wrong and hoping that tomorrow will get better.

As a result, your nervous system becomes dysregulated, your body’s constantly in survival mode, and you can’t fall asleep at night because you’re stuck in a loop of overthinking.

If this sounds familiar, remember that people who truly want the best for you will show you consistent love. They’ll make you feel safe and grounded.

2) The cold shoulder

Cruel jokes or insensitive comments aren’t the only way to make someone feel like crap.

Giving you the cold shoulder – or what’s also sometimes referred to as the silent treatment – might seem like a common practice, but it actually classifies as emotional manipulation.


Because just like the yo-yo technique, it revolves around confusion, unsafety, and emotional chaos.

The person you care about refuses to talk to you, and yet they can’t tell you what you’ve done wrong. You spend hours, if not days, trying to make sense of your memories in order to figure out if you’ve missed something or if you’ve accidentally upset them.

And since this feeling of instability feels so very dreadful, the moment your friend or partner comes back to you, ready to move on… your happiness levels soar.

Finally, the nightmare’s over!

…until it happens again, that is.

Manipulators love to give others the cold shoulder because the constant guessing keeps you under their thumb.

3) The secret trick

Another great way to keep you in a manipulator’s grip is to make you feel special.

And what better way to do exactly that than to confide in you? The secret trick is all about building a sense of trust and camaraderie.

“I was told not to tell anybody, but I know you’ll understand…”

“You’re the only person I’ve told this because I trust you a lot…”

“I value your input more than anybody else’s, so I want to share this with you…”

Wouldn’t that just make you feel amazing? Wow, you’re seen as trustworthy! What a lovely boost to your self-esteem!

Except that’s exactly what manipulators want. According to the reciprocity of liking effect, thinking that someone likes you makes it so that you like them back.

And if they deem you deserving of their trust…

Bingo. You might trust them, too.

4) The insecurities game

There’s nothing wrong with trusting people in and of itself, of course – unless you put your trust in the wrong person.

And a master manipulator is very much the wrong person.

Chances are, they will gently lure you into the trust trap until you finally confide in them about your problems and insecurities, only to later use them against you.

For example, you might tell your friend that your parents always used to call you selfish growing up and that despite your best intentions, you’re still worried that you might act selfishly without realizing it.

Your friend reassures you that you’re not selfish at all, has a lovely deep chat with you, and offers some nice compliments to make you feel better.

Months later, they ask for a favor, and when you say you’re too busy, they call you selfish and self-centered.


Of course, you’ll do your best to get back in their good books and turn your whole schedule around because the last thing you’d want is to be perceived as selfish.

It’s a brilliantly wicked mind game.

5) The power of projection

behaviors of highly manipulative 8 subtle mind tricks used by master manipulators

The scenario described above isn’t just about using your insecurities against you – it’s also an amazing example of projection.

After all, you’re not being selfish for refusing to run an errand for your friend. You have every right to prioritize your own life and well-being.

In fact, it is your friend who’s acting selfishly because they expect you to be at their beck and call, disrespecting your time and boundaries.

But of course, that’s not how they want to be perceived, and so they do the one thing that can completely shift the blame – they project their selfishness onto you.

You’re now in a tough spot. Thanks to the power of projection, you’re automatically on the defensive. Anything you say just backfires because no matter how much you try to twist the narrative back into its correct position, it’s already been flipped on its head.

One of my ex-friends used to employ this strategy a lot. When I told her that the joke she’d made about me was upsetting, she simply twisted it, saying, “It was just a joke, I didn’t mean it like that at all. And it upsets me that you’d think me to be so cruel.”

What can I say? Being friends with a master manipulator is a minefield. It’s why we no longer talk.

6) Faulty generalizations

By dismissing my concern and turning one small issue about a mean joke into an attack on her whole personality, my ex-friend managed to transform herself into a victim through the power of generalization.

We all generalize from time to time. If you get mad that your partner didn’t take the bin out for the third time this month, you might sigh and say, “You never take the bin out! You’re so messy!”

Never mind that they’ve been doing it consistently for the past year and are now simply going through a rough time.

However, resorting to faulty generalizations once in a while and apologizing afterward is different from using them on purpose.

The latter can be very harmful to the relationship dynamic because you almost never get to resolve any issues as the manipulator in question takes anything you say way too personally.

“I don’t like that you did X.”

“Oh, because I’m so horrible, aren’t I? Just say it! You hate me!”

“What? I don’t hate you, you’re not horrible at all, I just…” See? You’re already on the defensive.

7) The false drama

When a manipulator feels cornered – for example, when you refuse to get into an argument and only use calm logic – their last resort is diversion.

They’ll try to change the topic and hope that you get so immersed in it that you completely forget about the main point of the conversation.

An argument about the mess in the kitchen could easily turn into a fight about work.

A discussion about their worsened mental wellbeing could end up with your own mental health issues taking the spotlight because they’d rather focus on everything that’s “wrong” with you, not them.

Every time you need to have a serious conversation about your relationship, there’s suddenly an emergency they need to cater to immediately.

The false drama takes centerstage, and your concerns are pushed to the background. Again.

8) Good old gaslighting

This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of gaslighting, of course. This technique is as old as they come, and for a good reason. It can be incredibly effective.

Gaslighting occurs when someone makes you doubt your own perception of reality. This can take on many forms, for example:

  • Invalidating your emotions (“You’re overreacting”)
  • Dismissing your memories as faulty (“You’re remembering it wrong”)
  • Shifting the blame for one’s mistakes onto your shoulders (“I only did it because of you”)

Gaslighting is all about tweaking the narrative in the manipulator’s favor. By the end of it, you’re filled with so much self-doubt that you really can’t tell whether they’re right or wrong.

This is why confiding in your friends is one of the best things you can do. 

Choose a friend you trust and tell them about the conflict in question. Since they’re not as submersed in it, they can view it more objectively and give you valuable feedback.

Picture of Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

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