10 subtle signs you’re dealing with a highly manipulative individual

Unfortunately, manipulation is a part of life.

We all look for ways to get other people to do what we want, and it starts early. As parenting podcaster Cheryl Butler points out, children learn to manipulate their parents before they can even talk.

However, as we grow up, hopefully, we also develop a moral code that tells us it’s bad to manipulate people.

On the other hand, not everyone gets the memo.

Some people have no problem manipulating others for their own gain. And since manipulation requires the person being manipulated to be unaware of it, it can often be hard to tell when someone is manipulating you.

Keep an eye out for these subtle signs that will tell you a person is extremely manipulative:

1) They lie

Catching someone in a lie is a troubling sign that you may be dealing with a manipulator.

The thing is, we all live from time to time. Sometimes, it’s to spare the feelings of others. Other times, it’s to avoid embarrassment or something we don’t want to do.

But to a manipulator, lying is just another tool they can use to get people to do what they want.

Journalist and therapist Kaitlin Vogel points out that manipulators lie to control the actions of others, and also to escape responsibility or the consequences of their own actions.

They will lie about things they have said and done, or lie about things you have said or have not said.

Anything to keep you dancing on the end of the strings they pull to control you. 

2) Their actions don’t match their words

One of the more subtle signs of someone who is not being honest about who they are is that their actions don’t match their words.

What do I mean?

Well, let’s say someone keeps telling you how much they love Indian food. But every time you suggest going out to get it, they have some reason why they don’t want to eat it.

This is a fairly benign example, but it shows somebody whose actions don’t match their words.

It can get much more serious.

A person may claim to be family-oriented, but they are never actually there for their family. They may claim to be a loyal friend, then talk badly about supposed friends behind their backs.

There are lots of ways this false image can show itself. But anytime you encounter it, watch out.

Maybe you’re just dealing with a fake person. Or maybe they are a practiced manipulator trying to give you a false impression of who they really are.

3) They move too fast

This is one of the classic signs of a manipulative person, but many people aren’t aware of it.

When you first meet a manipulator, they will often come on very strong. That’s true whether they are a friend or you are romantically interested.

They will make you feel like they think you’re the greatest person ever. They will want to be around you all the time, find you endlessly fascinating, and shower you with attention and affection.

This is a process called love bombing, and as psychologist Alaina Tiani says, “the love bomber’s ultimate goal is not just to seek love, but to gain control over someone else.”

Love bombing includes:

  • Excessive flattery and praise
  • Overly generous gifts
  • Early conversations about your future together
  • Overcommunication of feelings
  • Advancing a relationship through stages at an unusually fast pace

What makes love bombing so hard to spot is that many of the signs are just signs of someone who is really into you. 

Often, it’s only when the affection becomes manipulative that people realize there’s something wrong.

4) They play the victim

Playing the victim is another tactic straight out of the manipulator’s handbook.

And it’s so effective because it plays on the emotions of the people around us.

“Adopting a victim stance equates to a person fundamentally adhering to the belief that his or her life is more difficult than anyone else’s,” says psychotherapist Erin Leonard. “He or she rejects the listener’s empathy because the real goal isn’t to feel better, it’s to control another.”

After all, we all have things that go wrong in our lives, and when that happens, we are entitled to complain.

However, keep an eye out for someone who is always complaining about everything that happens and seems to think that the world has a vendetta against them.

They may not actually believe in their own victimhood. Instead, it may be a tactic to make you feel sorry for them so that they can control you more easily

5) They make you feel guilty

phrases used by conversational narcissists to manipulate you 3 10 subtle signs you’re dealing with a highly manipulative individual

Guilt is a manipulator’s best friend.

Guilt trips are very effective because they tap into our desire to do our best for the people we care about.

It might be a romantic partner. It might be a member of your family, such as a parent. Or it might be a friend or even a coworker.

But whoever it is, the person trying to make you feel guilty may be using that guilt to get you to do what they want.

6) They one-up you

No matter what has happened to you, a manipulator always has it worse.

For every story you tell about a bad thing you’ve experienced, they have been through much more.

This ties into the manipulator’s victim complex. By diminishing your experiences and promoting their own, the manipulator is simply trying to get you to feel sorry for them so that they can continue controlling you.

7) They blame you

No matter what happens to a manipulator, it’s never their fault.

And if you are in their life, there’s a good chance that sooner or later, everything will be your fault instead.

You see, manipulators blame other people for everything, including their own feelings.

“You make me mad!”

“I only get angry around you!”

These are the kind of things manipulators say to make you feel bad for their behavior.

Anything to avoid taking responsibility for themselves.

8) They threaten you

When confronted or when they sense they are losing the power they have over you, manipulative people will often resort to threats.

They may threaten to leave. They may threaten to expose your secrets to others. They may even threaten you with physical violence.

Mental health counselor Maggie Holland makes the point that anytime somebody uses threats to convince you to do something, it’s manipulation.

No matter what they threaten you with, whether it’s to harm themselves, to leave you, or to hurt you, you need to hold firm to your boundaries and distance yourself from the person if necessary.

9) They make you feel like you are a burden

Manipulative people have a way of making you feel like you are causing problems for them.

This is just one more way they control you.

They may make you feel like you’re not pulling your weight around the house, or thatl you don’t earn enough money. They may act as though you are wasting your time, or make it seem that they have sacrificed a lot for you.

This is just part of the guilt-tripping manipulators are so good at.

But over time, this feeling of being a burden on someone else can be extremely damaging to your self-esteem. And that only makes it harder to cut the manipulative person out of your life.

10) They make you doubt yourself

Thanks to their lies and distortions, manipulators can start to make you question your own experience of reality.

This is called gaslighting, a term that comes from a 1938 play in which the husband convinces his wife that she has a mental illness.

Gaslighting includes:

  • Questioning a person’s memory of events
  • Pretending not to understand what they are saying
  • Trivializing their feelings
  • Denying what they have said or done
  • Questioning the other person’s credibility

Gaslighting can be extremely subtle, but over time, it has a devastating effect on the self-esteem of the victim. Being gaslighted can make you start to doubt your own memories and even your sanity.

Avoiding manipulators 

We all ought to stay away from manipulative people. But the nature of manipulation means it’s not always easy to tell when it’s happening to you.

Luckily, these subtle signs can tip you off that somebody is trying to control you.

Keep an eye out for the signs of manipulation, and if you encounter them in your relationships, question whether this is the kind of person you really want in your life.

Picture of Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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