10 warning signs you’re dealing with a manipulative person

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the majority of people in life are inherently good. 

Having said that, let’s not fool ourselves, there’s no shortage of manipulative people in this world as well. 

While being trusting is generally a positive thing, it’s smart to keep your guard up, especially when dealing with a wide array of people. At the end of the day, nobody wants to be taken advantage of. 

In this article, I’ll go over the common signs of a manipulative person. Once you have an awareness of their tactics, you can better protect yourself and avoid becoming a target. 

Let’s get to it!

1) They’re professional gaslighters

Real talk: gaslighting is one of the oldest tricks in the manipulator book. It’s essentially their way of regularly having their cake and eating it too, even when the facts don’t quite support such behavior.

The gaslighter has an incredible knack for making you question your perception, memory, and ultimately, your own sanity. 

They’ll deny they ever said something, even though you know they did, or they’ll manipulate you into feeling guilty for being hurt or upset.

The gaslighter is so cunning and convincing that falling for their act becomes so easy. 

It’s a dirty ploy, frankly. Try not to get caught up. 

2) They guilt trip you often 

I’ll be honest: I have always been susceptible to guilt. This innate shortcoming, therefore, makes me a prime target for manipulation.

I have to work overtime to avoid being exploited. 

The manipulative person tends to use your own feelings against you to make you bend to their will and demands. 

They might employ phrases like, “After all I’ve done for you, you’re going to treat me like this?” 

If you notice this distortion of emotions becoming a pattern, not only will it chip away at your confidence, it gives the manipulator power–their ultimate goal. 

Start putting your foot down, and stop letting them use your good nature against you. 

But disclaimer: at this point, they might pivot and use other tactics to salvage control. 

Like playing the victim…

3) They’re expert victims

Here’s the thing: you’re somehow constantly at fault when in conflict with a manipulator, even when they’re the ones actively pushing your buttons. 

Maybe you muster up the courage to respectfully speak to them about something that’s been bothering you. 

Instead of responding positively, they turn things around and make it about how they’re the innocent victim, labeling you “oversensitive” and invalidating your feelings in the process. 

My ex was like this. I had lost some money during the course of our relationship and she’d constantly criticize me for it. 

I was aware of my mistakes and had learned from them. I would calmly request for her to stop berating me, explaining her comments made me feel bad.

The stalemate wouldn’t last long. Any opportunity she’d get, she’d bring up my financial incompetence again. When I’d react with anger, she’d turn to the victim card, saying she was just “light-heartedly” teasing. 

Since as you know now, I am easily guilty, I would regularly fall for the act–in fact, I’d be the one to end up apologizing. 

Eventually, I gained some self-respect and offered her an ultimatum: the double standard had to stop or our relationship was done. We broke up soon after. 

4) They use emotional blackmail 

behaviors of highly manipulative 10 warning signs you're dealing with a manipulative person

Apart from guilt, the manipulator may use your fears, values, compassion, or any other “hot buttons” to control you or the situation. 

Perhaps they’ll use sweeping statements like “If you really loved me, you would do this” or “You’re the only one who can help me.”

This is a subtle trick to use your vulnerabilities against you. 

As with my ex, manipulators have an amazing talent for turning things around and making themselves appear to be the hurt party, even when they’re clearly in the wrong. 

This manipulation of facts is often done subconsciously as the manipulator is so self-absorbed and lacking in empathy, that they truly believe that they’re morally on higher ground. 

Don’t get it twisted. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. 

Sometimes it’s as if you’re under a dizzying spell, but once you break free from those chains, you’ll eventually see things for what they are.

5) They’re your harshest critics 

This is classic manipulator behavior

They’ll often put you down and make subtle jabs about your appearance, your level of competence, etc.

This tactic is often used as a way of undermining your self-esteem and self-worth, making you emotionally dependent on them. 

For the manipulator, you coming to terms with your independence and individuality is their worst nightmare. 

For them, control is the name of the game, and as you may have noticed by now, they’ll do whatever they can to keep that control, however dirty. 

So next time they put you down, you owe it to yourself to start fighting back.

Just like Mom said: you’re a great person, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

6) They disregard your boundaries 

If you’ve made it abundantly clear to the manipulator what you will and won’t tolerate, yet they still find a way to dishonor that, this is a huge red flag. 

It’s a no-brainer: respect is one of the basic virtues of any functioning relationship. 

Maybe they consistently invade your personal space, share information you’ve told them in confidence, or demand an unreasonable amount of your time and attention.

Perhaps they’ll test you to see how much you’ll put up with for their own amusement; or maybe they’re just plain selfish, only caring about themselves and their interests above all else. 

Frankly, the reasoning doesn’t really matter. 

Life is too short to have to deal with people who continually disregard boundaries

7) They always try to “one-up” you

Manipulators are experts at invalidating your feelings and emotions. They’re the Lionel Messi of invalidation. 

It doesn’t matter what problems you’re going through or negative experiences you’ve had to endure, they constantly voice how they’ve had it worse or better. 

Maybe, for instance, you’re grieving the loss of a pet. Instead of consoling you, they’ll shift the conversation and attention back to them, talking about how they’ve gone through far worse tragedies in their life. 

They won’t give you an inch. They have a deep craving for the spotlight. 

In addition to that, by one-upping you, they make you feel like you’re unimportant, which, over time, makes you all the more dependent on them.

8) They actively try to isolate you

phrases used by conversational narcissists to manipulate you 3 10 warning signs you're dealing with a manipulative person

I’ve watched enough true crime documentaries about cults to notice some of their worrying patterns. 

The victims of these cults are typically vulnerable and impressionable people who are easily influenced into blindly obeying their leaders. 

They’re so emotionally confused that it makes them easier targets than throwing a basketball into a swimming pool. 

Like predators in the wild, the cult leader sees an opportunity in these people.

One of the common tactics cult leaders use to brainwash their victims is to cut them off from people like friends and family, i.e. people who have the potential to influence you away from their control.

Now, the manipulator in your life may not be Charlies Manson, but the fact is if they attempt to isolate you, they do share some textbook cult-leader traits. 

Stay wary. 

9) They make you feel obligated

When someone does something nice for you like giving you a gift or offering to do you a favor, there shouldn’t be an underlying motive. 

When something “good” is done as a means of later using it against you, the act loses any sense of nobility. In fact, it’s downright deceitful. 

So if someone you suspect to be manipulative does something for you that is a little bit too good to be true, it’s worth digging deeper. 

From my experience, there’s almost always a catch. 

10) They’re disturbingly inconsistent 

Manipulators tend to behave differently towards you in public than they do in private. They’re skilled at using charm to conceal their true colors. 

My ex was the sweetest and kindest girlfriend when we were around friends and family, but behind closed doors, the facade would wear off in seconds; she would revert to being mean, temperamental, and belittling. 

There were other times when she was in a good mood, and would again treat me with such admirable kindness, yet an hour later would transform to being cruel once again. 

The inconsistent demeanor towards me made me constantly second-guess my feelings. For years, I genuinely thought I was the problem, not her. 

My logic was ”If she was so nice to me yesterday, then maybe her being so mean to me today is my own doing.” 

I always gave her the benefit of the doubt, which lead to a long, agonizing relationship that went on far longer than it should have. 

Only now do I realize, how naive and weak I was. Never again. 

Final thoughts 

To recap, dealing with a manipulative person is no work in the park. They’re pros at blending in, all the while messing with your mind, body, and spirit. 

So it’s not your fault if you find yourself falling for their tricks. But eventually, you have to wisen up to their ways. 

Life is too short to be dealing with such toxic and selfish individuals. Next time, you’re bamboozled by the crazy ups and downs in their behavior, consider it time to make a move. 

Remember, it’s them, not you. 

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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