The thought of being manipulated is unsettling, and the reality is downright disturbing. Unfortunately, there are various people in the world, from salespeople, cult leaders, and influencers to friends, family co-workers, or partners, who may seek to manipulate you.
But don’t worry! In this article, I’m going to share some invaluable tips to stop a master manipulator in their tracks.
1) Realize they are manipulating you
This might sound obvious but the first step to standing up to a manipulator is realising what they are doing. And if they are really good at it then that can be difficult. Especially if you are a kind and trusting person.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you getting a lot of compliments, or are they love-bombing you? Then later demeaning or disrespecting you? This is a form of playing hot and cold and it’s one of the main tactics manipulators use.
- Do you they play on your emotions? This usually looks like finding out your weak points, such as your fears or the things that you are proud of. Once they have done that they will prey upon these issues and emotions to make you feel bad.
- Ultimately do they end up getting you to do what they want? Or do you regularly walk away from them feeling bad or drained? Or questioning if you are a good person or even your sanity?!
If the answer is yes to any of these questions then they probably are manipulating you.
2) Set your boundaries
The next step is to set your boundaries.
Master manipulators will try to confuse you and make the lines between right and wrong, fair and unfair, hazy, and skewed to their wishes. By having a relatively objective understanding of what fair boundaries are, you will have a yardstick by which to measure their actions.
Here are some good boundaries that you could set for yourself:
- Your time is valuable. You can say “no” to requests, demands, or obligations that overextend you.
- Your feelings and opinions deserve respect, even in disagreement. Name-calling, bullying, and dismissal invalidates you.
- Your personal space, money, possessions, and privacy belong to you. They cannot be taken or used without clear consent.
- Major life decisions are made by you alone – where to live, work, relationships, etc. Outside pressure to conform violates self-determination.
- You expect honesty and authenticity in relationships. Deceit, omission of facts, or hiding intentions crosses the line.
- Your body is inviolable and its boundaries sacrosanct. Any touching against your will is unacceptable, regardless of rationale.
- You can opt out of conversations, interactions, or activities you find draining, unproductive, abusive, or manipulative without guilt or apology.
- Another’s needs, requests, or values do not supersede your own by default. Compromise requires effort from both parties, not just you.
Keeping these personal boundaries in mind helps reveal when a manipulative person aims to control, use, steamroll, or distress you. Crossing these lines is always unacceptable.
3) Don’t feed the monkey
Now that you know how to identify manipulation and what boundaries to set, what can you do to show that you are going to stand your ground?
A manipulator will often try to engage you by insulting you or your behavior. They do this to fire you up and get a response. Anything you say can and will be used against you. So… just stop replying or trying to defend yourself.
Just say yes or nod or mmhmm. Agree outwardly but check out inwardly.
A caveat here is that you must not internalize what they are saying. It’s more a case of disengaging and not giving them fuel to continue the fire. When the monkey gets no food it will go looking elsewhere!
Essentially you are ‘removing the narcissitic supply’.
4) But do feed their ego
Ok, this one is not necessarily recommended, but it’s a tip shared by Kanika Battra, a Youtuber who has been diagnosed with Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) and Narcissism.
She advises those who want to manipulate the manipulator to play to their sense of ego and need for validation.
Essentially the majority of narcissists and manipulators (except grandiose narcissists) have very low self-esteem. They will go to great lengths to curate their personality and control what people think of them. And this is usually why they will put you down and manipulate you.
Kanika tells the story of her childhood friend ‘Alice’ who realized that Kanika loved to appear wealthy and would exaggerate her status. ‘Alice’ would play on this, and pretend that she had no money. Kanika would then buy her all sorts of things to make herself feel good and important, and to reaffirm this claim to wealth.
After many years of this, Kanika discovered that Alice had the same amount of money as she did. The manipulator had been manipulated.
5) Don’t give them compliments anymore
This is the opposite strategy. Instead of feeding their ego and buying into their narrative of them being the greatest, simply stop complimenting them.
If they proudly tell you something they have done, just look blank-faced and uninterested. This is another way to cut off the insecure manipulator’s supply.
But beware, they are likely to start a fight about something after this. Get ready to then apply one of the other tips such as…
6) Keep them at arm’s length – or avoid them
If this person isn’t someone that you are living with, simply walk away when they try to engage you with manipulation. If for whatever reason you can’t avoid them entirely – perhaps they work at your workplace, you can still stay superficially friendly, but just don’t let them be too close.
Don’t tell them any personal information about you (eg don’t give them ammo!) and if they propose an out-of-work or school meet-up, politely decline.
This way you can avoid tension or drama but also avoid being manipulated.
7) Keep saying no
Not all salespeople are bad, I mean, you do need to buy things, and salespeople can be very helpful. But some are manipulative.
Many years ago I was trained in various sales techniques as part of a door-to-door salesperson job. (Yes I know, annoying! But for most people we were really offering a cheaper alternative to their energy supplier).
One of the rules we were taught was ‘Three nos and then you go’. Now not all salespeople will respect those rules. But many will, hopefully because they are ethical. But in the case of a manipulator, they will realize that you are serious and they are wasting their time.
Simply say no politely and firmly. If they don’t stop or go after the third no, you can go.
8) Close the conversation
Another technique that salespeople sometimes use is ‘closing the deal’. So instead of asking you if you want to buy something or not, they say, ‘How would you like to pay – cash or card?’ This gives you two options, both of which they want.
Another way to do this is by asking a question that the other person can’t realistically say no to, such as – ‘We all want to save money right?’
You can reverse this and close the conversation. How? Tell the person ‘Thanks, but I’m really not interested and I have to go now. Is that ok?’ The magic is in the last sentence. Oftentimes the manipulator will be so surprised by your question that will have nothing to say to this other than yes.
Because how can they really say no to that? Boom! You just closed the closer!
Being manipulated can be an awful experience. Hopefully, these tips will help you to stand your ground and resist their games.
But if this isn’t enough or you’re feeling a lot of pressure, unhappiness, or powerless, consult friends and family, or people in authority.
Always remember your boundaries and stay true to them. And don’t be afraid to ask others to advocate for you if that’s what’s needed.