When we think of a master manipulator, we think of some eerie and malevolent puppeteer, orchestrating their schemes in the shadows and pulling at the strings of the worthless dollies.
Yet, these malevolent individuals are often far harder to spot.
Master manipulators are skilled at camouflaging themselves. They hide behind a facade of charm, bewitching us and gradually infiltrating every aspect of our lives.
And regardless of their underlying motives, they share a common objective: to exert control and sway over others.
The tools and techniques they use to do so are often cruel and heartless, even if they don’t look like it on the surface.
If you suspect that you may be in the presence of a master manipulator, it’s time to sharpen your manipulation-detecting skills.
Ready to harden your defenses? Let’s explore 8 key behaviors that reveal these manipulators’ true nature.
1) Love bombing
Master manipulators are masters of excessive flattery and charm, otherwise known as love bombing.
They invest considerable time and effort into elevating you, only to later topple you from the pedestal they’ve constructed.
Their charisma and charm are expertly tailored to capture your heart and make you swoon, making you feel like the most cherished individual in their world.
“You are simply the most amazing and the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. I can’t believe my luck in finding you! I feel like we’re soulmates!”
(It’s your first date.)
2) Targeted compliments and flattery
Once they have an overview of what makes you tick (likely having stalked every inch of your social media and studied you like a zoo animal.
Think Netflix’s You style.
These manipulators will be very capable of praising you in ways that pick up on things you;re conscious of and brighten you up so much you can’t help but start to adore them.
Say you’re a little insecure about your cooking.
“Honestly, I’m shook. I’ve never met a better cook. You must’ve been pulling my leg when you said you couldn’t. You could be a chef!”
Newsflash: your stew sucks.
They’re not just being kind to you either; they’re trying to butter you up and win you over.
3) Oversharing and trauma dumping
To establish a foundation for manipulation, these crafty manipulators need to first garner your trust. How else would you then fall for them if you didn’t trust them in the first place?
They go beyond flattery, offering intimate glimpses into their life (which are often also concocted lies or exaggerations), all shared at a very early stage in the relationship.
Cue trauma-dumping, which is okay at points – when not conducted by someone trying to manipulate you – but still not the healthiest of conversation topics.
They spill all their deepest and darkest secrets, making you feel saddened and begin to pity them, which consequently makes you far more likely to forgive any wrongdoings in the future.
On top of that, you feel honored that they’ve shared this traumatic experience with you.
You feel trusted and seen and worthy, creating an even deeper embedded power imbalance.
Masters of deception, manipulators weave intricate webs of untruths and are excellent gaslighters.
As mentioned above, they may embellish or entirely fabricate elements of their life stories.
They often portray themselves as the victim no matter what, or make up lies altogether that paint them as rich or worthy of your pity or empathetic.
Whatever best suits their narrative at the time.
In addition, they exhibit a remarkable ability to manipulate your perception of reality by suggesting you’re misremembering, or that you’re too sensitive – causing you to question your memory and sanity.
Conversations will look a little like:
“I never said that! You were pretty drunk and you do have a tendency to exaggerate, let’s be real here.”
And even if you know you’re right, when it happens over and over again and you trust them so much, even you start to doubt yourself…
5) Actions that never match the words
Manipulators excel at making grandiose promises, but delivering truly meager results.
They will promise you the world; golden apples, diamond rings, eternal love etc. etc.
And instead you’ll end up crying for days in bed. Or in therapy.
When it comes to actions mattering more than words, take heed.
They’ll likely offer to do so much, but when it comes round to the actual doing, they’re nowhere to be found…
Suddenly, there’s an excuse.
Or gaslighting – they never even agreed to do it in the first place, you liar, gosh aren’t you demanding!
6) One-upping everything you achieve
A puppeteer cannot be usurped by their puppets now, can they?
These manipulators seek the limelight, and will do whatever they can to overshadow your achievements and hardships.
Once you’re out of the love bombing phase and they’ve trapped your attention, you will never again be able to get a decent, sincere crumb of praise.
You might say “I’m so happy! I got promoted today, despite all the competition”.
And forget being patted on the back.
You’ll be met with something along the lines of, “That’s cute. I guess they had to fill the diversity/gender quota, huh?”
(Cue an attempted laugh at what is a ridiculous and offensive statement.)
And dare you try to talk back, you’ll be told you’re too cold and frigid and unable to take a joke. More fool you.
7) Finding your buttons and pushing them
Having gained your trust and delved deep into your life history, manipulators will exploit your vulnerabilities; using your insecurities and personal revelations as ammo.
Mentioned that you don’t feel great in jeans, but brave up to wearing a cute denim outfit?
“Ooh. Interesting. Not my favorite, but good for you…”.
Sure, this is the tip of the iceberg and could even be interpreted as said for your wellbeing.
But it worsens.
They will pick and tear and what they know to be your sore spots – be it your size, your intelligence, your personality – until there’s nothing left but an empty shell.
8) Isolating you from everyone else
It’s far easier to manipulate someone who is alone.
Hence why big predators like lions chase off individual zebras to tear them down.
It works wonderfully in the animal kingdom (if you’re not the prey.)
In a similar manner, manipulators will try to sever your connections to your support network in a subtle yet wiley way – casting doubt on your relationships through fake news.
Their ultimate aim is to ensure that you depend on them alone for emotional support, and that you have no one to turn to.
Your friends are suddenly gossiping behind your back. Your mother hates you. Your colleagues said you were weird.
Part of you knows this can’t be true, but the other part trusts the manipulator so much, you take their word for it and cut off all other ties.
What to do if you suspect a manipulator is at large
If you suspect that you’re dealing with a master manipulator, time to head for the hills.
(Only if it’s safe – please consider these resources if you need additional support and it’s unsafe to leave.)
Master manipulators tend to prey on their targets through a calculated sequence of building trust and then systematically undermining it.
They exploit their victims’ vulnerabilities and erode their self-confidence, leaving them feeling trapped, insecure, and reliant solely on the manipulator.
And yes, I know it can be hard to leave someone you leave – but remember it’s never your responsibility to change or rescue someone else.
Your safety is always paramount.
If you’ve identified a highly manipulative individual and your attempts to address the issue have only led to feeling hurt and diminished, it’s best to remove yourself from the relationship.
Leaving may not be easy, as manipulators tend to cling on and try desperately to win over anyone who tries to leave, but educate yourself about their tactics, stay vigilant, and focus on your self-worth.
Remember: you’re worth far more than playing the pawn in someone else’s game.