If someone is playing manipulative games with you, they’ll display these 9 subtle behaviors

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Manipulation is quite different from influence, and it can be tricky to spot.

Manipulators maneuver people to do what they want, often hiding their true intentions. It’s a subtle game, and if you’re not careful, you may not even realize you’re a player.

So how can you tell if someone is pulling your strings? Well, there are some quiet behaviors that manipulators exhibit.

In this article, I’ll reveal nine subtle signs that someone might be playing manipulative games with you. Keep reading if you want to stay ahead of the game.

1) They’re always playing the victim

In the grand theater of manipulation, the manipulator often assumes the role of the victim.

Playing the victim is a common strategy for manipulators. It allows them to shift blame, create guilt, and garner sympathy. It’s a powerful position from which they can direct others’ actions and reactions.

If someone continually presents themselves as a victim, despite evidence to the contrary, it could be a sign they’re using manipulation tactics.

Bear in mind that true victims exist and deserve empathy. But constant victimhood, especially when used to deflect blame or criticism, is often a manipulative tactic.

2) They’re consistently undermining your self-confidence

Manipulators can be experts at chipping away at your self-confidence. It’s a rather insidious tactic that can slowly but surely lead you to question your own abilities and worth.

I remember a past colleague of mine, who always had a way of making me feel less competent. She would subtly belittle my ideas in meetings, regularly pointing out how her own ideas were more “practical” or “efficient.”

At first, I brushed it off as her being more experienced in the field. But when she started commenting on seemingly minor errors in my work – errors that had no real impact on the overall project – I started to see a pattern.

It was subtle, but over time, her constant criticism began to erode my confidence. I found myself second-guessing my decisions, even in areas I was previously confident.

This undermining of self-confidence is a classic manipulative behavior. By making you doubt yourself, the manipulator hopes to make you more dependent on them, and easier to control.

3) They use guilt trips to control you

Guilt is a powerful emotion, and manipulators know how to use it to their advantage. They might remind you of past mistakes or obligations to sway your decisions in their favor.

Psychologists have found that guilt can actually make people feel physically heavier and more burdened. Manipulators leverage this emotional weight to control your actions and decisions.

For instance, they might say something like, “After all I’ve done for you, you can’t even do this simple thing for me?” This type of statement is designed to make you feel obligated and guilty for not complying with their request.

4) They always need to have the last word

Manipulators often feel the need to have the last word in any conversation or argument. This isn’t about achieving resolution or mutual understanding, but rather about asserting control and maintaining dominance.

They may keep the conversation going until they’ve worn you down and you just give in. Or they might use certain phrases, like “I’m not going to argue with you,” as a way to shut down any further discussion while making it seem like they’re taking the high road.

This behavior is designed to make you feel like your thoughts and feelings are invalid or less important than theirs. It’s a subtle way of undermining your confidence and maintaining control.

5) They give you the silent treatment

The silent treatment is a form of emotional manipulation that can be incredibly damaging. It involves ignoring or excluding you until you comply with their wishes.

When someone uses the silent treatment, they are attempting to control your behavior by withholding their attention and affection. It’s a way of punishing you without saying a word.

The goal is to make you feel guilty, anxious, or uncomfortable enough to give in to their demands. It’s a way of indirectly expressing their displeasure while maintaining a façade of innocence.

6) They play on your fears

Manipulators are skilled at identifying your insecurities and fears, and they won’t hesitate to use them against you.

For example, if they know you dread confrontation, they may threaten to argue or create a scene to get you to comply with their wishes. Or if they know you fear abandonment, they might hint at leaving or ending your relationship.

This is not only manipulative but deeply hurtful. It takes your vulnerabilities – things you’ve likely shared in confidence – and uses them as weapons.

It’s important to remember that everyone has fears and insecurities. But in a healthy relationship, these should be things that bring you closer together, not tools for control and manipulation.

7) They’re hot and cold with their affections

Manipulators often use affection as a tool, turning it on and off to control you. One moment they’re showering you with love and attention, the next they’re distant and unresponsive.

I’ve experienced this firsthand in a past relationship. My partner would be incredibly loving and attentive one day, only to become distant and cold the next. It was confusing and hurtful, leaving me in a constant state of uncertainty about his feelings for me.

This is a classic manipulation tactic known as “love bombing.” It’s designed to keep you off-balance and questioning your worth. The goal is to make you work harder for their affection and approval, giving them more control over you.

8) They twist your words

Manipulators are experts at twisting words and distorting reality. They may take something you said and twist it to fit their narrative, making you question your own memory and perception.

This tactic, often referred to as “gaslighting,” can be incredibly disorienting. It’s designed to make you doubt your own experiences and trust in their version of events instead.

For example, they might deny saying something hurtful or insist that a conflict was your fault, even when it wasn’t. Over time, this can lead you to question your own sanity, making you more susceptible to their control.

9) They make you feel like everything is your fault

Perhaps the most damaging manipulative tactic is when someone makes you feel like everything is your fault. This behavior can be so subtle and insidious that you start to believe it yourself.

Manipulators are experts at shifting blame. They have an uncanny ability to make you feel responsible for their actions and feelings.

If you find yourself constantly apologizing, if you’re always the one at fault in every situation, or if you’re made to feel guilty for things out of your control, then chances are you’re dealing with a manipulator.

Final thoughts: Knowledge is power

Understanding the subtle behaviors of manipulation can be a potent tool in your arsenal. Knowledge, as they say, is power.

Becoming aware of these signs can help you identify when someone is using manipulative tactics, allowing you to take steps to protect yourself.

Everyone deserves respect, honesty, and genuine affection in their interactions with others. Don’t let anyone manipulate your feelings or decisions. Stand firm in your truth and trust your instincts.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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