If someone is trying to manipulate you, they’ll usually display these 13 behaviors

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

There’s a manipulator in all of us. 

I know, that raised my eyebrows, too.

But here’s the explanation from criminal psychology expert Dr Julia Shaw:

Not all manipulators have bad intentions. In some social situations, people do things to suit their needs. But Dr Shaw said they can do this without hurting anyone else.

While I can somehow see where she’s coming from, here’s my take on this:

I wouldn’t interpret it to mean that we should be okay with manipulation. 

I’d take it as a warning to be wary of the signs of manipulation so we can avoid falling victim to the harmful ones. 

That said, here’s a rundown of 13 behaviors people usually display when they are trying to manipulate you:

1) They deliberately exclude you

Have you seen the Mean Girls movie?

If you haven’t, just think of the stereotypical high school “popular” clique. 

You know, the group we see all the time in the movies. That one circle everyone wants to be in, but only a lucky few are “chosen”. 

This group would seem to always have one person left out. A person who’s always ready to do everything and anything they ask for. This person does this just so they can finally be “in” the group.

Don’t be this person. 

If someone makes you “earn” your way into their company, walk away from that manipulative trap!

2) They isolate you

There’s deliberate exclusion to keep you out, and then there’s isolation. 

You know someone is trying to manipulate you if they constantly make you doubt your family and friends. They will keep on doing this until you eventually believe that your loved ones aren’t good for you.

But they don’t stop just there.

They can even go as far as physically moving you away to isolate you from your social circle.

They will go to lengths to cut off as many people as they can from your life. 

Manipulators want you to have no one but them to hold on to. Because only then will you finally be in the palm of their hands.

3) They play on your insecurities

What if I told you manipulators disguise criticisms as jokes so they can play on your insecurities and trample on your self-esteem?

It’s cunning, and pretty effective really.

I mean, think about it:

Because it’s meant to be a “joke”, it’s easy for them to say “I was just kidding” when you or someone else calls them out. 

Plus, society expects us to laugh at jokes, so sometimes, to avoid being labelled a “buzzkill”, we tend to simply laugh it off, and our poor feelings get pushed aside. 

They can make it as lighthearted and as funny as possible, but beware of these derogatory “jokes”.

It could be someone’s way of playing on your self-worth to reinforce their dominance in the relationship.

4) They exploit your weakness

If playing on your insecurities wasn’t enough, manipulative individuals also use your weakness to their advantage.

For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t usually say “NO,” you might see your colleagues always trying to delegate their tasks to you. 

Or you could have friends and family members always asking you for last-minute favors even when they know it’s inconvenient.

Notice the pattern there?  They’re feeding on your weakness – your inability to refuse.

Remember that it’s okay to push back and say NO especially when it means prioritizing yourself and your own wellbeing.

5) They often give backhanded compliments

Next to losing control, there are two things manipulators hate:

Confrontation and taking accountability.

In order to escape conflict and avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, they become passive-aggressive. 

And they usually do this through backhanded compliments

They coat their insults with praises to hide the malice behind their intentions. 

It’s like gifting you with poison wrapped in precious silk cloth – pretty on the outside but deadly on the inside. 

Their compliments sound something like this:

“You’re pretty smart for someone who didn’t finish high school.”

See how one single “compliment” can make you proud yet second-guess yourself and your achievements all at the same time?

6) They go all out

Here’s the deal:

Over-the-top gifts and gestures can be the love language of some people. And that’s admirable. 

But this translates differently in the language of manipulators. For them, love bombing is like giving out IOUs.They want you to somehow feel indebted to them to the point of you avoiding confronting them or seeing them in a bad light because of all the “good” they’ve done.

7) They guilt trip your kind heart

Guilt is part of what makes us human. Unfortunately, so is our kindheartedness.

No one knows this better than manipulators. And that’s why they’re the best when it comes to using these to their advantage.

They love using your guilt to indirectly get you to do something for them.

And if that doesn’t work, they abuse your kindheartedness instead. 

How, you ask?

They will make you feel sorry for them so they get all your sympathy.

Or they will put the blame on someone else, to make it seem like they’re the victim, even if they’re really the villain.

It’s more than okay to be kind, but don’t forget to be alert, too!

Don’t let a manipulative person’s sob story fool you.

8) They love you – only if… 

They can be your partner, family, friends or colleagues, but if there’s a condition attached to their love or attention, be skeptical.

Manipulators are really good at creating an unhealthy environment where you’re always left to feel like you have to earn their affection or approval. 

9) They tell half-truths or whole lies

There are pathological liars who lie as a habit. But then there’s the manipulators who lie not out of habit, but out of selfishness. 

They twist the truth because they either:

(a) want something from you, or 

(b) they want to reaffirm their authority.

So make sure to trust your gut feeling and do a bit of detective work yourself to uncover the real story.

And don’t forget to set boundaries.  You might be surprised to find that telling people you value honesty deters some of them from being manipulative around you.

10) They make you question your reality

The term “gaslighting” has become popular lately. 

But the act in itself has been around for many years. 

Essentially, it’s when someone makes you believe you’re “making things up” or you’re “just seeing things”. 

What they want out of this is you losing confidence in your judgment. And once this happens, they’re hoping that you turn to them for guidance.

So here’s a mantra to avoid falling into someone’s gaslighting tactics:

Stick to your truth, and don’t let anyone mess with it.

11) They create life-or-death situations

The funny irony:

Manipulators downplaying your worries but blowing their dramas out of proportion.

What are they hoping to achieve with this? 

They want you to drop everything so you can attend to them instead. 

That said, think about this:

When their stories seem to be straight out of a telenovela, it’s less about the drama and more about getting you to shift your focus and energy to them.

12) They complain non-stop

Manipulators use incessant complaining as a tool to wear you down until you eventually give in to their whims.

They’re like toddlers who keep saying “moooooommmm it’s soooo hot” on repeat, until their parents cave in and buy them that darned ice cream.

Annoying, sure. But does it work? Absolutely! 

13) They pull you away to push you in 

Here’s what this means:

You know someone’s trying to manipulate you when they first pull you out of your comfort zone, only to push you into your vulnerable zone. 

And if there’s anything we’ve established from this list, it’s that vulnerability is the manipulator’s favorite spot for you. Because that’s where it’s easiest for them to make their move. 

Look at it this way:

When you’re in a new country and you’re not sure how to do things, you end up doing what the locals do, right?

That’s what the manipulators want, too – to make you uncertain and unfamiliar enough that you have no choice but to follow their lead.

Judgment + instinct. All. The. Time.

Let’s recap what we already know so far:

1. We’re all somehow manipulators (at least according to experts).

2. Number 1 doesn’t mean we should be preying on others. 

Let’s add a third thought to wrap things up:

3. We’re also born with intuition and judgment. 

The combination of these two skills are your perfect weapons against the manipulator, as it keeps you ahead of their game. 

Your instincts and sound judgment work together to help you see through their tricks even before they get a chance to hook you into their traps.

Sarah Piluden-Natu-El

Sarah is a full-time mum, wife, and nurse on hiatus turned freelance writer. She is on a journey of diving deeper into life through life itself and uses her writing to share the lessons learned along the way. When not on her computer, she enjoys time with her family strolling along the Gold Coast's stunning beaches and captivating hinterland.

If you really don’t want to stagnate in life, say goodbye to these 8 habits

8 signs your partner will be a good parent, according to psychology