Manipulation is essentially about getting the upper hand. And the perpetrator will try all sorts of tactics to get the power in your relationship.
Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious that this is happening, especially when you’re in the thick of it.
Beware! If someone shows these behaviors, they might be a covert manipulator.
1) Playing the victim
The tricky thing about control is that it doesn’t always happen through displays of strength. Many manipulators take on the persona of weakness in order to use that against you.
They want you to feel sorry for them. Pity can be a big manipulation tool.
They try to present an image where they are wronged and the victim. They want to be seen as weak so they can wrap you around their finger.
Guilt and shame are especially effective as they so often live in the shadows. They are the parts we are hesitant to admit to others and keep to ourselves.
A covert manipulator can use this in order to try to make you feel responsible for them. They want or expect you to act in certain ways to make them feel better.
When you don’t? Well, it’s all your fault…
3) The blame game
Covert manipulators can be skilled at turning things around so you are always the one to blame.
You may find yourself discussing something inappropriate that they did, yet they manage to shift it back onto you.
Perhaps they do so by bringing up the past or making excuses for why you “made them” act a certain way through something you said or did.
4) Keeping you in the dark and telling lies
We all tell lies, but overwhelmingly they are so-called “white lies” and often used to spare people’s feelings and get along better.
On the other hand, as Dr. Ronald Schouten, director of law and psychiatry services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston explains, when it comes to manipulators it’s different:
“These are people who are pervasive chronic liars, about things big and small. They will lie almost reflexively and also engage in very predatory, planned lying. They really enjoy pulling a fast one on other people, and they don’t feel bad about doing it.”
5) Sucking up to you
Oddly enough, trying to win favor can be a common manipulation technique.
It’s a way of ingratiating themselves to you. After all, it can be far easier to control someone once you have gotten into their good books.
But once they do, this can lead to unreasonable favors, pressure, and guilt trips later down the line.
6) Love bombing
Love bombing is a more extreme version of simply sucking up. It’s woo-ing to the extreme.
It’s common in romantic relationships that happen in a whirlwind fashion. It comes along with extreme flattery, praise, lavish gifts, and constant attention.
But it’s a way of winning you over in order to gain status in your life so they can then start to manipulate you.
7) Sulking and the silent treatment
Many forms of manipulation will occur on some level in relationships all around the world. Passive aggression is most certainly one of them.
It can arise from a lack of healthy communication skills. But nevertheless, whether it’s intentional or not, it’s still manipulative.
It’s things like:
- A refusal to communicate
- Going quiet and withdrawing
- Not explaining what is wrong but clearly acting like there is a problem
Often sulking and silent treatments can go hand in hand with, or lead to, the next passive-aggressive move on our list.
8) Withholding affection and attention as punishment
The thinking is:
You have been bad (by not doing or saying what I want) and so I will punish you for that.
If the carrot is getting their affection and attention they they will also use it as a stick to hurt you.
It’s a negative reinforcement designed to show you the consequences of not going along with their wishes.
9) Isolating you
From the outside looking in, isolation can seem obvious. But when you’re on the inside you don’t always notice it happening.
Yet slowly but surely, the manipulator manages to discourage and cut you off from other sources of connection in your life.
That might be family, friends, work, interests, or anything that doesn’t center around them.
It’s an attempt to dissolve your solo identity and merge it with their own.
10) Constantly criticizing
Living under a barrage of critique starts to strip away your self-esteem and self-worth.
Some parents use criticism to pressure their children into following plans that they think are for the best. They may not even realize they are doing it.
But you can feel like nothing you do is good enough. No matter what, it’s you that’s always in the wrong.
It can be emotionally draining to have to defend and justify yourself as you are told about your “failures” all the time but are never praised for what you’re doing right.
11) Making threats and emotional blackmail
I had an ex who was in an abusive relationship with his previous girlfriend before me. She would threaten to kill herself whenever he tried to leave.
He felt paralyzed by her threats, taking responsibility for her wellbeing. He couldn’t bare the thought of something happening and it being “his fault”.
Threats can be a crippling way of controlling and manipulating. But not all are as obvious as this example.
You may live under the threat that if you ever disagree, this person will go cold on you.
They make you feel responsible for their happiness and well-being. You feel guilty about “making them feel bad” so avoid rocking the boat as much as possible.
12) Ganging up on you
Getting someone else involved in manipulation is referred to as triangulation.
A third person is brought into things in order to back them up. The intention is usually to justify their views and opinions and make you feel insecure.
13) Ignoring or disregarding your boundaries
Being pushy is a form of manipulation.
That means when someone pretty much steamrolls over your wishes or words.
Your personal boundaries, choices, and right to autonomy are not respected.
You may have clearly said no, but they continue to put pressure on you.
14) Not giving you time to think
Some of those pressures that are put on you can be as simple as not giving you the time to make decisions for yourself.
Putting you on the spot is an unreasonable manipulation tactic that people may use to get you to quickly say yes without thinking too much.
15) Denying their behavior is problematic
Denial can be one of the most frustrating aspects of manipulation. Because it leaves you wondering if it’s you, not them.
Perhaps you are reading too much into things or have got it wrong?
The aim is to cause doubt and confusion about behavior that you may feel in your gut isn’t right.
In some cases, this denial can lead to flat-out gaslighting.
This often rears its ugly head in abusive relationships.
It’s a covert emotional abuse where you are bullied into believing a false narrative. In that narrative, you are the problem.
They may try to convince you that your recollection of events and facts is totally off.
Your thoughts, memories, and perception of reality are questioned so much that you’re made to feel like you’re going crazy.
17) Always wanting to be in charge
Control is the ultimate aim of manipulation. They want to be in the driving seat, and don’t like it when they’re not.
So you may find that a covert manipulator always needs to be in charge and make the decisions. Both big and small.
They want to choose everything from where you go to eat to what time you meet. They’re not accommodating of your needs and wants, it’s all centered around their own.
18) Projecting onto you
In reality, it’s about them, but they are projecting it onto you.
The classic example is the cheat who accuses their partner of being unfaithful.
They distract and detract from their own behavior by suggesting that you are the one who is doing wrong.
19) Talking bad about you, spreading rumors or gossip
Smear campaigns are a tool to try to keep you in line.
They are simultaneously a punishment and a future threat. They are an attempt to let you know that “crossing” them won’t be tolerated without consequences.
Ultimately, the person who does it is the one who is feeling threatened. That’s why they are lashing out to try and get back the power they feel they lost.
20) Snide remarks, put-downs, and cruel jokes
Disparaging comments to your face are all about trying to “put you in your place”.
Many will present themselves in a passive-aggressive way. They may be purposely subtle so that they can be later denied.
Perhaps you’re told that you are being “too sensitive”.
They can masquerade as jokes or just harmless fun. But if they make you feel bad then they can’t simply be dismissed under the guise of humor.
21) Using your insecurities against you
If we care about someone or simply have respect for them, we should aim to soothe insecurities.
That’s why if someone seeks to use yours against you, they do not have your best interest at heart. They have their own.
Perhaps they know you have a fear of abandonment, so this is the string they try to pull in order to get you to do what they want.
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