There are plenty of manipulation techniques out there, from guilt-tripping to fearmongering and gaslighting.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize we’re being manipulated until much later on, and at that point, we’ve already fallen into the trap.
The best course of action?
Find out as much about the psychology of manipulation as you can beforehand. That way, you won’t be caught off guard if someone tries to use psychological tricks on you.
Ready to be a manipulator’s worst nightmare?
If someone uses these 9 psychological tricks, they’re trying to manipulate you.
I’d say the most famous manipulation technique on this list is probably gaslighting – the term has become quite famous in recent years – so let’s start there.
If someone gaslights you, it means they’re trying to make you doubt your own perception of reality. While this sounds like something you would quite obviously notice, the truth is that gaslighting can be incredibly subtle.
For example, a gaslighter might tell you that they simply don’t remember upsetting you the day before and that you must have gotten it wrong. Since memory is inherently quite malleable, you may begin to doubt whether you really did get things mixed up, whether you really do remember it wrong, and whether you’re going crazy.
Another common gaslighting strategy is to invalidate your feelings.
“Come on, it’s not that big a deal, just move on already.”
“I said I was sorry, what more do you want?! God, you’re so difficult.”
These may not seem like psychological tricks at first glance, but that’s what makes them even more powerful.
Remember that your feelings and concerns are always valid, and someone who genuinely cares about you will do their best to reassure you instead of minimizing your emotions.
Guilt-tripping is yet another well-known manipulation trick – one that’s perhaps even more wicked than gaslighting because it relies on your kindness and love for the person in question.
“It’s your fault that I feel so down. I need you, but no, you have to be busy all day. Busy doing what? What’s more important than me?”
“If you’re not coming over, I might as well not get out of bed. There’s no point.”
“I got you through all your tough times, and you can’t even pick up the phone?”
When someone guilt-trips you, they’re essentially blaming you for their own feelings or actions. If they do something bad, it’s because of you. If they feel sad, you’re the culprit. If you’re not available 24/7, it means you don’t love them.
The issue is that most of us are brimming with love for the people closest to us, and we would never want to intentionally cause them harm. If we’re being guilt-tripped and don’t realize it, we may easily give in.
But guess what? You now know how guilt-tripping works, so you can be much more resilient to it!
If your friend, partner, or family member tries to guilt-trip you and it doesn’t quite work out, they may resort to fearmongering. This is an escalation of their need for emotional validation and attention, and it may lead to some scary or uncomfortable situations.
Fearmongering works on the basis of overexaggeration.
Your partner may threaten that they will harm themselves if you leave them. Your parent might keep overexaggerating the risks of their upcoming surgery to receive more love and reassurance. Your friend might tell you that if you don’t turn up to their party, they won’t be able to count on you again in the future.
Fearmongering is basically forcing a sense of doom and danger into a situation where none is necessary. This can be a very scary manipulation technique that’s undeniably challenging to deal with.
4) Love bombing
Moving on to the challenges of romance, love bombing is a trick that can come across as incredibly alluring at first, which is what makes it so difficult to recognize.
Let’s say you’ve just started dating a new person. His name’s Dave. Dave is incredibly kind and charming, and he seems to be head over heels in love with you.
You’ve only known each other for two weeks, but Dave’s already decided he wants to have a family with you. He thinks you’re the most beautiful person to walk the Earth. He showers you with lavish gifts, takes you on amazing dates, and keeps bombarding your phone with messages about his undying love for you.
Fast-forward to one month later, and Dave has realized that he’s not entirely ready for a relationship. In fact, he’s not even sure about this whole dating thing. He may need to be alone for a while. See ya.
Yup, that’s a classic love-bombing case. People who love-bomb use flattery, gifts, and big confessions of love to get the other person into a relationship as quickly as possible.
Usually, they will either proceed to display controlling behavior in the relationship itself, or they will quickly move on and break up with you.
Breadcrumbing could be described as the opposite of love bombing. It’s when the person you have feelings for keeps stringing you along, disappearing for days, only to pop out of nowhere and raise your hopes again.
In other words, they are super inconsistent with their affection towards you. Where a love bomber sends twenty messages a day and has a bouquet of flowers delivered to your door every week, a breadcrumber tells you how amazing you are and then leaves you on read for five days.
Since their affection is something so very special, you’re on cloud nine each time they reach out to you, only to suffer crushing disappointment once they withdraw again.
The small bits of attention they keep throwing your way are the breadcrumbs, and you are the one picking them off the floor.
No more of that. You deserve more than breadcrumbs. You deserve a whole freaking bakery.
I was once arguing with my friend about something that had happened between us. Then she said, “Look, even Tasha agrees with me. Right, Tasha?”
I didn’t realize it then, but by bringing Tasha into the conflict, my friend was using a psychological trick called triangulation. This occurs when a third person is involved in an argument that should stay between two people.
Triangulation effectively stacks the odds against you because you are now arguing against more than one person. It becomes much more difficult to hold your ground when you’re outnumbered, and you may easily give in to peer pressure.
7) Silent treatment
There’s another common way to handle arguments, and that’s by giving someone the silent treatment.
Unfortunately, silent treatment – aka, pouting and displaying passive-aggressive behavior while refusing to address the issue at hand and leaving your partner to figure it out for themselves – has become so normalized that most people don’t think of it as a manipulation strategy.
But it very much is. The goal of silent treatment is to make you feel confused, unsure of yourself, anxious, guilty, and stressed.
What’s more, it tips the dynamic of the relationship in the pouting person’s favor because you now feel like you need to work hard in order to make up for something, although you don’t know what that “something” even is.
I find projection very interesting. This technique – often subconscious – is all about taking one’s own emotions and projecting them onto someone else.
For instance, your partner may be cross with you about something you did, but instead of confronting you about it in a respectful manner, they will make false assumptions about your behavior and keep asking you why you act so annoyed.
Then they’ll proceed to display their own irritation and anger in response to your presumed negative feelings, although you had none to begin with.
One of the people I know keeps telling others to stop raising their voice when he’s the one shouting. Similarly, someone might tell you to “just chill out” when you’re speaking in a perfectly normal tone of voice and they’re getting increasingly agitated.
9) Fake niceness
As you can probably tell, fake niceness is all about flattery, playing favorites, and pretending to be best buddies.
Your co-worker might keep giving you lovely compliments, but what they truly want is for you to keep covering their shifts.
Your friend may fuss over you when you’re a bit sick, buying you groceries and asking you how you’re doing ten times a day, but their true goal is to show up for you so that they can use that act of kindness against you in the future if needed.
Just like the other psychological tricks mentioned above, fake niceness is an attempt to manipulate you. And while some people don’t realize that they’re doing it, that doesn’t make these manipulation techniques any less harmful.