If you notice these 13 signs, you’re dealing with a master manipulator

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Interacting with a master manipulator is draining.

Before you know it, you find yourself confused, tired, isolated, and on edge.

Even worse, they can appear charming and well-intentioned, making it much harder to recognize them for who they are.

The solution?

You can familiarize yourself with what counts as worrisome behavior.

If you notice these 13 signs, you’re dealing with a master manipulator.

Extract yourself from the situation ASAP.

1) Your expectations feel too high

When you’re in a relationship with a master manipulator – be it romantic, professional, or friendly – you feel like your expectations from them are through the roof.

In a healthy relationship, the other person recognizes your needs and does their best to meet them because they want you to be happy.

A good partner wants you to feel comfortable and valued.

An understanding supervisor won’t threaten to fire you for leaving early to deal with an emergency. 

A solid friend will comfort you if you’re going through a difficult time. 

Master manipulators, however, mainly think about themselves.

They offer the bare minimum to make sure you don’t jump ship but don’t expect them to bend over backward to accommodate you.

If the relationship is romantic or friendly, they’re also prone to love bombing, so you might feel flattered and touched by their fantastic behavior in the early days.

Once things settle down, you’ll keep chasing that initial high, only to come up empty.

2) You’re always apologizing for something

Master manipulators know how to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, which gives them the upper hand in the relationship.

As a result, if you constantly find yourself apologizing, even though you’re not sure you did anything worth apologizing for, you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

This type of manipulation is especially common during conflict.

If you’re the one who brings up a problem you would like to discuss, but end the conversation by saying you’re sorry you even mentioned it, keep your guard up.

Your relationship might not be as nurturing as you’d hoped.  

3) You doubt your recollection of events

Another thing a master manipulator excels at?

Gaslighting.

They twist the facts to the point where you doubt your own recollection of events.  

When you point out that their behavior was hurtful, for example, they insist that you misremember what went down and minimize their wrongdoing.

They can be so convincing that you’re left scratching your head, wondering if you’re making a big deal out of nothing.   

Other forms of gaslighting include:

  • Denying that they’re lying even when you confront them with proof
  • Telling you that you’re overreacting when you bring up legitimate concerns
  • Refusing to listen to you when you address their gaslighting tendencies

4) They don’t take responsibility for their actions…

On the same note, it’s rare for a master manipulator to be accountable for their actions.

When you call them out on something they did to hurt you, they shift the blame by suggesting that if you behaved “better” they wouldn’t be “forced” to mistreat you.

When they make a mistake, instead of apologizing they change the subject or sweep the problem under the rug.

It’s not their fault when something goes wrong because of one of their bad choices. The universe hates them.    

This gets exhausting quickly. 

You can’t rely on them, which brings me to my next point.

5) … and don’t keep promises

Master manipulators may promise you the moon and the stars, but they never deliver.

Their actions don’t match their words. While they know what to say to keep you close, their behavior is another thing entirely.

As a matter of fact, they excel at giving you just enough attention to cling to them.

When it comes to following through on their promises, they’re nowhere to be found.

6) You can’t be 100% yourself around them

If you feel you have to walk on eggshells around them, you might be dealing with a master manipulator.

While your heart and brain can take a while to figure out what’s going on, your intuition is the first to realize that something is wrong and warn you about it.

As a result, you start to monitor yourself around them, even if you’re unsure why.

In reality, you’re afraid to set off their displeasure or anger, which can trigger their manipulative behavior.

It’s not a sustainable way to live. 

If you can’t be yourself around someone, you’re better off alone.

7) The relationship is one-sided

In a nurturing relationship, both sides put in the effort required to make it work.

Life happens, and sometimes one person gives 80% while the other can only manage 20%. 

But the tide turns eventually, and the person who contributed less makes up for it.

When you’re dealing with a master manipulator, the scale is rigged in their favor.

You’re the only one to compromise or make sacrifices.

You put your needs second to cater to theirs.

Their issues are all that matters.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you’re being played.

The sooner you realize it, the sooner you can find a relationship that’s better suited for you.    

8) Your self-worth plummets

Master manipulators are skilled at identifying your insecurities and using them against you.

They know how to push your buttons, and they can make you feel unworthy in an instant.

Moreover, they often disguise their negative comments as a joke or backhanded compliment.

Their remarks can sound something like this:

  • That dress looks so good on you. No one will be able to tell you’ve gained weight.
  • You have a big presentation tomorrow? I would be worried if I were you.
  • I’m glad you got that promotion; I guess spending all your time at the office pays off.
  • You got upset because I made fun of you? I was only joking!

9) They play down your achievements…

Speaking of damaging your self-worth, master manipulators tend to minimize your achievements.

They don’t want you to become too confident, so they can be reluctant to recognize your hard work or celebrate your wins.

Life is short. Don’t let them steal your joy.

10) … and their problems are always worse

Similarly, when you go to them with a problem, they point out how much worse their own issues are.

I used to have this friend who needed to be the center of the universe.

Oh, the guy I was seeing turned out to be a bad match? Her boyfriend is the worst.

I’m worried about my dwindling savings. She’s scared she won’t even be able to make rent.

If I’m having a hard time at work, she’s on the brink of getting fired.

You get the idea.

I finally stopped making plans to hang out. I never regretted my decision. 

11) You’re distancing yourself from your other loved ones

Master manipulators like to have you all to themselves, so they might go as far as encouraging you to cut ties with other loved ones.

This mainly applies to romantic relationships, when a partner disguises their actions as support.

They may suggest that the other loved ones don’t have your best interest at heart or that they’re taking advantage of you – when, in fact, the manipulator is the only one doing that.

Once you’re isolated, you have a harder time leaving the relationship for good.

12) They play mind games

If you’ve ever interacted with a master manipulator, you know that they play mind games to get what they want.

They use your feelings against you, guilt-trip you, withhold affection (the dreaded silent treatment), or give ultimatums to keep you around.   

Here are some phrases to look out for:

  • If you would really love me, you would do that.
  • If you cared about your job, you would stay overtime.  
  • I wouldn’t be able to care for myself if you weren’t around.
  • I didn’t respond to your text because it’s obvious you don’t want to talk to me.   

13) You question your sanity

Finally, master manipulators are so skilled at messing with you that you begin to question your sanity.

You can’t tell whether your feelings are valid, you can’t remember the last time you thought about what you want from life, and you find it hard to discern between reality and what they tell you is true.  

No one should be treated this way.

Bottom line

If you recognize the warning signs above, don’t beat yourself up.

Master manipulators excel at what they do. 

They test the waters and employ subtle tactics at first, so it’s easy to make excuses for them.

Once you determine that the relationship isn’t healthy, end it. 

If that’s not possible – for instance, the manipulator is a close relative or co-worker – set clear boundaries to protect your mental health.

You deserve to live the life you want, not one dictated by others. 

Related:

16 signs you’re actually quite resilient, even if you don’t feel strong

10 signs you’re only in a relationship because you’re lonely