Many times, we’re being manipulated, and we don’t realize it until it’s already too late. The thing is, manipulators look just like us. They don’t look like Bond villains. Most of them are also charming on the surface.
All of this makes it tough to recognize a manipulator trying to use or control us.
However, there are some typical manipulative behaviors that reveal whether someone is a covert manipulator.
Here’s what these behaviors are:
1) Subtle manipulation
Unlike overt manipulators, who regularly use aggressive or obvious tactics, covert manipulators use subtler techniques.
They use tactics like passive resistance, silent treatment, or emotional withdrawal to manipulate situations and people without appearing too obvious.
For example, they share a made-up story with you about how they’re being mistreated by their family to gain your sympathy and support.
They use their “emotional vulnerability” as leverage to get you to do things for them, even if it’s inconvenient for you.
2) Deflecting blame
Hidden manipulators also consistently avoid taking responsibility for their actions. They’re skilled at shifting the focus away from their own mistakes or wrongdoings.
They love pointing fingers at others, external circumstances, or by making excuses. They learned that they can get away with avoiding facing consequences every time.
If you’re around them long enough, you see through their strategy, but the problem is that others might not believe you if you tell them about it.
If you go to your boss about your co-worker’s manipulative behavior, chances are, the boss will stand by them and defend them.
Why? Because the covert manipulator is successfully manipulating them, too. And oftentimes, they’ll accuse you of bullying them and play the victim card.
3) Playing the victim
They’re simply adept at portraying themselves as the victim in various situations. They exaggerate their own suffering or paint themselves as the ones who’ve been mistreated.
This earns them sympathy and support from others, making it challenging for you to confront their behavior.
They suddenly completely change and become vulnerable or emotional to gain empathy and reinforcement.
That’s why it’s so difficult to expose them to others. They don’t behave like the rest of us. Lying, pretending, and manipulating are second nature to these people, and most of us aren’t equipped to deal with them.
Here’s something else that’s interesting about their messed-up behavior.
We’ve all seen it countless times: The holier-than-thou is the one who’s doing the very thing they’re preaching against.
Manipulators project their own negative traits or actions onto others. They accuse their targets of the very behaviors they themselves engage in, deflecting attention away from their own actions.
Which leads us to this:
5) Passive-aggressive communication
Instead of openly addressing issues or conflicts or telling it as it is, secret manipulators rely on passive-aggressive communication.
This includes sarcasm, backhanded compliments, or even subtle jabs to express dissatisfaction without being too confrontational.
To be frank, parents often use this on their kids. They use passive-aggressive comments like, “I’m sure you know what’s best for you,” when their kid is going to make a decision they disagree with.
This is a subtle way of saying how much they disagree without openly saying it. If you think about your childhood, I’m sure you can remember moments like these.
And here’s something else many parents use, especially moms.
Manipulators frequently use guilt as a tool to control others. They say things like, “If you cared about me, you would do this for me,” in an attempt to make you feel responsible for their happiness.
My parents still use it on me, and even my wife. They desperately want us to move to our hometown. That’s something I can’t even imagine, yet almost every time we talk, they’re asking about it.
Sure, I understand they want us to be closer to them, but that’s just not something we want to do. That town is like a black hole for ambition.
7) Withholding information
Most manipulators also love withholding important information. By controlling the flow of information, they can shape narratives and manipulate situations to their advantage.
This leaves others in the dark about key details or their true intentions.
They often conveniently forget past agreements, promises, or commitments when it suits their agenda.
And when they use selective memory to their advantage, you’re often left feeling confused and frustrated.
Instead of outright lying, some manipulators selectively reveal only partial truths, leaving out crucial information to mislead or deceive others.
You can imagine how this can make it challenging to see the full picture.
But, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. They frequently change and adjust their version of events or stories to suit their needs.
This inconsistency makes it almost impossible for you to establish the truth or hold them accountable for their actions.
It all comes down to testing how far they can go. They push everyone’s limits as far as they can.
8) Boundary pushing
Instead of respecting personal boundaries, manipulators constantly test and push these limits.
They use subtle tactics to breach boundaries, leaving you feeling uncomfortable or unsure about arguing your own needs and limits.
For example, when they’re in a relationship, they flirt with others, even though they know it makes their partner uncomfortable.
When confronted, they downplay it, saying, “I was just being friendly.” Yeah, right.
This example is also an illustration of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a well-known manipulative technique where the manipulator denies facts or events to make you doubt your own reality.
They insist that something didn’t happen when it did, leading you to question your memory, saneness, and judgment.
To combat gaslighting, keep a record of incidents where you feel gaslit. Reflect on them to validate your experiences and emotions.
They can also serve as proof if you need to expose or confront them.
10) Insincere flattery
We all love getting compliments. I know this, you know this, but they also know this. Unlike a genuine compliment, which we use to express something we notice about a person, manipulators use compliments insincerely as a means to an end.
They praise or flatter people excessively. Often to gain trust, lower defenses, or manipulate the person into doing something they want.
And when they don’t get what they want, well, then they do this:
11) Conflict escalation
Most regular folks don’t like fighting with others and don’t like getting into conflicts with their co-workers, friends, and family.
But, instead of seeking resolution in conflicts, covert manipulators escalate them. They do this to quickly and easily maintain control or divert attention from their own behavior.
The best way to do this is to turn minor disagreements into major disputes.
For example, you and your partner have a minor clash about household chores. The manipulative partner brings up unrelated past mistakes you’ve made, turning a small issue into a major fight by dredging up old grievances.
In the end, they get away with not doing the chores.
This is something I hate the most. You see, when I dealt with a covert manipulator at my former workplace, I tried dealing with them personally without including our manager or other colleagues.
But that’s easier said than done. Covert manipulators look to divide and conquer. They involve another person in conflicts or situations to manipulate emotions and have people loyal to them stand in their defense.
By creating divisions or competition, they control and manipulate everyone involved to their advantage.
13) Undermining your self-esteem
I can’t finish this article without mentioning how much manipulators love undermining people’s self-esteem.
Covert manipulators subtly chip away at your self-esteem through subtle criticism, belittling comments, or comparisons to others.
For instance, a manipulative partner makes subtle comments about your appearance, like saying, “You used to look so good when we first met,” implying that you’ve let yourself go or aren’t as attractive anymore.
Now, thick-skinned people can laugh at this and dismiss it, but for others, over time, comments like these erode their self-confidence to a great degree.
I hope this article helped you understand manipulators more and that recognizing a covert one isn’t that difficult if you know what to look for.
At least then, you can stand up to them in one way or another.