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Manipulative people: 6 things they do (and how to handle them)

Image credit: Shutterstock - By Roman Kosolapov

There’s no denying that relationships are complicated.

Whether you are talking about friendships, family relationships, or romantic encounters, the relationships in our lives can either enrich our experience on earth, or make it terrible.

When faced with a manipulating person, it can feel like you are trapped.

Manipulating people can be hard to spot, and even harder to deal with because they have a knack for making you feel like you are the problem.

If you have found yourself in the presence of someone who is manipulating you, or you suspect they might be, here’s how you can tell.

1) They believe their approach is the right one.

Someone who is hell-bent on manipulating another person is going to stand their ground, no matter what.

They tend to be very vocal about how their approach to a particular problem or situation is the only one that will work and they need everyone to get on board.

There are several reasons for this; particularly, manipulating people need to control the situation and what people see in order to remain in control.

If they are lying about something or they are trying to cover something up, staying in control is the best way to ensure they are not found out.

According to Abigail Brenner M.D. in Psychology Today, manipulative people “truly believe that their way of handling a situation is the only way because it means that their needs are being met, and that’s all that matters.”

If you feel like you are dealing with someone who never gives you an inch even if you give them a mile, you might have a classic manipulator on your hands.

2) They cross lines in your relationship.

Manipulators will everything in their power to get you to feel small and unworthy of their attention and love.

They’ll cross lines that make you question your sanity and you’ll end up feeling like the demise of your relationship is your fault.

Sharon Martin says in Psych Central that “people who are manipulative, narcissistic and have a poor sense of self tend to repeatedly violate personal boundaries.”

If you tell them not to do something, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll do it the very next chance they get.

It’s not because they are bad people, though. It’s because they need to be the ones in charge, no matter what.

It’s like trying to deal with a toddler who won’t stop throwing temper tantrums because they want candy in the store.

Manipulators cross boundaries to get their own way.

And if you don’t have boundaries yourself, then you might be a prime target for a manipulative person.

Professional clinical counselor Maryann W. Mathai tells Bustle that “unfortunately, emotional manipulators often play the victim and prey on compassionate caretakers who have poor (or no) boundaries.”

3) They blame you for their problems.

If you are dealing with someone you think might be manipulating you, consider how many times you walk away from a conversation with them feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty about making their situation worse.

This is known as “gaslighting” where manipulation is used to get people to question themselves and what they did wrong.

Therapist Sharie Stines says in Time that if you’re being gaslighted, you might feel a sense of guilt or defensiveness – like you’ve done something wrong.

In reality, this is what Stines calls “manipulators blame” because “they don’t take responsibility”.

If you are dealing with a manipulator, both of these statements will be true. Manipulators have a way of skirting blame and pointing fingers at other people.

They’ll blame you and other people for everything from why they don’t make enough money in their jobs to why they couldn’t get concert tickets on Saturday night.

They are master artists when it comes to ensuring that they have no responsibility for their own lives.

4) They play on your emotions.

Manipulative people are cunning and sly and can work a situation or a work with a sense of confidence that makes you feel icky.

Not only do they undermine people right in front of them, but they also have a tendency to make you feel bad about your emotions.

When you feel sad, they have a cunning way of making you feel sad that you feel sad.

According to Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP in Health Line, if you’re upset, a manipulative person may try to make you feel guilty for your feelings.

They may use phrases like “If you really loved me, you’d never question me” or “I couldn’t take that job. I wouldn’t want to be away from my kids so much.”

They make you feel guilty when you try to talk to them about their ways and they make you feel less worthy of things you already have and relationships that otherwise felt like they were going well.

If they know you are an emotional person, they’ll use that against you in order to get the upper hand.

5) It feels like you are talking to a brick wall.

Manipulative types are hard and fast in their thinking. It’s a defense mechanism, but it is also a tool that they use to gain control of the situation.

If you approach someone who you believe is manipulating you and you try to talk to them, they’ll shut down.

Preston Ni M.S.B.A. says in Psychology Today that manipulative people tend to partake in the “playing dumb game”:

“By pretending she or he doesn’t understand what you want, or what you want her to do, the manipulator/passive-aggressive makes you take on what is her responsibility, and gets you to break a sweat.”

Often, they’ll turn the conversation on you and make you feel like a bad person for even bringing it up in the first place.

They’ll just sit there looking smug and be short with you, saying things such as, “yup, okay, fine, great, mmmhmmm.”

It’s annoying and makes you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere with them.

6) What they say and what they do don’t match.

The best way to tell if someone is trying to manipulate you or is a manipulative person, in general, is to watch their actions.

If they say one thing and do another, it’s likely that they are trying to hide something or are not true to their word.

According to Abigail Brenner M.D. in Psychology Today to spot a manipulative people you should “characterize people by their actions and you will never be fooled by their words. Always remember that what a person says and does are two very separate things.”

We can’t always understand why people do the things they do, but one thing is for sure: if someone is lying to you about where they are, what they have been doing, or who they have been with, something’s not right.

The hard part about being manipulated is that you are left reeling from being taken advantage of, and at the same time, you are left trying to deal with someone who doesn’t live up to their word.

Take Back Control: How to Deal with Manipulative People

It takes all kinds of people to make this world an interesting place.

Respecting and loving each other is always the goal, but sometimes, we counter people who seem to be doing things on purpose so that we’ll neither respect them, nor love them.

People who have a tendency to manipulate often don’t have close relationships, but the ones they do have are lived on eggshells and the tension is palpable.

If you are trying to deal with someone who is manipulating you, you’ve got a few choices. The first is to decide to do something about it.

The second is to be willing to walk away from whatever situation that is in order to ensure your safety.

Manipulation is about power, control, and in some cases, cruelty.

Here are 4 tips to help you deal with manipulative people:

1) Level the playing field.

When it comes to dealing with someone who is manipulating you, the first step in dealing with them is to make sure you are in a safe place.

Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP, offers some great advice in Psychology Today:

“If you need to disengage, be sure to set physical limits: Leave the room, exit the apartment, or lock the door. Stop the car, or refuse to drive with the other person. Spend time with the person only when a third party is present. Stop reading his or her emails or texts. Set limits that will preserve your safety, as well as your peace of mind.”

Before you confront someone who is manipulative, make a date to go to a local coffee shop or restaurant where they can’t get overly outrageous and freak out on you.

This kind of atmosphere will also help to keep your own emotions in check because once you let the floodgates go, you might be overcome with rage or frustration.

It’s best to ensure that your conversation happens in a place where you can speak frankly, but without making a scene.

If your manipulator is physically hurting you, this is also the safest way to deal with them.

Classic manipulators and abusers don’t look like they would hurt a fly, but behind closed doors, others are not safe.

2) Avoid blame.

When you sit down to talk about how you have been feeling and what you have been seeing, be sure to not blame them for their actions.

Sure, they need to take responsibility for the way they treat you, but you don’t need to blame them to get them to own up to it.

According to Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP in Health Line “don’t try to beat them. Two people shouldn’t play this game.”

The truth is that if someone knows they are manipulating you, they’ll be very unlikely to stop. If, however, you suspect that this person has no idea how they are treating you, ensuring you don’t place blame can go a long way in reopening the relationship.

Not all manipulators set out to hurt people. Many just work with what they have to turn the situation in their favor; a conversation about how you feel can help turn the tides back to an equal playing field.

3) Hold your ground.

If, of course, you find yourself confronted with a true manipulator who is going to great lengths to make your life miserable, you’ll need to hold your ground when you confront them about it.

This means that no matter what happens, you will stand up for yourself and be clear about what you will and will not put up with.

Preston Ni M.S.B.A. in Psychology Today offers some great advice:

“The single most important guideline when you’re dealing with a psychologically manipulative person is to know your rights, and recognize when they’re being violated. As long as you do not harm others, you have the right to stand up for yourself and defend your rights.”

It’s tricky to advise on what is the right answer about how people should be treated because everyone needs something different, so if you feel like what you are getting is not good enough or is hurting you in some way, say it.

And then stand your ground. Don’t let them twist and turn the situation so that you look like the bad guy – classic manipulator moe.

Don’t stand for that kind of treatment. Decide ahead of time what the consequences are for this person choosing not to obey your requests.

4) Be clear about what you believe is happening.

An important part about dealing with someone who has manipulative tendencies is that you need to be very clear about what they are doing that is hurting you and how they are doing it.

You don’t need to try to explain it away, and you don’t need to ask them questions about why they do the things they do.

You do, however, need to make sure you can give examples of how they have been treating you and how you would prefer to be treated.

It’s not an easy conversation to have and the likelihood of them attacking you as a way to protect themselves is quite high.

When it comes to dealing with a manipulative person, you need to be clear about what you want, need, and expect from them. If they can’t deliver, it might be time to move on.

When you’re talking with a manipulative person, Loren Soeiro, Ph.D. ABPP reminds that it’s important that you stick to our original point:

“If the other person tries to pivot to another topic, confuse the issue, or shift the responsibility onto you, don’t be distracted. In confrontations like these, you’re very likely to be emotionally provoked or overstimulated, but try to stick to your original point.”

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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