We all interact with different people in our lives, but sometimes these interactions can be more manipulative and nefarious than we’d like to acknowledge.
And if you’re anything like me, you might look back on certain relationships or conversations and struggle to pinpoint why they left you feeling uneasy, used, or unsure of your own judgement.
Or where exactly they went wrong.
You’re left second guessing yourself, wondering how you know if what you experienced was the calculated mind games of a manipulative person…
Or if you’re just experiencing the normal complexities of human interactions, and you’re not dealing with a manipulator at all.
Knowing the difference between the two is key to distinguishing the everyday from the manipulators, and protecting yourself against the latter.
For this, I’ve compiled a list of 6 common mind games that manipulative people often employ to get their way.
If you notice any of these in your everyday relationships, it might be time to reassess the other person’s intentions.
Gaslighting: A classic play in the manipulator’s handbook
Gaslighting (read our handbook here) is a potent psychological tactic often used by manipulative individuals to sow seeds of doubt in a person’s mind. Through criticism and negging, they drive their victims to question their own memory, perception, or sanity – inevitably leading to that person doubting themselves.
You might have experienced this if you’ve ever been made to feel that your feelings or reactions are ‘over the top’, that you’re being ‘crazy’ or ‘overly sensitive’.
The manipulator may insistently deny that certain events occurred or dismiss your recollections as misremembered or exaggerated.
This game is particularly harmful as it can shatter self-esteem and trust in one’s own judgement, making it easier for the manipulator to control and exploit.
Recognizing gaslighting when it occurs is the first step towards reclaiming your sense of self and reality.
Projecting kindness: The manipulator’s deceptive mask
This may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes kindness ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Manipulative people often project an image of kindness and generosity to win your trust and affection, but they tend to have ulterior motives at play…
You might have encountered this when someone showers you with unsolicited favors, gifts, or compliments. These are only given in a transactional manner; I scratch your back, you’re scratching mine for the next 10 years. In other words, creating a sense of indebtedness.
The manipulator uses these gestures not out of genuine care or friendship, but as a tool to make you feel obligated to them in some way.
This subtle game can be difficult to spot, as it cloaks the manipulator’s intentions under the guise of goodwill. However, understanding this tactic can help you discern between genuine kindness and calculated manipulation.
Victim playing: The manipulator’s sympathy card
Another common strategy used by manipulative individuals is to play the victim. They might often recount elaborate tales of their hardships, painting themselves as innocent victims of circumstance, who you never could even dare blame.
You might have come across this when someone habitually blames others for their misfortunes, never taking responsibility for their actions.
The manipulator uses these pitiful sob stories to elicit sympathy and manipulate your emotions, making you feel guilty for holding them accountable.
Identifying this tactic (and telling it from genuine tales of trauma, towards which you do need to be sympathetic) can be challenging, as it exploits our natural instinct to empathize and help others.
Silent treatment: The manipulator’s weapon of isolation
Silent treatment is a painful tactic used by manipulative individuals to punish and control. It involves withholding communication, affection or attention to make you feel unwanted, guilty, or desperate for their approval.
You might have experienced this when someone abruptly stops talking to you or showing any form of warmth towards you without any clear reason.
This can leave you feeling bewildered, anxious, and willing to do anything to mend the relationship.
What’s chilling about this tactic is how it isolates you emotionally. It’s a stark reminder of how manipulative individuals can use silence as a weapon to make you question your self-worth and manipulate you into doing what they want.
Overwhelming generosity: The manipulator’s bait
Not unlike overwhelming you with kindness or painting themselves as someone in need of dire kindness, a manipulator may also use overwhelming generosity as a tool for manipulation.
This is not to say that all generous people are manipulative and worth casting a suspicious glance over, but it is a tactic that some use to create a sense of obligation.
You might have experienced this if someone has constantly lavished you with gifts, favors, or acts of service, only to later use this as leverage to get you to comply with their requests. The manipulator uses their past ‘generosity’ as a guilt trip, making you feel indebted to them.
Understanding this strategy can be tricky because it challenges our perception of kindness. However, recognizing it can help us distinguish between genuine generosity and manipulation disguised as benevolence.
Flattery: The manipulator’s charm offensive
Flattery is a classic tool in the manipulator’s toolkit. By showering you with compliments and praise, they can easily win your trust and affection, making it easier for them to influence your actions and decisions.
You might have encountered this when someone constantly praises you, especially in areas where you feel insecure.
These compliments can feel good initially, but the manipulator uses them to create a dependency on their approval.
This tactic can be hard to recognize because it appeals to our desire for validation. However, understanding it can help you distinguish between genuine compliments and flattery used as a means of control.
Understanding the manipulator’s game (so you can beat them at it)
Recognizing these games is just the first step in disarming a manipulator at play. Understanding why manipulative people employ these tactics and how they impact us can provide a deeper insight into their behavior and help us guard ourselves better.
Manipulative individuals often use these tactics as a means to exert control, gain power, or fulfill their own needs, often at the expense of others.
They may themselves have been victims of manipulation or other forms of abuse in their past, thus perpetuating a cycle of unhealthy behavior and justifying it both in their own heads, and to others.
The effects of these games can be profound and long-lasting. They can cause emotional harm, shatter self-esteem, and create a sense of confusion and mistrust. Often, the victims find themselves questioning their own judgement, their worth, and their perceptions of reality.
Ultimately, recognition and understanding are powerful tools in dismantling the manipulator’s game. Armed with this knowledge, we can better navigate our interactions with more confidence, clarity, and dignity – ensuring that we are not just pawns or puppets in someone else’s game.