People who act helpful so they can covertly manipulate you often display these 5 behaviors

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In my twenties, when I worked in finance, I was burned more times than I’d care to admit by so-called allies.

On the surface, they seemed helpful, but the truth is they were manipulators building up to stab me in the back. Looking back, I wish I’d had the experience to spot them earlier. 

You don’t have to wish, though. Today, we dive into five behaviors such covert manipulators often exhibit. 

Recognizing these signs can be your shield against manipulation and your ticket to healthier relationships. 

So, let’s get to it. 

1) They know your weaknesses & use them against you

Picture this: You’ve just had a rough day at work, and you’re feeling a bit vulnerable. As is natural, you open up to a friend about your struggles.

At first, they may seem like a good friend, listening attentively and offering advice. But they store what you reveal only to use it as a weapon against you when it benefits them. 

They might remind you of your past failures or reiterate your fears when you’re trying to make an important decision, swaying your thought process to their advantage. 

Sound familiar?

This is classic manipulative behavior. As well put by professor of communication and author Preston Ni: 

“Manipulators can detect a person’s weaknesses and will repeatedly ask that person to give themselves up to serve the manipulator’s interests.”

Be wary of those who seem overly interested in your vulnerabilities – they might be gearing up to use them for their own gain.

How to deal with this

Dealing with someone who exploits your vulnerabilities requires a strategy that prioritizes self-awareness and assertiveness:

  • Self-awareness: The first step is to be fully aware of your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Understanding your own insecurities makes it harder for others to use them against you unexpectedly.
  • Control information sharing: Be mindful of how much personal information you share and with whom. It’s essential to have trusted confidantes, but be cautious with people who have misused your information in the past.
  • Seek support: If you’re finding it challenging to deal with on your own, don’t hesitate to seek support from trusted friends, family, or a professional. Sometimes, an external perspective can offer valuable insights and strategies.
  • Limit interaction: If the manipulative behavior continues despite your efforts, it may be necessary to limit or end interactions with the individual to protect your emotional well-being.

2) They’re overly charming

Know someone who can charm the socks off anyone they meet? You know, someone who is charismatic, engaging, and always knows the right thing to say?

These people often seem helpful as they can help to raise our confidence and make us feel good about ourselves. However, as noted by manipulator expert and author Dr. George Simon: 

“Skilled manipulators can be quite seductive and charming.” 

That is, they often use such charm to subtly influence others and manipulate situations to their advantage.

Of course, this isn’t to say everyone who’s charming has a hidden agenda. However, if someone’s charm often leads to personal gain, you might want to consider the possibility that they’re using their charisma as a manipulation tool.

How to deal with this

When dealing with an overly charming individual, it’s important to remain aware of their intentions. Enjoy their company, but be cautious about the commitments or promises you make in their presence. 

It’s also helpful to take a step back and observe their behavior patterns: Do they use their charm to benefit others or just themselves? Are they consistent in their actions and words, or do they fluctuate based on their audience? 

Maintaining a healthy skepticism can protect you from being swayed. 

If you find yourself being influenced into decisions or actions that don’t sit right with you, it’s okay to say no. 

3) They use favors as fuel for guilt-tripping

This is a big one.

As noted by Psych Central, guilt-tripping is particularly common in close relationships like those with family, close friends, or romantic partners. 

And let’s be frank, this makes it sing all the more. 

They might say things like, “After all I’ve done for you, can’t you do this one thing for me?” This way, they leverage our guilt to manipulate our actions and gain control over the situation. 

Furthermore, a 2018 study indicated that when guilt evolves into shame, it can undermine self-esteem, leaving us even more vulnerable. 

Someone who truly cares about you will not intentionally make you feel guilty for accepting their help. If they do, you might be dealing with a covert manipulator.

How to deal with this

Dealing with this isn’t easy, especially if the person is close to you. However, here are a few tactics to consider. 

  • Minimize contact: If guilt trips are negatively affecting you, consider distancing yourself from the person responsible. This straightforward approach can be quite effective.
  • Get talking: If avoidance isn’t an option or desirable, engage the other person in a conversation. They may be unaware of the impact their behavior is having on you.
  • Create boundaries: If the other person is open to change, set clear expectations and boundaries. Make sure they understand what you need from them and the consequences of not adhering to these limits.

4) They subtly discredit others

Manipulators tend to undermine our trust in other people by pointing out their flaws, exaggerating their mistakes, or questioning their intentions. 

As recently noted by Harvard Business Review writer Marina Glazman, this manipulation tactic is common in the workplace. 

At first, this can seem helpful. It might feel like they are doing us a favor by keeping us informed. But often, they are trying to isolate us from potential support networks and increase our reliance on them, making it easier for them to control and manipulate us. 

How do deal with this

To handle someone who subtly discredits others, it’s crucial to be cautious and proactive. 

Start by verifying any negative information about others to avoid jumping to conclusions. 

Keep communication open with your peers to prevent misunderstandings and maintain a strong, diversified support network to reduce dependency on any single individual.

If necessary, confront the behavior assertively but calmly. 

5) They often use passive-aggressive behavior

What do I mean by this?

Well, they might dish out subtle backhanded compliments or criticisms. They may also ‘forget’ to fulfill their promises or responsibilities, placing the blame on us for not reminding them. 

As I covered in more detail in a previous post, the words or phrases they use can also be a giveaway. For example, if you hear the below phrases, it’s a big red flag: 

  • “You’re too sensitive”
  • “Why are you getting so upset?”
  • “No offense, but…”

As obvious as these behaviors read on paper, in reality, they can seem helpful at first. 

Backhanded compliments can be hard to spot at times, and phrases like those above can sometimes come across as tough love rather than manipulation. 

But make no mistake, this kind of behavior is designed to make us feel inadequate or guilty, making it easier for them to control and manipulate the situation.

For more information on this (and how to deal with these behaviors), check out our posts on this specifically: 

7 phrases that sound nice on the surface, but are actually passive aggressive

If you see these 6 behaviors, you’re likely dealing with a passive-aggressive person

The bottom line

So there you have it, folks. 

On paper, these behaviors seem plain manipulative. But in the hands of skilled manipulators, they aren’t so obvious. And many of us catch on to their intentions too late. 

As always, I hope you found this post valuable. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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