No one likes a manipulator, with the exception perhaps of another manipulator.
Manipulators use our weaknesses against us to maneuver us into acting in ways that we otherwise might not have done. Often, they manipulate their romantic partners, making them stay when they want to leave or taking advantage of their finances.
The problem is that while it’s easy to think of manipulators as being evil, it’s not as though they go around in a uniform. So how can we spot them?
Well, that’s a good question. Let’s take a look.
1) They’re charismatic
Okay, so I’m not saying that everyone who’s charismatic is a manipulator, but it’s true that most manipulators are charismatic.
They have to be, because it’s their charisma that allows them to be so manipulative in the first place. People trust them because they’re so charismatic, and they’re able to abuse that trust to manipulate people to do their bidding.
There’s a reason why cult leaders are able to build and manipulate massive followings, and it begins with “c” and ends in “harisma”.
And so if you spot that someone’s super charismatic but they’re making you do things you don’t want to, you might have found a manipulator.
2) They use selective disclosure
The idea behind selective disclosure is that someone will only pass on certain information.
This means that a manipulator might tell you the shortest route from A to B, but they’ll neglect to tell you that a tree is down and the roads are closed or that it requires you to take a swim through shark-infested waters.
Manipulators do this because they don’t think of it as lying, and they’ll often shift the blame (more on that soon) by saying that it’s your own fault if you don’t look into what they tell you.
Skilled manipulators will also play innocent, acting as though the reason why they didn’t give you all of the information is that they didn’t have it themselves.
3) They use gas lighting
Gaslighting is a favorite technique of manipulators in which they use lying and misdirection to make their victim question their sanity.
They’ll do things like hiding your keys, telling you that they must be wherever you left them, and then putting them back a couple of hours later.
Why? Well, because they can, and because it breaks down their victim’s resistance and makes them easier to manipulate in the future.
For the majority of people, gaslighting is seen as one of the most unforgivable of all manipulative behaviors. And with good reason.
4) They’re good at blame shifting
Manipulators know that they’re to blame for much of the suffering that their partners go through, and so they’ve figured out ways to avoid being held accountable for it.
One of the most common is that they’ll shift blame. In other words, if they suspect their partner is going to accuse them of something, they’ll accuse their partner of it first.
We looked at an example of this when we talked about selective disclosure. They might give you a route that you can’t actually drive along and then blame you for not doing your own research to make sure that the road was clear.
Often, this blame shifting leads to arguments, and the arguments themselves can often play into the manipulator’s narrative.
5) They love playing the victim
The idea here is that the manipulator will victimize someone and then immediately take on the role of victim themselves. That then makes it difficult for the victim to confront them about their bad behavior.
To me, it puts me in mind of someone punching someone and then blaming them for hurting their knuckles.
As you can see, it’s hypocritical and manipulative, but unfortunately for us, it’s also effective. And, like the boy who cried wolf, it can be hard to tell when they genuinely are the victim.
6) They flip quickly through emotions
A lot of people fall foul of this one, but it’s often because they’re struggling with a mental health condition or they’re not great at managing their emotions.
With manipulators, things are very different. They can have an unusually high level of control over their emotions, and so instead of just experiencing them like the rest of us, they’re able to turn them into weapons.
Because of this, it’s common to see them flipping from one emotion to another and then another one after that. They’ll use whichever emotion they know is going to get the results they’re going for.
And it’s the people who are closest to them who have to deal with it.
7) They guilt trip
Manipulators aren’t above using guilt tripping to get what they want, and it’s one of the reasons why people tend to stay with them.
The problem is that they make you feel guilty for things that you shouldn’t feel guilty for, and then they leave you feeling as though you’re obligated to make things up to them, even though they’re the ones at fault.
They’ll use all sorts of different strategies for guilt tripping people, but one of the most common and cliched is that they’ll do something drastic like smashing up a room and then say, “Look what you made me do.”
There are some things you should feel guilty for. But there are lots of other things that you shouldn’t.
8) They give mixed messages
As you can probably tell from what we’ve talked about so far, manipulators are masters at giving off mixed messages.
The point of these mixed messages is to keep people guessing at all times, because they know that will make them easier to manipulate. It’s all about being as unpredictable as possible.
These mixed messages are often powered by the quick variability in emotions that we mentioned earlier, leading to situations in which they’ll praise you at one moment and then curse you out at the next.
On the plus side, given that these run contrary to the normal rules of civilized society, it can be pretty easy to spot these messages.
9) They exploit people’s weaknesses
If we had to summarize all of the points that we’ve made so far, they could all fall under this one.
Manipulators are experts at figuring out people’s weaknesses and then identifying ways in which they can exploit them for their own purposes.
If they know that you’re afraid of being alone, they’ll deliberately leave you alone and only come back when you agree to their demands. If you’re not good at saying no, they’ll pressure you to say yes to things you don’t want to agree to.
This willingness and ability to exploit people’s weaknesses is what makes manipulators so dangerous to know in the first place.
Now that you know the subtle red flags that can suggest someone is deeply manipulative, you’re in a much better place to defend yourself.
A word of warning, though: it’s often a bad idea to confront a manipulator, because they’ll use techniques like blame shifting and playing the victim to make sure that they come out on top.
Instead, it’s generally a good idea to seek help, either from a professional organization or from your family and friends.
It might be time to say goodbye to your manipulator for good.