People who are friendly on the surface but manipulative underneath often display these 9 specific behaviors

If you’ve had much experience with manipulators before, you’ll know these individuals don’t walk around with a sign on their head saying, “I’m a manipulator.”

Quite the opposite, as they tend to portray themselves as super friendly and likable.

If you think about it, this makes sense, as you wouldn’t go anywhere near someone who wore a manipulator sign. 

But by masking their true intentions behind a friendly facade, they can sneakily swoop in and gain your trust before flipping the tables and revealing their real motives – control and power. 

However, by being aware of these 9 subtle behaviors of secret manipulators, you can protect yourself from their sneaky hidden agendas.

1) Exuding charm

One of the first behaviors you will spot in a secretly manipulative person is their flawless ability to exude charm. 

They seem friendly and charismatic when you first meet them. However, this charm is superficial, serving as a tool to disarm you and gain your trust. 

In romantic relationships, this is known as love bombing, a tactic where the manipulator smothers you with love, attention, and gifts.

But this is also common in social situations, where the manipulator charms everyone they meet to gain a good reputation and win people over, only to manipulate them later.  

2) Constant flattery 

While it is well known that manipulators like to break down the self-esteem of their victims, many people don’t realize that before they do that, they purposely boost your ego.

Compliments are tools manipulators use to portray themselves as friendly and charming.

Manipulators make a habit of showering others (especially those they have just met) with compliments, making them feel valued and appreciated. 

This is a calculated strategy to create a sense of indebtedness or dependency. 

They hope that by boosting your ego, you will put them on a pedestal, allowing them to gain control.

This is a very cunning tactic, as we often don’t realize the flattery isn’t genuine. But if someone gives you an unusual amount of compliments, this might suggest they are not genuine.

3) Playing the victim

It’s easy to feel sorry for the victim. The victim seems like a good person who has done no wrong.

Because manipulators want to appear as the “goodies,” they love to paint themselves as victims.

So, one behavior you will notice in a secret manipulator is feigning vulnerability or sharing personal stories to elicit sympathy from you and others. 

Why do they do this?

Manipulators possess an uncanny ability to understand and exploit the emotions of others, especially empathy.

Playing the victim creates an emotional bond that they can then leverage later for their own gain. 

But how do you spot if someone’s personal stories are genuine or false? 

It can be challenging, especially if they have used the same emotional narrative on others. But their stories might sometimes seem rehearsed or inconsistent.

Here’s another behavior linked to playing the victim…

4) Dodging responsibility

You know that person who is always caught up in drama, but it is never their fault?

Likely, they are not just unlucky, but rather, they are a subtle manipulator constantly dodging responsibility and shifting the blame to others.

Why do they do this?

By admitting their faults and mistakes, they are less likely to look like victims who can do no harm. 

The more they take responsibility for their actions, the more you notice their flaws. And part of a manipulator’s strategy is to keep their flaws undercover at all costs.

Therefore, they may shift the blame onto someone or something else to dodge responsibility.

Other tactics they might use are:

  • Denial – Outright denying they had any involvement in something, even if the evidence suggests otherwise
  • Projection – Turning the tables and blaming you for their actions
  • Playing dumb – Using the ignorance card

Another common tactic is rationalization. 

According to the American Psychological Association, rationalization is when someone creates untrue yet logical reasons to justify unacceptable behavior and thus protect their reputation. In simple terms, they talk their way out of blame.

This behavior allows them to avoid the consequences of their actions and maintain control.

5) Selective honesty

Secret manipulators often come across as open and transparent by using a tactic known as selective honesty.

They carefully choose what to reveal and what to conceal. 

For example, they may disclose personal information or experiences strategically to create a false sense of intimacy while withholding crucial details that could expose their true intentions. 

To uncover this behavior, pay attention to inconsistencies in their stories or a reluctance to share certain aspects of their lives.

6) Subtle passive aggression

Once you look beneath these seemingly friendly behaviors, you may notice the secret manipulator’s passive-aggressive tendencies. 

One common way they display subtle passive aggression is by giving backhanded compliments, also known as negging. 

This is a remark that both contains a compliment and an insult, such as:

  • “You’re not as dumb as you look.”
  • “Your new haircut makes your nose look smaller.”
  •  “I didn’t expect you to get the job – Congratulations!”

Research studies suggest that manipulators use backhanded compliments when they want to assert power and superiority. 

It also undermines your confidence and lowers your self-esteem by creating a sense of doubt and insecurity. This makes you more likely to seek validation and approval from the manipulator.

The problem with negging is that the manipulator cloaks their criticism in a compliment, making it challenging for you to confront them. 

Often, you don’t notice the hidden insult immediately. But you might later wonder, “Did they really say that, or am I just imagining it?”

7) Violating your boundaries

Manipulative people often disregard personal boundaries, and the more you get to know one, the more you will detect this behavior. 

You might notice the manipulative person starts to invade your personal space or pry into your private affairs. 

One common way I’ve noticed manipulators do this is by being ‘too’ physically affectionate.

They will hug you when it is unnecessary (i.e., not when you greet or say goodbye). Often, when this happens, it will feel forced rather than natural.

At first, you might think this is just a personality trait of being a little ‘full-on,’ but it’s not – it’s another carefully calculated strategy. 

This behavior establishes dominance and control, making it easier for them to manipulate and exploit you.

Research shows that physical affection makes us feel closer to the other person. In particular, hugging has been proven to release significant quantities of oxytocin, the love hormone.

8) Gossiping about you

Of course, one of the most common signs of a fake friendly person is when they are nice to our face, yet they talk about us behind our backs.

While many people who love to gossip are not manipulators per se, this is a common manipulation tactic nonetheless.

Here’s how it works…

Manipulators make up rumors and spread lies about you, intending to damage your reputation.

By doing this, they can turn others against you and isolate you.

This is just one of the ways that manipulators try to reduce the size of their victims’ support circle.


The fewer close friends you have, the fewer people there are to shape your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. As a result, the easier it is for the manipulator to establish control over you. 

What’s more…

If everyone turns against you except the manipulator, you’re more likely to rely on them for emotional support and validation, giving them the power they seek.

So, if you suspect someone in your life is a manipulator and you’ve heard rumors going around about you, you know who the culprit is!

9) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a well-known manipulative tactic. But, according to Dr. Meaghan Rice from TalkSpace, many people don’t realize when it is happening to them.

This is because secret manipulators are skilled at making others question their reality without them even knowing.

Gaslighting typically happens when you already trust the manipulator, so you’re more likely to believe what they say without questioning it.

However, it’s important to remember that gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse.

So, pay attention to how you feel when interacting with the person in question. 

Do you ever doubt your memory, sanity, or perception of reality?

Have you questioned yourself or thought you were overreacting about something or going crazy?

If so, you may unknowingly be a victim of gaslighting.

Final thoughts

Recognizing the signs of manipulation in seemingly friendly people is crucial for safeguarding your well-being and ensuring you only pursue healthy relationships. 

Because the behaviors outlined above are subtle, try to stay vigilant and trust your instincts when interacting with people, especially those you have recently met. 

If you notice several of these behaviors in someone, don’t be afraid to set firm boundaries with them and prioritize the genuine relationships in your life.

Gemma Clarke

I am a certified yoga and mindfulness teacher and an experienced content writer in the spirituality and personal growth space.
I’m passionate about sharing my expertise through the power of
words to inspire and guide others along the path of personal and spiritual development.

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