What makes someone a manipulator?
And, more importantly, how do we spot one?
This is an interesting question, as according to psychotherapist and author Ken Page, everyone can be manipulative occasionally.
But being manipulative now and again doesn’t make you a manipulator.
So, how can we tell the difference?
Well, it’s all to do with the frequency of these manipulative tactics.
Full-blown manipulators make a habit of resorting to the following eight behaviors…
1) Being overly charming when they first meet people
The behavioral patterns you’ll notice in a manipulator will change as you get to know them.
So, let’s start with the first one you should look out for – excessive charm and flattery.
While we all want to appear likable to new people we meet, manipulators take this to the extreme.
You’ll notice that manipulators possess an uncanny ability to charm and impress others from the get-go.
They have a knack for stealing the spotlight at a party or large gathering, making themselves appear friendly and charismatic.
This is because respect is essential to a manipulator.
The more respect and trust they gain from others, the more leverage they have to manipulate them.
This is known in Psychology as the “halo effect,” a cognitive bias researchers have studied for over 100 years!
The halo effect is when an initial positive judgment about someone (unconsciously) colors how we perceive them in the future.
Research shows that the more trustworthiness we perceive when we first meet someone, the stronger the halo effect is.
So how can you tell if someone is charming simply due to their personality because they want to manipulate you?
Well, manipulators lack authenticity. So, their flattery may feel forced or come across as superficial.
Of course, this is not always easy to notice, as manipulators have perfected this tactic.
A general rule of thumb for determining this behavior pattern is if the amount of flattery they give seems unnecessary.
If so, they are likely a manipulator rather than a nice person!
The good news is after you notice this behavioral pattern, it won’t be long until you observe the next one…
2) Blowing hot and cold
Once a manipulator feels they have gained the trust and respect of someone by charming them, they will start to change tactics.
While they come on excessively strong initially, you’ll notice this behavior is no longer consistent after a while.
Manipulators oscillate between extreme friendliness and cold detachment.
They may shower you with affection and attention one moment, only to withdraw and become aloof or indifferent the next.
This inconsistency makes you feel off balance and triggers a sense of insecurity, making you more susceptible to manipulation.
The relationship becomes unbalanced as you feel you have no control over their mood.
So you find yourself walking on eggshells and doing things you wouldn’t normally do, trying to keep them from blowing cold again.
3) Not fulfilling their promises
During this hot and cold behavioral pattern, you might notice the manipulator makes a lot of promises but fails to follow through on them.
The first few times, you will probably make excuses for them, telling yourself that something must have come up.
But once it becomes a habit, you’ll start questioning their intentions.
Manipulators purposely make grand promises or commitments they do not intend to keep.
They will promise to help with a task or agree to go somewhere with you but fail to follow through on their word.
Why do they do this?
This strategy preys on our optimistic nature and our sense of hope.
The manipulator keeps letting us down, but thanks to their grand promises, we retain hope that they can and will change.
But here’s the truth…
They will continue to instill just enough hope in you to keep stringing you along without you walking away.
This is one of the most powerful tactics a manipulator uses to keep their victim trapped and dependent on them.
Self-victimization is another behavior pattern you might encounter in the early stages of a relationship with a manipulator.
Manipulators often adopt the role of the victim to garner sympathy, attention, and support from others.
They may exaggerate or fabricate hardships, injustices, or setbacks to evoke pity, manipulating others into meeting their needs.
This manipulation tactic exploits our natural compassion and empathy.
As we tend to believe someone when they open up to us about their past trauma, this tactic is initially hard to spot.
However, you might start questioning the truth in their stories if you hear them giving different versions of events or notice inconsistencies.
Another red flag could be if they bring up their hardships in situations where it is totally unnecessary.
5) Not taking no for an answer
Manipulators go to great lengths to get their way.
If you resist or refuse to comply with their requests, they won’t accept no as a valid response.
When you try to stand your ground, a manipulator will employ various tactics, such as guilt-tripping, to pressure you into compliance.
With guilt-tripping, they will make you feel responsible for their actions, emotions, or circumstances.
For example, they might say, “I wouldn’t have to ask you to do this if you didn’t/did ….”
In this example, the manipulator implies that you are at fault and the only way to fix things is to do what the manipulator says.
Of course, by guilt-tripping, the manipulator disregards your boundaries and autonomy, which is another hallmark behavior pattern…
6) Violating other people’s boundaries
Manipulators have little regard for the boundaries and autonomy of others. They:
- Intrude your personal space
- Disregard your right to consent
- Push you to do things they are uncomfortable with.
However, sometimes, this boundary-pushing may seem harmless.
For example, a manipulative person at work may push you to discuss your personal life when you don’t want to.
Even if it seems harmless, remember that whenever you allow someone to violate your boundaries, you give them control and dominance over you.
But by standing your ground and refusing to bend your boundaries, you show the manipulator that you’re not easy to control or manipulate.
Once they understand this, they will leave you alone and search for an easier target.
Another behavioral pattern you’ll notice in a manipulator is chronic lying.
According to German psychologist Moritz Michels, lying is an exploitative behavioral strategy employed to control and deceive others.
Manipulators, along with narcissists, manipulate situations to their advantage by:
- Distorting the truth
- Fabricating stories
- Purposely leaving out crucial information
This type of lying is also known as gaslighting, where they bend the truth to make you doubt your perceptions, memories, and sanity.
A manipulator’s lies are often convincing because they don’t tend to lie on the spot. Instead, they carefully calculate their stories to exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims.
Here’s another style of lying that manipulators do…
8) Shifting the blame
By shifting blame, the manipulator ignores the truth to protect their reputation.
You will notice them use this behavior when confronted with accountability or criticism.
According to research studies, taking responsibility for wrongdoings makes you look untrustworthy.
If a manipulator owns up to their faults, they will lose control and power.
So, instead, they deflect blame onto others by distorting facts or manipulating perceptions.
In Psychology, this tactic is called ‘rationalization.’
It doesn’t just make the manipulator appear innocent; it frames someone else for their wrongdoings.
So, the focus shifts away from the manipulator and onto the person/thing they blamed.
As a result, the manipulator can evade consequences while protecting their persona.
Recognizing the patterns of behavior associated with manipulation is not always easy.
However, it’s an essential skill to protect yourself against toxic relationships and interpersonal dynamics.
The difference between someone with manipulative tendencies and a full-blown manipulator is the frequency of their actions.
Possessing some of these behaviors once or twice doesn’t mean they are a manipulator.
But if you notice they behave in these ways consistently, they likely are!
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