It’s an unfortunate fact of life that there are manipulative people everywhere.
These are people who seek to control the behavior of others. People who use your emotions against you and try to get you to do what they want.
No matter why these people are manipulating you, they are usually people who are best avoided.
Of course, a lot of manipulation relies on the victim not realizing they are being manipulated. That’s why manipulators are often very good at hiding their true intentions.
On the other hand, some people are unusually good at spotting manipulation.
These are people who can pick up on the subtle signs of a manipulative person quickly. This makes them easily able to avoid being manipulated by others.
If you want to be the kind of person who is impossible to manipulate, here are some subtle signs of a manipulator that you should watch out for.
1) Love bombing
This is a classic manipulation tactic that manipulative people use at the start of relationships. However, it can be hard to spot because part of us wants to believe it.
According to Psychology Today, ““love bombing” refers to a pattern of overly affectionate behavior that typically occurs at the beginning of a relationship, often a romantic one, in which one party “bombs” the other with over-the-top displays of adoration and attention.”
This behavior can take lots of different forms. It may come in the form of flattery and exaggerated compliments. It may be gifts. It may involve progressing too quickly through the normal stages of a new relationship, pushing it to become more meaningful and important before it’s ready.
But as you can probably see, the signs of love bombing are only an exaggerated version of the regular signs of liking someone. That’s what makes it so hard to spot.
People who are good at spotting manipulators are wary of anyone who seems a little too keen on them. It might sound cynical, but this wariness often protects these people from manipulation.
2) Favors and debt
Another way manipulative people attempt to get others under their control is with favors and debt.
This means a manipulative person will often do you a favor, not because they want to help, but because they want you to feel indebted to them.
Then, when they ask you for something after they have done you a favor, you may feel obliged to give it to them, even if you don’t want to.
And if you don’t, they may even mention the favor they did you to try and pressure you into behaving the way they want.
This is subtle, because favors are a normal part of human social interaction. We do favors for people that we like, and we expect them to be willing to do favors for us in return.
But manipulators see everything as transactional. They will be quick to do you a favor, but even quicker to call that favor in when they want something from you.
3) Inconsistency between words and actions
This is another subtle but important sign of a manipulative person.
Do they say they will do something, then fail to show up? Do they act a certain way to people, then act completely differently behind their backs? Do they say one thing, and do another?
These are all signs of a manipulator. However, they can be quite subtle and difficult to spot.
People who are good at avoiding manipulation are good at paying attention to what people say as well as what they do. This can give them early warning of someone who is inconsistent and possibly manipulative.
4) Guilt tripping
Guilt is a common tool manipulators use to get people to do what they want.
This is especially common in family relationships, but is also an effective tactic in romantic relationships and friendships, too.
“A guilt trip is best defined as the intentional manipulation of another person’s emotions to induce feelings of guilt,” says Liza Gold, founder of Gold Therapy NYC.
In other words, it’s when one person tries to make another person feel bad about something they’ve said or done to control their behavior.
Think of a parent reminding that child of all they’ve done for them, or a friend bringing up all the times they’ve helped you to try and get you to do something you don’t want to do.
Manipulators use guilt trips because they work. After all, we often feel a sense of obligation to people who have been kind to us in the past.
However, people who are good at avoiding manipulation can see a guilt trip for what it is. They don’t let feelings of guilt dictate their behavior.
5) Creating drama
Often, manipulative people thrive on drama. By setting people against each other, they hope to control the emotions and therefore the behavior of everyone around them.
My wife had a friend just like this. Back when we were first dating, she had this friend who was constantly creating drama with her other friends. And once we had been dating for a while, this friend started trying to create drama between me and the woman I would eventually marry, too.
Manipulators may create drama by:
- Playing the victim
- Picking fights
- Not respecting boundaries
- Playing people against each other
But whatever method they use, the drama they create can be highly destructive to everyone around them.
Spotting manipulative people often means spotting someone who is trying to create drama. Because when you know what they are up to, their plans are much less likely to work.
6) Playing the victim
That’s because it makes people feel sorry for them. If they can make themselves seem like the unfortunate victim of circumstance or of other people, they can get sympathy from others and use it to control them.
That means they will exaggerate things that have happened to them and downplay their own part in events. All to paint a false picture of who they really are.
7) Isolation tactics
This is another classic sign of manipulation that can be easy to miss.
Often, once a manipulator has picked a target for their schemes, they will try to isolate them from others. Whether it’s family or friends, the goal of the manipulator is to get the person away from their support network so that they have to rely on the person manipulating them.
However, for this to work, the manipulative person has to make sure that the victim doesn’t notice.
People who are good at avoiding manipulation often spot attempts to isolate them, and reject them immediately.
8) Inability to handle criticism
Another sign of a manipulator that is less talked about is their inability to handle criticism.
Often, manipulative people have very fragile egos. So when someone criticizes them, even as a joke, they may overreact.
Often, they will hold a grudge against anybody who criticizes them or points out their manipulative behavior.
9) Emotional blackmail
Manipulators love to use people’s emotions against them. And often, they will resort to emotional blackmail to get people to do what they want.
This means they will deliberately upset those around them. They may threaten to end a relationship or even threaten to hurt themselves or another person if they don’t get what they want.
People who are good at spotting manipulation see this for the tactic it is and are not taken in by it.
Gaslighting is a psychological term that has become more well-known these days.
Essentially, it means lying to someone in an attempt to get them to question their reality and even their own sanity.
Gaslighting can be extremely destructive to its victims. It takes a strong sense of self to reject gaslighting, especially when it comes from someone close to you.
Projection in psychological terms means blaming others for your own bad behavior. And it’s something manipulators love to do.
In other words, a liar will accuse other people of lying. An abuser will accuse other people of being abusive.
Spotting a manipulator often means spotting their projections and understanding what it really says about them. Because usually, what they accuse other people of is exactly what they themselves are guilty of.
12) Selective memory
Finally, manipulative people are not above lying and distorting the past to present themselves as the victim and others as the bad guy.
They will remember something if it serves their ends, and claim to have forgotten it if it doesn’t.
They won’t remember promises they made and failed to keep, or boundaries they were told to respect. They won’t remember anything you said if it suits them to not remember it.
This kind of selective memory is a sign that people who know how to avoid manipulation constantly watch out for.
Good manipulators are good at hiding their true intentions. But by keeping an eye out for these subtle signs, you can learn to spot someone who is trying to manipulate you.
Because ultimately, these people are generally best avoided.
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