8 psychological tricks to outsmart a manipulative person and put them back in their place

Manipulative people are everywhere.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that you’re virtually guaranteed to run into a manipulator sooner or later. These people see others as a means to get what they want instead of individuals with value of their own. A manipulator will try to use you in any way they can to get whatever it is they want out of you.

Being good at manipulation means being good at hiding your true intentions, so a manipulator can be hard to spot.

Once you do recognize the signs of manipulation, there are some strategies you can take to protect yourself.

Most of the time, the best way of dealing with a manipulative person is to simply avoid them. Cut them out of your life so that their manipulations can’t drag you down into their dark world.

However, that’s not always possible. Particularly when the manipulator is a member of your family or the family of your spouse, or someone you work with, you may not be able to get rid of them so easily.

Luckily, there are some psychological tricks that can help you put a manipulator back in their place. Because once they learn that you are not the type of person who can be easily manipulated, they may leave you alone and go in search of an easier target.

1) Mirroring

No one likes being manipulated – and that includes manipulative people. That’s why turning their own tactics back on them can be so effective – not to mention satisfying.

And part of the reason this tactic works so well is because it exposes manipulators for what they are, which is the thing they fear most.

Let’s say for example that someone at work tries to blame you for something that was their fault in a meeting. You can reverse that tactic by pointing out that actually, the problem on the project came from their mistakes or lack of effort.

Manipulators hate being exposed like this, especially in front of others, as it reduces their ability to manipulate them. So once you’ve done this to a manipulator once or twice, they will probably learn that you are someone they are better off leaving alone.

2) Silence

Manipulators often use the silent treatment to punish people for not doing what they want, especially people you’re in a relationship with.

But manipulative people are not the only ones who can harness the power of silence.

A lot of what a manipulator does is designed to get a reaction from you. Sometimes, they want you to get angry or upset so they can then use those negative emotions against you. Or they may want you to feel bad so that they can guilt trip you.

Maintaining silence takes away their ability to use a lot of their regular manipulation tactics.

And sometimes, in the vacuum your silence creates, the manipulator will resort to even more obvious tactics that will show them for what they really are.

3) Trust your instincts

Manipulative people rely on hiding who they truly are from other people. That’s why they often put on a fake persona to get people invested in a relationship with them before they start trying to control everything.

Love bombing is a common way for a manipulator to do this.

“Love bombing describes relationships that begin in a whirlwind of attention and affection almost immediately,” writes psychologist Geralyn Dexter. “The intensity of connection, the expensive gifts, and hasty expressions about meeting the family and other “serious” steps can be red flags with someone you’re just getting to know.”

In other words, if something seems too good to be true, it often is.

And if a person comes on way too strong in the early period of a relationship, watch out. It may be the prologue to an attempt to manipulate you.

Trust your instincts. If something about a person makes you cautious, listen to that feeling. It’s not always right, but it can often save you from becoming the victim of a manipulator.

4) Ask tough questions

Manipulators thrive on lies and omissions. Wherever possible, they will weave a narrative that presents a completely distorted view of the world, painting themselves as always right and everybody else as always wrong.

But you can tear through this web of lies by asking tough questions.

Don’t let a manipulator get away with fuzzy details, half-truths, or outright lies. Call them out on the things they say and make them explain themselves.

For example, if they try to pressure you into doing something, ask, “Why is it so important that I do this right now?” Most of the time, they won’t have a good answer other than, “because I want you to.”

The goal here is not to cause a fight, but simply to hold a manipulative person accountable for what they say. So keep your tone calm and unemotional when you ask a manipulator to explain themselves.

5) Collect evidence

Another common manipulation tactic is gaslighting.

Gaslighting means systematically distorting the truth until the target begins to question their own grip on reality.

This can be extremely powerful, especially in an intimate relationship.

“The target of the gaslighting is terrified to change up [the relationship] or step out of the gaslighting dynamic because the threat of losing that relationship — or the threat of being seen as less than who you want to be seen as to them — is quite a threat,” says Robin Stern, author of The Gaslight Effect.

And don’t think you’re immune. When someone systematically lies to you about the truth, it’s easy to start to question yourself.

That’s why evidence can be important. Save emails, text conversations, voicemails, and any other evidence you can to prove that you are not delusional about what has been said.

This might sound paranoid. But knowing that the manipulator is lying to you, rather than you losing your grip on reality, is a powerful way to maintain your sense of self and stay out of their clutches.

6) Maintain strong boundaries

Every manipulator knows that the best targets for the control are people who don’t maintain strong personal boundaries.

Personal boundaries are the lines we draw around ourselves to tell other people how they can and can’t treat us. Establishing clear boundaries is a sign you respect yourself and hold other people to a certain standard of behavior.

Often, these boundaries are enough by themselves to repel manipulators like a clove of garlic repelling a vampire.

Maintaining your boundaries means learning to say no. You don’t need to be aggressive or angry, though you may need to be firm.

If you have told someone not to ask you for a particular thing, whether it’s your boss asking you to work on the weekend or a partner asking you for a specific sex act, don’t give in. The answer is always no. That’s how you maintain boundaries that will keep manipulators away.

7) Believe in yourself

To manipulate you, these people need you to doubt yourself.

After all, that’s how they get inside your head and convince you that their choices for your life and relationship are better than your own.

So it’s no surprise that the antidote to this is a healthy level of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Trusting yourself and your own perceptions makes you far less likely to fall prey to a manipulator. And having a strong sense of self means you are more able to walk away from a relationship that doesn’t serve you.

As psychologist Loren Soeiro writes, “Once you have made your point, and have been clear about what you’ve been asking for, you should feel some confidence that the other party — at some level — understands what you’re after. If things end this way, it’s progress, even if you don’t get the satisfaction you were originally seeking.”

8) Emotionally detach

Ultimately, it’s your emotions that a manipulator seeks to use to control you. And you can deny them one of their most potent weapons by emotionally detaching.

Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Certainly, it’s easier with a controlling boss than it is with a partner that you love.

Detaching emotionally doesn’t mean no longer caring about the person. But it does mean refusing to get caught up in their narrative that is designed to play on your emotions.

Make the effort to think things through logically and rationally, and the manipulator loses much of their power over you.

Understand the game

Many manipulation tactics rely on the victim not realizing what’s really happening. Understanding the tactics manipulators use to control others is a key step in freeing yourself from their manipulation.

Once you’ve done that, you can use these tricks above to regain your power in any relationship.

Ultimately, the best tactic to use against manipulators is to get as far away from them as possible. When you can’t do that, the tactics above can help you stand firm and avoid being a victim of manipulation.

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