15 psychological tricks to outsmart a manipulator

Manipulation can be hard to spot. It is often purposefully subtle and designed to trick you.

But even when you sense someone is trying to play with your emotions to control or deceive you, then what?

It can be very useful to have some tricks up your sleeve to outsmart their attempts.

So let’s take a look at some powerful strategies to protect yourself and keep control in manipulative situations.

1) Know what to watch out for

First things first.

It sounds like an obvious point, but we must recognize manipulative tactics to begin with. And as I highlighted in the intro, that’s not always so easy.

Familiarize yourself with common manipulative tactics like gaslighting, guilt-tripping, and playing the victim.

Be on the lookout for subtle signs of manipulation like excessive flattery or constant criticism.

Sometimes that means trusting your gut instincts about people. If something feels off or uncomfortable, listen to your intuition.

2) Don’t give them leverage

When you know someone has manipulative tendencies, avoid giving them any power over you in the first place.

For example:

  • Turn down favors from manipulators so that you don’t become indebted to them
  • Avoid giving them personal info or telling them your secrets which they may later use against you
  • If they have to be in your life, consciously keep them at arm’s length
  • Reduce your time spent with them where possible

3) Be reasonable and stay calm

It’s tempting to go looking for revenge when dealing with a manipulator.

We want to find the perfect thing to say to hit them where it hurts and take the upper hand.

But the truth is that the best psychological tactic is to refuse to engage in their mind games.

They want you to bite back.

They get their kicks from your reactions. That’s why one of the best acts of revenge is to not give them that.

I know that being faced with manipulation can be incredibly triggering. But if you can keep your composure, it’s going to do you a big favor.

Not only will it frustrate them that their baiting isn’t working, but keeping composure can help you think clearly and avoid falling into their traps.

Even if you are seething inside, don’t give them the satisfaction of showing them.

4) Disarm them with this clever hack

When a manipulator is trying to push your button, be everything they are not.

Take 100% responsibility for yourself and hold your hands up to any mistakes.

For example, let’s say a manipulator is on your back about something.

They’re spoiling for a fight, they’re being hyper-critical, they’re trying to exaggerate events, and they’re saying anything to get you to disagree.

Surprise them by refusing to get defensive.

Don’t give them anything to disagree with by saying something like:

“Yeah, maybe you’re right” or “You’ve got a point”.

Then, quickly change the subject. Shift focus to something else or ask them a question.

Being disinterested in their manipulation will wind them up far more.

5) Play along when it’s easier to do so

Sometimes the best thing to do is to let a would-be manipulator stay in their own little egotistical world.

You don’t have to join them in it.

Watching safely from the outside, you won’t get sucked in.

As long as you aren’t buying into their BS, ask yourself:

Does it even matter?

Sometimes it’s our own ego that wants to meet fire with fire. But in doing so, we just create unnecessary suffering for ourselves.

If you can limit contact with them and their manipulation is only in the form of words, let them carry on with their delusions.

For the sake of an easy life, the wisest thing to do sometimes can be to smile and nod.

As long as you are protecting yourself, their words can’t hurt you.

6) Be diplomatic when disagreeing

When you have to disagree, remember to respond thoughtfully and tactfully, rather than reacting impulsively.

Remember — it’s not about what they deserve, it’s about what is most effective!

Even if what they’re saying is total nonsense, don’t cut them off, show them you are listening.

Stick to (and remind them of) the facts, but don’t elaborate.

You can even use your sensitivity to your advantage.

Show empathy towards the manipulator, but do not let it cloud your judgment.

By understanding their emotions, you can anticipate their next moves and protect yourself.

The same goes for being aware of your own emotions and how they play a part, as we’ll see next.

7) Be aware of your emotions

Manipulators often exploit emotions to gain control.

Let’s face it:

If you could switch off your emotions, a manipulator wouldn’t stand a chance.

But you are human, so that’s impossible.

What you can do is learn to understand and in the process get a better grip over your emotions. 

Try to be as aware as possible of your emotional state when you are interacting with a manipulator.

Awareness alone can be enough to help you regulate your emotions rather than lose control.

For example, naming the emotions you are feeling to yourself in your head.

Research has shown this helps to loosen the grip that feelings have on us.

We become the watchers of our emotional reactions rather than get carried away by them.

8) Ask for clarification

Neutral questions can become another ally when dealing with a manipulator.

Don’t assume, ask for clarification. This shifts the emphasis back on them.

For example, when a manipulator presents a confusing or misleading statement, ask for more detail.

Things like:

  • What do you mean?
  • Can you explain that a bit more?

This tactic forces them to explain themselves and can expose their manipulative tactics.

9) Practice assertiveness 

I hate confrontation, and I know I’m not alone.

However, developing assertiveness skills is vital in life. That way you learn how to stand up for yourself.

Manipulators tend to target individuals who lack this skill. If you show them you can’t be pushed around, they’ll move on to someone else.

Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, fake it till you make it.

10) Be mindful of your non-verbal communication

One way to give the impression of confidence is through our body language.

Your words may be saying the right things, but a manipulator may still sense they’ve gotten to you if your non-verbal communication gives the game away.

Pay attention to how relaxed your body language appears. Don’t cross your arms or stiffen up.

Be mindful of your facial expressions too.

In short:

Maintain confident and assertive non-verbal cues to establish your strength.

11) Harness the power of this little two-letter word

That word is NO.

It’s so simple, yet many of us don’t say it nearly enough.

It can be uncomfortable to turn people down, even when we think someone is being unreasonable in their demands.

But you have to practice it. Manipulators often rely on people’s inability to refuse their requests.

We need to learn to say “no” firmly and confidently. As you do, it gets easier with time.

Having some go-to phrases pre-prepared can help with this. That way, when you’re on the spot you don’t have to think too hard.

For example:

  • That’s not going to work for me
  • I won’t be able to do that
  • I’m not comfortable saying yes to that right now

12) Buy for time with delay tactics

Whilst you become more comfortable with saying no, try buying for time instead.

If a manipulator intentionally puts you on the spot, give yourself some thinking space.

Tell them:

“I’ll get back to you”

“Let me think about that”

Refuse to respond straight away.

13) Set clear boundaries

Some of our psychological tricks on the list will quickly help you to get out of a bind when dealing with manipulators.

But in the long run, the best defense comes in the form of boundaries.

Whenever we want to avoid being taken advantage of, we must establish clear boundaries and be able to communicate them to others.

Manipulators often exploit those who are wishy-washy on theirs.

If it helps, literally write out your “do’s and don’t’s” when it comes to this person.

If you don’t know where to draw the line, you cannot enforce one with them.

14) Don’t fall into these people-pleasing traps

Want to cut off the power a manipulator has?

Then cut out any people-pleasing tendencies.

These urges to be liked or not rock the boat make us willing prey for their predatory behavior.

That means:

  • Stop apologizing all the time

Don’t let them trick a “sorry” out of you when you have nothing to be sorry about.

  • Don’t buy into their guilt trips

When they attempt to emotionally blackmail you, step back and try to see things as objectively as possible.

To truly kick people-pleasing habits, you have to focus on your self-care to build your self-esteem.

Building your self-love is a long-term strategy, but totally worth it.

This is what will ultimately make you less vulnerable to a manipulator’s games.

15) Find strength in numbers

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to go head-to-head with a manipulator alone

You can find allies and seek support.

If the manipulation is taking place in a professional setting, like the workplace, document your interactions. 

Keep a record, including dates, times, and specific incidents. This can be useful evidence later down the line and help you maintain clarity about what is happening.

If it gets too much, you can always confide in friends, family, or professionals about what is happening.

Their support and perspective can provide valuable insights and guidance.

Summing up

By using these psychological tricks, you can outsmart manipulators and regain control over your life.

Remember to stay vigilant, set boundaries, and prioritize your well-being.

It may take some practice and awareness, but you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of manipulation.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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