10 signs someone has a cunning, manipulative personality

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Have you ever met someone that was incredibly charming at first only to later discover it was all a front?

The thing about the deceitful person is that they’re a difficult read. Their confidence and self-belief make it hard to doubt them sometimes. 

In reality, they’re just wolves in (very convincing) sheep’s clothing. And often, we only realize this when it’s too late. 

So it’s best we keep to keep our guard up when we have a hunch that something’s off. 

In this article, I’ll walk you through a list of 10 signs someone has a cunning and manipulative personality. Let’s dive in! 

1) They’re overly charming 

When someone is constantly flattering you, don’t immediately give in. Sometimes, things are a little too good to be true. Think about potential underlying motives. 

The latter though might be tough to decipher in the case of the charming manipulator; they’re very skilled at their craft. They can sense weak points in others, and they know how to use them to break down barriers.

Their goal is to get you to trust them. Why? That’s for you to decide. Take everything into account before you let someone into your life. Factor in context, background, body language, etc. 

Of course, most of the time people are just friendly. But for the occasional oddball, abusive partner, or snake oil salesman, you should develop some kind of internal system for filtering these folks out. 

2) You’ve caught them in a lie 

Of course, nobody’s perfect. We’ve all stretched the truth at some point in our lives. 

But if someone you know habitually says things that don’t really add up, they might be prone to lying. 

Some people can convince themselves that their lie is actually the truth, a practice that is pretty damn dangerous. 

Think about that Netflix true crime documentary you watched… you know, the one about the cult leader and his blind followers.   

What are some things that all these cult leaders have in common? For one, they are all extremely charismatic. 

Second, they believe their own lies with so much conviction that people start to buy them–until they eventually wisen up. 

Don’t be a cult follower, when you catch someone lying or manipulating the truth, consider that a major red flag.

3) They have a lack of empathy

Here’s the thing: you might have mixed feelings about a manipulative person despite all the red flags since “they’re nice to me.” 

Tread lightly, my friend, this is all surface-level stuff. 

Ask yourself, once a manipulator gets what they want do they maintain the same level of kindness towards you? If so, awesome. If not, then maybe you’ve been played. 

Take note of how they treat people they deem below them, like restaurant staff. Do they have empathy? If they’re nice to you but treat the waiter or waitress like crap, they’re not a nice person. Just cunning and manipulative

4) They are controlling and dominating

If the manipulator gets what they want, expect everything to be fine and dandy. But when things don’t go their way, the cracks will begin to surface. 

When you act out of line in their eyes, they may resort to controlling behavior like coercion or intimidation. They might even employ psychological terrorism by using your vulnerabilities against you to get what they want. 

It may take a while for their true colors to come out, but when they do expect a lot of heartache and pain. Don’t let it get to this point. Run while you can! 

5) They blame everyone but themselves

Sometimes, when a manipulative person screws up they use all their willpower to avoid accountability and try to shift blame. 

Instead of owning up to a mistake, they’ll find an innocent scapegoat to be liable for it. 

This isn’t just common in calculating individuals, it happens in governments too. 

Let’s say there’s a severe economic recession and an incompetent and shady government is mostly to blame. Instead of taking responsibility, they might decide to look for an easy target to blame like immigrants or other marginalized groups. 

In this instance, the public is being manipulated. Immigrants suffer, and the government can wash its hands of anything remotely resembling accountability. Well played. 

6) They’re professional gaslighters

We touched a bit on control earlier. One of the most subtle forms of control is gaslighting.

Gaslighting at its core is a form of control. The deceitful person uses this tactic to confuse you, to make you question your reality, and ultimately to erode your sense of self-trust. 

If you suspect this is happening to you, don’t get caught up! Shake it off like a dizzy spell. 

Take a step back and have faith in what your gut is telling you over some person with a history of manipulative tendencies. You got this!

7) They guilt-trip you often  

Have you heard of the term “emotional blackmail?” Well, that’s essentially what guilt-tripping is. A manipulative person realizes guilt is a weapon. 

Some people might be more susceptible to guilt than others. So for those that are easily guilty, you should make an extra effort to protect yourself. 

My ex used to guilt trip me. She did this because I’d fall for it often. 

I’d sometimes spend the weekends with my family instead of seeing her. She would respond to this perceived slight by throwing tantrums, saying she was in a suicidal state, and threatening to guzzle a bottle of sleeping pills if I didn’t see her.

Like clockwork, I’d drop everything to fix the situation, cutting my time with family short to spend time and look after her. 

It was only when we broke up when I realized that I was being manipulated for years. 

And she was an expert at playing the victim. This leads me to my next point…

8) They are professional victims 

Here’s the thing: some manipulators have real acting chops. They can put up some Academy Award-level performances… at your expense. 

Imagine this: being belittled daily by a manipulative person through snide comments or subtle putdowns. Then the moment you react or speak out against the verbal abuse, they assume the role of the innocent, harmless victim

In fact, they can be so convincing that you’re the one that ends up apologizing.  

Like a bull seeing red, when a manipulator sees weakness, they’ll milk you for all you’ve got. 

9) They try to isolate you from others

Real talk: since manipulators desire complete control hence they don’t really want your other relationships to exist. They don’t want others possibly swaying or influencing you away from them and their domineering ways. 

They may isolate you from friends and family by talking sh*t about them until you eventually buy it. This isn’t genuine, it’s all part of their plan to isolate you from outside contact.

Let’s go back to the cult leader example. A pattern among the victims I’ve noticed is that they seem to cut off ties with their closest friends and family at the behest of the devious cult leaders. 

This indicates they’ve become sufficiently brainwashed, which is pretty much just a sophisticated form of manipulation. Their loved ones are left bamboozled while the manipulator is very content.

10) Your work and relationships are suffering 

Sadly, once you’ve been manipulated, it can be extremely damaging to your morale and self-worth. This is especially true when the manipulative person is someone close to you

This can drain your energy and get in the way of your career, relationships, your social life, etc. 

Don’t let them win by letting all your opportunities slip away. You owe it to yourself to take control of your life. 

Fire back by cutting your losses and being your best self. 

How to handle manipulative and cunning people

Although my advice would be to avoid them altogether if you have a manipulative person in your life for whatever reason, here are some strategies to make dealing with them a bit easier:

  • Set clear boundaries: Put your foot down and communicate the boundaries you will or won’t tolerate as a human being. Write them down in a journal so it reinforces your conviction. Eventually, the manipulator will catch on…
  • Limit contact: Maybe you have “friends” that have manipulative tendencies. Gradually limit your interactions with them. Maybe they’re going through a phase or have yet to fully grow up. In which case, let them be. Life is too short having to stress out over people that bring you down.
  • Practice self-care: As established, manipulative people can be emotionally draining, so make sure to regularly take care of yourself. Prioritize self-care activities like exercise, relaxation, and spending time with supportive friends and family.
  • Seek support: If you are forced to deal with a particularly manipulative person, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor. They can provide a safe space to discuss your experiences and help you develop coping strategies and empower your decisions.

Final thoughts

To recap, I’d just like to say that there is no shortage of manipulative and cunning people in the world. If you feel like you’ve been a victim of their deceit, you are far from alone.

Once you acknowledge the patterns of their behavior, things will become very clear and easier to maneuver past. Remember the first step is acceptance, then action.  So enough with their bulls*it, stand tall, and be ready when it’s time to break free. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

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Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an entrepreneur and thought leader in personal development and digital media, with a foundation in education from The London School of Economics and The Australian National University. As the co-founder of Ideapod, The Vessel, and a director at Brown Brothers Media, Justin has spearheaded platforms that significantly contribute to personal and collective growth. His deep insights are shared on his YouTube channel, JustinBrownVids, offering a rich blend of guidance on living a meaningful and purposeful life.

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