Manipulative individuals are like puppeteers. With their invisible strings of influence and control, they can force their subjects to conform to a narrative that serves their best interests.
It’s a game of power. The puppeteer gets what they want – no matter what – while the marionette unconsciously lets go of their autonomy.
Wherever you are, whichever life phase you’re in – be it college, the workforce, or social circles – it’s important to recognize these puppeteer-like manipulators. Let them know that you see right through them.
In this article, you’ll learn how to counter such manipulative behavior, as well as how to break free from the puppeteer’s control.
1) Stay Calm and Composed
Manipulators thrive in chaos. They’ll constantly try to exploit emotional upheaval and confusion. Use this to your advantage.
When an interaction feels like it’s spiraling out of control, take a deep breath and ground yourself.
Excuse yourself for a moment to collect your thoughts and return to the conversation more composed. This helps make sure that your emotions don’t cloud your judgment.
Maintaining calmness doesn’t mean suppressing your emotions – all your feelings are valid. It’s completely normal to feel angry, confused, or hurt when confronted with manipulation.
But by managing these effectively, you’re taking control of the interaction. You’re giving a signal to the manipulator that their tactics are ineffective against you.
2) Set Clear Boundaries
Manipulative individuals often prey on people who lack firm boundaries. They can tell when someone has a weak sense of self-worth.
The thing is, enforcing boundaries can be challenging, especially when you’re not used to drawing a line of respect. That’s why it’s crucial to repeat your boundary. Follow through with any consequences you’ve stated.
This was a skill that I wish I had learned years ago. I had a friend who often borrowed money from me and failed to pay me back on time. They were going through some tough times (or so I thought) which is why I could never say “no.”
One day, I decided to set a clear boundary: I won’t lend money in the future if they don’t return it promptly.
Like clockwork, they didn’t pay on time – for whatever reason – and I never replied to their financial requests ever again.
3) Be Assertive and Use “I” Statements
Assertive communication entails expressing your feelings, needs and desires clearly and confidently. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable.
But don’t worry, just like any skill, it takes time and practice to master; the more you consciously practice it, the more natural it will become.
An effective communication strategy is using “I” statements.
For instance, let’s say you have a friend that’s always late to hangouts. Instead of saying, “You’re always late,” which could make them defensive, you could give an “I” statement: “I feel disrespected when I’m kept waiting.”
That way, you’re creating space for understanding and resolution. You’re not blaming or criticizing them, but rather just simply expressing how you feel.
4) Recognize Gaslighting
Gaslighting refers to a form of psychological manipulation where the manipulator attempts to make you question your own memory, perception, or sanity.
They’ll try to disorient you by sowing seeds of doubt, whether that’s denying or distorting facts, dismissing your feelings, or calling you sensitive or hallucinating.
Trust your instincts. Don’t let the truth be manipulated.
If you feel that something’s off or if the other person’s version of events don’t align with your memory, take note. Document events and conversations so that you can create a record that verifies your recollections.
This would serve as your anchor to reality when the gaslighter tries to warp your perception.
5) Learn Healthy Ways to Express Your Anger
Before anything else, you need to be self-aware and learn how to recognize your anger. Be honest with yourself when you start feeling negative emotions.
Ignoring or suppressing your anger won’t make it disappear; instead, it can lead to passive-aggressive behavior or an eventual emotional explosion.
Again, you don’t want to play the same game as your manipulator.
Healthy expression of anger means standing up for yourself without stepping on the rights of others.
For example, I once had a colleague that kept dumping their work on me, causing me to feel furious.
They were getting unreasonable. Instead of going straight to HR, I wanted to deal with things on my own first – in a constructive way.
I put my foot down and told my co-worker, “I need you to complete your own tasks as I have my workload to manage.”
6) Maintain Emotional Distance
When you’re dealing with a manipulative individual, you need to learn how to keep your distance.
This doesn’t mean being cold or not caring about them at all. Healthy distance serves as your protective barrier so that you can objectively assess the situation, preventing your emotions from getting the better of you.
When you feel your emotions starting to spiral, it can be beneficial to take a step back and give yourself time to calm down.
Think things through rationally. You don’t want to say or do something that you might regret later down the line.
7) Keep Conversations Neutral
The best way to maintain neutrality is to steer the conversation towards facts and objective information rather than personal feelings or opinions.
By doing so, you can prevent the manipulator from twisting your words. I highly recommend that, as much as possible, don’t reveal information that can be used against you.
Remember your goal is not always to “win” an argument. It’s okay to disagree. You can’t control how others behave, but you can control your own reactions.
If the manipulator constantly tries to provoke you, despite your calm composure, sometimes the best option is to walk away from the situation. They aren’t worth your time and energy.
8) Practice Self-Care
Believe it or not, self-care is one of the most powerful ways to combat manipulation. It involves taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
When you take a holistic approach to taking care of yourself, you can maintain your strength and resilience, enabling you to stand up to manipulative behavior more effectively.
Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all concept. What works for others may not work for you.
Some people find joy in regular exercise and a vegan diet; others prefer therapy or journaling; I know friends who would rather read a book than watch Netflix.
All that matters is that when you make the effort to practice self-care, you’re sending yourself a message: “I’m worth taking care of.” You do not deserve manipulation, toxic behavior, and lies.
9) Maintain Your Relationships and Social Activities
Maintaining your relationships can act as a shield against manipulative behavior.
When you surround yourself with positive influences, you’re also getting emotional support, validation, and a sense of belonging – all of which make it easier to resist manipulation.
Don’t underestimate the power of leisure activities. Although these would admittedly require significant time and effort, the commitment will be worth it.
This reminds me of another instance that I had at my first job, fresh out of college, in a highly competitive corporate environment.
My immediate supervisor was a master of manipulation. She always made me work overtime, took credit for my ideas, and screamed at me every chance she got. I doubted my skills. I felt trapped.
But it was not until I reconnected with some college friends that things started to change.
We had game nights every now and then which served as an avenue for shared laughter and light-hearted conversations.
Since I was able to detach from work-related stress, it felt easier for me to share my experiences.
They helped me see the manipulative behavior I was subjected to. They validated my feelings. They made me feel I didn’t have to face this alone.
10) Don’t Feed the Drama
Manipulative people love drama. They leverage conflict in order to manipulate others and gain control.
They exaggerate situations, pit friends against each other, and even play the victim. So don’t take their words or actions personally.
Know that drama often serves the manipulator’s interests rather than resolves the actual issue. You don’t always have to play peacemaker.
Instead, refuse to engage in any form of gossip or backbiting.
I suggest that you calmly state your perspective. If it gets through to the manipulator, they’ll realize that their tactics don’t work.
However, if that doesn’t work, disengage from the situation. Protect your peace.
11) You Don’t Need to Justify Your Decisions
It’s important to remind yourself that you have the right to make your own decisions without needing to justify them to everyone.
There’s no space for someone in your life that makes you constantly second-guess yourself – whether it’s your career choices, fashion sense, or what you want to eat for lunch.
There’s a place for constructive advice and open discussions, but ultimately, the choice is yours.
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