13 subtle mind tricks manipulators use to gain control over you

Manipulative people can be extremely clever. They refine their tactics as they go, using what works and adapting it to get around your defenses. 

Here are the most subtle mind tricks that manipulators use to pull your strings. 

If you watch out for the following sly techniques, you’ll ensure that you always stay one step ahead of those with ill intentions. 

Here’s what to be on the lookout for: 

1) Negging

Negging is a term which entered the lexicon several decades ago out of the “manosphere” or male dating advice industry. 

It originally referred to a way suggested by some pickup artists to pick up women by combining a subtle insult or judgment with a compliment. 

An example could be somebody complimenting your new shoes and adding that they look “super vintage” then asking if they’re hand-me-downs with a twinkle in his eye. 

It’s not “deeply” insulting or anything, but it’s a joke with a tinge of malice in it.

As Ann Pietrangelo explains

“They get you feeling pretty good — then they knock you down. 

It’s a tried-and-true method of keeping you on unsteady ground. It’s particularly effective when there are witnesses, so you’re more likely to grin and bear it.”

2) Isolating

Manipulative individuals know that somebody is much more prone to their wiles if that person is isolated. 

As such, the manipulator will often subtly undermine everybody else in your life. 

“Your brother isn’t very smart, your mom is jealous, your best friend is mentally unstable, your colleagues at work don’t understand you.”

These may be partially true judgments, but they are presented to you with an agenda of ruling out the influence and impact of these people on your life. 

Who’s left? Who’s still on your side and trustworthy? 

It’s the person telling you how untrustworthy everyone else supposedly is – what are the chances! 

3) “You owe me”

There’s nothing quite so toxic and transactional generosity and transactional love

The manipulative person will often pull this trick after having done something very kind or apparently selfless for you. 

They then emerge some days later with an ask:

“Well, I was thinking…I have this thing I could really use your help on and…”

It sounds fine on the surface, but this request comes on the heels of them helping you, and it’s not actually a request. 

It’s a demand of you serving them in return for them doing something that was nice. It wasn’t nice. It was a favor with invisible strings attached. And now they’re calling in that favor.

And they’ll decide the size and nature of the favor they feel you owe them, too. 

4) Mood manipulation

Manipulators will often toy with your emotions. This is no secret, but the methods they have for twisting around your mood are not often well understood. 

The most common but often overlooked is simply to bring up a subject they know makes you upset. They then act innocent as if you becoming disheartened or annoyed is a surprise to them. 

As a result of this, they can then turn the conversation to what they wish and have you in a vulnerable emotional state to respond to them in the way they’d like. 

Other subtle mind games the manipulator engages in with your mood include:

  • Making you jealous;
  • Withholding important information from you;
  • Making you worry about their well-being but being vague about it;
  • Creating a high-stress emotional situation to wear you down…

5) The cold shoulder 

Giving you the cold shoulder is another high-ranking tool in the manipulative arsenal. 

This isn’t necessarily right up-front, however. 

The cold shoulder can be quite subtle and the manipulator may still talk to you and seem “mostly” normal. 

But like the left pedal being pressed down on a piano and half-muting all the strings, this individual seems to be quieter, more withdrawn, blank. 

If you question them on it they feign ignorance, asking what in the world you’re talking about. It must all be in your head, you start to think…

6) Pretend helplessness 

We all have things we’re not great at, but the manipulator tends to have sudden “helpless” moments at the oddest times:

When they want your affection or intimacy…

When they want to borrow money from you…

When they are trying to make you feel bad and come chase them in a relationship…

Suddenly they realize how helpless and incompetent they are, and it’s up to you to come save the day. 


7) Convenient memory lapses

The manipulator loves to conveniently forget things when those things don’t benefit them. 

They then tend to conveniently remember things when it helps them! And demand that you remember those things too! 

This habit of conveniently forgetting and remembering can be very effective, because it’s hard to tell someone that they’re lying about forgetting something if you don’t know for sure. 

8) Fishing for pity

The manipulator is well known to play the victim in order to gain leverage. 

This is certainly true, but a subtler version of this mind game is that they will fish for pity in hidden ways by weaving a low-key victim narrative into seemingly normal conversations and interactions. 

Instead of acting outwardly like “woe is me” or openly complaining, the manipulator tells a seemingly happy anecdote or acts fine while actually loading everything with doom and gloom. 

For example, your friend who is manipulating you, tells you about their holidays and how enjoyable it was to see family “despite what’s been going on with the financial situation and my own mental health situation.”

You don’t follow up, but they go on to talk more, adding in oblique references to being mistreated as a child and their dislike of their family. 

You’re supposed to see that they’re a victim without them openly saying it! 

9) Double bind

The double bind is another subtle mind trick used by the manipulator in which they give you a false choice:

“Either do A or else do B!”

The problem? Both option A and option B are terrible and equally distasteful in their own way. You don’t want to choose either, but the individual urging you to decide has convinced you there is no third or fourth option. 

Be very careful that your choice architecture isn’t being structured by the manipulator in a way that falsely limits you and cuts you off from many more options that are actually available beyond a binary dilemma. 

10) Firehose of falsehood

Firehose of falsehood is a term that comes from psychological warfare and military operations. 

It refers to modern methods of misleading a population through broadcasting multiple messages across many channels which are incorrect or partially true. 

These messages may correlate or be contradictory, but the main purpose is to spread so many confusing and misleading messages that the viewers get lost in argument, confusion and selective belief.

Manipulators love this method, because by hitting you with all sorts of vague and fuzzy statements and misleading information they can exhaust your defenses and make you eventually give up. 

“Fine, whatever you say,” is what they want to hear from you. 

11) False security 

Creating a sense of false security is a go-to tactic for the manipulative individual.

This is essentially playing the role of “good cop.” 

For example, the manipulator will make you feel that they understand you and sympathize and say “you can tell me anything.”

Then when you say something that you did wrong or are insecure about, suddenly they have the goods on you and can use that to leverage against you, make you feel guilty or dangle over you. 

On the flip side, the manipulator will sometimes turn to false accusations to throw you off balance…

12) False accusations

Projection can be an extremely effective form of psychological warfare, which is why manipulators often use it. 

False accusations are a typical form of projection, because often the manipulator will accuse you of something they are doing (or thinking of doing). 

This throws you on the defensive, wondering if you really have done something wrong or at the very least trying to defend against this suspicion coming your way. 

“I’ve seen the way you look at her!” a guy’s girlfriend says accusingly, as she tucks her phone away where she’s in the middle of a rather spicy sexting session with a guy she recently met online. 


13) Artificial urgency

Manipulators and con men thrive in an atmosphere of urgency. 

If there isn’t an urgent situation already present, they will do their best to create it or act like it’s already happening. 

“If you don’t elect me this country will literally collapse!”

“I need to know if you can loan me the money by tomorrow, because I have a meeting with the bank at 3 pm, OK?” (They have no meeting with any bank on any day). 

And so on…

Watch out for these tricks! 

Do your best to stay away from manipulative people and be aware of their subtle but highly corrosive tactics. 

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