7 tactics manipulative people use to undermine your self-worth

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Do you know someone that makes you feel like crap? And I’m not just talking about an occasional roast or some friendly banter that went too far.

No, this is more serious (and more consistent).

They grind you down to the point where you start to question your fundamental beliefs and ideas. You lose confidence when they’re around and may even want to avoid them altogether.

So what’s going on here?

Well, there are several reasons why someone might target you. But the main thing to remember is that it’s usually THEIR problem, not yours.

They could feel insecure, so bring you down to make themselves feel better. Maybe they want to control you, and by weakening you, they think you’re more likely to comply. 

It could also be driven by jealousy, they want to level the playing field (in their mind), so attack your accomplishments or relationships.

When you boil it down…

It all falls under the umbrella of manipulation.

And recognizing some manipulative tactics can help you spot these toxic people a mile away, allowing you to respond effectively.

Do these seven manipulation tricks ring a bell?

1) They keep secrets

This might sound like it belongs in the playground, but withholding information is an incredibly effective manipulation tactic.

Here’s why.

Ever heard of “knowledge is power”?

If your friend knows something you don’t (no matter how trivial it is) it puts them in a position of power.

But there’s more.

If they then start sharing this secret information with other people, it can amplify the effect. You’ll start to feel paranoid. You’ll also feel inferior or less important than the guys in the know.

In other words, it destroys your self-worth.

Psychologically, you’re curious. You want to know the latest gossip. They technically have something you want and they’re refusing to give it to you. You may also feel isolated.

But remember – chances are, the secret isn’t that interesting.

And if you ever do hear it, you’ll probably think “Is that it?” Much like a roller coaster, it’s the anticipation that gives you the strongest emotion, rather than the anti-climatic main event.

2) They make fun of you (in front of others)

We’ve all experienced being the butt of a joke.

And usually, it’s just casual teasing around something stupid we’ve said or done.

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty funny when you fall over in public and EVERYONE notices.

You even laugh at it yourself.

But when things get personal, premeditated, and persistent, take note. It could be a more malicious attempt to undermine your self-worth.

There are some key differences.

For example, a one-on-one giggle about that time you locked yourself out of your house, is playful banter. Whereas making fun of your height in front of friends is something entirely different.

An attack on your physical appearance, accent, family background, or anything that you can’t easily control is a direct shot at your self-esteem.

3) They (somehow) make you feel guilty

Have you ever confronted someone about their toxic behavior, only to come out of the conversation feeling like you’re the bad guy?

Guilt-tripping is a classic tactic used by serial manipulators.

Especially in intimate relationships.

It works because you care about the other person (and they know it). They leverage your feelings and prey on your strong emotions.

For example, you call up your partner and they sarcastically answer the phone:

“Wow, you finally had time to call me!”

Here’s the thing – there’s actually an easy way to deal with a guilt-tripper.

First, you need to stay objective. Of course, this is easier said than done, but talk to friends about the situation or even post on Am I The Asshole? for an unbiased view. 

Next, call them out on it!

It’s better to nip it in the bud before things escalate, as chances are this kind of emotional blackmail won’t sort itself out.

4) They love giving you ultimatums

Master manipulators often use threats to undermine your self-worth and make you comply with their demands.

Because what does an ultimatum do?

It forces you to consider the consequences of disobeying them. This, in turn, generates one of the strongest basic human emotions – fear.

In other words, you’ll feel trapped and anxious. 

Just remember – this is exactly what they want!

5) They try to isolate you

Being isolated puts you in a vulnerable spot. 

Toxic control freaks know this and use isolation to knock your confidence and make you more dependent on them.

They’ll slowly but surely push you away from friends and family.

Maybe it starts with skipping a few social events, but before you know it, you’ve missed the last three family Christmases.

By limiting your interactions they’re cutting off your relationships and making you rely on them more for validation and emotional support.

6) They employ triangulation

Triangulation involves bringing a third person into a relationship to get what you want.

A classic example of triangulation is flirting with another man to make your husband feel jealous.

It’s a particularly malice form of manipulation because it results in two victims – one person is used and another person is emotionally manipulated.

And triangulation doesn’t stop there.

Ever heard the term “Divide and conquer”?

The manipulator may talk behind your back and stir the pot. Perhaps creating rumors or instigating hate, causing new conflicts to break out.

7) They mirror you (to gain your trust)

This one is especially effective in new relationships and usually takes a while to play out.

Mirroring can be a devastating way to destroy your self-worth.

Basically, the manipulator will break down your independence by copying your interests, values, and beliefs. Once they have your trust, they’ll use it against you and attempt to control your thoughts and actions.

But remember this.

Mirroring isn’t always negative. Your fashion sense or vocabulary may naturally rub off on genuine friends who have no bad intentions.

The key thing here is to identify if they try to control or influence you in any other way.

Leila El-Dean

Leila is a passionate writer with a background in photography and art. She has over ten years of experience in branding, marketing, and building websites. She loves travelling and has lived in several countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Malta. When she’s not writing (or ogling cats), Leila loves trying new food and drinking copious amounts of Earl Grey tea.

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