9 traits highly skilled manipulators look for in their victims, according to psychology

As people, it’s important that we know our worth; that we feel valued and treated with respect.

Unfortunately, these are often missing when we’re targeted by highly skilled manipulators.

Manipulation, a form of emotional abuse, is characterized by a person methodically exploiting another’s weaknesses for their own gain.

These manipulators are often proficient at identifying individuals who are susceptible to their tactics.

Psychology suggests that certain traits make us more appealing to these manipulators. Recognizing these attributes in ourselves can help us guard against falling into their traps.

Here’s a rundown of the traits that manipulators often seek in their victims, according to psychology.

1) Vulnerability

Vulnerability isn’t always about being weak or fragile. It can often simply mean being open, trusting, and emotionally available.

Manipulators, regrettably, exploit these characteristics in a person. They know that people who are vulnerable are more likely to trust others and less likely to question their motives.

You may find that they’re quick to form close bonds with you, attempting to gain your trust and affection rapidly. This is often done by expressing deep understanding or empathy towards your struggles and experiences.

They may also emphasize their own vulnerabilities, painting themselves as victims in an effort to gain your sympathy. This could involve sharing stories of their past hardships or injustices they’ve faced.

Be aware of those who seem overly interested in your personal issues or who attempt to form an emotional bond too quickly. Genuine relationships take time to build and can’t be rushed.

2) Low self-esteem

Self-esteem is a significant factor that manipulators often exploit. They are quick to identify people who may lack confidence or have a poor self-image.

People with low self-esteem often doubt their worth and abilities. They are more prone to accepting less than they deserve, making them ideal targets for manipulators.

Manipulators may start by showering you with compliments and attention, making you feel special.

However, once they’ve gained your trust, they may shift to subtle criticisms and negative comments, further eroding your self-esteem.

They might belittle your achievements or compare you unfavorably with others, making you feel inadequate. By doing so, they make you more dependent on their approval and validation.

Be careful of anyone who seems overly critical or dismissive of your achievements and self-worth. Know your own value, and do not let someone else define it for you.

3) Independence

It may seem surprising, but manipulators often seek out independent people. Those who are self-reliant and capable can present an appealing challenge to a manipulator.

Independent people are often seen as strong and resourceful, traits that manipulators find attractive as they can exploit these strengths for their own gain.

They might initially be drawn to the manipulator’s charisma or perceived vulnerability, believing they can provide help or support. The manipulator, in turn, cleverly uses this to their advantage.

They might play the victim, making you feel needed and valued for your ability to “rescue” them.

Alternatively, they may elevate your independence, praising your strength while subtly undermining it in ways that make you reliant on them.

This shows us that even the most independent individuals can fall prey to manipulative tactics, which is why it’s important to maintain healthy boundaries and question motives that seem too good to be true.

4) Loneliness

It’s a grim reality, but manipulators often prey on loneliness. Those who are lonely or feel isolated are usually more susceptible to manipulation.

Lonely people are often desperate for connection and companionship, which manipulators can sense and exploit.

They may present themselves as the solution to your loneliness, promising companionship, understanding, and a connection you’ve been longing for.

They’ll likely make grand gestures to show their commitment and interest in you. They’ll spend time with you, listen to you, and make you feel seen and heard.

However, their ultimate goal is often to deepen your dependency on them.

It’s a harsh truth, but it’s important to remember that not everyone who offers companionship has good intentions.

Always be wary of those who seem too eager to fill the void of loneliness in your life.

5) Kindness

There’s a beautiful purity in those who are naturally kind-hearted and empathetic. They have a genuine desire to help others and often put others’ needs before their own.

Unfortunately, manipulators can see this inclination as an opportunity.

Manipulators often take advantage of these individuals’ good nature. They understand that kind-hearted people are more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt and less likely to suspect them of manipulation.

They might present themselves as people in need of help, knowing that you’re likely to extend your support. They may take advantage of your willingness to compromise or your difficulty in saying no.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but remember, your kindness is a gift, and it needs to be guarded against those who would misuse it. 

6) Trust

Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, be it with friends, family, or partners. We all want to trust and be trusted in return.

This universal desire, however, can be a manipulator’s playground.

Manipulators often seek out individuals who are naturally trusting. They know that these people are more likely to believe in their good intentions and less likely to question their actions.

They will invest time and effort into earning your trust. They might share secrets with you, show consistent support, or present themselves as reliable and trustworthy.

But once your trust is won, they use it to control and manipulate you.

It’s an all-too-common scenario, but remember that trust is a two-way street. It should be earned and reciprocated.

Always trust your instincts and look for consistency in someone’s actions, not just their words.

7) Good listener

Who doesn’t appreciate a good listener? Someone who can lend an ear when we’re down, or just when we want to share our day’s happenings.

Well, manipulators love them too—but for their own reasons.

People who are good listeners are like gold to manipulators. They know that they are more likely to be patient, understanding, and less inclined to interrupt or question their narratives.

A manipulator might talk at length about their life, problems, or ambitions, making you feel involved and valued.

But this could be a tactic to deflect attention from you and your needs while subtly controlling the conversation and the relationship.

As much as we value a dash of humor in our lives, keep in mind that being a good listener doesn’t mean forgetting your own voice.

8) Lack of boundaries

Let’s get real: setting boundaries isn’t always easy. It can feel uncomfortable, or even selfish.

It’s why manipulators absolutely thrive on individuals who struggle to set or maintain boundaries.

Manipulators can spot a lack of boundaries from a mile away. They know that they are more likely to tolerate their oversteps, excuses, and transgressions without much resistance.

They may push your limits subtly, making requests that make you uncomfortable, encroaching on your personal space, or dismissing your feelings and needs.

This is often a calculated move to slowly erode your boundaries and gain control.

As tough as it sounds, setting firm boundaries is a non-negotiable in any relationship. It’s not selfish, but rather a sign of self-respect and self-care.

Stand your ground and remember that it’s okay to prioritize your own well-being.

9) Silence

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s this—manipulators bank on your silence. They rely on you not voicing your concerns, not questioning their actions, and not standing up for yourself.

Manipulators prefer those who are hesitant to articulate their feelings or confront issues. This silence allows them to continue their manipulative behavior unchallenged.

They might dismiss your worries, trivialize your feelings, or even turn the tables by playing the victim when you try to voice your concerns.

This is a classic tactic used to silence any opposition and maintain control.

Remember that your voice matters. Don’t let anyone silence you or make you feel that your feelings are invalid.

Always speak up, because, in the end, breaking the silence is the first step towards breaking free from manipulation.

Isabella Chase

Isabella Chase, a New York City native, writes about the complexities of modern life and relationships. Her articles draw from her experiences navigating the vibrant and diverse social landscape of the city. Isabella’s insights are about finding harmony in the chaos and building strong, authentic connections in a fast-paced world.

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