10 ways to instantly recognize manipulative behavior

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Remember the classic song “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics?

“Some of them want to use you
 Some of them want to get used by you”

If that’s not a warning about manipulative people, I don’t know what is!

As they pointed out, there are definitely people out there who are interested in manipulating you. They could be users or people, like co-dependents, who want to be used.

But how do you know when people are out to scheme and control you and when they’re being genuine?

It turns out that there are at least 10 ways to instantly recognize manipulative behavior so that you can protect yourself from being used and getting hurt.

Here are some of those clues.

1) You’re feeling love-bombed.

Who doesn’t love surprises?

Who doesn’t like being made to feel special and loved?

While this might be a normal pattern in some relationships, in others, it comes on only at certain times.

Suddenly, a partner might start surprising the other and giving lots of gifts and tons of attention, especially to an unusual level. 

Manipulators often do this to distract their partners and take the focus away from anything naughty they might be doing. 

A classic example is a man buying his wife a new car or beautiful jewelry out of the blue. She’s happy, and he covers up the fact that he has a mistress.

Love-bombing is also used to get someone to fall head-over-heels for you early on in a relationship so that when things go sour later, the love-bomber can always point out how much they love the other person.

2) It seems like your boundaries are challenged or ignored.

Your personal boundaries define what you can tolerate and what you can’t.

In every relationship, partners will sometimes push up against these boundaries, and that’s perfectly normal. We need to find out where our partners’ boundaries are.

But when this keeps happening or worse, the boundaries are crossed repeatedly, it can feel like the other person really doesn’t respect us.

Manipulators will often push and push some more. They don’t care about your boundaries – they just care about what they want.

So, the negative feelings you get from having your boundaries challenged or ignored frequently become a good way to recognize manipulative behavior.

3) You’re being gaslighted.

Gaslighting is a favorite tool of the manipulator.

This form of manipulation consistently denies your version of the truth and pushes the other person’s version on you.

They deny your version of events – “That never happened.”

They attack your reality – “You’re being crazy.”

They even deny your emotional interpretations – “Obviously, I was only joking when I said that!”

If a person is constantly telling you that your version of reality isn’t accurate, it’s not hard to recognize that they’re trying to manipulate you.

4) What they say and what they do don’t match up.

Manipulators lie – that’s Manipulation 101.

Someone who’s scheming is going to tell you one thing and regularly do another, even the total opposite of what they’ve promised.

Imagine a colleague who asks you to cover a shift for them while promising to return the favor. Instead of fulfilling their end of the bargain, they instead ask you for the same favor again and again, never reciprocating.

Or, in a relationship, your partner might tell you they never talk to their ex, but instead, you find out they chat all the time. They’re not only lying; they’re totally covering up their behavior and hoping you’ll trust them. 

It’s instantly recognizable that they’re trying to use your kindheartedness and manipulate you to do things for them.

5) You feel pressured.

Manipulators love to use time pressure to inflate the sense of urgency surrounding actions and tasks.

I had a boss once who would do this constantly, at least until it blew up in his face.

He’d ask for a project to be delivered in four days. Then he’d come back and say it was supposed to be three. But then he’d say he was under a lot of pressure to get things done, and he needed the work done in two days.

He did this to everyone on the team constantly but was finally caught out when his boss actually commended him in front of everyone for getting work done so fast without even being asked for it.

We all realized he was manipulating us to work our butts off just so he could score points with management.

6) They turn defense into an attack.

Turning the tables and flipping the script are a couple of favorite tactics of the master manipulator.

One thing that manipulative people do oh-so-well is to repel what they perceive as an attack by using the idea that offensive is the best defense.

Imagine your partner has been coming home late without an explanation a lot lately. When you confront them about it and ask for an explanation, they flip things around and make it about you.

They call you insecure and say you’re trying to interfere in their life and control them.

Really, though, they’re flipping things around to make you feel bad and take the pressure off them.

All you can do in this kind of situation is stick to your guns.

You have to push back against this attempt to reverse things and make them give you straight answers.

7) You feel ganged up on.

Clever manipulators know that there’s strength in numbers, so they try to increase theirs while decreasing yours.

Here’s what I mean:

They say things like, “I’ve heard a lot of people say this about you,” or “Everyone feels the same way,” to make it seem like their perspective has widespread support.

At the same time, they’ll tell you that you’re alone with phrases like, “You’re the only one who doesn’t agree” and “No one else is against this.”

But it’s easy to test if this is true or just manipulation.

When people refer to others to back themselves up, ask for clear sources. Test them to see if these people are real or just made up to influence you.

8) They change the rules and move the goalposts.

This is such sneaky, devious behavior because it gets your hopes up, only to dash them again and again.

I watched a movie the other day which used this technique. 

There’s a hitman who wants out of the biz. His handler tells him, “One more job, and you’re out,” but when he completes that job, there’s always another one waiting.

We’ve all seen this classic movie trope, but we often don’t recognize the more subtle ways a manipulator uses the same technique in our own lives.

Your boss might promise a lighter workload after this tough project is done, but then more work comes in.

A partner might ask to share finances 50/50 but then keeps finding items in your spending that don’t count so that they don’t have to help with those costs.

However it’s used, this is a hugely manipulative tactic and one to really watch out for.

9) They threaten you with emotional blackmail.

This happens a lot in relationships.

A manipulative partner may threaten to leave you or reveal secret information about you if you don’t do what they say.

If you’re afraid of being abandoned or if you have secrets that you definitely don’t want to have out in the open (who doesn’t!?), this can be a very effective tactic to control you. It’s sneaky and manipulative, but it’s also very obvious and transparent since they have to make a real threat.

That’s why you can instantly recognize this manipulative behavior and be aware that the other person hasn’t got your best interests at heart.

10) You’re being ignored or given the silent treatment.

The silent treatment is more than just a passive-aggressive way to show someone you’re mad at them.

It can also be used as a tactic to manipulate others.

It works like this.

You try to communicate, and they ignore you. This takes power away from you while giving them a sort of advantage because they know what you’re thinking, but you don’t know the opposite.

Imagine this in a work setting.

You might send a colleague a request for information, telling them why you need it and what it will be used for. They don’t reply.

In this example, they now know that you need something from them, why you need it, and that it’s important. To the manipulative person, this feels like they have some power over you, some leverage they can use to get you to do what they want.


Manipulators think they’re clever enough to make you do what they want.

But if you can see these ten ways to instantly recognize manipulative behavior, you can catch them in the act and realize the truth.

They’re out for themselves and will happily use you to get whatever they want.

But now the jig, as they say, is up!

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