How to Spot Psychological Manipulators

By Dr. Perry, PhD

“You learn a lot about people when they don’t get what they want.” ~Anonymous

Like the waves that forcefully crash on the shore and later gracefully retreat, there is an ebb and flow to life. The seasons change and the flowers bloom, only to later wilt. We all give and take in our daily lives. Our interactions with one another are overall based on a healthy exchange of emotions, ideas and positive social interactions. There are some individuals, that like crashing waves have a disruptive influence in our lives. They seem only interested in profiting from the relationship and will give little or nothing in exchange. They use psychological manipulation to disguise their true intent.

Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that uses deception, underhanded tactics and abuse in order to achieve the interests of the manipulator. The manipulator may use these tactics for personal gain, to advance a covert agenda, gain a position of power and superiority in the relationship or simply because they are bored.

Manipulation may be a factor in a number of  mental disorders. It appears to be part of the psychopaths M.O. (modus operandi), in order to gain what they (Anti-social Disorder, Narcissistic Personality disorder, Histrionic Disorder) want. While not all people who manipulate are suffering from a mental disorder, it is important to know how to identify manipulation and how to deal with it. Manipulative individuals are able to detect your weaknesses and use them against you. You may encounter them at work, social settings or within your own family.

When you assert your boundaries, it is important to pay attention to how people react to your defense of a set boundary. If they react with a negative emotion such as anger, hostility, intimidation, silent treatment or playing the victim, you have found the border where their respect for you ends.

Here are some signs of manipulation:

1. Lying
Overtly or by omission, they will play with the truth to facilitate their goal. See my blog post How to Spot Deception for a more detailed look at deception.

2. Denial
They will deny doing anything wrong, even when caught red handed.

3. Anger/Defensive
When confronted, they will react with excessive anger or defensiveness. They will use anger to scare you into submission. They may even use controlled anger to shock their victim and get them to focus on the anger instead of the harm.

4. Rationalization
When confronted with their manipulative behavior they will explain it away and put a positive spin to it.

5. Minimization
They will explain their behavior in a way to minimize it. For example, after insulting you they may claim it was only a joke.

6. Diversion
When confronted or they feel you may be on to their manipulative ways they will divert your attention to another topic or may switch gears and physically do some act to get your attention.

7. Intimidation
The manipulator may resort to direct or implied threats in order to get a person to act or not act.

8. Guilt trip
To get a person to act, the manipulator will make statements to the victim such as “You don’t care,” “You are selfish,” “You have it easier” and other similar statements. What they say will depend on their perceived weakness of the target. They will use guilt to make the victim feel bad, doubt their boundaries and act according to the manipulators plan.

9. Shame
The manipulator may use shame and ‘put downs’ to create fear and self doubt. They may use sarcasm and mocking behavior to create a sense of inadequacy in their victim. This perceived inadequacy will cause the victim to doubt themselves and not dare to question the manipulator.

10. Playing the victimThe manipulator may play the role of victim in order to gain sympathy and pity. They will make up stories of hardship and pain and will use this tactic to manipulate good hearted individuals who wish to help.

11. Vilify the victim
The manipulator will falsely accuse the victim of a perpetrated act that they themselves are accused of. For example, they will claim that they are the ones being abused in order to put the victim on the defense. They will also project the blame to the victim. They will try to convince you and others that you are crazy or you are the abusive one.

12. Seduction
A manipulator will use flattery, charm and praise to get the victim to drop their guard and to gain the trust of the victim. This approach will be used repeatedly throughout a person’s relationship with the manipulator. It is often seen after the victim has pointed out past manipulative behavior. It is a way to lull a victim into complacency and acceptance of the behavior.

13. Feigning innocence
When confronted with their manipulative behavior, they will act surprised and appear not to know what the victim is talking about. They will make it appear as if it is a misunderstanding and that it is the victim who is seeing things in a negative way. This is another way of making the victim feel inadequate and confused.

14. Peer pressure
The manipulator may try to convince the victim that they should act a certain way because others are ‘ok’ with and engaging with the behavior. Remember, you are in control of your life and you always have the right to say “NO” to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Psychological manipulation is a form of mental bullying. Manipulators feed on their perceived weaknesses of others and will not stop unless confronted. The intention of this post is to help you identify these behavior so you can put a stop to it or to avoid entirely.

I hope this was helpful. If you are in need of further support please click here.

Dr. Perry
“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today
Office in Sherman Oaks, CA

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105 responses to How to Spot Psychological Manipulators

  1. This is an excellent inventory of how someone (my experience is with NPD) can and will attempt to take over your thoughts. Their reactions to any and everything are out of proportion and always pull the focus away from you, your problems, your feelings… pull the focus away from you so that there is nothing to focus on but them. Their ultimate goal is to use you completely, to minimize everything about you, so that they may revel in the self-imagined grandiosity of their own mind.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Marie Abanga says:

    ‘they react with a negative emotion: such as anger, silent treatment or playing the victim’ what I deal with if not daily then regularly…thanks for sharing all u share

    Liked by 4 people

  3. ftourstory says:

    I once saw a You Tube video where some person was waiting outside with a camera for his partner, saying how they(the cameraperson) had been accused of abuse but look at how this person(their partner acts). Of course right on cue this poor person comes out clearly distressed and angry. They had clearly had their buttons deliberately pushed! It is an image that has stayed with me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love reading your posts. Very helpful and informative. And yes to each and every point made here. It’s really takes alot to deal with a psychological manipulator. If it would be okay for me to suggest, please write a post on how to deal with these types of manipulators. Wonderful post again 😄

    Liked by 6 people

  5. terreblogger says:

    Thank you for presenting this accurate information. I have found that it is important to not only recognize manipulation, but also when it becomes a pattern and our own reactions. It is the patterns that make you realize when you cannot impact a relationship to change, so the only options are to change your reaction or remove yourself from the situation or person(s). Very good and helpful post!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I used to assume that I had done or said something wrong whenever people reacted badly. Your post was illuminating. As I read the list, I wondered: how am I going to remember so many points? Then I reread the quote in the beginning. Just bearing that quote in mind – you learn a lot about people when they don’t get what they want – automatically puts me in a more healthy relational space with another. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Excellent list! Right on! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. This is an incredibly timely post, because I have just witnessed this exact phenomenon between a few followers of my blog, on their own blogs, toward each other. One camp seemed more genuine and believable, and although it could’ve gone either way, I placed my bets on 1 side and lo and behold, reading your list clinched it! It verified and solidified my decision; I had made the right one, and your post was instrumental in that. Thank you! 💖💖


  8. What an enlightening post. My daughter is suffering at the hands of an ex-boyfriend… he is still lurking around like a deep-rooted weed. I can place a tick next to every point.
    She will be starting therapy very soon. In the meantime, your article has helped me get my head round what has been happening to her. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Salee Reese says:

    Love the truth of this comment:
    When you assert your boundaries, it is important to pay attention to how people react to your defense of a set boundary. If they react with a negative emotion such as anger, hostility, intimidation, silent treatment or playing the victim, you have found the border where their respect for you ends.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Professor K says:

    Excellent post, and I love how you added Feigning Innocence…I haven’t seen that listed in other places and you are SO right that this happens!! It was MY fault my narc cheated…and he just couldn’t understand why I would be so upset!! It wasn’t his fault. He was innocent…she seduced him!!! OOOOKKKKKAAAAAYYYYYY!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. ReVitellect says:

    Great article, Eric! Insightful. Clear and easy to understand list of traits that would help us identify manipulators. 🙂 Have come across a few like these and have been able to get away from most. Thanks for sharing the information. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Eclectra says:

    Reblogged this on Eclectra and commented:
    This article was helpful for me to identify some behaviors that slowly crept up before the physical abuse began. My advice to people is to date a long time and watch carefully for warning signs. My abuser wanted to get married right away.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mia says:

    Sad but true, I see some of these manipulating behaviors in my 6yr old grandson. In fact, they were obvious even at the age of 2, when he would throw a fit when he didn’t get his way from mom or dad, but since I wasn’t the one involved in the situation, he would look at me, while his mom or dad wasn’t looking, and smile. My husband and I are trying to educate and train him in better ways of behaving, but it’s a long hard road.
    I can’t stand bullying and with this being a form of psychological bullying, it really bothers me to see him do it to his younger brother who is very easy going and falls for his manipulative distraction techniques. If his brother has something he wants, he’ll go get something he knows his brother likes (a Captain America figurine, his stuffed shark, etc) and act like he’s playing with it in front of him, and then say, “You can’t have this unless you give me that.” 😠

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kim says:

      At that age, it’s normal for children to undergo the Narcissistic phase. But unless he’s diagnosed with NPD, it’s something we all go through in the Oepedial stages of childhood development. In the end, it’s up to the parenting and environment that will ultimately affect whether or not one will grow out of their narcissistic phase.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. garyhorvitz says:

    Excellent post. Gee, if only you could name a public person known to us all who displays most if not all of these characteristics, it would cement our understanding of the whole picture. Meanwhile, keep doing what you are doing. I’ll do the same. ;–)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. 2010claudia says:

    Anonymous, one of my favorite writers, really nailed it in your opening quote. After being married for 24 years, I really got to know my husband when things got tough and didn’t go his way, which ended the marriage with the (newly discovered by me) narcissist.

    A great post and site!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. How often tendencies of psychological manipulators in elementary classrooms go unnoticed because sadly the agenda of teaching academics becomes the all encompassing job.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Omaeagle says:

    So you’ve met my Mom. 😉
    I had to teach my children at a very young age how to ‘Handle’ their ‘Toddler’ Grandmom. :/

    Nice Article.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you, sir. I recognize the outline listed so very well. I was married to her. Unfortunately, I adjusted to the mistreatment and abuses, dragging the pain and low self-esteem with me like a carcass on my shoulders. She almost killed me, literally. I divorced her about three years ago and I am left still wounded and taped down with the aftermath. I appreciate your direct approach. All the best. – Alan

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Karen says:

    Really amazing. Only wish I knew all this 10 yrs ago… divorced after 39 yr marriage.
    Ex was and still is everyone of your descriptions that happened to me. I knew something wasn’t right about him , but I was ALWAYS the fall guy. Took 5 yrs in a nasty divorce. Found out he had another woman only 2 yrs ago on FB. A friend saw him with a whole other family. He had before we went on a 3 week trip to Europe but I had no idea We were celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary. Only to come home to a LETTER IN THE MAIL 10 days later from HIS divorce Atty. Termination of marriage. He didn’t have to guts to tell me to my face. COWARD. I could write a book on all the deceit, betrayal, scamming, lying and he comes out of court smelling like a rose. I got the short end of the stick. Very sad. But at least I don’t have to deal with the $&@ anymore. He has threatened to cut off my spousal support and two months I have been divorced for eight months!!! He enjoys tormenting me. Thanks for the article. It helps to see what has happened and that I’m not crazy!!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  20. Thank you for this list. I have been dealing with a very manipulative family member for a while now, and I have known. Everyone else has just been denying it as they are abused, and then blamed for the abuse or threatened with more abuse (if the abuser doesn’t just lie or minimize it), just so that the manipulator can get what they want. This will be a big help to start to get them to see the patterns of the abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Toortsie says:

    Manipulators are not always so easy to spot, but when you spotted them, you cannot think how you could have missed it before! And, they HATE it to be spotted!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Phil says:

    Thank you for this list of manipulative behaviors. It is a needed reminder for me. I’m interested in whether manipulators tend to target certain people or perhaps it is merely a system of playing the manipulation game on person after person and healthy people maintain their boundaries better than others. Sadly, I feel like I often find myself at the wrong end of manipulative situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. M. Wood says:

    Reblogged this on Leadership Flagship and commented:
    Great article! And spot-on! I’ve known several “manipulators” in my life. Fortunately, I can spot them miles away and don’t buy into their little games. But it really hurts when I see my loved ones not only being manipulated, but are recruited into Enablers, allowing this behaviour to manifest in many, many areas of their lives. I know love can be blind, but c’,mon! Wake up and Smell the Coffee! It becomes the antithesis to a true give & take relationship…you give, they take!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. mycountryepoque says:

    Manipulators oooh, they can choose their people who allows them. I studied “Positions of Life” 20 years ago. The first day I started my studies, when I walked out of the class, I was a different person to when I walked in to start my studies. And everyone from my class said the same thing about themselves that they have changed. The first lesson showed me a different path,. After I graduated, I went back home. But then I realised that I wouldn’t be able to stay amongst the family for long. After a few months I packed up my little girl and myself and I returned to London. Been away for 20 years, and never returned, and since then i have lived the most perfect lifestyle I ever wanted to live. Manipulators, uneducated people, snakes, and those with dirty blue prints are these ones who will always tried to cast their dirty prints upon you. Many of them tried with me, they did not find the entry to my way. I evict people with nonsense very fast!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Excellent writing Dr. and thank you for taking the time to do it! I’ve written a lot about abusive churches, leaders and cults and these insights paint the picture of the villain in Shepherd’s garb. I appreciate your clinical wisdom and ability to see these characters of humanity. Knowing the danger is the best way to avoid it, both on the path of life and in our own internal journeys.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Ellie Strand, MSN, RN, APRN (Ret.) says:

    What a helpful post. We can all find someone in our lives who fits one or more of the personalities mentioned. Now that I’m in my 60s I have weeded out the malcontents in my life, but it wasn’t possible when I was working with them. Hurrah for retirement!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If your looking in the mirror and able to identify problem areas in your own life, as well as be willing to improve, than I would think your are most likely NOT in the category of a truly manipulative, self centered individual. Generally, as the article also points out, these type of people put the blame everywhere else and don’t have the ability to reflect on their own behaviors.

      Liked by 2 people

  27. yesim40orolder says:

    This is extremely timely. I’m dealing with this from a person in power at work. I’m learning how to build defense mechanisms to protect myself. I’ve learned how to spot his tells. This is extremely helpuful!

    Liked by 3 people

  28. successorinspirational says:

    Manipulators are everywhere today and they are very smart too. I talked about psychological extortion some months ago with some friends in church. In the end they are all manipulators. Thanks for sharing Dr.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I am currently coming to term with the role my mother played in my life. It was not a good one. I appreciate these little posts and helps me set my life on the proper path for helping my children.
    Chill Mom

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Thank you! I am looking up everything i can of signs to look for. I had a huge problem last year with a former friend and want to be sure no one ever does it to me again!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. This information is spot on. It took me a while to learn about the cycle of abuse and how a sociopath will use manipulation to control you. If I only knew than what I know now… This article was very well written and a good reminder. Now that my children are dating age I think it’s important to make them aware of this knowledge. Your article is an excellent outline to follow. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Reblogged this on Survivor's Guide to Sanity and commented:
    This is an excellent article. I am sure we have all dealt with manipulative people. If you have been in an intimate relationship with a person like this, I am sure you know how painful it can be. It’s so important to know this information and set boundaries. It is especially important to identify these traits early in new relationships, to save yourself from getting sucked into, what can end up being, a very damaging and painful experience. In addition, if you are a parent of a teenager who may begin dating soon, this information is vital to pass on to them as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Happyspirit says:

    Jeez, this is the second post. My mother is a narcissist and I’ve just managed to brake away from a relationship from a man that matches this description. He’s controlled me for a year with the sell of my house. I’m disabled and had my house on the market, he convinced me twice to take it off. Now it’s sold he doesn’t want to know!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Such a good summary of tactics to defend one’s position. Before awakening, when one identifies with ego, confronting the ego brings out most of these strategies.
    Even generally non manipulative people will display these behaviors when the ego is threatened… it is interesting
    Thank you for your post

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Shweta says:

    This article actually helped me identify what is wrong with someone I’m very close to in the past. I thought something was wrong with me. And I had been blaming myself and had a really tough time. It’s really tough to deal with people who manipulate you.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. inspiredpen says:

    Now on to your article. In the past 35 years, I’ve encountered and have been in two relationships that truly mirrors the type of personality/person you describe. The first time was when I was only 19 and did not know how to recognize it. It was a torturous time in my young life. I did muster some strength to get out of the relationship in the nick of time. The second time was within the last five years. This time, however, I recognized the signs and was one step ahead of this person every time. Nearly everything you describe above was who this person was. I said enough is enough and I sent him on his way. Thank; you for the article–it will be a tremendous help for many.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. I know so many people like this, including ones in our family. It’s important to weed these ones out as they drag you down immensely! Thank you for the great read!👌❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Chosen says:

    I am grateful that being informed allowed me to establish healthy boundaries for two narcissistic relationships in my life. I still have to deal with the manipulations but I am aware and stronger. I allowed my ex-husband and my parent to create the rules for what was ‘normal.’ Taking the time to evaluate true ‘normal’ has really freed me to regain my confidence and to start to rebuild my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. katemantis says:

    Valuable reading. I have shared it! There are some people that I can recognize in your description, with their own, personalised “tools”. And yes, tenderhearted people are sought by these persons. Words have great manipulative power. Thank you for posting this!

    Liked by 1 person

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