8 Signs Of A Manipulator (and what to do about it)

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Dealing with manipulative people sucks.

Unfortunately I have loads of personal experience in this area, and it’s not something that’s going to change any time soon.  Even though it’s an aspect of my life that I would change in a heartbeat if I could, I realize that through my own burden I have a chance to help others.  Going through this myself gives me a unique perspective and insights that I would not otherwise have.

I wouldn’t wish a manipulative relationship on anyone, but the harsh reality is that millions of people deal with one every. single. day.  Many of them don’t even realize what’s wrong.  Manipulators are tricky people who are very, very good at covering up their agenda.  However, from my own experience I’ve come up with a list of red flags and warning signs that manipulators give off.  If you feel that there is something even slightly off with a relationship of yours or that of someone you know, please take a look at this list.

You might be with a manipulator if…

1. Agreeing to disagree is never an option.  

Manipulators want to control what you think.  Because of this, it is never alright for you to differ in opinion.  To the manipulator, this is a sign of you slipping out of his control.

2. They re-label their own behavior.  

In my own experience with a manipulative person, he would be yelling at the top of his lungs in an argument and then insist that you were just having a “discussion”.  When recounting their own actions, manipulators will downplay or completely lie about any unacceptable behavior even if they know you witnessed it.  They are masters at making you question your own perceptions.

3. They have a hidden dark side.  

A manipulative person is always charming and charismatic to those who don’t know them well.  It’s a tool of the trade to him. If people could see through the mask, he wouldn’t be able to control them.  Acquaintances would barely believe the stories recounted by those closest to him – which is yet another thing that works in his favor.

4. They always deflect.  

It is impossible to argue with, criticize, or reprimand a manipulator.  Any attempt at commenting on undesirable actions immediately results in the manipulator coming up with something unrelated to criticize you for.  Example: if you say to him “I asked you to fill up the car with gas and you said you would, but it is still empty.  Please do that the next time you are out”, he will quickly return fire with “Well, you NEVER keep the bathrooms clean!”.  This also leads to our next point.

5. It is impossible to stay on topic in an argument.  

Using the last example, you would quickly find yourself in an argument about the state of your bathrooms when all you wanted was for him to put gas in the car.  This tactic is like a double edged sword for a manipulator – it enables him to attack you AND it causes you to quickly forget whatever it is that he did wrong.

6. They do things for shock value.

Manipulators enjoy being able to control the mental and emotional state of others, and an easy way for them to accomplish this is to do or say something shocking.  The most common method used is probably saying something inappropriate (or in an inappropriate setting), but they may also go so far as to stage elaborate “pranks” just to unsettle people.

7. They argue in cycles.

Once I was able to observe an argument from a distance, I could easily see that the manipulator went through a cycle of very distinct phases: first explosive anger, designed to frighten the other person into relenting.  If that didn’t work, next came logic – the manipulator would calm down and attempt to reason out his point of view.  If he still wasn’t getting his way, the next step was crying, complete with false apologies and self-pity.  This could then either be followed by another bout of reasoning, or the cycle could start back at anger again.  What was very unsettling for me to observe, once I realized this, is that it happens the same way every time.  What appears to be a highly emotional affair on the part of the manipulator is, in fact, a carefully calculated routine aimed at getting him exactly what he wants.

8. Finally, they can’t take no for an answer.  

In my opinion, this is the single greatest defining characteristic of manipulators.  Indecently, this also makes it a great litmus test.  Hearing a decisive “no” is the greatest failure a manipulator can experience because it indicates a failure on his part to brainwash you into his point of view.  If you are questioning whether someone in your life may be manipulative, try the “no” test.  It’s exactly like it sounds – next time they want you to do something, simply say no.  Their reaction should tell you everything you need to know.

What to do about it:

Even if you have already determined that someone in your life is manipulative, deciding what to do next is incredibly difficult and can cause a lot of heartache.  From my own long-term experience with a manipulative person, this would be my advice to anyone dealing with this situation.

  • If you are dating this person, break up with them.  Now.  While this may seem like an incredibly harsh solution, the kind of boundaries that need to be set with a manipulative person are not possible within this kind of close relationship.  Additionally, please believe me when I wholeheartedly say that you do not want to tie your future family to a manipulative person forever.  Keep in mind that by its very nature a breakup with a manipulative person will not go smoothly and can easily become abusive (if it isn’t already).  Please, please be very aware, surround yourself with people who will support you, and do not be afraid to get help if you need it.
  • If the person is a friend, it is imperative that you set boundaries ASAP and, more importantly, stand your ground no matter what tricks the manipulator pulls.  Depending on the closeness of your relationship, you may decide to just set a few rules (e.g. “no more borrowing money from me”), put a fair bit of distance between you, or even end the relationship completely.  The important thing to remember here is that the manipulator will not give up without a fight, but when he finally realizes that you won’t be moved, he will likely ditch you and move on to someone who allows him to manipulate them.  Stand your ground no matter what.
  • The most difficult situation is when the manipulator is a family member.  In this instance, you will have to decide whether or not to continue a relationship with this person.  If you choose to continue, you must make it very clear that you will no longer allow yourself to be manipulated or coerced in any way.  I also strongly recommend reading the Boundaries – I honestly believe that this book changed my life!  It very clearly illustrates unacceptable behavior and what to do about it.  If you are choosing to set boundaries and continue a relationship with a manipulative person, this book is a must read.
  • A final word: if there is any other kind of abuse occurring besides manipulation, get out now.  As they are already abusing their privilege of having a relationship with you, manipulators are very prone to other abuse as well.  No matter how hard it is to leave, staying is never worth it.  If you need help leaving, tell someone.  Visit the website for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  Remember that a manipulator’s goal is to make you feel like you have no options, but that is always a lie.

I sincerely hope this post has been able to help someone who needs it. If you know of anyone who may be dealing with a manipulative relationship, please share this with them and support their decision making process!  Also, if you have experienced any warning signs not listed here, please feel free to share them in the comments.  Spreading awareness is a vital part of aiding those who are the victims in these situations.