Psychological Manipulation: Signs & Tactics Real Manipulators Use

Psychological Manipulation: Signs & Tactics Real Manipulators Use

Not everyone has good intentions. Learn the signs of psychological manipulation and be on the lookout for less than honorable behavior.

We hear a lot these days about narcissists and gaslighting, but do you really know what these two terms mean? Also, do you assume that people that use psychological manipulation have to be narcissistic?

It’s not always the case. Sometimes a person who seems like a pretty decent type can employ manipulative tactics to get what they want. It’s not big and it’s not clever, it’s also completely unacceptable in a relationship or any other situation.

To protect your own mental health and wellbeing, it’s important to learn about psychological manipulation and be able to spot the signs.

What is psychological manipulation?

Psychological manipulation is a way of manipulating someone’s thoughts, opinions, and emotions.

It’s often very subtle and builds up over time, which makes it so dangerous – it’s hard to spot. Sometimes, people outside of the situation can see what is going on more clearly, but when you’re head over heels in love with someone or you’re dating and you really like them, it can be hard to believe when someone tells you that they think your new beau is trying to twist your mind.

The reason psychological manipulation is so damaging is because it causes you to question your own sanity and takes your power away from you. When left too long, you might even completely lose trust and faith in yourself and rely completely upon the person doing the manipulating.

Your perception of the world around you has been changed and it’s very difficult to reframe things back into place afterwards. However, it’s not impossible and there are ways to overcome manipulation of this kind. It takes time, effort, and help, but it can be done.

The most common psychological manipulation tactics often used by manipulators

As mentioned, psychological manipulation is often subtle but it’s extremely powerful. These are common tactics used by manipulators, either sticking to one particular type or mixing things up to keep you on your toes.

The home court manipulation

One of the hardest to spot is called ‘home court’ manipulation. In this case, a person is always where they feel comfortable, e.g. their home, their car, their office, and they want you to be there so they can exert their comfort and control over you.

– Intellectual bullying

You might also find that a manipulator will encourage you to speak first and during this time, they won’t be listening to what you’re saying, they’ll be looking for weaknesses they can exploit.

Then, they might try and overwhelm you with facts and statistics, or lead the conversation towards areas that they know you’re not going to understand. This is a form of intellectual bullying which takes the power completely away from you and causes you to feel lacking in confidence.

– Just kidding manipulation

Psychological manipulation can often appear to be lighthearted fun, but if it leaves you feeling upset or lacking in control, it’s far from fun. A tactic here could be when someone makes fun of you and then says “I’m only joking!” They point out your weaknesses to put you on the back foot and then use that low confidence to manipulate you into doing what they want.

– The silent treatment manipulation

Have you ever been given the cold shoulder or silent treatment? That’s another form of psychological manipulation because it causes you to do what they want to shake them out of the silence. [Read: Silent treatment abuse – How to take a stand and get your control back]

– The gaslighting manipulation

Finally, we have probably the most famous form of manipulation – gaslighting.

Gaslighting leaves you questioning your own sanity. Your partner may say to you that they’re going to meet you outside your favorite restaurant after work. You go there and wait and they don’t turn up.

When you call them, they laugh and say you must be crazy because they never said they’d meet you there. You know they did, but their denial is enough to make you doubt yourself. Over time, this erodes away at your trust in yourself and leaves you lacking in power.

16 signs you’re being psychologically manipulated by someone you trust

You know a few psychological manipulation tactics, but how can you spot the signs? Keep an eye on these signs here, and ask yourself if someone around you is trying to trick you by using them.

#1 They often criticize you for no reason. Criticizing someone for very small things, things which really don’t matter, can be a very powerful method of manipulation. It drags their self-confidence down and causes them do doubt themselves.

#2 They try and isolate you from your nearest and dearest. Narcissists often do this. The manipulator knows that you’re far more pliable when you’re away from those who are closest to you and as such, they try to isolate you from them.

A common tactic is to tell you that your friend has been talking about you behind your back, planting a seed of doubt and causing a fall out.

#3 They use gaslighting to make you question your sanity. If you’ve ever sat there and questioned whether you’re going crazy due to the actions of someone else, the chances are you’ve been the victim of gaslighting.

This is so effective as a tactic because it causes the victim to lose faith in themselves and in the end, they don’t have the power to know when the person they’re with is acting in a negative way. When that happens, the manipulator can say or do whatever they want, and you won’t have the confidence to know that it’s wrong.

#4 They often tell you that you’re too sensitive. A huge part of psychological manipulation is using a person’s feelings and worries against them. And then when you become upset about it, they tell you that you’re far too sensitive. It hurts you, but you’re told that it shouldn’t. If you’re regularly told that you’re too sensitive, see that as a red flag – if it hurts you, it hurts you, end of.

#5 You’re often where they feel the most comfortable. If you’re seeing someone and they always want you to go to their house, or meet in restaurants they’ve always gone to, or always go in their car, you need to question why. They’re keeping you out of your comfort zone and remaining firmly in theirs. This puts you on the back foot and takes away your power.

#6 They always have to go one better. If you’ve got a headache, they’ve got a migraine. If you’re tired, they’re exhausted. If you have a cold, they have the ‘flu. Does this sound familiar?

It might sound harmless, but it can be used as manipulation because it makes you feel unimportant and focuses all your attention on them.

#7 Nothing is ever their fault. If you find yourself apologizing for things that aren’t your fault, and things which are actually theirs, you’re being manipulated. Someone who regularly uses psychological manipulation will never apologize because they see that as a weakness and handing power to you.

#8 They often swing between ultra-charming, and far from it. Again, this is something which narcissists often do. They show you the very best side of themselves, often fake, to keep you by their side, but they slip into their darkest side quite often.

Then, when they think that you’ve just about had enough, they’ll show you their good side again, so you doubt your decision to leave. Sneaky, right?

#9 They often say mean things and tell you they’re joking. There’s nothing funny about someone you love or care about making mean remarks about you. However, if this happens and they often say “oh, I’m only joking”, you have to pinpoint this down as a form of manipulation. Again, it erodes your self-confidence and robs you of your power.

#10 They’re often a victim. People who use psychological manipulation often have a victim mentality. Nothing is their fault, it’s always someone’s else fault, and the world is always horrible to them. This is designed to make you feel sorry for them and do whatever they want you to do.

#11 Your problems aren’t important. If you’ve got a problem, you’ll obviously want to talk to your partner about it, but they’re not interested. Instead, they talk about their own problem and push yours away. How is this manipulation? Because it forces your attention back onto them.

#12 They’re always on a guilt trip. Making you feel guilty is their specialty and they do this because they know when you feel guilty, you’ll drop everything and go running to them. “You made me feel sad”, “you made me late for work and now I’m in trouble”, the list goes on.

#13 Passive aggressive tactics. Using passive aggression is often very subtle and quite sarcastic but it’s a tactic which is very effective in terms of manipulation. They might say something like “I was going to call you and tell you about it but I didn’t think you’d pick up, you’re always so busy”. Again, it’s designed to make you feel guilty and force your focus on them.

#14 They deny whatever they told you. This is gaslighting at its finest and it’s extremely powerful. You know they said it, but why are they telling you that they didn’t? It causes you to doubt yourself in a big way.

#15 Their actions never match their words. They say one thing but do another. Of course, this is something people do generally but when it’s a common thing and it’s conjunction with other signs on this list, it’s pretty damning as a form of psychological manipulation.

#16 You simply never feel enough anymore. Perhaps this is the biggest sign of them all. When your self-confidence has been dragged down to its lowest level, you’re just not going to feel like anything you do is good enough. This is something which victims often experience. Remember – you are enough.

How can you break free of psychological manipulation?

Firstly, you need to realize what is happening and then you need to break away from the person acting this way. If you can’t do that for whatever reason, perhaps it’s a family member, then you need to set boundaries. Whenever they start acting in a way which you identify as manipulative, walk away from the situation.

Don’t play a part in their games, they’re just not worth it.

Of course, victims of serious psychological manipulation often require help once they’ve managed to escape an abusive relationship of this type. This can often be the case when someone has been in a relationship with a narcissist.

Don’t be afraid to lean on friends and family members for support, and if you need extra therapy, go for it. It’s a brave step you’ve taken and if you need extra help to overcome it, it’s the least you can do for yourself.

Give yourself time. As the months tick by, you’ll start to slowly regain your confidence and your power. In the future, you’ll know the signs and you’ll be able to spot them far more quickly.

Sometimes those with the most open and loving hearts end up being manipulated through no fault of their own – we don’t live in a fair world.

Psychological manipulation is a damaging and powerful way to gain the upper hand and total control over a relationship. Being able to spot the signs and get away from the situation is vital. 


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