11 classic mind games manipulators play in a relationship

by Isabel Cabrera | March 21, 2024, 10:32 pm

Mind games in a relationship center around the perpetrator having power over their partner. It’s some of the most wretched weaponry in the manipulative arsenal.  

So what are mind games? They are psychological maneuvers used to manipulate another person, for our purposes here a romantic partner.  

People play mind games because it gives them a sense of power and control. They also allow people to avoid taking responsibility for what they’re doing or feeling.

Narcissists often engage in deceptive and manipulative mind games to stack the deck in their favor. What narcissists want is the upper hand in a relationship. 

Not intimacy.

Not companionship. 

Not emotional connection.

Certainly not love. 

Have you ever been perplexed by your partner’s behavior? 

Do you feel like they’re sending you mixed signals?

Do you feel unsure of where you stand?

Here are some clues that your boo may be messing with your mind. 

1) “What about me?”

People who stoop to mind games desire a specific response from their partner. But instead of directly saying what they want, they make you jump through a million hoops thanks to their manipulative actions.

Manipulators would much rather play with your emotions than simply state their case and have an adult discussion that will lead to a resolution. 

For instance, your person might want you to pay more attention to them. Instead of just saying so and getting what they want without a fuss or drama, they complain and make you feel bad about paying attention to the other people in your life.  

That’s the calling card of a master manipulator

2) The master manipulator

Mind games are the tools narcissists and manipulators use to get what they need from you. 

These could include the following:

Now, everyone wants these things in life, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about getting what you want. People who play mind games go about it all wrong so they can feel strong by making you appear weak. 

3) Me strong, you weak 

You may be wondering, “Why do people play mind games, exactly? Wouldn’t it just be easier to be direct about your needs?” 

The reason is simple. People who resort to playing mind games do so just to make others appear weak. 

To them, it’s a challenge.  

To you, it’s emotional abuse

Manipulators engage in that sort of behavior because they are cowards with low self-esteem. Instead of addressing their own issues, they prefer to project them onto others.

4) Fear factor

A narcissist is interested in you because you are attractive, likable, and open. So they know how to use your insecurities (that you’ve told them all about) in their favor. 

Sometimes they’ll play manipulative hide and seek and just disappear from time to time.


Because they know how much anxiety you’ll suffer if they suddenly become unavailable. They use your fear of losing them to feed their ego.

Then they’ll insult you for it. 

5) The put down artist

Your partner deliberately putting you down to make you feel bad is one of the clearest signs of mind games in a relationship

Their motivation could be envy for something you have that they don’t, or simply because you’re better at something than they are. 

So, instead of offering encouragement when you need it most, the manipulator puts you down to make themselves feel better. 

You feeling even worse than you did before talking to them is one for the ‘win’ column as far as they’re concerned. 

For this person, mind games are a power play so they can feel that they are better than you. 

And if there’s any blame to be assigned, it will be placed at your door.   

6) The blame game

Another beloved tactic of mind gamers in a relationship is blame. They blame you for everything, including stuff that isn’t your fault. 

They will painstakingly flip the entire situation and make you believe that you’re the one who should be apologizing, not them.

Because #@$! your feelings. They simply don’t matter to a mind game aficionado.  

7) #@$! your feelings

Some people really do enjoy causing other people to feel bad about themselves. Demeaning others is a surefire way to get yourself a self-esteem boost. 

If you’re a manipulative, jealous jerk, that is.  

8) The green eyed monster

People who play mind games are attention seekers, so they’ll deliberately make you feel jealous if they feel you are not fawning over them enough. 

Making their significant others feel jealous is a classic manipulative act

Maybe your partner is posting pictures of their ex on social media. 

Maybe they are even flirting with them or other people. 

Maybe they won’t stop gushing about their new coworker who is so much better than you in every way. (They’re not, but that’s what your partner wants you to believe.)

No matter what the scenario, they’ll make sure to rub your nose in it. This is calculated, malevolent behavior designed to play on your fear of losing them

These behaviors will make you question their intention towards you. But there shouldn’t be any question. They will never fully commit to your relationship.

9) “I can’t commit to you, I’m too traumatized”

Oh, you poor, sweet, manipulative baby. 

Most narcissistic people portray themselves as commitment-hesitant and blame it all on past trauma they’ve suffered at the hands of, well, everybody.

They will tell you all about their parents’ messy divorce or the ex that cheated on them, and now they are just too broken to commit to anyone. 

For some people, this may be a genuine fear (raises hand), but narcissists use it as an escape hatch. So when you inevitably catch them with someone else, they will pointedly remind you that they were honest with you from the get-go.

I never said they were stupid, just toxic. 

10) Gaslighting: a true classic

Ah, gaslighting. The crown jewel in the Manipulative Jerk crown.  

The term is based on an old movie called “Gaslight,” (great flick, check it out) where the husband deliberately makes his wife feel like she’s losing her mind.

This is the main goal behind gaslighting. Your partner wants you to doubt your own judgment so you lean more heavily on them.

Gaslighting is emotional manipulation on an epic scale The ultimate goal of the gaslighter is to sow seeds of doubt and confusion. The manipulator wants you to question your own emotions or reality.

The more someone gaslights you, the more you begin to doubt your sanity. You increasingly wonder if they are right and you are wrong. Dealing with a gaslighter can take a huge toll on your self-esteem and mental health.

Narcissistic gaslighting is usually a long-term, gradual process, not just a singular event. The object of the mind game is to keep you off balance, under control, and dependent on them.

And they’ll make sure to isolate you from your family and friends. Their awful behavior is so much easier to pull off without the people who actually do love you getting in the way. 

11) Divide and conquer

Once you’re a couple, your family and friends may hold critical opinions of your partner. 

Even though you know your friends are coming from a good place, you brush off their concerns because you’re being love-bombed by the person you think is the love of your life. 

So your partner wonders aloud why you’d want to spend time with people who are always casting shade on your relationship.

Time for the divide and conquer game, a narcissistic favorite where they tell you that you are super awesome but your friends don’t want you to be happy.

That’s OK. Your partner understands you better than they do, anyway (yeah, right.)

You’re an option, not a priority 

It’s never an easy reality to face, but if you’re tangled up with a manipulator, you’ll never be anything but a bit player in their life.

They have the only starring role. Everyone else’s parts are merely as cheerleaders or villains. 

You deserve to be in a healthy relationship where you’re the other person’s top priority, not just an option to use until something better comes along.

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