7 classic signs of a manipulative person, according to psychology

by Louisa Lopez | February 27, 2024, 4:38 pm

Have you ever wondered if someone you know might be manipulating you or others? How do you know if they are displaying manipulative behavior? 

There are many signs that you can look out for according to psychologists. Read on to learn more about these signs and what you can do to avoid being controlled by others.

1) Charm and flattery

Have you ever had someone come in and build you up, only for them to ask for something? 

When someone uses compliments to butter you up before asking for a favor, you should consider whether they have done this before, as it is typical behavior for a manipulator.

Psychologists say that this type of manipulation sucks people in with a false sense of connection. These people use emotions that should make people feel loved, cared for, and worthy to get what they want.

So watch out for that person who only says nice things when they want you to do something for them, as there might be more to them than those sweet compliments.

Remember, you can always say no.

2) Gaslighting

Has anyone ever tried to tell you that you were wrong or try to change the way that something was so that you started to believe them instead of what you know to be true? That is gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a very manipulative tactic that gets into people’s heads, leaving them confused and easy to control.

A friend of mine has an ex who used this tactic on her to keep her from leaving him. She was so confused about what she believed by the end of their relationship.

It took her a long time to trust herself again after a year of being told that she was wrong or that things were different than she remembered.

  • “You must be going crazy. That’s not what happened.”
  • “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “You’re imagining things.”
  • “No need to be so sensitive. I was only joking.”

If you’ve heard any of these phrases before, then you may be being gaslit.

So what can we do if we find ourselves in a situation where this is happening regularly?

  • First, try to take some space from the situation and try to keep calm. 
  • Collect evidence like screenshots of conversations, so then at least you know what you said. You can even do a sneaky recording of conversations as evidence for later if that person tries to say something else has been said.
  • If possible, bring it up with them. You can use your evidence here if you need to.
  • Try to stay confident in yourself and your version of what happened. They will try to shake you. Stand firm.
  • Seek support from others if it continues and is affecting your mental health.

3) Hot/cold cycles

Is there someone in your life who you can’t figure out because their mood changes every time you’re together? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells whenever you’re around them because you don’t know how they’ll react to the things you say?

This person may be trying to control you. So watch out!

When someone is hot and cold with you they have the upper hand because often when this happens we don’t want them to get angry or upset with us, so we try our very best to do whatever they want so they are happy. 

We can all be moody at times, but if you notice that this is the normal behavior of someone you know, be careful, they may be a master manipulator preying on your insecurities and people-pleasing behavior.

When someone does this they are playing with your emotions. It can be very confusing.

I once dated a guy who was like this with me. One day he was happy-go-lucky and the next day he was picking a fight with me about nothing. It got in my head because I hate fighting, I’m the kind of person who wants everyone to be happy, so I did everything in my power to make him happy.

Only to realize that I wasn’t and I was being taken advantage of. 

Thankfully, in this situation, he was just using me (funnily enough) to manipulate his ex-girlfriend into taking him back. Which (unfortunately for her, but fortunately for me) she did, and I was set free. 

4) Lack of accountability

The ex I mentioned before was also never accountable for his actions. He always had an excuse for them or turned it around on me. 

If you’re noticing that there’s a person in your life who has zero accountability for the things they do, watch out. 

This type of behavior is also common with narcissists, people who think they are never wrong and that they are the center of the universe.

When someone avoids saying they’re wrong, they’re changing the narrative. It is a similar behavior to gaslighting because they are lying and keeping control.

One study says that the best way to beat this behavior is to ignore them completely. So instead of insisting that they have done something wrong, (entering into an argument, which is what they were hoping for), just forget it. These kinds of people want attention and the more you give it, the worse they get.

I have a good friend who is an elementary school teacher, and she said the best piece of advice she was given was by a colleague in her first year of teaching. “Behavior attended to escalates.”

This goes for both positive and negative behavior and can work with people of any age, not just young children.

5) Playing the victim

Do you know anyone who is always the victim? Everything is worse for them and everyone knows about it. 

Have you ever known a person that when you tell them something bad that happened to you they brush it off as nothing, but when something similar happens to them it’s a big deal?

This is a game to get sympathy and attention. People who play these games are just looking for people to do things for them, but they don’t want to reciprocate. It’s a great way to get what you want, but it’s not a very nice way.

If you notice that someone you know is doing this often, you can try the gaslighting prevention steps, as these work for most manipulative behaviors.

And if you’ve found yourself in a situation where you have been constantly doting on someone only to get nothing back, then slow down that doting.

I had a boyfriend who was doing this to me. It took me a while to realize it. I wasn’t sure if he was doing it on purpose or not, but I was fueling the fire by always doing what he wanted when something happened to him and accepting that he wouldn’t do the same for me.

I had to slow down and stop doing so much, and then be more firm and ask for more when I needed it. Slowly, things evened out a lot more and he stopped taking me for granted.

6) Boundary violations

This is tough because the kinds of people who violate our boundaries are usually the ones closest to us. Am I right?

Often when someone is pushing our boundaries it’s because we didn’t always have them, so these people aren’t used to them. 

Another reason why someone might do this is because you let them. Have you ever liked someone so much that you just let it go once, and then again and then again, and suddenly it’s a habit? This person is now getting whatever they want whenever they want, and you are getting nothing.

This is a clear sign of manipulation. Once you notice this it’s time to get firm. Stand your ground and eventually, that person should get the message.

7) Emotional blackmail

The last sign to look out for if you think someone is a manipulator is emotional blackmail

This is when someone uses fear and obligation to get you to do what they want.

Can you think of a time when you heard phrases such as “You must not care about me”, or “Do this or we’re through”? 

Any of these kinds of phrases tug on a person’s emotions and make them feel bad if they don’t do it because of the possible negative consequences. 

According to this article, some of these might be; giving you the silent treatment, giving you a guilt trip by making you feel bad about choosing yourself over them, shaming, or even threats and ultimatums.

This article goes on to explain how you need to stand your ground when in this type of situation. Sharing that you need to know when to walk away and by reminding you that you are in control of your choices.

Final thoughts

The most important thing when it comes to manipulators is to establish boundaries;

  • First, identify your boundaries
  • Next, assert yourself
  • Explain the consequences of crossing your boundaries
  • Finally, stand firm, don’t let anyone cross the boundary line.

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