If someone displays these 10 behaviors, they’re a low-level manipulator

by Clifton Kopp | April 7, 2024, 7:03 pm

The world is full of manipulative people.

I’m talking about people who use others for their own goals. People who don’t see others as individuals with their own worth, but simply tools to use or toys to be played with.

Not all manipulation is the same. While there are some people with legitimate personality disorders, such as narcissism, that make them highly skilled manipulators, there are other people who are still capable of being manipulative, even if they don’t make a lifestyle out of it.

Usually, being a successful manipulator requires hiding your true intentions from others. But if you know what to look for, there are some telltale signs of a low-level manipulator that you can watch out for to let you know if someone is trying to use you.

Read on to learn what they are.

1) They come on strong

This is something manipulators do at the start of a relationship, and because it happens early, it’s not always easy to spot it for what it is.

However, one way that manipulators give themselves away is by coming on too strong. Whether it’s a new friendship or a romantic relationship, they tend to launch a charm offensive designed to get you to like them.

They may flatter you or pay you compliments. They may hit relationship milestones quicker than other people. A manipulator’s ability to manipulate relies in part on their ability to seem charming at first, so this is when you see them at their best.

In the context of romantic relationships, this is called love bombing. And the goal is to get you to fall for the manipulator’s charm so that you feel the relationship the two of you have is more special and meaningful than it really is.

2) They are passive-aggressive

We all do this to some extent. Well, almost all of us, anyway. I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve never been passive-aggressive toward anyone.

The truth is, we don’t always realize that’s what we’re doing, especially when this is a relationship strategy we may have learned when we were young.

Sometimes, even low-level manipulators don’t realize they are actually being manipulative when they do this.

“Passive-aggressive behavior is defined as behavior that is seemingly innocuous, accidental, or neutral but that indirectly displays an unconscious aggressive motive,” according to psychologist Kendra Cherry. “For instance, passive-aggressive behavior can appear in the form of resistance to another person’s requests by procrastinating, expressing sullenness, or acting stubbornly.”

The reason people use passive-aggressive behavior is because they don’t want to seem like the bad guy by being openly aggressive. So instead, they will hide their aggression behind more indirect behaviors.

Note that this is often unconscious. A person may not realize that they have this aggression toward you.

But it’s manipulative behavior because passive aggression is often designed to get people to feel bad. It relies on manipulating the feelings of those around you to get them to behave in the way that you want.

3) They use guilt trips

What’s the worst kind of trip you can possibly take? That’s right, a guilt trip.

Guilt tripping is extremely common, and you don’t have to be a habitually manipulative person to occasionally use a guilt trip to get what you want.

Parents often guilt trip their kids when they remind them of all the sacrifices the parent has made to make their child’s life easier. Partners in romantic relationships also do this when they remind each other of all they do for the other person.

Some people even do this in the workplace, reminding everyone of how hard they work to make everybody else feel bad for not pulling their weight.

The thing is, a guilt trip is always about manipulation, even if the person doing it doesn’t see it that way.

That’s because the whole point of the guilt trip is to make you feel guilty for something you’ve done or haven’t done. And then, because you feel guilty, the manipulator can play on those feelings of guilt to get you to do what they want.

4) They play the innocent

One of the best ways to stop a manipulator in their tracks is to call out their manipulative tactics. That’s why they often play the innocent and act as if they aren’t being manipulative, and that they are confused or even hurt by the suggestion that they are.

Confront a manipulator on their manipulation tactics, and they may act like they don’t know what you’re talking about. They will claim that it’s all a big misunderstanding or that you are putting words in their mouth.

Here’s the thing: a manipulator needs you to not realize they are being manipulative. So they will do anything it takes to deny their bad behavior.

5) They constantly criticize others

It’s probably not that surprising to hear that manipulators usually have a low opinion of others. After all, you would kind of have to to use other people for your own goals.

That means manipulators may talk about people behind their back, or they constantly criticize you too, acting as if nothing you ever do is good enough.

This is one of the ways a manipulator makes you feel inadequate so that you’ll try harder to do what they want.

Another reason manipulators constantly criticize others is to create rifts between people. By gossiping about other people behind their back, they can turn friends against each other, and use all the drama to get what they want from people.

6) They play the victim

Manipulators love being the victim.

“This “poor me” tactic arouses your guilt and sympathy so you’ll do their bidding,” says relationship expert Darlene Lancer. “It can also take the form of, “You don’t care about me;” “Why do you treat me like this?” or “Nobody helps me.”

Just like with the guilt trip, the goal here is to make you feel bad about what you’ve done or haven’t done. Then, once you feel bad, the manipulator can more easily get you to do what they want because of your feelings of guilt or shame.

7) They shift blame

Manipulative people almost never admit to their mistakes. Instead, they will blame everyone around them for their own failings.

So if you get into an argument with them, it’s always your fault. If they have drama at the workplace, it’s because of their boss or their coworkers. If they are having a hard time in a relationship, it must be the other person’s fault, never theirs.

Unfortunately, the manipulator’s refusal to accept blame for their actions keeps them from examining themselves and improving the way they treat others.

8) They ignore boundaries

Boundaries are essential in absolutely every relationship.

Whether it’s letting your parents know that you don’t need them to run your life anymore or letting your boss know that you won’t respond to work-related communication when you’re not at work, boundaries are how we tell other people how to treat us.

Strong boundaries are a manipulator’s kryptonite. And that’s why they often ignore your boundaries and reasonable rules for behavior.

“Psychological manipulators, in particular, want to deprive you of your rights so they can control and take advantage of you,” writes coach Preston Ni.

“But you have the power and moral authority to declare that it is you, not the manipulator, who’s in charge of your life.”

9) They isolate you

This is another favorite tactic of someone who’s trying to manipulate you.

Most of us get a lot of our support and emotional well-being from the people closest to us. Whether it’s family or friends, we rely on other people to back us up and help us stay strong.

Manipulators know this, and so they do their best to get rid of that support network so that you have to depend completely on them.

There are lots of different ways they can do this. They may gossip behind your back and even lie to make you fall out with your friends. Or they may encourage you to move away from your family so that you can no longer rely on them for support.

But however they do it, it’s a sign of a low-level manipulator.

10) They make you feel like you owe them

Finally, low-level manipulators love to have you in their debt.

Sometimes, they will do things for you just so that they can have something to blackmail you with.

Or they may bring up things that they’ve done in the past over and over again, making you feel as though you owe them.

Because once you feel in their debt, you are easier to control.

Signs of a low-level manipulator

Manipulators rely on not being obvious about what they are doing. But if you notice someone doing these behaviors, you’re probably dealing with a manipulative person.

And chances are, that’s a person you’re better off without.

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