If you recognize these 7 behaviors, you’re dealing with a textbook manipulator

by Marie Lamb | April 28, 2024, 5:59 pm

Manipulators are like the Houdinis of the social world—masters of misdirection and control. 

They weave webs so tightly that before you know it, you’re caught in their snare, wondering how you got there. 

I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with manipulators, and let me tell you, it’s not a fun ride. 

Once you know the signs, it becomes easier to steer clear of their traps. 

But what kind of people would want to manipulate others? 

Manipulation is a common feature of Cluster B personality disorders. This set of personality disorders includes: borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and anti-social personality disorder (a.k.a psychopathy).

While each of these disorders is unique, they share many overlapping characteristics — manipulation is a feature of all three of them. 

It’s important to have compassion for people with these disorders, but that doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to fall prey to their antics. 

Indeed, they’re also suffering, but you still have the right to protect yourself against their whirlpool of destruction. 

In this article, I’ll discuss how to know when you’re dealing with textbook manipulation strategies. It usually starts in a stage called “love-bombing” — during this stage, you’ll be feeling like the most special person in the world. 

But there’s bad news, if you’re dealing with a manipulator or narcissist, it won’t last.

1) Compliments to the sky

Okay — so this one seems a little counterintuitive. Everyone likes compliments, right? Yes. 

But compliments are only worth something when they’re genuine.

Manipulators often take complimenting you to the next level. They try to use flattery to get you to feel special. That way, you’ll associate their company with positive euphoric feelings of high self-worth. 

The problem is that the euphoria becomes addictive. 

I was recently listening to a lecture by Dr. Sam Vaknin. He has very interesting insights into the subject of narcissistic manipulation. 

Not only is he a professor of psychology, but he’s also a diagnosed narcissist himself. 

He owns his condition by studying it and helping others to understand the toxic patterns of narcissistic abuse. 

He says that when you’re under the love bombing stage, being drowned in a narcissist’s flattery, you become a narcissist yourself. 

You get addicted to seeing yourself through the narcissist’s eyes — it’s as addictive as cocaine!

If someone makes you feel like you’re the most amazing person in the world, it could be genuine, but it could also be the beginning phase of a vicious abuse cycle. 

After all, how would you feel when those special euphoric feelings are suddenly taken away from you? Manipulators get you addicted before depriving you. 

How? Through the silent treatment. 

2) The silent treatment

Silence can be golden, but in the hands of a manipulator, it’s a lethal weapon.

Ignoring you until you cave in is their game, and trust me, they play to win. 

You’re left wondering what you did wrong and how to fix it. For most normal people, our first instinct is to analyze our own behavior, find out what we did wrong, and apologize. 

I’ve often said sorry for no reason just because their silence made me feel in the wrong. Even though deep down, I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. 

Research on the silent treatment highlights how the manipulation strategy is used to adjust power dynamics in favor of the manipulator. 

If someone repeatedly gives you the silent treatment and you’re left wondering what you did wrong — you might be caught in a malicious and controlling web. 

3) Gaslighting galore

Gaslighting is so dangerous. When someone starts denying your reality, twisting the truth, and telling you you’re crazy, you should read the red flags. 

Imagine having a clear memory of an event, only to be told it didn’t happen that way—or worse, that it didn’t happen at all. 

They might say things like: 

  • “Your memory is wrong.”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “You’re overreacting.” 
  • “You’re imagining things.” 

When manipulators play this card, they’re not just dismissing your feelings; they’re attacking the very foundation of your reality. 

The goal? 

To make you doubt your own mind that you rely on them for the “truth.” 

It’s a nasty trick, one that can have you second-guessing everything you thought you knew.

But gaslighting isn’t just about lying or denying. It’s about control. 

By seeding doubt, manipulators gain the upper hand, making it easier to bend you to their will. 

You start to feel like you’re walking on eggshells, constantly on edge, not realizing that their gaslighting is a way to circumvent your autonomy.

4) Over-the-top emotions

Ever met someone who flips their lid over something minor? It’s like one moment everything’s chill, and the next, it’s World War III. 

This isn’t just someone having a bad day. 

Manipulators crank up the drama with over-the-top emotions to yank your chain—hard. 

They’re not actually on the edge; they’re just keen on seeing how high they can make you jump. It’s their way of testing the waters and seeing how much control they have over your reactions.

I was once seeing a guy who had frequent outbursts of rage. I wouldn’t even have to do anything wrong and he’d throw a fit. 

I cut ties immediately when I recognized that he was weaponizing extreme emotions to try to control me. Rage isn’t just manipulative — it’s also dangerous. 

Sorry, ain’t got time for that!

5) Hot & cold

One minute they’re your best friend, the next they’re colder than a winter in Siberia. 

Manipulators use this hot and cold strategy to keep you off balance. 

You end up spending so much energy trying to figure them out that you don’t realize you’re being played.

Between the peaks and troughs of their moods, it’s like you’re a boat that’s trying not to capsize. 

Your whole life becomes a balancing act but no matter what you do, you’ll always be in the wrong. 

Psychopaths are extremely calculated and they identify the exact moments to switch to maximize control. Narcissists and borderlines, on the other hand, might not always be 100% aware of what they’re doing. 

They’re prone to mood swings. 

On some level, they may subconsciously understand that they’re manipulating you, but they also just have difficulty regulating their emotions. 

It’s tough for them to fight impulses or control their moods. 

6) The victim card

To stop you from catching onto the fact that they are the sharks in the relationship, savvy manipulators will often claim victimhood

It’s pretty genius when you think about it. 

Want to confront them for their nasty behavior? You’re the bully. 

Want to ask why they’ve been giving you the silent treatment? You’re not sensitive enough to their emotions. 

Manipulators are masters of smoke and mirrors. 

They’ll get you questioning your sanity and asking yourself, “Am I the bad guy here?”

Most normal people question their own behavior amid interpersonal conflicts. Manipulators, on the other hand, always point the finger outward. 

Beware of people who claim to be blameless. Beware of empty promises. 

7) Promises, promises

Manipulators are all talk and no action. 

They promise the moon and stars but deliver nothing. It’s their way of keeping you hooked with hope, waiting for a payoff that never comes.

Dr. Sam Vaknin calls this the “shared fantasy.” 

You become enamored by their fanciful ideas and instead of living in the real world, you live in a dream world where everything is perfect. 

Manipulators are experts at crafting dream worlds to perfectly fit your inner desires. According to Vaknin, it’s almost impossible to resist — which is what makes it so dangerous. 

Last thoughts

Recognizing these manipulative behaviors is the first step toward reclaiming power over your own life. 

More often than not, manipulators are extraordinarily talented at captivating you and getting to believe you’re living in a perfect dream world. 

That is — until you’re not. 

Understanding that you’re dealing with a manipulator is like turning on a light in a dimly lit room. Suddenly, the shadows cast by their tactics begin to fade, and you see the situation for what it truly is—a play for control. 

But here’s the empowering part: once you see the strings, you can cut them. You don’t have to dance to their tune or jump at their command. 

You have the power to step out of the cycle, to demand respect, and to choose not to engage with those who seek to control you through manipulation.

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