11 mind games manipulators play to gain control in a relationship

by Isabella Chase | April 25, 2024, 7:28 pm

You think you’ve got everything figured out in your relationship, right? But there’s this niggling feeling you can’t shake off.

It’s like a game of chess, and somehow, you’re always a move behind.

Welcome to the world of mind games, where manipulation isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the hidden language of control.

You see, manipulators are crafty. They twist words, play on emotions, and before you know it, they’re pulling the strings.

What’s more, sometimes, these games are so subtle you don’t even realize they’re playing you.

So, let’s shine a light on these tactics. Here are 11 mind games manipulators love to play – and knowing them is your first step to breaking free.

1) Gaslighting

Ever had someone make you question your own version of reality? That’s gaslighting – and it’s as insidious as it sounds. 

I remember when my ex would flat-out deny things I knew had happened. 

“That conversation never happened!” or “You’re imagining things!” were staples in our discussions. 

It made me second-guess my memory, my feelings, and my sanity. 

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t me. It was a deliberate tactic to make me feel off-balance and more dependent on their version of reality – effectively, gaining control over my perception.

2) Love bombing

Then there’s love bombing. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But don’t be fooled. It might feel like love, but make no mistake – it still causes damage like a bomb does.  

At first, I was showered with compliments, gifts, and undivided attention. It felt amazing to be so adored. 

But the flip side?

It wasn’t about genuine affection; it was about power. The over-the-top gestures were a setup to create an expectation and dependency. 

When the affection suddenly withdrew, I was left confused and craving the high of that attention, making me more willing to do whatever it took to get it back. 

Classic manipulator move – give a taste of something sweet, then take it away so you’ll work harder for it.

3) Isolation

Ever notice how some relationships start to shrink your world? That’s isolation at work. 

It begins subtly: a comment here about how your friends don’t really understand you, a suggestion there that family gatherings are a waste of time. 

Before you know it, you’re spending all your time with your partner, and your support network has faded into the background. 

This isn’t just about wanting more quality time; it’s a tactic to remove the safety net of people who might provide perspective and strength. 

Mental health experts have noted that isolation increases an individual’s emotional dependence on their partner, making it harder to resist manipulation or leave the relationship. 

Without outside input, the manipulator’s voice becomes the loudest – and often the only one – in your life.

4) Trivializing

There’s a sting that comes when your feelings are belittled. It’s like expressing your heart only to have it minimized as if it’s nothing. 

I’ve had my share of moments where I’ve opened up about what’s bothering me, only to be met with a “Is that all?” or “You’re too sensitive.” 

It’s a subtle knife twist that says your emotions don’t matter. A sneaky way to make you feel insignificant and unworthy of attention or concern. 

When you start believing that your feelings are trivial, you stop trusting them, and in turn, you stop advocating for yourself. You become more pliable, more compliant – exactly what a manipulator wants

Look, your feelings are valid, they’re real, and they deserve to be treated with care – never let anyone convince you otherwise.

5) Shifting blame

That’s right, it’s never their fault. I’ll never forget how it felt when the blame was always somehow twisted to fall on my shoulders. 

No matter the situation, if something went wrong, it was because of something I did or didn’t do. 

“If you hadn’t been so distracted, I wouldn’t have lost my temper,” or “You made me do this.” 

These are all phrases designed to avoid accountability and make you feel responsible for not just your actions, but theirs as well. 

It took me a while to realize that I was carrying the weight of faults that weren’t mine to bear. It’s a heavy, unjust burden – one that manipulators are all too ready to impose.

6) Projecting

How about being accused of something you know deep down isn’t true about you? That’s projection. 

I’ve been there, being told I was the one with jealousy issues, when in fact, it was my partner who would grill me over every interaction I had with someone else. 

Projection is a manipulator’s sleight of hand, casting their own undesirable traits onto you. It’s disorienting and it makes you question your integrity. 

By projecting, manipulators avoid facing their own issues by making you the problem instead.

7) Withholding

Who knew you could use silence as a weapon? Well, manipulators do. 

It’s called withholding, and it’s about control through omission. 

Communication is the lifeline of any healthy relationship, but in the hands of a manipulator, silence is used to punish and coerce. 

It forces you into a state of unease, prompting you to walk on eggshells and seek their approval just to break the silence.

8) Overpowering

Ah, this one can be sneaky as well. It can start with something as simple as always deciding where to eat or what movie to watch. 

But gradually, their preferences always take precedence, and yours fade away. 

This overpowering isn’t about leadership; it’s about dominance. It strips away your sense of autonomy, bit by bit. 

By always having the final say, manipulators ensure that their will is done, often under the guise of knowing what’s “best” for both of you.

9) Feigning confusion

“I don’t understand what you’re upset about…” Does that sound familiar? 

The act of feigning confusion or playing ignorant can be incredibly frustrating. It makes simple conversations turn into mazes of misunderstanding. 

This tactic is typically employed to make you question your clarity and communication skills, diverting attention from the real issue at hand. 

Don’t be fooled; it’s not genuine confusion—it’s a strategic mind game.

10) Creating guilt 

Guilt is a powerful emotion, and manipulators know just how to weaponize it.

They’ll remind you of that one time they helped you out or bring up their sacrifices as though there’s an everlasting debt looming over your head. 

You’re meant to feel constantly indebted, grateful for their “generosity,” and therefore more willing to bend to their desires.

Guilt tripping is truly an art that manipulators have mastered. 

11) Playing the victim

Lastly, there’s the victim card – a manipulator’s go-to act for diverting blame and garnering sympathy. 

When caught out or challenged, they spin the story, painting themselves as the one who has been wronged or hurt. 

This not only takes the heat off them but also puts you in a position where you’re comforting them when they’re actually the perpetrator.

Final thoughts

Recognizing these mind games is crucial in maintaining your emotional health and independence.

If these patterns are familiar in your relationship, it may be time to reassess and seek support from friends, family, or professionals who can help you navigate these treacherous waters. 

You deserve a relationship that’s built on mutual respect and understanding—not mind games and control.

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