5 Typical Behaviors of Manipulative People

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Many of us like to think the best of people.  We like to think that they shoot straight and are forthright in their intentions.  We also like to believe that they will ask for what they want and not resort to crazy tactics to get it.  Unfortunately, however, there are times when we come across those who will do whatever it takes to get what they want…including manipulation.  Being manipulated never feels good, but the worst part of manipulation is that often, we don’t even realize that it is happening.  Here are a few tell-tale ways to know if you someone is trying to manipulate you and how to deal with it:

  1. Buttering You Up: To get their way, manipulators will often make you feel good so that they can then ask you to do something that they want.  The person may first compliment you or tell you what a wonderful job you did on something.  Making you feel good will, in their mind, make it difficult for you to say no…after all, you wouldn’t want to disappoint them or give them reason to think you didn’t deserve the compliment in the first place. What you can do: Return the compliments and the niceties before saying no.
  2. Guilt: This doesn’t only pertain to Catholics and Jewish Mothers; guilt trips have been a successful manipulation tactic for centuries.  The saddest part of this strategy is that the victims of this tactic succumb to the manipulators’ demands because they feel they HAVE to, not because they WANT to.  In personal relationships, this sets up a co-dependency that is extremely unhealthy.  What you can do: Ask the individual if they want you to do something because you have to or because you want to.  If they say they want you to want to do it, tell them that you don’t and that they are trying to force you into something you don’t feel comfortable with.
  3. Broken Record: Probably the most obvious of formats is the broken record tactic.  If a person asks you enough or pushes their agenda enough…constantly repeating the question or request over and over again…in slightly different ways, the victim will inevitably give in and give them what they want.  Oye!  What you can do: Ask the individual what they don’t understand about the word “no.”  Tell them that asking you over and over again isn’t going to change anything and that they are inappropriately over-stepping boundaries.
  4. Selective Memory: This one gets me the most.  You swear you have a conversation about a plan and everyone is on the same page, and then one day, the manipulator pretends to remember the conversation completely differently, if at all.  What you can do: Record your conversations…seriously!  Okay, maybe not.  At least have a witness that you can count on to back you up if the person pulls this shenanigan.  Call them out on the fact that they conveniently change the game to fit their needs.
  5. Bullying: If a person doesn’t get their way, they make you out to look or feel like the bad guy…like you are the wrong one.  What you can do: Be firm and tell them that their bullying tactics are inappropriate and unacceptable.

Keep your eyes open for these behaviors and continue to stand your ground to ensure that you aren’t a victim of manipulation.  Have you seen any other types of manipulative behavior?

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  • Tracy

    gone through these a million times…
    unfort. as adults – people have mastered these tactics!
    The best is your boss using these!
    IDK why ppl feel that they have to be so deceptive!

  • Susie

    I know someone that was bullied by other employees, who had listened to the gossip about him. No one would get to know him and they all treated him so disrespectfully that he finally gave up and quit. He did not understand why they were all treating him that way and when he went to the manager and district manager, they were all in on it. One employee finally said, “I don’t know why they don’t like him. He is actually nice.”

  • Big K

    I am recently put a hold on visiting my family. My mother recently asked my why I have been avoiding her and my brother. After years off assault on all levels. I am in career counselling and have had little to no time for anyone any more. My mother once told me that I should reach out to my brother. Although he still consume alcohol. And still spends his time watching television. My mother, same. She keeps telling my I should work for the Health region. And continues to questions my life decisions. Such as career choices. I am afraid that she might be attempting to control my life direction.

    As well. I have not had many close friends because I still have a reoccurring fear I have developed over the years of bringing people over. I was ashamed of my family to bring someone over to my house early in life. It continued through high school.
    I am now afraid I have developed a narcisstical behaviour from years of being trapped in someone else’s world.

    I have found it really bothersome when My mother complains that she has not money to help me out. I’m have never expected anything from her or my brother. Lately When I have told her I have had little time to spend with her. She somehow has the money to spend on clothing. And now wants to buy me a cell phone to keep in touch with her. Now she wants me to live closer to her and my brother. Problem is that really don’t want to be near her or my brother anymore.

    Once she told me that that she was upset that I didnt hang out with her and that she had worked her scheduled to hang out with me.

    Anyone else with the same issue?

  • Georgiana

    Most of the people in my life are manipulative. My Mom and the current Vice President of my region are poster children for Manipulation. They are so unbearable so I put a huge distance between the me,them and all the manipulative people in my life. I have no room for them.

  • Natalie

    My “bf” is quite manipulative. I believe he is narcissistic as well. He and I made up or so I thought and then he basicallly disappeared for a month. He showed up a month later, to the day, and said he had been m.i.a. b/c I had not responded to his email asking for a favor (he never sent an email nor did he utilize any other way to contact me). I was like “r u serious?!” So I said I would do the favor IF he called me first. He said no, that he would call me after I did the favor! So even though I felt manipulated, I did the favor and shocker: no call! It has been days and nothing. I know now I have to let this toxic, user go. So much wasted time and emotions….

    Ppl who manipulate never, ever love you. U are as valuable as what u will do for them. Love is never a factor.

  • TMJ

    The hardest is plucking these people out your life, go gentle and slow like how you would remove a tick! But make sure you put them in the back of your life. There are certain people’s calls I let go straight to voicemail, I later listen to their message and decide if its worth giving them a call back. Bottom line: You have to stay in control of your own life and not worry about what is being said behind your back. Manipulators will talk sh_ on you! Oh you will be classified as mean, difficult, unhappy, maybe even crazy, but its YOUR job to make new friends and surrogate family members to fully seperate from the manipulator(s). Everyone needs a safe circle to travel in where the manipulative person has no influence and cannot get to your new people. Once you do this, life is better because now you don’t have to put up with the bs. Counseling is the best, you have to get those tools in order to deal with these people.

  • C

    I live with two people who are manipulative. One (A) is much much more than the other,(B). A has been very nice before and then led up to asking a very big favor in return that is very hard to refuse due to all the niceties and buttering up. Sometimes the niceties are necessary, like cooking a meal, a gift of clothing, etc. At the moment I’m unemployed and cannot afford a cellphone, but need one for job-hunting, etc. A gave me a cheap plan that A is paying for. Should I return all the niceties, even if they are essential things? I feel trapped and enslaved. Then it’s hard to trust A in any kindness A does to me. I don’t know whether it is sincere or A is trying to butter me up. Then the next tactic A uses once I have not conceded to the big favour is Guilt. A will emotionally rant on how I don’t do anything for A, and it really isn’t true, etc. and try in numerous rationalizations to disbank my reasons for not wanting to do the favour. A does a very good job at bullying and making me feel bad, guilty, sad, angry and almost insane. Then for the next couple of weeks, A uses passive aggressive language and behaviour to continue punishing me for my “selfishness”. It is very painful and difficult.
    It all revolves around A’s addiction to make money and spend money. A seems to be unable to think about what others need in terms of respect of their boundaries, person, feelings, etc. when these get in the way of what A wants.
    B on the other hand is very sensitive and avoids conflict. B disregards how I am feeling, however, when I voice it, by talking over me, invalidating what I say and walking away not allowing me to express my feelings, frustration or needs. B will use passive aggressive behaviour, like sarcasm and avoidance, seeming self reliance and independence to instill guilt. Occassionally. B will also use bullying language to make me feel like the bad one.
    I feel I am becoming like them and a bit mad, since I started to live with them a few months ago. My situation doesn’t give me many choices as to where to live right now, and I cannot not do more chores than A or B, etc. when I am not contributing to the rent. So basically I’ve become like a free maid, and they seem to act more and more like I will pick up after them, clean after them, etc. Also, I cannot live in an untidy and unclean environment without it affecting my emotional stability. I have to do something about it. A and B don’t seem to care and keep creating mess, and unlceanliness that I end up taking care of. I’m tired of it. I feel used, enslaved and angry. Please help me.

  • Mike

    Ok my wife & her hole family fits it like a glove they do this to each other all the time so she was raised around it & ive been married to her for 15yrs ive left twice the last time I came back I left everything a good paying job & I was very happy living strees free I but I thought I couldnt ever be happy with her not next to me & I could fix her or fix myself to fit better the other day I was leaving again my truck was packed & I throught I could talk to her she broke me down & she did the only talking for 7hrs then she pulled the I think im dieing & she will be alone becase she could never trust any other man & she loves me with all of her heart now she fallows me to the gas station when I fill up my truck & she never gets out of her car shes always in my personal space & calls me ever 2 hrs to see what im doing I know I cant help her & I still want to get out but I dont know how to now the sad thing is I can only find happiness when im playing on my ps3 & she not home but when she gets home I have to get off or I get the cold sholder & silent treatment for days how do I get my mind stronger so I can stand my ground & not fall for it again

  • Jenny

    Between this article and the one on boundaries I feel very validated in how I’ve been feeling all these years with a “friend” of mine. We met in college and became best friends. I was shy/quite and happy to go along w/whatever she wanted. As the years passed I found my voice/myself and found my own interests and life which she was always resentful of. She would try to control me, tell me if she thought I was behaving badly (which I wasn’t it just wasn’t something she’d do), or who I should date, etc…

    I stopped telling her things b/c I didn’t want to hear her opinions or get the riot act for perfectly normal things I was doing that she didn’t agree with. Over the years I tried to let go of what she’d done, to open myself up again to be close so I spent time with her, agreed to be in her wedding. The only thing it showed me is that aren’t the same people. She still sees us as best friends but we’re so far from that, imo.

    If you met her you’d think she was the nicest person in the world. She remembers everyone’s birthday’s, will give gifts to acquaintances who’ve had babies or are sick, she’s got 500+ “friends” on FB. But only if you know her well do you know how manipulative and self serving her behavior is. She had a fight with a boyfriend and was so upset that her mother ended up cancelling a party that was being thrown in her (the mother’s) honor…everything just has to be about her.

    I will admit that I’ve excused her behavior over the last 15 years as ‘that’s just her’ – but she drives me crazy. The one regret I have and mistake I made was agreeing to be her child’s god mother… she put me on the spot one day in the middle of a room filled w/her family, asked me to be his godmother. I was already shaken emotionally b/c earlier that day we’d found someone had tried to break into our house and then she put me on the spot, so being off my “game” I agreed. She knows I don’t like to be the center of attention, but it’s what she’d want done to/for her so she did it so of course in her mind how could I not want that.

    I could go on and I’m probably rambling but Becky’s quote on the boundaries blog coupled with this article really hit home for me: “Some people just don’t understand where they end and you begin and will treat “you” as though you were part of “them”.”

    Thank you for writing these…

    • Brett

      Thank you for sharing Jenny…Sometimes friendships are really about timing in one’s life.

  • Faith

    Brett,

    Thanks for the article. It is so true. I have been struggling with an individual who I “almost” had out of my life until he said the nurse from our church suggested to him to try to work things out with me. Needless to say after having talked with one of our pastors and standing my ground with the guy, then to have a professional person tell him that we need to work things out, just deflated me and here I am almost back to square one. I may need to go to a womans’ homeless shelter for domestic issues if things do not get better. He hasn’t hit me, etc.; but everything else I have been trying to put in place has not been strong enough to deter him. He has cried several times on me when I have confronted him face to face.

    Is there any help for this so-called friendship or am I just continuing to enable him in what he is doing?

    Thanks for any feedback!

    • Brett

      Faith, the short answer is: you have to do what is in YOUR best interest. If this is an abusive relationship…and I don’t mean physically…I mean mentally…then you need to get out. You deserve better.

  • Cat

    I was in a manipulative relationship for 2 years and almost got married. I noticed the signs, but ignored my concerns and the red flags, because he was the love of my life and apart from him being toxic, we got along great. Until this day it hurts, but I am also thankful that someone must have been watching over me and the wedding was cancelled at the last minute (by him). Had we gotten married, I would have had a miserable life.

  • http://yahoo.com patti

    Brett, Your article is great and so are the comments. I was raised by a very child abusing father & a mother who did not stand up for her children. So even though my life has been very screwed-up, I promised myself that I would not allow another man to abuse me. My sister also told me that if you let a man abuse you & get away with it, ‘you deserve everything afterwards’. After more than 10yrs in therapy, I finally had enough. Many things I had done were like my favorite law of physics: ‘for every action, there is an equal & opposite reaction’. After all these decades, I am beginning to do what is good for me…I read a list of my good qualities (other people told me I have) out loud into a mirror in the morning, & then silently throughout my day as reinforcement. This fends off the world’s negativity & also makes me more attractive from inside out. It has been a bumpy road, but when I coast, it is downhill all the way. Norman Vincent Peale wrote numerous books to help people draw on their inner sub-conscious strength to become whomever or whatever you want to be. Thanks for reminding me that I can choose to live the good, ‘uncontrolled’ life.

  • jylisowski

    hi brett, i just discovered your articles today and glad i did. they are short & quick to read and lots to marinate on. thank you. i especially like the broken record description.

    i remember when my son was little, i said to him, i love you and you are a very important person in my life. however, there are three things mommy needs to do without being interrupted. 1) when mommy’s on the phone, i need to have quiet. i’ll do my best to let you know when i’m making a phone call so we can take care of what you need beforehand. if someone called and needed to talk unexpectedly, i would put them on hold and explained to my son that i’ll be on the phone for a bit. is there anything you need right now? now sure how long it’ll take, etc. 2) when i’m meditating, and 3) when mommy’s in the bathroom with the door closed.

    i then asked him if he had any questions. he said what if there is an emergency? i said that’s a great question! unless there is an emergency with you, our cat, or the house or neighbors, please do not bother mommy. we clarified what an “emergency” is, and then i asked him if he had more questions. he said no. i then asked him if he knew what a broken record was. he asked, what’s a record? (it was 1993). i laughed and told him what a record was and said when a record has scratches, it would skip, much like a cd. and the same line would repeat over and over. i shared with my son that i don’t like to sound like a broken record and have to repeat things over and over. since then, whenever we do something (he’s now 21). i (usually) tell him once, we discuss for clarifications if need be, and things go smooth for the most part. and i do my best to listen to him once as well! since we’re both human, mistakes are sometimes made. we’re not perfect (thank goodness) so mistakes are allowed! all we can do is our best.

    …i’ve learned that if i try to manipulate an outcome, that’s when crisis begins. if i’m clear about my needs, i feel better about myself, and since i’m not doing things with an expectation from someone else, i’m not setting myself up to cop a resentment.

    whether i am requesting a need to a young child or to a peer, i know i have the option to not manipulate or be manipulated today.

  • PHIL

    Am so happy about this…because all my life, i have been battling with a manipulative family member…u never can quantify what it does to u psychologically…it does reduce your self esteem and makes u always wanna please that person without thinking much of yourself…you tend to loose awareness of who u really are…and b4 u realise it..it myt be too late…!!!in my relationship…i also face this with my boyfriend..he is caring but manipulative..that is he expects me to be who he wants and sumtyms i feel so choked up and stupid!!!!i dont really know what decision to take on this…!!!

    • Brett

      PHIL,
      You should only be who you are and be true to yourself. If others can’t accept you for who you are, then you should move on. In the end, all we have is ourselves to thank for the outcome of our lives…if we make decisions on what everyone else wants of us, then we end up feeling unfilled, devalued and lost. Stay true to yourself and your life will have much greater meaning and significance!
      Good luck,
      Brett

  • strenth

    Who do you love more? Him or yourself?

    The more you stay and let him manipulate you, the more respect he will lose for you and worse, the less respect you will have for yourself.

    You make the choice and leave the manipulative D.A.

  • Wilma

    Hi Brett

    I have been in a manipulative relationship for a while now. Everytime we have a difference of opinion he threathens to leave, because he “loves me, but doesnt think this is the right thing.” I feel very manipulated as I am always the one ending up asking forgiveness, even for things I do not feel Ive done wrong, just to save the relationship. Even with this it takes him a day or two to get over his feelings of doubt and anger. He has never apologized for anything, as he always believes he is right and makes me feel bad so he can feel good. How do I let go of this, I know I need to let go of him but my heart is breaking.

    • Brett

      Wilma…this sounds like a very unhealthy relationship. You may want to consider counseling. The last thing you should do is lose yourself for the sake of someone else…which in essence, is what you are allowing to happen.