Psychological manipulators can be tough to pinpoint. If you grew up being manipulated, then you’re used to it, making it harder to recognize it as bad behavior. But even if you’re new to manipulation, it can be tricky to decipher because manipulators themselves are tricky. They layer their bad behavior with words that are pleasant or reasonable, or they cleverly employ guilt or sympathy. This kind of brain-ninja activity makes you dismiss your instincts because either you can’t quite figure out what it is that is off about a person, or worse, because you believe it’s your fault, or that it’s all in your head.
To help you better detect when it happens to you, here are 5 signs of psychological manipulation:
1. Guilt Trips
Emotional manipulators excel at playing the victim. They always have a fresh dose of guilt ready to shove down your throat. These people will say just about anything to get their way — especially if they see a caring, sensitive individual. Example: “You’re right, we don’t need a new car. I don’t deserve new things, anyway, because I’m a horrible person.” Then they wait for you to take the bait and change your mind.
Don’t buy into this—remind them that they are an adult and they should know how to handle your decisions. Don’t let them bully you into feeling sorry for them.
While it might appear to be innocent (or obnoxious) humor, sarcasm is, for the manipulator, a clever way to make you feel inferior. It’s not quite a direct insult, but it’s insulting just the same. They will try to make you feel insecure under the guise of lighthearted humor. They will poke fun at your clothing style, your flaws (as they perceive them), and anything else they can wrap up in a joking nature. Example: “Nice parking job out there, Buddy!”, or “nice of you to grace us with your presence!”
If this bothers you, let the manipulator know that their comments make you uncomfortable. If they continue to disrespect you, ignore their comments as best you can or discontinue contact with them.
This type of manipulator will raise his or her voice to demand all attention on them. They will especially use this technique if the other person remains calm. They want a reaction—and both children and adults have exhibited this behavior. When they are in a bad mood, everyone knows it, and the manipulator is skilled enough so that everyone feels it, too, to the point where others feel obligated to fix the bad mood and cater to the manipulator’s demands.
Above all else, remain calm. As soon as you lose your cool or match their energy, they have won their manipulative game. Don’t give them what they want. If you can’t keep your cool, simply walk away.
4. Experts in Everything
This helps the manipulator exude a sense of intellectual superiority. Quite often they will claim to be an expert in almost every field. If you mention you almost got bit by a snake, they will rattle off facts, often with the phrase, “most people don’t know this, but…” They will proceed to tell you everything about snakes you never wanted to know. If you change the subject to something else, say, buying a house, they also know everything there is to know about that subject. They want to feel significant so they will look for any opportunity to make the conversation light shine on them.
Use your best judgment here. These people are conversation hogs, so tread carefully. Sometimes the best you can do is politely bow out and walk out of the room.
While sometimes their motives are pure, due to social awkwardness or a genuine need of someone to talk to, beware the oversharer. Oversharers skip a few steps for what is acknowledged as normal social protocol. They do this to make you feel special—they have chosen you to come into the most precious, vulnerable parts of their life. But watch out: They may be trying to pressure you into oversharing, too. This person wants to make you feel like you are their new BFF, but it really has little to do with you and your needs. It’s intended to not only make you feel sorry for them, but to make you feel like you are responsible for their feelings. The more people they can get to feel sorry for them, the better.
Don’t play their game. This means refraining from saying things like “oh, that must be hard for you”. If you must say anything at all, simply say “ok”. Then ignore them or walk away.