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Manipulating People

Updated on June 10, 2015

Manipulating People

Those who manipulate others often use deceptive tactics to get what they want. They are usually very good at recognizing those with weaknesses they can take advantage of. People pleasing is often at the root of being manipulated. We must learn how to defend ourselves from them.

Emotional manipulation occurs when manipulating another is done on purpose and deliberately. There are certain ways these people act when emotionally manipulating others.


Threatening to take away something valuable. These can include, but not limited to, loss of the relationship, bad treatment, promising to tell others your deepest secrets, or imposing unreasonable demands." Threats cause fear, prompting you to give in to their demands. An example would be, "You better do what I tell you or you'll be sorry!" Screaming, yelling, and slamming doors are other good examples. They are used as pressure tactics to publicly humiliate or personally intimidate.

Weakness/dependence, helpless, needy, fearful, sick, depressed, incompetent, suicidal. These are all emotions designed to confuse want with need, with the message “If you don't do what I ask, something bad will happen, and it will be all your fault."


There are many ways to make someone feel guilty. It's usually focused on an area of self-doubt. Perhaps you don't feel you are not a good husband, wife, or parent. Anyone focusing attacks on these areas will usually succeed in acquiring what they want. Shaming, scolding, blaming others, attempting to make others responsible, trying to collect for past favors. The goal is to be in the “It's all your fault.” position. Essentially what they are saying is, "How can you treat me like this after everything I've done for you?"

Silent Treatment

This is commonly known as "the cold shoulder." It can be recognized in many forms. Pouting, brooding, refusing to speak, or simply ignoring you are prime instances.

Power in Numbers

It is easier to get a person to give in when they feel outnumbered. By getting others to support their position, they will be more apt to get you to agree with what they want.


These are those pretending to be a victim of mistreatment. They gain your favor by a grand performance of self-pity. They claim a variety of causes. Bad luck, mistreatment and poor circumstances are just a few of their ploys.

Nature of Manipulation

In relationships, manipulation can be defined as: any attempt to control, through coercion (overt or covert), another person’s thoughts, feelings or behaviors.

From this definition, manipulation would seem to have no advantages. However, if you are codependent and defined by others, there can be many. When you allow others to control your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and make decisions for you, you don't have to:

  • Think for yourself.

  • Take risks or make difficult decisions.

  • Take a stand on controversial issues.

  • Feel responsible for negative outcomes.

  • Deal with conflict.

  • Struggle with emotional growth and develop.

You also get to blame others when things go wrong.

Manipulation is usually attempted by force, rescuing, guilt, weakness, and/or dependence, in order to achieve a desired outcome. It can be done by physical or verbal abuse, intimidation, or threat. Or by unsolicited helping. Unsolicited helping is doing things for others when they don't actually need assistance. This is merely an attempt to make you feel indebted, and obligated to them.

With manipulation, there is a physical and emotional response, such as a heightened level of anxiety or irritation. This is where boundaries differ from manipulation. In this sense, boundaries are statements about our values. True boundaries are not threats or about getting others to do what we want. They are not compromised by the response of another.

For example, you discover your spouse has lied and accumulated a huge gambling debt. After getting professional help for them, they continue on their track to destruction. You must ask yourself these questions. What is your bottom line? What will you tolerate? At what point do you let them know you are fed up? Your only choice is to let them know where you stand, and won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to protect those you care about.

How do we manage manipulation? By becoming more aware of our interaction with others. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the interaction an attempt to communicate or does it feel like a contest?

  • Are you beginning to feel anxious or irritated?

  • Do you want to get out of the conversation?

  • Does the interaction fit into a manipulative style?

  • Is there an attempt to use power, service, guilt, or weakness?

  • Are you a willing participant in your own manipulation?

  • Is it easier not taking responsibility?

  • Are you attempting to manipulate others instead of setting clear boundaries?

  • Are you making a distinction between a value and a preference?

  • Preferences can be negotiated, but values should not.

We tend to take it personally when others disagree with us. We avoid conflicts, because it feels like rejection. We need to communicate effectively, clearly and calmly, our values, preferences, and boundaries. Too many manipulate others under the banner of spiritual reformation to get sympathy or leniency.

How to Prevent manipulation

Do you find yourself being constantly taken advantage of, feel like a doormat? There's no way around it. Those responsible must be confronted and given an ultimatum. It's best this be done in private. However, make sure they understand you value theirfriendship. Don't be surprised if they no longer want to be friends or take it personally. Recognize they have nothing of value to contribute to your life. When we do something simply because we were pressured into it, we are surrendering and turning control of our lives over to others.

Understanding manipulative behavior can help us change our relationships. To do this we must disable their tactics. While some types are obvious, others are more subtle. When their tactics become ineffective, the guilty party may change strategies. But if you stand firm, eventually they will leave you alone, and seek another victim.

Manipulators don't want to work at manipulating people. They only do it because you make it easy. It's important to understand how manipulators operate. Pointing out their shortcomings won't change them. The only way to change a manipulator is to make their tactics ineffective by changing yourself. When you refuse to cooperate manipulators have to work harder and eventually will give up.

Manipulators are not always aware of what they are doing. Those who do are the most dangerous and are least likely to change. Perhaps because they simply don't care, or have rationalized their behavior is alright. In this case there is little motivation for change.

Something all manipulators have in common is preoccupation with their own needs, and inability to empathize with others. Most know their behavior is unacceptable and will clothe their attempts in various guises.

  • “I'm doing this because I care about you.”

  • “I am telling you this because I know more about it than you.”

  • “I am doing this for your own good.”

  • “I am telling you this because I feel obligated to."

Most manipulators feel they deserve to have their needs met, no matter what damage it causes others. They often rationalize this because of a bad childhood or a variety of other reasons causing them to feel the world owes them something. Underlying this behavior is usually a deep distrust of others. They tend to project their own warped views onto others.

Recognizing the Mechanics

According to the mechanics of manipulation, some manipulators have developed the skill to understand what you want and will use this against you. After all you make it easy for them. How? You probably told them. They glean insight into your personality when you talk about your dreams, desires, and fears.

You may have strong desires, as do others, for love, security, money, career advancement, or acceptance by others. When you know what your fears and desires are you can spot when a manipulative person is trying to gain control over you.

Manipulative relationships are activated by normal human drives such as gain or reward, and loss or avoidance. You need not look any further. Manipulation, at its roots level, boils down to the promise of a net gain or loss. In manipulative relationships, there is usually a promise of something valuable to gain.

Manipulation is a process taking place over a prolonged period of time. Usually a relationship will begin with a promise of gain, but in many cases will evolve into a threat of losing something valuable.

We have worked on the hopeful assumption, issues which are ignored will eventually disappear and perhaps even solve itself. It is now time to face the fact humans are fallible. The desire of one person to control another has always been with us. It began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent manipulated Eve.

We would love to believe the world is a beautiful place, where all could be trusted. Although there are those who try to live up to this ideal, many don't. We understand selfishness is a natural human trait in many, but we don't have to let it control our lives.


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    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I think we all know characters like this, and you're right. If we are out of their reach, they will go another job.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      3 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Excellent piece John and absolutely on the button. It tends to be the same anywhere in the world, so this hub really is providing the tools for a lot people in what is required to identify the beast. Good on you for writing the road map. Take care... PD


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