Are You Being Manipulated?

Published on August 19th, 2021

Updated on January 2nd, 2024

Are You Being Manipulated?

Manipulative tactics can be difficult to decipher, especially since manipulators use underhanded methods to satisfy perceived needs. Manipulative people are often charismatic or unassuming, or they may even appear helpful or deeply concerned about you.

The combination of a manipulator’s underhanded tactics and affable personality can leave even a discerning person feeling blindsided by a manipulator’s guised hostility. This article will help you ascertain if someone is pulling your strings before you are in too deep.

What Is Manipulation?

Put simply, manipulation is a maladaptive means of leveraging personal control at the expense of the other. Most people have fallen into manipulative speech or behavior at some point, but when it becomes a person’s primary pattern of engagement, a manipulative individual wreaks havoc on family systems, marriages, faith communities, workplace environments and any other form of alliance or partnership.

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Manipulation is quite often a by-product of

The manipulative individual often feels powerless–unable to healthfully make choices or express a sense of self, so manipulative tactics are a dysfunctional way of securing authority and significance.

Below are the most common strategies manipulators use:

Conditional Flattery

A true compliment is a genuine affirmation that has no hidden agenda. Examples might include: “You have excellent people skills, no wonder you received a promotion!” Or, “You communicate with so much poise and eloquence. You are really sharp.” Notice how the encouragement is uncomplicated, observant and positive.

Manipulators, on the other hand, twist compliments so the recipient may not be sure if the intent is to build up or knock down a peg. Any time a “compliment” feels cloaked in quick slight of hand, set your boundaries.

Sometimes, we call these “backhanded compliments.”

Examples might include: “Congratulations on your marriage! I guess there is someone for everyone!” Or, “Wow, straight A’s on your report card! I guess this means you have some work ethic, after all!” Notice how these compliments feel loaded. They are exclamatory and enthusiastic but they hold a clear negative bias, albeit passively communicated.


In the movies, blackmailers write: “If you want to see your child alive again, meet me here with 100,000 dollars.”

The plot unfolds in such a way that the poor, bereaved family scrambles to find the funds to reunite with their kidnaped family member. Emotional blackmail is a key tactic of manipulators, and while less of a life or death matter, the unfolding over time, can be just as dramatic.

Manipulators use emotional blackmail to get what they want using threats and other fear-instilling tactics. We hear elementary-aged children use this tactic when they say, “If you don’t play this game with me, I won’t be friends with you anymore.”

As we grow, statements like this one become more complex as our emotional needs feel more numerous and perhaps, harder to meet. An adult manipulator might say, “I’m feeling very fragile and who knows what might happen if you leave me right now!” Or, “You are just a kid, do you think they are actually going to believe you?”.

In both instances, the manipulator works to twist the recipient into compliance with threats, hostility and other emotionally loaded language.

Worried Woman Looking Out Window


Lying, or deformation of the truth, can come in many different forms. In matters of conflict, difficulty and struggle, there is often a hard and fast truth that manipulators want to cover or skillfully distract from.

Example: If a head-on collision occurred between two cars- one driving correctly and the other on the wrong side of the road, the person at fault would be the driver on the wrong side of the road. It’s less relevant to hyper-focus on the confusing road signs, the distracting loud music or the time of day.

While these factors might form a fuller picture of the accident, the highest reality is causation by the person driving on the wrong side of the road. The accident is not a matter of perspective, but one of error.

Similarly, manipulators often deform or deface the truth with exaggeration or detail omission that distracts from the heart of the matter, convolutes the issue at hand and discounts personal responsibility. When confronted, it’s common for manipulators to either forget mistakes altogether, relegate them to “not meaning it that way” or simply being “misunderstood.”


Manipulators like to surround themselves with people who support their schemes. We hear often of people in high power positions succumbing to moral failure that’s kept hidden for years. In part, this is because their platforms make it easy to form alliances and keep secrets. If power and prestige isn’t accessible, gossip and slander are primary ways manipulators might alienate or exile people who push back on their schemes.

You’ll notice that a manipulative person might be especially critical or averse to people outside his or her “circle” which can include smaller interpersonal groups like family systems and friend groups or larger systems like professional settings.

If outsiders tend to be more outspoken, assertive, non-conformist and less compliant, manipulators often seek to malign that person’s character or find other ways to ensure their alienation.

Manipulators are intuitive and aptly know that there is “power in numbers,” gaining momentum with the collusion and corroboration of others is a key strategy.

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