If psychopaths have ever manipulated you, you probably felt grateful for the opportunity to tell the cautionary tale to others. A psychopath not only hates other people, but they also take action to cause harm to others for their selfish pleasure. These are the serial killers, repeat offenders, violent criminals, and the people who refuse to play by society’s polite rules.

Let’s look at how a psychopath will try to manipulate you and what you can do to escape being victimized.

11 Ways Psychopaths Will Try To Manipulate You

How many psychopaths do you think you have encountered in your life? Experts estimate that roughly 1 in every 100 people is a psychopath. This means that you have probably experienced several in your life so far, and you may, unfortunately, meet more of them.

psychopathic personality

1.      The predatory stare.

The unblinking, dead gaze of psychopaths is one of the more disturbing ways these antisocial people will try to manipulate you. People often cave into the psychopath when they use this unsettling stare but try to remain unfazed. Relax and return the gaze with a smile, and watch as they become noticeably annoyed by your clever tactics.

Researchers studying the brains of aggressive psychopaths found that they lack brain matter in the areas that help us to ‘anticipate consequences of actions and use feedback from behavior to modify maladaptive response patterns.’ In other words, psychopaths have a hard time understanding that manipulating people harms both themselves and the other person.

2. Psychopaths engage in brainwashing.

Hypnotists and psychopaths use techniques to manipulate your thoughts and actions, such as brainwashing. If you notice that your conversations become strangely repetitive, where the person says the same thing repeatedly, they’re probably trying to implant an idea in your mind.

3. Acting like a martyr.

‘I’m the one who has to put up with your accusations.’
‘Did you ever think how I feel when you say things like this to me?’
‘You make me feel worthless when you question me like this.’

Psychopaths will frequently say these types of ‘poor me’ statements to manipulate you when you divulge your feelings about their behavior. They will attempt to paint you as the bad guy, but don’t fall for this switch tactic. You’re the bad guy, but don’t fall for this switch tactic.

4. Psychopaths use gaslighting as a weapon.

Psychopaths use a subtle, deceptive method called gaslighting, where they make you feel crazy by continuously second-guessing your judgment. The term comes from an old movie where the husband keeps dimming the gas lamps in the house but denies it, making his wife think she is going mad. If you believe something happened one way, trust your gut, not the words of the psychopath.

5. Silent treatment.

The silent treatment often accompanies the predator stare as the psychopath tries to get you to cave into their manipulative games. Practice being comfortable with silence and the psychopath’s stare. Breathe deeply and control your emotions as you wait out the silent treatment.

6. Reducing your self-esteem.

If a psychopath can make you feel weaker than them, they will do it to maintain their control. Recognize when you feel bad about yourself and turn the negative into positive self-talk.

7. Talk behind your back.

One of the mildest forms of manipulation that a psychopath uses is turning your friends against you. They will tell people anything about you to get them to believe their words, not yours. Tell your friends about your suspicions before the psychopath makes up a lie about you being the psychopath.

8. Preventing you from doing things that you want.

Seeing your friends, going out, wearing that outfit you love – whatever you enjoy doing, a psychopath will try to transform into a negative. Alternatively, they will fabricate why you can’t do the thing you love. Never allow a psychopath to take away your joy.

Not caring about others and what they want is a trademark of the psychopath. Research on psychopaths who commit sex crimes found that ‘In a nonpsychopath, concern for the victim, and lack of general propensities to use people for one’s own ends would help a man with deviant preferences to restrain his sexual behavior. But a psychopath with deviant preferences would act on them.’ Because they cannot control harmful impulses, psychopaths comprise a large part of the criminal population.


9. Psychopaths control people via verbal abuse.

Name-calling, belittling, or even a loud, angry tone are all psychological manipulation tools used by the psychopath. They want you in a low, fearful state so that you feel powerless against them. Don’t fall for their mind games, though; ignore or walk away from their abuse.

10. Baiting you.

They know your hot button issues and will deliberately bring up something that makes you angry, sad, or scared because they thrive on your drama. Listen for the bait, and walk away rather than engaging in a topic that will make you emotional.

11. Sabotage.

A psychopath may try to manipulate you by doing the opposite of what you want them to do. For example, if you say you are on a diet, they will bring you exactly the food you crave most.

What Causes Someone to Become a Psychopath?

Scientists believe that genetics, environmental risk factors in childhood, and brain chemistry contribute to psychopathy.

•   Genetics

Research suggests that certain genetic predispositions make people more likely to become psychopaths. For instance, a study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that “abnormal glucose metabolism and opioidergic neurotransmission contribute to violent offending and psychopathy.”

Experts also believe that certain immune-related gene sets could contribute to antisocial behavior. The heritability of severe antisocial behavior is about 50%; however, this doesn’t mean all children with these genes will become psychopaths.

•   Environmental Risk Factors

Like most mental disorders, adverse childhood experiences and upbringing can make a child more susceptible to psychopathy. However, some children raised in challenging environments will not grow up to become psychopaths. Research on psychopathic personality traits and environmental contexts found that parental abuse or neglect and peer rejection contributed to psychopathy in vulnerable children.

Also, perinatal factors such as smoking during pregnancy, birth complications, or high stress levels while pregnant can contribute to psychopathy. However, these risk factors likely play a small role in developing psychopathy. Also, it’s important to remember that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation; for example, children with warm and responsive parents can still become psychopaths.

•   Differences in Brain Chemistry

The combination of genetics and environmental factors can cause changes in brain structure that contribute to psychopathy.  A study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers revealed that psychopaths have reduced connectivity between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the amygdala. This explains why psychopaths display callous and unsocial behaviors since the vmPFC regulates emotions such as empathy and guilt, and the amygdala mediates fear and anxiety.

The study took place in a medium-security prison in Wisconsin, comparing the brains of 20 prisoners diagnosed with psychopathy with the brains of 20 other prisoners without the disorder. Both groups of prisoners had committed similar crimes.

“This is the first study to show both structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy,” says Michael Koenigs, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Those two structures in the brain, which are believed to regulate emotion and social behavior, seem to not be communicating as they should.”

The study builds on previous work by the lead researchers that reveals how psychopaths’ decision-making mimics patients with damaged ventromedial prefrontal cortexes (vmPFC). This provides evidence that problems in this area of the brain could contribute to psychopathy.

“The decision-making study showed indirectly what this study shows directly – that there is a specific brain abnormality associated with criminal psychopathy,” Koenigs adds.

The researchers hope that their findings will lead to better treatments for those with psychopathy soon.


Final Thoughts on Understanding How Psychopaths Try to Manipulate Others

Psychopaths display shallow emotions and lack empathy for others, both hallmarks of the disorder. They also take pleasure in causing harm to others and try to manipulate people to achieve their goals. A psychopath uses several tactics to deceive or intimidate others, including brainwashing, gaslighting, and various forms of verbal abuse. They prey on empathetic and compassionate people who may not see the warning signs until too late.

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation or feel threatened by a psychopath, never hesitate to seek help. While psychopaths deserve treatment for their disorder, they can inflict severe harm on unsuspecting victims. The best course of action when dealing with a psychopath is to avoid them altogether, as they can’t have healthy relationships before seeking treatment.

However, if you must interact with a psychopath for whatever reason, try to ignore their mind games as much as possible. They will start to lose interest if they get no reaction from you.