Everyone has to deal with a person who uses psychological manipulation at some point in their life. It might be a family member, a friend, a partner, or even someone you do business with. Most people who will manipulate you will do it intentionally. Sometimes they aren’t even aware they are doing it. That can be even more dangerous.
You might be aware of the most common signs of manipulation, like people twisting your words or gaslighting you. But manipulation can take many different forms, many of which you might not even know. Manipulation can sometimes be so subtle that you won’t see the danger coming until it’s too late. And if you end up in a manipulative situation, it might be too late to get out unharmed.
Ten Signs of Psychological Manipulation
The best thing you can do is prevent psychological manipulation altogether. And the only way to avoid being manipulated is to know all the signs. So, here are ten signs of psychological manipulation most people don’t even realize.
1. Intellectual Bullying Reveals Psychological Manipulation
One of the sneakiest ways someone will manipulate you is by using intellectual bullying. And the worst part is, they often disguise it as “sharing knowledge.”
Intellectual bullying happens when someone starts bombarding you with information that you don’t know. The aim is to overwhelm you and make you feel inferior from an intelligence standpoint. When you start feeling inadequate, you inevitably begin allowing the other person to take control of the situation.
Imagine you are the newest employee of a company, and you are also young and inexperienced. You will inevitably have superiors tell you that they don’t expect you to understand something because you are new. Or they will start spewing random bits of knowledge in hopes they’ll confuse you and make you lose confidence. A family member or friend might also try to exclude you from the conversation this way.
If you ever encounter this type of behavior, know that it’s a manipulation tactic. Stand your ground and be confident in your knowledge. Don’t let people play the expert card around you.
2. Emotional Invalidation
If you ever open up to someone and they start playing down your experiences, know that they’re manipulating you. It’s easy to fall for this trick, as most people are afraid of being a burden or sounding like they’re begging for attention. Some people tend to invalidate their feelings, making them easier targets for this manipulation tactic.
The people who pretend to care about you should never diminish your problems. They are the ones supposed to help you out, no matter how big or small your issue might be. If someone starts acting like what you’re going through doesn’t matter, it’s time to put some distance between you.
Some ways through which they will play down your experiences are by comparing them to their issues. Things like “you think that’s bad? You should see what I’ve been dealing with” might seem innocent enough. But don’t fall for it. Such semantics only put you down and make you focus on the other person instead of on yourself.
3. Avoiding Accountability
Kind people will always acknowledge when they hurt others. Moreover, they will try to fix their mistakes. But manipulators will take as little accountability as they can. They will never recognize that they did something wrong, even if it’s blatantly apparent that they did.
This might not seem like psychological manipulation, but the goal is to hurt others without consequences. These people will go so far as to make you feel responsible for their slip-ups. They will say things like, “if you weren’t so sensitive, this wouldn’t have hurt you.” You might even find yourself apologizing when they’re the ones in the wrong.
Trust your gut. If you know for a fact that they are guilty and they won’t admit it, don’t take the blame.
4. Shaming Can Be a Sign of Psychological Manipulation
A manipulator will always try to project their issues on their victim. They will go to extreme lengths to make you feel ashamed and guilty. This way, you will feel like you owe them something or that they’re doing you a favor by staying. They keep their clear image while your confidence is getting shattered to pieces.
When someone is shaming you, they are just trying to control you. They might act like you are ungrateful for everything they’ve done for you. This will make you feel like you’re in debt to them. It also shifts focus off their mistakes and puts it on you.
If you feel like someone is making you feel ashamed or guilty, don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. They are doing it intentionally, and you shouldn’t accept such behavior.
Everyone lies from time to time. You do it to avoid awkward situations, gain something for yourself, or just because it’s easier than telling the truth. Because of how common it is, people don’t usually think of it as psychological manipulation. Even though not all people who lie are manipulative, all manipulators lie.
Manipulators lie so that they can control the narrative. They even do it when it’s unnecessary to make sure that their fake story is as seamless as possible. For example, a cheater will manipulate you by saying they were working overtime, and that’s why they were late. Lying is also meant to confuse you so that you can’t question their actions anymore.
If someone lies to you, that doesn’t mean they are manipulative. But if the lying is habitual, it’s a good chance that they’re up to something.
6. Using Ultimatums
Manipulators will do whatever they can to put you on the spot and force you to make decisions without time to think. When they want to force you to do something, they will use ultimatums. They sue them most often during fights.
They will try to exploit your weaknesses to get what they want. For example, an abusive partner might tell you they’ll take their life if you leave them. This way, they make sure that, if you go, you’ll leave in fear of them hurting themselves. Or a family member might tell you that if you don’t show up to dinner, you’re not family anymore.
Don’t fall for these ultimatums. Someone who cares about you will never put you on the spot like that. And if someone does this, it’s time to cut them out of your life.
7. Giving Silent Treatment Is a Form of Psychological Manipulation
Giving people the silent treatment might seem innocent enough at first, but it’s not at all. It’s a psychological manipulation tactic meant to make you desperate.
When someone refuses to communicate, they don’t respond to your calls and messages, and they aim to gain control. They avoid a direct fight while making you feel responsible for the lack of communication. They shift the focus from them having to take responsibility to you trying desperately to get them back.
As you get more desperate, you’ll forget about the real issues. They’ll get off the hook while controlling you. Don’t try to contact them when someone cuts all forms of communication with you. Let them go and try to avoid any future interactions.
This tactic is one of the oldest tricks in the books, and it’s so common that people don’t realize how harmful it is anymore. Just because it’s common, it doesn’t mean you should accept it. After all, it is a form of psychological manipulation.
Name-calling aims to make you feel inferior and exploit your vulnerabilities. For example, old men have been calling women “sweetheart” for as long as anyone can remember. They do it because they want to assert dominance. The connotations are that women are less capable. Or they’re just something pretty to look at. But it doesn’t stop here. Even presidents have started to use this tactic.
If someone name-calls you, stop the conversation right there and there. Let them know you won’t accept to be treated disrespectfully. Otherwise, you might find yourself being exploited using nicknames.
Fear is one of the primary mechanisms through which someone will try to manipulate you. Indeed, intimidation is a covert way through which some individuals instill fear in others.
This is very common in workplaces. Most people have had a boss that told them something along the lines of “no one is irreplaceable.” The aim is to make you back off and let the other take advantage of their position. If you fall for these tricks, you will be exploited. Even friends or family can do this.
For example, your parents might tell their underage kids that they’ll be kicked out unless they act in specific ways. Sometimes, you aren’t in a position to fight back. But if you can stand your ground, do it. Don’t allow people to exploit you, and let them know you won’t fall for their tricks.
10. Playing The Victim is a Type of Psychological Manipulation
Even though manipulation is about gaining power over others, that doesn’t mean manipulators always seem in control. Often, they choose to present as a victim to gain sympathy and exploit others’ kindness.
Manipulators want you to feel like you’re tied to them. When they play the victim, they make sure that you think they need you. They know you don’t want to see people hurt, so they use that to their advantage. They will exaggerate their issues until you feel obligated to be by their side and help them. Then, they will slowly start pushing the limit bit by bit until they can do whatever without you leaving.
Though you should always help people out, be wary of people who don’t talk about anything but their issues. And never sacrifice your well-being to help others.
Final Thoughts On Some Signs of Psychological Manipulation Most People Don’t Realize
Psychological manipulation is something that everyone will have to deal with at some point. Some people will encounter light forms, while others might get sucked up into an abusive situation. There’s no shame in falling for these tactics, as most of them seem innocent at first.
Lying, shaming, intellectual bullying, and more are psychological manipulation tactics. What they all have in common is a need to control the narrative and gain power over others. If you encounter any of these tactics, be aware that you’re being manipulated. Try to avoid people who use them at all costs, and stand your ground. If you trust your gut, you won’t be controlled.