7 Ways to Identify a Master Manipulator

· June 2, 2016

Manipulation fits right in with today’s world. People use power, media, and interpersonal relationships to manipulate others. In fact, we encounter true masters of manipulation quite often each day.

Manipulation is a form of emotional blackmailManipulators use certain behaviors to influence how other people think, feel, and act, without them noticing. In effect, the manipulator gets them to do whatever they want.

And this is precisely the big problem with manipulation: it involves covert behaviors that the victim can’t always detect. Many people take the bait and end up allowing the manipulator to get away with it.

“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use them.”

-Philip Dick-

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to identify the tactics that manipulators use. Below, we describe 7 ways to identify a master of manipulation:

1. They make you feel guilty and you don’t know why

sad puppet

Masters of manipulation rely on constant victimizationThey probably have a “trauma wildcard,” or a difficult episode in their lives that they always use to justify the things they do wrong.

“A difficult childhood,” “ungrateful children,” “bad luck,” and other formulas like that are their favorites. They display these emotional scars with a certain amount of pride, and even end up bragging about them.


If, for example, you complain about their lack of consideration, they’ll respond with something like, “You’re angry because I’m not attentive, but I had to deal with a father who abandoned me when I was three years old.” This disarms you. Who would be so insensitive as to criticize someone who brought up such trauma? This is their game.

2. They subtly threaten you

Indirect threats are another common tactic that manipulators use. They’ve been used, and are still being used, from huge leaders to small domestic tyrants and even expert advertisers. This tactic involves anticipating the worst outcome possible as a consequence of your behavior.

“If you keep eating like that, in less than six months you’ll look like a whale.” They don’t want you to eat, and probably don’t have any sort of medical argument to back up what they’re saying; they simply don’t want you to act that way.

Maybe it bothers them to see how happy you are when you eat ice cream, or maybe they think you’re wasting too much money on food. But they don’t say it directly, they just warn you of an impending catastrophe.

3. They devalue what you do through sarcasm

manipulating rabbits

If manipulators hate anything, it’s direct communication. As the popular saying goes, “they don’t call you a dog, but they offer you a bone.” They use sarcasm to ridicule you or minimize the value of your thoughts, feelings, or actions. Manipulators want others to feel insecure and inferior.

One example of this is when they send you a seemingly friendly message, but there’s pretty aggressive content hidden between the lines. “Maybe if you read a little more, you would have more distinguished friends,” translates to “You are uneducated and your friends are poor little devils.”

Sometimes, victims of manipulation start to believe that this kind of assessment is a way of trying to help them be better. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. When somebody wants to help another, they use direct and sincere communication. And they don’t devalue people, but rather offer them concrete advice.

4. They’re almost always charmers

Manipulators typically know that you have to stroke the horse before you ride it. They usually start by acting pleasant and wonderful. They’ll flatter you and try to show that they have good taste, their conversations are super entertaining, and they’re highly sensitive to your expectations.

This is the first step. In the second step, things start to change. When they’ve already convinced you what a great person they are, they start trying to manipulate you with all their charm.

They spin a net of seduction around you, and you’re unable to evaluate it objectively. You see what they do through good eyes, and even though you occasionally have doubts, that person will always find a way to remind you that you can’t think badly of someone who is that fantastic.

5. They are self-proclaimed judges of your life

Without you knowing how, suddenly the manipulator becomes a kind of “spiritual guide” for your life. They’re extremely skilled at telling other people how they should live, even though they themselves don’t practice what they preach.

They give you advice and quote great philosophical maxims. They tell you what to do, step by step. If it doesn’t happen, they blame you. They told you what you should have done, and you didn’t follow their advice verbatim, advice that they so generously offered you.

A good friend or adviser won’t tell you what to do, but they’ll help you figure it out, because everyone is different and an answer that’s valid for one person might not be valid for someone else. The people who really love you want you to be free, not dependent.

6. They’re good at talking and changing the subject

Masters of manipulation also tend to be skilled at the art of language. They use flowery and fluid language and always have a surprising and witty argument at hand, even though it’s based on lies.

If they ridicule you by saying, for example, “you look like a penguin in that dress,” and it bothers you, they’ll follow that by saying, “sorry, I didn’t think you were so sensitive to jokes.” It’s a win-win for them. They’re masters at making people look like fools.

If you confront them, they probably won’t respond. They’ll divert the conversation towards another subject and before you know it, they’re talking about things that have nothing to do with what they initially said to you.

7. They’ll happily put the blame on you

dancing puppets

They’ll break a glass, and you’ll end up paying and apologizing for it. A classic example of this is a husband whose wife has caught him cheating. When the woman takes out the motel bill that she found in one of his pockets, he gets angry and yells at her for spying on him and snooping through his personal things. He goes into a long rant about the importance of trust in a relationship and about respecting one another’s space.

In the end, the woman feels so guilty that she ends up asking for forgiveness for being so “controlling,” and the subject of cheating ends up seeming like a misunderstanding that she never should have brought up.

Images courtesy of Art PK, Holly Clifton-Brown