Key Traits to Identify Manipulative People

Key Traits to Identify Manipulative People

How do you feel when you find that someone has manipulated you? You feel anger. You feel shame. You feel mental agony.

But as we live in a society, we deal with lots of people in our life. So it’s hard to foolproof ourselves from being manipulated.

Manipulative people are often intelligent and achieve their goals by playing mind games.

They can be deceptive. They can coerce you. They can use trickery, or even they can use fear.

When it comes to identifying a manipulative person, it’s a challenging task as they often use subtle tactics to control or manipulate others.

However, there are several signs and behaviors you can watch for to help you identify manipulative individuals:

Manipulative People Use Charm and Flattery

Sometimes in life, you may encounter someone who just oozes charm and showers you with compliments.

You start thinking, “Wow, this person really gets me!” But have you ever wondered if this charm is genuine or if there may be a hidden agenda?

Manipulative people use charm and flattery strategically. They have honed this skill to create a powerful emotional connection and gain trust. Such individuals understand that by making you feel special, they can influence you.

Imagine a scenario where there is a woman. Let’s call her Preeti. She has just met a charismatic co-worker named Tarun.

Tarun starts complimenting Preeti for her skills and her intelligence. Tarun tells her how lucky the team is to have her. Preeti feels elated by these gestures. She starts appreciating all the praises and feels valued.

But then, subtly, Tarun begins asking for favors.

First, he asks for small favors, like helping with his workload. Over time, Tarun’s favors grow in size and frequency.

When Preeti realizes, she finds herself doing most of Tarun’s work, and he basks in the glory of his accomplishments.

Manipulative People Use Guilt-tripping

Imagine you have a close friend. Let’s call her Manya. She knows how to use guilt-tripping as her go-to strategy.

Now, you have made plans to go to a long-awaited concert with another group of friends. The night of the concert arrives, and you are all dressed up and ready to rock out to your favorite band.

But just as you are about to leave, Manya calls you, sounding utterly devastated. She says, “I can’t believe you are going to that concert without me. I thought we were best friends, and you know how much I love that band. I guess I was wrong about us.”

Your heart sinks, and you feel a pang of guilt gnawing at you. You hadn’t invited Manya because she had mentioned earlier that she had other plans. Yet, here she is, making you feel like you have betrayed her trust.

What happened here is that Manya used emotional manipulation by playing on your emotions and making you feel responsible for her unhappiness.

You didn’t do anything wrong, but Manya’s guilt-tripping made you feel guilty for a decision that was perfectly reasonable.

What she wanted was to isolate you from your other friends and manipulate you into changing your plans.

It’s crucial for you to recognize guilt-tripping because it’s a tactic that can lead you to make decisions against your own interests.

Learn more about guilt-tripping on this post. What is Guilt Tripping and how to respond to it?

Manipulative People Gaslight You

So, what exactly is gaslighting?

Picture this scenario: you are in a relationship with someone you care deeply about, let’s call him Tej. One day, Tej makes a hurtful comment that leaves you feeling upset. But when you bring it up later, Tej insists he never said such a thing.

He looks at you with a puzzled expression saying, “I have no idea what you are talking about. You must be imagining things.” On hearing this, you may start doubting your own memory and may think, “Did I really hear that? Am I going crazy?”

This is an example of gaslighting.

In gaslighting, the manipulator tries to make you doubt your own thoughts, feelings, and reality. They deny things they have said or done, which causes confusion, and you start feeling self-doubt.

When you start doubting yourself, you question your own sanity. You start doubting your experiences and ignore the truth they are revealing.

When you do so, you become anxious and depressed.

They Love-bomb and Devalue You

Love-bombing happens when someone shows genuine interest in you. The manipulator showers you with affection and compliments.

During this phase, you start feeling like you have found your soulmate or the most supportive friend.

When the manipulators love-bomb you, they make sure that you feel adored and valued. They surprise you with gifts and thoughtful messages. When they express deep affection, you begin to feel a connection that is almost too good to be true.

Here lies the danger.

The love-bombing was just the beginning of the more insidious part of the manipulation, known as devaluation.

Manipulators devalue you by subtly or overtly criticizing you. They may even distance themselves. This sudden shift in their behaviors jolts you.

Love-bombing and devaluation victims face a rollercoaster of emotions. These manipulation techniques make them feel disoriented.

The victim finds herself emotionally dependent on the manipulator’s approval. But why do manipulators do such things with their victims?

Because they want to gain control over their emotions and actions.

They are Passive-aggressive

For manipulative people, passive-aggressiveness is a subtle yet powerful tool. They use it to get their way or express displeasure without directly confronting the issue.

Imagine you have been working on a team project at the office. Your colleague, let’s call her Tanya, has been slacking off. She is missing deadlines and not pulling her weight. Instead of addressing the issue head-on, Tanya takes the passive-aggressive route.

Tanya may offer you a backhanded compliment, saying something like, “Wow, you’re really dedicated to this project, aren’t you? I wish I had your enthusiasm!” This thinly veiled sarcasm is a way for her to express her displeasure indirectly.

She may withhold the crucial details from you as the project deadline approaches, which can make your job more challenging. When you inquire about it, she may pretend that it’s an innocent oversight.

She may intentionally delay her part of the project, claiming that she has been too busy. She can try to avoid accountability. This can cause unnecessary stress and chaos for everyone else involved in the project.

She may play the victim card when you confront her about her behavior. She can say something like, “I can’t believe you’re attacking me like this. I thought we were a team.” This manipulative twist diverts attention from her actions and onto your supposed aggression.

Lastly, she could even suddenly back out of the project altogether, leaving you and your team to clean up the mess. This abrupt withdrawal is her way of avoiding responsibility.

Playing the Victim

Imagine a scenario where you meet someone who is really good at making you feel sorry for them all the time. They act like life is always unfair to them. And they make you feel bad for them in every situation.

Let’s call this person Tanya.

Tanya never misses an opportunity to tell you about her never-ending string of misfortunes. She shares stories about how she has been mistreated, wronged, or unfairly burdened by circumstances.

She dramatizes the situation to focus on her suffering. She exaggerates her troubles so that you can evoke a strong emotional response.

For example, she may say, “I can’t believe my manager singled me out for criticism at work again today. It’s like he’s determined to make my life miserable.”

Manipulators like Tanya seek validation and reassurance. They look to you for sympathy. They hope you will tell them how unfair the situation was and how they don’t deserve such treatment.

Example: “Can you believe what my so-called friend said to me? How could she do that?” By “playing the victim”, manipulators also avoid responsibility for their actions. They don’t accept blame and deflect it. They will make it seem like they are the innocent party in every conflict.

Manipulative People Isolate Their Victims

Cunning manipulators use “isolation” tactics to gain control and influence their targets.

Isolation is a manipulative tactic often used by cunning individuals to gain control and influence over others.

Imagine a scenario: There is a girl who is a target. Let’s call her Noor. She is in a romantic relationship with a boy, who we will call Manas.

To gain control of the Noor, Manas started gradually withdrawing Noor from her close friends. Manas would often comment on her friends. He would question their genuineness and reliability. He would make her friends look “selfish” or “unreliable”.

Over time as Manas wanted, Noor began to doubt the intentions of some friends.

As Noor started to distance herself from certain friends, Manas made himself available to provide emotional support and comfort. He would make her feel special like he was the only one who truly understood and cared.

Manas encouraged Noor to share all her worries and concerns exclusively with him.

Manas also heightened Noor’s fear of the outside world. He often pointed out news stories about crime in their neighborhood and city. He often told her that the outside world was unsafe and he would worry about her if she went outside.

This made Noor increasingly hesitant to go out or spend time with friends without Manas.

A step further, Manas started distorting her perception of reality. He started fabricating stories about her family members. He convinced Noor that her loved ones were toxic and they were conspiring against her. This led to more doubts and further alienated Noor from her support system.

End result? Manas was successful in isolating Noor from most of her friends and loved ones. Noor was emotionally dependent on Manas, and she had a distorted view of reality.

Now, as Manas is the primary source of companionship and validation for Noor, it is easier for Manas to control her.

They Use Excessive Control

In this tactic, manipulators just couldn’t seem to respect your boundaries. You may find them in a personal relationship or at work.

Such a manipulator consistently seeks to dominate or micromanage every aspect of your life.

Imagine this: a woman named Tina is in a relationship with a manipulator who tries to control her. We will call him Dev. Dev monitors Tina’s every move and wants to know her whereabouts.

If Tina goes outside to meet her friends, Dev will ask questions like, “Where are you right now? Who are you with? When will you return?”.

Dev dictates his choices for Tina, whether it’s her clothing, friends, or interests. He checks Tina’s phone without her consent. Dev makes Tina feel guilty if she spends time with her friends or loved ones.

Due to this constant scrutiny, Tina starts to feel suffocated, anxious, and isolated.

In some cases, manipulators like Dev may take control of your finances. They may limit your access to money or scrutinize your spending to keep you financially dependent on them.

They want to isolate you and make you feel dependent on them so that they can control you better.

Manipulative People are Unpredictable

Manipulative people use a cunning tactic known as unpredictability.

You can think of it as a captivating dance and manipulative people are the choreographers. They keep you on your toes, and you remain unsure of their next move.

Imagine a picture where you are in a relationship. It is working fine, and everything seems wonderful. Your partner is charming, attentive, and loving.

However, there is a twist. Your partner is unpredictable.

One day, they shower you with affection and praise. You feel like the luckiest person alive. The next day, they may act cold. They become distant, aloof, and perhaps a bit critical.

You feel like you are caught in a whirlwind of emotions. You start believing that you have no idea about which version of your partner will show up next time.

Here is how manipulative people use unpredictability to their advantage:

Manipulative People Withhold Information

The art of withholding crucial information is a powerful manipulative technique.

Let’s take an example to understand this. Imagine you and your friend are working on a project. You discuss everything with him, because you know that the success of the project depends on shared knowledge and transparency.

Now, imagine that your friend strategically withholds a crucial information from you. This information is like a hidden puzzle piece that could change the entire picture.

Your friend deliberately did it. He reveals only what suits his agenda. By doing this, he is leaving you in the dark about key details and wants you to look unprepared when the time comes for a crucial presentation.

He wants to create a subtle imbalance of power.

Such manipulative people know that knowledge is power. So they try to control the flow of information, and by doing this they stay one step ahead in the power game.

It is a quiet form of influence and has negative emotional consequences. You start questioning trust and the foundation of your relationships.

They Manipulate You Financially

Let’s understand this through an example.

Imagine a scenario where you have a friend, let’s call her Preeti. You always hear that she is going through some kind of financial crisis.

It could be anything like mounting credit card debt, unexpected medical bills, or seemingly endless car troubles. Preeti’s financial woes never seem to end.

On the surface, her situation looks like she is just unlucky or going through a rough patch. However, when you look closer, it reveals a different story.

She is a victim of financial manipulation.

In financial manipulation, manipulators create such conditions where their victims get stuck in a perpetual cycle of dependency and urgency.

In Preeti’s case, the manipulator is exploiting her financial vulnerabilities by offering temporary financial assistance.

Let’s say, Preeti is struggling to pay her rent. This is a perfect opportunity for the manipulator to come into the scene. He offers to cover the cost.

Sounds like a lifesaver, right?

But here is where manipulation kicks in.

Instead of empowering Preeti to address the root cause of her financial challenges, the manipulator uses this assistance to establish a sense of indebtedness. He subtly reminds Preeti of their financial help, making her feel obligated to comply with his wishes in return.

As time goes on, the manipulator continues to offer financial support selectively. He strategically times his assistance when he needs Preeti to do something in return.

It could be anything like running errands, divulging some personal information, or even participating in activities that benefit the manipulator’s agenda. Before Preeti realizes it, she finds herself caught in a web of financial dependence. She feels emotionally indebted to the manipulator.

The manipulator uses guilt, shame, or fear of losing financial support to control Preeti’s decisions and actions.

So, financial manipulation is not just about money, it is about control and influence. It preys on vulnerability and exploits trust.

Manipulative People Use Threats and Intimidation

Some manipulators can use the tactics of threats and intimidation to influence and control others.

Let’s take an example of a workplace setting to understand this. In this workplace, a team is under a lot of pressure. Team members are striving to achieve their goals.

Actually, this is happening because of a manipulative team leader, Manya.

One day, she gathers her team for a meeting. She starts the meeting in a nice tone and acknowledges everyone’s hard work. But a little later, she takes an unexpected turn.

She says with a charming smile, “Team, I know we all are working hard and I appreciate that. However, I have been hearing some concerns about certain team members not meeting our expectations. Now, I hate to bring this up, but in order to achieve our team’s goals, we need to show more improvements. If we don’t start seeing some improvements, I may have to reconsider some roles around here. You know, we are all replaceable.”

When she delivers this her tone has changed. Her words carry an unspoken threat. The room grows tense and the team members exchange nervous glances.

Then Manya says, “I believe in all of you, and I don’t want it to come to that. But, you know, we have to meet our targets. And I can’t afford to have anyone slowing us down.”

In this example, by creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, Manya manipulates her team into compliance. As she is threatening her team members with potential consequences and exploiting the fear of job security, she gains leverage over them.

This tactic works because it stirs the emotions of the team members. It makes them feel anxious and more likely to conform to Manya’s wishes.


You may find manipulators anywhere in the society.

They may be in your home, neighborhood, or workplace. They may be one of your friends or relatives.

For a better social experience, it is important to understand different tactics manipulators may use to manipulate you.

Go through the above-mentioned tactics again and again. Be more aware, observe more, and read more so that you can save yourself and your loved ones from being manipulated.

Furthermore, recognizing manipulative behavior is essential for protecting your own well-being and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you encounter manipulative people, create boundaries and maintain them. Communicate with your family members or trusted friends.

If you don’t find help anywhere, consider professional help or counseling to address the situation.

By Rajesh Sharma

Rajesh Sharma is a freelance IT Consultant who have found his new passion in writing. On this blog, he writes about Social Experiences and shares tips on improving them.

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