How To Spot A Manipulator: 9 Alarming Behaviors Of Manipulative People

Career & Professional SuccessRelationships
5 Behaviors of Manipulative People
October 12, 2016

Manipulation is a kind of social influence aimed at tricking other people into unconsciously taking actions that fulfill manipulator’s goals. Spotting a manipulator isn’t easy because they pretend to be normal, caring and kind people. They mastered the art of camouflage and twisting everything around in such a way that you feel guilty, frustrated, or anxious, but can’t proof they have bad intentions. The first step to protecting yourself from their influence is learning what are the behaviors of manipulative people, so you can recognize them instantly and take action.

Think about the people you are dealing with at work. Is there anyone who makes you feel particularly uncomfortable?

I am dealing with a manipulative person at work. He’s my boss, and he used to be my partner (before we started to work together). Knowing his family’s story, I could see nothing but a sensitive, traumatized boy who needed love and acceptance. I didn’t want to judge, I just wanted to understand.

Interestingly, we are so much hardwired for believing in good intentions, that we can find an explanation for any abusive behavior and show empathy towards the perpetrator. And if the first impression of a person is good, it’s hard to notice and acknowledge that under the surface there may be lurking a sneaky manipulator… It’s not his fault, he had a difficult childhood, I used to think. But that doesn’t mean that I agree to have a difficult adulthood with him.

Dumping him was a relief, and by far the best decision I have taken in the last 3 years of my life. But I still have to deal with his tantrums every single day. Here are the behaviors of manipulative people that I have observed while dealing with him.


Common Behaviors of Manipulative People You Should Pay Attention To


Lying (also by omission)

I am not used to dealing with people who lie. As a kid, I was taught that I should be honest and always tell the truth. So I believed other people were too.  Only when I turned 27 did I realize that there are malevolent, manipulative people who pretend to have good intentions, while in fact what they want is to use your naivety to achieve their purpose (thanks, Mom, you shouldn’t have waited so long to tell me that).

I noticed that he was a skilled liar, but when we were together he used his liar superpowers to make surprises for me. I didn’t spot any other lies then – maybe I was just in love. Observing the way he acts at work, I can tell you he lies like crazy. I’ve witnessed from minor lies to preserve brand’s reputation when there is a fuck-up, to secret actions and businesses that our mutual boss would never approve off.


Self-victimization and vilification of the victim

He’s such a poor thing! The whole world seems to be against him. His ex-girlfriend cheated on him with his neighbor. People in the office make mean comments about his appearance. His boss doesn’t appreciate his special talents and hard work. A flatmate left him without a previous notice or any explanation.

I used to believe those stories and show understanding and compassion. Now I wonder what were the facts and other people versions. I’m pretty sure they had their reasons to do what they did. Manipulators portray themselves as victims of other’s behaviors hoping to gain your trust and compassion.


Letting you speak

Information is power. Before manipulators take any action, they let you speak. They ask harmless questions but they always want to know everything that’s going on so they can gather information. Your vulnerability is their advantage. While I think that sharing emotions with those who deserve it is a good thing, in this case, anything you say may be used against you.

On the other hand, when you start asking direct questions yourself, you only receive vague or evasive answers, or they will answer your questions with a question. My favorites are “you don’t have to know everything” and “I have my reasons to do it this way”.


Treating you differently in public and in private

This is the very first thing that I noticed. Showing affection when someone could see us in his opinion was unprofessional. When we started working together, our relationship began to decay,At work, I was (and still am) treated like a door mat.

I was told that I shouldn’t take it personally, because what we do in public is not the same as in private. But hell, I’m the same sensitive person! When I’m pissed off after a whole day of arguing with him about the job, and never get apologies for how he treats me, how can I forget, be cheerful and have sex with him in the evening?



Not meeting manipulator’s expectations or setting boundaries will surely cause his wrath (another strategy aimed at intimidating you). They hate to lose power and control, so expect the worst. Tread on his toe and you will be destroyed.

When I first heard his idea about cutting his ex-flatmate tires after she left, I was completely shocked that he was capable of dedicating time and effort to actively pursue vengeance.


Making you feel like you’re losing your mind

You’ve been given instructions, but you still have not idea what is the task you were assigned, and what’s the purpose of it. You can never be sure

They deny having said what they have said, even though you would you would swear that you heard what you think you heard. A manipulator will tell you that you’re misinterpreting their words. They will play dumb pretending to have no idea what you are talking about. At work, you receive incomplete instructions or information. Manipulator’s responses are so confusing that you eventually start doubting your perception. Did he really say that? Maybe I got it wrong? Is my memory failing?

The aim of creating chaos and misunderstanding is to keep you anxious and uncertain,  so the manipulator can maintain his influences.


Using a combination of guilt, blame, and shame

Before I started working with a manipulator, I was convinced that making mistakes was human. When you screwed up,  confessing your sins and asking for help to fix them instead of sweeping them under the carpet was the right thing to do. With manipulators, you really regret doing so. You learn that you are to blame for every single fuck-up that happens. A manipulator will tell you that you don’t care enough, don’t focus, or don’t feel engaged. If he forgets about something, it’s your fault because you haven’t reminded him enough times. You have it easy, and you’re being selfish when you refuse to answer calls late in the evening.

Also, manipulators tend to use sarcasm to make you feel unworthy. Shaming tactics are rather subtle – an unpleasant tone of voice, a killer look, a rhetorical comment. All combined together foster a sense of inadequacy. When I make mistake, he always asks me “WHY?”, spoken with a tone toxic parents use to tell off a disobedient child, but the truth is, he doesn’t care why. He wants me to start defending myself, so he can attack. Trying to defend yourself is pointless because they are always right. No matter how many times you apologize and how much you do to fix those small mistakes, you will be forever reminded of them.


Obsession with control and being always right

Even if they ask you about your opinion, they’re not interested in it. They just want you to confirm that they’re right to satisfy their ego. They also have the need to be involved in everything that comes and goes, which inevitably leads to delays, distraction, and more frustration. At my work, I have no authority to decide about anything. Everything, from minor offers to font type and color in my emails, needs his approval, so I spend more time waiting for acceptance than on anything else. Also, he would “correct” my punctuation and scold me of everything that went wrong, even if he actually did it himself.

Even when it is clear that a manipulator made a mistake, they never apologize for anything. If there is miscommunication, it’s on your side.


Not letting you go

When you eventually realize what is going on, it’s natural that you want to end any contact with the manipulator. But he won’t just let you go. He’s already invested too much time in you, or he just needs you to accomplish his goals or satisfy his needs. Some will ask for forgiveness, promise to change or engage in emotional blackmail. Others will threaten you or try to smash your self-esteem saying that you won’t find a better job or boyfriend, and that’s because you’re hopeless. My manipulator convinced me that the way he treats me is normal, and anywhere else it will be just the same.


Behaviors of Manipulative People – How Can I Deal With Them?

Some people are more prone to fall victims of manipulators than others. They target people who are vulnerable, naive, impulsive, lack assertiveness or self-esteem. As we tend to measure others by our own yardstick, naive and honest folks like me assume that everyone is honest. We take good intentions for granted. From today’s perspective, I think he wasn’t interested in me at all. From the very beginning, he needed me to satisfy his needs and help him develop his business.

Manipulators are ruthlessly ambitious people whose goal is to win and maintain a position of power, control, and dominance. I wish I could give you some useful advice on how to deal with manipulators at work and in a relationship, but the only solution that I find effective is this: KEEP AWAY FROM THEM.

Don’t waste your time hoping they will change for you. All they care about is themselves. You deserve being treated with respect and your feelings are important. Become aware of the behaviors of manipulative people so you can spot manipulators from a distance, and work on your self-esteem to protect yourself.




PS. Read also: 17 Signs Of Job Burnout & Why You Should Do Something About It (Before It’s Too Late)

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INFP. A sensitive, yet adventurous soul on a never-ending quest for the meaning of life and the reasons behind human behavior. Sometimes, a I'm frolicking unicorn pooping rainbows. On other occasions, I can be as deep as the Mariana Trench. After some psychotherapy and medication, I am seeing my depression as a source of positive changes and self growth. If I could choose any superpower I wanted, it would be healing.

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