14 Manipulation Tactics Abusers Use

Vasantha Priya

29 March 2024

11 Mins

Manipulation is a common tactic used by individuals to control or influence others' behavior, often in subtle and deceptive ways. Sometimes you may not even know you’re being manipulated in the moment until you step back and ruminate about it. While there may be so many reasons why a person might want to pull the strings on another, it’s fundamentally wrong, and it undermines the person being manipulated.

Understanding these manipulation tactics can help you recognize when you're being manipulated and empower you to respond effectively. In this blog, we'll explore a list of emotional manipulation tactics, providing examples and tips on how to protect yourself. Stay with us, you’re going to benefit from it in the long run.

14 Manipulation Tactics You Should Be Aware Of

1. Gaslighting

You’ve probably heard a lot about gaslighting, it’s one of the common types of manipulation. It’s a sophisticated form of emotional abuse that undermines a person's sense of reality. The term originated from a play and subsequent film called "Gaslight," where a husband manipulates his wife into believing she is losing her mind by dimming the gas lights in their home and then denying that the lights are flickering when she points it out.

In a relationship, a gaslighter might use similar tactics to make the other person doubt their perceptions and memories. Over time, the victim may begin to question their own sanity and rely more on the gaslighter for guidance and validation.

When this goes on for a long time, the victim may start losing their identity. Or worse, their inner voice adapts to the negativity around them, and they start losing confidence in their abilities, actions, and judgment.

2. Playing the Victim

This is pretty common, a tactic wherein the manipulator portrays themselves as the victim in a situation to gain sympathy, empathy, or attention from others.

When someone plays the victim, they may exaggerate or fabricate events to make themselves appear as the innocent party who has been wronged. When you play the sympathy card and show yourself as a victim, the chances of people actually pointing fingers at you, or reminding you of the gravity of your actions are pretty slim.

That’s why manipulators play into the emotions of the onlookers, or listeners and paint a sad picture where they were taken advantage of, or suffered at the hands of their victim.

3. Guilt Tripping

This only happens when the victim is inherently a good-hearted, kind person with personal values to uphold. The manipulator, to get what they want, prey on the victim's sense of duty, responsibility, or compassion, often exaggerating the situation to make the victim feel guilty.

One common example of guilt tripping is when a manipulator says something like, "If you loved me, you would do this for me."

It so happens that kind, generous people who give more than they take are naturally attracted to manipulators, and whenever the victim tries to ever-so-slightly enforce their boundaries, the manipulator deftly leads them into thinking they’ve made a grave mistake by letting them down, and almost questioning the love the victim has for them.

4. Silent Treatment

Regardless of who made a mistake or who’s innocent, the manipulator shuts down and refuses any type of contact with the victim. They deem it to be a form of punishment to gain control over the situation. The manipulator may use the silent treatment to express disapproval, avoid conflict, or manipulate the other person into complying with their wishes.

One of the key aspects of the silent treatment is the lack of communication. The manipulator may refuse to respond to messages, emails, or phone calls, or they may avoid speaking to the person in person. The victim has no clue what’s happening and has no other go but to try to get in touch with the manipulator somehow. If all their attempts are unsuccessful and they’re unable to get through to the manipulator, and they lay off them for a while, the manipulator’s rage is triggered and they blame you for not trying to repair the situation. This vicious cycle continues until the victim breaks down, and apologizes regardless of whether it’s their fault or not, and the manipulator has squeezed the joy from the sad situation.

5. Love Bombing

The term "love bombing" is derived from the idea of bombarding someone with love, much like how a bombing raid saturates a target area with bombs. This again is one of the common manipulation tactics.

Manipulators give too much at the beginning of the relationship, to create a sense of euphoria and emotional dependency in the victim. They may lavish the victim with compliments, gifts, and declarations of love, making them feel special, desired, and valued.

This intense focus on the victim's needs and desires can be incredibly flattering and intoxicating, leading the victim to develop strong feelings for the manipulator. While this may contain an element of love, the main reason for this overly generous act is to gain control and make the victim feel indebted for having received too much and not given much. It’s also to trap the victim in their control with love, so the victim turns blind to their horrific manipulation in the future, and also to bait the victim into believing the manipulator has good intentions and the victim is a bad person for standing up for themselves.

Once they have the victim in their control all that’s left for them to do is to start playing their mind games. When the victim smells the game they’re trying to play and tries to call them out, they use their love bombing phase to guilt-trip and project themselves as a noble human.

6. Fearmongering

It involves exaggerating or fabricating threats to make someone feel anxious, scared, or vulnerable. The manipulator uses these feelings of fear to manipulate the victim into doing what they want.

One of the key aspects of fearmongering is the use of uncertainty and ambiguity. The manipulator may make vague or ominous threats, leaving the victim to imagine the worst-case scenario. This uncertainty can be particularly effective in triggering fear because the human brain tends to magnify potential threats when faced with uncertainty.

7. Selective Truth

This neat trick is one of the emotional manipulation tactics used by manipulators to intentionally disclose only part of the truth or present facts in a way that supports their agenda or narrative. By selectively revealing information, the manipulator can distort the perception of a situation and influence others' opinions and decisions.

One way selective truth is used is by omitting key details that could change the context or understanding of a situation. They leave out all important details, maybe even twist what happened to show themselves as either the ‘hero’, or the ‘victim’. If they get in a bad fight with the victim, they may paint an ugly picture of them and skip anything that can make them look bad. This is one of the finest tricks a manipulator uses and one that’s often found out at a later point in time.

8. Isolation

One of the stages subsequent to love bombing is isolation. This has a two-fold effect on manipulators when they decide how to manipulate people. They enjoy the high of being wanted or craved for by their partners, and by isolating their victims, they make the victim chase them, beg for their love, and attention, and make them feel like they earn their love.

Another way to look at it, is they go to the ends of the Earth to convince the victim that everyone around them is selfish and has ill intentions, in order to isolate them from their social circles and make the manipulator the only source of happiness for the victim. Having this level of control makes it easier for them to pull the strings and get what they want from the victim.

They could also spread rumors or lies about the victim to turn others against them, convince friends and family that the victim is not trustworthy, or create situations that make it difficult for the victim to maintain their relationships.

9. Projection

A manipulator may project their negative traits onto their victim as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or to shift blame.

For example, imagine a situation where a manipulator is feeling guilty about lying to their partner. Instead of acknowledging their guilt, they might accuse their partner of being dishonest or untrustworthy. By projecting their feelings of guilt onto their partner, the manipulator avoids confronting their behavior and creates a narrative in which the victim is the one at fault.

Another example could be a manipulator who is feeling insecure about their appearance. Instead of addressing their insecurities, they might criticize their partner's looks, accusing them of being unattractive.

10. Shifting Blame

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship between two people, or an inconvenience happens, two emotionally healthy adults try how to work it out. But, manipulators are different. The first thing they’ll do is pin the blame on someone else, in this case, the victim, which is one of the common manipulation tactics.

Instead of acknowledging their role in a situation, manipulators deflect blame onto others, making them the scapegoat for the problem. This tactic can be especially damaging in relationships, as it can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion for the victim.

One common way manipulators shift blame is by using language that absolves them of responsibility. Here are manipulation examples, they may say things like, "You made me do this," "If you hadn't done that, this wouldn't have happened," or "I wouldn't have to act this way if you were more considerate."

11. Shaming and Humiliation

Manipulators’ favorite thing to do is shaming, and guilt-tripping, to take full control over their victims’ minds. They’ll go to the ends of the Earth to make the victim feel embarrassed, ashamed, or inadequate about themselves or their actions. They may constantly criticize the victim's appearance, intelligence, or actions, pointing out perceived flaws or shortcomings. For example, they might make comments like, "You're so stupid," or "You look terrible in that outfit."

Manipulators may humiliate their victims in front of others to increase the impact of their actions. This can include mocking them, belittling them, or revealing personal information without their consent.

12. Overpromising and Underdelivering

The manipulator knowingly makes promises that they have no intention or ability to fulfill, often using them as a tool to influence the thoughts, feelings, or actions of others. By creating unrealistic expectations, the manipulator can gain a sense of control over the situation and the individuals involved.

Moreover, the act of overpromising and underdelivering can have profound effects on the individuals being manipulated. It can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and betrayal, as the individuals realize that they have been misled or deceived. This can erode trust and damage relationships, making it easier for the manipulator to exert further control over their victims.

13. Playing on Emotions

Flattery is one of the common emotional manipulation tactics used by manipulators to gain favor or influence over others. By showering someone with compliments or praise, manipulators can create a sense of indebtedness or obligation in their target. For example, a manipulator might constantly praise a coworker's work to get them to take on more tasks or cover for them in a project.

14. Triangulation

This tactic is often used by manipulators to create tension, confusion, and insecurity within the relationship, ultimately serving their own agenda.

One common example of triangulation is when a manipulator talks negatively about one person to another, often behind their back. By doing so, the manipulator, when deciding how to manipulate people around them, tends to turn the third party against the victim, creating a sense of distrust and division within the relationship. This can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation for the victim, as they may feel outnumbered or unsupported.

The 4 Stages of Manipulation

By understanding these stages, you can better recognize when manipulation is happening and take steps to protect yourself. Here are the four stages of manipulation:

1. Identification of Vulnerabilities

The first stage is where the manipulator identifies vulnerabilities in the target. These vulnerabilities can be physical, emotional, or psychological. The manipulator may observe the target's behavior, listen to their conversations, and gather information to understand what motivates and influences them.

2. Building Trust and Rapport

Once the manipulator has identified vulnerabilities, they begin to build trust and rapport with the target. This stage involves establishing a connection with the target, often through flattery, empathy, and shared experiences. The manipulator may pretend to have similar interests or values as the target to create a sense of camaraderie.

3. Manipulation and Influence

With trust and rapport established, the manipulator moves on to the third stage, which involves manipulating and influencing the target. This stage can take many forms, depending on the manipulator's goals and the target's vulnerabilities.

4. Maintenance and Control

The final stage of manipulation involves maintaining control over the target. Once the manipulator has achieved their goal, they may continue to manipulate the target to ensure they maintain control over them.

Why Do People Manipulate Others?

  • Desire for control
  • Insecurity and low self-esteem
  • Fear of rejection or abandonment
  • Need for validation
  • Past trauma or abuse
  • Lack of empathy

5 Tips to Avoid Manipulation

Here are seven refreshing tips to help you avoid manipulation and stay empowered in your interactions:

1. Trust Your Instincts

Your gut feeling is a powerful tool in recognizing manipulation. If something feels off or too good to be true, listen to your instincts. They can often sense manipulation before your mind can fully process it.

2. Set Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is essential in preventing manipulation. Know your limits and communicate them assertively. When someone respects your boundaries, it fosters a healthy dynamic based on mutual respect.

3. Practice Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the middle ground between aggression and passivity. Practice expressing your needs, wants, and opinions confidently and respectfully. This can deter manipulators who prey on passive or accommodating behavior.

4. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power. Educate yourself about common manipulation tactics to recognize them when they arise. Understanding how manipulation works can help you respond effectively and protect yourself.

5. Build Self-Confidence

Manipulators often target individuals with low self-esteem. Building self-confidence can make you less susceptible to manipulation. Focus on your strengths, set achievable goals, and surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you.

6. Seek Professional Help

Trusted friends or family members can provide valuable feedback on your interactions. If you're unsure about someone's intentions, seek a second opinion. A fresh perspective can shed light on subtle manipulation tactics.

7. Practice Mindfulness

Stay present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Mindfulness can help you notice red flags of manipulation, such as inconsistencies in someone's behavior or language.

How Can Now&Me Help?

If the above manipulation tactics resonate with you, and you need help figuring out how to get back your emotional health, process what’s happening, gain clarity, and identify what to do to protect your wellbeing, talking to a seasoned professional is the best way to go. Now&Me’s team of counselors has years of experience navigating through complex cases involving manipulation, abuse, anxiety, depression, and several others.

We also have a warm, and close-knit community you can be a part of, to share your feelings anonymously with strangers and take heart in the feeling that you’re not alone.

If you think you need therapy, individually, we offer online therapy and individual therapy for you. If you think you need to work through this issue as a couple, we have relationship counseling, and marriage counseling as well, all starting at INR 30/- per session.

Download the Now&Me app now, to start your healing journey now.

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