How to Spot A Manipulative Person

Let’s say a friend or family member owes you money, and has not paid it back. He appears to be avoiding get-togethers with you, and does not respond to your phone calls, texts or emails. When you finally catch up with him, he tells you he has lost his job and cannot pay next month’s rent or mortgage. But then you learn that he is going on a 3 week trip to Italy next month. What do you do?

Or imagine finding evidence that your partner has been sexting someone—sending half-nude photos of herself to a guy you’ve never heard of. After confronting her about what she is doing and who this other guy is, she claims she has no idea who he is, and that she didn’t send those photos, even though it is obvious those photos were of her and they were sent from her phone.

Another example: you have a colleague or co-worker who just can’t take no for an answer. So when he asks for time off in order to visit his family on the West Coast, and his supervisor says that he has already used up his vacation time and refuses to grant him special privileges, he asks if he can borrow some of your vacation days because you’ve built up a whole lot of vacation time and you don’t need all of those days.

These vignettes speak of something probably all of us have encountered at one time or another. It’s not just someone’s lack of honesty, transparency, truthfulness or integrity, its also how we feel and how we react when someone is actively manipulating us and/or treating us as if we are a royal fool.

A manipulator—also sometimes called a con artist—is someone who lies, misleads, distorts or exploits people for his/her own gain. Whether it’s through bullying, acting superior, withholding information or putting roadblocks in other people’s way, a skilled manipulator has perfected a method of bending the truth, guilting others or acting intimidating in order to exploit people to get what s/he wants. This can be accomplished by raising his/her voice or acting aggressive as a means of intimidating you, by using silent treatment as a way of isolating you and making you feel anxious, or by being judgmental, critical or sarcastic as a way to attempt to make you feel inferior and inadequate.

Manipulative behavior is also about someone agreeing to things that she has no real intention of doing, acting helpless, clueless or incompetent as a way of him getting out of doing something he doesn’t want to do, blaming others for words or behaviors she herself said or did, and getting angry, withdrawing, throwing a temper tantrum or threatening you as a way of scaring or bullying you to do what s/he wants.

The very best defense for this behavior is to train yourself to become aware of it when someone is acting manipulative toward you, and learn to say “no” firmly. As long as you remain cooperative and obedient, you are at risk of further being manipulated, used or treated disrespectfully. You can also delay responding to a manipulative request by putting it off. “I’ll let you know. I have to think about it,” is one way of putting things off.

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