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Manipulation is where someone messes with your mind to control your actions. Those who manipulate others often end up creating toxic relationships. They also wind up hurting those close to them. It doesn’t matter whether they intended to or not.
In this post, we’ll focus on those who willfully manipulate and how to manipulate a manipulator to take your power back.
Manipulators prey on empaths, do-gooders, and people-pleasers. If you’re an empath, as I am, (Yeah, I took the Empath Test.), you are more prone to getting targeted. These individuals are good at sniffing out your vulnerabilities.
I get that manipulating, tricking, exploiting, or hurting others isn't in your nature. I still would like you to recognize the emotional harm you may suffer if you don’t push back.
I've had to defend myself against emotional predators multiple times using the below 15 elusive strategies to outsmart a manipulator. Anyone can apply them to escape their mind games.
What Is a Manipulator?
A manipulator is someone who consistently tries to influence your thoughts, feelings, and opinions in order to control you. The person usually employs subtle tactics to get what they want. Psychologists call this emotional abuse since the manipulator interferes with your emotional independence. The outcome the manipulator seeks also usually goes against your best interest.
Anyone can try to manipulate you on a one-off. For example a sales agent or a politician. However, you are more susceptible to the mental effects if the person is your romantic partner, family member, boss, or co-worker.
These are people you interact with practically on a daily basis. Individuals with certain personality disorders are more likely to manipulate you.
They include narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and antisocial personality disorder (APD).
Common Tactics Manipulators Use
Emotional manipulation is a skillful and mostly subtle pattern of behavior. However, if you pay close enough attention, you can tell when someone is attempting to exert psychological control over you.
Common abusive or coercive tactics manipulators use includes flattery, criticism, gaslighting, guilt-tripping, victim-playing, deflection, blaming, veiled threats, and blackmail.
Treating you to episodes of passive aggression and withdrawing communication also qualify as psychological manipulation.
There’s another coercive control strategy called lovebombing that malignant narcissists often use. They’ll shower you with flattery, attention, and gifts to quickly establish a love connection. Those gestures work to distract you from their true motives.
What Causes Someone to Become Manipulative?
Manipulators do what they do primarily to gain power and control, to get what they want, or to punish. According to Verywell Mind, they also choose this route “to protect their ego, and to avoid having to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions.”
Psychologists revealed that this maladaptive behavior is associated with chronic low self-esteem and difficulty communicating their needs or intentions.
Instead of straightforward communication, they’ll use language to play the victim or make you feel bad or guilty.
For example, saying you don’t love or care for them otherwise, you’d do what they want.
The root reason someone develops a manipulative personality varies. The causes include nature, nurture, attachment style, or mental disorders such as anxiety, NPD, or BPD.
Someone who grew up in a dysfunctional family may have had parents who emotionally manipulated them. As a child, they may have had to use clever methods to get their basic needs met or avoid abuse, neglect, or punishment.
While we can empathize with their childhood exposure to manipulation and harmful experiences, we still have to protect ourselves from manipulators.
Manipulation through Gaslighting
Emotional abuse can grow far worse if the person is gaslighting you. Gaslighting is an emotionally abusive technique commonly used by narcissists and other manipulators.
Gaslighters tell you things about yourself or events that aren’t true or partially false. This makes you question your reality, power to think, memory, or your sanity. Gaslighting gradually wears down your self-confidence.
You may also find yourself relying on the gaslighter to think and make decisions for you. Making you feel crazy is how they get you to stop trusting yourself and give them control over your life.
Learn more about Gaslighting in a Relationship: 7 Signs, Examples, and How to Stop It.
Dangers of Emotional Manipulation
Frequent exposure to manipulation is emotionally draining and can take a toll on your mental health as well as your self-esteem. In some cases, the victim may need therapy to make sense of what’s happening.
An emotional manipulator is able to influence the dynamics of your relationship with them and others. The main goal is to sway your decisions in their favor.
Pressuring you to act a certain way creates a power imbalance. It’s also normal to feel disrespected, fearful, resentful, emotionally out of balance, or helpless.
As time passes, you may lose self-confidence or feel confused, frustrated, or betrayed. Naturally, you may lose trust in yourself, the manipulator, and others, or feel anxious, or depressed.
15 Suggestions on How to Manipulate a Manipulator and Win
Master manipulators, such as narcissists and sociopaths, ply their craft to stay in control. Unfortunately for them, you’re not one to mess with. Of course, you aren’t going to be mean or emotionally abusive.
Your response tactics are your coping mechanisms. It’s time to reassert yourself, take your power back, and feel good about yourself again. As you outsmart the manipulator, you’ll cut off the things that fuel their shallow ego–attention, power, and control.
These techniques for how to manipulate a manipulator can be especially useful for situations where you cannot avoid contact with the person. For example, a narcissistic co-parent, spouse, boss, or family member.
1. Study the manipulator
Manipulators think they’re the smartest when in fact they can be easily manipulated by someone who understands their patterns and motives. You’re that someone in this case.
Pay close attention to their patterns, such as the things they say and do. Notice how their behavior makes you feel. Do you feel ashamed, criticized, worthless, or crazy?
Work on strengthening your emotional resilience to counter these negative feelings. You’ll essentially get under their skin by becoming stronger and more confident.
The more resilient you become to their lies, deceit, and power play, the less their action will affect you. Trust me they’ll absolutely hate it.
2. Keep your emotions in check
You’re bound to suffer further emotional manipulation the more you show your feelings. The person needs you to stay emotionally engaged for their tactics to work.
The more you react, the more they’ll attack. I know it’s wrong, but that’s just the nature of the beast in the room.
Start keeping your emotions hidden and they won’t have anything to take advantage of. They’ll eventually think you’re no longer a good manipulation target. That’s how to manipulate a manipulator and make them respect you.
3. Use assertive communication
Sometimes disengaging or distancing yourself from the emotional predator isn’t an effective way to gain the upper hand. You may have to stand up for yourself in this case.
Assert yourself by speaking up using “I” statements to communicate your views respectfully.
For example, “I would feel taken advantage of if I did what you asked me to.” Assertive communication allows you to express yourself and draw the line without being aggressive.
Keep in mind that some manipulators may think you’re asserting yourself because they are getting under your skin. They may up their tactics as a result to regain control.
Another response may be to challenge you and suck you into conflict. If being assertive doesn’t work, there are still other effective strategies like ‘grey rocking’ or ignoring them.
4. Use logic to rebut their nonsense
Narcissistic manipulators are so annoying that you can’t help but react the moment they hit you with the bullshit.
I was guilty of this until I learned that reacting feeds their fragile go and their desire for attention. If you keep falling prey to them like this, then hitting them back with logic will send them into a tailspin.
Let’s assume they tell you, “Nobody likes you!” Pause to determine what they’re trying to achieve. Realize they’re trying to make you feel worthless. Ask yourself if it’s true no one likes you. Tell them you like yourself and you’re somebody.
Reassure them that your parents like you, too. I would get cheeky and say, “I thought you said you liked me, but thanks for letting me know you’re nobody.”
The more you keep showing them how illogical their statements are, the more unintelligent they'll feel. They’ll be forced to stop feeding you lies.
5. Ignore them
Narcissistic manipulators especially are chronic attention-grabbers who believe people should worship them. They’ll do practically anything to be noticed by anyone even if that means creating drama or pretending to be hurt.
You can manipulate the situation in your favor by taking away the attention you provide.
Gray rocking is a skillful and effective tactic I use to keep them out of my face. Gray rock them by not engaging or responding or appearing uninterested. They’ll eventually lose interest and go hunting for someone else to exploit.
6. Say “No.”
No is a simple yet powerful word. It sends a strong message that you can’t or won’t bend to their commands. Say “No” firmly and stick to your guns.
I understand how saying “No” may be difficult if you’re an empath or always feel the need to please. People-pleasers get taken advantage of by users, manipulators, and narcissists.
These individuals do not care about your needs or feelings. Saying no is an effective way to stamp your authority and let them know you’re not a fool.
“No,” also communicates a boundary and protects you from the manipulator’s mind games.
7. Impose boundaries
As you get better at learning how to manipulate a manipulator, you should have no trouble keeping them at bay using boundaries. Controllers don’t like boundaries but hate when you crash theirs.
Swing things in your favor by putting up ‘stop signs’, ‘walls’, or rules to guide their conduct towards you.
Tell them when they’ve crossed the line and what are the consequences. Think of it as crime and punishment. Knowing manipulators, they won't give up easily.
The person may try new or robust manipulative tactics to break down your walls. Counter their efforts by strengthening your boundaries.
8. Keep putting them on defense
Are you constantly getting criticized by this person and having to defend yourself or your worth? Manipulators regularly use criticism to put you down.
They love to call you mean, selfish, or uncaring just to win your love or attention. They think if they make you feel bad about yourself, it will force you to defend your character.
However, getting defensive opens you up to further emotional manipulation. Put them on defense instead, not by discrediting their character, but by asserting that you know yourself.
How about asking them to stop projecting their toxic traits onto you? Watch how quickly they'll recoil and get defensive.
Manipulators have a false positive image of themselves. Exposing their toxic personality traits and fragile egos will leave them feeling wounded. They'll eventually stay far from you.
9. Question their claims
Want to know how to manipulate a manipulator and leave them dumbfounded? Put them in the hot seat by asking them critical questions. Let’s say they tell you “You would do it if you really loved me.”
Now, this is a form of guilt-tripping. You can respond by saying, “If you really loved me you won’t ask me to do anything that goes against my best interest.”
Here’s another example. The manipulator may challenge your recollection of events and cause you to doubt your memory, reality, or sanity. Narcissists, sociopaths, and gaslighters, who are also pathological liars, tend to use this devious tactic.
Wait for when the person says they don’t remember doing something hurtful, such as calling you mentally unstable. You could respond by saying, “Now look who has a memory problem.” Expect them to act confused or start stuttering.
10. Stay out of their way
This approach can work if the manipulator is someone you can avoid without any setbacks. For example, if it’s a friend, colleague, or neighbor. Don’t initiate contact, keep responses short, or say you’re busy if you run into them.
Minimizing or avoiding opportunities for them to influence your thoughts keeps you emotionally safe. The more physical and emotional distance you have from them, the more you’ll see how much they’re not good for you.
Distancing yourself also creates room to connect with people who make you feel emotionally secure.
11. Use fogging
Untangle yourself from their web of deceit and trickery by applying an assertiveness technique called ‘fogging’. Narcissists and other manipulative personalities often try to bait you into an argument.
They’ll say things that aren’t true, things you’ll disagree with, or hurl criticisms at you.
Apply fogging by acknowledging anything that is true and then quickly changing the subject. You could say something like, “You’re right.” Next, ask them something unrelated or praise them to put them in the spotlight. They love the spotlight!
The manipulator wanted you to get defensive. However, you spoiled their plan epically by giving in. You foiled any confrontation, aggression, or conflict they were planning.
12. Don’t respond right away
Disarm the manipulator by being slow to respond to their demands. If they’re asking you to do something you’re not comfortable with, you can say “I’ll get back to you later.”
Notice you didn’t say when. Manipulators hate when you put them on hold and leave them in uncertainty. However, stalling usually frustrates their plan to manipulate you.
By not responding right away, you’ll have time to think about their request. Is it reasonable? Does it go against your interests or well-being?
By the time you get back to them (if you do), they’re going to be frustrated or angry. That’s not your problem. They’ll get even more agitated if you refuse to comply with their requests.
13. Ask a bunch of questions
Outsmart the person and escape their manipulative plans by questioning them. Get into the habit of asking them a thousand questions and digging to the bottom of things. This forces them to provide more information. They hate that!
For example, “What do you mean by that?” Ask plenty of who, when, where, why, and how questions to get clarity. This prevents them from being vague and using the lack of information against you later on.
If they use their deflection tactic to avoid your line of questioning, repeat your questions. All of a sudden, you’ll become annoying to them. That’s because they don’t want you to discover their motives.
They also don’t like feeling vulnerable or out of control. They will feel manipulated by your investigative tactic and leave you alone.
14. Play along
Manipulators think they’re the smartest person in the room. That is why they believe they can make rings around others without getting caught.
In some sense, it’s a sign of delusion of grandeur. If you don’t feel like expending energy on them, you could simply remain laid back and play along.
You want to act like you don’t know what they’re doing. By not pushing back, they’ll think they’re ‘getting away with murder’.
However, here’s how you’ll win them at their own game. DO NOT comply. Keep coming up with excuses for why you failed to follow through. They’ll get frustrated and give up after realizing they can’t get through to you.
15. Don’t apologize when they guilt-trip you
By now you may recognize the manipulator in your life blames you for their bad behavior and leaves you feeling guilty or ashamed.
Don’t let them trick you into saying sorry and giving up self-respect when you did nothing wrong. Not only will it leave you feeling shitty, but they also get away with their harmful behavior.
Owning up to mistakes instead of pushing them off on someone else is a sign of maturity. You already know you’re not dealing with an emotionally mature or empathetic person.
Manipulative people tend to lack empathy. Therefore, they don’t see the value in taking accountability for hurting others.
Final Thoughts on How to Manipulate a Manipulator
Keep in mind that manipulators have a pattern of behavior that is pretty much embedded in their personality. You may need to practice your indirect tactics consistently for them to work.
Also, before turning the tables on a manipulator, it’s essential to determine if it’s safe to do so. Ensure you’re in a safe mental, emotional, and physical space where their responses won’t affect you.
Otherwise, you can always speak to a trusted individual or professional for guidance on how to cope. By the way, if the manipulator is a narcissist, I bet you’ll like 15 Subtle Ways to Manipulate a Narcissist in Your Life.
And if you're looking for more articles on how to deal with different personality types, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 11 Dangerous Signs You’re Dealing with a Psychopath
- 13 Steps to Get Along with Difficult People
- 11 Characteristics of a Superficial or Shallow Person
Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.