The chances are you’ll encounter a manipulative person at once in your life. It might not be apparent at first as they work their magic and attempt to place you under their spell, as master manipulators are known for gradually escalating their tactics as they realise just how far they can push your boundaries. And then, before you know it, you can find yourself in quite an oppressive relational dynamic having to deal with the emotional burden of constantly being on the defensive. Here are ten of the most common psychological manipulation tactics that could potentially be ruining your life.
- Targeting Self-Worth
Targeting your self-worth is at the core of what all manipulators are trying to accomplish, since the main goal of any manipulator is to bend you to their will. And the best way to do that is to erode as much of your confidence as possible with whatever means they have at their disposal. And to do this, they’ll target anything they can. It could be your general character, your speech, accomplishments – or lack of accomplishments – failed relationships, mistakes. Literally anything. As soon as a manipulator sets their sights on you, they’re trying to find any chink in your armour they can use against you.
- Using Your Own Words Against You
Anything you say or do can be used as ammunition to undermine you. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s accurately portrayed or not. Manipulators will often intentionally take things out of context and paraphrase things you’ve said to deliberately make you appear in a way that will serve their agenda. In fact, they’ll be listening at all times – prospecting for information they might be able to use against you at a later date. They’ll probe and ask questions – a lot of questions – lulling you into a false sense of security to encourage you to open up to them.
- Abuse of Authority (Bureaucratic Bullying)
This is most common in the workplace. If you have a boss or manager who you don’t see eye to eye with or are constantly butting with heads over procedure, workflow, logistics and general trivialities, they might discipline and/or correct you with pedantic suggestions and additional duties. And that could often result in needless paperwork, compliance protocols and other non-essential work to prevent you from ever speaking up or fulfilling your potential within the company. If the outcome of you speaking your mind is to be rewarded with the duty of heading up your ‘initiative’ with tons of extra unpaid hours, the inference is being made that you should think twice before sharing your thoughts.
- Using Huge Amounts of Information to Confuse You (Intellectual Bullying)
Again, this is more of a workplace issue. But can also happen in other interpersonal relationships. The manipulator will bombard you with facts, figures, stats and jargon to give the impression that they’re an expert in their field and someone to be taken seriously. This tactic is used as a power play and a subversive form of manipulation that’s meant to both encourage you to view yourself as having little to no understanding about a subject while simultaneously framing the manipulator as the one who has all the answers. And so, that then leads you into giving your power away to them and buying right into their narrative. It plays into a long-held cultural belief that knowledge is power and those that appear to have a greater intellect must be better than us. But in reality, it’s all a massive bluff.
- Shouting You Down & Verbal Abuse
And while this isn’t the most sophisticated tactic on the list, it is definitely one of the more damaging ones. If you’ve ever been on the end of verbal abuse – which we all have at some point – you’ll know what it feels like to tense up when you receive a projection of negative energy directed towards you. Unless you’re highly adept at blocking it out, it can be extremely disconcerting, especially if it’s coming from someone who has a naturally intimidating presence about them. For the more savvy manipulators, this is more of a last resort. Another, more covert variation of this tactic that can often go under the radar is when the manipulator will casually talk over you, not allowing you to get a word into the conversation. It’s a subtly suppressive form of manipulation that seeks to will you into submission. But one that can also be passed off as being passionate and/or talkative,
- Weaponising the Delivery of Bad News
We’ve already mentioned that manipulators will use anything they can against you. But what we haven’t touched on is that they’re also extremely opportunistic. If they come across a piece of information they know is potentially harmful to you, they’ll ensure they’re the ones to deliver it to you. And not only that, they’ll wait for the best time possible for it to have maximum effect. Manipulators will use the delivery of bad news as a weapon to throw you off course by inflicting emotional distress, while being there to take advantage of your weakened state to get you to agree to whatever is part of their agenda.
- Forcing You into Fixed Avenues of Choice
And another way of looking at this is being presented with ultimatums, which are in essence thinly veiled threats. You will do this for me, or else things might become uncomfortable for you. Manipulators will present you with a limited set of choices. Usually, this thing or that to further pressurise you into taking action by giving you a deadline – or else suffer the consequences. It’s an underhanded technique that’s often used in high-stakes sales environments to get customers to take advantage of a limited time only deal. It’s all about creating tension that demands release, which you will be granted if you agree to the manipulator’s demands, even if they’re completely bluffing.
- Using Humour to Belittle You with Hidden Subtext
This is another covert style of manipulation. Using humour to deliver barbs of truth is one of the manipulator’s most effective weapons because it can allow them to affect you on a deep emotional level. If you raise objections, they can always hide behind the facade of just being a joke, and that you shouldn’t take it so seriously. It doesn’t even matter if you call them out in front of other people, because they’ll have plausible deniability. All they need to they’ll simply turn it back on and by insisting you’re too sensitive. And since no one likes people who take themselves too seriously, they’ll usually win the popular vote.
- Using Silence to Control the Dynamic of Text, Email or Social Media Messages
If you’re in an exchange with someone by text and you’re left hanging for days, you feel pretty out of alignment through being left in suspense. When someone’s ghosting you and leaving to hang out to dry, there’s a tension that needs to be released. The silent treatment hurts, and it’s all part of the manipulator’s vocabulary. As long as you’re waiting for a reply from them, the dynamic of power in the conversation lies with them and they know it. They’ll keep you waiting as long as they feel necessary to seed doubt, which ends up in you doing mental gymnastics trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. The key thing to remember here is that they’re using your access to them as leverage. And so, the silent treatment is really a scarcity tactic with the product you’re after being them.
- Shame, Blame and Guilt
This last point is really a summation of everything we’ve covered. It encapsulates everything that a manipulator does to you to facilitate their agenda. The shaming component is an extension of judgment and the opportunistic approach of seizing on any mistakes to suppress your spirit. Blame is an accusatory mechanism used to create doubt and make you unsure of your own decision-making process, thus making you vulnerable to the influence of manipulators who can then appear in your moment of need with the solution to your problems. Guilt comes from the use of the silent treatment, sarcastic remarks and humour, which lead you to seek approval and fall even further into the arms of your manipulator. This is the trifecta of abuse that manipulators will use within all their tactics to varying degrees.