Awareness Life Style

The Psychology Behind Manipulation


What Is Manipulation and How to Identify and Cope With It.

From a husband gaslighting his wife, to a politician making false promises to win an election, we see examples of manipulation in everyday life. Terms like love bombing and gaslighting have taken social media by storm. Let’s take a deeper look at what manipulation is, and what it involves. According to the APA Dictionary, Manipulation refers to the behaviour exhibited by some people which is designed to exploit, control, or influence someone else to one’s advantage. It is a dishonest form of social influence, and is considered to be the core characteristic of the negative personality trait ‘Machiavellianism’.

What are Some of the Common Tactics Used by Manipulative People?

Manipulative behaviour involves several different tactics, all of which can be detrimental to a person’s mental and emotional safety. Being familiar with these tactics can help you identify if you are being manipulated, and seek necessary help or cope with it. Manipulation involves gaslighting, lying, denying facts, withholding valuable information, passive-aggressive behaviour, and many more. Even acts of kindness can sometimes be manipulative, depending on the intention of the person.

  1. Manipulation of Facts: A manipulator will lie to you about incidents, make excuses, put the blame on you for mistakes that you have not committed, exaggerate information, or even strategically share facts about themselves and withhold others. It allows them to gain power and intellectual superiority over you.
  2. Cruel Humour: Manipulators often poke fun at your weaknesses and insecurities and try to belittle you. They make hostile jokes and sarcastic comments. By making the other person feel inferior to them, they gain a sense of psychological superiority.
  3. Passive Aggression: Passive Aggressive behaviour, often exhibited by manipulators, involves a person behaving in a manner that shows they are upset or disappointed without verbally communicating it. This causes distress to you because the manipulator’s words do not match their actions.
  4. Location Advantage: Manipulators often seek to get you out of your comfort zone or an environment you are familiar with. They do this to gain an advantage over you, as you may feel out of control in a new and strange environment. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
  5. Blaming: Manipulators tend to blame you for any negative occurrences and avoid responsibility for their actions. This can cause feelings of guilt and misplaced responsibility in you.
  6. Criticising or Judging: Criticising your minute mistakes and judging your work, abilities, tastes, or preferences allows the manipulator to gain an advantage over you by making you feel inadequate and incompetent. Incessant insults and humiliation are manipulative techniques of taking control.
  7. Lovebombing: Lovebombing refers to a specific kind of tactic in relationships, commonly employed by narcissistic people, in which they provide you with a lot of attention, shower you with gifts, and express their love for you intensely. Although this behaviour may feel good in the moment, it can isolate you from your friends and family, and feel restricted later on.

There are many other strategies that manipulative people use, including but not limited to gaslighting, emotional manipulation and bullying, silent treatment, distortion of facts, comparison with others, seduction and flattery, feigning innocence or confusion, and guilt-tripping.

Why are Some People Manipulative?

Some of the possible factors that lead to manipulative behaviour are:

  1. Dysfunctional Relationships: Dysfunctional relationships with caregivers (such as experiences of neglect, abandonment, or overindulgence) during a person’s childhood may lead them to learn unhealthy communication patterns and behaviour models, which may manifest as manipulative behaviour in their adulthood.
  2. Personality Disorders: Manipulative behaviour has also been attributed to certain personality disorders. People with narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder are the most likely to engage in manipulation.
  3. History of abuse: People who have experienced abusive relationships may feel unsafe in communicating their actual feelings to another person, and may adopt manipulative tactics to do the same as a safety measure.

How to Cope with a Manipulative Person?

It can be very difficult to identify controlling and manipulative behaviour, especially when it comes from a close loved one. While you cannot prevent manipulation since it is beyond your control, you can protect yourself and urge the other person to seek help to get rid of their manipulative patterns. Manipulation can come from various sources, such as romantic partners, parents, coworkers, bosses, and even teachers. Some examples of ways to cope with manipulative persons are –


If you figure out that you are being manipulated by a partner, it can be helpful to overtly acknowledge that manipulative tactics are being used in the relationship, and how they are impacting you, and try to work out methods of communication that can reduce the use of those tactics.

Seeking Help

Coping with emotionally manipulative parents is extremely difficult as it is often beyond the control of a child to change the situation. Sharing your perspective and how their behaviours are hurtful to you can help. If you fear that sharing may lead to worsening manipulation or even result in physical violence, you can ask a trusted relative to facilitate the conversation for you. For long-term healing, family therapy is very beneficial.


Friends can also engage in manipulative behaviours. If you feel like you are being manipulated by a friend, the most important two steps are to communicate with clarity what you need in the friendship, and setting boundaries. Saying ‘no’ to things you don’t feel comfortable doing is crucial in stopping manipulation. Also, remember that it is possible and okay to end a friendship if you have taken the necessary steps and it still doesn’t feel healthy for you.

Addressing manipulative behaviour by a senior in the workplace can be very scary since it involves a risk of losing employment. However, an honest and intimate conversation with a manipulative boss, wherein you let them know how their manipulative tactics are damaging to your self-esteem and productivity, might lead to positive consequences. In extreme cases, involving the Human Resources department of your workplace is also an option.

Lastly, confronting manipulative behaviour can be dangerous. If you fear for your safety, it is good to involve a close and trusted person, let them know of the situation and let them assess it. Having someone’s support is vital in coping with manipulation.

Concluding Remarks

As we have seen, manipulation involves controlling and harmful behaviours, dishonesty, concealment of true intentions, and avoidance of responsibility which can cause doubt and confusion in the minds of the victim, and adversely affect their psychological well-being. These behaviours are very common and can occur in parental, platonic, professional, or romantic relationships. However, there are methods to cope with them. The main strategy is to communicate how somebody’s behaviour is causing you distress.

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