5 Signs That You Are Unintentionally Manipulative

This article is designed for educational purposes only and is not designed to say whether you are or are not manipulative. This is just to give some examples, including ones based on research, which demonstrates how people can be manipulative without even fully knowing it.

We have all experienced manipulation in some form from others and it is highly possible that we have been manipulative to others at some point, even if we don’t realise we have! Unintentional manipulation is not uncommon and it probably happens more regularly than we are perhaps comfortable to know or admit.

For the purpose of this article, it is important to acknowledge what manipulation is. One study on non-Machiavellian manipulation (Manne, 2014) suggests that in order for manipulation to occur, there needs to be a combination of intent and recklessness (Garis, 2019).

This recklessness aspect of the manipulation doesn’t neee to be something conscious, dramatic or even negative. It could be as simple as “treating” your co-worker to a coffee when you ask them to cover your shift on Thursday (Garis, 2019). Essentially, it is strategically getting someone to do or think something without addressing it directly.

It can be confusing to know what unintentional manipulation might look like or come across, check out these 5 signs and examples below.

1. You find yourself embellishing or twisting the facts of a situation

Psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein stated that “Unintentional manipulation can show up in exaggerating the facts” (Garis, 2019). An example of this may be that you have an early morning appointment at the hospital at 9am, but may say to other people that you have an appointment at 7:30am because technically that is what time you have to get up to get to the appointment on time. This can evoke empathy from others which can make them feel better about the situation.

2. You make promises a lot.

Overpromising is another behaviour that  New York based therapist Irina Firstein identifies can be manipulative (DiValentino, 2017). You could oversell an event to a family member of friend that you want to go to or even promise a bargaining chip (“I will treat you to a meal at that new restaurant you have been wanting to go to this week if you agree to come with me). But then, you don’t follow through with your promise. If you don’t upheld your end of the deal, this can leave the other person feeling deceived and angry and less likely to trust you when you promise them something again.

3. You give somebody the silent treatment

Believe it or not, saying nothing can be emotionally coercive as well (DiValentino, 2017). Often, it may feel like the best option is to say nothing rather than getting into argument with somebody else. The irony is that this behavior often comes from a place of hurt. New York-based psychotherapist Rebecca Hendrix says “People are unknowingly manipulative when they use silence as a weapon. It’s an ineffective way of dealing with the hurt,” (DiValentino, 2017). Rather than be radio silent, it may be better to clear the air with the person in question, give them a chance to explain their behaviour rather give an apology that they feel is not due. This can potentially avoid resentment in the future.

4. You have distinct patterns in your language.

Psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein says that “Often when we think someone is unintentionally manipulating, we can see a pattern,” (Garis, 2019). An example of this may be when you are not feeling well, then you may describe it as the ‘worst illness in the whole world’ despite the reality of this situation perhaps not being completely realistic or true. The use of catastrophic language and exaggeration can come across manipulative especially if you are expecting others to respond to you in a certain way.

5. Saying that you will do things yourself.

This may seem like you are being independent, however if you cast yourself into the role of the Martyr, this can be a way to get others to do what you want, albeit an unhealthy way (DiValentino, 2017). For example, if you pressure something in an indirect way, such as saying ‘I will go and clean the bathroom even though I have cleaned the rest of the house” then it is likely to induce guilt in others. Other phrasing such as “If you don’t do this, then something bad is going to happen, but it’s not big deal,” is also manipulative” therapist Rebecca Hendrix says. You have to think about what you’re asking is as fair and reasonable as possible, then be straightforward about what you need.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you have found this helpful. If you relate to any of these signs, then remember, this does not make you a bad person but may have help you be more mindful in the future. If you want to comment or give us any feedback about this article, please leave a comment in the box below. We love to hear back from our readers!

Hope you have a lovely day! And Happy Christmas Eve!

J 🙂


DiValentino, A. (2017, September 27). 6 Ways You’re Being Manipulative Without Even Knowing It. Greatist. https://greatist.com/live/ways-you-might-be-manipulative#1

Garis, M. G. (2019, October 7). 3 ways to spot the under-the-radar manipulative people in your life. Well+Good. https://www.wellandgood.com/am-i-manipulative/

Manne, K. (2014, March 22). Non-Machiavellian Manipulation and the Opacity of Motive. Http://Www.Katemanne.net/Uploads/7/3/8/4/73843037/Coons_ch-10.Pdf. http://www.katemanne.net/uploads/7/3/8/4/73843037/coons_ch-10.pdf

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