6 Manipulative Behaviors You Need to Beware

You may be all too familiar with the caricatures of a ‘manipulative person’.

The sibling who guilt trips you into keeping a secret, the coworker or classmate who pushes the blame on you unjustly, the partner who coerces you to make decisions you aren’t comfortable with.

But oftentimes, those who perform manipulative behaviors come from places we least expect. And as a relationship progresses, it can be harder to confront and break the chains of these behaviors, even if you want to.

Let’s look at the red flags of manipulative behavior.

1) They make you feel like you’re always wrong.

Ever heard of the following phrases: “It’s a joke, calm down”, “You’re completely in the wrong here!” or “You’re overreacting.”?

Manipulative people make you feel like you can never do anything right. They use a tactic known as gaslighting – where they trivialize, divert, and exaggerate your actions to the point that you begin to doubt your own reality.

The primary reason manipulative people do this is often to display their dominance. They wouldn’t do this at the start of a relationship at first; but as time goes on, they begin to slowly unravel their true colors, hurting and shattering the confidence of the victim in the process.

2) They create controlling ultimatums.

It’s one thing if the ultimatum is something like, “If you want to go out tonight, I’m coming with.”

But if the person you’re dealing with makes you choose between them and other activities, friends, or family – that’s a telltale sign of controlling behavior. They may also try to isolate you from the people who care about you, making you feel like you have no one else to rely on but them.

According to clinical psychologist Kathy Nickerson, an ultimatum is essentially a threat with consequences. It raises the tension between partners instead of fostering nurture, honesty, and trust in the relationship.

Instead of resorting to ultimatums, a healthy relationship is one wherein partners can express their needs in a gentle, clear manner.

3) They use others to their advantage.

Has someone ever taken advantage of you?

Boundaries mean next to nothing for manipulators, as they feel that they’re obligated to “play the social game” their own way. When given the choice to pick right from wrong, people with manipulative tendencies tend to give in to the thing that they would benefit from the most – even if it comes at the expense of others.

They are often disconnected or uninterested in other people’s emotions, making it easier for them to get what they want at another’s expense. The only way to get them to stop this is by communicating your boundaries in a healthy, assertive manner.

4) They move the goalpost.

When a manipulator says that they mean one thing after you’ve already fulfilled the conditions of a thing that they previously intended – they’re moving the goalpost.

Manipulators often do this as a way to let someone do more than they’re previously obliged to. These manipulators may even go so far as to demand others to do things that they themselves find too troublesome to perform.

It can be difficult to spot this behavior, as it often masquerades as a request. However, if you find yourself in a similar situation, it may be time to reassess that relationship.

5) They make you feel guilty.

Have you ever been guilt-tripped by a manipulator?

Manipulators often find themselves drawn to people who find it difficult to stand up for themselves. This makes it easier for them to dominate and control the relationship with relative ease.

For example, they may make you feel guilty for spending time with your friends rather than with them. They might also bring up a previous time when you forgot their birthday and use it as ammo against you in the present.

6) They hide behind cruel humor.

Do your so-called friends ruthlessly make fun of you?

Sure, it’s okay if you’re just kidding around and poke jabs at yourself in good humor.

But if they’re using it as a subtle tool to make you feel like you’re inferior, that’s another story.

Manipulators making hurtful jokes is a sign that they’re not looking out for your best interests. It could also be a sign that they’re trying to gain a psychological superiority over you (WebMD), and enjoying your discomfort altogether.

Closing Thoughts

Do you know of anyone who has the signs above? Were there any signs that we may have missed? Feel free to share them in the comment section below.

That’s all for now, Psych2Goers!


  • Tartakovsky,M. (Jan 2018) Why Ultimatums Are Actually Destructive to Your Relationship. Retrieved at https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-ultimatums-are-actually-destructive-to-your-relationship#1
  • WebMD Medical Reference (2020). Manipulation: Symptoms to Look For. WebMD. Retrieved at https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-manipulation
  • WebMD. (2020, November 24). Gaslighting: Signs to Look For. www.webmd.com/mental-health/gaslighting-signs-look-for

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