6 Phrases and Tactics Manipulators Use to Make You Feel Crazy!

Hey, Psych2Goers! Thank you for joining us again! Have you ever been gaslit before? How did you feel? Chances are you felt like you were losing your mind! You might have even told yourself that you misremembered the event, so of course they’re right. But are they? Manipulators use different tactics to get you to believe them and abandon truth and fact. In 1987, Buss, Gomes, Higgins, and Lauterbach defined the six most used tactics by manipulators as charm, giving the silent treatment, coercion, reason, regression, and debasement. Let’s take a look at what these tactics are and some phrases that a manipulator may use to make you feel bonkers!

Side Note: This article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is also meant to be a guideline for manipulative tactics. If you suspect someone is manipulating you, be sure to have an open conversation with them or reach out to a trusted mental health professional to help explore the situation.

“Oh, but you’re soooo good at it!”

Think back to when you were a kid. When you were about to ask for something from a parent, you knew you had to make sure they were in a good mood to get them to say yes. So, what do you do? You start complimenting them. “Wow, Mom. Last night’s dinner was reaaaalllly good, and your hair looks AMAZING today! By the wayyy, can I go over to Sandy’s house on Saturday?” This, unfortunately, is a manipulation tactic. In the context of a manipulator, they may ask you to do something that you don’t want or feel comfortable doing. When you give that pushback to the manipulator, they may tell you “Oh, but you’re so good at it,” to butter you up and get what they want. This is called “charm”, and it may not always be sincere. Say the narcissist tells you how good your cooking was, but you overcooked the chicken and pretty much burned the rice. This can make you second guess what actually happened and feel NUTS! Hold your ground.

They say nothing at all!

I think we’re all pretty familiar with the silent treatment whether we’ve been giving or receiving it. This is a common manipulation tactic to punish the “wrongdoer” for not going along with them. Say you wake up on your birthday, and your partner doesn’t say anything. You make breakfast, begin your day, and nothing. They leave, and they don’t say anything on the way out. You might be upset that they didn’t say anything about your birthday. In return, you might not answer any texts, calls, or speak with them until they wish you a happy birthday. You may feel like you’re getting even or “showing them”, but this is actually toxic. Think about the other person. They may be wracking their brain, driving themselves crazy trying to figure out what they did to upset you so much, only to come up with nothing.

Have you ever done this? I know I have. Next time you want to give the silent treatment, try the complete opposite. Take a moment to explain what the person did (or didn’t do) that upset you, and tell us what happens!

“You’d better do it, or else!”

Coercion is a fancy way of saying using threats or intimidation to blackmail someone into doing what you want. This, unfortunately, comes in many forms and can cause all types of stress. Let’s say you have a huge exam coming up. You’ve been studying all week, but your friend hasn’t. He asks you to let him copy off of you so he can pass the exam and the class. You feel really uncomfortable doing this, so you say no. Your buddy is upset, of course, and says “You’d better let me copy off of you or else I’ll tell your parents you skipped school last week to go buy the game that just came out.” Your “friend” is using coercion to convince you to let him copy your answers, even though you don’t want to. The threat of telling your parent you skipped school is your “pal’s” insurance that his manipulation will work. Trying to weigh the pros and cons of each option could making you feel like your losing it and cause you to make a decision just to get it over with. Don’t let them bully you! Make things happen on your terms!

“You should do it, because…”

Manipulators live in details. We’ve actually seen a lot of this from behavioral analysts taking a look at the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial lately. When someone wants you to do what they want or believe them, they will tell you why you should do it and slap on a few details to make it believable. This manipulation tactic is called reason, and we do it every day. Let’s say it’s your roommate’s turn to take the garbage out, but they don’t want to. They could just ask you, but they don’t want you to say no. So, what do they do? They make up a story! They might say “I know it’s my turn to take the garbage out, but I moved 57 boxes of paper at work today that each weighed 40 lbs.! I can’t take the garbage out. Could you do it?”

Did this all happen? Maybe, but explaining why and adding the details can really paint a picture to convince the roommate to go along with your idea. This can really make you feel crazy or even like you’re an awful person for not helping! Please remember that others aren’t your responsibility. You can still be polite and empathize and hold your ground. Great job on dodging another manipulation tactic!

“You STILL haven’t done it?”

 Have you ever promised a young child something and forgotten about it? Of course not, because they don’t ever let you forget. Try telling a kid that you’ll take them for ice cream after school and not doing it. They will let you know. Manipulators tend to do the same thing. They use regression, whining until what they want happens, to speed up the process, almost like they’re regressing back to their childhood phase. Say your partner asked you to fix the pantry door. You say you will, but you don’t do so immediately. You might be reading when your partner says “Oh, I see you’re reading. Did you finish fixing the door?” Maybe you’re playing your favorite video game when they say “You still haven’t fixed the door?! But you have time for video games…” And on and on they whine until finally, you just do it to get them to stop. Now, you begin thinking about how lazy of a person you must be and feeling out of your mind that you can’t do anything right.

Has your parent or partner ever done this to you? We suggest communication and letting them know your plan. This way they stop bringing it up. What are some of your strategies to stop regression? Share in the comments below!

“I’m too weak. I can’t do it. Could you?”

The final manipulation tactic found is debasement. This is the typical damsel in distress routine. The manipulator makes themselves look weak or lesser than they actually are to trick someone into doing something for them. A common scenario where debasement is used is when carrying heavy things. Let’s say you went grocery shopping and have two full hands of groceries. You could make it to the door, buuuut why not get someone to help you? You might start struggling or pretending to stumble. Maybe you might pretend to almost drop a bag for extra pizzazz. You know if anyone is watching, there’s a good chance they’ll do the “kind” or “right” thing and help you. If you know the person putting on this charade, you might feel like you’re in an alternate universe or like you might have made up the narcissist “struggling”. Nope. You saw the truth.

If you notice someone might be making themselves seem more in need of help than they actually may be, know that you are not responsible to take that initiative. If you’d like to help but don’t want to be burdened with the entire task, you can always offer to take a couple bags for the person to make the trip easier. You avoid being manipulated into the whole task, and they get some help. It’s a win/win!

These aren’t all of the tactics that manipulators use. There are a lot more out there, but they can all make you feel equally crazy. You are not. Trust yourself. Do you guys want a part two for more tactics and phrase manipulators use? Are there any tactics that we need to add? Let us know down below! If you feel you’re being manipulated, reach out to a trusted mental health professional to talk about the situation. You are important and have boundaries that deserve to be respected by everyone. As always, keep your eye on Psi for more Psych2Go content.

Have a wonderful day!

Need tips on spotting a manipulative personality? Check out 8 Signs of a Manipulative Personality

The references used in and to compose this article are listed below:

Buss, D. M., Gomes, M., Higgins, D. S., & Lauterbach, K. (1987). Tactics of manipulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6), 1219–1229. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.52.6.1219

Winter, T. (2015, January 27). 12 tactics of manipulation in relationships. Knowledge Centre. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://blog.dtssydney.com/12-tactics-of-manipulation-in-relationships

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