Are You Being Manipulative Without Knowing It?

Hey, Psych2Goers! Have you ever been manipulated by someone? Have you ever manipulated someone to get what you want? A study in 1978 published in Ethics found that you can attempt manipulation on purpose and not succeed, but you can also feel manipulated when you haven’t been (Rudinow). It’s a very subjective concept, but it all boils down to someone changing information for their benefit. In my opinion, manipulation is the biggest way someone can show that they don’t respect you. Now, the majority of us aren’t out here deciding to manipulate everyone, but do you do anything manipulative without knowing it? Let’s take a look at manipulative tendencies to see if you’re being unintentionally manipulative.

Side note: This article is not made to attack anyone who may display these signs, but rather to understand them and bring more awareness to the topic! If you feel you struggle with manipulation, contact a trusted mental health professional.

The “I Just Tell It Like It Is” Friend

I think we all have a friend who is “blunt and honest” 100% of the time. A lot of the time, this common phrase means “I’m going to say whatever I want, and that’s okay because I’m “honest.” A lot of us will also enable this behavior and say “Oh, that’s just Mindy” to dismiss this behavior of any consequences. Did you know this is a common manipulation tactic? Cruel humor and/or highlighting others’ known weaknesses or insecurities are ways manipulators take the lead and make you feel less than. It’s what they do to let you know they’re a step above. They may not do this intentionally, as they may believe they’re just “blunt and honest”. Say you and friends are trying on outfits for prom, and you try on something you really like. If the outfit is unflattering, a manipulator might say “Oh, that makes your shoulders look like a football player!” knowing you already are insecure about your shoulders. A true friend may tell you more politely “I don’t know if that one’s the most flattering, but we’ll find one that looks amazing!” Showing these types of actions can be a sign of manipulation without you even knowing.

You’re Always Going to Them

In any type of relationship, it only grows as long as quality time is put in to grow your bond. Whenever you hang out with your loved one, who goes to who? Is it a 50/50 mix of each other’s places? Are they always coming over to you? Are you always going over to them? When one person is insistent on being in a familiar situation, it suggests they want to be able to control the situation. If they were to come to your home, they would be in unfamiliar territory on many different levels. This could trigger insecurity in them which can cause negative side effects.

This same person may also be showing signs of social anxiety. Even though they may have a valid reason for not wanting to come over or meet at one of your spots, it is still manipulation to not outright discuss something.

You Change to Get Along With Different Groups of People

We’ve talked before about it being a sign that someone likes you when they mimic your behavior. Mimicking someone’s behavior can also be a sign of low self-esteem. This is very different from changing to manipulate.

The best example I can think of is an early 2000s teen movie, John Tucker Must Die (2006), where John Tucker, the popular basketball team captain, is dating three different girls. These girls are all in different cliques and never speak to each other, so none of them ever find out. When John is on a date with the “tree hugger” activist, he throws a fit at a restaurant that serves meat claiming they torture animals. He takes another girl to same restaurant on a different night, and he orders a juicy steak. He changes what he eats, his values, and everything else about himself to align with what his date wants to see/hear.

Now, in this movie, John is most definitely doing this intentionally. Not everyone might. Some may do this and say they want to make a good first impression or that they just want to fit in. Sounds totally innocent, right? This is still a sign of manipulation without you realizing.

You Put Your Spin on Info That You Pass On

In 2009, Steven A. McCornak did a study on Information Manipulation Theory (IMT) where he found that people who receive info will embellish information to mislead those who need to hear this information. Again, this can be to make the person feel more important than he or she is.  

Your boss tells you to let the rest of the team know if they can sign up two more clients, they can go home early on Friday. Someone trying to manipulate the team may tell them about the two more clients needed part, but they may not tell everyone about going home early until they feel ready to. Withholding information is manipulative.

Manipulation is something that slips under the radar very easily. It’s so subtle we don’t even know if we do it. Was there anything that you or someone you know does? Is there anything you want to work on? Let us know in the comments below. If you feel you could be unknowingly manipulative, please reach out to a mental health professional. As always, keep your eye on Psi for more Psych2Go content.

Have a wonderful day!

Need to know if you’re being manipulated? Try watching 6 Signs You’re Being Manipulated (And You Don’t Even Realize It)

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

Contributors, W. M. D. E., & Brennan, D. (2020, November 19). Manipulation: 7 signs to look for. WebMD. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from

Holland, K. (2018, February 13). 15+ signs of emotion manipulation. Healthline. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from

McCornack, S. A. (2009). Information manipulation theory. Communication Monographs, 59(1), 1–16.

Rudinow, J. (1978). Manipulation. Ethics, 88(4), 338–347.

Team, R. G. E., & Kelly, A. (2022, April 30). “am I manipulative?”: How to tell if you’re the problem. ReGain. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from

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