Have you ever felt like someone was too good to be true? That their words seemed perfectly tailored to win you over, making you feel like you are on top of the world? Beware, as you might be dealing with manipulators. In a world where trust is a precious commodity, it’s crucial to recognize when someone is genuinely sincere. But (sadly) detecting when someone uses manipulative tactics to gain the upper hand is also essential.

This article digs into the intricate web woven by manipulators, helping you identify these tactics. Understanding their strategies allows you to protect yourself and maintain healthy relationships.

The Five Most Common Causes of Someone Becoming Manipulative

Recognizing the root causes behind manipulative behaviors is the first step in understanding and combating them.

1. Manipulators Are Insecure

Many manipulators have deep-seated insecurity. These feelings often stem from personal experiences, perhaps childhood or past relationships. They might have felt powerless or undervalued. To compensate, manipulators might develop tactics to control situations or people, ensuring they never feel vulnerable again.

A study from the National Institutes of Health suggests that individuals with high levels of insecurity may resort to manipulative behaviours as a coping mechanism.

2. Manipulators Desire Power

Power can be intoxicating. Some individuals have an innate desire to dominate and control situations or people. Having someone under their influence gives these manipulators a sense of accomplishment and superiority.

They thrive when in control, even if it means bending the truth or manipulating emotions.

3. Manipulators Have Past Trauma

Traumatic events can leave lasting scars. For some, these scars manifest as manipulative behaviours. Past experiences, especially those that made someone feel helpless or taken advantage of, can lead them to use manipulation as a defence mechanism. They feel they can prevent future traumas or regain control over their lives by manipulating others.

4. Manipulators Lack Empathy

Empathy is the ability for one to understand and share the feelings of another. Manipulators often have a diminished capacity for empathy. Without this emotional connection, it becomes easier for them to use and exploit others for their gain.

An NIH article explains how personality disorders, such as psychopathy, feature a lack of empathy as a defining trait. As a result, this disorder (and several others!) can lead to manipulative behaviours.

Manipulators Grew Up in a Manipulative Environment. Our environment shapes us. Growing up in an environment where manipulation is the norm—whether in a family setting, among friends, or in a broader community—can condition someone to use similar tactics.

5. They might have learnt from manipulative family members.

Thus, they adopt these behaviours as the standard way to interact and achieve their goals.

▪️Ten Things Manipulators Say to Gain Your Trust

As you read about what manipulators say to gain your trust, remember these causes. It will provide a deeper insight into the psyche of manipulators and equip you with the knowledge to navigate their tactics effectively.

1. “I’ve never told anyone this before…”
Manipulators often use this phrase to create a false sense of intimacy. Sharing a ‘secret’ with you makes you feel special and unique as if you’re the only one they trust. This tactic can make you feel closer to them, making it easier for them to influence your decisions and actions.

Example: A coworker leans in and whispers, “I’ve never told anyone this before, but I think the boss might be retiring soon.”

2. “You’re the only one who understands me.”
This phrase intentionally makes you feel unique and valued. Because they suggest you’re the only one who truly gets them, a manipulative person can make you feel responsible for them. This phrase can lead to you going out of your way to help or support them, even at your own expense.

Example: After a long day, a friend sighs and says, “You’re the only one who understands me. Everyone else just judges.”

3. “I hate drama.”
Ironically, those who claim to hate drama are often the ones causing it. By saying this, manipulative folks deflect attention from their dramatic tendencies. It’s a way of making you believe they are straightforward and genuine, even when their actions suggest otherwise.

Example: At a gathering, someone rolls their eyes and comments, “I hate drama,” even though they were the ones who started the latest rumour.

4. “I would never lie to you.”
This phrase is an attempt to establish trust without genuinely earning it. In fact, it’s a giant red flag. Honest individuals rarely feel the need to assert their honesty constantly. On the other hand, manipulators use this phrase to plant a seed of trust. That’s because they hope you’ll overlook any inconsistencies in their stories.

Example: During a discussion about a controversial topic, an acquaintance assures you, “I would never lie to you. I’ve seen this firsthand.”

5. “People always betray me.”
Playing the victim is a classic manipulative tactic. A manipulator hopes to gain your sympathy and support by making you feel sorry for them. This phrase also serves as a warning. If you go against them, you’ll be like all the others who ‘betrayed’ them.

Example: A manipulative new partner looks at you sadly and murmurs, “People always betray me. I hope you are different.”

6. “I did this all for you.”
Manipulators use this phrase to make you feel indebted to them. They create a sense of obligation. In fact, they suggest that their actions, especially unsolicited ones, had your best interests at heart. This phrasing can make it difficult to refuse their requests or set boundaries. That’s because you feel guilty for not reciprocating their “kindness.”

Example: After surprising you with an extravagant gift, a friend remarks, “I did this all for you. I knew how much you wanted it.”

7. “You’re too sensitive.”
This language is a form of gaslighting. In reality, the manipulator makes you doubt your feelings and perceptions. By dismissing your emotions or reactions as an overreaction, they deflect responsibility for their actions. Over time, this can erode your self-confidence. It can also make you more reliant on the manipulator’s version of events.

Example: During an argument, when you express hurt over a comment, the response is, “You’re too sensitive. I was just joking.”

8. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This sentence is a classic non-apology. Instead of taking responsibility for their actions or words, the person blames you. Moreover, they focus on your reaction rather than what they did. It’s a subtle way of invalidating your feelings while appearing apologetic.

Example: After a heated disagreement, instead of addressing the issue, they say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I didn’t mean it like that.”

9. “It’s just a joke.”
Manipulators often hide behind humour to make hurtful comments or jabs. By dismissing their words as just a joke, they attempt to make you feel like you’re overreacting or lacking a sense of humour. It’s a tactic to belittle you while avoiding accountability.

Example: After making a snide remark about your appearance, they laugh it off with, “It’s just a joke. Can’t you take a little teasing?”

10. “You’re overthinking it.”
This accusation is another form of gaslighting. A gaslighter can make you doubt your intuition or concerns. Manipulative people want you to second-guess yourself. That’s because it makes it easier for them to control the narrative. So, by suggesting you’re reading too much into things, they can continue their behaviour without being challenged.

Example: When you express concern about their recent distant behaviour, they brush it off, saying, “You’re overthinking it. Everything is fine.”

▪️Five Ways to Cope With Manipulators

Manipulative individuals exist in various facets of our lives, from workplaces to social circles. While entirely avoiding them might not always be feasible, you should disarm their tactics. As a result, you protect your well-being.

Try these techniques:

1. Set Clear Boundaries: Establish and communicate your limits. Let the manipulator know what behaviour is unacceptable. Then, be consistent in enforcing these boundaries.

2. Trust Your Instincts: If something feels a little bit off, trust your gut. Your intuition is a powerful tool in recognizing and responding to manipulative tactics.

3. Avoid Being Isolated: Manipulative people often try to isolate their targets from support systems. Maintain close ties with friends, family, or colleagues who can offer perspective and support.

4. Stay Calm and Objective: Respond to manipulative tactics with calm and objectivity. Avoid getting emotionally entangled. If you become combative or irrational, it can give them more leverage.

5. Seek Professional Help: If you live or work closely with a manipulator, you are in quite a tough spot. But consider seeking counselling or therapy. Professionals can offer strategies and insights to thrive despite these challenging relationships.

▪️Final Thoughts on Recognizing the Language of Manipulators

The intricate web of manipulative language can be quite a challenge. But with awareness and understanding, you can safeguard your emotional well-being. Recognizing the tactics and phrases manipulators use is the first step in ensuring their influence does not sway you. Remember, genuine relationships come from a space of trust, respect, and mutual understanding.

When you equip yourself with the knowledge of manipulative tactics, you protect yourself. You also foster healthier, more authentic connections with those around you. So stay vigilant – and trust your instincts when dealing with manipulators.

Cosmos Ennu Kwaw
Ghana, West Africa