5 Simple Ways to Deal with Manipulative People
Have you ever felt some sort of negative energy being pressured on you in a relationship, partnership, or even a casual encounter? You’ll start to second-guess your thoughts and opinions but you feel guilty doing it because of the forceful influence of another person. You feel like you’re being coerced, as though this person has planned all the steps and is hell-bent on pushing you into something you wouldn’t normally do or agree to. In other words, you were being manipulated.
Psychologists define manipulation as “the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.” This definition doesn’t mean that all social influences coming from external sources are manipulative. For instance, a friend trying to convince you to quit bad habits destroying your life is exerting a healthy and positive social influence on you. However, someone subtly or aggressively trying to convince you of the pros (and no cons) of using your executive access to embezzle company funds or sell your family home behind your co-owner’s back is a manipulator. 
“Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of asking for what they want and need in a direct way,” says Sharie Stines, a California-based therapist who specializes in abuse and toxic relationships. “People who are trying to manipulate others are trying to control others.” 
Manipulators thrive on exploring other people’s weaknesses with low-key tactics, a sort of underhanded grooming of the mind into finding a common ground to reason with them. Once you feel these three emotions — fear, obligation, and guilt — you’re right on the path to being tricked into going off-character. They’ll bully you into feeling scared of not doing it, convince you of a responsibility you owe them in some way, and make you feel guilty when you drag your feet.
Manipulators are hardwired to bring toxicity and negative energy into your life, and here are five sure ways to put them in their place.
1.When you say no, mean it
Unrelenting refusal is your greatest weapon against a scheming manipulator. This would require you to be sure of yourself and strong at heart. The more you refuse, the more they’ll try to pull out all the tricks in their arsenal, sometimes even resorting to blackmail or gaslighting, and playing some of the dirtiest mind games they can come up with. If you were prepared for them at the beginning, stand your ground and don’t take the bait. They’ll get the idea soon enough and chew on the defeat.
2. Know your self-worth
Manipulators often prey on people with low self-esteem. They are the perfect targets to be fed with approving or falsely glorifying words, and they can also be made to feel guilty very easily. Knowing your self-worth puts you a step ahead of a manipulator. You understand that you have a right to accept or decline any proposal. Your opinions are valid and you’re responsible for your psychological and emotional safety, and no one can take that from you. When they hit too hard, you can shut them down and walk away.
3. Don’t ever blame yourself for their inadequacies
Manipulators never give up, and when a window of their evil opportunities passes by unexploited because of your refusal, they’ll try to make you feel guilty about it. They’ll feed you with ideas of how much you both could have gained if you had stepped up to the task, but you should never listen to their pathetic sob stories. They are people who can’t deal with blame or faults and would usually try to get others to carry the weight for them.
4. Distance yourself
If you stay away from them, they can’t get close enough to unleash their horrible tactics on your mind. The distance doesn’t necessarily have to be physical because we can’t always control who we share an immediate environment with. You may live in the house or share the same office space with them, but you can still be as mentally distant from them as possible. They talk, you hear, but you don’t really listen. They act up, you watch, but you are not really paying attention. All their antics would begin to drift over your head unnoticed and in due time, they’ll get tired of trying to manipulate you. If you can get physically away from them, then this is your safest bet. 
5. Mirror their tactics back on them
Give them a dose of their own spiteful medicine. This doesn’t make you a manipulator like them, but it’s a good way to get them to reflect on their actions and hopefully change — or just leave you alone. Put the focus on them and they’ll end up questioning themselves instead.
If a manipulator asks you to do something wrong, deflect the focus by saying: “How can you ask me to do something like that?” “Did you even think about this before you said it?” “Would you do this if someone else asked you to?” “I can’t believe this is coming from you.”
Manipulators are often too rigid and do not react well to not being in control. Mirror their actions back on them and they’ll run as far away as possible.
- “14 Signs of Psychological and Emotional Manipulation.” Psychology Today. Preston Ni M.S.B.A. October 11, 2015.
- “How to Tell If Someone Is Manipulating You—And What to Do About It.” Time. Cassie Shortsleeve. October 16, 2018
- “A Handy Guide to Dealing With Manipulative People.” Thrive Global. Victoria Brewood. November 3, 2019.