What Are The Signs of Psychological Manipulation?

Psychological manipulation is a type of emotional abuse in which a person controls and exploits another person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It may also happen in a group setting.

Manipulators often use subtle and covert strategies to influence and control their victims, making them difficult to identify.

However, there are several signs that can indicate when you are being psychologically manipulated.

7 Signs of Psychological Manipulation

Psychological manipulation techniques work best when the target victims are made vulnerable using Cialdini’s principles.

Robert Cialdini identified six core principles of persuasion in his all-time classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984):

  • reciprocity,
  • scarcity,
  • authority,
  • commitment and consistency,
  • liking, and
  • consensus (or social proof).
signs of psychological manipulation
Psychological Manipulation

Here are the signs that you may be a victim of psychological manipulation:

1. Gaslighting

One common tactic used in psychological manipulation is “gaslighting.”

Gaslighting is a cunning manipulation technique. It involves twisting or distorting a person’s perception of reality or memory to make them doubt themselves.

The manipulator may use various techniques to achieve this goal, such as denying that certain events or information have happened, or convincing the victim that they are imagining things.

They may also manipulate the victim’s environment, such as moving objects or changing details, in order to further disorient and confuse the victim.

This can be a particularly effective tactic because it can make the victim feel uncertain and uncertain, making it more difficult for them to trust their own perceptions and memories.

Gaslighting victims need to keep records of events and experiences and cross-check them when someone tries to twist their views, versions, or memories of an event.

“One of the first steps in freeing yourself from a gaslighting relationship, then, is to acknowledge how unpleasant and hurtful you find this emotional epocalypse.”

― Robin Stern

2. Guilt-tripping

Guilt tripping is a type of psychological manipulation in which a person tries to make someone feel guilty or responsible for their own suffering to control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

It is often used to convince a victim into doing something they may not want to do, or as a way to confuse or block their emotions.

Moreover, when you don’t do what the manipulator wants, they make you feel more guilty since you took their favor but did not repay it. It is based on Cialdini’s principle of Reciprocity (“I’ve scratched your back, now you have to scratch mine.”)

Some commonly used guilt-tripping strategies include emotional appeals, blaming, shaming, and playing the victim.

Narcissists are experts at orchestrating all types of guilt-tripping.

3. Social Isolation

Social loneliness is a painful experience. You have no one to even share a few moments of silence with.

Manipulators may try to isolate their victims from friends, family, and other sources of support to control them more easily.

They may discourage the victim from spending time with others, or try to turn the victim against their loved ones.

They quite often discredit and malign their victim’s social connections. As a result, the victim may find it difficult to engage with her family or friends without annoying the manipulator.

The manipulator may ask the victim to decide whether they want to stay with them or with their family and friends.

They may also try to isolate the victim from their favorite group activities, like going to the gym or mindfulness classes, or weekend art therapy groups.

They may even gossip about you to get you socially ostracized.

4. Playing on emotions

Manipulators may use emotional appeals and manipulation to get what they want.

This works more effectively when the manipulator is authoritative. This is based on Cialdini’s principle of authority.

Authority and credibility are two building blocks of trust. And the more we trust a person, the more we hand them the power to play on our emotions.

Psychological manipulators may try to make the victim feel fear, anxiety, apprehensive, indecisive, or guilty.

The victim may keep overthinking what mistake they made or blame themselves for not being able to satisfy the manipulator’s demands.

In the worst case, the victim may believe they are responsible for their own suffering.

5. Controlling behavior

Manipulators may try to control the victim’s actions and decisions by imposing their own will and preferences on them.

They may try to dictate what the victim wears, thinks, or does, and may become angry or upset if the victim does not comply.

One of the subtle behavior-control tactics is to call out the victim’s change in behavior that is unfavorable to the manipulator, “You never used to do this before,” or “You always said you won’t do this.”

This unconsciously forces the victim to revert to their earlier behavior to show conformity to their previous commitment or behavior.

This again is based on Cialdini’s principle of Consistency.

6. Manipulative language

Manipulators may use language and communication tactics to influence and control the victim.

We are more likely to let ourselves be influenced by those we like and love, based on Cialdini’s principle of Liking.

We tend to like those who give us compliments and gifts, do things for us, and (most importantly) listen to us without interrupting.

Manipulators know this too well. So, they use flattery, patient listening skills, and give charming gifts to gain the victim’s trust.

They may also use “love bombing,” or excessively expressing love and affection, in order to win the victim’s affection and loyalty.

7. Pressure To Conform Socially

Cialdini’s principle of Social Proof, or Social Consensus, says that people are more likely to conform to the actions of those around them, especially when they are in a group or uncertain about what to do.

Manipulators may use this principle to manipulate others by creating the appearance that their actions or beliefs are supported by a group or by presenting themselves as experts or authorities.

They may try to convince someone to do something by claiming that “everyone is doing it” or by citing the support of a group or authority figure.

They may also try to present themselves as experts in a particular field or area of knowledge, in order to gain credibility and influence others.

Narcissists often use social proof as a way to exploit others’ desire to fit in or be accepted by a group, or to bolster their own sense of importance and authority.

Stay aware of this tactic and to critically evaluate the evidence and reasoning behind any claims or requests that are made using social proof.

Manipulators may use in reverse too, such as, “You don’t realize that all your colleagues who saw you dancing were laughing at you when you went out,” or “Your entire family sees you as a drama queen.”

The first statement may nudge you to stop dancing on social occasions. The second may make you bottle up your emotions.

Final Words

Never lose sight of the fact that a manipulator, often a cruel narcissist, may hurt you badly if you don’t abide by their wishes and demands.

They may use clear or veiled threats to terrorize you and manipulate your decisions and behaviors.

Some narcissistic manipulators are extremely cruel. If you threaten them back, they may attack you physically.

If you suspect you are being manipulated, step away to a safe distance and be with people who support you before calling them out or breaking up with them.

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip RoyReviewed and rewritten by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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