How To Spot Manipulation Tactics

Manipulative tendencies can surface in any relationship. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid them.

Manipulation can happen to anyone in all kinds of relationships, from friends and romantic partnerships to parents and family relationships. Even work colleagues and bosses might have manipulative tendencies.

Yet, manipulation can be hard to recognize.

Manipulation can sometimes be so subtle and effective, that you may wind up questioning your perception of the situation, rather than the other person’s actions or motives. Gaslighting can make discerning manipulative tactics especially difficult.

But by learning what to look for, you may be able to protect yourself from manipulation tactics before they start.

Spotting Common Manipulation Tactics

Manipulative people often use common manipulation tactics and behaviors to get what they want. Here’s what to look for:

1. Guilt Tripping. It’s when someone tries to make you feel responsible or guilty of your actions or decisions. Guilt trips often involve using something one person did for the other as “leverage” to get what they want.

Some examples might be:

  • “If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have gotten through college. You owe me.”
  • “Im the one working all the time, while you are just spending time doing nothing. I deserve this expense.”
  • If you can’t come over, then I might as well not invite anyone else over. There’s no point then.”


People with manipulative tendencies often lie to try to control or coerce others, as well as avoid blame or consequences for their actions.

For example, a teenager who’s been told they are not allowed to hang out with a particular group might lie about their whereabouts. Or, they may lie to the other parent about being permitted to go out with their friends.

“If one parent doesn’t check in with the other parent, the teen may be permitted to go with those friends.


It can be hard to tell the difference between a compliment and flattery.

A compliment is given to sincerely point out something positive with no expectation of gain. But flattery is often used disingenuously as a tool to gain emotional leverage. With flattery, there’s often an expectation of getting something in return.

For instance, someone who wants a raise or promotion might regularly praise there manager’s strengths and accomplishments.


Projection happens when one person claims an emotion they’re feeling – such as jealousy that is actually being experienced by someone else.

For example, a person with manipulative tendencies might cause tension and frame, but blame so won’t else for creating that energy. Projection aids a person who manipulates in dodging responsibility for their actions and helps them avoid changing their behaviors. But, it can also erode your trusting your own reality.

If you think you might be projecting pause and ask yourself “Is this my stuff or their stuff?” This can help disrupt projection.

“Its really important that we don’t project our values onto a manipulator, because that just sets us up for a lot of disappointment and frustration.

Moving The Goalposts

Sometimes no matter how much you show up for someone who manipulates, they will change the expectations at the last minute to keep you constantly running toward their goalposts.

Someone who moves the goalposts can set you up for frustration and exhaustion.

With manipulative people you’re never going to actually reach those goalposts, and your efforts and success won’t be acknowledged if you do.

Believing in yourself, recognizing your own needs, and disengaging can be helpful for avoiding feelings of demoralization.

Working to understand your personal values, goals, and standards to feel like you met your own expectations.

Remind yourself that you’re just a human being, doing the best you can, and that is enough.


Triangulation can take on many forms, but often happens when a third person is brought into your communication, instead of keeping the issue between the two people it impacts.

For example, a manipulator might involve your mother in a disagreement to take their side against you. “Now, all of the sudden, you’re disagreeing with two people and the odds are not in your favor.”

Becoming aware of triangulation can help spot it. Try to disengage with “triangles” whenever they come up unfair.

This means you’re going to have to set and stick to some firm boundaries, but remember that boundaries are not meant to control people in a relationship with them in a healthy way. “Boundaries are not heartless, they’re actually really healthy.”

Love Bombing

Love bombing is manipulation through excessive attention, often showering you inappropriately with gifts compliments, affection and time.

These things may feel wonderful, which can be confusing. However, love bombing is when this feels enrapturing, it takes all your attention, and is excessive.

It might feel great a first but it usually leaves you isolated and makes you lose sight of who you are. Once you’ve been “swept away,” this attention might stop, and will leave you feeling like you’re seeking it out or chasing it down again,

If you’ve already experienced love bombing and are on the other side, give yourself the patience and work to forgive yourself. “You’re not blind.” A manipulative person took advantage of your normal human nature to want to feel loved and cherished.

Some ways to avoid love bombing include:

  • Regularly spending time with friends and family.
  • Engaging in your own interests outside of this person.
  • Check in with yourself often to ensure that you’re aligned with your values and standards.

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