How to Recognize and Handle Manipulative Relationships

“There are those whose primary ability is to spin wheels of manipulation. It is their second skin and without these spinning wheels, they simply do not know how to function.”

― CJoyBell C.


Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits, and privileges at the victim’s expense.

It is important to distinguish healthy social influence from psychological manipulation. Healthy social influence occurs between most people, and is part of the give and take of constructive relationships. In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits the victim to serve his or her agenda.

Most manipulative individuals have four common characteristics:

  1. They know how to detect your weaknesses.
  2. Once found, they use your weaknesses against you.
  3. Through their shrewd machinations, they convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their self-centered interests.
  4. In work, social, and family situations, once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, he or she will likely repeat the violation until you put a stop to the exploitation.

Below are five categories of psychological manipulation you may find in unhealthy relationships:

Negative Manipulation – Designed to gain superiority by causing the victim to feel inferior, inadequate, insecure, and/or self-doubt.

Examples: Persistent negative judgment and criticism. Public berating. Shaming or humiliating. Hostile humor. Sarcasm. Negative surprises. Peer pressure. Social exclusion. Silent treatment. Threats to safety and security. Withholding intimacy.

Positive Manipulation  Designed to bribe the victim emotionally to win favors, concessions, sacrifices, and/or commitments.

Examples: Insincere flattery. Appeal to vanity and ego. Promising professional, social, or romantic acceptance (but with a catch). Fake professional or social closeness. Offering help, support or rewards – with the expectation to “cash in” on disproportionate reciprocation. Promising safety and security after taking them away. Promising positive emotions and rewards after dishing out inappropriate negative treatment.

Deception and Intrigue – Designed to distort the perception of the victim for easier control.

Examples: Lying. Excuse making. Blaming the victim for causing their own victimization. Deformation of the truth. Mixed messages to keep victim off balance. Strategic disclosure or withholding key information. Exaggeration. Understatement. One-sided bias of issue.

Strategic Helplessness  Designed to exploit the victim’s good will, guilty conscience, sense of duty and obligation, or protective and nurturing instinct.

Examples: Playing weak, powerless, underdog, or martyr. Using sad stories and challenges to gain sympathy, support , or allowances from responsibility. Dramatizing hardships to elicit guilt-based preferential treatment.

Hostility and Abuse – Designed to dominate and control the victim through overt aggression.

Examples: Bullying. Tantrum. Duress. Intimidation. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Mental abuse. Sexual abuse. Financial abuse. Brainwashing. Harmful rules. Oppressive constraints.

Again, the intention of the psychological manipulator is to extract power, control, benefits and privileges at the victim’s expense. There are many communication skills and strategies you can use to deal with manipulators. In my reference guide “How to Successfully Handle Manipulative People,” you can learn how to maintain composure, ways to be proactive instead of reactive, seven strategies to handle manipulative behavior, one masterful phrase you can say to instantly stop manipulation, and seven types of power you can utilize to compel cooperation. Download a free excerpt of (click on title) “How to Successfully Handle Manipulative People” here.



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