Signs a Friend or Partner Is Manipulating You

Some people try to reduce our self-esteem and make us feel insecure and guilty. What strategies do they use?

Narcissists, manipulators, liars … what manipulation techniques should be avoided?

Manipulation and manipulators

Those who are close to us do not always want our good. Friends, relatives, or co-workers may implement strategies to nullify us or reduce our self-esteem. These are real manipulative techniques often used, for example, by pathological liars or narcissists.

It is not always easy to realize that you are a victim of these attacks. However, it is important to learn to recognize these techniques because they could seriously harm us and increase our insecurities. It must be said, however, that forms of psychological manipulation exist at different levels, including daily, which do not seem to cause such irreparable damage or for which it is unnecessary to always be on the defensive.

Some forms of manipulation are also used in education or in our daily relationships. It is therefore important to learn to distinguish when one is a victim of toxic and pathological behaviors, and when, on the contrary, one is confronted with forms of daily manipulation that one can learn to manage through experience.

Characteristics of a manipulator

There are different people who try to manipulate us, often because of their own insecurity and the need to “feed” on the confusion or unhappiness of others. Their goal is to make us feel weak, reduce our self-esteem, and make us feel guilty for the mistakes they have made.

Recognizing and avoiding these people or their techniques is essential to avoid falling into the hands of these manipulators or suffering the long-term consequences. Here are some main manipulative techniques used.

Types of manipulation

Manipulation can take over different spheres of our being, from emotional manipulation to psychological manipulation. The pathological manipulator tries to identify “pimples”, or weaknesses in the victim, to lean on.

Psychologist George K. Simon says that for manipulation to be effective, the manipulator must act according to certain rules and behaviors and have particular attitudes.

In particular:

  • The manipulator hides his aggressiveness and does not reveal his true intentions. This point is essential for manipulation to succeed. Normally, two forms of masking aggression are applied: either by passive-aggressive forms (such as silence or indirect hostility) or by relational forms of aggression (which include the destruction of the victim’s self-esteem or safety). The manipulator can identify the weaknesses of his or her victims and is able, based on these weaknesses, to create real patterns of manipulation.
  • Insensitivity, lack of guilt, and emotional detachment: the manipulator has no qualms about harming his victim if it is useful to his aim.

In fact, as we will see in the next paragraph, the manipulation is done at the interactional and communicative level because it is necessary for an exchange between the two people.

Psychological manipulation

Psychological manipulation is an interactional fact that arises from the exchange between two or more people, which therefore has a communicative form at the base. Therefore, to be a good manipulator, you must also be a good communicator (and the victim must listen). It is necessary that the concepts expressed by the manipulator, even if they are simple, exploit the emotional and psychological side of the victim and have a narrative form.

Robert Cialdini, an American psychologist, and professor at Arizona State University recognizes some fundamental rules of persuasive communication, based on cognitive strategies and aimed at changing the interlocutor’s attitude.

The rules of persuasive communication

Cialdini, as part of his studies in social psychology, studies some basic formulas of interpersonal relationships that manipulate and persuade.

Let’s inspect them:

  • Reciprocity: it has been shown that human beings feel the need to return favors. But this feeling can be dangerous because it can lead to a feeling of debt for unsolicited favors, it can lead to disloyal exchanges and make the other person accept only for the feeling of reciprocity. This mechanism is also used in marketing and trade: for example, when offering free samples hoping to encourage a purchase.
  • Commitment and coherence: Keeping our ideas and coherence firm is an important point in self-definition, and for this reason, we try to apply it often. There are forms of social influence that seek to exploit these mechanisms to achieve their goals. This can be the case, for example, of a salesperson who, knowing that you are an environmentalist, will try to use an argument to save energy and reduce waste to sell his vacuum cleaner. Besides this hook, the purchase of this vacuum cleaner will seem in line with your ideas and identity.
  • Social Approval: People can be influenced by the masses precisely because there is a tendency to believe that if most people do or believe something, it must be true. According to this principle, fashions are born and merged.
  • Authority: It is easier to believe what is expressed by an authoritative source or a prominent personality, assuming that these people and/or institutions may be more grounded. These institutions or individuals, therefore, have more power of persuasion.
  • Sympathy: By creating a bond of sympathy or similarity, we thus make the interlocutor identify or take the situation to heart because it seems very close to himself, the manipulator can influence the change of vision or attitude of the other.
  • Rarity: with marketing and commerce above all, defining a rare commodity can lead people to buy impulsively, driven by the concern of no longer finding what they want to buy.

Emotional and psychological techniques

Based on these considerations, we can try to deepen some emotional and psychological manipulation techniques used in interpersonal relationships.

Projection and guilt

As we have already said, many of these manipulators are not sure of themselves and therefore “project” their mistakes and faults onto the other person, making them feel guilty. In this way, the manipulator tries to turn the situation in his or her favor, not only to be the winner of the discussion but also to make the other person feel bad.

Distorting reality

One of the most used techniques is to distort reality. This can happen, for example, during a discussion with the partner. The “gaslighting” strategy is used to destabilize and make the other person doubt that he or she is living in an imaginary reality. One of the most commonly used phrases? “Everything results from your imagination.”

To be confused with the words

Some manipulators know how to use words very well. They create a network of phrases and expressions that cage and confuse the victim. They use real monologues, interrupting the other person, avoiding expressing their opinion, and controlling the conversation. Alternatively, the manipulator may try to distort words that the interlocutor has never pronounced by trying to interpret his or her thoughts in a distorted way.


When the narcissist realizes that his techniques are not having the desired effect, he can take two paths: insult or keep quiet. In the second case, the victim feels invisible and guilty. The goal is to humiliate the other person and to hurt him or her by not submitting to his or her desires and manipulative techniques.

The false good

One of the most subtle manipulators is undoubtedly someone who is very friendly and good with the other person but is actually wearing a mask. Even if the other person seems to be able to rejoice with the other person about the goals achieved, he always tries in a subtle way to sow doubt or to destroy some of the joys conquered.

Other mental manipulation techniques

We have seen that there are different manipulation that is implemented by the manipulator to weaken the will of the person in front of him and thus be able to shape his mind with forms of conditioning.

Conditioning has been studied by Pavlov, who has shown how it is possible to link certain emotional states and cognitive responses to external stimuli precisely through forms of association. This stimulus-response behavior is the basis of manipulation and is the tool used by manipulators. Let’s look at some forms of mental manipulation.

  • The human being is a social animal, and part of the image we have of ourselves is projected by the relationships we have. Not only that: affection, love, communication, and many other aspects are fundamental for the human being. A person who is isolated from the world for a long time will have distorted perceptions of reality, will let his imagination and anxieties navigate, reaching the point of becoming a victim of his own thoughts. Isolation can be a very strong form of weakening and mental persuasion.
  • Group: forms of social control and “group thinking”. Psychologist Solomon Asch has studied group dynamics in-depth to define how individuals are strongly conditioned in their own behaviors and perceptions of what is happening. This happens because of what individuals perceive in external reality, but also because of how they define themselves. For example, if a person within a group is labeled in a certain way within the group, he or she may feel identified with passaging time with that label. As a result, the group may influence not only how the individual perceives reality but also how they perceive themselves.
  • The forms of manipulation that underlie the processes of submission are different and complicated, but the main fact is that the manipulator will attempt to interfere with the manipulated person’s self-perception to take control of them, making them believe that they are wrong or sick. Normally, this manipulation then generates an addiction that leads the victim to not be able to get rid of it and to not see reality.
  • Exhaustion: Another practice of manipulation comprises leading the person to exhaustion, trying to condition, and destroy his or her mind.

There are other very strong forms of physical and mental manipulation that are used in different contexts, such as hypnosis. If you feel you are being manipulated mentally and psychologically, contact a specialist who can help you.

Victims and manipulators

We have seen the main characteristics of the manipulators and their techniques. But according to what criteria does the manipulator choose his ideal victim? Normally narcissistic or pathological liar, they choose their victims according to certain weaknesses they point out.

Each manipulator could act on a particular weakness, but by trying to summarize the different theories, we could say that the manipulator tries to take advantage:

  • Excessive naivety, i.e. people who cannot perceive evil in others and who believe that others are always honest.
  • Low self-confidence or low self-esteem: People who believe they don’t deserve love or who don’t have self-confidence are easier to manipulate and convince. Even those who have not yet defined their identity may feel compromised by a manipulator.
  • Dependency: People who suffer from certain forms of dependency, especially emotional dependency, depend on others and to be submissive for their emotional balance. Thus, the manipulator can easily influence these people.
  • Rationalization: trying to bring everything down to a logical level or understanding the manipulator’s reasons can make you lose sight of the reality of things.
  • Loneliness: even loneliness or the continuous search for the approval of others can make them easily manipulated.

Here are some general characteristics that can make a person vulnerable to manipulative techniques. Obviously, there are others and each case is unique. If you feel at the mercy of manipulation, it is always best to seek the help of a specialist.

The main symptoms

Manipulation can occur in any relational environment, from work to friendship, and can present with a range of symptoms. According to some researchers, there are 3 levels in which symptoms can occur:

  1. The first level is the level where the first signs of manipulation occur, which could however be managed with good communication. For example, there may be confusion, excessive control by the partner, people warning you about the relationship, anxiety, and fear when the partner approaches without feeling.
  2. The second level of manipulation occurs when the person being manipulated questions his or her reasons and what he or she is thinking or feeling. In this sentence, the manipulator will deconstruct the identity and self-esteem of the person with criticism, judgments, emotional blackmail, silences, to show that he or she is right and that the only point of view that counts is his or her own. At this stage, the symptoms that trigger this manipulation in the victim are generalized anxiety, fatigue, blaming. (even things that have not been done), justification of the manipulator’s attitudes, loss of interest in other things, forgetting past events or attitudes.
  3. The third level of manipulation coincides with the abandonment phase, where the manipulated person is totally subjugated by the manipulator who will justify it and feel worthy of the horrible treatment he or she is receiving. The symptoms of the manipulated person in this phase are depression, anxiety and panic attacks, apathy, stress, psychosomatic disorders, fear, and anxiety.

How to get out of it?

Getting out of a period of psychological manipulation is difficult because the main techniques are based precisely on forms of distortion of reality and annihilation of the person’s identity and self-esteem, and in the form of dependence. For this, a long journey of reconstruction and awareness of one’s being and of what has happened is necessary.

As in any psychological process, the first step to improve and recover is the acceptance of what has happened. To come out of it, we will then work on other processes such as the recognition of manipulative strategies, emotional reconstruction, and self-respect. Following therapy can help us develop and overcome this moment. If you would like to receive more information on the subject, you can consult our list of expert professionals.

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