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14 signs someone who is silently trying to control you might be a ‘master manipulator’

Dealing with a master manipulator can be an incredibly challenging and draining experience. These individuals possess a high degree of cunning. They are skilled at influencing, controlling, or deceiving others to achieve their own objectives.

Whether you encounter a master manipulator in your personal relationships, workplace, or any other context, you must be aware of their tactics and take steps to protect yourself.

What is manipulation?

Lauren Masopust, a licensed marriage and family therapist, defines manipulation as a behavior where individuals attempt to gain control or power in interpersonal interactions by crossing boundaries. Manipulation can be broadly categorized into two types:

Pro-Social Manipulation: This type of manipulation aims to benefit relationships. Individuals may use manipulative tactics to achieve positive outcomes or navigate interpersonal situations more effectively. For example, someone might use persuasive techniques to encourage a loved one to make healthier choices.

Antisocial Manipulation: In contrast, antisocial manipulation is behavior harmful to relationships. In this category, individuals use manipulation to exploit or harm others, often for personal gain or to control a situation. This can involve actions such as deceit, emotional manipulation, or coercion.

To determine whether a behavior qualifies as manipulation, it’s important to consider the person’s developmental stage, as explained by Masopust.

Reasons that drive an individual to become a master manipulator

The origins of manipulative behavior are complex and can vary from person to person.

Dr. Lee Phillips, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couples therapist, suggests that a consistent pattern of manipulation often develops during childhood, per PsychCentral.

In cases where someone learns that their needs cannot be met directly, they may resort to manipulative tactics to fulfill their emotional, physical, and other needs.

Several factors can contribute to the development of manipulative behavior:

1. Family Environment: Growing up in a competitive or conflict-ridden family can shape a person’s relationship approach. If a manipulative person witnessed such dynamics in their home, they may carry these patterns into adulthood.

2. Abandonment: Individuals who experience abandonment by a parent or caretaker may develop a strong craving for attention as adults. Manipulation may become a way for them to secure the attention they desire.

3. Mental Health Conditions: Certain mental health conditions are associated with manipulative behaviors, but it’s important to note that not everyone with these conditions is manipulative. Some conditions that may be linked to manipulative behavior include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): People with ASPD may use a fake persona to gain access to social circles.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): Individuals with BPD may try to avoid abandonment, leading to manipulative behavior.
  • Codependency: Codependent individuals may employ strategies to control or manage the people around them.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD): People with HPD may use their appearance or behavior to seek validation from others.
  • Insecure Attachment Style: Those with an insecure attachment style might use the threat of a breakup to test someone’s loyalty, which can involve manipulation.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD): Individuals with NPD may use projection to shift blame onto others.
  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD): Some individuals with substance use disorders may use excuses and manipulation to obtain funds for substances.

14 Signs a master manipulator is controlling you

Detecting manipulation can be challenging, as it often presents as subtle and context-dependent. Manipulative individuals can be encountered in diverse settings, making it essential to recognize their traits.

Master manipulators initially project sincerity and charm to gain your trust, said Brittney Lindstrom, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor from Your Tango.

However, once they’ve established a relationship and made you vulnerable, they employ deceptive tactics they’ve mastered.

Recognizing the signs of a master manipulator is crucial to protect yourself from potential harm and maintain healthier relationships. Here are ten key indicators to be aware of:

1. Lack of Insight: Manipulators often lack self-awareness, believing their needs and desires are paramount, regardless of how their actions affect others.

2. Avoiding Responsibility: They rarely take responsibility for their actions and often deflect blame onto others or make excuses rather than being accountable.

3. Criticizing and Judging: Manipulators frequently criticize and judge you without providing constructive solutions, aiming to break you down without offering guidance.

4. Isolation: They may attempt to isolate you from your loved ones or the things you value most, using threats or intimidation to maintain control.

5. Distorting the Truth: Manipulators may twist or manipulate facts to serve their interests, adapting their narrative to whatever benefits them most.

6. Overwhelming with Data: They might inundate you with data and information, especially in areas where you may not have a strong knowledge base, creating a sense of confusion.

7. Time Pressure: Manipulators pressure you to make quick, often irrational, decisions that primarily benefit them by giving you little time to think.

8. Pretending Not to Understand: They feign a lack of understanding to avoid accountability for their actions and justify their behavior by claiming they didn’t comprehend what you were saying.

9. Silent Treatment: Using silent treatment is a form of psychological abuse that manipulators employ to assert power and control over their victims.

10. Blaming for Happiness: Manipulators may hold you responsible for their happiness and blame you or others when they experience negative emotions.

11. Constant Apologies: You may constantly apologize for things, even when you aren’t at fault. Manipulators are skilled at shifting blame and making you feel in the wrong, according to Jenni Jacobsen, LCSW of

12. Initial Intensity: Manipulators often come on very strong at the beginning of a relationship, pressuring you to commit quickly. They engage in “love bombing,” showering you with affection and compliments to make you feel obligated to fulfill their desires due to their earlier declarations of love.

Man giving his girlfriend an expensive ring while dining in a fancy restaurant.


13. Frequent Lies: Master manipulators tend to be habitual liars, more interested in achieving their goals than telling the truth. They may make promises, flatter you, and gain your loyalty while secretly engaging in deceitful or disrespectful behavior.

14. Distorted Reality (Gaslighting): Gaslighting is a common manipulation tactic where the manipulator distorts reality, causing confusion and making you question your perception of events. They may deny past actions or statements, twist events to make you feel mistaken, accuse you of being overly sensitive, or question your memory and intelligence.

It’s important to understand that manipulators use these tactics to gain advantages or exploit others. Recognizing these signs empowers individuals to protect themselves and seek healthier, more authentic relationships.

Saving yourself from master manipulator

Suppose you find yourself in a relationship with a master manipulator. In that case, protecting yourself and maintaining your well-being is crucial.

Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Set Clear Boundaries: Establish firm boundaries to deter manipulation. Calmly assert your knowledge of their tactics and your refusal to engage further. This may lead to change or the end of the relationship.

2. Seek Support: Reach out to friends and family for emotional support and validation. Their love and understanding can remind you that you’re not alone in facing manipulation.

3. Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care to counteract the emotional toll of a manipulative relationship. Participate in activities you enjoy, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and focus on your well-being.

4. Consider Ending the Relationship: Recognize the slim likelihood of a manipulator changing their behavior and be willing to walk away to protect your well-being and reduce stress.

5. Seek Professional Help: If dealing with a manipulative relationship affects your mental health, consult a therapist or counselor to address emotional issues and develop healthier coping strategies. This can promote emotional healing and well-being.

Dealing with a master manipulator is difficult, and it may take time to disentangle yourself from their influence. Trust your instincts, prioritize your well-being, and don’t hesitate to seek support from others when necessary. Protecting yourself from manipulation is about empowering yourself with knowledge, self-awareness, and the courage to stand up for what’s right.

Watch the video below to know more about how to avoid a master manipulator:


Disclaimer: This article is provided solely for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or opinion. It is strongly recommended to consult with qualified professionals for any health concerns or issues.

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