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Five Danger Signals That Warn That You Are Being Manipulated

Some people will work hard to covertly control other people. Here’s how to tell when people are trying to manipulate you.

Some people in this world are kings and queens of the art of getting their own way. It’s amazing how some people are able to achieve their whims through the use of persuasion or deception. The true masters are the ones who steer other people and events when they lack power or responsibility. These greedy folks are also the agents of chaos in groups and organizations, pursuing selfish hidden agendas for their own gain.

It’s quite true that people can achieve great things by working together. Great constructions, organizations, and ideas are created by group effort. Some of these things are done for altruistic or practical reasons. Other achievements are purely the result of ego and greed. Learning to work with other people is a valuable skill. However, the manipulator, a person who attempts to motivate while hiding their true intentions, is best avoided whenever possible.

If you want to get through life without being conned by a manipulative person, then you’ll need to learn how to tell if you are being manipulated. Here are five methods to help you tell if you are being manipulated.

Manipulators Act Differently Toward You When They Want Something

Watch for sudden changes in the way that a requester (a potential manipulator, someone who wants you to help them for selfish purposes) behaves toward you:

  • They compliment you more often (assuming they ever did), particularly with regards to your valuable skills, knowledge and experience.
  • You suddenly become this person’s “buddy”, “pal” or “friend”. They might use your first or last names more often than normal. The requester smiles at you more often, but the smile never reaches their eyes.
  • They seem interested in what you are doing. However, these are often shallow expressions of interest followed by impatience and rapid shift of subject or attention. Manipulators are always looking for opportunities and can be distracted rather easily.
  • They seem eager to please you. You’ll get the occasional gift or freebie from a manipulator. Just remember that a manipulator is too smart or cheap to invest a lot of money in you at this point, so they probably didn’t pay for the gifts.
  • The requester makes public expressions of support and need for you. Can you say “flattery”?

This positive behavior ceases after you are no longer needed or useful. If they are looking for long term help from you, the good times may roll on for some time.

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User Comments
  1. Gloria

    On October 30, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    This article echoed childhood experiences the younger children in our family suffered from our older siblings. Our parents didn’t see. In fact these oldest were their stars. My mother finally saw the light when my oldest brother blamed her for his divorce — if she hadn’t lived so long he would have had his inheritance and been able to keep his wife. (He’s now out looking for #5)

    The only thing to do is learn to say no, and stay as far away from them. I have read and been told that manipulators and sociopaths (often the same person) cannot be cured. They are not “sick” in a curable way, but have what is called a personality disorder. And those are not curable.

  2. Stone Heart

    On October 31, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Warning signs…!!!

    This is a great article. Informative and well explain. Thanks for sharing.

    Well- written.


  3. Judy Sheldon

    On October 31, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I love your article. I wish I had read this before I became the “jerk magnet”. Jerks are attracted to good hearted people, and do not care what kind of damage they leave behind.
    Wonderful article. I hope someone heeds your good advice.

  4. J.K.

    On November 1, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Great article, I grew up knowing many people who tried to manipulate those around them, it’s a tragic thing when people take advantage of good people’s trust, thanks for writing this, very informative

  5. Kim

    On November 5, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    I think I am a victim of this. People take advantage of my good nature and willingness to help. I need to become a lot more of a skeptic, I think!

  6. Dustin

    On November 5, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    I dont like this article, it reminds me of the mentality of a person i attempted to know in first year computing named shane. You see shane had a paranoia that people would copy off of him, so as a result he would never work together with anyone on anything. Making him a total outcast.

    This article does have some valid points, but i think it exxadurates it to make almost anyone who asks for help look like a manipulater, and thats definatly not a healthy mentality.

  7. lizzie 2 uk

    On November 6, 2007 at 7:26 am

    Interesting article. I do agree with Dustin that not everybody who asks for help has a hidden agenda but I still like your article.We have to work this one out for ourselves and having a few pointers certainly helps.

  8. jenna

    On November 8, 2007 at 9:30 am

    This article is so true, I just wish I had read it a year ago before my last relationship! This person was so slick, he would spend days convincing me his way was my way, even sending me subtle emails and text messages, until I would “come around” to his way of thinking. At first I did not realize he was manipulating me. But, then I thought back to the last 10 decisions I had made and I had always “decided” what he wanted. I even regretted the decisions because they caused me hardship (but him gain, of course!) I should add to the article, another technique manipulators use a lot is “guilt tripping” you with supposed past favors that they did for you. They will constantly remind you of something they did and make you feel indebted, even dragging it on for months or years so you are always doing things for them to “pay them back.” And the favor that this guy first did for me (recommending me for a job) took him all of 5 minutes to do and didn’t cost him anything. And I found out later from my boss that they were going to hire me anyway! But he spun it like I owed him everything and never let me forget it!

  9. Ed

    On November 11, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Good article.

    I have met a few people who thought they could manipulate me because I am very easy going and I dont give much away. They don’t know me real well, and the cocky ones read my tolerance as “weak”. I have these people’s card marked though, and when it comes to a head, and they try something beyond my comfort zone, I take great delight in quietly telling them that they can’t go any further. Oh how the mighty are fallen! Suddenly the manipulator has nothing left and becomes the weak one – for real. I spare them the humiliation they deserve, because as I see it, there will be someone far nastier than me appearing in their future.

  10. Kris Hughes

    On December 2, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Great article Mark.

    Don’t you think we’re all manipulators to some degree or another?

    Like rewarding people for good behaviour and punishing them for bad.

    I think many people will get away with whatever they can until they know where the line is.

    The word ‘manipulate’ does seem to have negative connotations, but I do understand how you’re using it for this article.

  11. R.B. Parsley

    On December 2, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Mark, I just read your article. I think its pretty good. In factI’ve been a victim of manipulaters more than once in my life, and believe it or not, it does a lot of harm. But one thing I’ve learned about manipulaters, if you give them enough rope they eventually hang themselves. Great article.

    Comed on over to and check out some of my content.

  12. Liane Schmidt

    On December 21, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Dear R.B.,

    Great article. I was recently the victim of a con artist. I am certain your article will help millions in avoiding such people.

    Best wishes.


    -Liane Schmidt.

  13. Rebecca Hoeft

    On January 15, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I have just cut ties with my master manipulator. She was quick to call me her best friend. I should have known. I was so desperate from friendship and she took advantage of that.
    She was always so depressed and angry and sick and injured. Being her friend was exhausting. One thing after another… “No one cares” she would say. I felt so sorry for her. Not any more.I am taking my power back. I am going to cut and paste this article because it fits her to a t. At the end of it, I will type “Leave me alone”!!!
    Thank you so much… You have no idea how much this has helped:)

  14. Suze Smirh

    On September 17, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I have watched thirty years of manipulation by my mother-in-law
    of my husband and his brother. His brother is painted as good, my
    husband is bad, and the mother seems to enjoy the power. It is
    like she enjoys punching my husband right between the eyes, and
    he is like some big air doll that plops backwards and springs
    back for more. The main technique is shame and guilt. No matter
    what my husband does for either of them, it is some degree defective, but now I have found some things are really lies. It
    is hard to go into it, but I can say truthfully I now have little
    respect left for my husband because of his endless submissiveness
    to them. Power and control for both and they never even get mad
    but in just a few minutes can send my husband into an explosive
    rage. He has no way of defending himself, and they seem to enjoy
    the attack. Nothing he ever does will please either of them. One
    example is my husband took his brother for two weeks, separate
    trips on a timeshare vacations. His mother told him it was not
    right he asked his brother to pay for the rental car, he should
    have paid half, despite the fact that the cost for my husband
    was five times the cost of the resort. Another lie, a decade
    later, my husband is told he was terrible to not visit his brother in the hospital when he was having a marrow transplant.
    My husband pointed out he went to see if he could be a bone marrow donor, that counted for nothing, and then it occurred to
    me to see if he could have even had visitors. I phoned the hospital and was told visitors are on a case by case basis, and
    then I told him to ask his mother why she did not go, she said
    she was too old, but the truth was probably for my husband to
    have visited him may have jeopardized the success of the marrow
    transplant, maybe by bringing in a cold germ, afterall, the mom
    did not go, but this is still being thrown up to him. She is
    always putting my husband on trial, always finding he treated the
    brother unfairly. It has reached the point I no longer respect
    my husband for engaging in any way with his mother. She never
    liked me from day one. No matter who he married, they would have
    been found to be flawed, yet, when my husband was sued by a woman
    who contrived a false claim of sexual harassment, it was, from
    his mother, oh, she was such a nice person, just what did you
    do, in a mean tone. No empathy, nothing. Manipulators make you
    crazy, and rageful, but even more, those who allow themselves
    to be manipulated are frustrating, too. It is a sick dynamic,
    and in this family going on as best as I can tell for over fifty

  15. Cheryl

    On December 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    I am stuck between 2 manipulators at work, after reading this article I could how each of them has different traits. Its making work life hell. Any tips on what to say to these people to get them to back off and leave me out of it? I am so fed up of all the games!

  16. Patricia Braithwaite

    On December 18, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I love this article it reminds me of a person I dated for three years. The funny thing is that I knew what was going on but was manipulated more by my extended family and told that I was the problem. I am currently in the process of writing a book about the situation because it was so over the top. I had to take 3 years of blame for things like he didn’t pay his child support because he was paying my bills and I was imagining things that were happening or he was here when he was really there needless to say I lost all of my friends and I don’t talk to some of my family because he was and still is able to manipulate them into believing I was the problem. He still comes around now and then and I try to be nice but it always results in my loss. He always uses the phrase “you are mean” when you try to take control over your own life guilt trips are big with him and so is poor me. I do believe we all manipulate to a point but some people are way over the top and will never learn.

  17. Andrea

    On January 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    In my case, it’s my younger sister and formerly my mother (she’s seen what she has done over the years and is now trying to rectify her actions, so far has proven that she’s not going to be manipulative anymore) who have been manipulative in my life. My sister, though, will not be changing any time soon, or at all for that matter. She’s only still a teenager, but she has all the key elements of a master manipulator. She’s just gone through the state, jumping from one foster care to another, just to be placed back home due to “unmanageability.” At each home, she started being nice and complying with rules, quick to please her new foster parents. She’d lay it on thick, explaining that she didn’t know how to do a lot of things because she was never properly taught, or because she had forgotten because of a car wreck several years back, or because of the many medications doctors have been giving her over the years. The sweetness of her demeanor towards her foster parents would fade after a few weeks, once she wanted something and they would refuse, at that point she would begin pitting them against each other. Lie after lie would pour out of her mouth, until their attention would be on each other instead of herself. At this point, once they’ve worked things out with each other, they would ask for her to be removed and it would start again.

    Now she is back at home, and since she’s lived with us before, she’s already got everyone wrapped around her finger, with me as the only exclusion. So far it’s only been a week since she got here, and already she’s destroyed an already fragile home environment. I’m only her sister, and no matter what I say or do, I can almost never get through to anyone.

    I strongly believe people like my sister will never change. They will continue to manipulate their way out of everyone around them, or destroy them if they will not comply. They are mentally ill, because the wide range of normal people would not so willingly take free will from others, which is exactly what they do.

    This is something that can be prevented, that much I am sure, but it must be seen and noticed by the parents raising the child. I strongly believe that keeping strict standards between all children you raise will be a key preventative to raising a manipulative child.

    Do not fool yourself that just because one child is more intellectual, and your other is more emotional that they need to be treated differently. All children need love, care, rules, and discipline.

  18. Anonymous due to current legal issues

    On March 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    This is a great article and something I wish I could have been armed with a couple of years ago. My husband and I let a particularly manipulative person into our lives–some of the manipulations I saw and others I didn’t until it was far too late. Everything I found, I just couldn’t quite put my finger on to defend it adequately to my husband. Long story short, this person (a woman), broke up my marriage because my husband was the “prize” she had her eye on–and she got him. Now, I’m left holding the bag and being blamed for things she originally put in motion but was careful to keep herself unaccountable for and now a lot of my battle is a “he said, she said” situation. A lot of the incriminating things she said were when no witnesses were around and naturally she denies having ever said or done them. Its a big, fat hairy mess involving lawyers and a lot of burden of proof. I’m just praying my attorney will find where she might have screwed up to give us the upper hand once again. Never did I have such heartache in my life as I have since the day this person walked through my door and its so sad that people like this can harm otherwise well meaning folks. I truly hope that Karma is real–its the only solace I have these days.

  19. Lisa doughan

    On April 10, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    This is a really good article i only wish i had read this sooner. I have had so many people in my life that have been manipulating me and as i am a kind hearted and naturally honest person i let them into my life no questions asked. My mother is the main culprit she will twist things to get what she wants and beleive me she always gets it, she uses my sister as a weapon. she asks me to babysit my sister and if i say no she will ban me from seeing her and become really hostile towards me. I cant win because i love my sister both of them and although one of them lives with me and is old enough to make her own decisions my younger sister is still a baby it is also exhausting and i now have no social life she has taken it away from me.I spent most of my childhood bringing up my sister even at 6 years old and now i am practically bringing up my other sister , i am the one with the motherly instincts i worry all the time and she will even say that i give my sister more love than she does. I have matured way beyond my years and not once have i had a thank you or a meaningful one. I know i am stuck because as long as my sister is here i will be which means i have no escape… I only hope that one day she will realise the damage she has caused all of her children

  20. Julia

    On July 3, 2009 at 12:38 am

    I have encountered a master manipulator myself not too long ago. I have to agree that good-hearted people get taken advantage of. I knew this man for only 5 months and already he was moving in, taking over and doing what he wanted, while I worked. He wanted me to buy a house ( I live in an apartment),and pay for almost everything as far as going out for dinner, etc. The day before he disappeared, I told him that I had a budget and that I wasn’t a millionaire, and some responsibility had to be taken in this relationship. I came home from work the next day and he was gone. I texted him to find out what happened, with no reply. It’s obvious, I was scammed and played by a manipulator. When the responsibility and boundries came to the surface, he knew that he could no longer take me for a ride. I am still hurting over this, but, I now know that him leaving was probably a favor.

  21. jill

    On September 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    im british living in egypt with a egyptian man… the arabs are the best at gettin what they want from foreigners.. they want visa and better life and will tell you anything to get it , they will even have a child to you, but mark my words once they get what they want, there off.. any foreign women is a idiot to get involved.. iv seen it time and time again…im gettin out soon and advice should be given to foreign women travelin to these countrys cos these men will con any women to get out….TAKE CARE!!!!

  22. trustno1

    On January 12, 2010 at 2:20 am

    being manipulated by people is easy, i have. they were after money. they take everything from you even your life and there is nothing you can do about it. they go after the ones you care about because they know your weaknesses. they use that against you until they get what they want. after that they hopefully won\’t bother you again. i am glad i got away from the bad people that were trying to manipulate me. it is always the ones that you think are the ones you can trust, when it is actually the opposite. i asked for help it doesn’t make you a manipulator. people lie and you don’t realize it until after the fact.

  23. Boundaries Baby

    On April 27, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Some would say that manipulators are there to refine us, I would only agree in that after going through such treachery one must look at their boundaries and reasons why we are so giving and available. I was raised by a master manipulator and master con artist, neither which have changed. Currently, I have realized that these manipulators are at every turn so how do we protect ourselves? Setting healthy boundaries, writing things down and talking to others can be effective assuming this person hasn’t infiltrated their minds as well. As for myself, I’ve had to take a good look at why I feel I should help others. In life there is a “norm” to live by so I ask myself, “Am I giving too much?” Our own insecurities or needs make us great targets for manipulators. I now am careful not to befriend someone too quickly. If I don’t help them, they’ll find someone else. I am still willing as I feel a human duty to be of help to others but this time with boundaries for both them and myself. There is a great book called Boundaries. It was very useful in helping me understand why the need for boundaries. They also have one for parents which is even better b/c it helps you see how and when these personality troubles begin.

  24. S.S.

    On September 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    After completing a Counseling class in May, I agree with Boundaries Baby. The book, Boundaries, is helpful in determining acceptable limits and this develops healthy relationships. We do not need to do things that others need to do for themselves which is a problem especially for people with co-dependency issues. As much as we want to believe that we are doing “good” those good thing are not healthy if they hinder others from learning how to deal handle heir problems. It stunts their growth. Parents become prime perpetrators of this offense as well as friends who just hate to see other suffer. They are not suffering, they are maturing. We were all once in their position and what did we do: we learned, we matured, we grew up! One respondants questioned if we were all manipulators to some degree; I say we are not, manipulation is an unhealthy form of relationship attachment. A healthy person respects themself and has positive regard for others.

  25. Huss

    On November 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    It seems you lack alot of information, all of the above that you have listed are ways an amateur manipulator would go about getting what she or he desires. True manipulator do not do petty things as giving gifts or so blatantly acting kind.

    The secret of all manipulators is their knowledge of humanity.

  26. SincerePeace

    On December 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Self-interest (id) is the biggest secret of all manipulators. Shallow minds are the most foolish. Desiring only words and actions for ego-gratification/material progress. Those are the worst signs of all. Manipulators are also conspirators. Selfish/pleasure seekers. Materialists are the main causers of social chaos and deciet. That’s what needs to be said the most. They will love any lie that gives pleasure. They don’t care about truth if it gives pain. They should be blocked the most even if they ignore profound minds. Choose wisely. Be at peace sincerely depite who wants to deceitfully. May G-d Help and be with the virtuous (truthful). G-d Bless with true peacefulness/life/contentment. true peace…

  27. Cady

    On January 16, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Mine is a bizarre case. The manipulator is my roommate at college, and she has it down to an art. Even her best friend knows she’s being manipulated and still stands up for her. Everyone is in love with her for some strange reason- even though she steals food, her guests destroy our apartment, and she is noisy as hell. After all is said and done in the morning, when she knows I’m prepared to ream on her for being inconsiderate, she feigns sweetness towards me and kisses my ass. Constantly trying to not get played is emotionally exhausting. With everyone wrapped around her finger, I feel like I must be wrong because I’m the only one who sees this.

  28. Sara

    On October 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Me to, this is a great article. I went through the same thing, even to this day I still don’t know why I was being manipulated, I just was. Been after the truth ever since, but its hard because this situation was so bizarre. Lets just say I lived with this girl who I knew for about nine months and when I graduated from a trade school she offered me a place to stay because I had nowhere else to go. Well this is a long story and too bizarre to account for, but this girl very literally had about five or six guys at a time, some even in other states in which she would be able to get whole paychecks at a time what I didn’t get was that she could treat them like crap and yes she used her own family, sometimes as a sexual tool to get money and still treated them like crap, so much to the point that these guys would do anything, even family! Now of course I didn’t realize she was like this even after knowing her for nine months but it ended up to be a complete disaster and im still having a hard time with things. To make a long story short she ended up kicking me out on the streets, not only that she threw all my luggage out so I didn’t have any clothes, dvds nothing, it all got stolen because of her. Im still to this day homeless because of what she did, there are some other things I would like to say but her behavior was just so odd and bizarre and to the extreme of things that still to this day I just can’t figure it out what exactly she wanted from me but I know it was something. Anyways good article, still it raises more questions in me.

  29. A very hurt man

    On April 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I feel for all those who suffer, If you get stuck in it’s Elevator it just keeps taking you further on down all the while passing floors of happy people who dont seem to care or treasure anything but make out they are having the best time doing it.

  30. A very hurt man

    On April 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I feel for all those who suffer, If you get stuck in it\’s Elevator it just keeps taking you further on down all the while passing floors of happy people who dont seem to care or treasure anything but make out they are having the best time doing it.

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