Manipulative people can be found in every walk of life. You might meet them at work where they take credit for your achievements, or in social situations where they are controlling, demanding, and even abusive.
Knowing the right words to deal with these people can give you the strength to stand up to them or walk away. In the cases of romantic relationships, manipulation is probably a sign of an abusive relationship, so the best thing to do is to run fast and far away.
Once equipped with the terms, it can be easier to see manipulative people for who they really are, and you can gain the strength to walk away.
Here are 9 phrases you should know if you think someone is manipulating you, and what they mean.
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In the first stages of a romantic relationship, it’s normal to feel butterflies, and want to know what your new partner is doing all the time. However, if the person you’re starting to be intimate with is manipulative then their affection and attention could be love bombing.
Lisa Aronson Fontes is a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.” She told Business Insider that if your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to be in constant contact with you, it could be a warning sign. In fact, constant texts and phone calls can be a form of stalking.
Not replying to the barrage of messages may end with you being on the receiving end of your partner’s wrath, which is a huge red flag. You deserve your space, and anyone worth your time will know and respect this.
2. Object constancy
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Everybody falls out sometimes, especially in romantic relationships. However, the level to which manipulative people like narcissists get angry with their significant others is beyond what is acceptable.
Those with personality disorders like narcissism lack something called “object constancy,” which is the ability to keep your positive feelings about someone whilst also being angry, annoyed, or disappointed in them.
When they hurl insults and scream at their partner, narcissists don’t feel any of the affectionate feelings they once had. That’s why they can seem like a completely different person in these moments, like Jekyll and Hyde. Their reaction is so powerful it can make the victim feel as though they must be in the wrong, which means they start altering their behaviour to make their controlling partner happy.
3. Moth to a flame
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Contrary to popular belief, manipulative people often seek out those who are strong and confident to prey on, because it makes them feel superior. Targeting vulnerable people doesn’t make them feel powerful, so they will often go after you because they see the positives in you – like a moth to a flame.
If someone is manipulating you at work, it’s probably because they see your skills and they want to look like they’re even more skilled than you. In a relationship, they want other people to know that someone as great as you has chosen to be with them. It’s only behind the scenes that they start to bring you down, because that way they can start to break your confidence. Lower self-esteem makes it more likely you’ll stick with a controlling partner, because you may feel like it’s what you deserve.
4. Flipping the script
Manipulative people are masters of smoke and mirrors. If you are their target, they will have intensely studied you, and will know all of your strengths and weaknesses.
These are the tools they need to know how to wind you up. Often, they will also accuse you of the very things they have done themselves. For example, if they have cheated on you, they may accuse you of being unfaithful. If they are constantly cancelling your plans, they might tell you you’re guilty of not giving them any freedom.
Confusing their partner and making them emotional makes manipulative people feel victorious.
Ultimately, to a manipulator, everything is a game. The only way to get out of the game is to leave the relationship and establish no contact. In a work environment, you have to learn to not hold them accountable or to expect apologies. When they learn they can’t rile you up, they will move on.
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The term “gaslighting” was coined from the 1944 film “Gaslight” where a man controls and tricks his wife into believing she is losing her mind. Nowadays it is a term to describe how manipulative people gain power over someone else by making them feel like they are going crazy.
Manipulators lie, make things up that never happened, but say things in such a convincing way and with such conviction, that their victims end up believing it is the truth.
It happens slowly, a small lie here and there, so the victim doesn’t see the bigger deceptions coming. It’s like the “frog in the saucepan” analogy – the water in the pan is heated up slowly so the frog doesn’t realise it is starting to boil to death.
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Beyond gaslighting is something called “perspecticide.” This happens when the manipulative person has made someone believe so many things that aren’t true, they no longer know what is real.
When this happens in romantic relationships, the victim is effectively a prisoner in their own life, not being allowed to do anything or even think on their own terms. The controlling partner may cut off resources like money, a phone, or transport to make sure the victim cannot do anything for themselves.
Even things like their own beliefs and religion are compromised, because the victim lives in total fear of putting a step out of line all the time.
7. Trauma bonding
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From the outside, people may look into abusive relationships and wonder how the victim stuck around for so long. One of the answers is something called “trauma bonding.”
Manipulative, abusive people tend to be cruel to their partners, and hurl insults at them. They sometimes are also physically violent. However, they didn’t start off this way when they were reeling in their victim.
Manipulators also give their partners intermittent periods of love and compliments to get them to stick around. These moments are given when the partner has “behaved” or has done something right. It’s a way of being conditioned, and the victim gets biologically addicted to the emotional push and pull.
“You have this back and forth, and the body becomes addicted,” said Shannon Thomas, a therapist and author of Healing from Hidden Abuse. “When we’re looking for something that we want, that we once had, which is a connection with somebody, and they are playing cat and mouse where they are pulling it back and forth, then the body really does become dependent on having that approval.”
8. “But he didn’t hit me”
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One of the most worrying things a person can say when they’re in a damaging, toxic relationship is: “but he didn’t hit me.”
Psychological abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse, but it’s harder to identify because there aren’t physical scars. Unfortunately, manipulative people are often aware of this, and they can use this to their advantage. They know physical violence is the breaking point for many people, and so they will abuse and control their partner in every way up until that point.
“When people say, ‘but he didn’t hit me,’ what they often mean is that they would leave if they were hit,” said Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychology researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Their partners exert control one thousand ways but may stop short of hitting, if they know that would ‘break’ the relationship.”
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Manipulators do not like losing. If you take a step back, or you leave a relationship with them, they will beg for a second chance if they think they can still gain something from you.
They are likely to give the fight of their life to keep you around. They might tell you how they will change, or how you will never find someone who loves you as much as them. However, all the promises are empty, and it’s not in your best interests to get back with them out of fear.