* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
One of the most damaging things in a person’s life may be an abusive or manipulative relationship.
Many times we are blind to the manipulation tactics and narcissist control tactics that the people we love use against us.
These Manipulation Tactics and narcissist control tactics work to erode, suppress, subjugate, and degrade the victim’s sense of self and diminish their social standing in an effort to dominate and control.
The people we are closest to and depend on the most can also be some of the biggest obstacles to achieving happiness or finding success.
Relationships with an abusive or manipulative person can be impossible to change; sometimes, it is better to walk away and move on with your own life so that you can grow as a person and reach your full potential.
This may seem difficult or even impossible when it is a parent, spouse, or other significant person in your life.
By learning to spot manipulative narcissist tactics in others, you can better react in a positive way to protect yourself from further harm or setbacks.
What is Manipulation?
Manipulation refers to activities performed by a person to try to manipulate others, generally in a false or destructive way, in the context of a relationship. Psychological manipulation entails using false or distorted strategies to persuade someone to modify their behaviors or beliefs.
Emotional manipulation employs the same techniques to elicit strong emotional responses with the intent of draining a person’s energy or destabilizing their emotional well-being.
According to psychologists, toxic cycles of violence, narcissism, or poor connections in the manipulator’s own upbringing can frequently be the fundamental cause of manipulative conduct.
According to Balestrieri, manipulation can occur in every type of connection, including family, friends, professional, romantic, or sexual interactions.
Who Are Master Manipulators and What are Master Manipulation Techniques?
Let’s take a look at some stereotypes. Women are frequently seen as expert manipulators.
This is just not the case.
There are no gender disparities in manipulation methods; research reveals that men and women use them equally.
Go to YouTube and watch any “pick-up artist” perform his “magic,” and the clichés about women being manipulators will vanish before your eyes.
41 HARMFUL MANIPULATION TACTICS USED BY NARCISSISTS, PSYCHOPATHS, AND SOCIOPATHS
You might recognize the signs of manipulation in your personal relationships if your romantic partner uses one or more of the following manipulative tactics.
A lie is a false statement deliberately presented as the truth. Some manipulators will say anything to get what they want.
They will do it frequently and improve over time until it comes naturally. They also use lies of omission which means instead of making deceptive statements, they withhold the truth.
The goal of omission is to isolate the victim behind a wall of secrecy in order to exploit the fact that they are unaware of some important knowledge to him or her.
2. Insinuating Comments
The manipulator knows the victim’s weaknesses and buttons.
They purposely push and pull on these to get a reaction. Often they will speak with double entendres or innuendos to confuse and hurt the victim simultaneously while maintaining plausible deniability of any hurtful intention.
The goal is to drain the victim emotionally, wear them down, and to feed the manipulator’s ego or sense of power/control.
3. Discourage and Criticize
The criticism is not for negative behaviors but rather to discourage positive outlets the victim may have to express themselves.
Any attempts to join a social club, team, or organization will be discouraged, undermined, or sabotaged by the manipulator. Any attempts to be creative artistically, musically, or otherwise will be criticized, and the victim’s work will be belittled.
The goal is to crush the victim’s self-esteem and isolate the person from anything that might garnish him or her praise or attention from others.
4. Diminish and Dismiss
The victim’s ideas, opinions, or cries for help are either verbally or non-verbally (eye-roll, smug smile, scoffs, etc.) diminished, dismissed, overlooked, undervalued, or simply ignored.
The goal is to make the victim less willing to voice their wishes or grievances.
When multiple people work together with these manipulation tactics against the victim, this can leave him or her completely isolated and vulnerable, with a strong feeling of hopelessness and nowhere to turn.
5. Monitor and Stalk
The manipulator is always present, lurking behind the victim’s back or keeping an eye on him or her from a good safe distance.
If the manipulator is narcissistic or psychopathic, it is common for them to monitor the victim’s computer or phone and even use surveillance equipment in order to follow the person’s every move.
The goal here is simple: maintain knowledge of everything the victim says and does their comings and goings, and who they know.
6. Intrude and Interrupt
The manipulator has no respect for another person’s boundaries. They will say and do whatever they please in front of, behind the back of, or towards their victims, regardless of objections or morals.
If done covertly, the victim will have no idea what damage has been done until it’s too late. This manipulation tactic aims to cut the victim off from speaking up, gaining support, or making positive changes, either for themselves or the people around them. (Also known as enmeshment.)
7. Deflection, Diversion, and Evasion
When the manipulator is asked a direct question or called out on a lie, they will either deflect the conversation back onto the victim, “How dare you accuse me of that!” or they will steer the conversation onto another topic as a diversion, or will give an irrelevant, vague, and meaningless response instead.
The goal is to create confusion, throw the victim off balance, and avoid any responsibility for their actions.
The manipulator will shout out your failures and whisper your successes. Any limelight the victim deserves will be diminished.
Their accomplishments will go unnoticed, and their shortcomings will be broadcast far and wide. The goal is to drain the victim of the energy to be successful and to make them doubt themselves so that the manipulator can be the center of attention at all times while belittling the victim.
9. Emotional Blackmail
Knowing that someone close to them wants love, approval or confirmation of identity, and self-esteem, manipulators will threaten to withhold the emotional support the victim desires or needs or even take it away altogether, making the person feel that he or she must meet the demands of the manipulator.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to ensure that the victim feels afraid to cross them, obligated to give them their way, or guilty if they resist.
10. Emotional Barriers
Whenever the victim gets upset and questions the manipulator or complains about something they’re doing, the manipulator focuses on the victim’s angry or upset state.
The manipulator becomes demeaning about the victim’s objection to his or her poor treatment. The victim could also be attacked for being happy about something.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to frustrate and suppress the victim’s emotions in order to dodge the blame for wrongdoing or maintain control of them (corral).
11. Guilt Trip
A special kind of intimidation tactic.
Narcissists maintain control over the people in their lives by generating uncomfortable feelings.
A manipulator suggests to the conscientious victim that he or she does not care enough, is too selfish, has more than they or deserves, or got it too easy, regardless of how much or little the victim actually does or what the manipulator has ever contributed.
After ‘grooming’ someone for an intimate connection, the narcissist uses shock, awe, and guilt to keep control.
Clinical Psychologist Forrest Talley explains further,
“The shock and awe stem from the out-of-control, emotionally charged tantrums that erupt when the narcissist’s buddy (husband or lover) does something to displease the narcissist. Because most ordinary people find such strong reactions exhausting and unusual, they begin to work diligently to avoid a repeat performance.”
The goal is to keep the victim in a self-doubting, anxious, and submissive position.
12. Inappropriate Restrictions
A person has the right to be taken seriously, to develop their potential, to explore and express their interests, and to find meaning and fulfillment in their relationships and lives.
The manipulator will engage in ongoing behaviors that inappropriately restrict the victim’s life. The goal is to hold him or her back from success, happiness, or anything else the manipulator does not deem the victim worthy of.
Rarely in the physical form, but more usually, they are cognitive and social in nature. One of the biggest such threats is that of social exclusion, which affects our need to belong to a family, lover, etc.
Threats do not change minds, but they are often very effective at changing how people act, at least in the short term.
The goal is effectively taking control of the victim’s life/choices, if done violently, to terrify him or her into subordination.
The manipulator treats the victim as a tool for their own purposes.
This could be sexual or damage and destroy for their own gratification.
The goal here is to dehumanize the victim to the level of that of an object as if there is no need for concern for the victim’s feelings or experiences.
If done long enough, the victims will also feel the same about themselves.
Shame is an extremely painful state to be in and is a very powerful weapon.
The manipulator frequently humiliates their victims with put-downs, expressions of disgust, contempt, disappointment, etc, often while in the presence of others.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to make the victim feel worthless and inadequate, or at least appear that way, in order to subdue them into submission. This can create a “vicious cycle” in the victim’s mind of negative feelings or thoughts that recur throughout their life.
The victim is held responsible for the harm they suffered. The victim brought it all upon themselves and the manipulator is in no way responsible for their actions.
The victim made all the choices that brought them trouble or pain regardless of how much they were manipulated into doing so.
The goal is to put the victim on the defense, making them look and feel guilty while simultaneously masking the manipulator’s malicious intentions.
Whatever pain the manipulator has put you through either didn’t happen or wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
Often times it may be accompanied by a remark such as “I’m sorry you feel that way.” As if the victim’s grief, anguish, and pain are irrelevant, inconsequential, or otherwise all in their own head or have nothing to do with the manipulator.
The goal is to cause the victim further pain, make them question their own feelings, induce doubt or craziness, and to lift any feeling of guilt the manipulator may feel.
18. Silent Treatment
The manipulator refuses to communicate and uses emotional and/or physical withdrawal as punishment.
This conveys contempt and communicates that the person is not worthy of the manipulator’s acknowledgment.
The goal is to render the victim powerless to change the current situation and induce feelings of abandonment or rejection.
If the manipulator withdraws emotionally, the victim can become love-starved for their affection/attention.
19. Negative Reinforcement
The manipulator will only give positive attention on a random basis to keep the victim off balance emotionally.
The goal is to increase the manipulator’s control over him or her by making them desperate for the manipulator’s love and attention.
Then the manipulator will continue to use negative behavior and only stop when the victim complies with demands.
20. Positive Reinforcement
If a manipulator gives a gift, it is only because they expect something in return or to deceive others into believing they genuinely care.
Compliance is bought and paid for with gifts, attention, approval, money, and superficial charm, interest, or concern for the victim.
As with negative reinforcement, the manipulator will retract anything positive as soon as the victim fails to comply with the manipulator’s demands, proving it was superficial all along.
21. Hurt and Rescue
A drowning person will clutch at a straw, so push them in the water, then throw them a rope. Hurting the other person does not necessarily mean physical harm, and it may not even mean making them feel bad, but it does mean creating a situation that they want to resolve.
The goal is to get the victim to play into the manipulator’s hands so they can rush to their “rescue,” only to trick the victim into trusting, believing, or becoming dependent upon them.
21. Love Bombing
Is an attempt by the manipulator to influence a person by lavish demonstrations of attention and affection. The manipulator appeals to the target’s vanity and insecurity.
“In their personal connections, narcissists frequently acquire control of others by appealing to a person’s (very understandable) desire to feel special and valuable,” Clinical Psychologist Forrest Talley explains.
“For instance, the narcissist may say, ‘Despite the fact that I have only recently met you, it is evident to me that you are very brilliant and capable. I have a very small group of friends, many of whom are similar to you, with whom I enjoy maintaining contact… I’d like for you to be a member of that group. Give me your phone number and I’ll put it to my black book of secrets.’ (Does that sound ridiculous? While this is true, it is also what one narcissist told me years ago… no, not a patient).”
Their interest in the victim will be extreme once they have found their target, and their “love” for the victim will be incredibly intense.
Its purpose is to override the target’s critical thinking skills so that the abuser can control and manipulate. Essentially they will gain control over their victim by making their emotional state dependent on the manipulator.
22. Crazy Making
The manipulator says or does something and later denies ever saying or doing such things.
The goal is to make the victim doubt their own sanity and perception of reality. Driving them slowly and systematically mad over multiple occurrences.
This effect can be heightened/increased when the manipulator employs others to act the same.
Is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.
Typically, this undermines the victim’s support group carried out by a combination of other tactics synthesized into a large-scale attack on said victim.
The manipulator justifies and makes excuses for their behavior. They create false reasons or fake angles that make their actions seem more understandable, acceptable, and appropriate through the use of spin.
This is often done around others, behind the back of the victim. The manipulator may have a different rationalization depending on the type of people they are talking to at the time.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to get the victim off the manipulator’s case so they can continue doing whatever they feel they are entitled to do while suggesting the victim is dumb, too inexperienced, or otherwise doesn’t understand the manipulator properly.
The manipulator does not acknowledge their victim’s maturity either emotionally or psychologically.
The victim is treated as if they have no knowledge of life or experience dealing with life’s challenges.
The goal is to reduce a person to an infant or child, lowering their status in the social order and stripping them of the ability to make choices, both in the victim’s mind and the manipulator’s.
It is a situation in which one family member or friend will not communicate with the victim or will be friendly with the victim while turning other family members or friends against them.
This can take many forms and usually incorporates Gaslighting. There is always a covert element that leads to pitting the victim against others without the victim being fully aware of what is taking place.
The goal is to isolate (divide) and conquer the victim while controlling their support system.
Also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking.
It’s the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. This is exemplified in a family with a golden child and a scapegoat.
The golden child can do no wrong, and the scapegoat is a complete burden and failure as a person.
The manipulator does this as an attempt to stabilize their sense of self-esteem by perceiving themselves as purely upright, admirable, or superior and others who do not conform to their will or values as purely wicked or contemptible.
26. Double Blind
In the manipulator’s eyes, the victim is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Regardless of which choice is picked, the manipulator will always point out that the person should have picked the other.
This may be accompanied by remarks such as “Well if you had done this, I would have done something great for you, but forget about it now.”
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to beat the victim down psychologically and emotionally in order to make him or her question and doubt their own intuition and judgment.
The manipulator seeks the double advantage of being able to do wrong, having their will, letting their passions rage, and the hypocritical advantage of seeming to be good, helpful, or supportive.
In short, double-mindedness is to say one thing and do another, to do unto others what they are not willing to be be done unto them.
The manipulator can only accomplish the said task by engaging in the self-deception of doublethink.
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to simultaneously hold two opinions that cancel each other out, knowing them to be contradictory, and believing in both of them.
To use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it is needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.
29. Covert Aggressive Abuse
Insults are disguised as teaching, helping, giving advice, and offering solutions. The manipulator makes them appear as a sincere attempt to help, especially to others.
This can also be followed by put-downs and disappointment from the manipulator and anyone else who they have convinced of the victim’s inferiority.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to belittle, control, and demean the victim while covering up the appearance of wrongdoing on the manipulator’s behalf.
30. Setting up to Fail
The manipulator puts their victim in such a state of stress or stressful situation that failure is almost certain, wherein the outcome can be used as ammunition to discredit and blame the victim.
This can also be done covertly, using sabotage or undermining an objective that may otherwise have been achievable. This type of manipulation tactic may be the projection of the bully’s own feelings of inadequacy onto the victim.
31. Moving the Goalpost
When the manipulator has control of the situation, they will re-define the victim’s goals, in reality, to intentionally devise a way so as to ensure that an athlete, for example, will ultimately never be able to achieve the ever-shifting goals.
Depending on how this is done the goal may be to humiliate the victim, keep them preoccupied so as to accomplish nothing else with their time, or to wear them out simply.
32. Feigning Innocence or Confusion
The manipulator suggests that any harm done was unintentional or did not do something they were accused of. The manipulator may put on a look of surprise or indignation.
The manipulator may also try to play dumb by pretending he or she doesn’t know what the victim is talking about or is confused about an important issue brought to their attention.
The goal is to make the victim question his or her own judgment and possibly their own sanity. When others are deceived by a manipulator this way the victim feels powerless.
33. Vilifying the Victim
More than any other, this tactic is a powerful means of putting the victim on the defensive while simultaneously masking the aggressive intent of the manipulator, while the manipulator falsely accuses the victim of being an abuser in response when the victim stands up for or defends themselves or their position.
The goal is to build resentment for the victim and put them on trial before they know something is wrong or make them feel guilty enough to question their position.
34. Playing the Victim Role
The manipulator portrays him or herself as a victim of circumstance, that their behavior is only because of someone else’s, or was the only way to handle the situation they accidentally found themselves in at the time.
The manipulator was “taken for a ride” by the person or people that are being manipulated.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to gain pity and sympathy or evoke compassion and, thereby, escape any blame for wrongdoing or even get support and cooperation from unsuspecting outsiders.
This is denial coupled with gaslighting.
The manipulator asserts that their behavior isn’t as harmful or irresponsible as someone else claims. Often times down playing the behavior by comparing it to others, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone,” or such logic may be present.
The goal is to make a molehill out of a mountain, thus letting the manipulator continue the abusive behavior or at least escape much of the guilt.
36. Symbolic Aggression
This could be something as small as giving a “look” or some other gesture. Often times it is slamming a door, punching a wall, or throwing something, otherwise a show of force not directed towards the victim.
A more extreme case would be brandishing a weapon, or at least making it known to the victim that a weapon does exist and at the manipulator’s disposal, but in a possibly non-threatening way.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to put the victim on warning and intimidate/terrify them into compliance with future demands.
If the manipulator is a psychopath, their intense presence and laser-like focus on their victim will cause a trance-like state. He or she will become hyper-focused on the manipulator and vice-versa.
Everything they say and do seems undeniably right if for no other reason than pure force of willpower.
The goal is to render the victim psychologically defenseless. The experiences during these trances are permanently seared into the victim’s psyche and can be difficult to recover from.
38. Brandishing Anger
The manipulator puts on an act of furious explosive anger, verbal abuse, or physical threats.
If the victim is in a trance or has previously been manipulated by the abuser, with just one incident of such behavior, the victim can become conditioned and trained to avoid upsetting, confronting, or contradicting the manipulator ever again.
The goal is to establish dominance or superiority and complete and unquestionable compliance over victims through fear.
Also referred to as heartwashing, it is the act of changing a person’s mind or heart by using extreme mental or emotional pressure or abuse.
This is typically done when the victim is extremely outmatched by their manipulator either mentally, physically, economically, or socially. This can be achieved a number of ways, but usually, the victim is in a situation they feel they can’t escape, and will involve several tactics simultaneously.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is to convince the victim into believing their viewpoints about life, people/person, or the world are immature or pathetic, and need to be realigned to the viewpoint of the manipulator.
Manipulators subject the “whipping boy” to constant negative treatment and blame they don’t deserve. Manipulators unconsciously project their own unwanted feelings and problems onto the victim.
The punishment that the scapegoat has to endure is a direct projection of the manipulator’s own insecurities.
Scapegoating is a deliberate act of torment against another person for the cathartic pleasure of the manipulator and their cohorts.
41. Gang Stalking
Is a form of community mobbing and organized stalking combined. Just like you have workplace mobbing and online mobbing, which are both fully recognized as legitimate, this is the community form.
Gang stalking is organized harassment at its best and a suicide-inducing attack at its worst. It is the targeting of an individual for revenge, jealousy, sport, or to keep them quiet, etc., by a group of people.
The goal of this manipulation tactic is an organized psychological attack that can completely destroy a person’s life while leaving little or no evidence to incriminate the perpetrators.
These manipulation tactics and narcissist control tactics work to erode, suppress, subjugate, and degrade the victim’s sense of self and diminish their social standing in an effort to dominate and control.
Everybody has possibly used or do use some of these manipulation tactics from time to time, but all of these are considered antisocial, and are indicative of personality disorders.
Oftentimes, these patterns of manipulative behavior are insidious, and they might take years to see and realize in others, especially if you have been abused before or are overly forgiving.
Like any other strategy, it becomes less effective when known and named.
Read More about Narcissist Abuse and Domestic Violence
- Drop Charges Against Your Boyfriend: A Guide
- Therapist’s Duty: Report Domestic Violence?
- Qualify for Disability with PTSD from Domestic Abuse
- Can You Drop Domestic Violence Charges? Find Out!
- Get a Restraining Order for Verbal Abuse: Know Your Rights
- Protective Orders for Verbal Abuse: Know Your Rights
- Jail Time for Domestic Violence: How Long?
- Dropping Domestic Violence Charges: A Guide
- Understanding What is a Domestic Dispute
- Learn How to Break a Trauma Bond with a Narcissist
- Discover Your Bonds: Take Our Trauma Bonding Test Today
- Understanding the 7 Stages of Trauma Bond: A Guide
- Understanding the Difference: Trauma Bond versus Love
- Explore Trauma Bonding Quotes – Wisdom in Overcoming Painful Bonds
- Transform Your Life with Expert Codependency Treatment
- Join Codependency Support Groups for Empowerment & Growth
- Journey to Freedom: A Guide to Codependency Recovery
- Recognizing Codependency Symptoms: A Comprehensive Guide
- Unlock Healing with Codependency Therapy – Start Today!
- Best Codependency Books: Guidance for Healthier Relationships
- Effective Steps on How to Overcome Codependency Today
- Understanding Codependency and Trauma Bond: A Guide
- Breaking the Chains: Understanding Codependency and Addiction
- Unlock Your Freedom: Codependency Self-Help Guide
- Recognizing the Key Signs of Codependency – Know Your Patterns
- Understanding Codependency in Relationships: A Comprehensive Guide
- Understanding & Seeking Legal Advice for Parental Alienation
- Experience Successful Reunification Therapy Today
- Understanding Child Custody Battles and Parental Alienation
- Finding Your Path: Healing from Parental Alienation Guide
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)
988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.
The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org
Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish
Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228
American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222
National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255
LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)
The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)
The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com
The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.
‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
- GoodTherapy.org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: https://aamft.org/Directories/Find_a_Therapist.asp
- Emergency: 911
- Hotline: 1-888-353-2273
- YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/
UK & Republic of Ireland
- Emergency: 112 or 999
- Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
- Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
- Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
- Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
- YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/