Most people resort to telling lies or using flattery at some point in their lives, or blame something on the proverbial dog eating or ruining their work. Whether they do it to protect their ego, to get what they want, or just to save the situation, all this seems pretty innocent when compared to manipulative and toxic people using similar techniques to overpower their victims and force them into submission. For these social predators, hunting for prey, pathological lying, and using manipulation is a way of life, and they have no feelings of empathy, pity or remorse. You may think you will never fall victim to psychological and emotional manipulators, but you are almost guaranteed to run into a few truly toxic people in your work environment or private life. So let’s list the most common techniques manipulators employ and try to understand how these work.
1. Idealization to devaluation
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The idealization phase when you are showered with compliments, attention, affection, admiration, or adoration is meant to get you to like the manipulator and to believe that your friendship or relationship is very special. This tactic ensures that the victim thinks the manipulator is a friend, someone who loves them, or has their best interests at heart. Devaluation follows soon, and it involves criticizing and demeaning the things that were idealized and admired initially.
2. Creating a bond
- I am just like you;
- I like you;
- I understand you better than others do;
- you can trust me to keep your secrets;
- I am the perfect friend or partner for you.
These help manipulators to create a bond quickly and serve as "reasons" you should “trust” them although being nothing but empty words. This tactic allows them to find out your insecurities and weak points, and then target them in order to instill in you a sense of guilt and unworthiness. So excessive or incongruous compliments and flattery should be a red flag, just as whenever your new partner devalues others while admiring and praising you. How a person treats others or speaks about someone else is most likely to be the way they will treat you in the future.
3. Shaming and guilt-baiting
“You should be ashamed” and “How can you be so…?” are favorite sayings of toxic people. This is an effective method of forcing someone into a self-doubting and guilt-ridden condition, and a perfect way to destroy a victim’s self-esteem. Targeting a person’s soft spots is just as effective as unreasonable blaming and holding a victim responsible for their or someone else’s ‘faults’, unhappiness and failures. Manipulative and toxic people do this in order to disorient, discredit, and frustrate you, while making you feel guilty for any thoughts and opinions that differ from their own.
Avoid revealing any of your soft spots or past traumas to people who aren't your long-time friends or haven't proven their loyalty and good nature by something other than words. If you are dealing with a toxic person, this information will be used against you. Avoid people who often try to make you feel guilty — most likely, they are manipulating you.
4. Negative humor, insulting remarks, verbal abuse
Toxic people often put their victims down using harsh remarks, hurtful comments and poking at their weaknesses. Disguised as humor or sarcasm, this is a way to make you feel inferior and insecure — the aggressor hopes to manipulate you and degrade you while maintaining his superiority. The contemptuous smirk, condescending manner and unfriendly tone will certainly make such “humorous” comments feel different from jokes, but if you are annoyed or outraged, the aggressor will try to silence you by accusing you of having no sense of humor.
Manipulative people enjoy making you feel bad and getting away with it, saying these are “just jokes,” but such attempts to put you down should be taken as a warning sign, and called out firmly and assertively. Make it clear that you won’t tolerate that or silence yourself because of someone else’s superiority complex.
5. Control and shifting expectations
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Manipulative and abusive people intend to get you addicted or dependent on them, to place doubt, fear and uncertainty in your mind in order to maintain a position of dominance and control. These predators distort the reality of their victims and turn their differing opinions into character flaws, convincing them of personal inadequacy, also guilt tripping and holding them responsible for their ‘faults’ until they become prone to self-blame and start catering to all the manipulator’s needs. Still, no matter how hard you try to do what the manipulators want in order to please them, such people will never be satisfied. Even if you manage to reach their expectations, they will come up with different ones or will raise the expectations higher and higher. This is known as the “moving the goalposts” tactic, while the shifting expectations may not even be related to each other. It ensures you will never be good enough in the eyes of manipulators, and even if you are trying to fulfill their every need, it won’t change the terrible way they treat you.
6. Misrepresenting your words and thoughts
Toxic people often try to control and confuse you by claiming that you are imagining or forgetting things, or that they know exactly why you do or say something. Stay away from those who constantly talk like they’ve got you all figured out – this “mind reading” is nothing but reiterating a phrase “I knew you’d say/do that.” It is only meant to keep you confused and anxious, and to impose psychological superiority over you. Toxic and manipulative people are also quick to put words in your mouth or to manufacture an argument out of thin air should you ever disagree with them or challenge them in any way. They may even use rage and aggression to shock you into submission and make you live with a constant fear of saying something that may infuriate them.
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This is one of the nastiest tricks truly toxic people use to validate their abusive behavior, to distract you from evaluating the situation, or to coerce you into ceding unreasonable requests and demands. It involves adding a third person’s opinion or interests to the situation in order to disorient you and disguise or misrepresent something. However, it doesn’t change the nature of manipulators and toxic people, who never care about anyone else’s opinion or interests but their own – no matter what they say.
Triangulating children and other family members to fool you into thinking you are doing something for them, and not for the manipulator are certainly tricks that deliver. However, these are usually only mean lies, just as toxic people ‘reporting’ what others say about you or how they agree with the abuser against you. Even if such things are not fabricated statements, the ‘third party’ is simply being manipulated as well.
8. Walking on eggshells
Toxic people will do everything they can to isolate you from your friends and family, to sabotage your goals or activities and things you enjoyed before – because they want to be the center of attention at all times. Such people will destroy everything else in your life or strongly associate it with disrespect, intimidation, guilt, and abuse. They will punish you for any disagreement or not complying with their demands, and will have you walking on eggshells as you never know what mood they will be in, why they are dissatisfied with you, and what might provoke their anger. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the victims of manipulators are “trained” over time to become afraid of the abuser’s reaction to everything and of doing something that sets them off. Toxic people, abusers and narcissists do this to ensure that you are focused only on how you are going to please them and meet their next expectation.
9. Projecting flaws
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To a toxic person, the problem is never theirs and someone else is always blamed or held responsible for everything that’s wrong with them. Self-improvement is the word that is absent from their vocabulary and their thoughts alike. Such people love to play the “blameshifting game” – this tactic is also called “projection” because every manipulator will claim that his flaws are nothing but yours or someone else’s being projected on him. This is also a handy tool used to make you feel guilty for their behavior and ashamed of yourself.
The only case when toxic people may admit some of their wrongdoings is when you decide to leave them. However, this is only done to “suck” their victims back into a relationship with them using fake remorse and empty promises of change, which never happens.
Hoovering is a pathological form of behavior that is often effective because the manipulator knows the victim’s weak spots and how to target these areas. Toxic people will claim they have “changed” and want to return to you because they care, but they are simply unrepentant compulsive liars willing to exploit, demean and hurt you some more – or actually, even more horrifically. This is a punishment for standing up to the abuse, and for going back to it. Sadly, getting sucked back in over the same promises and “repentant” gestures is often a part of the destructive cycle that many victims of emotional as well as physical abuse find so difficult to break away from. However, each time they go back, they experience even more severe incidents of abuse.
Once you realize that you aren’t in a normal relationship but are dealing with a toxic person and are a part of their sick game, choose not to play that game and don’t be tricked into giving them yet another chance. Break the cycle, get help, and cut such people off completely because they do not change and will continue to abuse others psychologically, sexually, physically, and financially, with no guilt or remorse.
The material in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the advice of a certified specialist.