Signs to KNOW if Someone is Manipulative
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that manipulative people don’t go out of their way to engage with people who aren’t wise to them. They only spend time and energy on people who they have identified as perceptive. Manipulative people target perceptive people because they have the need to neutralise a threat. They’re trying to manage you because they can see that you’ve smelt BS and they’re afraid that you’ll eventually locate the source and call it out.
Not only that, but you also present a shiny, delicious challenge to them. They want to see how long they can fool you, string you along, and mess with your head. Blissfully unaware people are not a challenge for a manipulator. They’re boring, so manipulators tend to leave them alone, unless they do something which threatens their sense of control. Unconsciously tripping a wire, so to speak.
Perceptive people on the other hand… manipulative people zero in on those ones and dedicate their undivided attention because they need to simultaneously neutralise the threat, and also get off on the power trip of controlling a challenging target.
Now, manipulators are not necessarily conscious of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, all they know is this overwhelming urge to control a situation because it has triggered their adrenaline and other neurochemicals with the heady combination of a threat mixed with a challenge. In many cases, the manipulative person will confuse this chemical reaction with “love” or infatuation.
They will do the MOST to manage the perceptions of someone who has the potential ability to see through their carefully curated façade with various manipulation tactics such as love-bombing, which we well examine very shortly, and try to convince their target that the alarms going off internally are actually signs of love.
Hollywood portrays this kind of dynamic as “love” all the time, so we’re culturally acclimated to it as well, which doesn’t help.
Now, if someone is so perceptive, how do they get fooled and why do they stay so long in a toxic dynamic with a manipulative person? Seems contradictory…
The thing about perceptive people, is they have this driving need to get to the truth. In the same way that manipulative people have a need to duck and dodge the truth, perceptive people are driven by the search for clarity and honesty. It’s an itch they must scratch, so a manipulative person represents an itch to the perceptive person, and it must be satisfied.
So you get this tension between their polarised urges. One for truth, the other for lies. Neither is willing to walk away unfulfilled, so they stay enmeshed.
If you’re a truth-seeking perceptive person, you will never find a satisfying truth with a manipulative person. The more you try to get to the bottom of things, the deeper they make the hole. It is an endless quest and the destination is invariably empty. These toxic people will incessantly bug your brain whether they remain engaged, or choose to let go and walk away. That’s the problem a perceptive person has, and it’s the thing which will ensnare them.
You have to learn to let go, and leave it be, unsatisfied and unable to complete the quest for truth.
So… let’s have a look at how a manipulative, toxic person attempts to coercively control a perceptive person, and why the perceptive person ignores their intuition and stays.
Sign #1 Manipulative People are Humble-Braggers.
I have literally heard manipulators call themselves humble, especially in church where it is seen as the hallmark of a true believer. However, truly humble people aren’t busy telling anyone, they’re just living their lives in peace. Healthy, good people would rather let their actions speak for more than they do, but they also don’t congratulate themselves on doing something nice in the first place. It’s just a normal part of their existence to look outwardly at the needs of others without a performative level of self-sacrifice. They still take care of their own needs without feeling bad about it, and are generally pretty balanced.
Humble-braggers, on the other hand, would much rather tell you incessantly how great they are above having actions which show it. Half the time, they’re all talk and no action, but even the smallest contribution will be extolled as a massive virtue on their part and they will ensure that others recognise them for it.
You might hear such phrases from the humble-bragger as; “I am such a nice guy/gal. Everybody says so, especially me.” or; “I’m always doing stuff for other people, even when they don’t want me to.” or; “I have such a servant heart. I’m practically Jesus.” or; “You know, people tell me all the time how talented and special I am, but I don’t let it go to my head… because I’m just so humble.”
This type of person was especially repugnant to Jesus:
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
Matthew 6:1-4 (NKJV)
Sign #2 Self-Righteous Gossipers who Fish for Information
This is all part of the façade management of a manipulative humble-bragger. They tend to congratulate themselves on (and put faith in) their own strength and righteousness instead of attributing any improvements or good works to the God being active in their lives. Jesus told a parable about this type of person:
Also [Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV)
You will find this person being rather indiscreet about other people’s struggles and spreading gossip about people who confide in them or who have shown vulnerability in front of them. It is usually dressed up as “concern” for someone’s welfare, but realistically it’s a way of comparing themselves favourably with other people. For example, a guy at my church told me all about the way another member of the church used to get drunk before they were saved and how it was so great to see her living soberly now. This information was not his to share. She had not told me about her previous struggles herself, which means that he was divulging private and potentially shameful information about another person and trading it as a form of social currency. This statement alone might not be a red flag, but in combination with other patterns of behaviour, you can start to see a picture of who you’re dealing with.
Because of this behaviour, you might notice that you are reluctant to disclose too much information about yourself to this person, and you will probably also find that they ask a lot of personal questions. Yes, they are fishing for information and gathering intel about you which they will disclose to other people as a form of social currency. They might also weaponise your fears and insecurities, storing them up for a later date to use against you or for mounting a smear campaign when you eventually call them out. Your alarm system is going off for a reason.
Sign #3 They Force Intimacy
This is related to the previous sign, which is a form of boundary crossing and forced intimacy to try and extract information about you. They might tell you really personal stuff about themselves when they barely know you as a means of getting you to open up about yourself. If you notice a tendency towards TMI, you should probably take note of that.
The way they talk to you in general might also be overly familiar compared to the actual depth of your relationship. They’ll create a nickname for you, or leap into very personal stuff as soon as they have said hello, or they might talk about your personality as though they are intimately familiar with who you are as an individual. Sometimes they use touch as a means of breaking boundaries, or they just turn up at your house, give you gifts for no reason, talk about your friends and family as though they know them, or even try and approach your family and friends without an invitation, telling people you know that they are you bestest buddy who has known you such a long time and is so intimately involved with you.
Another method of forcing intimacy is by pretending to have an interest in the same things you enjoy, or perhaps magnifying common ground in an attempt to convince you that meeting them was fate. You’re so perfectly aligned, it must be destiny.
They latch on hard and fast, then become difficult to get away from because they make sure their tentacles encroach into as many facets of your life as possible.
Sign #4 Triangulation, Isolation and Domination
The first step in this strategy is to infiltrate as many of your other relationships such as family, friends and work, as they possibly can. They ingratiate themselves with those closest to you so they are able to simultaneously manipulate how people view them, AND how people view you. They will start sharing gossip about you with others in order to change how you are seen and to provide the favourable comparison they need for their façade. Some people will congratulate them on putting up with you, but decent people will be repulsed by their behaviour without quite knowing why.
In order to be seen as an authority on who you are and claim an ability to tell others who you are, this person might be all over your social media feed so they can be seen prominently by everyone. Liking, commenting, jumping into conversations with people they don’t know, speaking on your behalf, inserting themselves into your relationships in a way which has not been earned thus far.
They have inserted themselves between you and other people to create a position for themselves which is both a pivotal lynchpin of triangulation, as well as a wedge which drives a divide between you and any other supportive relationships. They need to isolate you to obtain maximum control and dominate your life. This is why they must know all the details of what you have said to anyone else and what that person said back to you.
Keeping tabs on your social media can also be a form of stalking if they’re always the first person there, which serves to subtly intimidate you. Eventually it will progress into demanding to know where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing with your time when they cannot monitor you personally. They might also start demanding to have access to your accounts for extra control.
The guy at my church I mentioned before had launched a campaign of flooding my Facebook feed to the point I had to block him, and at church he would personally come and stand next to me every single time I talked to anyone else so that he could appear intimate with me and to also hear the conversation. He would then message me and ask more questions about the content of my personal interactions, which were none of his business.
These people can be so overbearing, like the meanest, loudest seagull at the beach, that other people just back off from you. It’s too much trouble to be your friend.
When you are isolated, you become more vulnerable and potentially dependent on the abuser. Their ability to control you is way stronger because you no longer have healthy interactions to counter the toxic narrative, so you will doubt your own perceptions and become susceptible to gaslighting.
Sign #5 You’re Lost in the Woods, Trying to Hit a Moving Target
This is the phase where you doubt your own sanity.
Because a manipulative abuser is playing with your mind, they present a constant stream of moving targets in the form of lies and half-truths which distract you because you keep trying to pin them down and figure out what is real or not real. The truth is perpetually out of reach, either by them deliberately withholding it and claiming you have no right to know anything, or by weaving a web of deceptions which you cannot unravel.
They also tend to create havoc wherever they go, deliberately. There is no time to sort out the first dumpster fire before they have set fire another trash can alight and thrown a Molotov cocktail into a passing car. Their chaos keeps you busy with the fire-extinguisher. You don’t have time or space to sort out your own thoughts and feelings, which is exactly how they want you; frazzled.
The bewildered and stressed version of you makes their lies look legitimate. They can now blame you for everything and look like a saint for sticking by you.
Sign #6 Playing the Victim
When I confronted this dude at church about his behaviour he deflected accountability by saying how humble he was and also how “hurt” he was that I had pointed out how he had made me uncomfortable by violating my boundaries. He then proceeded to publicly appeal for sympathy on Facebook (my friend sent me a screenshot) and fish for pity.
This is classic manipulation.
They always position themselves as the victim in any narrative so they can avoid being held accountable for their behaviour and maintain whatever lies they’ve told other people about you and about themselves. No doubt there is some sort of smear campaign out there which you haven’t yet heard of, but it will be designed to make you look crazy and irrational.
There Be No Justice Here…
The earlier you can spot a manipulator and call them out, the better it is for your wellbeing, even if you have to cut your losses with some other relationships. One of the biggest problems with manipulative people is they choose their targets strategically, so it’s not just perceptive people they zero in on, but also new people and someone who might not have an established support network.
If a physically vulnerable situation doesn’t exist organically, they will artificially create one by convincing you to move far away from your family and friends. This is usually presented as a way of living some future-faking fantasy life, or perhaps solving a problem they created in the first place.
Because they triangulate so much, they tend to make themselves indispensable within an organisation or friend group. They burrow in like a tick. That means you will probably find yourself on the outside if you take a stand and refuse to put up with their manipulations.
Don’t let that intimidate you, but also realise that coercive control is an already dangerous situation for your health, and leaving or exposing them amps up the danger to maximum levels. They may become violent, especially if they have a history, but even if they don’t. These people cannot be trusted, no matter how many empty promises they make, or how pathetic they make themselves look. You’re dealing with a snake in the grass and it will strike if it feels threatened, so make sure you seek help from organisations which specialise in this issue and have an exit strategy. Don’t tip your hand until you’re safe.
Don’t prioritise justice or retribution, because you probably won’t get it and it might cost you dearly instead. The only thing you can do is extract yourself from the danger zone and get clear. If you believe you can prosecute later, do so when you have recovered your strength. Otherwise, know that the Lord your God fights on your behalf. Vengeance is His: He will repay.