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Types of Manipulation Tactics

7 min read

By Clarissa Vanner

  • Manipulative behavior is a form of emotional abuse.
  • Manipulators will use tactics to gain power and influence over their victims.
  • While it may take a while to recognize it, manipulative behavior needs to be addressed because it can take a serious toll on your mental health.
  • Reach out for help from a professional if you think you’re in a manipulative relationship.

Though you hope it never happens to you, manipulation tactics can be used on anyone and in all different types of relationships from romantic to family relationships. Manipulation can even occur in the workplace.

To make matters worse, sometimes manipulation can be hard to identify. And in some cases, it can be so subtle and go on for so long that you may start to question yourself instead of the person who is manipulating you. Manipulative people use tactics to get what they want and the best way to protect yourself is by getting informed. Let’s take a look at the different types of manipulation tactics and what they look like.

What Is Manipulation

In short, manipulative behavior is a form of emotional abuse. The goal is to exploit, control or influence another individual to gain power or influence over them. A manipulative abuser will try to control how you feel, think, and behave in order to get what they want.

Sometimes this may be a sign that the individual has a severe mental health disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the different types of manipulation tactics so you can spot the signs if it happens to you.

Lying and Blaming

Individuals with manipulative tendencies are often very skilled liars. Common things they lie about are incidents and things they said or did. Lying is used to control or coerce you. Unfortunately, since they’re so good at it, you may end up questioning your own sanity.

Manipulators also often use blame to gain control. This is their way of avoiding responsibility for their words and actions. Blaming is also used to help shift the focus off of themselves, explains Verywell Health.


Gaslighting is another common manipulation tactic. The goal of gaslighting is to make someone question their judgments and reality. Verywell Mind explains, “Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to feel unsure about their perceptions of the world and even wonder if they are losing their sanity.”

It’s important to be on the lookout for signs of gaslighting because being subject to it can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. If you’re suddenly doubting your feelings and reality, questioning your judgment, or feeling vulnerable and insecure, you may be subjected to gaslighting.


Projection occurs when the manipulator claims an emotion they’re feeling is actually being experienced by someone else, explains Psych Central. For example, if the manipulator is feeling jealous they may project that feeling onto you to avoid changing their behavior.

It’s important to be on the lookout for projection because falling victim to it can cause you to “erode your trust in your own reality,” Maggie Holland, a licensed counselor in the state of Washington tells the source.


Guilt-tripping is a behavior that involves making someone feel guilty. Mind Body Green explains that it’s a form of manipulation with the goal to make a person feel bad or to get them to do something you want by making them feel guilty.

The source says common signs of guilt-tripping include:

  • Making you feel like you owe them something.
  • Behavior or comments that make you feel guilty or bad.
  • Acting upset but refusing to explain what’s wrong.
  • Expressing negative feelings about you in indirect ways.
  • Withholding affection or attention as punishment.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior.


When two people disagree a manipulator may use triangulation to get what they want. This tactic involves strategically pulling a third person into the disagreement to sway which side “wins,” explains Choosing Therapy.

The manipulator will often frontload the information to the third person to make their side more favorable. In some cases, triangulation is used to “increase the victim’s feelings of isolation, which increases their dependence on the manipulator,” explains the source.

Moving the Goal Post

Moving the goal post means the manipulator “changes the rules of a situation midway through in order to prevent the other person from succeeding,” explains Choosing Therapy. For example, if you provide evidence to validate your argument, or if you take action to meet their request, the manipulator will set up another expectation or demand more proof.

The ultimate goal of this tactic is to keep the victim in a constant state of chasing their approval. Be on the lookout for signs of this tactic and do what you can to avoid it. Know that you are enough, and you don’t need their approval to be deemed worthy.


Name-calling is another tactic manipulators will use to belittle their victims and make them feel like they don’t deserve better treatment. Name-calling doesn’t necessarily mean they call you hurtful names, sometimes it involves negatively labeling your personality traits or behaviors.

It’s also common for the manipulator to start small, meaning they may only do it occasionally, but then over time when their victim gets used to it, they’ll do it more often.


Be on the lookout for flattery. This manipulation tactic may seem genuine on the surface but people with manipulative tendencies use it to their advantage.

Psych central points out that there is a strong difference between a compliment and flattery, in that a compliment is given sincerely and with no expectation of gain. Flattery on the other hand is typically used as a manipulation tactic to gain emotional leverage. Ultimately, the manipulator will use it expecting something in return.

Love Bombing

Love bombing is another manipulation tactic that can be hard to spot at first. This tactic is manipulation through excessive attention. It often involves “showering you inappropriately with gifts, compliments, affection, and time,” explains Psych Central.

The manipulator often uses this tactic to quickly build trust and intimacy with the goal to increase your devotion to them. And while this may feel great at first, over time the attention usually stops and it can leave you feeling isolated. The source says some effective ways to avoid love bombing include regularly spending time with friends and loved ones as well as enjoying your own interests outside of this person.

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive aggressive behavior is “a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them,” explains the Mayo Clinic. This type of behavior can take on different forms from using sarcasm to pouting, or even using backhanded compliments.

This manipulation tactic is used to keep the victim in a state of monitoring and trying to anticipate and adjust to the manipulator’s mood and reactions. Choosing Therapy says the goal is to keep the focus and power on the manipulator to prevent the victim from evaluating their own feelings in the relationship.

Criticizing or Judging

Manipulators will also often make harmful and damaging statements as a way to gain power. The goal is to make their victim feel inadequate and inferior, explains Verywell Health.

If someone criticizes or judges your appearance, personality, or circumstances repeatedly, you may be a victim of manipulation. They may also be quick to point out your insecurities.

Taking Control of Your Life

A person with manipulative tendencies will not only try to control you emotionally, they may try to control how you live your life too. According to Choosing Therapy, a manipulator may try to control how you spend your money or prevent you from furthering your education. They may even dedicate who you can and can’t spend your free time with.

If you’re feeling isolated from family and friends or feel like you don’t have control over your life you may be a victim of manipulation. Reach out for help.

What to Do if You’re in a Manipulative Relationship

While it may take a while to recognize it, manipulative behavior needs to be addressed. It can take a serious toll on the victim’s mental health and it’s best to deal with it as soon as possible. Verywell Mind says you can consider having an honest and direct conversation to address the behavior. Try to name specific examples and explain how it affects you.

Seeking professional help may also be necessary. The source says “a therapist can help you decide where to set healthy boundaries and how to know when to walk away from a manipulative person if necessary.” Since manipulative behavior can be very isolating, it’s important that you lean on support from people you trust like close friends and family.

Junior Managing Editor

Clarissa is the Junior Managing Editor of ActiveBeat. She aspires to live a healthy lifestyle by staying active and eating foods that nourish her body, but she isn't afraid to indulge in a little chocolate here and there! Clarissa loves cooking, being outdoors, and spending time with her dog. In her free time, you'll find her relaxing in her hammock or curled up on the couch reading a book.

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