Dealing with manipulative people is emotionally and mentally draining. Unfortunately, we can’t always escape them, so we learn to deal with them instead.
That’s why it’s crucial to learn strategies to put a manipulator in their place and set healthy boundaries.
- Signs of Manipulation: A Brief Overview
- 10 Techniques to Put a Manipulator in Their Place
- Final Thoughts on Putting a Manipulator in Their Place
Signs of Manipulation: A Brief Overview
Before we dive in, let’s quickly go over how to spot a manipulator.
To start, manipulative people are typically charming, and they will act like your best friend who understands your problems.
However, they want something in return for their seeming empathy.
They will say they want to help you, but they want to use you for some benefit. Some key warning signs of manipulation include:
- Playing the victim
- Weaponizing guilt
- Gaslighting techniques
- Being passive-aggressive
- Distorting reality
- Behaving like a martyr
- Weaponizing the silent treatment
These are just some red flags that let you know you’re dealing with a manipulative relationship.
If you can’t remove this person from your life, you will need tactics to handle them.
Let’s unpack what motivates manipulators and delve into strategies to disarm them.
What are manipulators afraid of?
Manipulators are afraid of being found out and seen as fake or phony.
Despite their outward appearance and behavior, they often have no self-confidence. Hence, manipulators need validation from others to bolster their egos and give them some sense of security.
For manipulators to manipulate someone else, they first need to control themselves and not let anyone see their true nature.
Manipulators like to make themselves feel better by making others feel worse. They will try to make you feel sorry for them by making you think that the world is terrible and everyone is either out to get them are just as bad.
Their primary goal is to make you doubt yourself and your intuition. Manipulators use a variety of tactics to do this and are typically good at people reading.
But they aren’t evil geniuses or unbeatable. You just need the right strategies.
10 Techniques to Put a Manipulator in Their Place
As I mentioned, living in a world where we could avoid toxic people at all costs would be great, but we don’t always have that luxury.
Perhaps you have a coworker or boss who is a skilled manipulator. Or maybe there is a family member, spouse, or adult child who uses manipulation tactics to get their way with you or other family members.
Sometimes, it’s complicated.
For those situations where it isn’t entirely possible to avoid a manipulator, there are techniques you can employ to disarm the manipulators in your life.
1. Take a step back. Literally.
A common tactic used to intimidate is to encroach on personal space. An example might be a manipulator attempting to pat your on the back or shoulder to weaken your resolve.
One way to disarm a master manipulator is to take several steps back when someone is trying to use physical proximity to pressure you to do something you don’t want to do.
2. Make eye contact.
Manipulators are good at using eye contact to get what they want and assert their dominance.
It’s referred to as the hypnotic gaze. It’s when someone sets their focus on you in an intense way that is designed to test boundaries.
To be on the receiving end of this gaze is, at best, awkward, but it can also feel intimidating.
Give them a taste of their own medicine.
This may require practice if this person is adept at throwing you off your game, but it’s highly effective.
If you feel like someone is trying to manipulate you into doing something you do not want to do, give a firm “No” and maintain steady eye contact as you do it.
3. Call them out.
Another way to disarm a master manipulator is to let them know you know what they’re doing.
Call them out.
If someone is gaslighting you or asking leading questions to elicit a negative response from you, it is within your power not to participate.
You can say things like:
- “If we aren’t going to have an honest discussion about this, I’m not going to participate.”
- “You’re bringing up things irrelevant to this conversation to get me angry, and I’m not doing it.”
- “You’re asking me to do extra on this project. Why would I do that?”
- “I think you’re bringing this up to start a fight, so I’m ending this conversation.”
Will that be the end of it?
Manipulators will ramp up their tactics when faced with pushback, but that’s how you know you’re taking back your power. They hate that and will lash out, but if you hold firm, they can’t take advantage of you.
4. Stay emotionally neutral when dealing with them.
Manipulators weaponize emotions for their own gain. If they can get you worked up, angry, feeling guilty, or ashamed, they can play upon your vulnerability.
One way to disarm someone who insists on pushing buttons is to respond with emotional neutrality. It might take every ounce of strength to do it, but instead of reacting in an emotionally explosive way, take the emotion entirely out of your response and then walk away.
- “I’m sorry you feel this way. I’m finished with our conversation.”
- “I disagree with how you characterize me, and I’m going to leave now.”
- “I’m not interested in going there with you, so I’m hanging up.”
Neutrality works best when you immediately remove access from this person for however long you need.
That way, you can take time to decompress, process, and decide how you want to proceed (if at all) with this individual.
5. Set boundaries.
Boundaries are essential, especially when dealing with manipulative people you cannot so easily detach from, like grown children, parents, siblings, coworkers, etc.
We set boundaries to protect ourselves from people and things that disrupt our ability to function in healthy ways. This looks different depending on the situation.
Examples of boundaries you might set are:
- Telling someone that you won’t answer their calls or texts at work or after a particular time of day (like 9 PM).
- Saying you won’t lend money anymore and cut off conversations about finances.
- Refusing to talk about topics that routinely end in arguments.
Be clear about your boundaries, but also confident. Use “I” statements when setting boundaries.
“I can’t lend you money anymore. I can be your sister, but not your bank.”
There will be pushback, but things will change as long as you stay firm and consistent in your boundaries.
This is not to say the other person will change (though one can hope), but you will no longer be dealing with the same drama as before.
6. Don’t give them a motive.
If someone is trying to take advantage of a situation at work or a task you need help with to employ their go-to manipulation tactics, take the opportunity away from them.
No thanks! You don’t need help with that after all.
7. Make them be specific.
Manipulators love to weaponize generalizations. This looks like accusing you of “always” doing something damaging to them.
Ask for examples, and turn it back on them. If someone accuses you of always [fill in the blank], have that discussion.
“Can you give examples of other times I’ve done [fill in the blank] so we can fix this?”
Chances are this will stump them.
8. Don’t give them what they want.
Abusive people feed off negative emotions and know exactly how to push buttons to elicit a negative response from us. We can see it coming a mile away.
If you see a call from a family member you know will be drama or filled with half-truths, ignore it.
If they persistently call and you decide to speak to them, don’t let it become toxic.
It is within your power to tell someone, “Hey, I’m not going to do this with you. I can’t do X for you, and you have to accept that.”
9. Avoid isolation.
Emotional manipulators work hard to keep you dependent on them emotionally, financially, romantically, professionally, or any combination of these.
They will often manipulate you into withdrawing from relationships with others to exert more control over you.
Having the wherewithal to recognize that you aren’t spending enough time with other friends and loved ones is the first step towards breaking free of a manipulator’s grip over you.
You need a strong support system and healthy relationships to help ground you. It is much easier to recognize toxic relationships when we have better situations to compare them to.
10. Try Fogging
Fogging is a technique used in assertiveness training. It’s another tactic you can use to deflate a situation and deal with someone who is being aggressive towards us.
You find the kernel of truth in whatever the person is saying, acknowledge it, and then move away from the conversation.
It allows you to address what is true without engaging in the exaggeration or untrue parts of the criticism levied at you.
Here’s how fogging works in practice:
Coworker: You didn’t enter our meeting into the time tracker!
You: You’re right; I didn’t do that.
Coworker: You always forget to do this! It messes up our data tracking!
You: I did forget today and understand its impact on our data tracking.
Coworker: I shouldn’t have to hunt you down weekly for time tracking! This is ridiculous!
You: You did have to hunt me down today, and I can see how that is frustrating. (In this case, you aren’t accepting the premise of ‘always’ but calmly acknowledging that today he had to do this.)
When employing the fogging technique, you remain calm and emotionally detached in the face of aggression.
It’s an effective strategy because you aren’t engaging with the exaggerated bits or allowing yourself to be sucked into an argument.
This deflates the energy of the situation but keeps you firmly rooted in what’s true in this scenario. You never concede points that aren’t true.
For example, in the above scenario, if you have only forgotten 2 out of 10 times to enter your tracking information, your coworker is being hyperbolic in his discussion with you.
You don’t have to agree with things that aren’t true, but you can acknowledge what is true: that you did forget today.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to put a manipulator in their place, check out this video:
Final Thoughts on Putting a Manipulator in Their Place
Manipulation is about power and control. The more you can take back those things from manipulators, the less they’re able to make your life miserable.
The strategies discussed are helpful tools, but getting support is also important.
Manipulation is not your fault.
You are not weak if you find it hard to employ some of these tactics, especially against loved ones.
If you feel particularly trapped in a manipulative situation, seek professional help or counseling. A trained therapist can give you better insight and help you work through some of the damage you’ve incurred via these relationships.