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How to Disarm a Master Manipulator and Reclaim Your Power

Dealing with master manipulators is emotionally and mentally draining. Unfortunately, we can’t always escape these types and are forced to deal with them. That’s why it’s important to learn strategies to disarm a master manipulator in order to maintain healthy boundaries.

Signs of Manipulation

To start, manipulative people are typically charming. They will act like your best friend and be very understanding of your problems. However, they want something in return for their seeming empathy. They will say that they want to help you, but what they really want is to use you for some form of 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

As well as many other red flags that let you know you’re dealing with a manipulative relationship and should be planning an exit strategy.

What are manipulators afraid of?

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 a terrible place and that everyone else is just as bad as them. If you have a manipulative person in your life, it might be time to break the cycle and learn how to deal with a manipulative person.

Manipulators are afraid of being found out and being seen as fake or phony. Manipulators often have no self-confidence so they need validation from others all the time to bolster their ego and give them some sense of security. In order for manipulators to manipulate someone else, they first need to control themselves and not let anyone see their true nature.

Wooden woman disposes on manipulative man into trash can
how to disarm a master manipulator

9 Techniques to Disarm a Master Manipulator

Once you’ve identified some common signs of manipulation, the question becomes, “Now what?” Ideally, we’d live in a world where we could choose to avoid toxic people at all costs, but we don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes our toxic relationships are unavoidable.

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. Sometimes this also looks like employing physical touch to soften your resolve such as a pat on the back or shoulder. One way to disarm a master manipulator is to take several steps back when someone is trying to use physical proximity to put pressure on 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 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 intentionally 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 that are irrelevant to this conversation to try 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? Not likely. 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 completely 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’re characterizing 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.

man and woman giving the silent treatment on the couch
strategies for dealing with manipulative people

5. Set boundaries.

Boundaries are incredibly important, especially when dealing with manipulative people with whom you cannot so easily detach 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 while you are at work or after a certain 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 so long as you stay firm and consistent in your boundaries, things will change. 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. Turn it back on them. If someone is accusing you of always [fill in the blank], have that discussion.

“Can you give me examples of 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 emotion and they know exactly how to push buttons to elicit a negative response from us. We can see it coming a mile away.

Don’t participate.

If you see a call from a family member that you know is going to be drama or filled with half-truths. Ignore it. If they persist and you allow a conversation to start, 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 other people in order 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.

Final Thoughts on Disarming a Master Manipulator

Manipulation is about power and control. The more you’re able to take back those things from manipulators, the less they’re able to make your life miserable. The strategies we’ve discussed are useful tools, but it’s also important to get support.

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 that you’ve incurred via these relationships.

Access should not be a barrier to help.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a therapist who has the knowledge and background to help you navigate your specific issues, try BetterHelp. Learn more about my counseling journey with BetterHelp or visit their website below.

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