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How To Put A Manipulator In Their Place (And Take Back Power)

Manipulative people are emotionally and mentally draining. Unfortunately, we can’t always escape them. 

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

Before we discuss disarming manipulators, let’s quickly go over how to spot one.

Manipulative people are usually charming. In the beginning, they will act like your best friend and confidant, someone who understands your problems and “gets” you. 

In professional settings, this might look like a coworker who is overly welcoming and tries to play the role of a friend instead of a colleague soon after meeting you.

Kindness is a means to an end with these types.

So when the initial love bombing phase passes, their true colors will come out. That’s when the manipulative behavior shifts from earning your trust to getting you to do what they want.

Some warning signs of manipulation include:

  • Playing the victim if they don’t get their way
  • Weaponizing guilt if you tell them no
  • Gaslighting techniques
  • Being passive-aggressive
  • Distorting reality
  • Making you question your interpretation of events
  • Behaving like a martyr any time you ask for help
  • Weaponizing the silent treatment against you

If you spot any red flags, try to put distance between you and this person. But what if you can’t?

In that case, you will need tactics to handle them. 

Let’s unpack what motivates manipulators and delve into strategies to disarm them. 

A closed fits meet an open hand in defiance
how to put a manipulator in their place

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. It’s why many manipulators rely on external validation to bolster their egos and give them a sense of security. 

They thrive off of control and will go to great lengths to maintain it over people and circumstances. Losing control or being exposed terrifies them.

Seasoned manipulators are good at reading people and have an arsenal of tactics they use to achieve their goals.

But they aren’t evil geniuses or unbeatable. You just need the right strategies.

More>> Obnoxious Strategies of Manipulative People Who Pretend To Be Nice

12 Ways to Put a Manipulator in Their Place

Ideally, we could spot manipulators and run the other way. But that’s not always possible.

Sometimes the manipulator in our life is a boss or coworker. Other times, it’s a family member, spouse, or adult child who uses manipulation tactics to get their way with you and other family members.

It gets complicated.

For those situations, 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.

Manipulators who use this tactic might position themselves too close to you in conversation. They might attempt to pat you on the back or shoulder to weaken your resolve and make it harder to reject them.

When someone is trying to use physical proximity to pressure you to do something you don’t want to do, take several steps back and reset the conversation.

2. Make Eye Contact.

Manipulators are good at using eye contact to assert their dominance and get what they want. 

It’s referred to as the hypnotic gaze, which is when someone sets their focus on you in an intense way that is designed to test boundaries. 

Give them a taste of their own medicine. 

You may have to practice this, especially if the manipulator knows how to throw you off your game. But it’s worth mastering.

If you feel like someone is trying to manipulate you via intimidation, give a firm “No” and maintain steady eye contact as you do it.

A woman and man make eye contact while speaking
how to put a manipulator in their place: make eye contact

3. Call Them Out.

Another way to disarm a master manipulator is to let them know that you know what they’re doing. 

Call them out. 

If someone is gaslighting you or trying to bait you into an unwinnable argument, 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, we can’t talk.”
  • “You’re bringing up things that are 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? 

Not likely. 

Manipulators will ramp up their tactics in the face of pushback, but that’s how you know you’re taking back your power. They hate it and will lash out, but if you hold firm, they can’t take advantage of you.

More>> How To Expose A Gaslighter.

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 easily detach from, like grown children, parents, siblings, or coworkers.

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 include:

  • 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 your ground rules.

“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.

A chain across a deck, representing a boundary
setting boundaries with manipulators

6. Don’t Give Them a Motive.

Don’t give people an opportunity to manipulate you. If you have a coworker who likes to be minimally “helpful,” so you can owe them one, for example, don’t accept their help.

No thanks! You can manage on your own.

More>> Is It Normal If My Girlfriend Hits Me?

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], make them prove it.

“Can you give examples of other times I’ve done [fill in the blank] so we can fix this?”

Chances are this will stump (and frustrate) 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 response from us. We can see it coming a mile away.

Don’t participate.

If you get 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.

Manipulators work hard to keep you dependent on them emotionally, financially, romantically, professionally, or any combination of these.

One way they do this is by getting you to withdraw from friends and family.

Recognizing that you aren’t spending enough time with close friends and loved ones is the first step towards breaking free of a manipulator’s grip over you.

Related>> How to Break Codependency Habits Once And For All

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 being aggressive toward you. 

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.

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:

11. Document Everything

This one is especially important in professional settings or any situation where there could be legal implications in the future. If you know you’re dealing with a manipulative person with a knack for dishonesty and gaslighting, document everything.

Write down what was said, when, and document the outcomes. This is great if you ever need evidence of their behavior, and also protects you against the whole he said/she said game that manipulators inevitably play.

12. Try the Stuck Record Technique

The Stuck Record technique is a skill that is otherwise referred to as “calm persistence.” Essentially, you become like a broken record, repeating what you want or your main point over and over without getting angry or raising your tone of voice.

It’s all about staying calm and unwavering in the face of manipulation. You stick to your message and refuse to get drawn into an argument or side tracked conversation.

Let’s say you’re planning a weekend getaway with a friend who is trying to pressure you into splurging on a more expensive option.

Friend: “We should really stay at the Luxe Resort. It’ll be such an experience!”

You: “I’d prefer we choose something within our budget.”

Friend: “But think about it! The views, the amenities! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

You: “It sounds great, but I’d prefer we choose something within our budget.”

Friend: “You always play it so safe. Don’t you want to splurge just once and make some memories?”

You: “I understand where you’re coming from, but I’d prefer we choose something within our budget.”

Friend: “I’ll cover the difference! You can pay me back whenever. Don’t you want to enjoy the best?”

You: “I appreciate the offer, but I’d prefer we choose something within our budget.”

In the above scenario, the hypothetical friend is trying multiple ways to get you to cave into going with a more expensive option. By repeating your main point (“I want to stay on budget”) repeatedly, eventually they will give up or get the point.

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 happier you will be. 

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 trapped in a manipulative relationship, seek professional help or counseling. A trained therapist can give you strategies specific to your situation.

You don’t have to figure this out on your own.

Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp. If you have tried (and failed) to find a qualified therapist who gets you, try BetterHelp. Get 10% off your first month when you click the link below.

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  1. My son’s girlfriend is one of these people and I have to watch him and every one in the house get manipulated and put down and she and her family are perfect she says I have 4 th stg cancer and she rather see me suffer and die than help me but calls me nasty names along with my son and his dad she has brought my son to basically his bottom what do I do and she is living in my house.

  2. Great article. This shows I was put in a position of financial dependence, and then the manipulator destroyed a financial opportunity, thereby keeping me weak, agreeable and submissive to her. Because she has low self esteem and doesn’t believe someone would stay out of love so she has to control and dominate, while appearing innocent and weak.

  3. Great article. It is not easy to tell them that they have these traits, end up with excuses and put more blames on others