9 Manipulation Tactics (and How To Fight Them)

Psychopaths walk among us. Here’s how to fight their manipulation tactics!

Individuals with psychopathic tendencies aren’t just the villains in slasher movies. They walk among us every day and look like normal people. For example, according to one study, a small but considerable portion of business leaders fit the clinical description of a psychopath.

The same thing goes for narcissists. Research shows that a touch of narcissism can actually lead to business success, but this often comes in situations where professionals let their self-love run wild.

Long story short, in the course of a normal business career, you’ll almost certainly run into a few truly toxic psychopaths and narcissists who’ll try to abuse and manipulate you. When it comes to personal life, there’s also a chance to come across this kind of person.

This being said, it’s important to recognize manipulation tactics and resist them. Here are some examples and what you should do when they happen!

manipulation tactics
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1. Projection

You know when toxic individuals claim all the nastiness that surrounds them isn’t their fault, but yours? That’s called projection. According to experts, we all do a little, but psychopaths and narcissists do a lot.

Projection is a defense mechanism used to attribute to others what is on your mind. When someone does that, they basically displace responsibility for their negative traits and behaviors and place them on someone else.

This is one of the most common manipulation tactics, and most people often don’t realize when they become victims of it. The solution is to not “project” your sense of empathy or compassion onto a toxic individual, and don’t own any of the toxic individual’s projections either.

2. Changing the topic

Manipulation tactics aren’t always obvious when they happen. Switching conversational subjects sounds innocent enough, but in the hands of a master manipulator, a change of topic becomes a means to avoid accountability.

According to psychologists, manipulative people don’t want you to talk about stuff that makes them accountable, so they will reroute discussions to benefit them.

This kind of thing can go on and on if you allow it, making it impossible to actually address the relevant issue. To fight back, try the “broken record method”: keep on stating the facts without letting the person divert you. Redirect their redirection by saying, “That’s not the thing I’m talking about. Let’s stay focused on the real issue.”

If they show little interest and continue employing manipulation tactics, disengage and focus on something more constructive.

3. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative strategy that can be described in different variations of three phrases: “Are you crazy?” That didn’t happen,” and “You imagined it.”

According to experts, it’s perhaps one of the most insidious manipulation tactics out there because it works to twist and erode your sense of reality; it makes you stop trusting yourself, which inevitably disables you from feeling justified in calling out mistreatment and abuse.

To counteract the gaslighting effect, ground yourself in your reality. To do that, tell a friend, write things down as they happened, or reiterate your experience to a support network.

manipulation tactics
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4. Devaluation

Beware when a work colleague seems to love you while aggressively denigrating the previous employee who held your position. This applies to partners who badmouth their exes.

Narcissistic abusers have plenty of manipulation tactics at their disposal, and this is one of them—they devalue colleagues or romantic partners who are no longer in the picture to the new ones, and eventually the latter start to receive the same type of mistreatment as the narcissist’s ex-colleague or partner.

In other words, this dynamic can occur both in the professional and personal realms. Simple awareness of this manipulation strategy is the first step to fighting it. Keep in mind that the way a person speaks about or treats someone else could indicate how they may treat you in the future.

Read on to discover other manipulation tactics!

5. Name-calling

Just because you’ve been dealing with or seeing this one since you came across your first playground bully doesn’t make it any less destructive. In fact, this is one of the manipulation tactics we can see in presidential politics.

When someone uses derogatory terms or insults towards someone else, it’s an attempt to exert power and control over them. This can easily lead to feelings of humiliation, shame, and low self-esteem in the victim.

The best way to fight it is to not tolerate it. It’s paramount to end any interaction that includes name-calling and communicate that you won’t tolerate it. Also, don’t internalize it. Don’t forget that manipulation masters are resorting to this tactic because they’re deficient in higher-level methods.

6. Moving the goalposts

When it comes to sneaky manipulation tactics, this one is pretty common. According to experts, abusive sociopaths and narcissists often employ a logical fallacy known as “moving the goalposts” to make sure they have every reason to be constantly dissatisfied with you.

This is when, even after you’ve taken action to meet their request or come up with all the evidence in the world to support your argument, they demand more proof or set up another expectation for you.

Don’t play that game. To counteract it, validate and approve yourself. Know that you’re enough and that you’re not deficient or unworthy.

7. Triangulation

Triangulation is when a manipulative or toxic person, often someone with strong narcissistic traits, brings a third person into the scheme in order to remain in control. This is one of the smartest manipulation tactics someone can employ to distract you from their nastiness—they focus your attention on the supposed threat of another person.

According to psychologists, narcissists love to “report back” untrue things about what others say about them. To resist this sneaky tactic, realize that the third party in the picture is being manipulated as well—she or he is another victim, not your enemy.

Another great way to fight this tactic is to try reverse triangulation, which involves gaining support from a third party who’s not under the narcissist’s influence.

manipulation tactics
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8. Smear campaigns

When toxic people can’t control the way you see yourself, they find another way to exert their bad influence—they start to control how others see you. They often play the martyr while you’re the one who’s labeled as toxic.

Similar to other manipulation tactics, a smear campaign is a preemptive strike to ruin your reputation and slander your name. Sometimes master manipulators will even divide and conquer, setting two people or groups against one another.

Keep track of any form of harassment, and ensure not to rise to the bait and let the person’s mischievousness provoke you into acting in ways that they’ve falsely attributed to you.

9. Aggressive jokes

Covert manipulators enjoy making bitter remarks at your expense. These are typically dressed up as “just jokes” so that those who make them can easily get away with saying malicious things while still maintaining an innocent, cool demeanor. This is one of those manipulation tactics that may seem harmless, but it’s not.

If you don’t laugh, they will say that you have no sense of humor. However, the problem isn’t that you may be humorless—it’s the hidden intention of that cutting joke. Still, any time you express your disapproval over an insensitive, harsh remark, you’re labeled as lacking a sense of humor.

Don’t let anyone gaslight you into thinking it was all innocent fun—it wasn’t.

Do you want to learn more about manipulation, and how can you resist it? Here’s a book you may be interested in.

If you liked our article on manipulation tactics, you may also want to read 12 Untrustworthy Behavior Traits You Should Look Out For.




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