How Dost Thou Manipulate Me? Can We Count the Ways?

Recently, one of the readers commented on another reader’s question about how to deal with a troubling and manipulative relationship.  In their comment, the reader made the excellent point that many times manipulators combine tactics in a way that makes the manipulation more effective.   This got me to thinking about something I probably haven’t emphasized enough in prior articles, namely the infinite number of ways some characters can find to manipulate and take advantage of others.  In my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance I outline the most “popular” tactics manipulators use.  But I also point out that shrewd manipulators not only combine tactics sometimes but also have an arsenal of techniques that is virtually endless.  Still, I don’t go into detail about all the various tactics and combinations of tactics they can use.  And while I’ve posted some prior article that expand a bit on the various tactics manipulators use (see:  Another Look at Manipulation Tactics), I thought it important to elaborate a bit more on the nature of manipulation tactics in this article.

Most of the time, people get manipulated because they don’t trust their gut instincts.  While at some level they might suspect someone is trying to get the better of them, they often can’t pinpoint anything that objectively confirms that hunch.  This makes them feel a little crazy.  Besides that, the manipulator can speak and act with such apparent conviction and intensity that the other person starts doubting their initial impressions and reactions.  Once that doubt creeps in, and especially once the manipulator notices that fact and plays upon it, it’s “game over!”

A good manipulator can use almost any tact, or combination of tactics:  deny they’ve done what another accuses them of doing, act innocent and/or offended, turn the tables and reverse-accuse, blame the victim for suspecting, doubting, or “falsely” accusing, etc., and do it all with such apparent righteous indignation and the other person is almost sure to cave in.  The key is to know the victim’s vulnerabilities and to effectively read their responses.   This enables the manipulator to pick the tactic or combination of tactics most likely to work.  And what really does a would be victim in is their hesitancy to believe that there really are people in this world so calculating and heartless that they’ll use all kinds of tactics to get their way with no compunction or remorse and put on such a civil facade to mask it all on top of that.  That’s why it’s so absolutely essential in this day and age to understand the nature of character disturbance and to be in a position to make fairly decent and accurate judgments about the kind of character with whom you might have a relationship.  And it’s toward those ends mainly that I have geared my writings.

The other main reason folks get manipulated is because when they engage with the manipulator, they don’t take a step back and assess what’s really going on process-wise in the interaction.  They actually listen and respond to what the manipulator says and does.  And then, like getting whiplash, they later realize they were taken in but long after the damage is already done.  So the key is to be very aware of the process as it happens.  To listen “for” and not “to” the kinds of things the manipulator says and to watch “for” the various shifty behaviors they typically exhibit.  Being alert to what’s really going on in the interchange is absolutely essential to avoid being disadvantaged.  And it also empowers a person to resist manipulation no matter what tactic or combination of tactics the covertly-aggressive person might throw at you.

What I’ve tried to do in both of my books is to lay out an easy to understand framework for becoming a much more astute judge of character.  Once you know what kind of person you’re dealing with, it’s easier to anticipate the kinds of things they might do in a relationship with you.  Really knowing yourself and knowing the kind of person you’re dealing with – that’s where the real power is.  And I’m edified that so many have written me to say that my writings have enabled them to achieve that very goal.


48 thoughts on “How Dost Thou Manipulate Me? Can We Count the Ways?

  1. Excellent article once again. I have read both of your books probably 3 times each. And have given them to a few friends to read. They are very appreciative. I have had a few manipulators in my life. The main person though that I have to deal with is my sinister-in-law.(Play on words).Haha. I think what you said about listening for and not to the words is the best advice possible. I have been taken in so many time by just listening to the words and not thinking about the agenda behind the words. With CA people its not even just about being manipulated its the feeling they leave you with, its the frustration of not saying what you are thinking just to keep the peace. Its not being who you are and having to walk on egg shells all the time. Its them making you feel like your going crazy. She has told me so many stories that I have to wonder are they true. There is no way of calling her on them because she tells me these things by myself. So alls she has to do is deny saying them and accuse me of making them up. I keep my distance as much as I possibly can but I have been so empowered from reading your books. I finally understand what I have had to deal with for 28 years. My husband sees his sister for what she really is and has little contact too. We try to stay civil with each other for his Dads sake. He is very old now so the next nightmare will be dealing with his will as my husband is the executor. Should be so much fun!

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Chris. And even though your ordeal was not pleasant for you, I’m sure the readers will appreciate what you’ve shared.

    1. Maria,

      There are a dozen or so posts on this site addressing this very topic. You can search the posts using “manipulation,” “tactics,” and “relationships,” as keywords, and “manipulative men” a category. Also, some of the readers will likely comment on your question.


    2. I am happily married to a wonderful man after 17 years. I am so lucky. I do know of a mechanic in Albertson, NY who is extremely charming and manipulative. All the other mechanics’ in the area have 1 website, it seems he has 5. His website says a “family business since 1988”, he was 27 at the time and not married. His boss passed away in 1987 (86?)He took over, at age 27. He payed the widow some montly income for quite awhile. He lied on his website. This is a form of manipulation. He was a pathological playboy. He has slept with probably 75% of the single women in Nassau County and maybe some in Queens and Suffolk County. I had heard he sexually assaulted (not rape, just very inappropriate)a customer and made her feel her anger was her fault. Classic manipulation. She never pressed charges because she’d get retraumatized in court. He charmed her into continuing the dysfunctional “relationship”.She moved to break free of him.His shop’s title has the word “friendly” in it. He’s now 53 yrs. old. Ladies, if you stop by there, and he has no gray hair, he dyes it. If you have a great pair of legs, or you are a 36B or bigger with a great figure, he will be extremely charming. If you are very overweight, and you want your car worked on, he may take your business but he will barely make eye contact. His 5 WEBSITES say his shallowness hasn’t changed.He still has an enormous EGO. Once he said, jokingly, his role model was “Sam Malone” (CHEERS).He’s fascinating case of pathological narcissism. A psychologist should come by posing as a customer. I’m not sure he’s married now. If he is, he’s probably divorced. I’m sure he has male customers who love him. Some of his female customers probably swear by him. But I’m sure there are people out there who agree with me. This is not defamation of his character, he’s never had any. Fascinating example.

      1. “This is not defamation of his character, he’s never had any. Fascinating example.”

        I made this point, asked this question a month or so ago!! Can you assassinate someone’s character that doesn’t have any? Especially if you are being honest about what they have done to you?

        1. Puddle,
          Thank you. Check out his websites with the key words.
          Thank you for understanding. I think we wanted this Pandora’s
          Box opened.

          1. Lorelei, Best of luck to you but I will steer clear of his websites!! LOL!
            I do understand,,,,,these low lives are getting away with murder (literally sometimes). The damage they do is so insidious from their false self interpreted moral high ground. Like it’s ok for me to do this because you do that way less offensive “thing”.
            In my case I had not been living my life right when I met him. I was drinking and running around and just so off my mark for all to see. It didn’t mean I was a bad person, just not living a life true to my real self. I wasn’t harming anyone, just myself. My guess is that he thought I deserved to be treated the way he treated me. Well………NO one deserves what he did to me,,,,,,except him. I hope he gets done to him 10 times worse what he did to me. It’s not worth it to me to go to jail or betray my values and morals but I’m not rolling over yet…… mind is turning turning turning. Maybe that is wrong but it’s the stage I’m in right now after finding out even MORE of his lies.

          1. My example above, the ultimate manipulator? He’s everything that’s been talked about.

      2. Dr. Simon,

        Addendom: He manipulated his way to sleeping with so many women.
        One woman was genuinely interested in him and he took advantage
        forced himself, hurt her, blamed her for her anger, once again manipulating the situation. Never immediately taking responsibility (another form of manipulation). He apologized almost two years later because she was getting strong enough to possibly press charges. Not sincere, another manipulation.
        Ladies, not all men are like this. My husband and I moved in
        together, he supported me through graduate school. I am there
        for him, he is there for me. Don’t give up, good guys are out there.

        1. Yeah, so I hear. 🙂 But after giving the yankers and bullies so many years of my life, it feels good to live on my own. I am done with this nonsense. Time to feed my energy to me, finally, and to the projects I believe in. There is life beyond romance… and it’s good! 🙂

        2. Thanks for these clarifications. And you’re spot on to point out that although there’s a lot of character disturbance out there, not everyone is so character-impaired.

          1. Dr. Simon,

            In your expert opinion, do these characteristically impaired people(my example, for instance) ever hit emotional rock-bottom? He lied throughout his professional website, a form of manipulation,pumping himself up to be something his isn’t. Is there a point where they stop blaming others and look at themselves, or is their narcissism a huge barrier?

        3. Dr. Simon,

          Another addendum, hopefully a “reply” button will pop up. We are all hoping that a character impaired person (such as my example, hopefully) will hit emotional “rock bottom” Alcoholics, drug addicts, gamblers all lose their jobs, homes, marriages, etc. Does a character impaired person ever “crash”?
          Have you ever had a client come in because he “crashed”? I know no names, just curious.

          1. Lundy Bancroft specifically says they don’t ever hit bottom. He has a whole chapter on the similarities and differences from addictions.

          2. Wow, how’s that even possible? How warped does someone have to be for that to be possible?

          3. They LIVE on the bottom in spite of their lofty, entitled, arrogance……they are bottom feeders. In my opinion, Spathtardx’s mother is to blame for how this got established and how it continued to the pathological place it went. I think she propped him up every time anything or anyone tried to show him that he was off track. She did it for her own selfish wants and needs…..made him the little prince, Your Highness. There is a scene in the movie Excalibur that TOTALLY represents this to me.
            Anyhow, I think she took HER pathology and groomed him with it. He is extremely intelligent in a way that I am not……different. If ever there was a situation for the term “still waters run deep” to apply it would be with him.
            Again………..his favorite movie is SEVEN. In my opinion, he felt justified in doing what he did to me. ENTITLED to WIN!

          4. The thing is…….I know that I was off track when I entangled with him and I did some fairly messed up things myself during the entanglement. But the foundation of the relationship was based on HIS lies, HIS abuse, His deception…….I am in your face who I am,,,,,,,I have too much confusion in my brain as it is to even think about being someone other than who I am. I know I had no ill intentions towards him, I know I was not playing a game, I know I wasn’t using him. So if i was such a terrible person that he thought I needed taught a lesson why did he tell me ALL THE TIME, what a good person I was? This is the craziness of being involved with one of these crazy making monsters!

          5. Elva and Puddle, I’ve pondered on what the very extreme of human evil would look like, but make no mistake I have no intention or desire to encounter a personification of true evil. I’d wish to vomit my guts out if I did. I recently read a book by Robert Moore, a Jungian psychologist. This book is Facing the Dragon. Moore puts it greatly. Evil, according to him, is its own psychic reality. It’s anti-life. He handles it how followers of Jung have forgotten about the concept of radical evil, true absolute sickening evil, only remembering the concept of the personal shadow.

            Many of you probably think this is obvious, but I still state this. Moore does state that when a person gets psychologically inflated and thinks s/he’s the Great One, havoc ensues. But when we don’t allow our desire to shine to destroy our compassion, then we can grow. That’s my summary anyways.

          6. J, i think that is beautifully worded and well put, both your words and his. I wish so badly you could watch the stories on the investigation discovery channel. As shocked and ….can’t find the words to describe… I am after this nightmare, the stories I’ve watched on this channel are equally shocking and equally dumbfounding. There is not a day that goes by that i don’t think back to my younger days and question some of my behaviors. Like I’ve said…..some of my actions in the situation with spathtardx could be examined and improved on (except when you throw in the element of the abusive uneven playing field element). But I can not even begin to imagine doing what these people do, what he did. I just can’t! But there it is…..true story after true story with the real live investigator and family members of the victims, and the victims themselves when available. The stories are just drop jaw unreal!

          7. I have a friend, who knows a lot more TV channels than I do, so I could ask him about investigation discovery channel.

            Shall we continue discussion in the comments of the newest article?

  2. Flattery I think is a huge one. If your talking men who manipulate women. But I guess flattery can be used with men against men and women against women. A friend of mine whose ex-husband is a huge manipulator used flattery all the time. Everyday he would tell her how beautiful or nice she looked. But then would go and sleep with another woman. If someone gives you a sincere compliment it is usually more specific and it quite often isn’t just about looks but more about qualities of the person or something that they did. It isn’t said everyday but once in a while maybe even once a year. Flattery is used to make a person feel obligated towards the flatter. It can also be used to gain material things such as money or get someone to do a favor for someone even though they don’t want to. That is just one of the many tactics manipulative men use. In my opinion. But women also use this tactic.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think it’s important to remember that there are many ways to seduce and persuade and the person on the receiving end of any of the many “tactics” simply must keep in mind what the other person’s ultimate agenda is and not allow themselves to be swayed so much by the impressiveness of the pitch but by the proven content of the person’s character.

  3. This hits home in the most gut-wrenching way. I think I might be dealing with someone who has borderline personality disorder. He demonstrates all the qualities you mention about manipulative people who are confronted. We could be a textbook example, in fact. But he truly does not seem to think he is or even realize it. Is it just an act? Does he really know? After over two years in a relationship, is there really no hope of change? I wish this weren’t so heartbreaking a realization. On my end the words and feelings and promises have been so sincere. It is painful to know that it has been one-sided. I would so much appreciate your thoughts and advice. I never thought I’d be someone in this situation.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sarah. I feel obliged to chime in on the “awareness” and “is it just an act?” issues. Most of the time, when there’s character dysfunction, awareness is actually high. However, this often has little to do with whether the person can or wishes to change. For example, a person might be well aware that of their need to possess/control and might even have awareness about the negative consequences of this in prior relationships, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into motivation to change. Neurotics invest far too much time and energy speculating about the mental framework within which someone else operates. In the end, it’t THEIR framework, and THEIR’s to deal with. You are wise to mention the pain involved in your realization. It’s that pain, or the anticipation and/or fear of that pain that keeps folks inappropriately focused on the possible underlying reasons for a person’s behavior. And often, in our desperate attempts to understand, we inadvertently “enable.” I have several articles posted on each of the issues I’ve addressed here. And my main objective in posting them was to underscore how important it is for us to recognize the responsibility each of us bears for our own issues and behavior. We have to quit second-guessing about the other person in a relationship and simply be clear about our own legitimate wants, needs, limits, and boundaries. And as for the issue of change, I have an article on that, too. Change is always possible, but is likely to occur only under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, when neurotics get hung-up on the issue of change, it’s often not so much a genuine intellectual questioning, but rather a hesitancy to face the consequences of holding ground and letting the chips fall where they may with respect to a relationship with a character-impaired individual.

      I’d be interested in how some of the readers see these points.

  4. That is the crux, isn’t it, having what it takes to say, this is what I feel, this is what I want, this is my experience, and not letting the manipulator to talk you out of it, to get you to doubt it. I used to be all so willing to see it from their point of view, to step into their shoes and all, and lose track of my own shoes! 🙂 Now I just tell myself that I am happy to consider other people’s point of view later, when I am not being manipulated. But not in the middle of it.

    Basically, offering goodwill to those showing illwill is a sucker move.

    I would love to hear more, Dr Simon, about the various crazy rules neurotics surround themselves with that make us easy prey.

    1. Thanks,Vera. By far the number one neurotic shortcoming is trying way too hard to understand the character-impaired person’s behavior. In that regard, you might find the article I wrote on that very topic helpful: (see: What Made Them This Way?: Understanding Disturbed Characters).

  5. I recently discovered that I’m married to a emotional manipulator. Thanks to searching the Web and the book In sheep’s clothing. I was shocked at all the different ways someone can manipulate and the fact that my wife use just about all of them.
    my wife also has an eating disorder. Both of these combined make it nearly impossible to live with. I see her manipulate other people Daily and tries to manipulate me all the time. The thing is she is good at it. She is a Jedi of manipulation. She has a tenth degree black belt in it. My eyes are just now open to it. And its scarry as hell. Every day I see the different ways she does it. I’m trying not to fall in those traps. But sometimes I just don’t know how to respond. I recently saw how she use our children to manipulate me. I know this is a huge under taking and not sure if its worth it.

  6. Hi Dr Simon
    I have recently ended a 26 year marriage due to sustained manipulation. It took me many years to finally have the courage to leave. The problem is that my husband does not accept he is a manipulator, even when I’ve given him specific examples. He deceived me for 6 years by posting private photos of me on the web, sharing them with other men and letting those men think they were being shared by me personally. When I left him he commenced a public campaign via social networking where he vilified me to family and friends and anyone who would listen, calling me awful names, twisting the truth of our marriage and saying that I had abandoned him and our sons (18 and 16). He trashed my character completely and ground me into the earth. He isolated me from the boys, who didnt understand why I had left and took his side. Four months later he has followed me to a new town and is begging forgiveness and for me to consider returning to him because of all the good stuff we shared over the years. He “adores” me. I have told him that I want to be on good terms because I believe thats best for the boys, but I will not be returning to him, but he won’t leave it, and every few days, keeps pleading with me to try and make it work again. How do I make him see it’s just not going to happen?

    1. Although I cannot give direct advice on anyone’s particular circumstances (but perhaps the readers can weigh in with opinions of their own), I will gladly emphasize a principle that I advocate heavily in my writings: Investing any energy or time in something you don’t have power over is both un-empowering and ultimately, depressing. No one can get anyone else to “see” or to “make” them do anything. So, be true to your own principles and keep the commitment you’ve made to empowering yourself by honoring what you know in your heart to be the right course of action. And inasmuch as you can’t control the behavior of others, you might need to enforce some limits and boundaries for your own well-being and peace of mind. And above all, don’t assume that the other person doesn’t “see” when in fact the real issue is that they “see” quite clearly but still so “disagree” with the terms that have been set hat they are determined to press their own agenda in hopes that others will eventually cave in. For persons who have been in relationships with controllers, the most tenuous and risky time is when a firm limit has finally been set. Persons used to getting their way don’t easily take “no” for an answer. That’s why it’s so important to know and stand firm on your own principles and also to have an adequate system of support and safety.

  7. If he pesters you, come up with a consequence. If one type of consequence does not produce results, try another. Create gradually more and more distance. Screen your calls, etc. It’s up to you to be firm about your boundaries… and if you are not, then he’ll know he can keep manipulating.

    Best of luck!

  8. Thank you so very much, Dr Simon and Vera! I have been feeling quite alone on this, so it’s overwhelming and lovely to receive immediate positive response. You are both so right – he is NOT accepting my responses and Ive come to realise he’s just drawing me in. I am making a concerted effort not to reinforce his behaviour. It’s made extra difficult when he includes my sons in his assertions, as in “we”, “us”. He’s managed to convince them I have left “them”. But I trust and have faith that time will take care of that. Thanks again!

  9. Oh, and just to let you know that I have found support and counselling. I saw someone just yesterday and she reiterated exactly what you have said.

  10. I’ve been married to a man with dependent personality and sex addiction for almost 5 years. He left AGAIN 3 months ago to live with his parents until I feel guilty enough to beg him to come home. I would like to repair the marriage but not at the cost of my sanity. He’s relapsed into porn again and doesn’t want any contact with me until he “sorts things out”. Again, here comes the punitive distancing and aloofness that he is so good at. What’s different this time? I DON’T FEEL GUILTY! I’m getting on with my life without him. I have dealbreakers ready to deliver to him if and when he SERIOUSLY wants to reconcile. Until then I’m doing my own thing and he’s living with his parents at the age of 50!

    1. We certainly applaud your growing empowerment and conviction. And while whenever I hear terms like “sex addiction,” dependent personality, and “relapse,” some red flags go up about perceptions, from what you say, your vision seems to be becoming clearer.

  11. Ladies,

    You know the saying “If he’s too good to be true, then he probably isn’t (true). We all know that men who are extremely good looking and throw on the charm (like my above example)
    usually lousy in bed. It’s like the classic song “you’re so vain, you probably think this (website’s) about you.”

  12. Lorelei, He was not too good to be true. There were plenty of things that were red flags for me from the beginning. He didn’t let that stop him, in fact he used those to manipulate me in a different way. these situations are very diverse and complex, tailored to meet each individual they target.

    1. Ladies,

      In my case, presented above, he may appear to be too good to be true. Lying in his website proves he hasn’t changed. I’m sure his trail of female victims has gotten longer over the years. If you meet him, keep your emotional and physical distance. If I can make some little dent to stop or shorten his trail, I will feel better. That’s all I care about.

  13. Dr. Simon,

    I will try to rephrase my question from earlier. I was reading your article about addiction. Do you feel that sexual addiction is a real addiction or just extreme lack of character
    or moral compass?

  14. Everybody,

    If you haven’t already heard about it. There is a wonderful, empowering website If you have been abused or sexually assaulted, or know someone who has, check out their Public service Announcement. It frees you of feeling guilty, feeling shame, feeling embarrassed, free to be angry. It’s as if a huge group of wonderful, supportive strangers are saying “It’s okay, it’s not your fault.” There is also a male affiliated group called They actually have respect for women and to increase awareness. commercials have been on football games. Very powerful.

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