The Manipulative Personality

manipulative-personalityManipulators attempt to indirectly control or influence the actions and behavior of others. Instead of being direct with their methods, the manipulator uses underhanded tactics to force their will. Because they are subtle, the manipulative personality easily goes undetected and overlooked, and the person or people being manipulated don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late. Or not at all. They may believe that they are obligated to do what the manipulator wishes, and feel guilty if they don’t. The manipulative personality may be a family member, friend, or colleague.

With experience or learning, the manipulative personality is much easier to recognize. But many people learn through hard experience what manipulative behavior looks like, and it doesn’t have to be that way. The safest way to learn about the manipulative personality is from a distance, from those who have studied these personalities.

Experts agree that there are three main types of manipulative personality:

  • The Narcissist – The Narcissist is the ultimate manipulator. They are egotistic, self-absorbed and feel entitled to nearly everything they desire. They lack empathy and consideration for others, so they will easily manipulate to their own gain. They think it is their right to have others do what they say.
  • The Needy — The Needy person is the most difficult type of manipulator to let go of. They are experts at making you feel sorry for them, and making you feel like you are the only person that can help them. Some Needy personalities don’t realize that they are manipulative. They have learned to depend on others for their needs, and simply don’t know how to get along without help. They may cry or become offended when accused of manipulation. Those that realize they are manipulative may become passive-aggressive in their attempts to regain control.
  • The Martyr — This type of personality will give you everything — but at a price. They will do you favors, give you special attention, and be overly considerate, but they expect much in return. Their giving is tied to their desire to be considered a “good person” or be considered important to another person. They “cash in” on the favors they’ve done for you to get you to comply with their wishes. Common phrases heard from the Martyr include, “After all I’ve done for you” and “I would do it for you.”

The most common methods of manipulation are flattery, guilt-tripping, repetition, assumption, confrontation, and gaslighting: a way of twisting information in such a way that the person being manipulated begins to doubt their own perceptions and memory.

The best way to deal with a manipulative personality is to acknowledge their ways outright and respond calmly, and even turn their own tactics against them. The manipulator is counting on you to be surprised, confused, and overreact to them, so don’t be. If they say “After all that I’ve done for you!” reply “I’m very grateful for all that you’ve done. Why do you think I’m not? That’s not very nice of you.”

Once the manipulator realizes that they can’t affect you in the way that they want, and can’t influence your thoughts or actions, they will move on. And even if they don’t — you’re safe. Manipulation is all about control, and once you figure out the manipulative personality, they are no longer in control.

Do you have any experience with manipulative personalities? Do you have tips for how to deal with manipulation?

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34 thoughts on “The Manipulative Personality

  1. Mira,

    Indeed, those two can be related. It’s amazing how many people say their mothers were manipulative. How did/do you deal with her?

    And my Polish friend says the same about her mother. Seriously, you guys are either the same person or had really similar personalities and upbringing; you are too alike.

  2. My mother is Needy in a way she wants people to feel sorry for her. No matter what kind of a problem you might have (or had) in your life, her problems are worse than yours.

    She expects me to comfort her, but I can’t be there 24/7, and even if I could, it wouldn’t make her happy. I just can’t make my mother happy.

    On the other hand, she is the Martyr in a way she’ll do everything for you (without asking anything in return)… but should you forget to give what she wants in return – and she wants attention and she wants you to feel sorry for her – should you forget to do it, she’ll get pretty angry. “After all that I’ve done for you!” etc.

    The main problem is, she was the only person who raised me, so she shaped me in ways that didn’t really prepare me for the real world. She often accused me – even when I was as little as 4 or 5 years old – of torturing her and being evil to her, and she constantly accuses me of not loving her. So I was raised with this feeling of guilt, and I was raised to believe I was a bad person, which didn’t help me at all in real life. I sometimes believe aspie traits I mentioned before are not genetic or natural, but that I was raised that way. I know it sounds ridiculous (you can’t really induce autism) , but if I ever had a risk factor for developing any of it, it was sure made stronger.

    It’s amazing how many people say their mothers were manipulative. How did/do you deal with her?

    Well, the first time I actually realized her behavior is not ok was when I moved out. So I didn’t really deal with it; I grew up thinking it’s how things just are. Now I am trying to build my self confidence, but the guilt is still strong.

    Seriously, you guys are either the same person or had really similar personalities and upbringing; you are too alike.

    It could be just a coincidence. I have no idea how parents are in Poland, but they might be similar (in a way of being possessive) like parents, especially mothers, are in my culture, so that also might be a reason behind some of the similarities.

  3. Mira,

    “She often accused me – even when I was as little as 4 or 5 years old – of torturing her and being evil to her, and she constantly accuses me of not loving her.”

    Wow, that’s terrible. You’d have to be very into the martyr complex to think like that. You sure there isn’t a bit of the narcissist in there?

    I can definitely see how having a mother so stifling and manipulative could cause one to develop traits related to Asperger’s.

    You know, the love attachment styles are directly linked to how you related to your caregivers as a child — actually, they were discovered via child attachment. The way you describe the dynamic between yourself and your mother sounds just like the sort of situation a person with an anxious love style is supposed have had with their caregiver, in theory.

    “It could be just a coincidence.”

    I just realized both of your fathers died, when you were the same age too, I believe. You two have to be the same person. You just have to be. You even have the same writing style.

  4. Wow, that’s terrible. You’d have to be very into the martyr complex to think like that. You sure there isn’t a bit of the narcissist in there?

    I don’t think she fits the description of a narcissist. She is extremely compassionate and empathetic… Even if you don’t feel sorry for her.

    I can definitely see how having a mother so stifling and manipulative could cause one to develop traits related to Asperger’s.

    Well, some of it wasn’t subtle at all. She taught me how to behave, and because she sees me as an egocentric person who likes to dominates, she did her best to tone that down. So she encouraged me to speak less and to “let others say what they want” and to suppress my own needs to suit others, because “it’s not all about me”. The problem is, I was never even an extrovert, let alone this careless egoistic person she, for some reason, thought I was.

    I honestly don’t know why she sees me like this. I sometimes thing she might be the one who has problems (such as aspie traits), and she just socialized me the same way. Her sister doesn’t seem to be like this.

    I just realized both of your fathers died, when you were the same age too, I believe. You two have to be the same person. You just have to be. You even have the same writing style.

    Ok, now it’s getting creepy.

  5. Many of my personality flaws are unique only to me. I don’t see any of them in my parents at all.I can be needy, but I have learned to channel that neediness into writing and other healthy outlets:-)

  6. Mira,

    “she sees me as an egocentric person who likes to dominate”

    *chokes*

    What?!? You — dominant?

    That is one of the most bizarre comments ever. If anything, you never really stick up for yourself, even when you should.

    “Ok, now it’s getting creepy.”

    The only thing that is different is that you two aren’t born in the same month. But who knows? She could be faking it, and is really born on the same day as you…

    Hi madamesiamese.

    Lol at channeling your neediness into other outlets. I wonder how that works out for you. :)

  7. What?!? You — dominant?

    Well, she’s one of those people who can’t judge others or read others. I understand that NOW, but it was difficult to understand when I was a child.

    That is one of the most bizarre comments ever. If anything, you never really stick up for yourself, even when you should.

    Indeed. I guess if you’re raised to believe you’re selfish and dominant, you constantly try to improve by becoming less outspoken and selfish – and if you started as a shy introvert, you become even more shy. So yes, I guess you can say I was socialized in a strange way that made me only more vulnerable and with social phobia. However, I am not sure if it’s all due to socialization, or if I already had some of it.

    The only thing that is different is that you two aren’t born in the same month. But who knows? She could be faking it, and is really born on the same day as you…

    You mean, we’re both born in 1981? How strange. Well, I was born on June 1.

  8. madamesiamese,

    That’s good to hear then!

    Mira,

    “Well, she’s one of those people who can’t judge others or read others.”

    She doesn’t sound so empathic!

    “You mean, we’re both born in 1981? How strange.”

    Actually, no… she was born a year or two later, I believe. Maybe you two aren’t the same person. Maybe.

  9. Good gracious, how many martyrs do I know and usually they are someone’s mother. It’s enough to drive you batty LOL.

  10. Eugenia,

    It does seem that some mothers adopt the martyr attitude… I wonder if it’s the stress of being a mother that pushes them toward it.

  11. this hit me hard. i have a father that was abusive and now a mother that is manipulative. dad is out of the picture. and i hope to leave to our abuse shelter tonight. im 18. i want to live my life without being knocked down by my mom all the time. it is really a hard to notice abuse. she also plays the victim role. alot.

  12. Like the other ppl on here, i have a manipulative mother as well. Mira’s comments sound very similar to my experiences. i’m born in june too, and my mother often makes subtle comments that gemini’s are “selfish”. its very funny that she’s the only one that has these negative views of me. last year i finally realized that she was manipulating me (i’m 28) so i’ve dealt w/ her behavior for a long time. today (on mothers day) it reached a boiling point. i was at the grocery store and called her to see if she needed anything and she said “yes i want chicken, if you get that for me it would be a great help for me and a great mothers day gift”. i told her that she doesnt need to say “a great mothers day gift” b/c i frequently pick up groceries for her, so its no big deal and also i already gave her a mothers day gift ($200 cash). it turned into a huge agruement. please help, am i wrong?

  13. Hi nat,

    ‘Mira’s comments sound very similar to my experiences. i’m born in june too, and my mother often makes subtle comments that gemini’s are “selfish”.’

    Wellll…

    Lol. ;)

    I don’t see what was so bad about her mother’s day comment, although yes, it could be seen as slightly guilt-tripping. I wouldn’t get extremely mad about such a comment though — you have to pick your battles. Some manipulative people are easily hurt so if they feel like you’re picking on them, it won’t help.

  14. I’m 54 and my mother is still playing the martyr. We moved from New York to Arizona because I came down with RA. I was an unplanned pregnancy and I believe my immune system went downhill because I was fed, diapered, yet never held. Growing up, the minute I said something or did something she didn’t like she went into ” I’m not talking to you” mode for several days. When I don’t put on a “show” for family events, she stops talking to me. She has been telling me what a burden I was to raise my entire life. Every time saw a plane in the sky she wanted to be on it because she hated Arizona. I moved out 33 years ago and she still makes me feel guilty and shamed. I rarely talk to her and I’m her only child. We live in the same city and she has turned other family members against me. Truly toxic!

  15. Wow, so many martyr mothers… I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t something about motherhood that induces martyrdom/subtle manipulation. Being a mother you do have to sacrifice a lot of what you want for your child(ren). Maybe that causes resentment in some.

    Anyway, dogzrule, I wish you the best of luck!

  16. Thanks for the reply…going out dancing with my girlfriends tonight and it should be a blast! No more guilt or shame….done with her!

  17. I am dealing with a very difficult mother at the moment. I am an only child and my parents always provided me with the best education, but it came with a disclaimer that I take care of them once I started working. I am fine with that. But the problem is that my parents were incredibly bad with money and lived beyond their means! My dad passed away quite suddenly a few years ago with leaving my mother with financial stability. My mother works and has her own business. I am now married and after my dad passed away stepped into take care of her. But I cannot anymore, not because I don’t want to, but because my mother is becoming more and more demanding and emotionally reliant on me. If something goes wrong with a client she calls me moaning about how she doesn’t want to work and she is compelled to work. She says things like, ” you know how horrible it is when you have to go to work knowing there is no alternative”. Or she calls me saying she is depressed and doesn’t know why she needs to live at all, since has nothing to look forward to. O A week ago she called me up saying she wanted to buy a house. She lives in a rented house. The house is not only discounted because of its location (the sellers indicated that potential buyers have been reluctant to buy the house at their initial asking price because of the location of the house) but is over her budget. She says she wants to buy the house and expects me to chip in, when she runs out of money for everyday living. When I told her I don’t understand why she wants to buy a house that is not only beyond her budget but is already selling at a discount she screamed at me telling me that she would not look for a house elsewhere because this house was close to her work place. I think it is a flimsy excuse and I am afraid that if she buys this house, I will have to chip in for something that I don’t want to. I screamed back and then put the phone down. Two days later she called me calling me she is in depression for the past two days and was in a car accident. For some reason I couldn’t be sympathetic to her. I then asked her about the car accident she told me it was a bump and nothing more! Now I think that is manipulation! I am so fed up with her. I live within my means, I am planning for a future and I am willing to look after my mother. My initial idea was to buy her a house but within my budget and make the mortgage payment. But if she is not willing to change, I am slowly starting to resent her and not willing to have anything to do with her. I am now really in a bad mood and my whole weekend was ruined because of this. What should I do?

  18. Hi Mary, I meant to reply earlier:

    I think you should do what you can. You idea to buy her a house that you can afford sounds more than reasonable to me — who can be angry that someone bought them a house? Don’t give into her demands that put an unnecessary burden on you and that are excessive. She is your mother and it’s nice that you look out for her, but you can’t turn cartwheels and fall on your head to please someone else.

  19. I have been trying to find an accurate description of my mother for quite some time now and “martyr” fits her to a tee. I connected with the other women’s stories on here immensely. My sister and I have suffered from her syndrome for a long time, but unfortunately she moreso than I lately because I live 1,000 miles away. I won’t get into the millions of long, drawn out examples of stories that my mother has put us both through but the words “I would do it for you” and “You have no idea the sacrifices I’ve made for you” and “You just don’t appreciate me” are terms I’ve heard more times than I care to count. My mom has 6 sisters and 4 brothers and all of her sisters seem to magnify her “martyr-dome” (is that a word?? lol). Even her current therapist seems to entertain her delusions. My sister and I both had not spoken to her for almost 10 months after she acted inappropriately at my wedding. The thing is, my life without her in it is seriously happy. I’m less stressed, less irritable, less angry and more optimistic. However, the guilt is THERE. A LOT. And my family (her sisters) like to remind me frequently of how “petty” I am. I did decide to send her an e-mail, but we haven’t spoken otherwise since. My sister has started to call her again. Here’s my new problem: now that I know I’m not alone and I know there is a name for her disorder, how do I handle her? Advice on this is hard to find. I would like to have some sort of relationship with her but I just don’t know if it’s healthy for me. AND I don’t want my sister taking the heat from her or from the rest of our family since I’m not there for them to gang up on. What’s the best way to deal with mom’s passive-aggressive comments and cross-bearing attitude? I wish I didn’t care, but I do and I can’t turn off the guilt. Add the empathy I feel for my sis, and I need to do SoMeTHiNg…. Advice??

  20. Shawna,
    A good therapist will help you cope with your mother. I feel your pain, my mother is also a manipulative personality. Therapy can help you with your anger issues and how to cope with her should you start talking to her again. I have a small child and I don’t want my anger towards my parents to affect how I raise her and would advise anyone with children who deal with this type of parent to do the same. Good luck to you.

  21. My mother is a cross between a narcissi and a martyr. She has gas lighting down to a science. I still believe in some sick way she loves me but I know she does not like me. Even as a child I have known this and as a child I of course had to go along with her control but once I became and independent adult it has been worse. She spends every moment of her life when she is with me undermining and trying to destroy my confidence. Because I choose to life my life on my terms we have a tumultuous relationship that grows more and more distant every day. I can be doing well and be happy and she finds a way to destroy it. She is not happy unless I am unhappy. She tells me all the time that she does not think I have been happy for a long time she in reality the only time I am unhappy is when I am in her company or have to talk to her. Even when I call out of obligation and let her do all the talking so that I do not give her and opportunity to undermine me she will find a way. My grown son now lives near her and I am happy for him to have a relationship with his grandmother but now she tries to use anything she can about him to prove she knows more and I am a bad mother. My son and I have a great relationship and I totally accept his having his own life which drives her crazy. She wants nothing more than to drive a wedge between us and therefore actually looks for anything she can to tell me that will make me feel left out. I do not tell him any of this as I would never want him to fell in the middle it is his grandmother and our problems have nothing to do with him. He has told me he knows what she is like and he just lets her go and ignores her. I have struggled for years to try and make this relationship with my mother work but have finally accepted that it never will unless I am willing to give up all of myself and I am just not willing to do that. She is unhappy and has been her whole life. She looks at the world claiming to be such a devote Christian but spends all her time jealous of everyone else. She always sees what others have and feels others have more and better and as a result is unhappy. This is now her cross to bear and I am stepping back. I can not cut her off as she is old and she is my mother but I will attempt to have as little contact with her as possible and when I do I will try to ignore the ugliness she throws in my direction.

  22. my mother is very manipulative! I hate it because I dont have many close friends and i now dont even like being around my mom. I used to be very quiet and aside to myself, but i have matured a lot n am about to get my own place and job and cut ties to my mom but she never lets me make my own decisions, and questions them endlessly when I do. most of all i feel she s trying to live through me. she wants me to do things her way…she wants me to drive a ar she likes, live in an area she likes, work at a place she likes, dress how she likes, …everything. she also complains to me a lot about how she’d like to loose weight. as a woman I understand how beauty is so important, but shes in her 50s, how come she hasn’t realized yet she has to take control instead of complaining to ppl all the time? she always says “I used to be skinny”. sometimes i feel like i’m more mature than her, which is annoying because I effectively have no adults to look up to for guidance. I constantly feel like i’m facing the world alone and have no idea what the outcome of anything i do will be and it’s scary. and I hate even the thought of asking my mom for help because it will her “HER way” it won’t be nice advice, it’ll be her persuading me into fear of doing it her way or no other way. I fear since she was able to manipulate me so much in the past she thinks she can always get it her way. every decision she has manipulated me into i’ve regretted. i confronted her the other day saying i felt like when I was around her she was just constantly manipulating me. she got upset and said i give off the vibe i’d be happier if she just never talked to me. thats not ture, but i’m almost 20 and i dont need my mom as much and I need to go out and do my own thing for once. it’s extremely hard to cut ties with her becaue she has weaseled so deep into my life.

  23. cc,

    You should do your own thing. She is your mother; you should always respect and it’s fine to keep a relationship with her, but you have to set your boundaries if you feel uncomfortable with the way she treats you.

  24. I dont know if my mom is a narcissist or what, but she sure is manipulative. Mom is on oxygen 24/7 for emphysema, she smoked for 65 years (she’s 87). She moved in with me after her last husband died because she couldnt afford her home and besides it was so hoarded up it was unliveable. So my husband and I went into debt to remodel our home to accommodate her. She has a living room, bedroom, kitchenette and bath all on ground level. We downsized and live crammed upstairs. When she moved in she brought her 3 cats and her smoking habits. She’s destroyed the whole apartment with her filth. She never cleans anything, wont even pick up a wrapper from food if it drops, and there are piles of dirty clothes soaked in cat pee all over her room. I tried for the first few months to do the cleaning but she would follow me around wringing her hands, in tears, “i’ll just overdose on my pills and go to sleep,” and the like or say “I dont know why you clean down here, I’ll just go right back in and mess it up.” Or she would sit and watch me clean and make remarks about how fat I am, whatever, just trying to get a negative reaction out of me. However, I dont play her games. The down side to this is, depending on her mood, she will up the ante and get more and more outrageous, thinking that eventually I will react in a negative way. So, she was a smoker when she moved in, but she really needed to quit, not just for her own health, but I have asthma and smoking is against my religion, too. I was thrilled when she finally quit and I didnt have to worry about her burning the place down. She actually wore out our garage door going in and out to smoke. Last summer she started in with her manipulative behavior and it escalated to the point that she was smoking again, hooked up to her oxymizer! Well, she was told in no uncertain terms to put that smoke out and not bring it into the house again, and her reaction was to really fly off the handle. The next thing I know, the cops are here to investigate an anonymous report of elder abuse! And here comes my mom from downstairs, she has shaved all the hair off of her head and put on some old filthy clothes, she’s creeping along and just acting like she’s dying. She tells the cops we keep her in the basement because she’s crazy and we shave her head! Because we are a cult! The outcome was that I ended up in the ER with extreme nervous collapse. So she won in the end anyway. Today she decides to let me know shes back on the nicotine lozenges because her cardiologist and her PCP say its “good for my depression,” which I know is a lie, but Im sure the intended manipulation here is she is wanting me to come unstrung, react in a negative way, which will give her the perceived permission to smoke again. Im so sick of this rollercoaster and the lies and manipulation tactics! Today she said, would you rather I just took an overdose and died? Of course, to get a negative response. We are dealing with funeral arrangements for our business partner who committed suicide last week, and she knows this is a sensitive issue for us right now. I just took a lorazepam and went up to bed. I cant take this anymore. When we are in public she tells people Im the most wonderful daughter in the world, but in private she never misses an opportunity to tell me how fat and ugly i am, how horrible she is treated and my favorite “used.” Yes, i guess she is being used. She gets free rent, all utilities paid, free cable TV, I pay the registration on her car and the insurance, home owners insurance groceries, everything. She gives me $200 a month, which doesnt even cover the gas and electricity. Sorry for the rant.

  25. um wow…. nothing has ever explained my mother so well. I think she’s a bit of all of the categories.
    After our most recent drama, which I won’t bother detailing I have FINALLY learnt that things are never going to change. My Mother has a serious lack of insight and empathy… Although sees herself as very empathetic. Everything is about her. I now understand (after almost 35 years) that there is no point arguing, defending myself or constantly justifying myself. There is also no point in attempting to resolve any of the issues.
    I’m going to take some time out and then when I feel ready and have thought about what I am and am not willing to put up with I will communicate with her again but it will be much less frequently and I will have clear boundaries.
    I don’t hate her. I think understanding that she doesn’t have any insight into her behaviour and accepting that it’s not going to change is going to prepare me for dealing with her in the future.

  26. My mother, sisters, and daughter are straight up manipulative narcissistic bitches whom I gladly have nothing else to do with.

  27. I came across this post when I started searching for traits of people who are manipulative, selfish, evil, arrogant and stubborn. All these names given to me by my husband….repeatedly.
    Yes, I am needy to an extent that I need constant support and encouragement when I am feeling down and depressed. And more so in recent times when I am chasing my dreams and not doing a great job at it.
    I have also been called inconsiderate and insensitive towards others.
    What I fail to understand is I have not heard this from anyone. In fact, I have heard the opposite things, all my friends and family.

  28. My life experience taught me to be not vulnerable, you basically have to be a tactical, Machiavellian jerk when it is necessary. I know people who are too nice, kind, and warm. They get taken like a sucker almost every time because they can’t say no and tell some people to get lost. They will give the shirt off their backs to others until they have none. That is not very smart. It would benefit these nice people to learn things about politics, sales, public relations, propaganda, manipulation, psychology, sociology techniques. Life is like a big poker game in all things, don’t show everyone your cards unless it fits your plans. Being Machiavellian is not a sin, but a virtue. Going on with life like a chameleon is just tactical smarts.

  29. Oh, also remember this. Manipulators will target your personality buttons like empathy, kindness, and conscientiousness and push your buttons. You have to imagine that all your dealings with people are going to be possibly like backstage stage sword fights and have your defences up accordingly. You block their attacks and counter attack their own emotional buttons. This is applicable to business, work, school, social, etc. Everyone has weaknesses they know about or not. Everyone and everything can be used as leverage. If you have no leverage, knowledge, or strong will, you have no power or influence.

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