12 Signs of Manipulative Behavior Without Realizing It


How do you know if you’re a manipulative person? Manipulation is something we associate with the worst kinds of people psychopaths, and narcissists. People mercilessly take advantage of others for personal gain. While it’s true that Manipulative Behavior is common among dark, toxic personalities, it’s not always a sign that you or someone you know is cruel, or unhealthy.

If you look closely at your behavior, you might discover that manipulation is part of your everyday life. We all learn one way or another that we can manipulate people to get what we want. For many people, manipulative tactics feel like necessary tools to gain influence, get their point across, or resolve conflicts.

Now, of course, you don’t call it manipulation. Instead, we know it by other names like persuasion, debate, or social mindfulness. But if you take a moment to isolate and analyze these everyday behaviors, you might realize something that no one wants to admit. You are manipulating people almost every day, whether you realize it or not. Now, before we get any further into this article, let’s get something straight.

Manipulative Behavior

We are all likely guilty of some kind of manipulation. You might have taken advantage of someone in the workplace to get a leg up on the competition. You might have persuaded someone to give away secrets or break promises for your benefit. For whatever reason, you’ve used manipulative tactics at some point in your life. But does that make all of us bad people?

You see, when it comes to manipulation, it’s critical to consider someone’s intention. While manipulation for the right reasons is still manipulation, there’s a big difference in what those tactics say about your character. Chances are, you, like many people, have manipulated someone without realizing what you did or why you did it. So now you want to know, am I a manipulative person? And if so, am I doing it for the right reasons?

In this article, we’re going to cover 12 common signs of manipulation. Listen closely to every sign on this list and make sure you’re as honest with yourself as possible. By the end of this article, you might discover that you’re more manipulative than you think.

1. Innocent Suggestions:

Manipulative people may disguise their wants and needs as innocent suggestions. For example, let’s say you and your friend are going to the movies. You want to see a specific film, but your friend doesn’t share the same opinion. You say that you’re okay with saying either one, but deep down, your mind is already made up. So what do you do?

If you’re a manipulative person? You might say something like, that movie sounds okay, but would you like to see this one instead? We use these kinds of statements to subtly influence the opinions of the people around us. You may not realize you’re doing it, but your innocent suggestions aren’t as innocent as they seem.

2. Playing the Martyr.

When a manipulative person is inconvenienced, they often act like they’re doing the entire world a favor. For instance, if someone forgets to take out the trash, you might announce to everyone in the room, I guess I’ll take out the trash again.

You make statements like these to make others feel indebted to you for your actions. You want them to feel guilty for putting you in that position, forcing them to think twice about inconveniencing you in the future. This is colloquially known as playing the martyr. You’re pretending to make a huge sacrifice, but in reality, you’re doing something that anybody could do, no matter what burdens fall on your shoulders. Advertising your sacrifices or playing the martyr is more manipulative than you realize.

3. The Burden of Blame:

Do you have a hard time owning up to your mistakes? When you do something wrong, you rarely fess up and apologize. Instead, you look for ways to blame your mistakes on other people or outside circumstances, even going so far as to fabricate excuses that don’t make a whole lot of sense. For example, you might blame your friend or partner for ruining your presentation at work. Now, you both know they didn’t do anything wrong. You just need someone to blame.

4. Stubborn Demands:

Do you have to get your way? Manipulative people expect others to make sacrifices for them, stubbornly clinging to their wants and needs without realizing how their stubbornness affects the people around them.

Now, in your mind, you may think you’re being reasonable. You may think you deserve to get whatever you need. But the truth is that you’re putting your needs in front of everyone else’s, and that makes you a manipulative person.

5. Indirect Control:

You, like many people, may have a hard time surrendering control. You want to make every decision whether or not it’s yours to make because, at the end of the day, you think you know what’s best for everybody. So you make a habit of subtly nudging people in one direction or the other.

For example, if you have a friend whom you think is lazy or unfulfilled, you might subtly encourage them to apply for more jobs. If they receive a job offer but don’t want to take it, you might convince them otherwise without considering whether it would make them happy. Even though you’re trying to make this person’s life better, by your standards, controlling anyone’s decisions is more manipulative than you realize.

6. Memory Lapses:

Here’s a manipulative tactic many people use without realizing what they’re doing wrong. All right. Let’s say your roommate asks you to wash the dishes. You say that you will, but as the days go by, the chore never gets done.

You continuously stall, procrastinate, and conveniently forget to wash the dishes, until finally, your roommate washes them for you. You might not think of this as a type of manipulation, but forgetting to do things is more coercive than you realize. Sure, if you wait long enough, most people will get tired and do it themselves, and that lets you off the hook. Not only is this behavior frustrating for the people around you, but it’s a sign that you’re secretly a master manipulator.

7. Emotional Projection:

Do you ever confuse other people’s emotions with your own? There’s a common term in psychology called emotional projection, which means to displace your feelings onto someone else. For instance, if you’re feeling insecure about your appearance, you might accuse your friend or partner of having the same insecurities. This behavior is a common form of gaslighting.

Emotional Projection

That’s a tactic that some manipulative people use to make people question their judgment. Now, if you tell someone repeatedly that they’re feeling a certain way, eventually they will become confused about how they really feel. If you’ve ever been accused of projecting your emotions or frequently misunderstanding the feelings of others, you might be gaslighting people more often than you realize.

8. The illusion of Choice.

Do you ever ask people questions even though you’ve already made up your mind? You might say something like, it’s totally up to you, but I was thinking, we could do this today at face value. You’re giving them a choice, but you and I both know that your mind is already made up. You may not realize it, but statements like these limit other person’s options by creating a sense of obligation. Either they agree with what you say, or they feel like a bad person. It seems like they have a choice, but really it’s just an illusion.

9. Lingering Guilt:

Guilt is a powerful tool for manipulative people, used to control people’s choices and emotions by making them feel like they owe you something. There are many ways to create guilt, but resurfacing old problems may be the most common. A manipulative person will bring up broken promises, old arguments, and embarrassing mistakes. You may think you’re just being funny or giving them a hard time, but what you’re really doing is creating guilt and lowering their self-esteem. In healthy friendships and relationships, no one is keeping score or holding problems above each other’s heads. Not only is this behavior frustrating and unfair, but it’s far more manipulative than you realize.

10. Passive Aggressive is Manipulative Behavior:

Have people ever told you that you’re passive-aggressive? Passive-aggressive behavior is a common tool used by manipulators to express anger and frustration. Oftentimes, you want someone to rectify a problem on their own or perhaps read your mind.

So instead of voicing your frustrations, you drop passive-aggressive hints until they fix their mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s neither helpful nor constructive. Sly remarks, backhanded comments, and other forms of passive aggression create emotional distress, confusion, and self-doubt. They force people to second guess their decisions, damage their self-esteem, and in some cases, create unnecessary conflict.

11. Acts of Punishment:

Manipulative people find small ways to punish or get revenge on anyone who does not bend to their needs. Let’s say a friend refuses to do you a favor. You might punish them by giving them the silent treatment or talking behind their back. You may think they deserve it, but punishment and revenge are never as helpful or constructive as you think. Not only are you creating unnecessary conflicts in your relationship, but you’re making it harder for both of you to forgive and move on.

12. The power of silence.

Some people can manipulate others without uttering a word. Giving someone the silent treatment, for example, makes people feel like they’ve said or done something wrong. If you stay quiet long enough, most people will assume the worst, then apologize and find ways to make it up to you. But at the same time, silence drives people crazy with worry and self-doubt, often shattering trust and creating emotional distress. The next time you give someone the silent treatment, just think about how you’re making them feel. You may think they’re getting what they deserve, but manipulation and punishment are never the answer.


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