If you are wondering how to avoid a manipulative person then it is useful to consider two situations. The first being where you are meeting new people and you want to avoid getting involved with a manipulator. The second is where you are already dealing with someone and you have realized that they are manipulative and you want to get away.
A quick note about what a manipulative person is so we are all on the same page... There is a spectrum of manipulative people and for the purposes of this article I consider a manipulative person to be one whose relationships are based on controlling and taking advantage of others. They are usually self centered, demanding and insist on having their way. They make others feel guilty or afraid in order to dominate them. They play the victim role very well when it suits them. They have their own rules for themselves and different rules for everyone else. They expect to be treated as special and have little regard or respect for anyone else. They say one thing but do another. They pretend to be something they are not. They act as if they are friendly, helpful and caring, but the reality is that they only do things that benefit themselves. They may be bare-faced liars. So we are not talking about someone who is insecure or anxious and who uses manipulative behaviors to feel safe. We are talking about people who are skilled manipulators, who live to manipulate others. Ok, so that is cleared up...!
While the knowledge and skills needed in each of our 2 situations outlined above may overlap, there are important differences in each situation. Let's examine the latter situation first.
If you are in a close relationship with a manipulative person of the type described above then there are important factors to keep in mind. These types affect your thinking, your perceptions, your decision making, your emotions and your behaviors. All these things basically add up to a personality change. I am not going to go into detail here but you can read more in the articles about pseudopersonalities and the dynamics in manipulative relationships.
Basically, this person knows how to press your buttons, how to run your emotions and how to get you to do things. They use fear and guilt to control you. They have made you dependent on them. You are afraid to challenge them, to upset them or to go against them in any way. You may even be afraid of not having them around anymore, but you know you need to get rid of them.
A significant factor is the dependency. You have been trained to run things by them, to not make decisions independently and to feel that you need to take care of this person in some way. For this reason avoiding the manipulator is not only a good idea, it is vital.
The best way to avoid such a person is to have zero contact with them. I know how difficult this may sound but it's what you need to aim for. This person is draining your life, stealing your time, energy, creativity and so on. There is no way to have a relationship of equals with someone like this.
If you are married to a manipulator like this, you need to get out, even if there are children. In fact, especially if there are children. Not only are they manipulating you, they are manipulating the children, too. You can read more about how to divorce a sociopath here.
If you are working with an abuser, it may come down to the fact that one of you has to go. You take on the abuser and have them fired or you leave yourself. Taking them on is a big job and you really need to know what you are dealing with to be able to do something like this. It means learning about mind control, undoing your pseudopersonality, understanding the manipulators, their reasons and motivations, their tricks and their tactics.
If it's a friend or family member we are talking about, then the question comes up about whether you tell them you want no contact or do you simply minimize contact as much as you can. This often comes down to a personal decision based on circumstances. If it is a 'friend' that you have occasional contact with, it is easier to just stop answering calls and emails etc. There will be a tendency to want to explain yourself (remember the dependency?) but the fact is that when you don't answer a couple of times, this person will get the message that you are not interested. That does not mean they will leave you alone, however.
The manipulator often uses all sorts of tricks to get you to communicate with them again. They basically need to get you into conversation so that they can continue to manipulate you. They will try and guilt you into giving them an explanation, tell them that you are making a mistake and will miss out, that they are sorry and that they will change and so on. You have to be prepared to hear all these things and not respond. The ideal thing is to block them in all channels of communication so that you don't have to even listen to or read what they want to say to you.
When they realize that you have blocked them, they get the message loud and clear that they no longer have complete control and that you no longer want to have contact with them. But blocking them can be incredibly difficult for all the reasons I have laid out above. But making a decision to block them and not respond to anything is a good thing to do. It means that if you do receive a message and are in emotional turmoil, you don't have to decide in the heat of the moment what to do, you already know what to do (nothing!). It may be a hard decision initially, but it makes life easier much more quickly.
In order to avoid a manipulative person you may have to:
Knowing how to avoid a manipulative person when meeting new people means, obviously, having some way of measuring, some way of assessing. If you ask lots of people how would they know a manipulator, the response often is, "I would just know." Well, if you have even been caught by a manipulator (and chances are that you have and that's why you are reading this), you understand that that idea is nonsense. The manipulators are good at hiding their true nature, that's why people get caught in the first place.
So there are 2 things you need. Firstly, you have to know what behaviours you are specifically looking out for that indicate a potential manipulator. There is no direct measure for levels of manipulation or abuse. What we can assess and verify are things a person says and things they say. So we need a list of behaviors that indicate that we may be in the presence of a manipulator.
The second piece that is necessary is the skill in recognizing those behaviors. This is actually important. It's all very well having a list to check against, but if you cannot spot the behaviors in a real world setting, then that list is not much good. The difficulty here is that the manipulators are professional liars and can be fantastic actors. The clues that may exist can be subtle and unless you are practiced at spotting them, you may miss them. One way to practice is by watching videos and movies where you know there are manipulators, psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. In the movie you know the person is a psychopath, for example, and you get to practice spotting the behaviors and words they use from the safety of your couch. So what are the behaviors that we should look out for?
These types often appear super confident from the first moment. They can be a tiny bit louder than those around them and it's almost as if they draw attention to themselves. They tend to talk a lot, although they can also be quiet but observe a lot of what is going on around them. They can seem to be a bit over the top, but not so much that anyone calls them out on it. People will just typically smile, nod their head and say nothing.
So what other specific things are we looking for?
You can read more here about things manipulative people say.
Now obviously not all of these things have to be happening at the same time for you to suspect that this newcomer is a manipulative person. Sometimes, however, you may spot just one of these and it puts you on high alert, and sure enough, when you go investigating, you find out that there is indeed more evidence of manipulation going on. Like any new skill, it's practice, practice, practice because there is no stereotypical manipulator. They may all be using the same mind control techniques but the lies they tell may be different, they make you feel special in different ways, or their skill levels are different and so on.
If you have actually been caught by a manipulator, it's worth working with a professional to undo that pseudopersonality and the damage done to you so that you don't attract other manipulators in the future.
It goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway, if you see any of these signs, it's vital not to get involved with the manipulator. Do not commit to anything else with them. Walk away. Do not spend time with them. Do not agree to another meeting. They need some time with their victims to work on them. Do not give them the opportunity. You do not owe them anything. If you decide someone is a manipulator and you override your instincts and get involved, you will pay a price. And it is never worth it.
Learn how to spot a sociopath, the characteristics of a controlling person, the signs of a controlling relationship and other ways to deal with controlling people.
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