10 Red Flag Signs Of A Master Manipulator Who Is Actively Trying To Control You

Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse. Don't let these signs go unnoticed.

signs and traits of a master manipulator Hasib Khorami / Pexels

At times, it is difficult to determine whether or not someone is doing or saying something because of genuine concern or because they are a master manipulator.

Manipulation is often very subtle and hard to notice, depending on the circumstances and type of relationship. Manipulative people are everywhere and it’s important to know the characteristics of a master manipulator.

At first, master manipulators come off as sincere, compassionate, and charming. They may appear kind, gentle, and calm. This is just a tactic to lure you closer and get you to trust them early on. Once they have you in a relationship and in a vulnerable position, they will start to utilize their tactics of deception that they have become experts at.


Learn the signs and traits of master manipulators and how to deal with them. Remember: many of the signs and characteristics of manipulation are subtle and can come off as general concerns.

RELATED: 20 Signs You're An Extremely Toxic Person & Are Difficult To Be Around


10 signs and traits of a master manipulator (who is trying to control you):

1. They often lack insight into their behaviors and actions.

Master manipulators are experts at prioritizing their own desires above all else. They firmly believe that their approach to handling situations is the most effective because it ensures their needs are satisfied. Their mindset revolves around self-preservation, often at the expense of others. To them, as long as their objectives are fulfilled, little else matters. This single-minded focus can lead them to exploit and manipulate those around them without regard for the consequences.

2. They avoid taking responsibility and accountability for any of their actions or behaviors.

Accountability is a foreign concept to master manipulators. They are experts at evading responsibility, often resorting to blaming external factors or individuals for their actions. You might frequently hear them deflecting accountability by saying, "If it weren't for [external factor], I wouldn't have acted this way." Despite being aware of what accountability entails, they refuse to acknowledge their own role in situations. By shirking responsibility, they coerce others into bearing the burden of their needs, causing the victim to neglect their own well-being in the process.

3. They often criticize and judge you.

Manipulators excel at tearing down their victims with relentless criticism and judgment. They scrutinize every aspect of your being, from your actions to your character, leaving you feeling diminished and insecure. What sets them apart is their lack of constructive feedback; their criticisms serve only to belittle rather than improve. Without offering solutions or alternatives, they perpetuate a cycle of negativity that reinforces their control over you.

RELATED: 11 Ways Narcissists Use Shame To Control You


4. They will isolate you from what you cherish most.

Manipulators use isolation as a potent tactic to assert dominance over their victims. By threatening to disrupt cherished relationships or pursuits, they instill fear and anxiety, compelling you to prioritize their demands above all else. Whether it's distancing you from loved ones or undermining your professional or academic endeavors, their aim is to create dependency and erode your support network, leaving you vulnerable and reliant solely on them for validation and guidance.

5. They will distort the truth or facts.

Truth is a flexible concept in the hands of a master manipulator. They manipulate facts and information to suit their agenda, bending reality to their advantage. Their willingness to distort the truth hinges on its utility to them; if it serves their interests, they have no qualms about misrepresenting the facts. This deliberate manipulation of information not only undermines your trust in them but also distorts your perception of reality, making it increasingly difficult to discern the truth from their fabrications.

6. They bombard victims with statistics and data.

Manipulators employ a barrage of statistics and data, particularly on subjects where you may lack expertise, to overwhelm and confuse you. By inundating you with information, they seek to assert their authority and manipulate your perception of reality. This tactic is designed to exploit your vulnerabilities and coerce you into compliance, making it easier for them to maintain control over the narrative and manipulate your decisions to their advantage.

7. They give you little to no time to make a choice or decision.

Time constraints are a common tool in the manipulator's arsenal. By imposing tight deadlines and applying pressure, they coerce you into making hasty and potentially irrational decisions that serve their interests. This tactic preys on your fear of missing out or making the wrong choice, leaving you vulnerable to manipulation. By depriving you of the time needed for thoughtful consideration, they ensure that you act in their favor, further cementing their control over you.


8. They pretend they don't understand you.

Manipulators frequently feign ignorance as a means of avoiding accountability for their actions. By pretending not to comprehend your concerns or objections, they sidestep responsibility and deflect blame onto you. This tactic allows them to justify their behavior by claiming misunderstanding, effectively absolving themselves of any culpability. In doing so, they maintain a position of power and evade accountability, perpetuating a cycle of manipulation and coercion.

9. They give you the silent treatment.

The silent treatment is a potent weapon in the manipulator's arsenal, wielded to assert dominance and control. By withdrawing communication and affection, they instill a sense of powerlessness and inferiority in their victims. This tactic serves to reinforce their superiority while punishing perceived transgressions, leaving you desperate for their attention and approval. By withholding interaction, they manipulate your emotions and behavior, cementing their control over you.

10. They hold you responsible for their happiness.

Manipulators refuse to take responsibility for their own emotions, instead placing the burden on you or others. When faced with negative feelings or situations, they shift blame onto those around them, absolving themselves of accountability. Over time, this pattern of behavior fosters a sense of guilt and obligation in their victims, who feel compelled to cater to their every whim in pursuit of harmony. By manipulating your emotions and expectations, they perpetuate a cycle of dependency and control, ensuring that their needs always take precedence.

RELATED: The Simple Test That Reveals If You Are A 'Difficult Person'


How to Deal with a Master Manipulator

By recognizing the signs of manipulation and implementing proactive measures to assert your autonomy and boundaries, you reclaim control over your interactions and safeguard your well-being. Remember, dealing with master manipulatiors requires diligence and self-awareness, but by using these strategies, you can reduce their influence and protect yourself from their harmful tactics.

1. Keep your distance.

Maintaining a safe distance from a master manipulator is crucial for gaining perspective on their behavior. By observing them in various environments and interactions, you can discern patterns and inconsistencies in their conduct. This distance affords you the opportunity to assess their tactics objectively, enabling you to develop effective strategies for dealing with them.

2. Avoid self-blame.

Master manipulators excel at instilling feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt in their victims. Resist the urge to blame yourself for their manipulative tactics. Recognize that their behavior is a reflection of their own insecurities and manipulative tendencies, not a reflection of your worth or abilities. By reframing the narrative and acknowledging their manipulation, you reclaim your agency and power in the situation. Remember, you are not the problem. 

3. Ask probing questions.

When faced with unreasonable demands or expectations from a master manipulator, challenge their narrative by asking probing questions. Questions like, "Are you requesting my input or dictating your expectations?" or "How does this align with fairness?" force the manipulator to justify their actions and assumptions. By shifting the focus back onto them, you disrupt their control and assert your autonomy in the interaction.


4. Use your time wisely.

Manipulators often employ time pressure as a tactic to coerce compliance. To counter this, create space for reflection and deliberation before responding to their requests. By distancing yourself from their immediate influence, you can evaluate the situation objectively and make informed decisions that align with your interests and boundaries. Taking the time to consider their demands rationally empowers you to resist manipulation and maintain control over your actions.

5. Learn how to say 'no'.

Asserting boundaries is important when dealing with a master manipulator. Learning to confidently say "no" to unreasonable demands or manipulative tactics is a fundamental skill for self-preservation. By establishing clear boundaries early on, you communicate your autonomy and refusal to be manipulated. Saying "no" empowers you to prioritize your well-being and assert your agency in the face of manipulation.

6. Set boundaries and consequences.

Setting firm boundaries and enforcing consequences is critical when dealing with a master manipulator. Clearly communicate your boundaries and the consequences for violating them, and ensure that you follow through with enforcement. Consistency is key; demonstrating that you will not tolerate manipulative behavior reinforces your boundaries and dissuades further attempts at manipulation. By establishing and maintaining boundaries, you assert your autonomy and protect yourself from exploitation.


RELATED: 12 Sneaky Ways Toxic People Manipulate You — And How To Avoid It

Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. She writes about relationships, organizational psychology and behavior, personality psychology, and more.