Various Types of Manipulative Behavior in Relationships

I was recently interviewed for Well + Good ( on manipulative behavior and wanted to expand on several versions of manipulation because some of you really seemed interested in the topic.

What is manipulation?

Manipulative behavior can be considered to be any interpersonal action (through which one will attempt to affect another) done to achieve an end with a hidden intent or motivation. When you’re being manipulated, the intention usually appears to be the opposite of what it really is. Think of the time when someone showed genuine interest in you and you later discovered that they only wanted to sleep with you. Rather than being interested in your mind, he only wanted your body. In essence, manipulation is a form of deception, performed in order to alter your beliefs and feelings about, and actions toward, the con-man.

Forms of Manipulative Behavior


Manipulation through flattery is the most effective form of the construct, as seldom do individuals have the opportunity to force others to behave in specific ways or even to remain in their vicinity after a threat or any other aggressive gesture. Flattery naturally make us want to reciprocate the kind gesture and to continue to receive praise. Thus, we are hooked. This manipulative strategy involves expressing the ways in which you believe the other is special, and can, and often does, include exaggeration. An example would be: “You’ve helped me so much, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you.” Since, we have a tendency to seek out positive self-referential information (i.e. being a version of confirmation bias), we can fall prey to flattery as a means of sustaining our self-esteem. The manipulator either knows they’re exaggerating or that their intent goes behind just providing a compliment.

Guilt Tripping

The intention is to make your interlocutor feel guilty, although on the surface you appear sad. Guilt tripping can include reminding another about how much you’ve sacrificed for them, which is the form it usually takes. However, it can also include making another feel guilty about qualities and possessions the manipulator doesn’t have, like talent or a good reputation. In this respect, the other party feels like they have to repay a debt.


In this case, the manipulator causes his victim to feel a sense of cognitive disorientation. Gaslighting involves denying reality while allowing the victim to question her sanity. This is the preferred method of con-men the world over because they’re able to convince their audience through brazen repetition. Gaslighting can be as simple as telling your interlocutor that they’re wrong about their version of events to as complex as diagnosing them with a psychotic disorder due to their “delusions.” “You should see a psychiatrist if you really believe I can cheat on you.”

Silent Treatment

Yes, the manipulator is genuinely upset, however they use silence with the intent of maintaining power. In this example, the victim is made to believe that they’ve done an egregious act that can only be forgiven through extensive efforts.

Threatening to leave

Manipulators often don’t intend on leaving their victims, but often threaten to do so in order to maintain power and convince the other that they’re the most valuable one in the relationship. If I can come and go as I please, it’s up to you to keep me happy.


The final one is a real mind-bender. Negging is the art of lowering another’s self-esteem in order to convince them that you’re too good for them. The point is to insult you (directly or indirectly through back-handed compliments) so that you’re chronically wondering why you can’t gain the approval you’re seeking. Apparently, the con-man’s intention is to exhibit his global superiority or even to “help you,” but, in reality, he wants to win you over and, subsequently, control you. Negging can work well on individuals who persistently personalize rejection or failure. So, if you’re sure it’s you, he’s got you hooked.

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