Defend Yourself Against Manipulative People

Chinese water torture is a process in which water is slowly dripped onto a person’s forehead, allegedly driving the restrained victim insane. (from the Wikipedia definition).


I’ve experienced emotional Chinese water torture in some relationships! Years ago, an acquantaince (I’ll call him George)  slowly drove me to the brink of emotional exhaustion.

As I got to know George, he became upset if I spent time with other friends.  He would analyze my motives, question why I was doing what I was doing, and often express disappointment, no matter what I did or did not do!  Slowly, over time, I came to dread even seeing him approaching!  I didn’t know what to say or do to defend myself against his accusations.

Here Are Some Secrets To Defend Yourself Against Manipulative People

You can protect yourself against manipulative people. Here’s how.

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1.  Learn to Understand and Spot Manipulative Behavior.

We all manipulate from time to time.  What I’m talking about is defending ourselves against people who consistently and often, with intensity use mind games and emotional exploitation to get us to do what they want.

Read, Is Understanding and Spotting Manipulative Behavior Essential?

2.  Use These Verbal Self Defense Tactics

Diffuse the Guilt Trip

Think about playing catch. In this case, the manipulative person insists that you do what he wants, and if you don’t you should feel guilty.

Listen for these kinds of phrases.

“If you really cared about me, you’d…”
“If you were more understanding, you’d”
“If you were more responsible…”

Substitute the words, “do what I want”, and you’ll get the idea.

Throw the guilt ball back to the sender.

Here are some examples

Manipulative Person: “You don’t care about all the hard work I’ve done for you.”
You: “I sure do care about the hard work you’ve done for me. I’ve said as much many times. Now it seems to me that you don’t appreciate how much I care.”
Manipulative Person: “That’s not true! I appreciate it!”
You: “Yes, just as I appreciate your hard work.”

Break the choke hold instantly

Think of the guilt trip giver as someone who’s trying to choke you with guilt.

Someone who doesn’t know how to ask for something straightforwardly may use self-pity or indirect statements to guilt you into meeting their needs.

When the guilt starts coming, cut it short with a short retort!

Manipulative Person: “Okay then, go on that camping trip with your friends while I do all the work looking after the dogs. Don’t worry about me.”
You: “That’s great! I’m glad you’re happy to look after the dogs while I’m away. Thanks!”

Self-Defense Against Manipulative Assumptions

In a variation of the guilt trip, the manipulative person uses this tactic to put his assumptions of what he wants you to do on to your behavior. It’s hard to argue against it, because the manipulative person has already defined your behavior, and if you respond to the guilt trip, your refusal is proof of the assumption.

For example:

“I wish you’d understand how hard it is for me, after all I’ve done for you, to have you not want to stay longer with me each Christmas.”

(The manipulative person assumes that you don’t care about everything he’s done for you, and that you don’t want to spend time with him)

“I suppose you’re going to leave me alone again.”
(The manipulative person is assuming that you are always abandoning her, and that you therefore don’t care about her)

“If you’ve got more important things to do, then it’s best you don’t waste time visiting me.”

(The manipulative person is assuming that whatever you are doing represents rejecting him, not liking him, and that you don’t care about him, that spending time with him would be a waste of time).

The self-defense solution against assumptions: shift the manipulator’s focus from away from your actions on onto reality by emphasizing the value attached to your actions.

You’re never going to win an argument over the assumption, so don’t try to continuously argue about it. Rather, make an objective statement countering the discussion, and end the discussion. If the person continues to argue, you can say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,”

Here are the assumptive manipulative statements, with the self-defense statements:

Manipulative Person: “I wish you’d understand how hard it is for me, after all I’ve done for you, to have you not want to stay longer with me each Christmas.”
You: “Actually, I spend as much time with you as I spend with Kate’s parents and just as you and dad used to do when I was growing up, I’m happily dividing my time equally between both families.”
Manipulative Person: “I suppose you’re going to leave me alone again.”
You: “I’m not leaving you alone. You’ve got your favorite movie on tonight, the dog’s with you wanting attention, and I’ll be back on Tuesday, as usual.”
Manipulative Person: “If you’ve got more important things to do, then it’s best you don’t waste time visiting me.”
You: “I’m glad you understand how busy things are for me right now. It’s an expensive time to fly and I’ll be able to spend more time with you when I come next May.”

(Source – How to Pick Up On Manipulative Behavior)

Neutralize the “Third Party” Tactic

Manipulative people often play mind games by comparing you to other people who would behave differently and more appropriately (as in, meeting their demands).

Stay calm, and respond to those “other people” (the third-party or parties the manipulative person is using to make her argument).

Here are some examples:

Manipulative Person:”Beth says it’d be better if you didn’t leave me alone all the time. She says it’s harmful for me.”
You:”I didn’t realize Beth was a psychologist. I must speak to her about the possibility of her spending more time with you.”
Manipulative Person:”Everyone thinks you’re not being kind to me when you refuse to buy me a second diamond ring.”
You:”Everyone? I must meet these people who are so flush! I’d love to buy you another ring but I’m glad you have a beautiful one to keep you occupied until our budget can withstand any more large purchases.”

(Source – How to Pick Up On Manipulative Behavior)

Self Defense Against Manipulative People: Summary

Not everyone is manipulative.  Don’t mistake occasional requests from your friends as manipulative behavior.

But when you start to notice ongoing patterns of psychological manipulation in a relationship, prepare to defend yourself.

Learn to spot and understand manipulative behavior.  Use verbal self-defense tactics to diffuse and deflect guilt, assumptions, and third-party tactics that the manipulative person uses to get his or her way.

Finally, here are some resources.

How to Pick Up On Manipulative Behavior:  A great wiki-how, compiled by 33 different editors.

You Tube Video – How to Deal with Cunning, Deceitful, Manipulative People

In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People: I haven’t read this book, but this book has very high ratings by 308 customers.

Here are some guidelines from this book:

– Accept no excuses
– Judge actions, not intentions
– Set personal limits
– Make direct requests
– Accept only direct responses
– Stay focused in the here and now
– When confronting aggressive behavior, keep the weight of responsibility on the aggressor
– When you confront, avoid sarcasm, hostility, and put-downs
– Avoid making threats
– Take action quickly
– Speak for yourself
– Make reasonable agreements
– Be prepared for consequences
– Be honest with yourself

Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships with With Narcissists, Sociopaths, & Other Toxic People

Another very highly rated book, by 444 customer reviewers.

Over to you: what are some tactics you use to defend yourself against manipulative people?

photo credit: n8xd via photopin cc


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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Dmarcotte

    Great article filled with actionable advice – I am going to print it and give it to my daughter. Thanks for sharing.

  • steveborgman

    Thanks, Dmarcotte! I appreciate your encouragement, and I hope your daughter finds the material helpful :)