Master manipulators are so good you don’t even know what they’re doing. You may even have lived a charmed life where no one has tried to manipulate you before you met the master—so you have no way of knowing what’s happening to you. Or, you may have been raised in a dysfunctional household and being manipulated just seems normal to you.


Either way, if you listen to yourself, you have a feeling that something in your relationship isn’t right. Maybe the master manipulator’s (MM) words don’t jibe with how you feel. Or maybe, deep down, you know he’s just wrong.


If it’s hard to believe someone would deliberately manipulate you, remember this: their behavior could be unconscious. But the sad fact is, their behavior could be conscious, too, because there are plenty of people with personality disorders who know what they’re doing.

Are You Being Manipulated By A Master? Nancy'S Counseling Corner


Why Do Master Manipulators Do It?


They want power. They want control. They want you to do things that will benefit them, not you. And all the while, they want you to be compliant and do things for them obediently. Without confrontation. Without having to change their ways. Without responsibility for their actions. Without you finding out how abusive they truly are.


Here are typical tactics MMs use:


Old-Fashioned Lying


MMs lie for sport. They are so used to being mendacious they lie even when they don’t have a reason to. With every lie they throw you off-balance and confuse you, thereby making you easier to manipulate. When they gas-light you—lying on steroids—they make you believe that you are the crazy one who doesn’t know what the truth is. One way they achieve this is through denial—no, they never promised to pay their fair share of the bathroom renovation. They simply deny the agreements they know they made. Or deny they behaved the way they know they behaved. A variation of denial is rationalization or excuses. Another variation is minimizing—their behavior isn’t that bad—you’re just way too unreasonable.


The Blame and Shame Game


MMs play offense. They project their own behavior onto you, thereby throwing you off and putting you on the defensive. Their thinking is, the best defense is a good offense. MMs do this masterfully by shifting the blame to you, making you feel shame. Meanwhile, they do what they want without feeling any shame whatsoever.  If they ever apologize, don’t be surprised if it’s another tactic for manipulating you. MMs make you feel guilty and they shame you which takes the focus off their bad behavior.


Poor Little Me


If you are at all empathetic, this tactic will undo you. The poor victim is really making you feel guilty and sorry for him. You feel compelled to help this poor guy because you are a nice person. But the MM who plays the victim is NOT a nice person. He is manipulating you to make you do his bidding. Another aspect of the poor-little-me ploy is he is a bad boy because you made him that way. His bad behavior is your fault. He wouldn’t drink so much if you weren’t such a nightmare to live with. At the extreme is the guy who threatens suicide if you leave him (or don’t do whatever it is he wants).


When you know what to look out for in a master manipulator, you are better able to defend yourself from his bad behavior.




Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: