Q. How can you know when others are trying to manipulate you? Recently I’ve sensed that another person has been trying to manipulate me, and then have felt guilty for even thinking such a thing. Can you give me examples of some characteristics that would indicate manipulation?

A. Here are several characteristics that may give you some heads-up awareness:

  1. Dishonesty: A manipulator's concern is really for themselves although they try to make it sound as if it's really about you. Some can produce real tears, or lie so charismatically that you can be looking at black and when they say white, you tend to believe them. They'll say one thing one time and then, when questioned, either say that's not really what they meant or turn it around back on you. If you're not careful it can be crazy-making.
  2. Petulance: Manipulators may agree to do something or go somewhere at your request and when you say, "Thank you," they respond with heavy sighs or other indications that they do not really want to do it. If you draw their nonverbal signals to their attention, they may ask what is the matter with you because of course they want to do it! There is, however, a disconnect between the words they actually said and the nonverbal body language that can over-ride the words.
  3. Red Herring: If you seem to be catching on to their manipulation, they may suddenly change the topic. Sometimes they may displace their anger on the new topic instead of really being truthful about the original discussion.
  4. Guilt: Manipulators may try to make you feel guilty for whatever it is they believe you should have done or should not have done (typically because it was not what they wanted you to do). They may do this by drawing comparisons between what you did with what someone else did. Or they may sadly whine about the negative consequences your choice had on their lives. This usually involves a truckload of false guilt. You decide whether or not you'll pick it up.

Trust your intuition and trust your senses. Set and implement appropriate personal boundaries. Realize that manipulators typically have an agenda (conscious or not). When manipulators are successful, they tend to use the same technique on you over and over. This will likely continue until you recognize what they are doing and implement bona fide boundaries. (Incidentally, Bona Fide Boundaries is one of the mini-monographs in the process of development.)