13 Mind Games Master Manipulators Love To Play

13 Mind Games Master Manipulators Love To Play

We’ve all encountered that person who seems to have a Ph.D. in Psychological Twister. They play games that leave you second-guessing yourself, your reality, and sometimes your sanity. These master exploiters are slick, and they know exactly which buttons to push. Here’s a rundown of the mind games manipulators love to play, so you can spot them from a mile away and avoid getting tangled in their webs.

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is extremely messed up. Someone says something, and later they completely deny it, making you doubt your own memory. It’s like if you said the sky was blue and they convinced you it was green. Next thing you know, you’re second-guessing everything because they’ve got you thinking your grip on reality is as shaky as a fidget spinner. The trick is to trust your gut and not let them rewrite your reality.

2. The Silent Treatment

Then there’s the silent treatment. It’s like someone just hits the mute button on you. No explanations, no responses, just the cold shoulder. It’s a control move, pure and simple. They might as well be saying, “Hey, I’m upset, but rather than talk about it, I’m just gonna leave you to stew in confusion.” Don’t play into it; silence is a game you don’t have to participate in.

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4. Love Bombing

Love bombing is like getting hit with a hurricane of affection that sweeps you off your feet. At first, it’s all grand gestures and fairytale romance, and you feel like the center of the universe. But watch out, because the forecast often changes fast. Once they’ve got you hooked, they pull back, and you find yourself chasing that high. Stay grounded, and remember, real love doesn’t feel like a roller coaster.

5. Triangulation

Oh, and triangulation? That’s when they start bringing in third parties to stir the pot. “So-and-so agrees with me; you’re wrong.” It’s a divide and conquer strategy that leaves you feeling outnumbered and outgunned. Suddenly, you’re not just questioning your partner, but doubting if your friends are on your side too. Keep your eyes open; you don’t need an audience for your personal soap opera.

6. Moving the Goalposts

Master manipulators love moving the goalposts. You think you’ve finally done something to please them, and whoops, the rules have changed. It’s like trying to shoot a basket, but the hoop keeps hopping around. Exhausting, right? The thing to remember is, if you’re playing a game where the rules keep changing, maybe it’s time to hang up your sneakers and leave the court.

7. Feigned Helplessness

Ever met someone who plays the damsel-in-distress or the knight-in-soggy-armor a little too often? (Hello, weaponized incompetence!) It’s like every time something needs doing, they’re suddenly clueless. “Oh, I can’t possibly figure out how to do this. Can you help?” It’s a bit like when a kid pretends they can’t tie their shoes because they know you’ll just do it faster. The deal is, they probably know what they’re doing, but they also know you’ll jump in to save the day. And let’s be honest, being needed feels good, but not when it’s part of their script for you to be the forever hero. So next time they’re ‘helpless,’ maybe let them figure it out — they might just surprise themselves (and you).

8. Projecting

Here’s a fun one: projecting. It’s when someone chucks their own issues your way, like a bad game of hot potato. They’re jealous all the time, but suddenly you’re the one getting the third degree about trust. It’s as if they’re standing in front of a mirror but pointing at you. “You’re so angry all the time!” they say, while they’re turning tomato-red and you’re as cool as a cucumber. The key is to not catch what they’re throwing. Remind yourself who owns those feelings (hint: it’s not you) and pass the potato right back.

9. Intermittent Reinforcement

Got someone who’s all cuddles and compliments one day, and then giving you the cold shoulder the next? That, my friend, is intermittent reinforcement. One moment you’re basking in the glow of their affection, and the next you’re out in the cold, wondering what you did wrong. It’s like your relationship is a slot machine, and you keep pulling the lever (or sending texts) hoping for another win. It keeps you hooked, always chasing that high of the good times. Remember, consistency is key in a healthy relationship, not this emotional yo-yo business.

10. Backhanded Compliments

This is one of the favorite mind games of manipulators. Ever gotten a compliment that felt more like a slap? “Wow, you actually look good today!” And there you are, smiling and wincing at the same time. These backhanded compliments (which often take the form of negging) are a manipulator’s way of keeping you guessing. It’s like they’re handing you a balloon and then popping it. The trick is to not let their passive-aggressive ‘praise’ get to you. Just toss it in the ‘no thanks’ bin and move on.

11. Guilt-Tripping

And then there’s the guilt trip, a classic manipulator’s go-to. It’s like they’ve got a PhD in making you feel bad about, well, everything. “If you really loved me, you’d do it,” they say, laying it on thicker than peanut butter. They’re trying to steer you by pulling on those heartstrings, making you feel selfish for having boundaries. It’s emotional blackmail, plain and simple. Next time the guilt trip ticket comes out, maybe don’t take the ride. It’s okay to say no and stick to it — your feelings and time are just as valid as theirs.

12. Pretending to be the Victim

Alright, this one’s a classic: playing the victim. You know, when something goes wrong, and suddenly they act like life’s dealt them the worst hand ever. And somehow, it’s all your fault. “You don’t know what it’s like to be me,” they’ll sigh, even when they’re the ones who stirred up the drama. It’s a way to gain sympathy and make you the bad guy without having to take any responsibility. It’s like they’re always auditioning for the role of the martyr, with the world as their stage. When you spot this, take a step back. Realize that everyone has challenges, including you, and it’s not your job to fix everything for them.

13. Overwhelming You with Decisions

Ever had someone throw a million decisions at you at once? It’s like, “What do you want for dinner? Should we repaint the living room? What are our plans for New Year’s… 2025?” It feels like you’re being pelted with questions, and you can’t catch your breath. It’s a tactic to keep you unbalanced and on your toes. By overwhelming you, they’re hoping you’ll just agree to whatever to make it stop. It’s okay to put up a hand and say, “Hey, let’s slow down and take this one thing at a time.”

14. Using Your Words Against You

Then there’s the old ‘twist your words’ game. You say something in confidence, and the next thing you know, it’s being used as ammo against you. “But you said…” is how it starts, and before you know it, your words have been turned into a weapon of guilt or shame. It’s like your words are boomerangs, and they always seem to fly back and hit you where it hurts. The best defense? Be mindful of what you share and remember that your words should be treated with care, not turned into a trap.

Phoebe Mertens is a writer, speaker, and strategist who has helped dozens of female-founded and led companies reach success in areas such a finance, tech, science, and fashion. Her keen eye for detail and her innovative approach to modern womanhood makes her one of the most sought-out in her industry, and there's nothing she loves more than to see these companies shine.

With an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business and features in Forbes and Fast Company she Phoebe has proven she knows her stuff. While she doesn't use social media, she does have a private Instagram just to look at pictures of cats.