Recognizing Manipulation Tactics

By Jenn Rockefeller

When we enter into relationships, we do so with the hope that the relationship will be a mutually loving one. But some relationships are not an equal partnership; rather, they are riddled with abusiveness and one-sided love. These one-sided relationships are not relationships at all. They are abusive from the start because of manipulation.

Abusers use a multitude of manipulation tactics to gain the upper hand and have power and control over their targets. What is manipulation and what are the top tactics they use? Once we learn what these tactics are, then we can more easily recognize them when they are being used.

According to Merriam Webster, to manipulate is “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.” So when abusers manipulate their targets, they do so with the malicious intent of using us to get what they want.

Examples of manipulation
We all manipulate people from time to time. It’s the way life goes sometimes. But what makes it malicious and poisonous to our souls is the habitual nature of it all.  Abusers manipulate us to get what they want because they know no other way. Having power and control over others is all they know. It’s a way of life for them. Below are just five examples of manipulative tactics that abusers use to maintain that power and control.

  • Gaslighting – Abusers use this crazy-making tactic because it truly makes us feel like we are going crazy. It gets us to question our sense of reality and our perceptions about the world. We second guess ourselves at every turn. Let’s say your abuser hides your keys. You turn the living room, kitchen, bedroom and several other places inside out. You overturn couch cushions, empty drawers and your purse looking for the keys. All of a sudden, he exclaims, “Oh there they are” and points to the keys neatly p, laced on top of the overturned couch cushion. You protest saying you had looked there several times already. He said, “Well you obviously didn’t look hard enough.”
  • Minimizing – To minimize is to reduce to the smallest amount or make it seem less important than it really is. And that’s what abusers do to their targets. They will tell us our problems, issues, thoughts, feelings, and emotions are less important than theirs. They will make us feel unimportant and insignificant.
  • Isolation – Abusers use this manipulative tactic to drive a wedge between us and our support system. It will segregate us from those we love in order to create a sense of loneliness so that the abuser is the only one we rely on. Let’s say you and the abuser are living together. But they want to move. So you move a few hours away. Maybe a year later, you move again – only this time, it’s across the country where you know no one and have no friends.
  • Diversion – Diverting means redirecting attention off of one thing and moving it to another. Abusers use this tactic to take attention off of them and their behavior. Instead, they will call attention to anything else – something you said or didn’t say, something you did or didn’t do, or even completely shifting the blame onto someone else. Let’s say your abuser says a bad word in front of your child. The abuser will take on a look of innocence, turn to the child and say, “Remember that one time you said a bad word? We don’t say that anymore do we?” The child, not knowing any better, will absorb the shame and guilt in that situation.
  • Projection – This tactic is used to deny one’s actions and place those actions on someone else. Abusers will frequently use projection to accuse you of the very things that they are guilty of. They will never take responsibility for their actions, so they will shift the blame onto us so that we take on that guilt and shame.

Manipulation is a way of life for abusers. Knowledge is power for us. Once we learn what tactics they use, we can also learn how to stay safe.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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