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Common Manipulative Tactics of Toxic People

Nobody likes being played.

And most people in toxic relationships – which we refer to better as “manipulationships” have no idea that this is exactly what our partners have been doing since the very beginning: using our empathy against us, and tapping on this wonderful quality to keep us “stuck,” or keep us coming back.

One of the first things to know is that narcissists and other toxic personalities have some of the most predictable personalities, and it is important to understand what these are so that we know what to expect and can protect ourselves.

There are three general phases to the manipulationship. The first is called “idealization.” Keep in mind that an abuser’s main goal at this point is to get you to trust and fall in love with him/her so that you will plan a future together.


The process by which they do so is commonly called “love-bombing,” which is essentially an example of “grooming“, a power technique involving deception in order to influence how another person thinks, feels, and acts. This begins usually from the very first encounter.

As these people are also master manipulators, they will perform a number of tests to establish a power dynamic within the relationship where they are the ones in control.

One way they do this is by reflecting the kind of person you want them to be – your soulmate – and it may appear that you have so many things in common.

Another is to try to rush you into committing to a serious relationship. You may feel flattered and special, but keep in mind that these are very calculated strategies to get you to let your guard down, since soon you may feel like you have known them for much longer than you actually have, by the false sense of intimacy they have managed to create.

Once they have installed you in their lives (or themselves in your home!) and you start to actually get to know each other the second stage of the manipulationship, known as the “devaluation” phase, begins. This occurs as soon as you show that you are a human being with your own feelings and needs, and start resisting their control – not always doing what they want, believing what they want you to believe, or questioning their judgment.

It is here when you start to question yourself, as they begin to exploit your vulnerabilities to make you more emotionally dependent on them. During this time, they will spend time drawing attention to your flaws and weaknesses, minimizing your feelings, and chipping away at your confidence.

One of the most common behaviors during this period is “gaslighting,” or denying that something happened in order to make you feel like a crazy person.

Or, they may pit others against you using “triangulation,” which can cause a sense of fear and imbalance.

“Projection” can also be unnerving, and that is when an abuser accuses you of what they’re doing or planning to do (such as having affairs).

One of the most powerful ways to keep you stuck in the relationship is called “intermittent reinforcement,” where they first create fear in you of losing the relationship, and then relieve it every so often with episodes of love and attention.

During the devaluation phase, it is common to suffer a multitude of health issues, as your brain is working hard to make sense of the irrational. There are usually both psychological and physical effects.

The third stage (and note that I am not saying final – because it often is not the end at all) is referred to as the “discard,” and this label is applicable no matter who does the breakup.

(We actually have a separate blog called Breaking Up and the Discard: How a Narcissist Acts at the End of a Relationship where we discuss this in much greater detail.)

Is this topic front and center for you right now? BTGO has an interactive workshop that goes far beyond what we cover in this post. Learn more.

During the discard, you will find that you are no longer useful or desirable to your partner. If they sense you are the one wanting to leave, they will continue to behave in ways that make them feel in control. Overall, note that their main goal is to punish you by going after what you value most, including your property, money, and children.

Before a discard, there are usually several warning signs that will let you know that something is about to change, often involving sudden involvement with other people, changes to routines, and lots of secrecy. You may notice changes in their habits and appearance as well.

When the discard (or breakup) occurs, what is unusual is often a lack of sadness on their part, though this can change on a daily basis to lots of blaming you, playing the victim, and calling you as the “crazy ex” to anyone who will listen.

During and after a discard, it is very common for a toxic person to try to suck their victims back into the manipulationship to prevent or delay a final breakup through a method called hoovering. They will use improved, temporary behavior to do so, including saying what they think you want to hear and making empty promises. These are all plays on your empathy, and they will not last.

An unfortunately common type of hoovering a narcissist or toxic person also may try is known as a “smear campaign,” which occurs both in real life and, more commonly, over social media, as they attempt to destroy your personal reputation in others’ eyes, and even your career. Smear campaigns are also very calculated, and their beginnings often occur before a discard even takes place. The goal is to get you to come back and beg forgiveness, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Living through a toxic relationship is almost always a harrowing experience. But the best way to protect yourself is by educating yourself, so you’re less likely to be taken advantage of – both in your current and future relationships.

Editor’s note: If manipulation is an issue in your relationship, and you’d like to know more – especially what you can do about it – consider viewing our interactive workshop, “Common Manipulation Tactics & How to Deal with Them,” which is available in BTGO’s Sanity School now.

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6 Responses

  1. So true I have being in an abusive relationship for just over a year I lost my mother God rest her soul and was abused before during and after her passing I was continuously dumped them called back due to being so vulnerable I would go back I was finally discarded of last night my ex called and said she would like to go now contact the day before that she said she was in love with me and loves me she was using me so I would buy her an expensive Christmas present she belittled me and basically done all the things you have mentioned and more I lost my friends because she wasn’t happy with my friendships and I feared losing her as I felt I loved her so much and like I said I was too vulnerable to see what she was doing even typing this is hard as I feel so raw and so alone I don’t have anyone I am in excruciating pain I just feel so alone and I will never understand why someone would pretend to love me I was so in love with her so deeply in love but I knew deep down she didn’t love me still I let myself fall deeper and deeper at the moment I feel numb I feel like I have been cat-fished I am just barely showering every day having the same meal every day I get out of bed have breakfast shower then on my sofa go online to read about toxic relationships watch a bit of TV and then repeat the whole process again I am only reaching out to one person but people get fed up with hearing the same old story my ex completely Used and abused me did not help me with anything I was going through she’s done small things but nothing like someone that is supposed to love you would do strangers has done more for me basically

    1. Leigh,

      Yes, it is so hard for anyone who hasn’t been through it to understand and support you throughout the process. It sounds like you are deep in the muck right now, but I sense a fighter in you, as you are still able to eat and shower, and are beginning to research exactly what you’ve been and are going through. The more you learn, the more the unbearable pain will start to lift. It really does help connecting with people who get it, so you realize that it’s not just you, and have allies to provide you with the emotional support you need during this ultra painful time.


    2. I hear what you are saying.i can feel you completely.My partner has done everything you have said and more and the feeling you are left with right niw is how I felt a few months ago but it got so bad that it actually made me stronger to stand up to her and brave enough to kniw what I must do.It is hard to love someone for real and just end it but you have to realuze that nothing is going to ever change them amd to stay just allows them to abuse you even more.i havent left my soon to be ex yet but i dont give sway to her bs anymore.She dont keep her word at all and one day she is sorry or as she says out of line not really apologizing just trying to act like it may be some hope then 2 days later she is doing all the same shit again.Believe me in a Ex Army Ranger and a member of the biggest MC club in the world and could just wioe her off the face of this planet.But I dod fall in love with this woman and I choose not to harm he because thats exactly what she wants me to do.That way she can make me the bad guy.i wont give into it now and just laugh it off when she is provoking me with all the things that would surely get a man put in the hospital.For a man that has 0 tolerance to any kind of disrespect from anyone I must say my brothers has asled me when are you going to show that little c–t whos shes messing with.i said to them she is a woman (not a lady) and I dont beat on women for any tale no pride in beating on a 100lb woman that has a mental issue.I may be a biker and Ranger with Chronic PTSD but I just dont let someone control me into being somthing im proud of the strength I have displayed to get over feeling sorry for myself and even prouder that I havent let her bad ways make me even worse.So even though I habent fixed my issue yet I have overcome this toxic woman and will be moving on soon.So pick yourself up get off the couch and fix the friendships you can that you lost and screw the ones you can’t.if they are true friends they will be there and if not you dont need them either.I am a high ranking officer in the MC club I’m in and have 37 years to boot.So its no need to tell you or my brothers what I could do to make her behave.If I did what would I have? No more than i do niw except for a bad conscious.Now that I know what to expect her to do its a lot easier to deal with and not set myself up for her bad ways of doing things to get me angry.i carry a lot on my shoulders.i was in combat in Grenada in 1983 and had to do some things that are easy to say when you are angry but extremely hard to deal with once you have done them.So i can truely say that is not a option in this case even though it males me that angry as she attacks me about those very things.It take a real low life sorry person to attack someone that has given so much of themselves for people like these to have their freedom to mistreat others.She will get her punishmemt by comimg home one day and me and my stuff will be g9ne.Vanished without a trace.And no one to blame for anything but more like explain what happened.Then that will be her worst nightmare is to not have me to blame for anything.Luckily my neighbours know she is toxic but the one friend she does have will wonder what happened.Then if there is a God like mist believe in I’m sure she will be judged for the things she has done like this to others as well as myself.I refuse to be judge jury and executioner because that would be too easy and mainly not my place to do it.Ive always said something is better than nothing but this is one time that nothing is better what we have because its far worse than nothing.Being alone is better than being with someone and alone.Thats the worst kind of loneliness.i hope my words help you in getting on with your life.We only.have one and its far too short to dwell on a lost cause.Somewhere out there is someone who would cherish a partner like us and if not its better to be without than with what we habe had.G9od luck and I wish you the best.

    3. Terry,

      Thanks again for sharing your experience…and glad to see that you recognize that it’s yourself that you need to take care of, and not condone any kind of physical violence, no matter how much others may pressure you to believe that certain circumstances would permit it. We have seen first-hand the damage that “reactive abuse” can cause, even when it’s not physical, and it sounds like you are already quite familiar with the emotional manipulation that occurs in these relationships with people like that.

      I also love the way you ended your comment with how we have only one life, and “it’s far too short to dwell on a lost cause.” Mind if I requote you on that one? It’s a gem.


  2. I’m wondering if these blogs perpetuate the probability of misconceptions of our partners behavior. I’m always so worried that I might be wrong about my ex. Not that I have a problem admitting when I’m wrong. Despite him saying I do, and that I “always have to be right.” Which has really been his issue that he’d project onto me. Especially when I’d be presenting him with texts, photos, screenshots, and articles published by psychologists and other professionals in the field of human behavioral studies.
    He hates physically talking in person and on the phone, which I don’t like having to do on occasion either. But I also know that there are too many ways for things to be taken the wrong way when not spoken directly to the individual and when someone is important to you, you suck it up and get your behind over to them and talk it out like a friggin grown-up. Most of the time he just refused to answer the door, or he’d threaten me in some way to try and avoid the fact that he was too cowardly to be accountable for his actions and take any responsibility or show contrition or remorse for his behavior, and the things he would omit from his extracurricular activities involving other guys that he would have over and in his bed, and at 38 years old…….. We just don’t do that, and expect to be “trusted” and “respected” when it’s a recurring thing. But he also would refuse to explain himself, and would say, “why should I waste my time explaining anything to you, when you’re just going to believe whatever you think anyway?”
    I’d end up apologizing for having called him out on the things I knew was wrong of him to be doing and then I’d work even harder to be the fun bubbly person he said he fell in love with, and try to get him to see that I was worth him trying to change his ways by that approach.
    Which he would later deem “hoovering” tactics when telling his friends or our relationship councilor about me.
    Ughhhhh he’s such a good guy.

    1. Trent,

      It was interesting to read past your first sentence, which confused me in the beginning, because it sounded as though you doubted that your partner was indeed emotionally abusing you. Yet so much of what you described regarding your situation fits many patterns people use in unhealthy relationships, especially the projection it sounds like you may be experiencing.

      We actually have a workshop on Common Manipulation Tactics in our Sanity School ( if you’re interested in knowing a lot more about what’s going on – you might want to check it out, and see if anything else resonates…


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