manipulative people diversion tactics

Many times people who were in a relationship with manipulative people did not realise it until they left it.

Only then, when they looked back objectively, did it become clear the extent of how much they had been degraded.

This is because we try to make sense of manipulative people, such as narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths, by our own standards of behaviour. But they do not follow societal rules, and as such, employ a range of tactics that confuse and distort our sense of reality.

Here are ten of them:

1. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of mental manipulation in which the perpetrator uses emotional and psychological methods of intimidation to convince his or her victim that they are going insane.

The term comes from the 1938 film Gas Light, where a husband wants to drive his wife mad and dims the gas lights in their house, but tells his wife she has imagined it. He uses this and various other methods to convince her she is going crazy.

2. Projection

Manipulative people often use projection as a way to deflect from their own shortcomings. Projection is a way of putting the emphasis on another person and highlighting (or making up) a negative aspect of their partner’s behaviour.

For example, a husband might be having an affair but instead of apologising to his wife, he may call up her clingy behaviour as the reason for his affair. A sacked employee might blame their work colleagues and say she was constantly picked on.

3. Frustrating conversations

Ever had a conversation with someone that ended up in you walking off, absolutely dazed and confused, wondering what the hell just happened? You’ve probably been chatting to a narcissist or a psychopath.

These types of manipulative people use words like bullets in order to steer you away from any truth they don’t want you to know. Especially if you happen to be challenging them. They will do everything in their power to confuse, distract and frustrate you from knowing the truth.

4. Moving the goal posts

A manipulative person doesn’t actually want you to succeed in anything and therefore they will do their utmost to make sure this doesn’t happen. They will move the goal posts in order to see you fail. Once this has happened they can then be justified in their disappointment in you. Even if you reach their expectations time and time again, be prepared for the goal to be higher than you realised. It is their way of saying to you that you will never be good enough in their eyes.

5. They change the subject

A narcissist will always want to be the topic of conversation unless they are in some sort of firing line, so this changing the subject works in two ways. If you are boring them by talking about yourself for too long, they will quickly bring the topic back to themselves. For example – talking about the march you went on to support Gay Rights? They had a friend who died for the cause.

If they are being held accountable for some misdemeanour, however, they will want to get off subject immediately, and it will be at your expense. Talk about them not holding a job for a while and they will bring up the hideous way your mother treated them at a birthday party and how are they supposed to work after that?

6. Love-bombing and devaluation

Manipulative people shower you with affection, attention and adoration until you are hooked. The minute you are, however, and you start to think that you have the beginnings of a great relationship, they turn stroppy.

All the things they did at the beginning of the relationship, the constant texting, phone calls, meeting up at weekends, all instigated by them by the way, are now classed as weird behaviour by you and you are the one being clingy and needy.

7. Triangulation

Adding a third person into the mix that agrees with the abuser against you is another favourite trick of toxic and manipulative people. They use this third person to validate their own abusive behaviour and often disguise it as joking but in their eyes they mean it. The third person will see it as light hearted banter and go along with it, not knowing the full extent of the abuse. The abusive person does this mainly so that the victim is left questioning themselves.

8. Cruel comments disguised as jokes

Don’t you hate it when someone says a really cruel thing about someone and then covers it up by saying ‘Only joking!’ To me, that is such as cop out. Using this method is a licence to be nasty without anyone calling you out on it, because if you do you are then labelled as precious or sensitive, or you can’t take a joke. Really this is verbal abuse and should be called out whenever it is seen.

9. Condescending and patronising

Even though the toxic person will constantly have temper tantrums and probably deserve to be spoken to in a condescending way, it is they that speak to their victims in this manner. Of course, it is a form of control and shaming their victims and they take great delight in doing it not only in public but in private too. They use patronising speech to silence and intimidate you into losing you confidence. And it is a Catch 22 situation, as the less confidence you have, the less patronising they have to do. It is a win-win for the abuser.

10. Control

At the end of the day, it is all about control for the manipulative abuser. They ultimately want complete control over you. They want to isolate you from your friends and family, control your money and freedom, make sure they know exactly who you spend time with (if anyone) and, most importantly, have control over your mental health.

This is more often than not via their moods. You might never know what mood they will be in on a day to day basis, or what sets them off. It could be something different every day, making it virtually impossible to keep them happy. They can manufacture an argument out of thin air which leaves you feeling tense and uncomfortable in your own living space.


  1. Thought Catalog
  2. Elephant Journal

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Janey D.

Janey D.

Janey Davies has been published online for over 8 years. She is the head writer for, she also writes for, and has contributed to She has an Honours Degree in Psychology and her passions include learning about the mind, popular science and politics. When she is relaxing she likes to walk her dog, read science fiction and listen to Muse.