Vail Relationships column: How to spot a manipulative person |

Vail Relationships column: How to spot a manipulative person

Neil Rosenthal

Let’s say a friend or family member owes you money, and has not paid it back.

He or she appears to be avoiding get-togethers with you, and does not respond to your phone calls, texts or emails. When you finally catch up with them, they tell you they’ve lost their job and cannot pay next month’s rent or mortgage. But then you learn that they’re going on a three-week trip to Italy next month. What do you do?

Or, imagine finding evidence that your partner has been sexting someone — sending half-nude photos of himself or herself to a person you’ve never heard of.

After confronting him or her about what they are doing and who the other person is, they claim they have no idea who the other person is and that they didn’t send those photos, even though it is obvious those photos were of them and they were sent from their phone.

These vignettes speak of something probably all of us have encountered at one time or another. It’s not just someone’s lack of honesty, transparency, truthfulness or integrity, its also how we feel and how we react when someone is actively manipulating us and/or treating us as if we are a royal fool.

Know the Signs

A manipulator — also sometimes called a con artist — is someone who lies, misleads, distorts or exploits people for his or her own gain.

Whether it’s through bullying, acting superior, withholding information or putting roadblocks in other people’s way, a skilled manipulator has perfected a method of bending the truth, guilting others or acting intimidating in order to exploit people to get what he or she wants.

This can be accomplished by raising his or her voice or acting aggressive as a means of intimidating you, by using the silent treatment as a way of isolating you and making you feel anxious, or by being judgmental, critical or sarcastic as a way to attempt to make you feel inferior and inadequate.

Manipulative behavior is also about someone agreeing to things that they have no real intention of doing, acting helpless, clueless or incompetent as a way of them getting out of doing something they don’t want to do, blaming others for words or behaviors they themselves said or did, and getting angry, withdrawing, throwing a temper tantrum or threatening you as a way of scaring or bullying you to do what they want.

The very best defense for this behavior is to train yourself to become aware of it when someone is acting manipulative toward you, and learn to say “no” firmly.

As long as you remain cooperative and obedient, you are at risk of further being manipulated, used or treated disrespectfully. You can also delay responding to a manipulative request by putting it off.

“I’ll let you know. I have to think about it,” is one way of putting things off.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the bestselling book, “Love, Sex, and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777 or visit

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