Self-care strategy #20: Don’t be duped by deceivers (aka manipulators). Reclaim your power!

Seeing through manipulation is the 1st step to empowerment

Dealing with covert-aggressive personalities is like getting whiplash. Often, you really don’t know what’s hit you until long after the damage is done. If you’ve been involved in some way with one of these smooth operators, you know how charming and disarming they can be. They are masters of deception and seduction. They’ll show you what you want to see and tell you what you want to hear.”
-Dr. Simon

It happens too often. You start dating someone or becoming friendly with an acquaintance you met at an event or through mutual friends or family, or maybe even in church, and then weeks, months, even years later that person’s true deceitful practices begin to manifest. I’ve seen this happen to people (personally and in my therapy practice – heck it’s happened to me) too many times. Often, these trusting individuals meet these deceivers (aka manipulators) in places you’d think would attract only those with the upmost integrity.  It’s an extremely challenging situation if you have become so entangled with a deceiver that it feels nearly impossible to get out.

Who are deceivers? Deceivers are simply people who only care about doing what they need to do to meet their own needs, often at the expense of someone else’s. They are not interested in an equal power relationship. Rather, they are seeking something from others without interest in reciprocating. They are very good at making others think they have their interest at heart. That’s why it’s easy to get duped, even if you are a highly intelligent person. Usually, deceivers are very good at lying. Perhaps they are so good at it, they’ve convinced themselves it’s true (it’s called rationalization). They come up with “good reasons” for doing what they do. Think of the blaming the victim mentality often materialized in the form of the following rationalization, “well she asked for it…did you see the way she was dressed?”

The potential for danger in relationship with a deceiver depends on the level of intimacy in the relationship and the toxicity level of the deceiver as illustrated in the following diagram:


Attachments to Toxic People are Dangerous

As shown in the above diagram, the higher the intimacy level or attachment in the relationship (this can include platonic attachments) and the higher the level of toxic behavior by the deceiver, the greater the risk of danger.

How do you know you are at the hands of a deceiver? Once you’ve identified that you’re dealing with a manipulator, how do you get out if you’re already entangled?

First, follow these 3 steps on identifying a deceiver, and then read on for strategies to get out.

1st step: Identify warning signs that you might be at the hands of a potential deceiver (aka manipulator). Usually the sooner you recognize these warning signs the better off you are.

Warning signs include:

  • Thoughts such as “this person seems too nice” or “this relationship feels too good to be true.” It probably is.
  • Past or current behavior indicators such as a history of unreliability, untreated addiction or substance abuse, history of involvement in abusive relationships (emotional, physical, sexual, verbal), history of unhealthy entanglements, flightiness, or lack of commitment and follow through.
  • They lie. Enough said.
  • Their words don’t match their behavior. Watch their behavior, not their words!
  • They talk negatively about others behind their backs. What are they saying about you behind your back?
  • They are problem makers, instead of problem solvers, and often go around creating drama or instigating fights or conflicts for no good reason.
  • They currently have or have had legal issues.
  • In the case of romantic attachments, they are not done with one relationship, and are anxious to jump into a new one. I would ask, “why?”
  • The power in the relationship is not balanced. For example, you are giving more than you are receiving (whether financially, emotionally, physically or spiritually). You may start to feel resentful. You wonder if you are repeating a past pattern of attaching to certain types of people that never seems to work out for you.

2nd step: Pay attention to these warnings. DON’T IGNORE THEM. Many people ignore their own internal compass, which is very good at detecting liars, cheaters, users and deceivers. Listen to your intuition! It’s probably right.

3rd step: Do something about it. It’s never too late, no matter how far into it you are. You can get out of an unhealthy situation before it becomes worse. Believe me, it can become worse, and then it becomes even harder to get out (and often at a higher price). Protect yourself and others from harm.

Here’s how:

  1. Reality-test your concerns by discussing them with a trusted, credible source, such as a friend or family member who has good judgment. Let them know you are interested in hearing their feedback or opinion on the matter.
  2. Listen to their feedback. Spend some time pondering it over in your mind.
  3. Consider the fact that if more than one trusted source is giving you the same type of information; perhaps you need to take it seriously.
  4. Decide if you want to continue this relationship, but consider some possible negative long-term consequences of doing so.
    1. If you decide to continue, think about why it is you’re choosing to continue even though your wise mind (and friends) might be saying otherwise.
    2. Are you trying to fill a need through this attachment?
    3. Do you really believe and trust this person? What’s your evidence to support this trust?
    4. Consider discussing the answers to these questions with a therapist or another trusted mentor.
    5. If you decide that you are ready to end this relationship, come up with a quick and safe exit plan. Decide when you will end this friendship or romantic rendezvous, or toxic long-term marriage, and how.
    6. You don’t need to do this alone*, and I don’t recommend doing so. Enlist the help of friends, family and professionals (therapist, pastor, attorney, etc.)
      1. *In the case of deceivers who might be toxic enough to cause imminent harm to you or your loves ones, it is imperative you have a safety plan in place. If this person has a history of violence enlist the help of police and other professionals who can help you put one in place. You might want to consider putting a restraining order in place.

Remember, your life is in your hands. If you have children, protect them from further harm by recognizing unhealthy attachments and getting out of them as quickly and safely as possible. You will meet healthy people who deserve your commitment. Take care of yourself first.  Don’t be duped!

Recommended reading on dealing with manipulative people:

Disclaimer: the advice on this site is not meant to be used in lieu of professional therapy or counseling. If you are in a dangerous relationship, seek the services of the police or a therapist who specializes in family therapy. They are trained to work with issues of domestic violence. In case of an emergency always call 911.

For further support or assistance if you feel unsafe in your relatioship contact the Domestic Violence Hotline (

CALL 24/7/365

1-800-787-3224 (TTY for Deaf/hard of hearing)

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Thank you for your support!


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