How To: Disarm a Manipulative Sociopath

Disarm a Manipulative Sociopath

There are a lot of manipulative people out there, but you don't have to let all of them push you around. It's time for the tables to turn.

You already know how to manipulate people, how to lie to them, and how to convince them that you're trustworthy, but what about when someone is using these techniques against you?

No problem. These seven steps will help you identify, dismantle, and destroy a manipulative personality for good.

Step 1: Spot a Manipulator

Manipulators are everywhere. Although psychologists estimate that only 4% of the population is truly sociopathological, in the entire United States that's about 12 million Americans. Not to mention, if you're in a career that attracts manipulators (think law, media, and sales), then there's a damn good chance you know a sociopath or two.

Don Draper of Mad Men / AMC

Manipulators usually exhibit the following traits.

  • They like you.
  • They claim they have something in common with you.
  • They say you can trust them.
  • They display subtle hints that they're lying (unless they're really good).
  • They use insults to get you to engage. "I don't know if you could keep up with the conversation."
  • They give unsolicited promises. "I swear I'll stop bothering you in a second."
  • They rarely want your company just for the sake of it.

That's just a few of the things to look out for, but it's enough to help you identify the majority of manipulators in your life.

Step 2: Be as Unemotional as Their Souls

Your emotion is the fuel that keeps a manipulator running. Without it, they have nothing to work with and they stall. Here are a few ways to interact unemotionally:

  • Only say what is necessary. No fillers, no fluff.
  • Detach yourself from the conversation. You are not the subject.
  • Imagine yourself outside of your own body. You're observing two humans interacting.
  • Avoid using "I" and "we." For example, "This conversation has run its course. It's time to go."
  • Remember that ultimately you will die, the sun will explode, and everything will cease to exist. Seriously, this helps.
Clerk talking with Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men / Miramax Films

Step 3: Ask Them Too Many Personal Questions

It can be tough to resist talking about yourself, and a manipulator knows that. So when they ask you a question, be as short as possible and then ask them a personal question. Ask them how they feel about something.

"I'm fine. You look kind of pale. Everything alright? Have you been feeling okay?"

Gordon Gekko of Wall Street / 20th Century Fox

This is like throwing a wrench in their machine. Manipulators do not expect to talk about their emotions. They expect you to open up and become vulnerable. When you ask a manipulator personal questions, you will quickly see how reluctant they are to share personal information with you unless it can be used to ask for something from you.

Step 4: Find a Flaw & Point It Out Without Letting Up

Much like narcissists, most manipulators don't take well to criticism. They're appealing and charming, and in their eyes, anyone who sees otherwise is not a good victim. Casually point out little flaws that you find in their presentation and laugh about it.

"Sorry to interrupt, but have you ever noticed that you have a slight lisp when you say that. Say it again. Thpecimen. Specimen."

Frank Underwood working hard in House of Cards / Netflix

Manipulators are bullies. They're used to taking an "alpha" role and they're thrown off track when someone points out a belittling flaw. Doing this to them with courage and a sense of humor will alter their perception of you. It shows them that you can't be walked over and you'll bite back.

Step 5: Incorporate More Small Talk in the Conversation

Never talk about your feelings. The only thing you should talk about with a manipulator, if you must, is the weather, celebrity gossip, sports, and politics (apathetically).

No matter the topic, they will try to pull your strings. They'll say, "It is very cloudy. Cloudy days are depressing, you know what I mean?" And you'll say, "Clouds look like giant cotton balls!"

Frank Booth in Blue Velvet / De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Manipulators aren't entertained by small talk. They have nothing to gain from it. To them, there is no sense in "shooting the shit" with a group of friends for the sake of it.

Step 6: Be Terrifyingly Strong with a Simple "No"

Sociopaths are stunted in a developmental stage that most of us grew out of as toddlers. They don't understand the concept of "no." To them, it's just another obstacle they have to work around. With enough "noes," even the most persistent sociopath will recognize futility and give up.

The many faces of Hannibal Lecter, someone who will not like "no" for an answer. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Step 7: Give Them What They Want—Just Not the Good Stuff

A manipulator wants you for something. So if you have to give it to them, give them the crappiest version of it available. Let them down. They'll gladly move on to someone more valuable.

(1) Former CA Governor Schwarzenegger. Sad face. (2) President Obama. Disappointed face. Images via NBC, Mandel Ngan/AFP

And that's all there is to it. Obviously, if you're dealing with a master manipulator, they will be able to rebound fairly quickly and one-up you for the win, but most of these sociopaths won't see it coming.

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Cover image via A Clockwork Orange/Warner Bros.

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My favorite: Stare at their "third eye". It's very uncomfortable for someone to do that to you. It's almost like you're staring through them. Stare relentlessly.

Very insightful article! I recently had an experience with a manipulator and after reading this it all makes sense. After a while she claimed she felt strained in 1 on 1 interaction with me and when I asked what she meant by 'strained' she didn't make any sense at all.

Despite being 3 years old this article has good real estate on Google. I really liked reading through this and was impressed by summation and overall accuracy despite being a complicated subject. Step 1 is great and half the battle. Step 2 is first problematic due to the title. While commonly reported, lacking emotion is not a requirement for a sociopath and should not be underestimated. It can be hidden and/or used against you. The second issue is how careful one must be in providing no filler or fluff. It can easily be picked up as odd behavior and explored. Step 3 and 4 are okay, but focus on the last and second to last sentences, respectively. Keep 4 light in order to avoid provoking. Step 5 is great. Step 6 is good but while saying no and giving no details for the sociopath to work with, keep it polite. Step 7 is probably the best.

What to keep in mind across all steps is to approach with normalcy. Going stone cold in step 2, or jumping to the "clouds look like cotton balls" statement in step 5 draws attention to your defense. It's unnatural behavior that goes against what they're used to seeing and therefore interesting. Showing either defense or offense is an interest that the sociopath could press on. The ultimate goal is to become as believably boring and invaluable as possible.

By the time you realize you're dealing with one. It's too late. The damage is done. Preserve yourself and WALK AWAY. No need to further engage because the more you come the thrill in them continues to play. You can never win against one. There is no insult great enough to stop them, we feel differently.

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