Beware the Serial Manipulator!

Do exactly as I say!

Imagine someone saying that aloud. Imagine the scenario. What do you envision? A calm, peaceful environment filled with support, caring and love? Probably not. There is a much greater possibility that it evoked  the thought of a  chaotic scene with loud voices. Or, perhaps, you  imagined  someone speaking in a low, threatening tone in an attempt to get an individual to comply with their demand?  Most self defense classes will focus on situations like these; circumstances where the victim absolutely knows the sinister intent of the criminal. To be honest, those situations are much easier  to prepare for. Outward and obvious threats are not difficult to identify.

Now, let’s imagine a different scene. A nice dinner, soft music all around. A chic restaurant filled with beautiful people. A conversation is taking place, softly, at a corner table between a man and a woman who are finishing their very first date. As the date comes to a close, she has decided that she isn’t interested in seeing him again. He, on the other hand, wants to set a second date. The conversation is as follows: 

He inquires, “When will I see you again?”  As she really isn’t interested in spending time with him, she tries to be polite and non-committal. “Well, I don’t know. I am very busy over the upcoming weeks.” His response is simple.  “Ahhh, too busy to make time for me?” He smiles at her when he says it, making her feel  badly for dismissing him so quickly. She tries, again, to avoid making a date.  With a nearly apologetic tone, she smiles and states, “Well, that isn’t what I meant! ”   He continues, “Well, how about next Friday then?” Again, very politely, she avoids, now adding an apology.   “I am so sorry, I can’t.  I already have plans.”  He is not going to take no for an answer. Persistent, he tries again. “Well, Saturday works for me- I will take you to this amazing place I know.”  Now, beginning to feel pressured and uncomfortable, she persists in avoidance. “Oh, Saturday isn’t good either – I am so sorry”.  Undaunted, he continues to look for an opportunity. “Wow! ‘You are one busy lady! Look, I really think you are amazing and I would really like another opportunity to get to  know you better. I tell you what, let’s keep it simple, coffee on Sunday morning? Just an hour or so.” Now, feeling as if she is out of reasons to say no,  and also feeling  little guilty (because after all, he thinks that she is “amazing”), she agrees to coffee on Sunday.

A simple conversational exchange? Hardly.  It is filled with cue’s of controlling behavior on his part and a plethora of missed opportunities for her to simply say no. Conversations such as these are far more common, and equally as dangerous, as the scenarios at the beginning of this blog.  Make no mistake, the man at dinner was, in every way possible, saying, “Do what I want!” He simply wasn’t using those words.  While she may have read his behavior as an eager attempt to get a second date with her, his manipulation and persistence could be the signs of something far more serious.

Conversational Manipulation. It isn’t new and it isn’t exclusive to the dating world!  Whether it is to see their point of few, buy their product, win an argument, or take physical advantage of another person, people attempt to manipulate each other on a consistent daily basis.   To be fair, on an interpersonal level, many people are completely unaware that they are utilizing manipulative tactics. In an effort to  have another see their point of view,  they may reach for anything that aides in their victory.  Sometimes they are really effective with their techniques ( great salespeople), and sometimes their tactics will make a situation much worse. (an argument that can’t be won). Most of the time, though, the outcome of the situation is not life threatening and everyone moves on unscathed.

Unfortunately,there are other times when the manipulator is not only aware of what they are doing, they count on their skill to prey on other people with one sole purpose – to control, destroy, injure, or devastate them.  These people will also  display narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies as well…even a a very low-level. To the untrained person, these tendencies may go completely unnoticed. Some of the biggest warning signs may,  initially, even be read as flattery.

That may not sound encouraging!  There is good news. Everyone, even with some basic training, can  learn to look for the conversational cues that indicate dangerous behavior could be on the horizon. Serial manipulators can be identified before they become a problem in your life.  Here are a just a few of the things to look for when dealing with a person who is consciously manipulative:

  • They won’t accept answers to their questions but, rather, ask more questions in an attempt to get the answer they want.
  • Conversations may leave you feeling confused, frustrated,  anxious or uncomfortable. 
  • They may offer a great deal of flattery ( You are incredible.. I have never met anyone like you. I am in awe. You are so impressive.)
  • They may portray themselves as a victim in some way. (stories of being ‘done wrong” in a previous relationship are very common)
  • They have a grandiose  view of importance.

What happens after you begin to identify these disturbing behaviors in another person? You walk away. At Wrong Woman™, we recognize that it is easier said than done.  Our Wrong Woman™ Fundamentals course introduces the topic “Intuitive Decision Making“.  In this eye-opening section, we help our audiences to identify when someone is intentionally manipulating them and then we arm them with the necessary skills to shut it down.  Helping our clients to build a solid safety profile begins with teaching them to control what they  can. Learning to identify and thwart  manipulative behavior is definitely within their control!

For information on the Wrong Woman™ Fundamentals course,  click the “Course Dates” category to the left.


  1. julieloeffler says:

    Great article! We’ve all run into people like this, and you’re right: I’m one of those people who felt uncomfortable trying to get out of those conversations too. I’ve got three nieces that I’m looking forward to signing up for this class. Thanks!

    • Thanks Julie! As martial artists, you and I probably tend to focus more on the physical response to threats. It is as important that we take a look at the many ways we can take action BEFORE an interaction reaches that level.

      AND, I cannot wait to meet your neices!

  2. This is right along the same lines as Nonviolent Communication – eye opening when I interviewed the New England Director for the Center of NVC and learned that most of our language is used to blame and manipulate. Also in line with the First Agreement in The Four Agreements.

    Perhaps we should connect. I teach women (mostly stepmoms) how to reclaim their power. Plus it seems we both like martial arts…?

    • Thank You Peggy!

      I watched your video yesterday and thought it was so inspiring! What a nice surprise to have a comment from you on the blog this morning! Yes, we should connect. It seems as though we have a great deal in common!

      I haven’t studied the work of the NVC. I will certainly be checking that out today. As I mentioned to Julie (above), I have always focused on the physical response to threats when I teach my courses. With the development of the WW program, one of my goals was to expand into ALL of the various areas women can take action to build a stronger safety profile.

      I truly look forward to communicating with you and finding out more about what you do. Thanks for checking in!

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