20 Common Tactics Abusers Use to Manipulate You

Navigating abusive relationships can be tricky. So, we’ve come up with a list of the top 20 most common tactics abusers use to control and manipulate their victims. These tactics, like gaslighting and goalpost shifting, can really hurt a person emotionally and make them feel worthless. However, if you’re in a toxic and abusive relationship, it’s not too late; by learning about these tactics, you can empower yourself to recognize and break free from manipulation and build healthier relationships!

Manipulation of Insecurities

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Though most people think abuse manifests itself physically, this is not always the case. You don’t have to get hit, screamed at, or beaten to consider yourself an abused individual. Manipulation, after all, is a tactic rooted in toxicity; it’s also a form of abuse.

Gaslighting and Reality Distortion

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Gaslighting, in many ways, is a form of manipulation. It’s a tactic used by abusers to distort their victim’s perception of reality. Medical News Today shares, “Gaslighting involves one person manipulating another into doubting their own perceptions, memories, and sanity. It is a form of emotional abuse and is not limited to romantic relationships; it can occur in familial, professional, and social contexts.”

Grooming and Re-Grooming

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Andrii Nekrasov

Often, abusers initially present themselves as perfect individuals who would be great companions to others. They groom their soon-to-be victims by building a relationship with them founded on emotional connection and trust. Then, once they are trusted, they immediately do a 360 on their personalities and start their abuse and manipulation tactics. After a while, they re-groom their victims to once again make them believe they are good people; this is the start of a vicious cycle for the victims.

Subject Diversions

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Prostock-studio

Abusers and manipulators usually use this tactic to make their victims feel devalued or degraded. When their victims make a valid point during a discussion or argument, or even if they simply receive a compliment from another person, their abuser would immediately change the subject. This is to prevent their victims from gaining hope or confidence. In the worst-case scenario, changing the subject would make the victim feel stupid—as if they don’t can’t be independent or trusted.

Silent Treatment

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Galina Zhigalova

Another tactic used by abusers to manipulate their victims is silent treatment. Like stonewalling, they halt conversation and communication by blocking out and not responding to their victims—especially during conflict or argument—because this will make their victims wary and shameful. The silent treatment is usually seen as a tool used by people with abusive tendencies to punish, manipulate, or shame their victims.

Dismissal or Diminishment

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Crime Art

When someone is being abused, their full potential and capabilities are being suppressed. One way abusers do this is by being dismissive or diminishing of their opinions and achievements. When they contribute something or succeed in some way, the abuser immediately gives a dismissing or diminishing comment to remain at the top and hold on to their control.

Threats or Coercion

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Anastasiya 99

Giving threats or being coercive is one of the more apparent signs of abuse. Women’s Aid shares, “Coercive control is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”


Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

People should be free to live their lives, but if someone is abused, then their independence is unjustly taken from them. Abusers want to feel as if they have complete control of everything, so they typically sink their claws into every aspect of their victim’s life. They would control their money, goals, who they hang out with, and more.


Image Credit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

An abuser aims to have absolute control of their victims. So, they usually resort to intimidation to instill fear in them. Intimidation can manifest itself in many ways, such as inappropriate messages, character assassination, stalking, and more.

Negging Behavior

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nicoleta Ionescu

Negging is considered to be a shortened term of the phrase “negative comments.” It’s a way for an abuser to verbally assault and manipulate their victims. Verywell Mind explains, “It involves making negative comments about someone’s appearance, character, or behavior in an effort to make them feel bad about themselves.”

Childlike Treatment

Image Credit: Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

Abusers thrive on putting their victims down. So, one of their tactics is to treat them as a child who’s dependent and can’t do anything without them. This can come in many forms, such as talking down on them, judging or making fun of their intelligence, or making them feel incapable of doing specific tasks.

Generalized Statements

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych

You might not realize you’re with an abusive person until it’s too late. However, certain signs might appear at the beginning of your relationship, and generalizations or generalized statements are an example of this. For example, when you’re arguing, and your partner says, “All women are like this,” it’s a generalized statement that puts you down as a person. It’s a tactic they use to manipulate you into thinking that you’re not good enough.

Induced or Learned Helplessness

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Roman Chazov

Similar to treating you like a child, abusers like to induce helplessness in their victims, too. On the outside, they seem kind and helpful, wanting you to succeed in certain tasks. However, in reality, they’re grooming you to believe you can’t do anything without them. UNL Digital Commons shares, “Learned helplessness is a very dangerous trait to possess when in an abusive relationship as victims are likely to feel a huge loss of control over their life, resulting in the decision not to seek help.”

Goalpost Shifting

Image Credit: Shutterstock / voronaman

Goalpost shifting is a metaphor taken directly from sports like hockey or football, wherein someone changes the rules or criteria while a game or competition is still in progress. This then leads to a new goal that gives one side an advantage and the other the opposite. So, when you notice your partner trying to change the rules in a particular situation or argument, and the changes they are implementing seem to be putting you at a disadvantage or making things difficult for you, they are most likely moving the goalposts.

Minimization, Denial, and Blame

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Most abusers deny that they’re doing anything wrong to their victims, and when something does go wrong, they shift the blame to others. They also minimize their victim’s feelings to make them believe that they’re just imagining things or overreacting. Eye on DV shares, “This is characterized by the abuser ever so slightly tweaking the facts in an occurrence to make it look, sound, and feel like the truth but represent the version of the truth that the abuser wants the world to see as the truth.” In many ways, this set of tactics is similar to or related to gaslighting.

Coercion and Threats

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Some of the most common tactics abusers use to control their victims are coercion or threats. Their main goal is absolute control, so they can resort to whatever tactic or strategy they need to sink their claws into their victims. Some forms of these tactics include physical force, assaultive behavior, use of power imbalances, exploitation of vulnerabilities, and more.

Child Utilization

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

One of the lowest of all blows in an abusive relationship is using children as an excuse or even a threat. This usually happens in marriages wherein there are already kids involved. The abuser will threaten their victims by guilt-tripping them about their children. For fear of their kids getting hurt, the victim will then relent and allow the abuser to do whatever they want.

Lies by Omission

Image Credit: Shutterstock / fizkes

Honesty is the foundation of all relationships. So, even lying by omission, especially with ill intent, can be considered an abuse tactic. This is because, in some way, shape, or form, a lie by omission can be used by an abuser to change their victim’s perception of reality.

Intermittent Reinforcement

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Dusan Petkovic

Intermittent reinforcement is a tactic used by abusers to confuse their victims. For example, they can be hot for one minute and then suddenly cold in the blink of an eye. This tactic makes victims unsure of where to place themselves or how to act. According to Psych Central, “Intermittent reinforcement—in the context of psychological abuse—is a pattern of cruel, callous treatment mixed in with random bursts of affection; the abuser hands out rewards such as affection, a compliment, or gifts sporadically and unpredictably throughout the abuse cycle.”

Sabotage and Character Attacks

Image Credit: Shutterstock / Egoitz Bengoetxea

For a victim of abuse, friends and family can be their only lifeline. Unfortunately, most of the time, their abusers recognize this fact, too. So, to prevent them from asking for help, abusers usually cut off this lifeline by sabotaging their victims or ruining their characters.

Author: Stanislav Lem


Stanislav Lem is the founder of Big Time Living, where he provides tips for gardening, traveling and lifestyle. Stan is an entrepreneur, journalist and traveler.
His mission is to provide information to help people become better planters, travel more and live a happy life. His blog has been featured on Huffpost, Yahoo and MSN.