What Writers Need To Know About Liars & Manipulators

People love to write liars and manipulators, but oh boy does fiction get a lot of things flat-out wrong. Harmful misconceptions about how liars and manipulators look and behave are repeated every day, and rarely does fiction capture the real essence of what a manipulator is truly like. So in this article, I'll try and clear up some of these misconceptions and describe the reality.

Everything in this is based on years of paying attention to people who lie and manipulate, cross-referencing popular beliefs about liars and manipulators with reality, and listening to people who have personal experience and expertise. And that said, I recommend that you don't just take everything I say here at face value - do your own observing and cross-referencing, too.

Table of Contents

First, not everyone lies for the same reasons.

There's a bunch of people out there who think that anyone who tells lies on the regular must be a pathological liar. Furthermore, they think that pathological liars are all out to manipulate people for their own ends. In reality, this isn't how it works.

First of all, not all pathological liars want to hurt or exploit others. Some people don't actually want to lie, but have a sort of addiction they can't figure out how to break. This often causes them great distress.

Secondly, someone who deliberately chooses to lie regularly isn't necessarily evil, either. Someone living in an abusive environment may need to lie in order to protect themselves from harm or sabotage, or to ultimately escape. An abused woman who claims she's spending money on spa visits when she's actually squirreling it away so she can leave isn't doing anything wrong. Nor is she wrong to lie about where she's going when she's going to support group meetings and suchlike.

Obviously, it's completely absurd to morally equate the abused woman with a cold-hearted manipulator, or to suggest that she's mentally ill for doing what she must in order to be safe. She has no moral imperative to allow someone to hurt her, and self-preservation is a healthy instinct.

Third, almost anyone will lie if they're pressured long enough to give an answer they don't actually have. If a young child asks a parent where marshmallows are made for days on end, and the parent can't answer to the child's satisfaction, they might just tell the child that it's unicorn poop. An innocent person might break down and confess to murder after days of stressful, even violent interrogation, just to make the whole thing stop. Someone essentially backed into a corner and intimidated into explaining an action that had no real thought behind it might suddenly come up with any number of non-existent motives.

Finally, there's the little white lies that almost everybody tells. These lies aren't malicious or self-serving, but instead are usually told to spare someone's feelings or to otherwise keep the peace. Some white lies can end up causing trouble in the long run, but this doesn't mean that they're evil per se; after all, too much blunt honesty can cause problems, too.

Not everything that looks like a lie is actually a lie.

Some people assume that anything that doesn't seem to mesh with their own comprehension of what's truth and fact must be intentional dishonesty. However, there other possibilities that must be considered.

First, someone might be telling the truth to the best of their knowledge and comprehension. Nobody has (nor can humanly be expected to have) 100% correct information all the time. They might have misunderstood something, or they might be remembering incorrectly, or they might have gaps in their memory. If anything, human memory is very fallible; people remember feelings better than facts, and in the absence of factual details their minds will often try to construct a sensible narrative to explain and justify their feelings. Thus, someone might remember a time when they were very young and couldn't find their parents, and felt intense panic over it. Even though their parents were gone for no longer than a minute, remembering how intense those feelings were later on might lead them to believe that it must have been much longer.

Secondly, someone might be telling the truth in unconventional or unfamiliar terms. For example, someone might say "the cat told me that she wanted petted" in the sense of "the cat communicated her desire to be petted in the way that cats do," not "the cat said she wanted petted in actual, literal English." This kind of thing can happen quite often when dealing with different cultures; they'll invariably see the world through different moral and philosophical lenses, and have different ways of categorizing concepts, not to mention numerous metaphors and figures of speech.

It must be noticed that many dishonest and manipulative people will deliberately disregard these two facts, and accuse the other party of being dishonest or manipulative when it's simply not the case. For example, they might pressure someone into telling them "exactly" what happened, then accuse them of lying once a factual inaccuracy emerges. Or they might behave as if a metaphor was meant to be taken literally - EG, "They say that music uplifts and soothes the soul! But the soul isn't proven to exist! Therefore, they're lying to you!"

So just because something sounds untrue at first, doesn't mean that this person is being deliberately deceptive. The possibility that they're confused or just speaking in counterintuitive terms is something that often needs to be ruled out first.

Not all liars have "tells," and not all so-called "tells" are proof of lying.

Some fiction would have you believe that all liars have an obvious tell - not making eye contact when they're lying, making too much eye contact when they're lying, twiddling with their hair when they're lying, etc. While this is true for some people, it's usually because they're unaccustomed to lying or have moral qualms with it. Most so-called "tells" are basically anxious behaviors; or in the case of making too much eye contact, overcompensating to avoid a perceived lack of eye contact.

The notion that anxious behavior = dishonesty comes from the mistaken belief that people who have nothing to hide won't have any reason to be afraid. In reality, there are plenty of reasons someone might feel anxious that have nothing to do with dishonesty. The speaker might feel intimidated by the listener, or might be afraid that the listener will react poorly, or might believe that the speaker won't believe them even if they do tell the truth. The speaker might be having a panic attack because the situation is so stressful, or for entirely unrelated reasons.

Additionally, many anxious-seeming behaviors can be symptoms of autism; for example, hair-twiddling and fidgeting can be forms of stimming, and many autistic people find it difficult to make and hold eye contact. The false idea that these things are sure indicators of dishonestly has gotten many autistic people harmed, and will continue to do so if we do not stop perpetuating it.

Someone who is experienced and comfortable with lying will look and sound no different from someone who is telling the truth. There will be no tells, no little giveaways. You will have literally no way to know whether they're lying or not just from their body language and tone of voice.

This isn't to say that it's completely impossible to suss out a liar; it's actually very possible. However, it does require you to toss out basically everything you think you know about liars and manipulators.

One reliable way to spot a liar or manipulator is to compare a person's stated goals with their actions. For example, if someone tells you that they respect your hobby, but act put upon and derisive whenever you want to engage with your hobby, they don't respect your hobby. If someone says they care about solving racism, but refuses to do any actual anti-racist work and instead just complains that Black people and other POC are "too sensitive," they don't care about solving racism. If someone tells you that they care about your feelings, but tell you to grow up or stop guilt tripping them whenever you talk about them, they don't care about your feelings.

Another sign that you're dealing with a dishonest person is that they care more about their image and what people think of them than they care about the impact their words and actions have on other people. Upon being told that their words or actions were hurtful, a manipulative person might say something like "are you accusing me of being abusive? Do you realize what a hurtful accusation that is?" Or they might say something like "how could you say something like that when I've worked so hard to help you?" Basically, having no compassion for anyone else and finding a way to spin themselves as the real victim in every situation is a surefire sign that you're dealing with someone dishonest.

One last red flag of dishonesty is self-absorption. Highly self-absorbed people only care about others in terms of what they can do for them. They have little to no interest in other people's feelings or welfare, so they have few to no qualms with lying to them. Self-absorbed people tend to talk about their own accomplishments, opinions, and knowledge a lot, and show little to no genuine interest in anyone else's mental landscape. They might praise and flatter others to try and endear themselves to them, but genuine gratitude and appreciation will be scant. Should the target of their manipulations fail to give in, they will usually switch to insults and/or trying to make the target feel sorry for them. (EG, "Ugh, I should have known you'd be as selfish and cruel as the rest! If you keep treating people like this, you'll end up alone!")

Most manipulators probably don't act how you'd expect them to.

By and large, writers have a lot of ideas about manipulators that are just plain wrong, and in my opinion these incorrect depictions make it harder for people to recognize when someone is being manipulative, because they think a "real" manipulator would be different.

Fiction often portrays manipulators as very obviously "off" or "other" in some way. They might be weaselly, greasy figures, like Grima Wormtongue in The Two Towers. They might be foreign, like Helmut Zemo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They might be queer, like Moriarty in BBC Sherlock. They might have interests or hobbies that are considered strange or subversive, like Loki and his interest in magic in Thor. They might be countercultural, like the punk-coded vampire David in The Lost Boys.

Essentially, these characters are all people who don't typically register as "respectable" or "civil" to those with power and privilege. Instead, these types of people are often perceived as outsiders who willfully and maliciously act to subvert the status quo and/or the natural order of things solely for their own selfish benefit.

In reality, many manipulators are the people with power and privilege. They look perfectly respectable and know how to leverage civility politics to get what they want. An example of this are the middle-class white women who perform fragility to onlookers and police whenever they feel "threatened" by a Black man walking by in a public area. They might claim they feel threatened and make a big show of acting terrified. And it is just a show; many of these women have been filmed dropping the act in a heartbeat once they think it's no longer useful or think they have a better card to play.

Many manipulators with respectability on their side will deliberately goad folks without that advantage into lashing out in frustration or anger, then accuse them of being rude, irrational, or mean. For example, a man with a reputation for being a fine, upstanding guy because he knows how to act "civil" and "respectable" in front of the people who matter might intentionally push an awkward autistic woman into a meltdown, then claim that she's overly-sensitive and hates him for no reason.

Gaston from the 1991 Beauty and the Beast cartoon is a good example of how a manipulator can effectively leverage respectability. In his home village, he's the very picture of the ideal civilized man - tall, muscular, a hunter - and because of it, many people admire him. He frames himself as a victim of Belle's rejection ("Rejected! Publicly humiliated!") and exploits the fact that the Beast doesn't have respectability ("He's a monster! He'll make off with your children in the night!") to rally the townspeople into helping him murder the Beast.

Another common misconception is that manipulative behavior is somehow a feminine quality, primarily employed by women or other individuals society deems unmasculine for some reason. The reality is that manipulative behavior is not linked to gender or an absence of "manliness"; if anything, cishet men manipulate each other all the time by revoking or threatening to revoke each other's man cards. Men frequently manipulate women by disregarding their boundaries (such as by refusing to accept that "no" means "no" and that only a "yes" means "yes") and by accusing them of being unreasonable, or of not knowing or caring what's in their best interests. Additionally, society often tacitly encourages men to manipulate others by employing physical intimidation and aggression to cow them into submission. This can be very subtle - it might be as simple as putting his hand on someone's shoulder and looking them in the eyes and pressing down with just a little more force than is necessary. (The scene in Pacific Rim where Raleigh Becket touches Newt Geiszler's shoulder is a good example of this.)

Fiction often portrays manipulative women as ugly, or as having screechy or nasally voices. But in reality, women like this are even less likely to be listened to than usual, making it even less likely they'd be able to manipulate someone. On the other hand, genuinely manipulative women will often try to cultivate an appearance of respectability; or at least one of vulnerability. If you look at footage of white women trying to call police on Black men, you'll notice that most of them don't sound screechy or whiny. Instead, most of them take on the Sensible Authority Figure Voice. When they're not doing that, they're usually performing the Frightened And Vulnerable White Girl Voice.

Fiction often makes it seem as if most manipulators are loners, with few to no friends. While this is true of some manipulative people, most of them have a fair number of friends and casual social acquaintances. Manipulators will typically try to groom their friends and acquaintences into becoming their defenders and supporters. Manipulators will play themselves up as whatever suits their purposes - perhaps a misunderstood visionary, or a hapless victim of a cruel and uncaring world, or the long-suffering partner of a callous and ungrateful spouse, or a humanitarian paragon who just wants what's best for everybody, or a harmless little goofball who's just here to have fun, or something else that suits them and their goals. And of course, most manipulators will try to cultivate respectability and will aim for leveraging civility - in a nutshell, the whole "I'm a good citizen just trying to live my life and do what's right; you/they are rude and attacking me for no reason!" routine.

Fiction often makes it seem as if most manipulators and liars are geniuses, but the reality is that most of them are about as intelligent as anyone else. Most of them simply take advantage of people's good faith. Unless bigotry and prejudice comes into play, mistrust between people is the exception, rather than the rule. Most people haven't yet learned how to spot the red flags of a manipulator, and most people also don't have the ability to pick and choose who they empathize with. Additionally, a lot of manipulators simply use their authority and influence over others; for example, a manipulative boss might threaten to fire or even blackball an employer who doesn't do as they're told.

Fiction often underestimates how often manipulators will turn people against each other for their own benefit or amusement. They might do this through malicious lies ("Yeah, I know Amy said she loved your cake to your face, but she told me that she hated it and really hopes you won't cook anything again") and malicious comparisons ("Everybody loves your sister, why can't you be more like her?"). They might force people to compete against each other for prizes, promotions, favors, or even necessities. (Artificial scarcity is essentially this on a mass scale.)

Fiction often doesn't do justice to how often manipulators rely on the old carrot-and-stick technique. This often takes the form of claiming that there will be terrible consequences if their don't listen to them, but that there will be great rewards if they do. Television commercials do this a lot. They often suggest that your life is or will become terrible without the product being advertised, but will become exciting and glamorous if buy it. Another form of this manipulation tactic is to claim that most of society's ills are being deliberately caused by small a group of extremely clever and devious outsiders, but that they'll be very easy to defeat once everyone chooses to act against them. In a relationship, a manipulative spouse might threaten to leave and take the children if their partner doesn't "shape up" or "show more respect," while promising to be nicer and more respectful themselves if their partner gives in.

Another thing that fiction often fails to acknowledge is how a really effective manipulator will make you think that that everything was your own idea and that you reached these conclusions all by yourself. For example, young American children are often taught about foreign countries in a way that make them sound as if they're especially backward, bigoted, or otherwise excruciatingly stifling places to live, while also being told that the US places a high value on freedom and democracy. They don't outright tell you that the US is the best country in the world, but that's the conclusion you're effectively forced to reach.

Manipulators often tell people to "look at the evidence and decide for yourself!" while presenting them with a carefully-curated selection of evidence. Everything they show might be genuine and unaltered, but they might be deliberately leaving out key context or other pieces of evidence that would cause you to reach a conclusion they don't want. For example, a manipulator might show you a video where someone appears to be yelling obscenities at them for no reason, while leaving out how they spent a half hour following that person around needling them with slurs and insults. Conspiracy cranks will have at least a few actual facts to prop up their claims, while leaving out dozens that disprove it.

And finally, fiction makes it seem as if the cold, hard facts are the main thing that's at stake. In reality, manipulators target people's emotions and feelings. Their main goal isn't to change what you believe, but to change how you feel. Essentially, they hide and distort the facts to manipulate how you feel. Potentially, a manipulator might be fine and dandy with you believing that they stabbed a child, so long as you feel like the manipulator's actions were fully justified and you're ready and willing to protect and defend them at any cost.

Because manipulators primarily target people's feelings, they will often reach for whatever would have the most impact if it were true. Thus they will often make absolute declarations - EG, the aforementioned "you always" and "you never" statements. It can also include sweeping statements like "all gods except ours are evil, manipulative demons" and "those people just want destroy civilization!" It can include accusations like, "no, you're the manipulative one!", or "you just hate me and want to make me cry!", or "you act like you're so much better than me, but you're not!" Health scammers often claim that their products are so beneficial that they can even cure things like cancer and AIDS, but the only reason you haven't heard about them up until is because the evil FDA doesn't want the truth out. This would be absolutely huge if it was true - which is your first red flag that it's not. For most liars and manipulators, the facts never matter quite as much as delivering the biggest emotional and psychological gut-punch, because that's usually what gets them the best results.

This is also why trying to argue back with facts and logic is a mistake. Manipulators don't care about facts and logic (though many manipulators claim they do, for respectability points). They only care about getting their way.

Most malignant liars and manipulators will never just give up and surrender.

Thanks to fiction, a lot of people think that a liar or manipulator will basically just give up and surrender once you expose them or call them out. In most works of fiction, they'll admit they've been caught, explain their motives, maybe gripe about how they were so close to getting what they want and swear revenge, but ultimately, they'll more or less accept that they've been caught and exposed fair and square.

In reality, this is nothing more than a power fantasy for people who wish they could catch and stop "bad guys." Real liars and manipulators behave very differently.

Typically, the first line of defense is outright denial. They might claim that you're confused, remembering wrong, or lying because you hate them or just want to make them look bad. They might claim that they just don't know what you're talking about, or that you imagined it all or heard wrong, or that you got your information from people who hate them and just want to make them look bad.

If they think that denial is no longer an option, they're very likely try to reframe things to make themselves look better. They might minimize the impact of their actions ("I didn't hit you that hard! Now stop being a baby and grow up!"), claim they were justified ("You wouldn't have stopped doing that annoying thing if I hadn't hit you!"), or act like they're the real victim and you're the real villain ("You're always picking on me and criticizing me! Why do you hate me so much?"). They might even try to frame themselves as unappreciated ("I just wanted to do something nice for you!"), or as one who's trying to be the bigger person ("I just want to make peace!"), or as wholly benevolent ("You know I'd never do anything to hurt you, baby!") (Seriously, a good sign you're dealing with a manipulator is an abundance of "you always," "you never," "I just," and/or "you just" statements.)

If caught in a lie, they probably won't just admit the truth. Instead, they'll likely try to cover with another lie; usually one that's easier to believe and/or harder to disprove. For example, someone might fraudulently position themselves as an expert on Celtic mythology; then when people who actually know and understand the subject call out their glaring ignorance, try to reframe themselves as a student who can't be expected to know everything. Alternatively, they might claim that they got their information from a totally real Irish person who is totally an expert, possibly while claiming that those who call out their inaccuracies are actually disinformation agents who don't want the truth to be known.

Likewise, a quack might initially claim that their product cures cancer; then when scientific testing thoroughly debunks this, claim that it "promotes wellness" instead. "Wellness" is a vague term that can mean a lot of things, so it's a much harder claim to disprove. Someone exposed for selling chunks of glass as mystical space crystals might revise their claims to state that they're pieces of glass containing the spiritual essence of space crystals because they were left outside on holy ground during an eclipse or something. Someone caught lying about getting thousands of hateful, threatening messages might claim that they were exaggerating as a joke.

Another trick they might try early is mockery. They might act as if you said or asked for something totally absurd and unreasonable; EG, "You don't want me to watch slasher films when you're around because they contain violence? What am I supposed do? I guess could I could play Mario - oh, wait, that's probably offensive to you, too, because it contains violence against turtles." They might making mocking (and inaccurate) comparisons; EG, "Oh, you don't want me to watch slasher films in front of you? Wow, aren't you the little dictator?" The intent, of course, is to shame you into shutting up and complying with what they want.

At some point they'll likely try to shift the blame. They might claim that somebody else did it, or that someone else forced them to do it. For example, a manipulator who just sent you a barrage of abusive text messages might claim that their brother grabbed their phone and sent them, or that their brother blackmailed them into sending you those messages. A manipulator might claim that you forced them to send those messages, because you were making such a fool of yourself that they just had to say whatever would make you stop, and thus save you from yourself. A manipulator might also try to shift the blame by claiming that you're simply jealous or that you hold a grudge against them. Or they might try to paint you as demonically possessed, mentally ill, childish, oversensitive, or entitled. They might accuse you of causing trouble on purpose. They might even accuse you of projection.

They might also start making threats. If you're in a relationship with them, they might threaten to leave and take the pets and/or children. They might threaten to hurt you or to hurt themselves. They might accuse you of slander and threaten to sue you if you don't retract your statements - even if you can provide rock-solid proof that you're telling the truth about them.

They'll also try to pick out your faults (whether or not they actually exist, and whether or not they're actually real "faults"). They often think that if they can prove that you're just as bad (or worse) than they are, you'll have no room to talk and no authority to criticize them, and you'll just have to let them off the hook. (This is the part where they might try to claim that you're actually just like they are.) Sometimes they just figure that if they insult and criticize you enough, they'll shatter your ego and thereby "win." They might compare hitting you with the time you lost your temper and yelled at them. They might claim that you can't criticize their stories because you've never published anything of your own. They might point out that you make less money than they do, and act as if this disqualifies your opinion. Even when they've exhausted every other option, they'll usually keep on with this one indefinitely. It's important to note that trying to argue against them is completely pointless, because they don't care about the truth. They only care about winning.

They'll probably also try to rally their friends and supporters. They'll go and tell them how they've been attacked and hurt. They might try to talk up how much they've accomplished, how hard they've worked and how much effort they made, and what a great person they've been overall, whether or not it's actually true. For example, a manipulator whose boyfriend just broke up with her might tell her friends how she worked so hard to make the relationship work and how she was always letting her boyfriend walk over her even though she knew better. She might claim that her boyfriend only says those "mean" things about her because he hates her.

There's no one way every single manipulative person will act when caught or when someone puts their foot down, but their behavior will typically follow a very similar trajectory. The acronym DARVO - Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender - describes this trajectory. Denial is the first move. When it fails they shift to attacking you, and reframing themselves as the victims instead. And should all of that ultimately fail, they'll usually keep insulting and picking at you whether because they hope you'll finally crack or just for the fun of taking cheap shots.

What can actually throw a wrench in a manipulator's engine.

Fiction rarely shows what's actually effective against manipulators. Because writers are so focused on creating a big, dramatic payoff, they often show manipulators being defeated by a public callout or by the hero cleverly outwitting the manipulator at their own game. In reality, these kinds of things don't work nearly as well as fiction portrays, or are doomed to catastrophic failure from the start.

So what does work? Here are some things that can be effective:

Not taking their bait in the first place. The best way to avoid falling into a manipulator's clutches is to simply not take their bait. This sometimes takes the form of hoovering, and recognizing hoovering tactics can enable someone to avoid falling prey to a manipulator.

Apathy and disinterest. Because manipulators target people's emotions to pique their interest, displays of calm disinterest will often discourage and dissuade them. They might try to up the ante at first (and might even cry crocodile tears and complain that the target is a cold-hearted monster who doesn't care about anyone but themselves), but at some point they'll usually realize that their target can't be manipulated this way and give up. (Though they might run to their cronies to tell them what a mean monster their target is.)

Putting it on them to deliver. For example, making it clear that they'll be forgiven when and only when their behavior improves on a long-term basis, or that their claims will be taken seriously once they can provide substantial evidence or proper citations, or that they'll be recognize as competent once they demonstrate their skills. They might put on a display of indignant anger and/or play the victim at first, but once it sinks in that they can't get by on empty promises and unsubstantiated claims anymore, they'll probably lose interest and move on.

Having no shame in being oneself and owning one's opinions. Manipulators tend to target people who are easily ashamed, because their insecurity makes them easy to manipulate. Just doing your thing, expressing yourself, and saying "yes" or "no" without hesitation, justification, or apology discourages them. Likewise, flat-out agreeing with a manipulator's flattery (EG, "why yes, I am very smart!") makes them realize that flattery won't change your perception of them. They might shift gears and try to tear you down for being arrogant, at which point going, "Sorry, I can't hear you over how awesome I am!" will frustrate them.

Staying focused on things that have nothing to do with them. Manipulators want people's attention. When their targets keep their attention focused on things that have nothing to do with them, it makes it clear that the manipulator is not nor will ever be the center of their world. (A warning, however - if it's within their power, they may try to destroy what the target is focusing on under the belief that the target will be forced to pay attention to them.)

Having a supportive social network. Manipulators tend to target those who are socially isolated. If their target isn't already isolated, they may try to isolate them by getting them to drop or move away from friends or family, or by spreading malicious rumors to drive away the target's friends or family. Having a social network that knows the target well enough not to believe the manipulator's lies makes it harder to socially isolate the target.

Maintaining firm boundaries no matter what. Knowing what one does and doesn't want to do, what one will and won't put up with, and sticking to it is a good way to keep manipulators from getting a foothold in one's life. They might rage, they might cry, they might call the target all kinds of horrible names, but that's their problem.

Just asking them what they're after. Manipulative people often beat around the bush with endless insinuation because they know that what they want isn't actually acceptable to ask for. Not asking directly gives them plausible deniability. Therefore, looking them in the eye and asking them what it is they want will often make them just give up. Alternatively, just looking at them and saying, "Oh, so you want X?" will often do pretty much the same thing.

Never losing sight of the real topic or goal. Manipulators toss around red herrings and move the goalposts like nobody's business. (This includes the old classic, "You and I aren't so different, you know...") Once the target allows the manipulator to control the conversation like this, they've made themselves vulnerable. By keeping focus on the real topic or goal and refusing to let the manipulator stray so much as one inch away from it, they lose much of their power.

Showing others that the manipulator is the problem. Trying to make the manipulator change is pretty much always a lost cause. They're too self-centered to care how their behavior harms others, and manipulation usually gets them what they want. However, getting others see the manipulator for what they are makes it harder for them to successfully manipulate. (Though it must be noted that trying to convince the manipulator's lackeys/flying monkeys/fans is basically a lost cause - they probably believe that the manipulator is an innocent, misunderstood victim and that the target is just a mean bully.)

Resisting the urge to show off. If a manipulator knows that someone is trying to outwit them or has caught on to their behavior, they'll get even worse. Pretending that one hasn't caught on and isn't trying to outsmart them is generally a much safer and more strategically sound choice.

Generally refusing to play on the manipulator's terms. A manipulator's games are always rigged against the victim, because there is only one rule: They win, you lose. No one can ever win against a manipulator by playing on their terms, period. They will never be sporting and/or bored enough to allow their target a fighting chance, because exercising complete and total power over their victim is the whole point. (They might create the illusion that the victim can win to mess with their head, but that's it.)

If you liked this, you might also be interested in:

Advice & Tips On Creating & Writing Bullies
Mindsets & Rationales That Lend Well To Villainy
How To Quickly Spot Abusive & Manipulative People

On Designing & Writing Oppressive Governments In Your Fiction
Factors That Contribute To Abusive & Dysfunctional Systems/Institutions
Creating & Writing Fictional Organizations

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