Skip to main content

How to Cope With Manipulative Family Members

Beth's experience in the medical field and volunteer work with the CDC inspires her to encourage others to aim for success.

Read this article to learn how to deal and cope with manipulative family members.

Read this article to learn how to deal and cope with manipulative family members.

Dysfunctional Schemes, Self-Isolation, and Your Family

The list of social skills we learn through life experience is long. Learning ways to cope with scheming, manipulative family members is right at the top of the list.

If you are fortunate, most of your family members are respectful and loving. Then, there is that person, or persons, who can't help but to manipulate. We get stuck with these dysfunctional family members, not wanting to bail on our families over one person. Most families have at least one of these people.

How to Deal With Manipulative Family Members

Follow these 5 steps to learn how to cope with manipulative family members.

  1. Find out which family members are victims of the manipulators tactics. Then communicate your concerns with them as a group.
  2. Contemplate what is really happening inside of your own mind. What are the intrinsic pieces of yourself, and which have become involuntary reactions to the manipulator. Are you thinking what you want to think, or what someone else wants you to think you want to think?
  3. Set boundaries with the manipulator. Once you have contemplated what is really you, and what the manipulator wants you to think is you, identify the boundaries between you and the person manipulation you. Then verbally and non verbally set boundaries. Focus on preventing the person from influencing your thoughts, feelings and actions.
  4. Choose the environment in which you engage the manipulator. The person who wants you to control them does it in a place that will make the end goal easier. They want you to be surrounded by others who will back them up, even if unknowingly. Choose a natural location when you are ready to set verbal boundaries.
  5. Have patience, and be the bigger person. A manipulator relies on patterns, to break these patterns takes time and effort. Be forgiving, and allow the manipulator time and space to change patterns. It is their choice though, so if they choose not to stop controlling others then have patience and understanding for yourself, and the decision you will have to make.

The sad truth is that many families experience the splintered effect at the hands of the scheming member. Walking away from your family is the last resort, even though sometimes necessary. Up until that point, it's imperative to use every tool in your social skills toolbox. You aren't likely to get the scheming person to change, but you may be able to set clear boundaries which they can not cross.

In the end, we care about them. They are family, and even if they play the kind of games most call drama, we still love them. That only resolves our center to find a way to learn help turn a manipulative relationship into a functional one.

What Is a Manipulator?

A manipulator is someone who uses social influence with intent to control how another person acts, thinks, feels and perceives the world around them. Manipulators try to get the victim to willingly choose conformity to ideas, emotional states or actions that create spesific outcomes for the person who is manipulating.

When someone manipulates us it is confusing. It usually feels pretty bad, although we can be mislead to think otherwise through the deception. The bottom line is that the person engaging in manipulation wants something, and they need your help to get it.

They don't want to stop to ask for your help, they want to take control and responsibility for your choices. Social influence happens, we all impact one another. We influence each other all the time.

Manipulators make a perfectly natural phenomena, such as social influence, and use it to their gain and benefit. Often, they don't take into account how the manipulation will harm the victims life .

Expanded Explanations for Family Coping Skills

The scheming family member isn't thinking about who their manipulation and lies hurt. The fact that they are scheming shows that the only person on their mind is themselves. Yet, the person with the most lies usually has the most to say. A consistent reminder that lies, selective communication and mistrusts is how they keep people blind to the truth.

The scheming person creates a trap for you and anyone else whose behavior or thinking process they want to change.

1. Find Out Who Is Affected by the Manipulation

You cannot let yourself react quickly. Stop to think who was involved, and who could get hurt. As you cope with the manipulator, think about yourself AND about all the who's that may get hurt. It's family, you will have to talk to the conspirator. For your sake and theirs, think carefully about how you communicate with the who's. Stay mature, and be the bigger person.

If the manipulation directly or indirectly affects more than one person, then the victims must communicate with each other to understand how the manipulator is stepping over the boundary of social influence and engaging in behaviors to get the victims to behave obediently.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Wehavekids

Together, as a family, a solution can be thought up and implemented to help the person manipulating. The person who tries to take away freewill and choice from others is going to need help. They will have a difficult time understanding why they can't control you, and how freedom is being violated by their actions.

They probably will say they want what is best for you, or the other victims. To this you must respond that freedom means that each person is free to make their own decisions. Unless your under 18 and it is your parents, it is your right to make your own choices and to perceive the world around you without interference from someone who thinks they know better.

Who does the manipulation effect? Consider the family tree. Take care to happy open minded thought to the situation. Hold off action until it's done.

Who does the manipulation effect? Consider the family tree. Take care to happy open minded thought to the situation. Hold off action until it's done.

2. Contemplate What Is REALLY Happening in The Victim's Mind

Dealing with manipulation, especially from family, is traumatic. If you are a victim of a scheming smooth operator, you must take time for contemplation. Stop to identify what is really happening. The person dealing out the schemes wants you to adopt a defensive attitude. When people go on the defensive, it can blind them to the truth. The more blind a manipulative person can cause you to be, the more likely they get what they want.

The stories of manipulative people are well crafted. They intend to get what they want, and justify their behavior and actions. They must ensure others believe the justifications, and while they are aware of their negative behaviors, they may even convince themselves they're justifications are the reality.

They do not believe they are doing anything wrong. They don't believe they're the ones manipulating, and often will accuse their victim of being the person who is manipulating.

Since the manipulator is trying to mold your perceptions in to something more convenient for them, you must stop and understand how you really feel.

Identify your emotions, and dissect them with the intent to remove foreign invaders. Do the same thing with your thoughts and actions. Before you think or speak always ask yourself if you chose this of your free will, or if someone is influencing them in ways that are negative and counterproductive to your own intents.

3. When to Set Boundaries

Manipulative people act as if they are the victim. They want the actual victim to appear to be the victimizer. They weave their lies to cause the victim to respond quickly, without thinking.

Then, when their victim is frustrated and flustered, they can make themselves look as the victim. At this point they can ensure that you, and those around them, will feel guilty. Then they can repeat the cycle of manipulation as often as they want to.

When you have identified this cycle you can begin to understand when to set your boundaries. If you attempt to set your boundaries while you are trapped in a defensive position, you may likely fall into the trap and look like the bad guy.

This is why it is important not to act too quickly, but look at the situation as a whole. the goal is to remain calm, and remain polite. But to set firm boundaries with clear communication.

The when should be when you are ready, not when plotter tries to engage with their manipulating behavior. You must engage the manipulator on your own terms, and with emotions kept firmly in check.

4. Where to Engage

The manipulative person wants to look like the victim, so they will very carefully try to control where they push your buttons. The where it's directly relate to their scamming techniques. They want to be in territory which will make them look like the victim. There is no specific place where you should set your boundaries; however, you must be aware of the manipulation so that you can know the appropriate place to set those boundaries. You want to be on territory where you know you will be most effective, even though they will want the same thing.

Manipulative family members often strike at family reunions or gatherings. This way more people will see you being the bad guy. Always remember where you are, so that you can keep yourself from falling into a defensive position. You don't need to attack them, and you don't need to be defensive. You just need to show what your boundaries are by refusing to engage in such behavior.

5. Why to Be the Bigger Person

When dealing with a manipulative family member, you must have patience. It is important to stay aware and calm. It doesn't matter how angry you are, it does matter to remember why you must be the bigger person. It's about family, and trying not to hurt the people around you. Even though it's really the fault of the manipulative person, if they trap you in their game then you might also accidentally start hurting people around you. You don't want to hurt your family members.

You will find it is much easier to cope with manipulative person when you don't play their game. When you are being mature, calm and respectful your family will begin to see the truth. They will recognize who is really causing the trouble. They will begin to unravel the own feelings of guilt that the guilty manipulative person is actually causing.

By being the bigger person, you help set a good role model for other family members. Eventually, if enough family members begin to set clear boundaries, and refuse to engage in the manipulation, the person will be forced to begin to behave themselves in a socially acceptable way.

When it comes to dysfunctional family members who manipulate other family members remember to be the bigger person. Keep your values in check.

When it comes to dysfunctional family members who manipulate other family members remember to be the bigger person. Keep your values in check.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I handle my sister when she tries to manipulate me by disobeying my parenting rules?

Answer: The first step is to attempt to clearly explain your parenting rules, and why it's important she sticks with them. If it's minor things, it might just be a difference in parenting philosophies. However, if she is intentionally disobeying your parenting rules as a manipulation tool, then there might be something more going on.

Children should never be tools of manipulation. If an adult is doing this, then you might talk to them about getting some help. A healthy adult may have different parenting styles, but they would not put the child in danger, which is what happens when you're using them to hurt or control another person.

There are many mental disorders which could cause an adult to take this inappropriate step. The National Institute of Health describes Antisocial personality disorder as 'a long-term of manipulating, exploiting, and violating rights of others.'

Ask yourself if your sister is just using a different parenting style. If you see a long-term pattern of exploitation and rights violations, then you may need to be more careful when exposing your kids to your sister. This is a good time to pull the family together to see if there is a way you can help your sister obtain mental health care.

© 2014 Ruby Oliver


St. Francis on May 28, 2020:

I have a half sister, she married a man w money, but so many skeleton in her life. She is very manipulatives, and worsen so hypocrites like she is holy. I have feeling she prayed for especially myself to be cast out. She taking controlled of 2siblings to just serving her needs. Now her life fullfills, but 2 sibling have living down basement of their sis in laws house. She is greedy and controlling. Worsen, you meet her, she pretending the sweetest woman on the street...

Diana on December 28, 2019:

Wow, could not be more on target. I have to admit to really letting my feelings out after a relative continuously tried to make myself and another relative to look bad. I tried so hard to be the bigger person and still am continuing to be the bigger person but good heavens. According to this person she is the only one who cares, the only one that works, the only one that cleans her house. She is the only one who cares for our elderly family members, etc. What is killing us is that she has only been coming around since my mother got sick and made comments about wanting her fair share. She uses past abuse she endured at the hands of her real mother as ammunition against the rest of us. We did not really know who she was until about 10 years ago when she showed up claiming that she wanted a relationship. She constantly meets us with, "we'll see what you do for me." I'm so done with it. I lost it yesterday and feel bad for saying anything. I have taken the high road but I cannot take much more.

NILANJANA on November 02, 2019:

I came from a home of domestic violence, depression, control and manipulation from everyone at home.....

This link came so so so so handy Sir. Thank you.

Bobbi14 on October 08, 2019:

These manipulators/narrcissts and pyschopaths hurt families just for their own gain and they dont care how much their tactics divide people and cause havic within families. They have little remorse for the destruction they cause. They will use anyone, including your own children to get what they want and they will even manipulate children to get what they want. They have little regard for the relationship between people, especially if it doesnt involve them. They have a history of pitting people against each other and than coming out of it as the victim. They keep using the same manipulation tactics because its the only thing that gives them control over others. These people have a deep sense of insecurity, jealousy and entitlement. They always want what they can't have and they despise you if you have something they want.

Grieving 4mama on May 24, 2019:

Gosh seems about right. The manipulators just love the gatherings and public to press your buttons..that is if they don't get distracted from their huge hunger for having attention on themselves. Who knocks pictures of the deceased over at a memorial services so they can rush quickly over to stand in front of you because you're getting the hugs after the funeral even though they have just stood up and spoke about the deceased to get a laugh? Yeah, it's downright obnoxious...even worse..they know you're trying to avoid them entirely but they insist on interaction with you so you'll look like a bitch in public when you turn away.

Grieving 4mama on May 24, 2019:

Gosh seems about right. The manipulators just love the gatherings and public to press your buttons..that is if they don't get distracted from their huge hunger for having attention on themselves. Who knocks pictures of the deceased over at a memorial services so they can rush quickly over to stand in front of you because you're getting the hugs after the funeral even though they have just stood up and spoke about the deceased to get a laugh? Yeah, it's downright obnoxious...even worse..they know you're trying to avoid them entirely but they insist on interaction with you so you'll look like a bitch in public when you turn away.

thomasjosephjones on April 15, 2019:

transparency truth trust equals unity A.I very interesting hope to read more of your material I really think your a great writer nice job

Lauren Smith on January 07, 2019:

My partners step dad, I believe, is a master manipulator. I see his tactics (now) and they no longer work on me but I see my partner as putty in his clever hands. When I try to talk to my partner about his family, he gets super defensive and turns on me. I want to battle it by building up my partners confidence and empowering him to be his own man but I am open to advice!!

StephanieMarie McDonald on December 08, 2018:

Thankful for all you wrote

Hoozere on November 03, 2018:

I'm finding it even worse now that the manipulator is my toxic brother who has POA for my 96 year old mom with dementia. She believes everything he says & has isolated her from my whole family. I recently found out he had her sign a new DPOA removing me as secondary & amending her trust to remove me & my family to 100% benefit him & his kids. Manipulators are control freaks! Get them out of your life as soon as possible & document everything they do.

tex on August 19, 2018:

the worst are the money manipulators,you know the type that cant pay thier bills or keep a job or keep a roof over thier heads..give em advice they ignore you and do it thier way only to come back for more cash over and over wife is guilty of falling for thier BS..i dont ... they know i think thier sociopathic manipulators...which they are.

pj on May 10, 2018:

great and insightful...

but the misuse of your when you meant you’re and they’re when you meant their make me question the validity of the content

Linda on April 26, 2018:

My son has been manipulated, completely and cleverly been brainwashed until he is broken into submission he cannot and will not see this, his partner has cut off every member of his family at some point apologising to two to get them back to use again, always created drama at his family's celebrations. I had to cut off for my health.I have never spoken badly of the person but I fear for my family members and want them to be aware,and not to be changed or feel they have to be submissive to the person by pretending to be against me.

C Sabrina on February 05, 2018:

It's great to come across this article and i can really relate to this. My younger brother is the manipulator in the family while my parents are not helping with the situation either. After a long time dealing with this, i think i am just laying low for now. Don't really want to deal with it, while suffering in silence. I don't really wish and i feel bad for dragging my partner into my family issues. I'm usually a positive person who encourages others, but this is eating me up slowly inside.

Ruby Oliver (author) from Ohio on January 30, 2018:

Hello Rachel. Sometimes whole families feed into manipulative cycles. Sometimes the bravest person in the room stands alone. Love your family, and try to create positive engaging interactions. Remove yourself from potentially dangerous or hurtful situations. It is frustrating to see the need for positive change when others seem not to notice. You are here, which shows you value humanity. Be brave, and know you don't stand alone. There are others who feel very much like you. Take some time build relationships with those who share common goals and are looking for positive change.

Rachel Ugarte on January 30, 2018:

What if it's my mom and she got my family to believe her

Ruby Oliver (author) from Ohio on October 25, 2017:

Hi Shawn. When the manipulator is your wife it requires deep reflection. Married couples must work really hard to maintain a healthy relationship. It is normals for partners to influence one another. Over time that could turn to manipulation. You know you are at that point when you feel that you do not have free will.

Husbands and wives need to set reasonable and clear boundaries with each other. Explain to your wife that her opinion does matter, but each human being is an individual.

By manipulating you, she is getting what she wants, regardless of your wants and needs. Couples counseling is a good place to get control issues out in the open.

Shawn on October 22, 2017:

What if the manipulator is ur wife ?

Susan Kopecky on June 21, 2017:

Very frustrating dealing with

Toxic.....parents on March 25, 2017:

nothing worked. Me and my husband were potrayed as irresponsible, non caring , by this particular member. we waited paitiently keeping mum but nothing happened.

She manupilated every thing very schemingly and our parents started hating us so much that they did not name us heir for their property, but every thing went to her,

That is the power of manipulation.

Karen Grafel on August 06, 2016:

Thank You for this helpful information.

Karli McClane from USA on January 04, 2015:

Very useful information.

H C Palting from East Coast on January 03, 2015:

Awesome and timely hub. Just a few days ago, I had a scheming family member contact me for some information about real estate. I happily gave the information to them and we had continued having a quick chat on their speakerphone with their significant other who was the actual one with the question.

The next thing I knew was that my family member who knew that I have the answers, started calling me names as if I'm a child...because I refuse to drink alcohol and yes, even on New Year's. How does one call you asking you a favor, asking for the BENEFIT of your experience and education, begin tearing you down not 3 minutes later? I didn't want to "get into it" with their significant other on speaker however, I've cut off another family member permanently and apparently this one could be next.