Kristine Fellizar is a lifestyle writer at Bustle, where she covers all things related to sex, dating, and relationships — from dating how to’s to zodiac compatibility. She also writes about health and wellness. In addition to Bustle, her work has been featured in a number of publications including HelloGiggles, FabFitFun, The Date Mix, AwesomenessTV, and Brit.Co, among others. Before becoming a writer, she interned at various entertainment companies including Fox Broadcasting Company, FX Networks, and Nickelodeon. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine. When she isn’t writing, she’s finding new places to fuel her coffee addiction, working on a graphic novel, nerding out over anything Marvel, or exploring Disneyland for the millionth time.
When it comes to charm and manipulation, there is often a fine line. Someone who appears to be charismatic might have ulterior motives for putting on the charm, while there are people out there who just have a way with crowds, but still remain genuine. So how can you distinguish when someone is not acting charming but manipulative? It’s not always easy.
“People don’t come with warning labels,” Megan Hunter, author and co-founder of the High Conflict Institute tells Bustle. If they did, she says, we probably wouldn’t listen anyway. We tend to make decisions that go against our self-interests without really realizing it, which becomes especially true in the context of romantic or sexual relationships. Basically, she says, it’s easy to become blinded to someone’s true nature because we want something from them, like a romantic relationship.
According to Hunter, some of the most challenging manipulative personalities to spot are High-conflict people (HCPs). “They use their charming personalities to draw us in so they can calm their fear-based operating sysem,” she says.
For instance, sociopaths can be some of the most charming people in the world. They have a way of getting you to feel more confident in them, than yourself. Narcissistic personalities also “jam your radar with lots and lots of charm at the beginning,” Hunter says. “In hindsight, some describe narcissists in the beginning as exceptionally, exceedingly charming — to an intoxicating level.” But just as narcissists can turn on the charm, they can also turn it off again. So it’s important to watch out for that pattern.
It can be difficult to spot the difference between someone who’s being genuinely charming or someone’s who’s being manipulative. So here are some “charming” habits that are actually manipualtive, according to experts.
1. Matching And/Or Mirroring Your Body Language Intentionally
You’ve probably heard that when someone mirrors you or matches your behavior, that’s a pretty good sign they like you more than you think. As Patti Wood, M.A., body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charismatells Bustle, “Matching and mirroring are normal behaviors for people that like and trust each other.”
While it’s something that should happen naturally, manipulative people will take it over the top. If you reach for something at the same time, they’ll smile, and explicitly comment on how well-matched the two of you are. As Wood says, narcissists in particular do that in order to create a connection. After some time, they’ll stop, leaving the other person to feel devalued and wondering what happened. If you notice this happening to you, just take a step back and collect yourself. Ask yourself if this person really is worth you questioning your own self-esteem.
2. Hypnotic Staring And/Or Gazing
Maintaing eye contact is a great way to make people feel like they’re truly being noticed. As Wood says, manipulative people will take simple eye contact a step further and set their eyes on you with a focused and intense gaze. “Hypnotic gazing is typically done to test boundaries,” she says. “They may do or say something uncomfortable right before or after the hypnotic gaze to test how you respond. Sometimes, it may feel like love or seduction.”
If someone’s intense gaze makes you feel off in any way, Wood suggests to get up and take a break. Check your feelings and your body if things start to get too intense.
3. Breaking Rules And Boundaries In A Playful Way
Rule breakers tend to have a certain charm about them. Manipulative people will try to break your boundaries in very subtle and sometimes playful ways. For instance, they might touch you in an intimate way on the first date just to see if you’ll permit it. They’ll lift you off the ground during hugs and they’ll find ways to invade your space.
“Narcissists as a rule stand closer than other people,” Wood says. “They use space invasion to gain attention, intimidate, show power, test boundaries, and to seduce.” It’s all a power play to make you feel like they have all the physical control. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s important to speak up and let them know.
4. Being Open With You About Their Secrets
Charming people know how to talk. They know how to keep you engaged during conversations. As Wood says, someone who likes to have your full attention all the time is someone to watch out for. “Charming narcissists are spinners of tales,” she says. ” Once they get on a role about anything, it can be impossible to stop them.”
Manipulative personalities will make you feel special by how often they confide in you. Once they stop telling you things, you might feel like you did something wrong and will do your best to get back into their good graces. According to Wood, it’s all about manipulating your time and focus so you always want to give them your attention. If you notice that happening to you, take a step back and get some space in between you and that person.
5. Using Pet Names Instead Of Real Names
It may seem sweet when someone starts calling you by a pet name. But according to Wood, manipulative personalities will use words like “baby” or “darling” to devalue you. Once they stop calling you by a pet name, it can even leave you questioning what you did wrong. It’s just another part of their power play. If it bothers you, tell them that you don’t appreciate being called pet names.
6. Being Very Complimentary
When someone compliments you a lot, of course you’re going to feel charmed. But as Steve Wang, career expert and human resources professional, tells Bustle, it’s important to identify what their motivations are. Sometimes people will use compliments in order to get something out of you.
According to Wang, if you are in a position of power at an office, those who have less seniority than you might use compliments in hopes of a promotion. But, if the person complimenting you is a coworker, it could be genuine without any manipulative motives.
7. Validating Your Negative Emotions
If you’re feeling down about a bad job you think you did at work, a manipulative personality will validate those negative feelings. “This is emotional manipulation to the highest degree,” Caleb Backe, a Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “They are taking you to that place because they want to provide you with ‘the solution.’ Instead of trying to convince you logically, they are appealing and manipulating your emotions.”
According to Backe, preventing yourself from falling for manipulative tactics may take some practice. A good way to tell if you are in a conversation with a person who’s trying to manipulate you, is to pay attention to where they bring the conversation. If they’re trying to make you feel either very good or bad about yourself, you’ll know.
Just like not every person you meet has good intentions, not every charmer you meet will be secretly trying to manipulate you. It’s just important to be mindful of people’s true intentions. Trust you intuition. If something feels off about someone, it might be in your best interest to discover why.