Assertiveness-Manipulation Traps

Manipulation traps are used to take unfair advantage of someone. We all use them and we are all victims of manipulation traps unless we make the personal effort to treat ourselves and others fairly. They are unfair! First I’m going to describe the most common manipulation traps and then we will talk about some solutions that we can use to ensure fairness within our dealings with others.

The Guilt Trap

We are all familiar with the guilt trip. This is where someone else tries to make us feel guilty so that we will give in and go along with what they want. The bottom line is that this manipulation trap is trying to force us to do something that we don’t really want to do.

How can you treat me like this?

I’ve been waiting all week for you to call!

It’s your fault that I’m upset and can’t get to sleep.

The Anger Trap

This one has been one of the hardest for me personally. I am not a confrontational person by nature and when somebody gets in my face and starts yelling I used to do almost anything to calm them down. Not anymore!

Yelling and intimidation to your face.

Criticism And Insecurity

You don’t want to go play bingo. Your spouse accuses you of never wanting to do what he or she wants. That she always has to do what you want. So you go play bingo. In this manipulation trap you are just made to feel bad so that you will be forced to go along with what somebody else wants.


If I do this for him, he’ll have to do something for me.

Here’s a free sample; can I have a minute of your time?

In this manipulation trap you are given something that you might not even want and in return you are expected to give something back even if you don’t want to.


If you do that I’ll never talk to you again.

If you’re going to do that you might as well not come back.

This manipulation trap is very obviously unfair and highly stressful because it forces things in a very unpleasant way.


You’re the only person that can help me.

How do you expect me to wash the dishes and still get my homework done?

This manipulation trap forces you to help somebody do something that you might not want to do because they can’t do it themselves.

Hurtful Teasing

That’s How You Look!

You Must Be Related!

The idea is that this manipulation trap uses teasing that hits too close to home and is hurtful or spiteful. So somebody says something mean and then they say that that they were just teasing. What’s wrong, can’t you take a joke!


Why did you stop at the bar last night?

In this manipulation trap people ask awkward and uncomfortable questions which they already know the answer to just to make you squirm.

The Double-Bind

Are you still driving that old wreck?

Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

This manipulation trap amounts to a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation where you simply can’t win. Some people get very good at this one!

Solutions to Manipulation Traps

The Repeat Technique

Ignore the trap and repeat what you want in a calm voice until they give up. This may take four or five repetitions. Don’t get drawn into the trap

The “I” Statement

Without putting yourself down or apologizing simply state what it is that you want.

I don’t want to go bowling!


Respond calmly; acknowledge that there may be some truth to what they are saying, that you will continue to do what you believe is best. Don’t apologize — continue to do what it is that you want.

I may have used the wrong color for that part but I’m going to keep it!

Negative Declaration

Ask questions about the problem until the complaints are exhausted. Admit a mistake or fault without apologizing for it.

What are you so angry about? Are you angry about anything else? Does it help to vent a little?

Compromise without Loss of Self-Respect

If we go to the movies this week we can go bowling next time!


Change the subject to something that is more interesting.

Who is that on the bicycle that just went past? Do you know them?

These assertiveness posts were originally designed for classroom situations in which each participant could team up with a partner and thoroughly explore how to be more assertive in a healthy way. I realize that I’ve probably created more questions than answers with these posts. In any case, the essence is there if you are willing to work at it!