How to Handle People Who Play Mind Games With You

We’ve all been on the receiving end of mind games, and we’ve all experienced people who like to ‘test’ us and put us through the psychological ringer. These people might be our colleagues, our friends, our family, or most commonly, our partners – but in any case it can be just as frustrating and potentially damaging. So how do you deal with it and how can you get the upper hand? Here we will look at why people play mind games, what this often entails, and how to turn it around.

Why People Play Mind Games

There are various reasons that people will play mind games, and the reason that you’re experiencing it will be to do with the individual who’s subjecting you to them, the context that’s surrounding the mind games, and your own personality. The reason a colleague plays mind games at work for instance might be very different to the reason your partner plays mind games and tests you.

The first reason that many people play mind games is undoubtedly in order to get back some control. If we can illicit a response from someone, or if we can get them to do what we want, then this can give us a great power buzz and make us feel like we are in control. If that person experiences little control in other areas of their life, then perhaps this is a way to make up for that and to regain that feeling so that they needn’t be quite so frightened. In short it’s a matter of insecurity.

This insecurity might also come with resentment. If they are feeling like they have no control of their lives, or perhaps like a failure, then it might be that they chose you specifically to take out their frustrations and this will often be because you represent what they want to be. Perhaps you exhibit confidence and success that they wish the possessed, and perhaps by playing mind games they can feel like the ‘winner’ for a change.

In relationships this can often be more complex. Here the mind games are often a form of testing in order to see how you react, to see how much control they have in the relationship, and to test their theories and concerns. Someone you are dating may for instance invite you to do one thing and then get angry when you take them up on the offer (perhaps going out with friends rather than spending time with them). The reason for this is not sheer emotional manipulation (ordinarily – though sometimes it can be used as a form of control still), but usually because they want you to demonstrate you’d rather be with them even when the choice is ‘up to you’. Likewise if someone is upset, they might not directly tell you or explain why, hoping instead that you will be sensitive enough to work those details out for yourself. This feels a lot like playing mind games, but it may not have such fiendish motivations.

Finally mind games can quite simply be a means to an end. If you want something from someone and directly asking hasn’t proved fruitful, and force is not an option, then sometimes manipulating that person can be seen as the only way to get the desired response.

How to Deal With Mind Games

The best way to deal with mind games is simply to rise above them. You should avoid trying to ‘beat them at their own game’, as doing so can actually end up with both of you getting hurt. Normally the mind games being employed are used for the simple reason that the person doing it is too afraid to confront you directly, or they know you would win the confrontation. They are using indirect and manipulative techniques, because they feel insecure, or because you are in the stronger position. Thus if you call them directly on what you suspect, and if you address the issue publicly, they will more often than not reverse course and back down and you will win.

So for instance if someone were to try and subtly undermine you in a workplace, you could try to do the same back and would end up with both of your reputations tarnished (and the fact that you were stopping to underhand methods would be a mark against you too). However if you simply told them you didn’t like what they were implying and that they should address you directly through the proper channels if they have a complaint, then you’ll find they often apologise and back down and that you end up with the better reputation.

Likewise in relationships this can work well too – simply ask directly what it is that is bothering your partner, and if there is anything you can do to help. This demonstrates sensitivity, but also means you aren’t engaging in mind games that will likely end up getting you both hurt. If they aren’t in a talking mood then the best thing to do is simply remove yourself from the situation – tell them that you have no interest in mind games and that you will talk to them when they want to speak openly and maturely.

Comments 40
  1. I do not feel that the article is purely commercial, it has provided me with some answers, or maybe it has confirm what I was afraid of. It would help someone in that kind of situation.

  2. Sometimes the best thing to do, if possible, is to walk away from the situation. I actually had to end a friendship today, something I've rarely done, because the friend would not stop arguing and being defensive, blaming me, and being arrogant in her approach to many people. I felt a big sigh of relief afterward. Continually misunderstanding someone can, in itself, be a kind of crazy-making, power struggle mind game.

  3. What if you aren't dating that person and he act so nice too you and a day or two he start making you feel like your nothing. I try not to put up with it but it hurts me so much that I feel like I'm nothing.

  4. Good article. I have a neighbour who lives in the apartment below me and enjoys controlling the volume on his TV and stereo to a degree that I am unable to hear my music and TV. Any advice you could throw my way?!

    1. Probably best to move. Confronting him will only make the situation worse for you and it will make him happy. He will never change. Sounds like he is a bitter angry person.

  5. This fails completely to address the more malicious mind games of the control freak/narcissist/psychopath and the dangers they pose and long term damage they do in abusive relationships. This information needs to be made available alongside what is here as any attempt to treat an abuser as someone who just feels insecure can be very dangerous indeed.

  6. Never ever be a slave to anyone, those who really love u will never put you this kind of stupid games, walk away from them…

  7. Telling them that you don't want to play mind games makes things worse form my experience because usually the person playing the games are determined to win, they bitch about if you make it public, beating them at their game gives the determined mind game player a reason to continue playing games with you till they have run out of ways to beat you. You need to exhaust their options of winning for them to truly back down without hurting them. Make it seem like you're having fun and winning all the time and they will back down.

  8. The article doesn't show or explain how to handle the situation when taking the more mature route isn't an option. Sometimes in these situations taking the high road is looked upon as weak. Clearly I know better but that doesn't help in handling the situation while in it.

  9. When attempting to get to know someone prior to a date if they start with the mind games or flake I just drop it and move on. Not going to put up with childish games don't have the time for it. If they have emotional issues then it is something they need to work on or speak with a therapist about.

  10. Great article. I have a boss who is insecure and makes a decision then swears she didn't say anything. Thankfully it happened to a friend of mine, so I figured out what was going on. I'm a very calm person and I have to admit using that as a weapon. She has yelled and I just calmly react with reason, admitting any fault and picking apart the untrue.

    1. I have a number of people in my life playing mind on me at present! I feel they are trying to help me in some way but they are in fact making my anxiety and insecurities around love and happiness I desperately need, want and have turned my life around to have worse.

      I feel I am being judged and constantly observed a little humiliated also to say, act and to do the right thing… these types of mind games can have serious detrimental consequences on an individual that has turned their life around from self-destructive behaviors, addiction, self-harm, risk taking etc. due to trauma, loss, abusive relationships etc. I am giving these people involved with an open heart and mind to explain their motives to me and what are the reasons behind these mind games played on me over a pretty long period of time. I don’t believe them to be malicious, BUT I am very confused and frustrated with these games and want them to stop immediately so I can be happy, confident, sincere and have my self-respect and dignity back in my life again as a 40 year old woman. The people involved know the type of caring, loving, loyal, passionate, trustworthy individual I am yet they seem to be playing on these traits which is causing me a lot of distress, trust issues, insecurities and watching every single word I say and getting more and more dragged in to These games which I don’t have the capacity emotionally, mentally and physically deal with anymore.

      I feel everyone has a right to free speech, to express their happiness, sadness and so on! Not to have to hide it away in fear of rejection, humility, hurt, fear etc.

  11. I see mind games all day at work, I'm not a gamer, I'd personally rather take it outside deal with it old school and go back doing my job. Today's society seems like they want the money but do as little as they can to receive the most money and play games to achieve the promotion they don't deserve. Just my thoughts, not everyone is like that. Probably nothing new that this happens just seem to notice more. Signing off. GWV. Gulf war vet 91.

  12. Thank you, guy tells me he wants to be back my friend w/benefits. We agreed if you’re talking to someone let each other he failed to do so for about a week I was wondering why he wasn't coming around. Motive: Because I wasn't ready for relationship or I wanted to build one with him before actually dating he took it as if I was "playing'' because I wanted to go about a relationship the right way this time. So he used someone's as a weapon to get back at me to make me feel bad for making my decision taking my time in getting in a relationship. We are friends but I don't trust him I think kicking him to the curve would be a great treatment so he will not be targeting me to just see me hurt in the long run… and honestly I don't want to bust nobody windows out for fuc**ng with my feelings. Thanks for this article!

  13. I'm so happy that I read this article. I just had something happened two weeks ago. I made a friend and everything was great and then he started actually test me and it's funny that's one of the things you said and he tested me and it was the result if I went along with it I would have been in legal trouble which would have possibly gotten me in prison and a big fine and then he ended up telling me yesterday that I don't know how to be real, I don't know how to be real to myself mainly because I've never been married and this coming from a guy who's had two failed marriages and three years in prison and so no I know how to be real, he doesn't know how to be real, I just pray for him because he really needs it!

  14. I'm usually an honest person, 99% of the time more than that really … I’ve been told I’m too honest even which gets me into trouble most of the time, my husband, his family and friends are abusing me for the last 3 years and he loves playing mind games. He knew about my past abuse from my mother as I told me and used it against me … well I told him at the initial stages of our relationship when he would just accept everything I said and followed me around like a sweet little puppy, as I fell in love with him he slowly started doing this, I tried all the ways possible to talk to him directly through others but the more I try the more he keeps doing it, the thing is he keeps acting like an innocent person and acts like he is really nice person trying to do things for me at times and I keep forgiving him, I’m not someone who likes to ruin peoples life so even though I have thought of taking serious steps many a times but let him go, honesty doesn’t work with him, he is very controlling indirectly, what should I do?

  15. "Thus if you call them directly on what you suspect, and if you address the issue publicly, they will more often than not reverse course and back down and you will win."

    What if they don't reverse course and back down? In my case, my brother evades apologies every time no matter how many times I've called him out on his malefic game playing shenanigans. He gets really jealous and power hungry — it's ridiculous. An even better solution would be to leave the said toxic mind gaming individual IMO.

  16. Very true, all of what the author says. I have experienced mind games with my last long-term partner and with friends, some of whom are educated and mature, so intelligence and chronological maturity make no difference. It was a very helpful article. Thanks.

  17. So I’m 24. I live with my grandma taking care of her. She had a stroke. Her son, my uncle… has been living with her his whole life. Now that she can’t walk and has no independence he has control of her car, money, etc. he pays bills and buys groceries and spends the rest of her money on pain pills and weed. He’s constantly playing mind games with me and a big dick head. He hasn’t helped me with his mom very much since she’s had the stroke. He screams and yells at her (shes87) and everything I do around here he still finds something to bitch about. Every time I’m around him I have anxiety attacks. The other day I jumped in his face telling him to show me some respect and quit messing with me. The next day he’s back to his subliminal sneak diss mind games. Oh and I’m at the house 24/7 taking care of his mom except one day a week I go to my girlfriends and spend the night… but when I come home my grandma tells me he cussed her out for hours while I was gone. (He won’t do it in front of me because I’ve gotten violent with him before) but I’m fed up and i don’t know what to do anymore. He knows I have nowhere to go and I don’t have a job or vehicle right now so I’m stuck here!( plus I don’t want to ditch on my grandma).

    1. 1) I found this article immensely helpful, and a huge relief to read. I now have some strategies to deal with an immensely game-playing colleague who I need to work with for a long time (and who I thought I was going to snap and go crazy at until I found this article!).

      2) Hi Tyler, that sounds really tough! I hope that you’ve put some of your own boundaries in place to keep yourself safe and happy, cos it sounds as if sadly your uncle isn’t keen to come to the party. Your uncle is not worth ruining your health / having panic attacks over. Could you write down how you feel in a diary to try to vent it that way, I’m not sure of any other advice, but I hate to think of you feeling that he is taking your power away from you. Hold your head high knowing that you’re being a kind and courteous human-being.

  18. People who will not own up to their mistakes and blames everything on everyone else will only make you unhappy and cause a lot of drama in your life! Be nice if you have to be around them other than that keep your distance and do not think for one minute they will change if they do watch from afar before you jump back in the relationship. You can only control yourself do not let anyone define you by silent treatment of any sort. Have a great day!

  19. I have a team lead that talks about almost everyone, unless, her favorites, and says things to hurt someone when she knows this person has depression. She obviously doesn’t care about her and others. She just loves the control she has over people. This is what I think anyway. She also knows that someone did something illegal and never reported it, this is a medical facility. Power trip is out of control, especially kicking someone when they are down. Sad.

  20. Thank you for posting this insightful article. It really hurts when family members or close friends are oblivious to what they are doing. But, the lord says they know not what they are doing so forgive them, love and respect and move on. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but good advice for me when taking the high road.

  21. This article is helpful in some ways… My devil of a wife will start an argument but I will not entertain the argument she will then play mind games to try and make me feel guilty because I did not retaliate towards her anger. She has a habit of doing this randomly every couple of months for no reason.

  22. I sit opposite a co-worker, who works 8 to 6, I work 9 to 7 so I am the last of the two of us to leave the office, when I get in at 9, my desk can be pulled away from the wall, the chair lift down as far as possible, the wire or the mouse and keyboard tangled together. She has told me in the past that her housemate removes light bulbs at the top of the stairs, empty’s the kettle and leave it away from the base and generally moves shared items around. I’m not sure it the housemate anymore. So from a work perspective what should I do? Bearing i mind I can’t prove it.

  23. I have this close friend who has this manipulative trait, when she can’t logically win her argument with you. She turned around and trashed everything you said. One time I put a ‘blah blah blah” expression to answer a redundant advice she gave me. She had a fit, “You are a vulgar person, speaking like a street person, not an educated person…” I just meant by that expression that she just repeated what I have heard or think about many times. And she wouldn’t stop accusing me of arrogant, taking down to her… blah blah blah (again). I like this article, because it helps me decided I don’t want to continue responding to her accusations anymore. Thank you!

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