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.

30 comments

  1. Teresa Reply
    August 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    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. Whitney Reply
    February 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Great article; doesn't feel commercial. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

  3. Cherishim Reply
    April 23, 2013 at 12:10 am

    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.

  4. Angel Reply
    May 17, 2013 at 7:16 am

    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.

  5. Random Reply
    October 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I don't like this one bit… -_-

  6. Elisabeth Reply
    November 13, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    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?!

  7. Tee Reply
    September 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    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.

  8. Happy Reply
    January 12, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    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…

  9. David Reply
    February 19, 2015 at 6:54 am

    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.

  10. Ruby Reply
    May 2, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    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.

  11. Jerica Reply
    January 29, 2016 at 1:28 am

    I wander if it's possible that people who play mind games don't know they are doing it?

  12. OnlyHuman Reply
    July 2, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    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.

  13. Grace Reply
    July 15, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Wow… thanks so much for the help! 🙂

  14. Anonymous Reply
    August 6, 2015 at 1:06 am

    Helpful

  15. Chad Reply
    September 28, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    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.

  16. barb Reply
    January 28, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Quite true

  17. Rod Reply
    December 24, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    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.

  18. Anita Reply
    January 23, 2016 at 6:04 am

    I don't feel this is true… my son plays mind games with me and your suggestions would NOT help at all!

  19. Neetha Reply
    March 18, 2016 at 9:28 am

    Last words are true, I agree, people want to control us!

  20. Anonymous Reply
    May 8, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Well explained

  21. Que Reply
    June 9, 2016 at 9:01 am

    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!

  22. Geetika Reply
    June 22, 2016 at 10:25 am

    It was a great article. Thanks!

  23. Christine Reply
    June 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    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!

  24. bhavana Reply
    July 1, 2016 at 11:28 am

    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?

  25. Rog Reply
    August 7, 2016 at 8:56 am

    "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.

  26. Anonymous Reply
    July 15, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Great advice.

  27. Anna Reply
    September 12, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    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.

  28. Princess Reply
    November 18, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Thank you

  29. Angela Reply
    December 30, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Confirmation!

  30. Tyler Reply
    May 20, 2018 at 5:39 am

    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).

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