in: Dating & Relationships

How to Spot (& Sidestep) Someone Who’s Using Mind Games

Barbara Buck

Manipulation comes in many forms; when it comes to romance, mind games reign supreme. Read on to sharpen those detective skills. You deserve something real.


I’m an online dater, and like most people, sometimes I stumble across someone who tries to play mind games with me. We’ve all had at least one experience with a person like this, and their behavior can leave us feeling confused and manipulated.

My most recent experience with mind games happened with a man who tried to use guilt to get me to go out with him after I decided I didn’t want to see him anymore. He is an addict that has been sober for over 20 years. He told me my refusal to see him almost made him want to use drugs again, and implied it would have been my fault if he did. He was trying to make me feel sorry enough for him that I would acquiesce and agree to another date.

Another guy would tell me he was going to pick me up at a certain time, then show up an hour or more late. When I got upset about having to wait for him, yet again, he acted as if there was something wrong with me for being angry. He behaved as if I were being irrational for asking that he treat me with common courtesy.

There are a number of reasons people play mind games, but the goal is usually to gain a sense of control or power over another person. The player wants to get a specific response, but instead of telling you what they need or asking for what they want, they try to get their needs met by using manipulative tactics. It’s all about feeling powerful and in control, but those feelings never last for very long. Any time we try to use someone else to make ourselves feel better, it usually doesn’t end well. It’s almost impossible to create an authentic connection with someone when honest communication is missing from the picture.

The best thing to do when you realize someone is playing mind games with you is to bless them with love, stop communicating, and move on with your life. Manipulators have poor personal boundaries and don’t have your best interests at heart. They’ve developed negative coping mechanisms and probably won’t ever change.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between someone who might be a little insecure or socially awkward from a person who is actively trying to manipulate you. Here are some things to look for to help you figure it out.

You feel like you are being judged or compared to other people.

A common mind game is to make you believe you don’t measure up. You might hear things like “My last girlfriend never had a problem with me being late” or “No one else seems to care about this. Maybe you’re a little paranoid.” This behavior is the adult version of peer pressure and is designed to get you to do something you don’t want to do, or feel a certain way about yourself.

If the person you are dating does this to you, it’s not about you. Their insecurity and need to make you feel less than you are is the real problem. You are a mirror for them, and the way they speak to you is the way their inner self-talk speaks to them. Don’t buy into their criticism.

You are often told that your version of events or a conversation is wrong, and it makes you question your sanity.

Perhaps the most nefarious of mind games is called “gaslighting.” Someone who uses this manipulative tactic might say something, then deny they ever said it, or tell someone their gut feelings are all in their head.

They want you to question reality so you feel off balance. I recently had this done to me and I thought I was losing my mind. If you feel like you’re constantly having to explain yourself or backtrack, you’re probably experiencing this extremely damaging form of psychological abuse.

The person you are dating seems really into you, then disappears for days, even weeks.

People don’t call or return texts for a number of reasons. Sometimes they get busy, sometimes they lose interest.

There are some people, though, who deliberately stop communication just to get your attention. They do this to control the relationship, or as a test to see what your reaction is.

Tons of books out there tout “playing hard to get” as a good way to keep a person interested, but it’s pretty dishonest. The best way to find out if someone is playing this game is to ask them if they are. Let them know how you are feeling, see what they say. Explain you prefer more communication and a direct approach from the people you date. If they continue the behavior, it shows a lack of respect toward you; and it might be for the best if you cut them loose. Getting involved with someone who treats you in this manner will only lead to a toxic relationship.

About the Author:

Barbara Buck Barbara Buck

Barbara Buck is a Foundational Reconnective Healing Practitioner, writer, and teacher. She also is the facilitator for the Happy Empath community at TheHappyEmpath.com, a website that supports and empowers people who consider themselves highly sensitive. For more information, please visit her website at BarbaraBuck.org. You can also check her out on the Happy Empaths Twitter feed @the_empath.

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