Why Do Some People Play Mind Games in Relationships?

Updated on June 15, 2019
Filip Stojkovski profile image

I'm a computer programmer and game developer who is also deeply curious about the arts, philosophy, health, and psychology.

People play mind games usually because they are insecure, immature, or have a manipulative type of personality. They are not ready and mature enough to be in a stable relationship. Most of that stems from personal insecurities and the inability to trust and connect with another person in a healthy way. Here are some common types of mind games people play in relationships.

1. Playing Hard to Get

This is when men and women intentionally try not to show their interest and affection for the person they are dating. The purpose for that is to make themselves look more valuable in the eyes of their date. They don't want to appear easy or desperate. Or they simply like the feeling of being chased.

2. Projecting

Projection is when one person attributes their own thoughts and actions to someone else. For example, a person that is being unfaithful may blame their partner for cheating. So the person being blamed spends their energy defending themselves instead of taking a closer look at their partner and judging their actions.

3. Sending Mixed Messages

A person who sends mixed messages may act interested for a while and then ignore you completely—only to start acting interested again later. So what's the point of that? Well, they may unintentionally do it because they are not sure of their own feelings. But if they do that intentionally, it's for the purpose of making you feel desperate and insecure and more focused on them.

4. Guilt Tripping

People use guilt-trip techniques (blaming others) to make the other person weaken their personal boundaries. A person who feels guilty will often let others walk over them and do things they wouldn't do if guilt was not there in the first place.

5. Withholding Affection

This sadly happens often in relationships. Many people withhold affection if they don't get their way in relationships. Of course, this is not to be confused with being mad at your partner for a justifiable reason.

6. Love Bombing

Love bombing is what manipulative people often do at the beginning of the relationship. They try their best to seem like the perfect, wonderful lover from your dreams rather than a normal person. They may text you constantly, buy you gifts all the time, and move quickly in the relationship. It is important to make a difference between love bombing and normal flirting\showing affection. Love bombing tends to be a lot more intense than normal flirting and seems way less realistic and inappropriate for the stage of the relationship.

7. Testing Limits

This is when a person intentionally does something hurtful or disrespectful to you in order to test your reaction and your boundaries. They want to see if you are a person with weak boundaries or if you are able to stand up for yourself. People who do this are generally people who are looking for someone with weak personal boundaries and that's why they try to test your boundaries.

8. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that manipulators use to make their victim question their own reality. What gaslighters do is they withhold information, they lie to your face about trivial things, they deny they ever said something you remember they said to confuse you, they accuse you of being crazy or overly forgetful etc. They may even misplace or hide your items to make you question your own memory.

How to Deal with People Who Play Mind Games?

Usually, people who play mind games and manipulative people are difficult to change. The first thing you need to do when you notice that someone is playing mind games with you is to confront them and let them know that you are aware and not accepting of their behavior. If better communication doesn't solve the problem you probably can do nothing to make the person change, and should probably move on.

1. Make Sure You Have Strong Personal Boundaries

Personal boundaries are guidelines we establish to teach other people how to behave towards us. Make sure you know how to set limits for people and say no when you don't want to tolerate a certain behavior. To have strong personal boundaries you need to build your self-esteem and make sure you know what you want.

2. Ask a Person You Trust for Advice

Often a third person can look at the situation more wisely and rationally because they are not that emotionally involved and they can give you more level-headed and unbiased advice.

3. Call the Person on Their Behavior

Make sure you let the person know that you are aware of their behavior. Don't try to get even or win the game using similar passive-aggressive tactics. Just let the person know you realize they are being manipulative, and don't stoop to their level.

4. Don't Try to Change the 'Player'

It's very difficult to change someone, especially a manipulative person. If they are manipulative and communication doesn't solve that problem, chances are it's just their personality and there's not much you can do about it. It's very likely you will be wasting your time if you continue to try.

5. Just Move on From That Person

Most of the time people who play mind games won't change for the better unless they are still very young. To have a healthy relationship you need to be with a person that is mature enough to communicate openly and effectively. You don't need anyone who manipulates you or tests you or plays mind games with you.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        10 months ago

        Thank you for writing , very concise and accurate in my opinion. Dealing with it lately very annoying.

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        Thank you so much... This article helped make a lot

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        Traumatic experiences produce behavior like this. Emotional abuse for instance is rampant and not taught. I have learned a ton about trauma and have basically realized with no body really passing judgment on families and there behavior, we set our country up to produce lots of toxic people. This also occurs due to a lack of universal health care and strong mental health care along with it as that is what will hell the population to heal. We are the embodiment of the evolution of concepts that is history. If we do not care for it, we have no one to blame but our selves. The fundamental attribution error no longer works and is the source of people acting like “something is wrong others because they are x or y status or level of performance.” The problem, nothing exists in a vacuum. Everything occurs in context and we have gone through most of history without understanding our brain and body. And just within the last 50 have we gotten a handle on our emotional side of the brain, this cognitive emotion integrated model of rational emotion and external collaborative logic is what is missing in this country. We are held hostage by fear and apathy, run by identity than a true understanding. The problem is that when we stand for identity over truth, is that when the truth threatens our identity, it threatens our ego. And those reading this article know far to well the many ego defenses that pop up in even normal people. If one’s identity is not process over identity and party first not 2nd or 3rd, it’s expressed as a core part of their identity partnered with values of accuracy and precision and most importantly reality testing, we will stay stuck.

      • matthewjoe1 profile image

        Matthew Joseph 

        2 years ago from Nigeria

        The people who play these mind games try to be elusive. They avoid eye contact, firm handshake, or anything that'll make you come into their world and understand them better.

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        Well said.

        Certain work areas attract this type of person.

        Walk away.

      • dashingscorpio profile image


        2 years ago from Chicago

        The sad things is many people "instinctively" play mind games.

        It's not as if they sat down made a plan to "gaslight" someone.

        Probably the best thing we should start with is figuring out (why) these mind games actually work: because if they didn't no one would play them. People only do what seems to "work" for them.

        For example some women are only attracted to "bad boys" during their youth. "We ignore those who adore us and adore those who ignore us." That's seems to be their motto.

        You could stick such a woman in a room with five guys and have four of them drop to their knees extending their heart out towards her while the "5th guy" sits in a corner sipping on a cocktail acting as she does not exist.

        That will be the guy she wants to get to know!

        He's seen as a "mystery" or "challenge" and if she knows other women want him his stock rises even higher. Competition brings out the best in her. She has to prove to herself that she can "win him over" or (earn) his attention and affection.

        Those other "nice guys" will be put in her "friend zone".

        They'll be the guys whose shoulders she cries on while complaining about how much of a jerk their boyfriend is. When she breaks up with her boyfriend or gets dumped by him she'll find a new "bad boy".

        You never hear about a "player", "gangster", or "jerk" being lonely!

        Narcissistic people draw others to them like moths to a flame.

        People often will say:

        "Why do I keep attracting this type of person?"

        The reality is you can't help who finds you attractive!

        What gets you into trouble is who (you) find to be attractive!

        Each of us (chooses) our own friends, lovers, and spouse.

        Each of us has our mate selection process/"must haves list".

        Each of us has our own boundaries and "deal breakers".

        We're always where we (choose) to be. Suffering is optional!

        "Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."

        - Oscar Wilde


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