5 Tell-Tale Signs You’re Being Manipulated (And How To Avoid It In Future)
We've all felt pressured, as if another person is trying to control us. It could be the marketer on the sales call who tells us that if we were serious about our business, then we'd buy their expensive software solution. Or the salesperson in a shop who turns to our friend, smiles, and asks them if we're always so indecisive?
It's annoying, and it’s designed to manipulate us. We’ll make a decision when we’re not sure, just to prove them wrong. In these cases, we can walk away. We can tell the salesperson thanks, but no thanks.
In relationships, it can be harder to cut your losses or deal with the issue. We can stay longer than we should because we feel guilty about leaving. Or we feel that somehow, it’s all our fault.
Deep down, a manipulator just wants to get their needs met. Trouble is, they don't do it in a healthy way. They often put their own needs first. When they don't get their own way, they turn to underhanded tactics or deception. Everyone around them becomes collateral damage in their battle to get their own way.
Question is, how do you know you're being manipulated? Here are 5 major warning signs to look out for.
1) Constantly Questioning Yourself
Do you feel like you can't do anything right and even if you try your hardest, whatever you do will still be the wrong thing?
Maybe you feel you're walking on eggshells. Or your partner gives you the silent treatment so you feel you've done something wrong but you don't know what it is.
This is manipulative behaviour. It's called 'gaslighting', so-named after the 1944 classic movie Gaslight. Gaslighting is designed to make you question yourself, particularly your memory or your thoughts. A manipulator will use the onset of doubts to control you because you won't trust your own judgment.
One easy test is if you speak up, and they tell you you're being too sensitive or paranoid? That's gaslighting. Someone with your best interests at heart would be concerned if you raise an issue. You hear this a lot when someone passes nasty comments, then sneers “I’m only joking” if you complain.
Gaslighting can be a sign of narcissism. If you’ve been on the receiving end, check out our guide to recovering from a narcissist.
2) Lower Self-Esteem
Do you feel like you need to change something about yourself to make your partner happy? We don't mean in the sense that he likes feeling tall so you don't wear high heels around him.
But if your partner makes you feel like you have to change who just to make the relationship work? It could be a sign that manipulation is present. Your partner will lower your self-esteem so you become dependent on them.
If they compare you to other people, it can be a way to both lower your self-esteem and get you to do something. For example, they may tell you their ex always used to do all the cooking for them. You then feel the need to do it as well to avoid negative comparisons with a previous partner.
Researchers showed that they could manipulate the emotions of Facebook users based on what they saw in their newsfeed. Imagine how easily your partner can manipulate your emotions based on what they say to you.
3) Feeling Uncomfortable
Has your partner asked you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable? Check-in with yourself - and I mean really check in with yourself.
Is this something you really don't want to do? Does it go against your values and beliefs? Does your gut scream ‘no’ at you?
We have gut instincts for a reason. Scientists even call the gut the 'second brain'. If you feel a strong physical reaction not to do something, trust that instinct.
If your partner wants you to do it anyway and doesn't respect your feelings, they could be manipulating you.
You may also feel uncomfortable making a request of them. Codependent people will rarely say no, so they'll resort to a different type of manipulation. They’ll say yes, and then they'll tell you repeatedly how much they've had to sacrifice to meet your request.
It’s true, you haven't been manipulated into doing something you didn't want to do. But you have been emotionally manipulated. The codependent has controlled your emotional reaction by making you feel ashamed or guilty that you asked them.
4) Emotional Blackmail
Manipulators will push your emotional buttons to get you to do what they want. They might make you feel scared, using bullying tactics or threats to get their way.
They might also make you feel obligated to do something you don't want to do. If you say no, they'll make you feel guilty. These manipulators often play the victim or the martyr, shaming you into doing something. They might persuade you not to go to a social event “because they love you so much and they’ll miss you”.
You can spot this kind of behaviour if conditions are attached to things that are asked of you. For example, you might hear something like "if you really loved me, you'd lend me that money/let me borrow your car/let my friend sleep on the couch."
The implication is that if you don't do these things, you don't love them. Naturally, if you love your partner, you want to show this so you'll agree.
Bottom line is you shouldn't have to prove how you feel by completing arbitrary tasks.
5) Guilt Tripping
Not all manipulators will be so obvious. Some will do a huge favour for you upfront, before making the ask. They're relying on the law of reciprocity to guide you into doing what they want. If you say no? Expect them to bring up what they did for you, and they'll send you on a guilt trip you didn't ask for.
Does "After everything I've done for you!" sound familiar?
They may also make a big request that they know you'll turn down. Then they follow it up with a smaller one that seems reasonable by comparison. No one wants to turn someone down twice, so you're more likely to do the smaller one.
Alternatively, they might start with a small, simple request, and then move onto something bigger. Because you've already said yes to the small request, you're primed to agree to larger requests.
This might start with something like "Can I choose which film we watch tonight?" and then build up to "Will you stop spending so much time with your best mate?"
How Can You Avoid Manipulative Behaviour?
Once you're on the receiving end of it, it's up to you to leave the toxic relationship. Don't try to point it out to the manipulator to let them explain themselves. They'll just manipulate you further.
Remember not to take their behaviour personally. They're not doing it because you're a bad person or you deserve it. That's what they want you to think. In reality, they've targeted you precisely because you're a friendly, generous, helpful person.
Those are personal qualities you need to celebrate, not hide. Just be careful who you share them with.
Next, put these three strategies to good use to avoid being manipulated again.
1) Build Your Self-Esteem
It’s a difficult situation because narcissists will often target people with a lot of confidence and achievements. It reflects well on them.
Ironically, having unshakeable self-esteem is also a good strategy to put manipulators off. Don’t depend on others for your self-worth. That way, you won’t fall prey to guilt trips because you know you don’t deserve them. Make sure your no means no - and you will not be made to feel bad for saying it.
2) Set Boundaries.
Our first strategy leads us nicely onto our second. You have got to set boundaries with people - even your closest friends. If people know you're always available, that you'll never turn down a request, and you're eager to help? They will take advantage of it.
Start setting boundaries and stick to them. After the first few rejections, a manipulator will soon move on to easier targets. This also means not falling into the trap of over-sharing early in a relationship. Manipulators will do so to make you feel special, like you coaxed their trauma out of them.
But they’re only doing this to encourage you to share your vulnerabilities with them. Make no mistake, they will use these against you as soon as they can. But by setting boundaries, you can keep sensitive topics of conversation for people who deserve to hear them.
3) Learn To See The Truth For Yourself
The best way to avoid manipulators in future is to learn to see them upfront. Seeing the truth, instead of trying to see the best in them, will save you so much stress and heartbreak.
Instead of having your suspicions, or finding out the hard way, you can know straight away what a person truly intends. You'll be able to control the interaction, instead of letting them dictate the agenda.
Our groundbreaking Love with Behavioural Profiling program will teach you how to do this, so you can accurately read a person in six minutes or less. You will know if your date is genuinely interested or stringing you along until they can get what they need.
These are the same cutting-edge techniques and tactics used by military operatives around the world. We've partnered with Chase Hughes - the man who trains them - to bring you this weapons-grade communication training.
And we’ve mixed them with our own take on love to give you the best chance at finding - and growing - the relationship you deserve.