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Should I ditch my manipulative friend?

Updated on June 11, 2014
Billy Bob Thornton with Martin Freeman in "Fargo" (2014)
Billy Bob Thornton with Martin Freeman in "Fargo" (2014)

What does my button pushing pal do for me?

A manipulative friend is someone who makes a habit of pressing on your emotions to control your actions. You may love them but you're happier when they're not there.

You stay friends because you recognise that manipulators aren't always bad. They exist on a spectrum. At one end there are nice but immature personalities, at the other dangerous predators like Billy Bob Thornton's character in the TV drama Fargo. You might even empathise with your manipulative friend. Everybody pushes buttons sometimes.

People manipulate for all sorts of reasons. A dysfunctional family dynamic may have taught them bad relationship habits. They might be desperately lonely and unable to express their feelings. Or in the worst case scenario they could be completely lacking in compassion.

They control you because you give them permission. Your emotions belong to you. If someone is messing with them it's because you've allowed it.

Manipulators maintain us by helping us to feel important, understood, compassionate, useful and cared for. They flatter, exploit pity, offer favours and imply shared goals. At their worst they deliberately use our bad relationship habits to isolate us from others.

Is my friend a psychopath?

It's difficult to think rationally when a person provokes very strong feelings in us. Years of high emotion in their presence cloud the mind. If you are wondering whether to break the friendship your decision making process should be rational or you could regret it.

If you can avoid the person for a while, it will give your emotions a chance to cool down. Use the time to think logically about the dynamics of your friendship. Half of your thinking needs to be about why you let them push your buttons. This isn't to make you blame yourself, it's to strengthen your resistance so that it doesn't happen again.

In the spirit of love it's important not to jump to conclusions. Predators exist but they are not as common as television suggests. Your friend's problem could be immaturity or unhappiness. It's not easy to tell when you're angry about being played with like a puppet.

The issue may not even be your friend. If you feel anxious and persecuted a lot of the time, it's possible you have a health problem. There are many illnesses that make a person feel paranoid and jumpy.

No advice page on the internet can tell you what your experience is. Only you can weigh up the evidence of your life and decide whether to stay, run or seek medical help for yourself.

Whatever you decide and whatever you are going through, good luck! The tips in the next section may be relevant to your situation or they may not.

Billy Bob Thornton in "Fargo"
Billy Bob Thornton in "Fargo"

You've been manipulated, so what next?

  1. If you've been isolated from loved ones it will be difficult to judge what is acceptable behaviour towards you. We need to be in supportive communities to understand that we have value. If you don't value yourself you are more likely to think it is acceptable to be mistreated.
  2. You are not morally obliged to stay with the manipulator to make them happy. You are not responsible for another person's happiness. You must be kind always. Humans are kind when they stop dogs eating chocolate. This doesn't make dogs happy. Leaving your friend could be good for them.
  3. You can't fix a troubled person. Only their willpower and a trained professional can do that.
  4. If someone hurts you, it is not your fault. If you consciously allow them to hurt you again you have voted for their spiritual and moral deterioration. It is not Christian for an adult to deliberately choose to enable a person to hurt them.
  5. If you can't be yourself, if you feel resentful or don't like the way you behave around a person yet you admire them, they may be manipulating you more than you realise.
  6. If you are newly conscious that someone has been manipulating you for years, do not confront them. They already have the upper hand because they know how to lie to you.
  7. You can't see into another person's soul. Be careful of thinking someone is better or worse than they are.
  8. If an old friend is newly manipulative, are they in trouble?
  9. A person lacking social skills may be well intentioned but very obviously manipulative. Bad social skills don't equal bad intentions.
  10. Do not interfere in the person's other friendships. The poor dynamic may just have been between the pair of you. You may be wrong. You may be right and they might murder you. If you suspect criminal activity go to the police.
  11. Even if the person is a psychopath they are still a human being. Respect their humanity but stay safe too.


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