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Signs You're Being Manipulated

Updated on June 6, 2019
Jessica Beasley profile image

As a product of a dysfunctional family, I find fulfillment in sharing my personal heartache to help others going through difficult times.

We have all manipulated others, most likely without realizing it. Generally, people don't intend to hurt others and take advantage of them. I feel that sometimes, manipulation is a result of poor communication. It can be innocent and sometimes manipulation can even be used for good. When it is used for good, it's often called influencing. People that are good at sales often develop ways to manipulate people into purchasing items. We are often aware that they are doing it. That in itself can be good or bad depending on the intention. However, in personal relationships, there is a line that it crosses in which it becomes mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually harmful to someone. There are people who thrive on this behavior and there are people who fall victim to it very easily. But the truth is, no one is immune to this. It doesn't discriminate and even very intelligent, strong people can become manipulated. The nature of manipulation is very slow and very sneaky. It is designed to make even the sharpest person a victim before they know it. If manipulating was easy, it wouldn't be a thing. There is a reason it is a skill that people acquire and hone to get what they want. There is a reason it works so well, so often.

I am not a psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist. I am simply 35 year old woman now who grew up with a highly manipulative father. It took me until my late 20's/early 30's before I was able to recognize and break the cycle. Hindsight is 20/20 and I can look back now and see how much of a victim I was and how I was groomed. As I got older, my father's manipulation tactics became more obvious to me and he got more creative. He was unwilling to stop the behavior so we are now estranged. I have developed a good understanding through years of firsthand experience. And did I mention, my father was a salesman?

It is a blessing and a curse to be aware of when manipulation is happening to you because, well, ignorance is bliss. Once you can spot when someone is trying to manipulate you, you end up having to change yourself in the process, because, the truth is, you can't change their actions. I tried to change my dad's behavior and I could not. I needed to change my response to him. That is hard stuff! Sometimes in the short term, it is easier just to go with it and do what someone wants. That's why some people stay trapped even if they are aware they are manipulated. Over time, it is highly damaging to your confidence, peace of mind, and the desires of your own heart.

Feel crazy? You might not be!
Feel crazy? You might not be! | Source

What is manipulation?

Manipulation is defined as "the skillful handling, controlling or using of something or someone." By definition, it is not necessarily bad, but there can be some negative connotations — a manipulative person knows how to twist words, play on emotions and otherwise manage a situation in a sneaky fashion to get what he wants." according to

Being manipulated can make you feel like a puppet on a string.
Being manipulated can make you feel like a puppet on a string. | Source

Signs you are being manipulated You

1. You do things out of guilt, obligation, and/or fear

This can take many forms. A person whom you think is manipulating you may use emotional blackmail to evoke fear to get you to cave into their request. They may also make you feel guilty and obliged to do what they want by saying "If you really loved me you would..." Why would somebody who has your best interest at heart do any of those things? They wouldn't. So this is a major red flag you are being manipulated. It doesn't matter if it is a friend, boss, or even your own parents. Manipulation is manipulation and if anyone is doing this, you are being manipulated.

2. You're questioning your sanity

This is known as gas-lighting and no, you are not going crazy, they are making you think you are. They will say you said something you didn't say, say you didn't say something you did, leave out information, and give a different account of something that happened that is different from what actually happened. It is all in an attempt to confuse you and make you lose confidence in your ability to think straight. This allow the manipulator to gain/keep control over you. He or she is twisting your reality.

3. You feel like you give and get nothing, constantly

We all want to help people. Also, when we give freely, we shouldn't expect anything in return. One of life's biggest blessings is when we can help someone who needs it and can't repay us. However, when you are being manipulated, you might feel like you give and give and all they do is take. You might feel like a hamster on a wheel, usually with the same person: the manipulator. You may also find that you are always there when you him/her but he/she is never there when you need them. This imbalance is a good sign you are being manipulated. The manipulator has mastered getting what they want/need and without having to reciprocate. A healthy friendship/relationship is a give and take. There may be times you're there for them and times that they're there for you. If you pay attention, you will feel the difference. One relationship will energize you and one will drain you.

4. You notice the "foot-in-the-door' technique

This is a big one. Often a manipulator's requests will start as smaller, less frequent requests. They will be easy to do and you will think nothing of if. Manipulators have a way of making you feel as if you are the only one who can help them out. Next thing you know, their demands are unreasonable and dripping in guilt. They use small request to groom you into having (almost) no choice but to cave in. For example, Brian asks to use the car to drive to the store. Next thing you know, he is asking to use it for the whole weekend! Odds are good that a) Brian probably had no intention of just using the car for a quick drive to the store and b) he doesn't care that you might have said no if you knew he would want it for the weekend. It was harder for you to say no once he had the car in his possession. The smaller request worked you up to where it is easier say yes for the big request. This is used often in sales. Once you've purchased something, think of how easy it is to upgrade or get up-sold.

5. Requests may seem rushed

To get what they want, they don't want you to think about how you feel about the request. They want the answer they want and how you feel is irrelevant to them. If you have time to think, you might recognize whether or not you want to do what their asking, therefore, they want you to take as little time as possible. Also too, after some time, if you have thought about the request and changed your mind, then you're the bad guy. They will make you feel like a bad person after pressuring you so you will say yes and then turn the tables on you if you change your mind.

6. They will butter you up

In an effort to build trust, they may give you small requests and act like you're the only one who can deliver. Somewhere along the way, they will make you feel like you went from here to zero. If you're dong what they want you are the best and if you don't, then you are the worst. If you notice this swing, you may be getting manipulated. Sometimes before they ask for what they want, you will notice a exorbitant amount of compliments and extra praise. This helps their chances that you will say yes.

7. They will diminish your confidence and take you out of your comfort zone

Like the "foot-in-the-door" technique, this is also an old sales technique. Known as "home court advantage", sometimes a manipulator will take you out of your comfort zone. The thinking is that if you are a little uncomfortable, you are more vulnerable and the manipulator then has a better chance at getting you to do what they want.

8. They will play dumb and act innocent

They will do all these things knowingly to get what they want and if/when you call them out on it, they will play dumb. It is a way that they can maintain their innocence and be the victim and make everything your fault. This will also make you feel like you're losing your mind. Do you see the cycle? It is truly a hamster wheel.

9. They will display passive-aggressive behavior

Even though we may all display passive aggressiveness at some point, manipulators use it as a tool. They may purposefully not do something knowing it will evoke a reaction and then react to that reaction as if it happened organically. Like I mentioned before, then they will play dumb.

10. They are often "victims"

If they are the "victim" how can anything be their fault? Even though they have carefully crafted all their actions (and your decisions) and they are somehow helpless. They may blame you that if you dad done X, Y, and Z, they would be better and happier and by you deciding what is best for you, have ruined things somehow.

Manipulators are highly skilled controllers who will wear a mask of "helpless victim". They will make you feel in control while they are fully in control.
Manipulators are highly skilled controllers who will wear a mask of "helpless victim". They will make you feel in control while they are fully in control. | Source

There are ways out of the manipulations cycle

1. Recognize that manipulation is a two-way street

Here's the good news! You can only be manipulated if you allow it. A manipulator can try to manipulate you, but ultimately, you are in full control. The manipulator is good at making us think we have to do certain things, but the reality is that we don't. This is an easy thing to say, but much harder to do. However, it is great that is in fact the reality, even if it takes work realizing it. Here's the bad new, it can be hard to recognize manipulation when you are in the thick of it. Getting out of it when you have been in it so long is hard, but not impossible. Being able to recognize the signs and little by little assert your desires and ability to say now will eventually set you free.

2. Don't feel pressure to answer right away

If you are being pressured and suspect someone is trying to manipulate you, don't give an answer right away. Odds are, the world will not end, despite what the manipulator tells you. Take some time and think about whether or not you are doing something because you want to and it would be beneficial for everyone, or if you are being bullied, pressured, or guilted into doing something at the price of your emotional well-being.

3. If you feel crazy, you probably aren't

It's easy to assume we are overreacting and are crazy. We are so quick to assume, especially when our confidence is low, we must be imagining things. When you have someone manipulating you, it can be a battle between what they tell you and what your gut is telling you. Trust your gut on this one. You know you aren't crazy. You know their demands are unreasonable, constant, guilt or fear-laden and that the relationship benefits them far more than it does you and you are drained. Trust the obvious. It may not seems obvious when you're in the middle of it, but get back to trusting your gut, this if a time when you need to hear what it is saying.

4. Don't ever let guilt motivate you

Don't let guilt be the reason you do something. If you can't say yes because a) you want to or b) it would be truly beneficial for someone if you say yes, then say no if you want to say no. If you do something because you feel guilty, then you're not doing it with the right intention. There are times we will do something because it is the right thing to do, not because we will feel guilty if we don't. Guilt is such a useless emotion because when we do things based on guilt, we feel guilty if we don't do something but we also feel guilty if we do. Break this cycle. Don't let guilt ever control you.

You can break the cycle

Learning about manipulation is a blessing and a curse. It's a curse because once you get good at recognizing the signs, you will have a hard time not seeing them. That means that you will see manipulation often and also, in yourself sometimes. But is is a blessing to be able to see the signs because it will feel like coming into the light after being in the dark.


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