Manipulation can be so subtle and undercover that it can control you for quite a while before you figure out what’s happening, if you ever do. Some manipulators are highly skilled. They’re described by some as puppet masters, and you could become an unknowing puppet if you don’t know the signs.
As your strings are pulled this way and that, you do just what the puppet master wants you to do. You think you’re acting from your own free will, but the truth is you’re not. Once the relationship ends, many victims finally see they were under the manipulator’s control.
If you’re a victim, you probably suspect something is wrong and you want to know how to tell if you’re being manipulated. It’s actually easier and more obvious than you might think.
I have a page on this site about the techniques of covert emotional manipulation, but the truth is you don’t have to know anything at all about the techniques to know if your strings are being pulled. If you’re in a relationship and notice a few of the following signs, there’s a high probability you’re being manipulated:
- Your joy at finding love has turned into the fear of losing it. You will start feeling stressed at this point. Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to anxiety, sadness and even desperation. (This is known as the “manipulative shift.”)
- Your mood depends entirely on the state of the relationship.
- You’re unhappy in your relationship most of the time…yet you dread losing it. You feel like you’re screwing up the best thing that ever happened to you, but you’re not sure how.
- Your relationship feels very complex, although you’re not sure why. When talking to your friends about it, you might find yourself saying “It’s hard to explain…it’s just really complicated.”
- You obsess about the relationship constantly. You endlessly analyze every aspect of it as you desperately try to “figure it out.” You talk about it constantly, to whomever will listen. None of this gets you anywhere.
- You never feel sure of where you stand with your partner, which leaves you in a perpetual state of uncertainty and anxiety.
- You frequently ask your partner if something’s wrong, or you want to ask. It really does feel as if something’s wrong.
- You always seem to be on the defensive. You find yourself feeling misunderstood, so you continually feel the need to explain and defend yourself.
- You feel that you just don’t know how to make your partner happy. You try hard, but nothing seems to work, at least not for long.
- You may frequently feel angry and resentful toward your partner, although you may not know why. Expressing negative thoughts and emotions feels restricted or even forbidden, at times causing you to experience extreme frustration and even hostility.
- You feel inadequate. You don’t feel as good about yourself as you did before the relationship.
- You always feel you’re falling short of your partner’s expectations.
- You often feel guilty. You continually try to repair the damage you believe you’ve caused. You blame yourself for your partner pulling away from you. You can’t understand why you keep sabotaging the relationship.
- You feel like you’re walking on eggshells around your partner, carefully controlling your words and actions to keep him from withdrawing his affection again.
You might be wondering how you (or anyone else) could stay in a relationship that causes fear, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, frustration and hostility. Wouldn’t you know something is terribly wrong?
There are two reasons people stay. First, the relationship got off to an amazing start. He or she seemed like your perfect partner — your soul mate, probably — and the honeymoon phase was idyllic. Since you’ve been manipulated into blaming yourself for the problems, you stick with the relationship and desperately try to repair the damage.
Second, “manipulation is an evolving process over time,” according to Harriet B. Braiker, PhD., author of “Pulling Your Own Strings.” Victims are controlled through a series of promised gains and threatened losses covertly executed through a variety of manipulation tactics. In other words, the manipulation builds gradually as the abuser creates uncertainty and doubt by going back and forth from hot to cold, by going back and forth from giving you what you desire to taking it away.
If you believe you’re in a relationship with a manipulator, you must end it and sever all contact. Seek professional counseling as soon as possible from a therapist familiar with the effects of emotional abuse.
To avoid becoming involved in another abusive relationship, read the books below:
- “Boundaries: Loving Again After a Pathological Relationship” by AB Admin. When you create boundaries you take a stand for yourself and your life, and communicate your worth to others in a real and practical way. This short book is filled with practical wisdom and useful tips. It will walk you through the process of creating boundaries from start to finish.
“Who’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life” by H.B. Braiker. This book “will help you end a current destructive relationship, understand how it occurred – and prevent you from ever getting involved in a manipulative relationship again.”
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