How to tell if you’re being manipulated

How to tell if you’re being manipulated
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Puppet on strings
Image by The Wandering Faun.


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 of manipulation you know something is wrong, but you’re not quite sure what it is. Or you might suspect you’re being manipulated, and you want to know how to tell for sure.

It’s actually easier and more obvious than you might think it is.

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. It’s definitely good to know them, because then you might see them. But it’s not necessary. You only need to look at yourself to know if manipulation is a t play.

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, but you’re not sure what it is.
  • 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’re angry and frustrated when you question your partner about something that’s bothering you,  because he or she immediately shifts the focus onto you — it becomes all about your problem with trust or insecurity, while the original question or issue is never addressed.
  • 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.
  • 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 feel less strong, less confident, less secure, less intelligent, less sane, or in some way “less than” anything you were 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, actions and emotions to keep him from withdrawing his affection again. Your suppressed feelings build inside of you, and sometimes you erupt like a volcano. You’ve never acted this way before. You can’t seem to help it, and it only makes things worse.


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 “Who’s Pulling Your 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.

“In the end, it doesn’t matter how you got into that relationship, it is the realization that it is one-sided, exploitative, and toxic. The questions that need to be asked are very simple. ‘Are they using their charms or behavior to control you or others for their own benefit? Are they manipulating you? Are they doing things that hurt you or put you at risk? Do you feel like this relationship is one sided? Are you hurting in this relationship?’ If the answer to these questions is yes, it is time to untangle yourself from the toxic strings that control you so you can get your life back. Take heed – you have no social obligation to be victimized – ever.”

~ Dangerous Personalities, by Joe Navarro, M.A., a 25 year veteran of the FBI

Emotional manipulation is emotional abuse. And emotional abuse is abuse, plain and simple, just as physical abuse is. If you believe you’re in a relationship with an abuser, no good will come of it. This person does not respect you or care about your well-being. Seek professional counseling as soon as possible from a therapist familiar with the effects of emotional abuse.


© 2012 – 2014 ‘Psychopaths and Love’ All Rights Reserved



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“This small book was full of tons of useful information. I don’t usually write in my books, but my copy of Boundaries has underlining on almost every page. I was really glad I bought it.” ~ Amazon Reviewer

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“If you have been the victim of a psychopath or you think you may be the next target of a psychopath, this book lays it all out for you…It gets right to the core of the predator.” ~ J. Hunter

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