How to tell if you’re being manipulated

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Puppet on strings

Image by The Wandering Faun. Published under CC2 license.

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:

 

 

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Did you find this post valuable? If so, please support my efforts and help me to defray the costs of maintaining this website by purchasing a book. Many thanks.

 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small percentage of the sale price. Thank you.

© 2012 – 2014 ‘Psychopaths and Love’ All Rights Reserved
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16 thoughts on “How to tell if you’re being manipulated

  1. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I
    am impressed. Extremely helpful info particularly the last part :)
    I care for such info a lot. I was looking for this particular info for a long time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

  2. I found this helpful and I saw one of the signs and got a bit scared but I thought about it and it’s actually my fault. I even found out that I may have been the manipulator at one point…whew and I am working on it.
    this was lovely

  3. I have been a victim of an emotional abusive and manipulated relationship. We were together for almost 8 years. It has come to the time where I need to tell people exactly what happened but the fact that he never did anything infront of anyone is proving to be the reason I don’t have hard evidence. Does anyone have any advice for me? I just want him out of my life so I can try to be happy again and try to rebuild myself.

    • I don’t know. A common theme with these relationships is that when they’re over, they’re hard to explain and people don’t understand. These manipulators are too crafty to leave any hard evidence, but they do leave the results of their actions, such as traumatized people with broken lives. They’re also very good at making the victim look like the crazy one or the bad one.

      Your goal of getting him out of your life and going on to rebuild yourself and be happy is a good one! Can you do this without proving anything to anyone? You may have to.

      Good luck to you.

  4. I’ve been manipulated from friends and at work for the past 10 years. The worst was that it happened over and over again, so I started questioning my own sanity. I never looked for therapy, but I am a great believer in self help books. Thank you for an excellent Blog and for your book references. It seems that certain people attract manipulators and I am just the type. It has been a long process to realize what is going on, but I am determined to help myself and try to help others by sharing your blog.

    • I understand…all too well. Your determination is the most important part of what will help you change things! Thank you for sharing this blog and book references. Best wishes!

  5. I found this website today and have been reading everything I can find on it. I am currently trying to pull myself out of a relationship that I have been in for almost a year. It started out so great and so romantic and slowly turned into me doing everything in my power to make this man happy again so that we could be happy again. Nothing is ever going to be good enough. It doesn’t matter what I do. And he keeps asking what is wrong with me while making excuses about his problems as his excuse for withdrawing affection. I never know what I am going to get from him from day to day. I am a very successful woman and was very happy and now I can’t concentrate on anything but how miserable and unsure I feel of everything in my world. It sounds so pathetic. He stole my joy. I am so sad and feel so lonely.

  6. This website has been invaluable. Heather’s story above sounds all too familiar. I started a relationship 10 months ago, with a guy who seemed perfect at the time….great fun to be with, attentive, loving….who swept me off my feet in a matter of weeks. Told me he had never met anyone like me; I was his soul mate and he wanted to marry me. 4 months into the relationship, my gut feeling was that something was wrong, and things went downhill from there.

    Here is a summary of the some of the things he has done: he went online dating within 4 months of dating.(I found out and he flatly denied it.); he told me in August, while on vacation, he had put spyware on my phone and visited my apartment while I was at work, and then joked that he hadn’t. (I found out there was spyware on my phone, but I will never know if he got into my flat..) I confronted him one time about trying to crack the passcode to my cellphone, while I was out for an hour, and he flatly denied it and stormed off saying he was highly insulted. Said it must have been my sister! Ridiculous…she wasn’t even there (and would never do such a thing).

    I have never cheated on him or given him cause to mistrust me. Close friends and family have yelled ‘run’ so many times, but somehow, I have stayed with him. He lives out of state. When he’s with me we have a great time together; when he goes home, he seems a like a different person at times….distant and cool. Always wants to know where I’m going and with whom. He lies about the smallest things…like saying he sent me flowers, but didn’t. He can look me in the eye and lie without blinking.

    Right now I’m feeling so many of the ‘signs you’re in a manipulative relationship’ above. The sad thing is I’m educated and in a good job with a great social circle, and though my gut instinct has been screaming for a long time to get out, my heart has always made the final call. Most importantly, I realise I cannot trust him, no matter how hard I try, and this is crucial in any relationship. Your website has helped me realise how bad the situation is; that I deserve a lot more than this and should get out asap. I honestly didn’t know that such people existed….and it’s taken me this long and the help of this website to realise it. Thank you so much…..wish me luck.

    • You know all you need to know; now the hard part comes, which is to act on it in a way that is in your best interests. That’s harder than it seems it should be, when you’re the one in it. I wish you the best of luck!

  7. Cat. I feel your pain. I haven’t gotten out. I tried to and I’m sucked back in now. Things seem relatively good now and I’m not ready to end things. I have to give it another chance. I really do love this man.

  8. I have grown up with a manipulative father who I have now finally severed contact with except for family gatherings. Now I’m reading this blog and realising I’ve been in a manipulative relationship with my sister also. Every sign you mentioned in your blog is true for me in this relationship. It’s so hard when it’s your own family members but I’m at a point where life is too short to be around people like this. My sister and I were in business together but I am now pulling out of that. My husband has also found work that will have us moving away. (We currently live just a few minutes apart.)

    I’m now on the road to working on myself so I am less likely to be a victim again in the future. Another great book is ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’.
    Thanks for your work.

  9. Hi after reading this site and having been having a trouble in my relationship I do want to find out if my boyfriend is a Psychopaths. We met 4 months ago and when we met he made me feel really special like the woman he has been looking for.I felt like we had such a strong connection and a soul connection. He behaved really sweet,a true gentleman and romatic.

    He has been married twice,had a failed marrige and has a son with one of his short term relationship (2 weeks). I accepted his past as it a past and he was honest with me since first time we met.

    After he saw few texts from guys that I was in touch with before I met him eventhough I haven’t been in touch with them since I got together with him.Until he started to check on my phone,emails,face book of the guys that I have been intouched with.And read my private conversation between myself and my best friend. Then he found out one message I said about one of my ex..he sent me a rude text and said that I would cheat on him or find a guy I like and cheat on him like how I did with my ex. (I did see another guy just before I finished with my ex) and he used this to claim that I would do it to him. Then he apologised to me of sending that rude text because he was really angry and fraustated of knowing that there were guys still after me when I am with him. And he felt that he needed to win me over them.

    Then I found out that he had used prostitute service and still be in touch with one of them as she is his tenant. I had a big discussion with him and set him the boundary to cut off the contact with her and I had 2 choices either swallow the unpleasant fact (found out he had used sex service few times before in the past by saying he was lonely and needed a female contact) or end the relationship.

    I chose to swollow the ugly fact and took his words that he used it just because he didn’t want to be involve emotionally with anyone at the time. I never com acrossed any guys whom I have realtionship with ever used/paid for sex. It was very hard for me to accept it but because I do want to be with him..I did accept his ugly secret.

    Then we met his ex who is now- he says his close friend- she is married and we 4 all met together (her husband,herself,my boy friend and myself). While my boyfriend was paying for our bill and entered his password..she said “Oh,you still use the same password?” In front of me and her husband. I felt akward and strange of her behaviour, it even made me a bit anxious of the purpose of her behaving disrespectful to me. I didn’t say anything to my boyfriend at that time..left him think and see if he would say anything.

    A week later,his ex phoned my boyfriend and asked if he could lend her some money because she needed to use for her shopping. I felt a lot more akward as why she feels so comfortable to just ring my boyfriend up and asks to borrow his money. Soon I found out that they have been in contact very often,she has only invited him to join her and her husband for the events and never mentioned about me. I had a conversation with him and told him that I am not happy at all of how she behaves disrespectful to me and how come she feels so comfortable to ring/meet my boyfriend whenever she wants and fails to recognise me as his girlfriend.

    He did have a conversation with her and she felt really apologetic (based on what he said) she didn’t meant to be rude to me but she has so much going on in her life and she forgot to think or made an effort and she would love to apologise to me in person. I felt it was real and I said to my boyfriend,don’t worry as long as she knows how to behaves and sees us as a couple not just you.

    Then I had come acrossed the texts between him and her ( I knew it is wrong to look into his privacy but I had a strong feeling of something is up between them) he and she have been in contact consistantly..every few days…either phone calls,texts or meeting up. They called each other nick names like how they were together and one text she sent him pornography links. I faced him and asked what is all about.

    It proves to me that the suspectious feeling I had about them is right that I never believed that they have a pure friendship. After a few argument about her,he still be in contact with her eventhough he knows that I would not be happy about it. He made me cut off all of my exs apart 2 of them as they are my friends. My exs and I have not been in touch on regaular basis and never have to keep each other update like how he does with his ex.

    He said she sent those links without thinking of anything more than just wanting to share with her friend. I felt it is so wrong for her to do that behide her husband and what was the purpose behide of sending those links to my boyfriend. It was just a few days before my boyfriend and I went on a date but we started to chat a week or so before it.

    It hurts me so much that he doesn’t see how rude she was and deliberated to me and he allowed her to do that by saying “she is stupid,she doesn’t think before she says things. She didn’t mean to do that to upset you or show you that she was once own me”

    He made me send the text to one of my friend whom used to fancy me and I set a clear boundary with him that it will never be more than friends between us. My boyfriend read the texts between me and my friend and demanded me to send him the text saying that “I never interested in him even though I am single. Please stop sending me inappropriated text ( my friend is Italian..so he always calls me bella,beautiful and princess-which I don’t like it)”

    I asked him to cut off his ex as it really made things worst for us,everytime after the argument about his ex…I feel that we are growing apart. He then said that I would cut my ex if I cut off Mark (my ex of 4 years ago-we don’t have any interest of each other more than just friends).

    Me : Why should I cut Mark?

    Him: Because he is rude to me. (They never met and Mark has been living abroad for 2 years..once in awhile we message/talk on Facebook) He never asked you about me.

    Me: What did Mark really do to you that why you want me to cut him off in turn of you cutting Celine off?

    Him: No,he didn’t do anything. But he is rude to me by not asking you about me when he chated with you on Facebook.

    I am emotionally tired of trying to explain to him about how his ex behaved inappropriated towards me. Everytime we have a row and the matter is on his side he had to brought something in the past that I did up to make me feel bad. He made me feel paranoia if he would do anything behide my back. I hate this feeling as it’s not me at all and I feel I can’t trust him yet don’t want to leave him.

    We are agreed to see the professional help..but I want to ask you if he is a Psychopaths and what should I do? I really need a help!

    Thank you for your time reading my (long) story:)

    • I’m sorry for all you are going through! I have no way to know if he’s a psychopath, but I’ll tell you this for sure: You DON”T need to make a diagnosis in order to make a decision. You say you can’t trust him and you’re paranoid, yet you don’t want to leave him. If you’re miserable, that’s all that matters. I know how hard it is, but only you can make up your mind about what is best for you.

      Is this relationship good for you? Do you feel loved? Do you feel happy? Do you feel trust? Or are you obsessed with it and agonizing over it and analyzing every word?

      I’m sorry, there is no easy answer. I feel for you and hope you will find your way.

  10. great information for everyone to read. very well put and very direct. some people don’t want to believe this, but the truth is, they are living a lie. thanks for sharing. great job!!!!!

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