Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: How Can You Tell if You’re Being Manipulated?

Image by The Wandering Faun

You may have missed this post, but I wouldn’t want you to because it’s an important one. Even if you read it before, it’s worth a review. We all have some concern about getting involved with another manipulator, so we need to recognize manipulation as early as possible. This article will show you an easy way to do that.


Emotional 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. You might suspect you’re being manipulated and you want to know for sure.

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

While it’s smart to learn the techniques of covert emotional manipulation, the truth is you don’t have to know anything at all about the techniques to know if your strings are being pulled. You only need to look at yourself to know if manipulation is at play.


If you’re in a relationship and notice a few of the following signs, there’s a high probability you are being manipulated:

  • Your joy at finding love has turned into the fear of losing it. Your feelings have gone from happiness and euphoria to anxiety, sadness and even desperation.
  • Your mood depends entirely on the state of the relationship.
  • You’re unhappy in your relationship a lot of the time… yet you dread losing it because you’re blissfully happy every now and then.
  • You feel like you’re ruining 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, analyzing every detail repeatedly in a desperate attempt to “figure it out.” You talk about it constantly, to anyone who will listen. It doesn’t do any good.
  • 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. It really does feel as if something’s wrong, but you’re not sure what it is.
  • You are frequently on the defensive. You feel misunderstood and have the need to explain and defend yourself.
  • You seem to have developed a problem with trust, jealousy or insecurity, which your partner points out to you on a regular basis.
  • You’ve become a detective. You scour the web for information about him or her, keep a close eye on their social media accounts, and check their web search history, texts, or emails if you have the opportunity.
  • 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, so you try to keep those things hidden. You feel frustrated a lot, though, because important things go unsaid.
  • You feel inadequate. You don’t feel as good about yourself as you did before the relationship. You feel less confident, less secure, less intelligent, less sane, less trusting, less attractive, or in some other way “less than” you were before.
  • You always feel you’re falling short of your partner’s expectations.
  • You often feel guilty. You continually try to repair 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 carefully control your words, actions and emotions around your partner to keep him or her from withdrawing their 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 do things you aren’t really comfortable with or that go against your values, limits or boundaries, in order to make your partner happy and keep the relationship intact.


That’s all there is to it. You have your answer.

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 probably got off to an amazing start. He or she seemed like your perfect partner or friend — a soul mate — 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. If you believe you’re in a relationship with an abuser, no good will come of it. This person does not value or respect you or care about your well-being. Leave the relationship if possible, and seek professional counselling if needed.

Where to go from here on this site to learn more about manipulation:

Invalidation: I Refuse to Have This Discussion!
The Most Powerful Motivator on the Planet ~ Intermittent Reinforcement
Backed Into an Emotional Corner
Intimacy or Intensity?
30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics

There are many more resources in the sidebar category “Emotional Manipulation.”


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“This is a short, easy to understand textbook on manipulation tactics. I highly recommend it to anyone; people who don’t yet realize what’s happening to them, seekers of understanding and peace, loved ones of persons being manipulated, healthcare providers, criminal justice, and seasoned survivors trying to stay on top of their manipulation detection game. Don’t let the modest price tag on this fool you –- the information inside is worth far more.”

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9 thoughts on “Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: How Can You Tell if You’re Being Manipulated?”

  1. Justine

    Thank you for these reminder’s, I truly need them, I’ve been feeling quite vulnerable lately. This post came just in time for me, I’m going to study these points to protect myself from harm.
    Thank you.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Great! Thanks.

  2. lola

    I agree, thanks for the reminder. I really needed to read that list and remember why I needed to get out.

    In the last post, you made an excellent point that the brain cannot hold on to two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Your list helps me when the lines gets blurred, Each and every one of these signs caused me immense pain and thoroughly drained me.

    This post also helps to remind me that the new woman he’s with will never be happy, no matter what image he is trying to portray.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      If we’re ever in such maddening emotional angst in a future relationship, we won’t miss it. Good relationships are easy; you know where you stand. You don’t sit around biting your nails and wondering what you’re doing wrong, if he really loves you, where he is right now and why you haven’t heard from him in two days.

      1. lola

        Bless you! Thanks again for the essential reminder. I never knew where I stood. I was always worried. I never felt like I was enough. I became the ultiate detective. He said he was, “All IN and Monogomys.” Nope, he wasn’t and the lie I was made to believe drove me crazy.

        1. Adelyn Birch

          That’s a classic trick — saying one thing but doing something else. We must always remember to judge actions and not words. And if we find we’ve become “detectives,” it’s a red flag. There’s a reason we did that. It doesn’t happen in a good relationship.

  3. Spring

    I read something recently that I really liked, “good people make you feel good, bad people make you feel bad.”
    Another point to consider when your not sure of someone.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      That’s the simple truth, Spring.

      1. Danielle

        Yes, you are right Spring, of course, but the danger is also that there are moments still…where its so good..and you cling to these moments with tenderness is longing. He is out of my life because I threw him out many times, so eventually he went back to his ex-wife. I would never want him back, and yet there is a longing for him. Yes, he is not a good person, and I can intellectualize this, but emotionally I know I am still hooked. I burned it all to make sure ,he would never call. I blasted him on the phone, told him yo go f##k himself. Blocked my phone, blocked him on fb ( we were never friends, but I looked at his page a lot). Funny what did it, when he wrote ” Forget about me, I don’t want to cause pain” that srangely did it. How pompous ! how cruel! what an ass##le. To go back to good or bad. There are so many dangerous shades of gook ( don’t want to use grey!)

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