Manipulative relationships are never obvious when you start a new friendship, a new job, or fall in love.
Over time, though, you may begin to feel that you are being controlled. You may even feel trapped, not free to be yourself and make your own decisions or worse, feel used constantly.
If this sounds like your life, then chances are you are knee-deep in an abusive, manipulative relationship.
The 5 Signs of an Abusive, Manipulative Relationship
One of the first steps towards healing that you can take is to realize that you are in a manipulative relationship. To do that, you need to read and understand the signs, which oftentimes can be subtle.
Sign 1: You always feel like they desperately need your help.
Master manipulators will play on your sympathies. They exploit your good nature because they know it is one of the simplest ways to get what they want. It is very hard to turn someone away who appears desperate, even when you know you are being manipulated.
Master manipulators will use strategic helpless (playing weak, powerless, martyr or underdog) to crave pity, wanting you to feel sorry for them, so that you will offer your services regularly without expecting anything in return.
Sign 2: They are always trying to convince you that their negative actions are for your own good.
Master manipulators conceal evil in altruism. They do something bad and then spin that bad thing into a positive, trying to convince you that they did it for a good reason.
Along with this concealment is the refusal to take any responsibility if you do confront them with the bad thing. A manipulator will always try to place the blame on you, even if there is no possible way that you are responsible.
Sign 3: You always feel a constant guilt from others.
Master manipulators play on your guilt. Often we feel guilt because we do not want to hurt others and a manipulator knows this about you and will exploit it for their own gain. A manipulator will want you to do something for them, trying to plead and convince you how terrible things will for them if you do not help, all the while ignoring the impact it will have on you.
Sign 4: You constantly feel controlled or put down.
Master manipulators use hostility and abuse to dominate and control through open aggression. They will bully or emotionally abuse to gain power, benefits, control and privileges at your expense.
Sign 5: They charm you when you are confronting them.
Master manipulators charm you when you are upset. They use their natural charm to make you feel important and loved, misdirecting you so that you will forget why you are mad and confronting them.
5 Tools to Combat Manipulation
Once you have established that you are in an abusive, manipulative relationship, you need to put tools in your toolbox to combat the manipulative actions that are being used to control you. We have put together a list of tools that you can use immediately to defuse any manipulative tactics:
Tool 1: Know Your Fundamental Rights. One of the most important guidelines to follow when you are dealing with a manipulative person is to know your fundamental rights and recognize when they are being violated.
The following are some of your fundamental rights, which represent healthy boundaries. You have:
- the right to be treated with respect
- the right to express your feelings, opinions and wants
- the right to set your own priorities
- the right to say “no” without feeling guilty
- the right to get what you pay for
- the right to have opinions different from others
- the right to take care of and protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally or emotionally
- the right to create your own happy and healthy life
You have the power and the moral authority to declare that it is you (not the manipulator) who is in charge of your life.
Tool 2: Avoid Self-Blame. You may feel inadequate or even blame yourself for not satisfying the manipulator, which is understandable since the manipulator’s agenda is to exploit your weaknesses. You are being manipulated to feel badly about yourself. It is important to remember that you are not the problem here and your sympathies are misplaced.
Tool 3: Use Time to Your Advantage. A manipulator will often try to exert pressure on your by forcing you to give them a quick or immediate answer. Don’t do it. You can take control over the situation by simply saying: “I’ll think about it.” This will give you time to evaluate the positive and negative aspects of a situation and determine if saying yes will not violate your boundaries.
Tool 4: Simply Say “No” – Firmly But Diplomatically. When you say “no” effectively, in a firm but diplomatic way, you are able to stand your ground while still maintaining a workable relationship. Keep in mind that you have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty if your goals and those of the manipulator do not align.
Tool 5: Safely Confront The Manipulator/Controller. Use counseling, legal entities, law enforcement or human resource professionals to safely confront hostile and abusive controllers. Often someone who is a bullying manipulator is a coward inside and will back down when confronted, especially with witnesses present.
Take Time to Assess Your Relationship
Once you have established that there is a problem of manipulation in your relationship and you understand the tools available to combat it, you need to consider the angles of confronting the issue and weigh the possible outcomes. It is much easier to confront a friend or loved one, where you can be more assertive, than a boss who is manipulating and exploiting you.
Addressing a problem of manipulation is important, but so is carefully weighing the pros and cons of what you are going to do about implementing a solution. Anyone with the power to cause you emotional harm can probably make your life more difficult. Having a plan and being prepared can help you deal with the damage and keep it contained, offering you a chance to live free of abusive manipulation.