If you’ve ever felt like something is off in a relationship —you’re being pressured, controlled or even feel like you’re questioning yourself more than usual—it could be manipulation.
Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of asking for what they want and need in a direct way,” says Sharie Stines, a California-based therapist who specializes in abuse and toxic relationships. “People who are trying to manipulate others are trying to control others.”
There are many different forms of manipulation, ranging from a pushy salesperson to an emotionally abusive partner—and some behaviors are easier to spot than others.
Here, experts explain the telltale signs that you could be in a manipulative relationship
You feel fear, obligation and guilt
Manipulative behavior involves three factors, according to Stines: fear, obligation and guilt. “When you are being manipulated by someone you are being psychologically coerced into doing something you probably don’t really want to do,” she says. You might feel scared to do it, obligated to do it, or guilty about not doing it.
She points to two common manipulators: “the bully” and “the victim.” A bully makes you feel fearful and might use aggression, threats and intimidation to control you, she says. The victim engenders a feeling of guilt in their target. “The victim usually acts hurt,” Stine says. But while manipulators often play the victim, the reality is that they are the ones who have caused the problem, she adds.
A person who is targeted by manipulators who play the victim often try to help the manipulator in order to stop feeling guilty, Stines says. Targets of this kind of manipulation often feel responsible for helping the victim by doing whatever they can to stop their suffering
manipulation gets people to question themselves, their reality, memory or thoughts. A manipulative person might twist what you say and make it about them, hijack the conversation or make you feel like you’ve done something wrong when you’re not quite sure you have, according to Stines.
Manipulators blame,” she says. “They don’t take responsibility.”
There are strings attached
“If a favor is not done for you just because, then it isn’t ‘for fun and for free,’” says Stines. “If there are strings attached, then manipulation is occurring.”
Stines refers to one type of manipulator as ‘Mr. Nice Guy.’ This person might be helpful and do a lot of favors for other people. “It is very confusing because you don’t realize anything negative is going on,” she says. “But, on the other hand, with every good deed, there is a string attached—an expectation.” If you don’t meet the manipulator’s expectation, you will be made out to be ungrateful, Stines says.
In fact, exploiting the norms and expectations of reciprocity is one of the most common forms of manipulation, says Jay Olson, a doctoral researcher studying manipulation at McGill University.
A salesperson, for example, might make it seem like because he or she gave you a deal, you should buy the product. In a relationship, a partner might buy you flowers then request something in return. “These tactics work because they abuse social norms,” says Olson. “It’s normal to reciprocate favors, but even when someone does one insincerely, we often still feel compelled to reciprocate and comply.”
The list goes on and on but which ever way you look at it manipulating someone is abusive and manipulators should turn away from same , you owe it to yourself once you identify such a person in your circle to break away