10 non-obvious signs you’re in a manipulative relationship (without even realizing it)

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Relationships are like roller coasters, right? Exciting at first, then comfortable, and sometimes a bit rocky.

But there’s a line between normal relationship problems and being in a relationship where someone is manipulating you.

Manipulation isn’t always obvious. It can be sneaky and hard to spot, even for the person it’s happening to. It’s like being lost in a fog – you don’t see how thick it is until you’re out of it.

Now, hold on. Don’t start worrying. This article isn’t here to make you scared or upset. Instead, it’s here to help you spot some sneaky signs of manipulation that might be hard to see.

We’re going to look at those little signs that can slip by unnoticed but make you feel like something is off.

So, get ready. We’re about to explore the 10 non-obvious signs you’re in a manipulative relationship (without even realizing it).

Why?

Because knowing these signs is the first step towards getting out of a bad situation and into healthier relationships.

1. You Often Feel Guilty (Even When You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong)

Ever find yourself saying “sorry” a lot more than you used to? Maybe you’re apologizing for things that aren’t even your fault, or feeling guilty for stuff you shouldn’t be responsible for.

This could be a sign of manipulation.

Here’s the thing: manipulators are pros at making you feel like you’re always in the wrong, even when you’re not. They do this to keep control. If you’re always feeling bad and saying sorry, they get to call the shots.

So, if you’re constantly feeling guilty and can’t figure out why, take a step back and think.

Could it be that someone else is making you feel this way? It might be hard to accept, but it’s worth considering.

After all, in a healthy relationship, blame and guilt are shared fairly and everyone takes responsibility for their actions.

2. Your Self-Esteem Has Taken a Hit

Are you feeling less confident or sure of yourself than you used to? Do you have doubts about your worth or ability that weren’t there before?

This could be another sneaky sign of manipulation.

Manipulators often chip away at your self-esteem over time. They might put you down, criticize you, or make negative comments that make you feel less valuable or capable. It’s a cruel tactic that makes it easier for them to control you.

Remember, someone who truly cares about you will lift you up, not put you down. If your self-esteem is suffering, it might be time to take a closer look at why and who could be contributing to it.

3. You’re Always the One Making Compromises

I remember being in a relationship where I was the one always bending. Whether it was picking the movie, deciding where to eat, or making holiday plans, my opinions and wants always seemed to come second.

At first, I thought I was just being a good partner, putting their needs before mine. But then I realized that it was always me making the sacrifices and never them. This constant one-sided compromise is another potential sign of manipulation.

It’s important to remember that in a balanced relationship, both partners’ needs and wants should be considered equally.

If you find yourself constantly giving in or setting aside your desires for someone else’s without getting the same in return, it might be time to reassess the balance in your relationship.

4. You Feel Isolated From Your Loved Ones

Here’s an interesting fact: manipulators often try to cut you off from your support network of friends and family. According to psychologists, this is because it’s easier to control someone when they feel alone and have fewer outside influences.

If you find that you’re spending less time with your loved ones or that you’re being encouraged to distance yourself from them, this could be a non-obvious sign of manipulation. This isolation might be subtle.

For example, your partner could be making negative comments about your friends or family, creating tension, or causing arguments that make you less likely to spend time with them.

5. Your Dreams and Goals are Being Downplayed

In a loving relationship, your partner should be your biggest cheerleader. They should celebrate your dreams, encourage your ambitions, and stand by your side as you reach for the stars. But what happens when the person you love starts downplaying your dreams or making them seem unimportant?

This can be a subtle form of manipulation. By making you feel like your dreams aren’t valuable or achievable, they can keep you within their comfort zone and maintain control.

If you’re finding that your goals are being dismissed or belittled, take a moment to remind yourself of their worth. Your dreams are important. They make you who you are. And remember, someone who genuinely loves and respects you will honor your ambitions, not diminish them.

6. You’re Always on the Defensive

I recall being in a relationship where I felt like I was constantly under attack. Every conversation seemed to turn into an argument, and I found myself always on the defensive. Even simple discussions would spiral into me justifying my actions or explaining myself.

This constant state of defense can be a sign of manipulation. Manipulators often use criticism and blame to make you feel like you need to justify your actions, thoughts, or feelings. This keeps them in a position of power and control.

If you find yourself always on the defensive, it might be time to ask why. Conversations in a healthy relationship should be open and understanding, not feel like a battlefield where you’re always on guard.

7. You’re Starting to Question Your Sanity

This is a tough one to talk about, but it’s important. It’s called gaslighting and it’s one of the most insidious forms of manipulation.

Gaslighting is when someone messes with your reality. They deny things that happened, twist your words, or make you question your memory until you start doubting your sanity. It’s like they’re slowly turning down the lights until you’re left in the dark, questioning what’s real and what’s not.

If you’re finding yourself constantly second-guessing your memory or feeling confused about events that you thought were clear, you might be experiencing gaslighting.

It’s a heavy thing to realize and even tougher to handle, but recognizing it is the first step towards turning those lights back up. You’re not crazy; someone is just trying to make you feel that way.

8. You’re Always Walking on Eggshells

Did you know that chronic stress, like the kind you experience when you’re always on edge, can have serious physical and emotional health effects?

It’s true.

And being in a relationship where you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells is a form of chronic stress.

Manipulators often create a sense of unpredictability. You never know what might set them off or cause an argument, so you start tiptoeing around, trying to avoid any potential triggers. This constant state of tension is not just emotionally draining, but it can also be bad for your health.

If you find yourself constantly worrying about saying or doing the “wrong” thing, it might be time to consider if you’re in a manipulative situation.

9. You Feel Trapped

In one of my past relationships, I remember feeling like I was stuck. I wasn’t happy, but I also couldn’t imagine leaving. It felt like I was in a maze with no exit.

Feeling trapped is a common experience when you’re in a manipulative relationship. The manipulator may make you feel like you can’t live without them, or that no one else could ever love you. They might make leaving seem impossible or scare you into staying.

If you’re feeling stuck and don’t see a way out, it’s important to reach out to someone you trust about what you’re going through. There’s always a way out, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the moment. Remember, feeling trapped is not a sign of a healthy relationship.

10. Your Instincts are Sounding the Alarm

Deep down, you know when something’s off.

There’s that little voice inside of you, that gut feeling, telling you that something just isn’t right. The problem is that we often ignore this voice, especially when it comes to relationships.

If your instincts are telling you that you’re being manipulated, listen to them. It might be hard to accept, especially if you care about the person who’s doing the manipulating. But ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Your feelings are valid. Your experiences are real. And if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust yourself and take steps to protect your emotional well-being. You deserve to be in a relationship where you’re respected and treated well.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

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Justin Brown

As co-founder of Ideapod, a digital publishing platform reaching millions, and creator of The Vessel, a new platform for self-knowledge, I bring a unique perspective to the world of culture, politics and psychology. With a M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and M.A. (First Class Honours) from the Australian National University, I've dedicated my career to understanding and sharing new ideas and perspectives for a new generation.

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