It’s horrible to think that you could be manipulative without realizing it.
I went through this a few years back, funnily enough when I started writing full-time. I was forced to question my own behavior through the advice I gave others.
From giving the cold shoulder to guilt-tripping, I never truly realized the effect my behavior had on others.
So, while this article might not be an “easy” read for you, it will be an enlightening one.
Because I’m not only going to share 10 manipulative behaviors you might be displaying without realizing it but also how to change things around for the better.
Let’s dive in:
Ah, the age-old “guilt trip.”
Have you ever resorted to reminding someone of all the good things you’ve done for them when you want something in return?
The main problem with this tactic is that it pushes people into a corner. It asks them to act not out of desire or fairness, but out of guilt.
But hey, you’re not alone – I spent the first three years of my relationship holding “everything I do” over my partner. It was only until I saw how I was actually shaming him that I realized this wasn’t healthy for our relationship.
After all, you don’t want your loved ones to feel like they owe you, do you?
Genuine relationships thrive on freedom, not obligation.
So the next time you’re tempted to say, “After all I’ve done for you,” check yourself. You should both be doing things unconditionally for each other.
2) Playing the victim
Portraying yourself as the constant victim might earn you sympathy at first – you might think it’s the only way to get the understanding you crave.
But in the long run, it disempowers you and the people around you. If you’re always the one in need of rescuing, you’re not only missing out on empowering yourself, but you’re also stifling the other person’s voice.
You might find your partner, parent, or friend saying things like, “I can never win.” Or, “I’m always in the wrong.”
This is a big indication that your playing the victim makes them feel like they can never call you out when you mess up.
And you will mess up – that’s a part of every relationship.
So, how can you turn this behavior around? Because I know you’re not doing it intentionally.
Try taking a step back before pitying yourself. Look at the situation in its entirety – what role have you played in the argument/disagreement/falling out? Is it all really the other person’s fault?
Gaslighting is insidious because it makes someone doubt their own reality.
Statements like “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re overreacting” diminish the other person’s feelings.
But here’s the thing, even if you feel that they’re overreacting, it’s important to remember that each of us perceives things differently.
Our emotions are different. What bothers your partner or friend might not bother you as much.
An ex of mine used to call me “too sensitive” all the time. In his eyes, he was showing “tough love”.
But it was really hurtful, and I ended up dismissing my own (valid) feelings as a result.
It might sound dramatic, but questioning someone’s emotional experience is akin to denying their existence. Let’s not go there – instead, try to be more empathetic.
4) Silent treatment
Another behavior you might exhibit that’s manipulative is giving the cold shoulder.
But the truth is, using the silent treatment as a form of punishment leaves the other person in limbo, struggling to know what went wrong.
It’s a power play, and let’s be honest, it never improves a situation, does it?
Now, the point of this article isn’t to make you feel like you’re a terrible person. We all make these mistakes.
So before you start feeling bad, refocus your attention on doing better. You and I both know that communication is EVERYTHING in a relationship.
The next time you’re annoyed but you need some space to cool down, say it…“I’m too riled up right now. Let’s talk in an hour or two.”
Something as simple as this can make a world of difference.
5) Sarcasm and “Just Joking”
Sarcasm has its place in humor, but when does it cross the line?
Are your sarcastic remarks often aimed at someone’s weak spots?
What you consider ‘just a joke’ can be damaging to someone else.
A sweet friend of mine got married a few years ago. Her husband is actually a lovely person, but he has a bad habit of making pretty personal jokes about her in front of other people.
She laughs but you can tell it bothers her. I don’t think he realizes the effect it has.
So it goes to show that even if your heart is in the right place, you could be negatively affecting the other person, potentially causing them to feel insecure and embarrassed.
6) Withholding information
I used to omit details to avoid rocking the boat. With my parents, and even with my current partner.
I often did it thinking I was doing them a favor, but I recently started to realize that I was actually being dishonest. Without meaning to, I was deceiving my loved ones.
You see, omitting important information isn’t as harmless as you might think.
Withholding facts restricts the other person’s ability to make informed decisions. And they’ll start to doubt the things you say once they cotton on to what you’re doing.
Ultimately, it’s a breach of trust.
So, my advice?
Be totally honest. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it hurts the other person. At least they’ll know they can fully trust you and your word.
7) Double standards
This is something I think we’re all guilty of doing sometimes…
You’re in a relationship, and while it’s okay for you to go out for late-night drinks, suddenly, if your partner wants to do it, it’s a problem.
But the truth is, having double standards is a slippery path to an unhappy relationship. It’s not fair.
And let’s be real here – fairness is a sign of respect. It shows you value your partner (or friend or family member) enough to treat them with the same respect you show yourself.
So, if you find that you have double standards, start by working on your self-awareness.
When you’re going to call someone else out on doing something, pause for a minute. Think about your expectations and behavior before you comment on what someone else should or shouldn’t do.
8) Love bombing
Let me tell you the problem with love bombing:
It’s a slippery slope to dependency.
And what most people don’t realize is that it’s not reserved just for romantic partners; love bombing can happen amongst friends and family too.
This is essentially where you “bomb” them with affection, gifts, and attention.
Now, you might think you’re doing something good. Everyone wants to feel loved, right?
An (ex) friend did this to me – constant messages, wanting to meet up all the time, and being super generous. But one day, I replied late to a message due to work. And she got pretty pissed off about it.
It almost felt like because she was going above board, I was expected to be at her beck and call. Safe to say that friendship didn’t last long!
So the lesson to learn from this is to be genuine. Don’t feel you have to shower people with love or attention if it’s not coming from the heart.
9) Emotional blackmail
Leveraging your emotional bond to get what you want is a no-go.
Saying, “If you loved me, you’d do this for me” traps the other person.
And I get it, you probably do it in a cute way, without malice…“Honey…if you really loved me, you’d take out the trash..” I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past.
But sorry to say, but that’s not love; that’s coercion.
It manipulates their affection into obligation, just as we discussed earlier. It’s a form of “guilt-tripping” even if you don’t mean it that way.
Let’s take it back to basics; true love gives freely and expects nothing in return.
If you find yourself leveraging love, it’s time to revisit your understanding of what love really is.
10) Projecting your feelings
Do you blame others for your own feelings or reactions? Be honest with yourself.
Statements like “You make me feel stupid” or “You’re driving me crazy” shift the responsibility of your emotional state onto someone else.
But here’s a truth bomb to consider:
Your feelings are yours to manage, not someone else’s burden.
Instead of blaming others, try exploring why you feel the way you do. Personal accountability is empowering; embrace it.
I’ve started holding myself back when I’m in a bad mood and my first instinct is to blame my partner. Just by taking a breather and evaluating my feelings, I’m usually able to identify the REAL reason why I feel grumpy.
And trust me, this has made such a positive difference in my relationship.
So, we’ve covered 10 manipulative behaviors (that you may not realize you’re exhibiting)…You’ve probably got some deep thinking and reflecting to do now.
And that’s a good thing! We’re all continuously learning and improving, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re guilty of some of the above behaviors. It’s what you do now that matters the most.