By definition, manipulation is often sneaky.
So we don’t always realize it’s happening, especially when we think we’re dealing with someone we can trust.
But because signs of control can fly under the radar, you may have to be extra vigilant.
Here’s what to look for…
1) They are over the top with love and affection
You really can have too much of a good thing. Because the more over the top someone acts, the less you can believe their sincerity.
That’s where the expression “love bombing” comes in.
They may shower you with compliments, praise, flattery, tokens of affection, and gifts.
But, as therapist Shirin Peykar explains, more sinister motives may lie beneath:
“The psychological reasoning behind love bombing is, I need to get you to trust me. I need you to keep your eye on me and not somebody else. I want to get on your good side. I want to build your trust so when I discard you later, you’re not going to know it’s coming.”
So sadly, we should beware of an “I love you” that comes too soon. We need to watch out for grand gestures. And we’d be smart to hold back a little when it feels like things are progressing 100 miles and hours.
Because even sweet nothings can be used to get you right where somebody wants you.
2) You get guilt-tripped for putting your own needs or wants first
One of the oldest manipulation tricks in the book has to be emotional blackmail and guilt-tripping.
They don’t try to lay down the law, but they do try to make you feel bad. This gives the illusion you have a choice in how you behave. But really, you don’t.
Because whenever you choose to say or do something that the other person doesn’t like, you’ll never hear the end of it.
You’re made to feel like a selfish person if you don’t pander to their every desire.
You are presented as a bad person when you do things for yourself that they would rather you didn’t.
Your choices and decisions are not free from emotional pressure. There is a burden to pick the option that they would prefer.
Otherwise, they sulk, give you the cold shoulder, withdraw affection and act generally “off” with you as a punishment.
They may even accuse you outright of being self-centered. But these are just ways to control you.
3) You always end up saying yes, because it’s not worth the hassle of saying no
A good indicator of whether manipulation is taking place is if you constantly find yourself thinking:
Anything for an easy life.
You tell yourself you are simply following the path of least resistance in order to keep the peace.
Your seemingly easygoing approach is most likely a necessary passivity in order to cope with an overly demanding person.
You may have started using it to avoid the inevitable conflict that would arise if you stood your ground and stuck up for yourself instead.
4) You feel like you’re walking on eggshells and are paranoid about what you say and do
When we become too concerned with someone else, our entire focus shifts too much onto them.
So rather than simply be ourselves, we feel the need to rigidly police ourselves. We find it hard to relax and just be us.
We are too busy caught up in thoughts about how what we say may be interpreted. We worry that we’ll do the “wrong” thing that may “set them off”.
All of the burden lies on you to be hyper-alert to their feelings, needs, and whims — constantly moderating yourself in the process.
5) You’re talked into doing one too many favors
Favors should be given freely, not squeezed out of someone.
We’ve all met those sorts of rude people who don’t seem to take no for an answer.
When faced with an answer they don’t like, they keep on pushing — even in seemingly gently persuasive ways.
But trying to talk someone into something is always an overstep of their boundaries.
Throwing bribery, sweet talking, guilt-tripping, or sob stories at a situation in order to get someone to change their mind is 100% manipulation.
6) You second-guess your own feelings
Manipulation can be so clever that not only you don’t see it, but you question your own sanity.
You may end up wondering if you’re the one who is being unreasonable or reading too much into things. You might feel like you are being too selfish or fear you’re being overly sensitive.
In the more extreme cases, this may be the very intention of the manipulator.
Gaslighting is where you are purposefully encouraged to question your recollection of events and your whole perception of reality.
If you’re thinking that sounds incredibly abusive, then you’re right.
Assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan Paige Sweet, who studies gaslighting in relationships and in the workplace explains to Forbes, it’s all about creating that self-doubt in you:
“I think of gaslighting as trying to associate someone with the label ‘crazy’. It’s making someone seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible, making them feel like what they’re seeing or experiencing isn’t real, that they’re making it up, that no one else will believe them.”
7) You get ganged up on
If they are struggling to persuade you themselves, they may enlist someone else to help them.
That may be as simple as letting you know that a mutual friend agrees with them, and so you must be in the wrong.
Or it could be more extreme. They may get friends or family to advocate for them.
For example, let’s say you decide you want to leave a relationship (whether it’s romantic or platonic). They try to get others to side with them and convince you to reconsider.
Tapping into pity and sympathy can be powerful tools for someone who wants to twist your arm.
8) Your words (or the facts) are twisted to paint a worse picture
That’s not exactly what you said, and it’s certainly not what you meant by it. But they take perfectly innocent phrases or things that you say and put a twist on them.
It’s so that they can play the victim and turn you into the perpetrator.
This can often happen when they themselves feel backed into a corner.
Perhaps when you try to raise certain issues with them (which as we’ll see next can be very challenging to do!).
They tend to exaggerate whatever has happened or they amplify the emotional impact it’s had on them in search of a sympathy vote.
9) Any of your concerns are quickly deflected
That’s essentially when someone takes an issue you’ve raised with them and throws a complaint right back at you.
It doesn’t even need to have anything to do with the original problem you brought to them. It’s just a tactic to make you the one who is in the wrong,
For example, you let someone know that “When you laughed at my suggestion it felt dismissive and hurt my feelings.”
But rather than acknowledge how they hurt you, they launch back with:
“That’s rich coming from you. You never support me. Like last week when you were too busy to help me with my work project.”
Whether they’re even conscious of it or not, the aim of the game is to take the attention away from any of their wrongdoings.
So they may invent some of yours or bring up past mistakes to try to do so.
10) They use humor as an excuse for being rude or cruel
We’ve already touched on how passive-aggressive techniques like guilt-tripping and emotional blackmail are often used in manipulation.
Well, this is another one.
Because “only joking” is a very common passive-aggressive way to release frustrations or belittle someone without being obvious about it.
Regardless of whether they say it’s just in jest, they can make you feel pretty bad about yourself.
Perhaps it’s by picking up on your insecurities and teasing you about them. Maybe it’s planting the seeds of doubt, even though they protest they’re just kidding around.
If it feels like a put-down, then it is one. And they may be doing it to strip away at your self-esteem.
Bolster your boundaries baby!
There are many ways you can put a stop to manipulation, and most center around getting clearer and firmer on your boundaries.
Only when we know the rules which we expect people to abide by if they want to be in our lives can we begin to uphold them.
That means we need to know our own potential weaknesses that manipulators may try to play on, and learn to become more assertive by setting personal limits.