15 subtle signs you’re dealing with a manipulative friend

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We often hear about the telltale signs of a toxic friend. 

Amongst a group of you, one will always be the baddie – whether they’re the most popular or the one who lurks in the shadows.

But being manipulated (particularly by someone supposed to be a trusted and supporting friend) sucks.

So, what can you do about it?

Well, to begin with, start looking out for the subtler signals that you’re dealing with a bit of a conniving and manipulative individual.

Spotting these subtly early can save you from a lot of unnecessary stress.

Ready to expose the subtle signs someone isn’t quite as benevolent as they make out?

Let’s delve into the 15 subtle signs you’re dealing with a manipulative friend.

1) They’re always playing the victim

Everyone goes through tough times and needs a shoulder to lean on, but with a manipulative friend, you’ll start to notice a pattern. 

It seems like they’re always playing the victim, no matter the situation. 

If they can’t accept responsibility for anything going wrong in their life, if it’s always someone else’s fault, consider this a subtle sign of manipulation. 

What makes it tricky is that it’s wrapped up in empathy and compassion, making it hard to spot initially. But once you do, it’s a clear red flag of manipulation.

2) Their apologies lack sincerity

Apologies are an integral part of any relationship, including friendships. 

We all make mistakes and saying sorry is how we make amends and grow together.

However, when dealing with a manipulative friend, you may notice that their apologies lack integrity (or they refuse to apologize altogether). 

They might mumble something that sounds like “sorry”, but their actions remain unchanged. 

Or even worse. 

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

They’ll spin it around and use apologies as a tool to dismiss or trivialize your feelings, completely removing themselves from any position of accountability. 

This subtlety can be deceiving, as it’s easy to want to believe they’re honestly sorry if they do actually confess and say something.

But it’s crucial to pay attention to their actions post-apology and see if their words align with their feelings.

3) They show excessive positivity

Positivity is generally a great trait in a friend. 

However, when it’s excessive and dismissive of your feelings, it could be a sign of manipulation. 

If your friend is constantly pushing you to “look on the bright side” or “just be happy,” especially when you’re dealing with difficult situations, they might be trying to control your emotional reactions for their own comfort. 

They don’t have the time or energy to deal with sad or gloomy you. 

How boring that would be!

Toxic positivity is far more pleasing…

(Sarcasm – this isn’t true friendship by any means. Friends weather the good and bad together.)

And constantly feeling like you have to smile can leave you feeling invalidated and dismissed, which is hardly the hallmark of genuine friendship.

4) They’re overly critical

A true friend should be supportive and uplifting; not someone that makes you feel inadequate or inferior. 

If you find that your friend is overly critical, constantly pointing out your flaws or belittling your achievements, this could be a sign of manipulation. 

These might come backhanded, too.

“Oh wow! You look so cute. I didn’t know you could scrub up like this!”

“That new haircut really does make your nose look better. Go you!”

“I love how lived in your house looks. So quaint!”

Statements like the above suggest this ‘friend’ might be trying to lower your self-esteem to gain control over you. 

It’s important to remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and nobody is perfect. 

A good friend will help you grow, not tear you down.

5) They’re always asking for favors

We all need a helping hand from time to time, and it’s perfectly normal to ask friends for favors. 

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours style.

However, if you find that your friend is constantly asking for help, and the favors are growing ever larger and demanding…

And yet they never offer assistance in return, or promise to but don’t actually deliver, sounds like a one-sided relationship to me.

They might be taking advantage of your kindness and generosity to serve their own needs. 

True friendship is about give and take, so if you feel like you’re always giving and they’re always taking, it might be time to reassess the relationship.

6) They struggle to accept ‘no’ for an answer

The right to say ‘no’ is fundamental in any relationship. 

It’s a difficult word for people-pleasers, too (who often fall prey to the manipulators out there.)

If you find that your friend struggles to accept when they are told no – constantly pushing your boundaries or making you feel guilty for setting limits – this could be a sign of manipulation or a general lack of respect. 

They likely feel as if their needs and wants are more important than yours.

And that is by no means a healthy basis for a friendship, where two people should always consider themselves equal and respect one another.

7) They’re never truly happy for your success

True friends celebrate each other’s achievements and successes. 

They’re the cheerleaders in our corner, rooting for us every step of the way. They know our weaknesses and insecurities too and will cheer extra hard when we overcome something they know to be a struggle for us.

But if you’ve noticed that this friend never seems genuinely happy for your successes, or perhaps even changes the topic or downplay your achievements, this could be a subtle sign of manipulation. 

They may feel threatened by your success or struggle with feelings of jealousy or inadequacy. 

Because for many manipulators, there is only first place – upon which they sit. They shoo everyone else away from the throne.

Healthy friendships thrive on mutual support and genuine happiness for each other’s victories – no matter how big or small.

8) They hold grudges

We all make mistakes, and forgiveness is a key component of friendship. 

However, if your friend holds onto grudges, constantly reminding you of past wrongs or using them as ammunition in disagreements, this could be a sign of manipulation

Forgiveness involves eventually letting go of those wrongdoings. How else can you move on if you keep returning to the same disagreement and tearing at that person?

But a manipulator may use these grudges to guilt-trip you or gain an upper hand in the relationship. 

Should you misstep, you’ll instantly be reminded of that one time, 3 years ago, when you spilled coffee on their sofa.

And this behavior isn’t just unhealthy; it’s actually damaging as you begin to feel as if you’re teetering around on eggshells around them.

Friendships should be built on understanding and forgiveness, not resentment and score-keeping.

9) They use your secrets against you

In a true friendship, secrets shared are kept confidential and respected. 

We build upon our connections through sharing secrets like little snippets of our hearts; trading them to gain trust and confidence and allow others to understand us better.

However, if your friend uses this sensitive information against you, leveraging it to manipulate or control the situation, this is a major, major red flag. 

This betrayal of trust not only breaks the bond of friendship, but it’s also a clear sign of manipulation. 

Your personal information should never be used as a weapon. 

If you find that your friend is using your sensitive secrets against you, it is almost undoubtedly time to make a swift exit.

10) They constantly compare you to others

Comparison is a tool often used by manipulative people to belittle or control others. 

If this friend is constantly comparing you to others, telling you you’re less intelligent, less attractive, less witty, this is a subtle sign of manipulation. 

By bringing a person’s self-worth down, you make them far more easy to manipulate to your advantage.

So steer clear of those who belittle you. Even if they try to pretend it’s in a joking manner.

11) They’re rarely supportive when you need them

A true friend provides unwavering emotional support when you’re going through hard times. 

But if this friend is rarely there for you in times of need (suddenly their phone is off, or they have emergency after emergency…), or they even minimize your problems, it might be a sign of manipulation. 

Or just a bad friend.

They get what they want from you, but they have little interest in supporting your own issues.

12) They make you feel guilty for spending time with others

If your friend makes you feel guilty for spending time with other people, this is a pretty big sign of manipulation. 

Friends should share friends, introduce people they care about to one another, and encourage individuality wherever possible.

But manipulators largely want to monopolize your time and attention, isolating you from other relationships

They’ll get green with envy should you want to hang out with anyone else, likely belittling that person in the same way they sometimes tear at your ego.

13) They’re always changing plans at the last minute

The flakey manipulator!

If your friend frequently changes plans at the last minute, it might well be an indicator of manipulation.

Because if you give something tasty and then take it away, the recipient begins to crave it more.

Hence why the manipulator might be engaging in this behavior to exert control over your time and keep you on edge. 

This unpredictability can create a dynamic where you’re always trying to please them, and begin to wait eagerly for their next text, their next call…

14) They use silent treatment as a weapon

Silent treatment is an awful yet common manipulation tactic.

If your friend ignores you or stays silent when they’re upset with you instead of addressing the issue, it’s either a sign of manipulation or poor communication skills.

Because silent treatment is interchangeable with punishment.

And as we covered above, manipulators work in ways that make us crave them more.

So you’ll be chewing at your nails, on the edge of your seat if they suddenly go cold. 

And you’ll work ten times harder to prove your worth and be pleasing when they do finally deem you worthy of a response.

15) They make you question your own memory or judgment

Finally, if your friend makes you question your own memory or judgment and dabbles in gaslighting, we can likely conclude this is a manipulative person.

They tell you you’re misremembering events that you’re certain happened.

They tell you you’re too sensitive.

They say you’re crazy.

Gaslighting begins in subtle ways, but grows and grows until it consumes you, leaving you unsure of your own perception of reality and incredibly distrustful.

Warding off manipulators

While you shouldn’t be overly paranoid about every friendship, you should also remain vigilant and observant. 

Look out for repeat behaviors or patterns that raise concerns and set your gut feelings tingling, and trust your instincts. 

Because this isn’t about labeling everyone as manipulative but rather recognizing when a pattern of behavior becomes evident, and that pattern suggests manipulative behavior.

Remember, you deserve healthy, supportive, and uplifting friendships. 

If you find yourself in a relationship that is consistently damaging, where manipulation is causing emotional harm, do yourself a favor and bow out.

Check out these savvy comebacks for responding to a manipulator, too.

Your emotional well-being is precious, and you are worth more than enduring a friendship that doesn’t respect or value you. 

Plus, there are many people out there who will lift you up, support you and love you endlessly. 

Just probably not this one…

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