Signs You're Being Manipulated By A Loved One & How You Can Fight Back

If you were being manipulated, you would know it instantly, right? In reality, that's not always the case. Manipulation tactics can sometimes be subtle, sophisticated, and difficult to detect. Also, you may hear the word "manipulator" and automatically associate it with a romantic partner, therefore missing signs of manipulation by friends, co-workers, or even family members.


Manipulative people have many reasons for their actions. Some may seek personal gain, while others simply want to avoid responsibility. Many may also behave this way to gain control over another person or to satisfy their ego or low self-esteem.

Some manipulators may reveal their cards fairly quickly with obvious tactics, such as threats of physical violence. Others, though, may take their time to draw you in and make you feel comfortable before they start to show their true selves. Either way, knowing some common signs of manipulation can help you avoid their games and the stress that comes with them. If you think you're already caught in the clutches of someone's manipulative behavior, don't despair; there are ways to stand up to them and guide your relationships in a healthier direction.


They complain to you about other relationship drama

History tends to repeat itself, especially when it comes to manipulative people. By the time you meet a manipulator, they probably have a long list of relationships gone sour due to their repeating pattern of manipulation. If they frequently complain to you about all the drama in their life or seem to constantly be surrounded by other manipulative people through no fault of their own, it could be a clue that they are actually the ones creating the drama.


By talking to you about other people they have issues with, they may also be using you in a triangulation scheme, which means it's possible they'll repeat anything you say to the people they are complaining about. Oversharing with you could also be their way of trying to create a sense of intimacy with you before it's appropriate, which can be a facet of love bombing.

They like to love bomb

Love bombing is a common tactic manipulators use early on, especially in romantic relationships. Love bombing occurs when someone showers you with gifts, attention, and compliments. They may even talk about how special your relationship is or how much you mean to them even though you just met. Pushing for you to commit to them before you've had enough time to think it through is common, too. This kind of attention can feel super exciting and overwhelming all at once.


For non-romantic relationships, love bombing may take a different form, but these manipulators may employ similar tactics to make you feel connected to them. Love bombing usually won't last long, though. Once a manipulator has sensed you've let your guard down, they'll likely turn the tables and either withdraw from you or start some of their more unpleasant tactics, such as making threats or criticizing you.

They make threats

After a manipulator has finished playing nice, they may start to show who they really are by making threats and using your vulnerabilities against you. Any weaknesses they know of or any feelings you have shared during moments where it felt safe to be open with them can become material for emotional blackmail and threats. A threat can be subtle, and some manipulators may insinuate something rather than actually say it. Their threats can also become extreme and potentially involve physical harm.


They might make small threats, such as threatening to withhold little things of importance to you, such as going out to dinner. They may also make big ones, such as threatening to hurt themselves (or you) if you don't let them have their way. This is a common tactic when you start to hold your ground or they have already used other less obvious tactics to no avail.

They frequently triangulate

Sometimes manipulators will enlist outside help to ensure they get their way. Triangulation is a common tactic used to help manipulators come out on top in arguments. This occurs when a manipulator brings a third party into your conversation or argument to convince you that your stance is wrong. In many cases, the other person has no idea they are involved in this.


The manipulator may lie to them about you or your argument so they will agree with the manipulator's stance. The manipulator will then report back to you about what the other person thought or said about the issue so you get the impression that more than one person thinks you're wrong. They may also do this to turn you against the other person instead of directing anger at them. This way, a manipulator can pit two people against each other and gain more control over both relationships.

Gaslighting is common

Gaslighting is something else manipulators do to help stay in control. If someone, such as your spouse, is gaslighting you, this person may try to convince you that you're wrong about something you're certain is true. This may involve telling a different version of events or claiming to forget things they previously remembered. The more they discount your version of reality, the more confused and mentally off-balance you feel.


Common phrases you might hear from a gaslighter include "you're crazy" or "you're imagining things." When you don't feel you can trust your own mind or memories, it weakens your ability to trust yourself in other ways, too. Ultimately, the less you trust yourself, the more power it gives the manipulator in the relationship. It makes it easier for them to continue to discount your feelings and memories and, instead, replace them with their own versions of events.

They'll twist the situation

Manipulative people don't usually like to stick to facts. In fact, they're more likely to twist the situation in their favor. Some may tell an altered version of the truth or even outright lie about the details of an event. They may take it a step further and fabricate entire scenarios altogether, only to conveniently forget them if you ever try to bring the subject up.


They might do this to make themselves look like a victim to others or to downplay their role in a conflict they instigated. For example, if you ask them politely to do a task they don't want to do, they may claim that you yelled or made unrealistic demands of them to make you look like the villain and to justify not complying. By making up the narrative, they also gain more control over it — and you as well.

You'll experience passive aggression

Passive aggression is another way manipulators gain control while avoiding responsibility or accountability. By finding indirect ways to express negative emotions or displeasure towards you, a manipulator can let out their aggression and resentment without you being able to put your finger on what's happening. 


Some signs of passive aggression include procrastinating when you ask them for something, negative non-verbal cues (such as eye-rolling), and sulking instead of discussing issues. Passive aggression can be poisonous to relationships and may cause you to feel anxious, especially when they refuse to discuss problems with you or claim they're fine when it's obvious they're upset. By doing this, a manipulator can keep you guessing about what they're thinking and more easily play off their negative behaviors as accidents or misunderstandings. Over time, you may feel increasingly uncomfortable around someone who is passive-aggressive, especially if their behavior begins to seem irrational.

They constantly criticize and bully you

Criticism is a powerful tool for those who display manipulative tendencies. When dealing with a manipulative person, it doesn't matter how hard you try to do things right; they always focus on what you did wrong. Whether they nitpick at little things, such as your outfits or hairstyle, or at something big, like your character or intelligence, constant jabs can ruin your confidence and make you feel like a lesser person.


The non-stop criticism might make you try harder to get their approval, but you probably won't have much luck. Even though manipulators have plenty to say when finding fault with you, they don't usually offer solutions or support. This is because the more you feel that something is wrong with you, the less confidence you have in your own choices and decisions and the more likely you are to go along with theirs.

They unexpectedly withdraw from you

Just as manipulative people will overwhelm you with their problems, they may also pull away from you as soon as you no longer serve a purpose for them. And, if you have a problem or need emotional support, don't even think about going to them about it. Because manipulators tend to be focused on personal gain, they're likely to care most about what they can get from you, not what they can give, and so they may not want to expend the effort to maintain a balanced or healthy relationship with you.


Many manipulators also instinctively know that pulling away when you need them will make you feel insecure. That way, when they return emotionally or physically from their period of withdrawal, they know you will be there for them, most likely wondering what you did to push them away and ready to fix it.

They'll keep the focus on themselves

Manipulators have a way of keeping the focus on themselves no matter what. For example, if you had a bad day, they'll have several reasons why theirs was worse (even if totally made up). The goal will always be to keep you focused on them and their needs, so yours take a back seat or get dismissed altogether.


If you're getting what they perceive to be too much attention, they find it more difficult to stay in charge, and this can feel threatening to them. Even though you might think a loved one should be proud of you for getting a raise at work or achieving an important goal, it could lead to backlash from them. Eventually, a lack of acknowledgment could leave you feeling neglected and alone. Even worse, you may get used to this marginalizing treatment and begin to diminish the importance of your own needs without realizing it.

They'll isolate you from others in your life

Many manipulators instinctively know that if you have others on your side emotionally supporting you, you'll be harder to control. This is why they often go out of their way to drive a wedge between you and those who care about you most. To do so, the manipulator may demand you spend increasing amounts of alone time with you or get angry when you make plans with others. They might also guilt trip you about making them feel lonely or try to convince you that your loved ones are actually working against you.


Some might even go so far as to try to forbid you from spending time with certain people whom they dub a bad influence, all in an attempt to make you more emotionally dependent on them and distant from anyone who could offer you the support you need.

They'll project their own behavior onto you

Do you continue to be accused of actions you know you haven't done? Does someone ascribe motives to you that are totally off base? If so, a manipulator could be projecting their own behavior onto you. Projection occurs when one person accuses someone else of committing actions that they do themselves. It is often a way for them to defend themselves mentally against their own shortcomings or poor behavior which they don't have the courage to acknowledge.


In fact, manipulators may not even realize what they are doing. It may also be a way for them to distract you from their behavior and put you on the defensive. If you're busy trying to defend yourself against their accusations, it will be that much more difficult for you to change the direction of the conversation and call them out on what they're doing.

You might feel confused

The more time you spend around a manipulative person, the more likely you'll begin to feel confused, not just about your relationship with them but about life in general. Self-doubt will start creeping in and poisoning your thoughts. You may begin to truly believe some of the negative things they say about you and lose touch with who you are and what you want.


You might also be in a constant state of confusion, especially when it comes to how to make them happy. This is because they'll probably try to get you to jump through hoops for them without ever acknowledging or appreciating your effort. The point of much of their behavior is to leave you feeling mentally disoriented and off balance, all because it gives them more leverage. The lower your self-worth, the easier it is for a manipulator to get what they want.

Your self-esteem might take a hit

The more time you spend with a manipulative person, the bigger a hit your self-esteem takes, especially if you're internalizing their negative views of you. As you absorb their negative opinions of you, you might develop your own negative self-talk. Once you realize you're being manipulated, you may begin to feel bad about yourself for allowing it to happen to you in the first place.


Along with all the negativity you face from the manipulator, the self-blame you might engage in can compound your self-esteem issues and leave your self-worth in the gutter. Isolation, shame, and feelings of powerlessness may rear their heads, too. The chronic stress of the manipulative relationship could even cause mental health conditions. When you're feeling this low, it may prove even more difficult to stand up for yourself within the relationship, which could lead to a continuous cycle of lowering self-worth and feelings of being trapped.

Observe and identify what's taking place

If you think you're being manipulated, you should start observing and identifying the manipulator's behaviors and focus on any potential weaknesses you have that they might target. Manipulators often pay special attention to your insecurities so they can use them for ammunition later. Once you're familiar with some common manipulation tactics, you'll notice them more easily and may even begin to see recurring patterns. 


Whether you write things down or simply make mental notes, keeping track of all the behaviors that crop up can help you get a better sense of just how manipulative this person can be. If you have things documented, it will make it all the more difficult for them to gaslight you. It can also help you build up your resolve and stay focused when it comes time to stand up for yourself or protect yourself against their behaviors. 

Talk it out tactfully

After you have observed some of their manipulation tactics, you may need to talk to them about it. However, you'll need to approach the topic tactfully because a manipulative person might not take the conversation well. Besides getting angry, they could revert to other manipulative techniques to put you back on the defense. If a manipulator feels attacked or exposed, they could display some of their worst behavior.


Remembering that not all manipulative people are fully aware of what they are doing can help as well. For some people, these behaviors could be largely subconscious. They may have a personality disorder, such as a cluster B personality disorder, or they may have been raised by manipulative parents and not know how else to behave. Approaching the topic of their behavior with caution and care can help lead to better outcomes and a more productive conversation overall.

Set boundaries

When you talk to this person about their behavior and why it's bothering you, it's also important for you to set boundaries. Boundaries will let them know what is and is not acceptable to you. When boundary setting, you need to be as clear and concise as possible. The less room there is for interpretation, the fewer excuses they will have if they cross a boundary. While you don't want to be combative, you also need to make sure that you are firm when explaining your limits. 


You also need to be clear with them about potential consequences if they disrespect your boundaries. Manipulative people may try to make you feel guilty for trying to set boundaries in the first place because they likely don't want to change their ways. By preparing for potential resistance beforehand, it may be easier for you to be assertive when discussing boundaries.

Seek professional help

Sometimes getting professional help can improve your relationship. If you've already talked about your issues and are struggling to make progress, the outside perspective of a therapist could be what you need. When you bring your issues to a professional, it can create an environment of accountability and make it more likely that you both will put forth your best effort to work on your relationship. Therapy can provide a safe space to discuss your problems, and therapists can provide you with tools for communicating with each other effectively.


However, joint therapy is only ideal if the manipulator is sincerely ready and willing to work on the relationship and make meaningful changes. If not, you should be prepared for the possibility that they refuse therapy or accept it and try to manipulate your therapist, too. In this case, individual therapy for both of you might be a better option.

Be ready to take a step back

Sometimes, even with the help of a therapist, you might not be able to fix your relationship with a manipulative person. Although you might feel compelled to keep working on the relationship, particularly if their manipulative tendencies are a result of something outside of their control (such as a mental health disorder), it may become draining on your mental and emotional health, especially if they continue disrespecting or pushing your boundaries. 


While some with manipulative tendencies may be willing to acknowledge their shortcomings and do the necessary work, others may not want to expend the effort. Additionally, some manipulators may claim they want to change only to keep stringing you along and using you. This is sometimes referred to as hoovering, which can also be exhausting. If a manipulator keeps trying to pull you back into a relationship after you've said you're done, you might want to consider cutting off all contact.

What if you're the manipulative one?

After learning about the signs of manipulation, you may notice you have a few of these tendencies yourself. In fact, it may even dawn on you that you're the manipulative person in a relationship. This can be a difficult realization, especially if you feel that you usually approach relationships with the best intentions. So, if you've noticed you have these tendencies, don't be too hard on yourself.


The reality is that not all people with manipulative tendencies are aware of what they're doing while they're doing it. Many manipulative behavior patterns stem from dysfunctional family dynamics. If your parents were manipulative, you may have grown up thinking those behaviors were totally normal. Mental health issues such as insecurity or anxiety can also contribute to manipulative behavior. While it may not be easy to confront, overcoming these tendencies is possible if you're willing to work toward healing.

Healing from manipulation

Even though manipulation can be hard on you mentally and emotionally, you can still heal and recover from manipulative relationships. Something to do after laying down firm boundaries or limiting contact with a manipulator is to turn your attention inward and focus on yourself. Take time to tune into your feelings and understand how your insecurities might have led you into this relationship.


Go through the grieving process if you had to cut ties with a manipulator. Even if a relationship or friendship is toxic and needs to end, it can be difficult to let go of someone who played a significant role in your life. While it might feel hard initially, by focusing on what makes you happy and reminding yourself of who you were before you experienced manipulation, you can begin to heal your confidence and self-esteem as you seek out new and healthier relationships.