I generally try to see the best in people. I’ve always been a glass-half-full type of person, and in most of my interactions with other people, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, I’ve been in some less-than-stellar situations in the past, and I know that misunderstandings happen sometimes.
Then, when I come to find out that someone has intentionally been trying to take my attention off what’s really going on, I’m livid.
The truth is, there are always going to be people who think they can bend the truth (and the will of another person), and sometimes, they’re actually pretty good at it. Manipulative people are often highly intelligent and have a solid grasp out of what they want in life. While these are great qualities to have, they’re not exactly great when they’re used against another person – and when you’ve got feelings for the person who’s trying to manipulate me, things can get even harder on you.
All’s not lost, though. There are ways you can handle your interaction with manipulative people in order to minimize the damage they can do. Are you ready for some life-changing information?
Manipulative behavior generally follows patterns.
If possible, examine the way this person behaves with other people, such as coworkers, family members, and friends. Avoid using their claims as “evidence”, since manipulators are generally skilled at lying (and you don’t want to alienate a person who isn’t manipulating you). If you know their job history or financial situation, this can be helpful, too, but remember that there are other factors involved in employment.
What you’re looking for here is a pattern of controlling others, or a pattern of living outside their means. Does their spending match up with their occupation, or are they obviously trying to convey a different image of themselves to others? Sometimes, these things are very subtle, so you might not notice things until you’ve been interacting with each other for an extensive period of time.
If it’s not possible to explore their lives outside of your particular relationship, pay attention to how they are in everyday conversation. Does it seem that they’re trying to steer the conversation in a different direction, possibly to gain information or convince you of a particular opinion? Also note the highs and lows of their interaction – are they unnervingly nice sometimes, and verbally abusive other times? These can all be signs that the person is manipulative.
You don’t necessarily need to remove someone from your life if they start showing any of these signs, but you should be aware of them and understand that you may need to take action at some point in the future. Be alert, and you’ll remove much of the risk of being controlled.
Emotional blackmail is the most common form of manipulation.
The more you trust and care about a person, the more they’re going to be able to manipulate you – that’s just how things work. Not only will you be more inclined to meet their demands, but they’ll also have insight into the tricks that make you tick. As unfortunate as this is, you shouldn’t take this as a sign to shut yourself off from others. Rather, you’ll need to learn how to redirect their attacks so that they know you mean business.
Some people may choose to guilt you when you’ve done something they perceive to be wrong. This is meant to discourage you from doing it again – a sort of training, if you will. In other cases, the emotions called may be more drastic, such as threats of a break-up, infidelity, or even a suicide attempt. (Please note: A suicide threat, by itself, is not automatically a sign of manipulation. If your partner is reaching out for help, please encourage her to get help, even if you do think she’s trying to control you.)
Passive aggressiveness is another common tactic.
One of the subtler forms of manipulation, passive aggressiveness is when a person uses underhanded remarks to imply a correct response to a certain situation. Often, the things being commented on are good changes to be made – but the manipulator isn’t going about things the wrong way.
The only way to deal with passive aggressive behavior is to shut it down. Insist that your partner (or whoever is trying to manipulate you) speaks directly, rather than beating around the bush to elicit a reaction. Sometimes, recognizing the passive aggressive behavior is as simple as ignoring it – but this will depend on the person who’s using this tactic against you.
Trust your instincts.
Sometimes, when someone is manipulating you, it won’t even be a secret. They may come straight out and tell you that you need to change x thing or y thing will happen. Most of the time, however, it’s going to be a little subtler than that – but you’ll still probably recognize the signs. Don’t dismiss these too early, as they are there for a reason!
Manipulation relies on a sense of worry and self-doubt, so the best way to defend yourself against it is to be confident in yourself and the future you can create on your own. Remember that you don’t need this other person – everyone but yourself is an optional part of your life, even if your life is better with them in it. If someone is putting you in a position where you have to choose yourself over them, the choice should be clear: Protect yourself!
I understand that this can be hard, especially when the person manipulating you is one you trust. (Remember, we said that manipulation is easiest if you trust the person?) That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. Just stand your ground, take input from others, but be aware that you have the final say in things.
Assess your fears.
In many situations, manipulators will rely on their victims being afraid – either of something that they will personally do, or something that the manipulator may do. Depending on the nature of the manipulation, as well as your relationship with the person, there are a number of possible things to fear – but you can’t live your life afraid of someone, particularly when that person makes it their goal to scare you.
Here are 4 of the most common fears involved with being manipulated, and the antidotes to these fears. Remember that your situation may entail a combination of these fears, or possibly entirely different fears – speak with a trusted friend or therapist if you need to discuss other options.
- Fear that the manipulator will spread lies about you: Are you worried that your friends, family, or work colleagues are going to believe them? Believe it or not, this one isn’t about your manipulator at all. The manipulator has probably been lying to you about yourself, in an effort to convince you that you’ve somehow lost your worth as a person. Your friends, family, and work colleagues see the reputation you’ve built for yourself, and they’re not going to be likely to believe something that goes against that. (Check out confirmation bias – it’s actually a real psychology thing.) Give your circle some credit, and trust that the only ones who will believe the lies are the ones you don’t need in your life anyway.
- Fear that others will judge you: Are you worried that you’re not being supportive enough of your partner? Guess what – this one is all within your control, too. The only person who should matter right now is you. I promise, the world isn’t going to end if you put yourself first sometimes. Sure, there are people who judge others for silly, trivial things, but in my life, I don’t have anyone who would judge me for leaving a toxic relationship, whether romantic or otherwise. If you do, it’s highly likely that they are also
- Fear of violence against you or your loved ones: While manipulation and physical abuse are not quite the same thing, in some cases they may overlap. Especially if you have children or pets, it’s normal to be worried that these threats may become reality at any point in time. As hard as it may be, once violence has been threatened or committed, you need to get out of that situation – as soon as possible. It is possible for an abusive person to recover and change, but you don’t need to be there while it happens, and you don’t need to give them a second chance. Period.
- Fear of being alone/homeless/poor: If the source of the manipulation is also your financial support – whether your job, your partner, your roommate, or your family – it can be especially hard to leave, because you may not have anywhere to go. In fact, many people remain in abusive situations because they can’t afford to live on their own. But it doesn’t have to be like that – your manipulator has just twisted your circumstances. While being homeless isn’t exactly glamorous, staying on someone’s couch or in your car, temporarily, is probably not as emotionally draining as staying where you are. In most cases, it’s not as cut-and-dry as the abuser makes it seem, either. Most likely, you have a friend, family member, or local volunteer group that’s able to help you out until you get back on your feet. Ask around – there are more good people in the world than you know!
Try to separate yourself from the behavior.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with someone manipulative is that, contrary to what they may say, you’re not the problem – they are. Most people don’t spend their time tearing down someone else. If it wasn’t you, it would be someone else – a manipulative person simply believes that they are entitled to control another person. They can’t fully love and appreciate someone unless they match their exact definitions, and as humans, we weren’t designed to fit into someone else’s box.
It’s also pretty important that you avoid feeling sorry for yourself. While you did have the unfortunate luck of crossing paths with this person, self-pity is only going to bring you down. This will distract you from your true worth and prevent you from fighting back in the future. And I know it might be hard, due to your empathetic nature, but you do need to fight back.
Once you’ve fully separated yourself from the way you’re being treated, it’s a little easier to reject the unhealthy behaviors when they happen. Often, victims of manipulation are too empathetic, and they set themselves up to be hurt. You don’t need to leave the relationship, if you’ve built a life together (and there’s no threat of violence), but you do need to stop feeding into this behavior. When you allow it to continue, it will intensify. Consider discussing it with your partner – if it was unintentional and/or she is willing to change the behavior, you can give her a chance to prove it. Just be sure that you stay consistent in rejecting it.
Fully picture your life without this person in it.
Examine your life as a whole, and compare this person’s reach in it. Does she actually affect you positively? Would your life be better or worse if she wasn’t in it? It’s definitely possible that life will get worse for a little while, but it’s important to consider that correcting patterns of abuse is a long process – often taking much longer than the process of getting back on your feet. Still, only you fully understand the role this person plays in your life, and how important she is in your big-picture plans.
It’s also worth remembering that sometimes, plans fall through – and that’s okay. This is coming from someone who has dealt with literally 9 different paper planners this year, as well as a few different productivity apps – I know how bad it sucks when things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, especially if you put a lot of work into them. But sometimes, you need to let go of the “tolerable” in order to reach for the “amazing”. If this person brings you more fear and worry than they bring you happiness and joy, you need to let them go – no matter who they are.
Often, when the person in question is a partner or a family member, we don’t want to think of what life would be like without them. But questioning their behaviors, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of staying versus leaving, helps you to define what’s important to you.
You might find that, after your self-exploration, that you’re not habitually picking up the phone as soon as it rings. You might let go of some of the guilt of not being available when they need you for trivial things, because you’ve decided to put yourself first. You might even find that others can see this change in your confidence and self-respect, even though they might not be able to see the root cause, but you might find unintended bonuses, such as promotions and maybe even a new love interest.
You’ll never know until you try – so promise yourself that you come first, and other people’s manipulation can take a hike.