When you love someone you make sacrifices for them right? You do your best to make them happy and in doing so, you ensure peace and happiness in your own life. This statement only works if the person you love demonstrates the same degree of love, care, concern and sacrifice for you too. 

There is however a thin line between a willingness to compromise and put another’s needs first and becoming the victim of a manipulative relationship. Manipulative relationships arise from a type of social influence which tries to change someone’s behaviour through deceptive or abusive means. 

In other words, a manipulator will often use social pressures and tactics such as lying, guilt, shame, social control, isolation and emotional blackmail to make you become someone you are not. This process usually involves changing your priorities to put the manipulator’s needs first, making you believe that your wants and needs are the same as the manipulator’s and intimidating you to the point where you are no longer able to stand up for your own rights. In mild cases, a manipulator might be seen as an overly dominating boyfriend or girlfriend, in more extreme cases, manipulative behaviours may also lead to abuse. Sometimes, this abuse is physical, sometimes it is emotional, and it can even be financial. 

Knowing When You Might be in a Manipulative Relationship

As an individual, you must know that you have certain rights that anyone who cares for you or has any degree of respect for you as a person would recognise. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are your priorities important too? Are they recognised, discussed and does your partner work with you to see if they can be achieved?

  • Do you feel that you are treated with respect? Does your partner show concern for you, listen to your opinions and needs and treat you well both in public and in private?

  • If you really don’t want to do something, are you able to say “No” without feeling guilty, ashamed or afraid?

  • If you pay for something, does it belong to you? Can you do as you wish with your money?

  • Have you ever been threatened emotionally, physically or mentally?

  • Do you feel that if you need to, you can make decisions and take action in any area of your life without having to ask your partner for permission first?

  • Do you feel fearful and insecure if your partner is not happy?

If your answer to most of these questions is “Yes”, then you might be in a manipulative relationship and you should take a step back to re-assess the situation and your relationship with your partner.

Recognising Key Manipulative Tactics

There are many reasons behind why a person might become manipulative. Some common reasons could be their desire for personal gain even if it harms another person, a drive to feel superior or have power over another, an extreme need for control, and finally, even  manipulation for criminal or financial reasons.

Whilst there are many tactics which manipulators use, there are a few common ones which can be used singly or bundled together with others. Learning to recognise these tactics is a first step to protecting yourself from manipulation.

They Make You Feel Guilty
Manipulation usually begins with guilt. Do you find that you are often de-emphasizing your own needs and wants because you feel bad for your partner? Does your partner often make statements which make you feel guilty for wanting to do something which you feel is important? If this happens frequently, you may need to pay attention to see if a pattern is forming.

You Doubt Your Own Judgement
Very often, the manipulator uses a combination of deceit, lies and social control to make the victim begin to doubt their own judgement. If you have come to a point where you don’t trust your own judgement over that of your partner’s, and if you have evidence of deceptive behaviours, then you need to be aware that you might have become of a victim of manipulation. 

You Feel Emotionally Insecure
Most manipulators use a combination of shame, your altruistic intentions and emotional vulnerabilities to play up your insecurities and make you more dependent on them for support and approval.

You Believe You should Fulfill Their Needs and Wants Even if it’s at Your Expense
This is one of the best tests you may have. This happens when you believe that the manipulator’s needs and wants are your own needs and wants, but achieving them hurts you or makes you feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

Dealing with Manipulation

Take a couple of steps back from the situation and observe how the manipulator treats you in public and in private. Do they also treat other people differently? Are there inconsistencies in their behaviour? Do they lie or lie by omission? Take notes and keep track of these instances. Often, in a relationship like this, you need to prove to yourself that facts and situations are being manipulated to your disadvantage. 

Seek help. Reach out to your friends and family. The more isolated you become, the harder it will be for you to recover from a manipulative relationship. If you are in a serious and committed relationship, consider counselling. Assess if this relationship is harmful to you and your loved ones. If it is, be prepared to put some distance between yourself and your manipulator. 

Key Takeaways

  • It is hard to recognise manipulative relationships. When it comes to love, we are geared to be altruistic and it may take some time for us to realise that our altruism is not reciprocated.

  • Manipulation may take the form of emotional, psychological, physical and even financial control. Typically, the victim gives up some of these states in order to fulfill the wants and desires of the manipulator.

  • If you believe that you are in a manipulative relationship seek the help of family, friends and if necessary, professional counsellors to deal with the situation.