Are You Being Manipulated? Are You Manipulative? Here's The Breakdown.
Love & Relationships

Are You Being Manipulated? Are You Manipulative? Here's The Breakdown.

To me, manipulation is a lot like lying: on some level, all of us do it at some point or another (anyone who says otherwise, ironically, is either lying or being manipulative). Then there are those who seem to not be able to have any kind of relationship with other people unless they are trying to attach strings on them to pull on.

From a mental health perspective, when manipulation is at a fever pitch, that can lean into personality disorders like borderline personality and narcissistic personality (you cannot “Google” an official diagnosis on these, by the way; a licensed and reputable therapist would need to draw that kind of conclusion). Okay, but what if you’re just trying to figure out, once and for all, if there are some people in your world who simply use manipulation far more than they should? More importantly, what if you’re trying to assess if the main manipulative individual in your world is actually…you?

This is just what we’re going to explore today: what manipulation is all about, how to properly discern it, and what to do if you want it to stop. Because, if there is one thing that can become a real cancer in relationships, it is sho ‘nuf manipulation.

What Is Manipulation?


Perhaps, one of the most fascinating things about manipulation is, there are so many ways to define it. Some say that it’s all about someone exerting their influence over one or more people in order to get their way (or a particular agenda accomplished). Others believe that it’s based on creating some sort of stratagem that will make it easier for one person to exert their power over another (or others). Still, others call it a form of emotional exploitation, playing mind games and/or coming up with clever tactics in order to accomplish something that will quite possibly harm (or drain) one individual while benefiting another at the same time.

At the end of the day, what all of these things have in common is manipulation is all about control. Therefore, people who don’t seek to control others aren’t considered to be manipulative — controlling ones are. And already, that should be a sobering thought for a lot of folks because, if there’s one thing that a lot of people tend to be, that they don’t want to admit, it’s controlling.

Some individual’s egos are so out of control that it won’t let them humble themselves enough to realize that they are this way. Then there are those who’ve been used to manipulating for so long, in a bit of a more subtle way, that they don’t get how much they actually do it. I’ll give you an example. Recently, I was out with a “love sister” (sister by love not blood) of mine. Her mom called her three times in a row. When she texted her to say that she was fine and that she would call her later, her mom called her again. That caused her to think that something was wrong, so she called her back. Nothing was wrong. Her mom said that it could’ve been, though, which is why she should’ve picked up.

Do you see the nuanced manipulation here? Her mother wanted her to pick up when she felt that she should’ve and then threw in some guilt to, in her mind, hopefully, get her daughter to respond immediately in the future. Manipulation. Ugh.

I’ll give you another example. I’m currently working with a couple who are having all sorts of sex-related issues. The main reason is that the wife uses sex as a tool of manipulation. She basically does this by withholding intimacy until or unless she wants something. When she does, suddenly here comes all of the candles and lingerie (eye roll). It really is another message for another time that transactional dating plays a very significant role in how so many people have gotten to a place of using — more like misusing and abusing — sex in marriage. For now, I'll just say that it was NEVER created to be an “if this, then” dynamic.

Sex, especially in marriage, is to be about two people expressing their feelings for one another in a way where they both physically and mentally benefit: it’s not a way to (say) get some new shoes or get someone to change their mind about something. Using sex in that way is — yep, you guessed it: a form of manipulation. And approaching sex in this fashion is absolutely nothing to be proud of.

So, if manipulation is a tactic that no one should be proud of, why does it seem like an overwhelming amount of people are, indeed, manipulative? Now that’s a good question right there.

What Do People Get Out of Being Manipulative?


Last year, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled, “Are You Being Influenced or Manipulated?.”

One of the points it brought up is that while influence is about swaying people in one direction or another (because we see on a daily basis, via celebrity culture, that influence can be positive or negative), manipulation is all about “operating, moving, altering, stirring, guiding, and editing things in your environment. Over time, it’s come to mean handling and managing a situation skillfully to serve your own goals.” This basically means that, at the end of the day, while many could possibly benefit from another’s influence, the only person who truly benefits from manipulation is, indeed, the manipulator.

So, there you go. The reason why a lot of people have absolutely no problem with being manipulative is because all they really care about is doing whatever needs to be done to make something go/work in their favor. And since there are so many cryptic approaches to manipulation, oftentimes they will find ways to rationalize their approach in a way that makes them feel like saying or doing certain things are fully justified.

Things like what? Let’s touch on six rather common manipulation maneuvers.

6 Things (Most) Manipulative People Do


1. They take great pleasure in gaslighting. When you get a chance, check out “Gaslighting, Love Bombing & 5 Other Triggers To Call Out In Your Relationships” and “Are You Dating A Gaslighter? Here Are 6 Ways To Tell.” They both get into one of the things I hate with every fiber of my being: gaslighting. For now, I’ll just say that someone who is a gaslighter is someone who manipulates the truth or facts of something in such a way that they will have you wondering if you are the crazy one. Oftentimes people who suck at taking accountability for their own actions will take this particular manipulative approach.

2. They play the victim in order to change the narrative. Currently, I’m in the process of writing my third book. As I’m going over some of the most toxic people I’ve encountered, I think it’s interesting how much they liked to twist and turn things to where they basically wanted me to apologize to them for their ridiculous actions. Hey, but that’s what folks who play the victim do. In order to get extra attention or to deflect from the destructive (or even just offensive) things that they’ve done, they will find some type of way to get into a self-pity mode, cry and then try to pull you into the soap opera right along with them.

3. They pile on the guilt. No one likes feeling guilty — and no one knows this better than a master manipulator. If somehow they can get you to feel like you owe them or that you need to make something up to them, they might even convince you to go above and beyond. A great example of this is a series from a few years ago calledUnReal. It was a kinda-sorta fictionalized take on The Bachelor/The Bachelorette franchise. Anyway, one of the main character’s, Rachel’s mom, was a psychiatrist who manipulated Rachel into thinking that she was a bad person for telling her mom “no” and not doing things that would keep some of her mother’s vile misdeeds private. Because Rachel was the victim of sexual abuse (at the hands of one of her mom’s patients, no less), Rachel’s self-esteem was already so low that whenever her mother would pressure her to do certain things, for a long time, she would cave. Anything to not feel bad about herself. See how guilt works?

4. They are BIG on ultimatums. An ultimatum is a threat. Plain and simple. And if you’ve got to threaten someone to get your way, not only is that a form of manipulation and ultimately control, it’s also something that, nine times outta 10, is gonna backfire on you at some point. This is something that I tell people who try and weaponize ultimatums in romantic relationships. If you’ve got to offer one for something to go your way, that’s a red flag. And whoever gives into that, they are going to either end up resenting you, hating themselves — or both? Because no one feels good about being pressured to do something. Folks who dish out ultimatums don’t care; so long as their agenda is accomplished, in their time, that’s all that matters.

5. They like to totally take over conversations. Manipulators are poor listeners. With all that I’ve already said, this should make complete and total sense because, if it’s about accomplishing what they want, the only person they think should be heard is pretty much themselves. Not only that but, if they let others speak for too long, that could throw a serious wrench into their plans because points may be brought up that they will have a hard time refuting. Yeah, folks who tend to monopolize conversations can definitely go into the file of being manipulative individuals.

6. They try to convince you that your needs are not as important as theirs. These types of manipulators are honestly what help to keep relationship therapists, counselors and life coaches in business because they honestly couldn’t care less about mutuality and reciprocity. If these manipulators were being real with, at least themselves, they would admit that they see others as a source or resource — no more, no less.

Like I said, manipulation happens a lot. In fact, it’s almost scary to realize how many people don’t know how to interact at all unless some type of manipulation, on their part, is going on. SMDH.

What Does a Manipulative Relationship Look Like?


So, now that we’ve explored some pretty common tactics that most manipulators use, let’s briefly explore a manipulation-based scenario for five different types of relationships, so that you can get an idea of how interacting with a manipulative person looks and feels like.

Parental: The reason why I’ve written articles for the site like “How To Require Respect From Your Parents As An Adult,” “How To Recover If You Had To 'Raise Your Parents' As A Child,” and “What If It's Your Parents Who Happen To Be The Narcissists?” is because, it really is an epidemic — hell, more like a pandemic — the amount of people who can totally relate to one of my favorite sayings: “Adulthood is surviving childhood.” That said, if you’ve got a parent (or older family member) who thinks that respect should not be mutual when it comes to engaging them and/or they like to pile on guilt whenever things don’t go their way and/or they feel justified in dishonoring your already-articulated boundaries, I promise you that you are dealing with someone who is manipulative.

Professional: It can’t be said enough that, before taking a position, you really should ask to see your job description in print. Take it from me, as someone who’s had a few nonprofit gigs over my life, folks will have you out here doing four jobs for one paycheck, if you’re not careful. And yes, that is absolutely a form of professional manipulation (check out “Ever Wonder If You've Got An Emotionally Abusive Boss?”).

Romantic: Yeah, I’m gonna keep this one short ‘n sweet. When you get a sec, please read, “The Right Relationship IMPROVES Not CHANGES You.” If after doing so, you’re either mad triggered or you totally can’t relate (to the improvement part), on some level, sis, yes — you are being manipulated (or you’re doing the manipulating…ouch).

Friendship: I’ll put this one this way: Do you have a friend who only calls when they want something? Do you have a friend who is all about calling you out on your ish yet then plays the “You should just support me” card whenever you return the favor? Do you have a friend who takes more than they give? Do you have a friend who is passive-aggressive in conversations? Do you have a friend who projects their issues onto you? Do you have a friend who finds an excuse for each and every time they do something wrong, offend you or simply hurt your feelings? Do you have a friend who likes to make you question your every move? You already know what I’m gonna say, right? So, please read this: “10 Signs You’ve Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend.” Oh, and this: “7 Signs Your Friendship...Actually Isn't One.” Hmm…now that I think about it, also this: “6 Signs You're About To Make A Huge Mistake In Making Them A Close Friend.”

Church-related: Spiritual manipulation is real. LAWD, IS IT REAL. One of the most common tactics that church folks will use to accomplish it is to twist and turn Scripture to try and talk you into doing something you don’t want to do. They will act like, so long as they give you a chapter and verse, your own relationship with God (along with your own discernment and wisdom), should take the backseat. Hmph. Even the devil himself knows the Bible. Nope. Hard pass on spiritual manipulation.

How to Stop a Manipulative Person in Their Tracks


Now that some clarity about manipulation and how it operates have made itself known, what can you do whenever you sense that someone is trying to manipulate you?

1. Call them out on their ish. Wanna see a manipulative person get triggered like nobody’s business? Tell them that they are being that way. See, the thing about manipulative individuals is they’re so busy plotting and scheming, all the while thinking that their actions are totally undetectable, that they feel exposed when you tell them that you can see what they are up to. Yeah, manipulative people like to think they have the upper hand at all times; you totally destabilize them when you let them know that they don’t.

2. Say “no” and mean it. Manipulative people have a really difficult time with the word “no.” It makes sense too because a part of what they’re consumed with is trying to get people to say damn near anything but that. That’s why you’ve got to be really firm with these types of folks. While sometimes a “maybe” or “it’s up for compromise or negotiation” can happen with other people, don’t bend with manipulative ones. For them, “no means no” needs to stick because they need to hear it…because not enough people are telling them that. Real talk.

3. Set clear, firm, and consistent boundaries. A boundary is a limit and you don’t have to ask permission, apologize for or wait for someone to agree with, let alone like, a limit that you have put in place for you to have some peace in your life. No manipulative person is going to agree with that because boundaries hinder them from accomplishing what they set out to do — and that’s exactly why they need to have them.

How to Stop Being a Manipulative Individual (and Why You Should)


So, what if after reading all of this, you are basically squirming in your seat, because you recognize that you are the one who is the most manipulative? First, I’ll send you a few handclaps because it takes some real self-awareness and humility to even be willing to admit that (even if you only admit it to yourself). That said, even if there’s a part of you that wants to keep operating in this space, the main thing that’s important to keep in mind is…how would you feel if people were constantly coming up with cryptic ways to control you? If you wouldn’t like it, don’t you think that folks are about sick of your own tactics at this point?

Listen, giving up manipulative ways is not something that happens overnight. However, if this is the day when you want to at least begin being a less manipulative person, here are a few tips:

Learn to listen. You don’t really get to decide if you’re a good listener or not — those around you do. So yeah, ask some of the closest people to you if you tend to cut them off a lot and/or not retain what they say. Non-manipulative individuals are all about flexibility and compromise and that comes from letting more than the sound of their own voice have the floor.

Respect those around you. The manipulative people of my past didn’t respect me; if they had, my boundaries would’ve been respected, my needs would’ve been respected, and my feelings would’ve been respected. Yeah, if you’re out here railroading people, you don’t have a “strong personality” — you are manipulative. Demanding respect while not offering it is some serious delusional thinking.

Accept what others want to do. Acceptance is hard and I’ll be the first one to admit it. I believe it’s that way because, when you really get to that point and place, you have to fully make peace that sometimes other people’s choices will not be ones that you like, understand, or make you feel comfortable. Still, if you want them to give you that kind of freedom, you have to be willing to do the same.

Humble yourself. Something that I oftentimes say is arrogance is nothing more than low self-esteem throwing a temper tantrum. In other words, a lot of cocky people don’t like themselves very much which is why they manipulate: they think they need to control things because they don’t trust that life will work out just fine if they learn to chill out and let things…be. Humble people are pretty good at this because they know that not everything is about them; especially all of the time.

Develop some patience. Manipulative people tend to be impatient as well. They want things to not only go their way but to happen on their timetable. If you want to steer clear of manipulation, master the art of waiting.


Marianne Williamson once said, “The reason we’re such fertile ground for the dark forces of such lies and social manipulation is that we’re dissociated from the genuine light of self-awareness.” Indeed. If you don’t want to be manipulated, start with not being manipulative. Things are sure to illuminate from there.

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