Toxic Relationships: Are You in a Manipulative Relationship?

Updated on November 16, 2019
Kaitlyn Lo profile image

Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

By Trinity Kubassek. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Trinity Kubassek. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

Healthy relationships involve an equal give and take between two people. But if you’re wondering why you feel like you’re never on the receiving end and always on the giving one, you could be hanging around some manipulative people.

A manipulative relationship can be tough to identify because psychological manipulation is often more subtle than other toxic relationships. Psychological manipulation is when one person creates a power imbalance to exploit the other. Manipulation can manifest in numerous ways, but the one theme that runs through all toxic relationships of this type is that there will only be one person benefiting.

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By Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons.
By Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons. | Source

5 Common Signs of a Manipulator

Not sure if you’re dealing with a manipulator? Here’s how to tell.

1. They keep pushing you out of your comfort zone (emotionally, physically, or financially).
This is how manipulators keep you off-balance so they can maintain an upper hand by being more in control.

2. They chip away at your self-confidence
When our confidence is low, we become more easily manipulated as we look for ways to make ourselves feel better in the attempt to be “better.” This is why manipulators will keep chipping away at your confidence to make you feel smaller and never good enough. The more vulnerable you feel, the more easily they can exploit those vulnerabilities.

3. The Silent Treatment
This is a classic manipulation strategy. It can be used by people who are not necessarily a chronic manipulator but is still a toxic strategy that is deeply manipulative behavior that is best never used. This is because the silent treatment uses silence to gain control and leverage over someone else without approaching an issue on an equal playing field. When the other person feels like they have no choice but to end the silence by giving in, then the manipulator has “won.”

4. The Guilt Trip
Another classic, the guilt trip is also used by a manipulator to gain the upper hand and to assert emotional and psychological pressure on the other person. When you’re feeling guilty and like you’re in the wrong, you’re naturally more likely to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. This strategy is especially effective for those of us who dislike confrontation because we will, more often than not, accept responsibility for something we didn’t do just to end a confrontation.

Many manipulators will guilt trip others unconsciously as well because they won’t (or can't) accept responsibility for their behavior. When others call them out on their inappropriate behavior, they will turn the blame around on them instead.

5. They gloss over or ignore unresolved problems
Unhealthy relationships have many unresolved conflicts either because of a breakdown in communication or because one party is deliberately leaving the conflicts unresolved. Manipulators will do the latter. This is because manipulating you into believing that a discussion was over and done with is more convenient, and often easier, for them than actually working to resolve the problem with you.

A manipulator is constantly looking for ways to exploit your weaknesses so it’s easy to feel inadequate and blame yourself for disappointing your manipulator.

By Inna Lesyk. CC0 Creative Commons
By Inna Lesyk. CC0 Creative Commons | Source

What to Do When You're in a Manipulative Relationship

Before we start, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to help you establish where you stand in your relationship with a possible manipulator.

  • Am I being respected?

  • Are the expectations and requests set upon me by this person reasonable?

  • Is the giving and receiving equal in this relationship?

  • Do you feel good about yourself when you’re with this person?

By now, you should be reasonably sure whether you’re in a manipulative relationship or not. If you are, this is what you can do to protect yourself.

1. Know your rights
When you’ve been in a manipulative relationship for a long time, it can be easy to forget how to stand up for yourself. Remember that you have a few fundamental rights. You have the right to be treated with respects; to express your opinions, needs, and feelings; to have your own priorities; to say no; to have a different opinion; to protect yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically; and to live your own life.

The next time you encounter a manipulator, remember your rights, take a deep breath, and exercise them. You, and only you, are in control of your life.

2. Stay away
The best thing you can do is to keep your distance from manipulative people. If it’s too late, try to put some distance between you. Every time you engage with a manipulative person, you’re giving them another opportunity to learn more about you, to gauge your weaknesses and find “a way in.” Staying away is the first and best way to protect yourself. If you feel an impulse to “help” them change for the better, remember that the reasons for chronic manipulation are often deep-seated, complicated, and are most likely be out of your reach. Most importantly, it’s not your job to “save” them, especially when they don’t want to change.

3. It’s not your fault
A manipulator is constantly looking for ways to exploit your weaknesses, so it’s easy to feel inadequate and blame yourself for disappointing your manipulator. In these situations, remind yourself that it’s not your fault and you’re just being manipulated to feel bad so you’re more likely to give up your rights and agency.

4. Learn to say "no"
This is one of the previously mentioned fundamental rights but deserves to be expanded on because so many of us have trouble saying that two-letter word.

Whether it’s fear of hurting someone’s feelings, or concern over how refusing a request would change someone’s opinion of you, simply saying “no” can require a huge amount of courage. But when you’re dealing with a chronic psychological manipulator, saying “no” firmly and standing your ground becomes a crucial skill that will help you pull some power back to your side of the relationship.

Even without the presence of manipulators, to be able to say “no” without guilt will help you live a freer, happier life.

Poll: Just Say "No"

Do you find it hard to refuse people?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 KV Lo


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    • profile image

      shubhajit das 

      7 months ago

      well it was really beautiful and it helps me i best ways must say that

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Great article! I think manipulative relationships are so incredibly common and the people in them never seem to be able to identify the problem.

    • profile image

      Ameerah@The Mod Woman 

      2 years ago

      Great piece! I know so many people who get stuck in these types of relationships. Specifically women who have a hard time saying no and don’t want to be the “bad guy”.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I think too many people get caught up in these very toxic relationships. Best to educate and empower!

    • Kamira Gayle profile image

      Kamira Gayle 

      2 years ago

      Great post! I can testify to experiencing toxic behavior involving those closest to me. (Narcs) Sometimes, it gets to the point where you have to cut out the cancer in your life if you want to live a healthy life.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I get the guilt trip sometimes, but that is about it. I don't experience the rest of these symptoms, so I think my relationship is safe for now.


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