How To Tell if Someone Is Manipulating You

Manipulation, whether it be subtle or outright, occurs all the time. From a fight with your partner to your boss pressuring you to take on another project at work, manipulation can happen anywhere, and you may not even realize it’s happening. There are various types of manipulative behavior. Below, Rachel Hoffman, LCSW, PhD, chief clinical officer at Real, shares examples.

Signs of manipulative behavior

  • Gaslighting, lying, and guilt-tripping
  • Refusing to compromise
  • Passive-aggressive behavior, including the silent treatment
  • Extreme emotional highs and lows that impact the relationship
  • Isolating you from relationships with family and friends
  • Intentionally damaging your self-esteem and confidence by making hurtful comments and jokes
  • Pressuring you to make quick decisions
  • Withholding information from you

Who is most at risk of being manipulated?

People who struggle with setting boundaries, have endless empathy, and low amounts of self-confidence, are easy targets for manipulation. “While empathy is a noble quality, it undermines your mental and emotional well-being, shares Dr. Hoffman. “Manipulators count on people with an endless supply of empathy and prey on those with a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem by making them feel like they won’t be able to do any better.”

Additionally, members of minority or marginalized groups are at a higher risk of being manipulated. “These people often receive the most unconscious bias from majority group members who often get to use their power and privilege to manipulate not just people but systems too,” warns executive coach Brooks E. Scott, founder of Merging Path.

Easiest ways to tell if someone is manipulating you

If you’re not sure if you’re being manipulated, Dr. Hoffman suggests asking yourself a few questions:

Am I being gaslit?

If you find yourself constantly questioning your reality and replaying situations to uncover the truth, that is a strong sign you’re being manipulated through gaslighting.

Am I being isolated from other relationships?

A manipulative person wants your full focus and loyalty and will often take steps to create distance between you and other important people in your life.

Am I being pressured to make fast decisions?

Maybe you don’t feel like you have enough information, or maybe something in your gut just doesn’t feel right. Someone engaging in manipulative behavior will put extreme pressure on you to ignore those feelings and make quick choices.

What to do if you notice you’re being manipulated

Being manipulated can greatly impact your mental and emotional well-being, so reaching out to those you can trust like your support network or a mental health professional is very beneficial. “Ongoing manipulation can happen in very close relationships over a prolonged period, and the complexity can make it even harder to recognize and unpack,” says Dr. Hoffman. “Friends and family, particularly those who don’t know the manipulator well, can serve as an objective and safe place while a therapist can help the victim properly process the situation.”

Setting strong boundaries is an important step to take after noticing manipulative behavior. “While clear and consistent boundaries can protect you from being manipulated, you must clearly communicate what you expect moving forward, as well as the consequences for not respecting that boundary,” Dr. Hoffman says. But don’t be surprised if the manipulator responds to your boundary poorly. Nevertheless, “continue to communicate what it is and what happens if it gets violated, and be prepared to walk away,” Dr. Hoffman adds. “If someone is constantly violating your boundaries and is unwilling to change, it’s worth considering if the relationship makes sense to continue.”

What to do if you notice a friend or family member being manipulated

It’s important to provide a non-judgemental and safe place for the person being manipulated. “Actively listen, ask clarifying questions, and be honest, while avoiding being overly critical,” advises Dr. Hoffman. “And, if you see something, say something.”

While it may need to be a later conversation at a more appropriate time, she advises getting a sense of where they stand in regards to the situation before gently reminding them that what they’re experiencing should not be tolerated.

What to keep in mind when identifying and addressing manipulative behavior

The main things to remember when it comes to manipulation is that it can happen in any relationship and takes many forms. Factors such as empathy and self-confidence, as well as your ability to set boundaries, can all affect how easy it is for someone to manipulate you. If you’re not sure if you’re being manipulated, asking yourself a few questions, like whether you’re being gaslit or asked to rush decisions, can help you determine. Once you’ve identified people who are trying to manipulate you in your life, setting clear boundaries and reinforcing them is key to safeguarding yourself from the behavior.