How do you know if someone is manipulating you?

Listen to your feelings!

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Manipulation? Listen to your feelings!


1/ What are you doing? – Whose interest does it serve: yours or others?

Are you doing what you prefer not to do? Are you on a mission by doing some favor for your family members, friends or acquaintances?

Yes? – You might be manipulated.

2/ What are you feeling while you’re doing it?

A.) “Happy. I enjoy doing it.”

Nope, you’re not manipulated.

B.) “I would rather do my own business.” “Why did I undertake that?” “What good is coming from this for me?” “I am being taken advantage of.” “Other people do this for good money.”

Yes? – You might be manipulated.

3.) Why did you decide to do it even though you did not want to?

A.) “Because it’s good (healthy, beneficial, pays off) FOR ME in the long run.”

Nope, you’re not manipulated.

B.) “Because otherwise s/he would think I am not good enough in some measure: not a good friend, not a good neighbor, not a good coworker, morally inferior, weak, sick, controlling or selfish. By avoiding these negative evaluations, I succumb and do what others expect me to do.

In other words, you try to avoid experiencing guilt, shame or anxiety.

Yes! – You might be manipulated!


Formula of manipulation:

1: You make effort for OTHER’S INTEREST, while
3: You do it against your will and interest because you want to avoid being labeled negative – feeling guilty, ashamed or worried by its implication.


If I boil it down completely, the formula is:

1: Whose interest?
2: Your feelings now?
3: Your feelings when you said yes.



If you do something that is in your interest and you sincerely want to do it as well as feeling OK about it: you do this from your will. Therefore, no manipulation is involved.

If you do something that you don’t want to, it is not in your best interest, especially when you feel exploited, or taken advantage of. You can be suspicious of manipulation.



Your feelings give you the first information. It might be hazy at the beginning but it says: It’s not OK. You might feel frustration, you might feel embarrassment, you might be angry. All of it comes with confusion, mostly because of the manipulator’s mixed messages: “I do it for you!” –   ”You misunderstand my motifs.”

Your manipulator wants to discredit your negative feelings in order to keep you in his/her track: “You are too sensitive!”” You are so selfish.” “You get angry so easily!” The goal of these interactions is making you believe that your feelings are not valid, not true, and lacking any base.

Don’t buy into it! Your feelings are your best friends! They are grounded to your physiology, you feel the adrenalin rush in your veins when you are scared: this makes you capable of fight or flight. You feel the serotonin-dopamine in your brain when you are happy.  This encourages you to maintain that state. Although subjective, your emotions are very real. Believe them! If you feel it is “Not OK!”, accept them and realize  it’s not OK for you! Figure out exactly what you feel and try to understand why you feel that way.



It sounds silly why you said yes if you really did not want to. Consequently, you end up suffering from it. Not so much! Don’t blame yourself! This is the well chosen motivation from the part of the manipulator: you wanted to avoid an even bigger threat: the terrifying emotions of guilt, shame and anxiety.

Examine the reason why you chose doing it in the first place.  If the person who asked it implied a judgment that people who are not behaving in a certain way are “xyz” (harsh judgment, even name calling), you probably tried to avoid being seen as a “xyz” whatever that might be.

This is the quintessence of manipulation: imposing guilt, shame or anxiety and show the way how to avoid it. The target of manipulation will act as s/he expected even if it’s inconvenient in order to avoid the “big threat”: feeling guilty, ashamed or worried.


Listen to your feelings and accompany them with rational understanding: this is the first step in disabling manipulation!


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Three Essentials to Back Off Manipulators

Understand how manipulation works on you!

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Back Off Manipulators!

Don’t let yourself pulled by imposed guilt, shame or anxiety!

Be crystal clear about what you want and stand up for it firmly!


Our everyday life is full of manipulation whether we are aware of it or not. Some salesman on the doorway, some doctors, some teachers, some officials, or some co-workers might use unfair communication tactics to get what they want. The difficulty is more serious if the manipulator lives with the family, not to mention if the manipulator is our otherwise beloved partner. S/he can be wonderful in various areas in our life but they still might use debilitating pressure on us towards others.


If we want to keep our emotional health and a fair relationship, we need to sufficiently handle all manipulative attempts. Here are the essential points to disarm manipulation.


1/ Understand the process of manipulation

Because manipulation is a double base communication, it is not clear initially what the real goal of the manipulator is.

Let’s say someone criticizes his/her spouse constantly to make him/her feel bad about him/her. It might serve the goal of the manipulator feeling better in his/her skin. On the other hand, it also might motivate the spouse to put more effort to the service of the partner to overcompensate his/her weaknesses.

In this case, the surface is the critique: “You cannot prepare a dinner in time. You don’t know how to deal with the dog.” The topic is not important; it can be anything true or not! The goal is to make you feel inferior, and getting  more physical work from you, effort, adjustment from you, or distracting you from confronting the other with his/her problem behavior.

Let’s see how the common guilt trip can be used for controlling your behavior!

Your spouse might make you feel guilty about not considering his/her hard work and earning the money you spend. In the background it can be an attempt keeping you shackled from communicating your needs.

In some families the parents or in-laws might put awful pressure on the grown up children to have more than their fair share of their visits and time and care than the other in-laws. They might operate the “If you loved me…” or the “If you knew what I have been though…” guilt trips.



2/ Resist the manipulation at the core.

Manipulation is a self-reinforcing process. They apply pressure on you to do something you don’t really want to; you comply to avoid the pressure, and this compliance reinforces that they will do it again because the last time it worked. The more you comply, the more they pressure.

Therefore, if you want to stop the cycle, resist at the core: don’t do what they want you to if they apply the manipulative pressure.

However! You better not argue with the surface statement: that is not the place of the impact. Here comes the understanding! You need to figure out what they want to squeeze out from you and resist at that critical juncture.

In our first example of excessive criticism; you don’t have to argue that you do put the dinner on the table in time, or state that happened only once! You don’t have to argue if you are the best dog whisperer in the neighborhood – and you don’t have to feel ashamed if you’re not. Find out what your spouse wants to get from you by making you feel anxious (about rejection), and don’t do that if s/he applies that criticizing pressure on you. You can choose to comply with straight, rightful, respectful requests, but you don’t have to. It has to be your choice.

If your spouse gives you a hard time that you don’t appreciate his/her effort; think about it. If it is true: give a sign of appreciation! If you conclude that it is just another guilt trip without truth in it: don’t bother to argue. If its goal is to keep your mouth shut about your needs and wants, it’s time to voice them!

For some this is the hardest assignment: not to defend yourself from the false accusation and withstand the feeling of guilt. The minute you begin to defend yourself, you’ve lost because that’s the goal of the manipulator. You have to prove that you are not that terrible selfish dude who does not take care of others. How do you have to prove? You do what your manipulator wants you to. Best cure: don’t get involved, just let yourself feel guilty, – you will survive – but don’t engage to prove that you are not as guilty as you are told!

In case of the silent treatment, the best response is to take it easy with an easy-going, neutral voice – make sure there is no hurt or anger in it! – tell: “I see you’re not in the mood talking to me right now. I am going to go and do some exercises (walk around the house, go to the library, whatever it might be) and you can tell me when you are ready to talk to me again.”

It is working because on the surface level the silent treatment makes you feel worried about losing love, acceptance, and connection. The main goal might be different in every case: it might be that you go out for dinner with him/her, you don’t go out for dinner him/her, or you spend the holidays at his/her parent’s house. It might be anything s/he wants you to do, but you have not agreed yet. Threatening you with emotional or sexual withdrawal is the force which makes you comply with your partner’s agenda.

3/ Be aware of your personality, rights, needs and wants and stand up for them assertively.

Sometimes it is not that easy to decide: am I really not appreciative of my partner’s contribution to our relationship, or s/he only wants to make me feel guilty about it? Doubts and uncertainties are present in normal life. Believing in the absolute truth creates more problems than good. How do we know when we have to consider our own mistakes and wrongdoings and when to stand up for our wants and needs?

The key is self-knowledge: the more you know about you own inner world: personality, values, sensitive points, strengths and weaknesses, the more grounded your evaluation of the situation will be.

Over your personal characteristics, it is necessary to be aware of your “assertive rights”: You are the judge of your behavior. You can decide if something is good or bad for you. In addition you have the right to your feelings without being judged for them.

You need to think through what your true needs and what your wants are. When you are clear about them, you can stand up for them assertively. In other words, you stand up for your rights without violating others.

Assertive communication is calm but determined, not wishy-washy. If you have to repeat what you want, you don’t raise your voice. However, be sure to maintain eye contact and radiate decisiveness. Tell what you want in “I messages”: “I want you to listen to me when I talk to you.” Also: tell what you want instead of what you don’t want. “You never listen to me” sounds like an attack and puts the opponent into a defensive mode. “I want you to… or I would like you to listen to me” is a serious or polite request. You have a better chance to be heard that way.

Backing off manipulators is a difficult task. It happens on many different levels at the same time. Be patient with yourself if it does not go perfectly immediately. As manipulation reinforces itself through time, replacing it by straightforward, respectful communication might take a long time as well.

In addition: be prepared that the first reaction to your change in responding might be increasing the pressure, as this was the working strategy until now. Be strong! Don’t give in unless you feel it physically dangerous. If you maintain your non-reaction to manipulation, your loved one has to figure out another way to communicate with you!



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More help:

From Stings To Wings



I should have said “NO” but I couldn’t. Have I been manipulated?

What is Emotional Manipulation and how does it work?

I should have said no but I couldn't. Have I been manipulated?

How can they manipulate me to say yes when I want to say no?

How many times have I felt that way and how often have I heard this sigh coming from others before I began to deal with Emotional Manipulation? Weeding out manipulative attempts from straightforward communication or rightful influence is not always an easy ride.


Cloud of negative emotions

Before I recognize my emotions, I feel my heart pounding and my breathing becomes labored.   – Your reaction might be different: lump in the throat, cramp in the stomach, tension in a certain muscle group: listen to your body, and recognize what sign means manipulation danger for you!


From there, the realization follows: I am angry. I am confused. I am frustrated because I don’t want to do something, but someone pressurizes me to do it. Or I want to do something, but the manipulator doesn’t allow me to do so.


At the same time, there is something phony in the air: s/he refers some outside values, rules or morals that I don’t measure up if I don’t comply with his/her demand. Most of the time the story is wrapped in a loving, caring disguise: how could you reject such a well intentioned request?


What is Emotional Manipulation?

It is defined as when someone gets you doing something that you don’t want to by inducing guilt, shame or anxiety.


It is double base communication: on the surface it is pretentiously loving and caring, but under the veil it is designed to control your behavior with these destructive feelings.


How exactly does it work?

There are plenty of tactics that boil down to the core principle: with a story, a facial expression, tone of voice, hints or verbally by labeling, judging, overt critiquing and put downs. When they are used, the manipulator makes you feel guilty, ashamed or anxious. At the same time, they show the way how you “should” behave in order to not feel that way.


In a long term relationship, the beginning seems extraordinary and you feel like you are in ninth heaven. You receive extra attention and understanding and all of your wishes are closely watched. There is a promise of a huge gain hovering in the air.


This is the time when the manipulator assesses your needs and weaknesses. You might notice everything goes faster than a typical relationship: maybe on the third week you are about to get engaged.


Then the transition comes. You begin to feel yourself being judged, you’re not good enough anymore. It could resort to extreme expectations, dress code, and controlling your choice of friends. If you don’t behave in a certain way, you will not get what you want. The promise of gain transforms to the threat of loss.


As you were initially showed what a wonderful future is laying ahead of you, you try to fulfill the wildest expectations.


That’s the point: the manipulator has the rein in his/her hand to control your behavior.


Self reinforcing process 

Look back! At the beginning, you didn’t have to do anything to be appreciated. Now you bend backwards and you’re not good enough. Don’t worry, I don’t blame you – this is the nature of the process. The truth is that your compliance reinforces the pressurizing process simply because it works.


The manipulator applies pressure on you (remember: guilt, shame anxiety). In response, you do what s/he wants to avoid those feelings. S/he learns that this is the way how s/he can get what s/he wants. The more you comply, the harder the manipulation becomes.


Entrapped, helpless, hopeless 

As the manipulator controls your feelings, and through your feelings your behavior, you feel helpless, and hopeless. All of this is disguised as goodwill, you feel entrapped. No wonder.


However: if you realize what’s going on around you… if you are able to separate the superficial cover story from the covert real intention… if you can withstand a little bit of guilt, shame and anxiety for a little while… if you collect courage and resist manipulation at the core: You have the chance to change the manipulative communication to a fairer negotiation and effective cooperation. With it, you can change the relationship to a more equal and satisfactory connection!




Manipulation Games 9: Intentional Misinterpretation

intentional misinterpreterIn this manipulation game the manipulator purposefully mis-interprets the meaning of words, sentences, whole scenes or the  motivation and intention

Ken got to the end of his wits with his stepdaughter. He tried everything he could to influence her in a good way, though he felt he failed: bad grades, lies, big troubles in every area in the child’s life. All through this, he suffered constant critique from his wife. In one of his worst moments he said: “I’m done with Jessica.”

His wife stepped back in terror and began to cry. In her mind, if Ken is done with Jessica, then she felt he’s done with her as the girl biological mom. This means she has to move out from their house with her children and she has no place to go.


Certainly Ken could have expressed his frustration in a different way, but from the scene the meaning was not questionable: he needs help and encouragement with his parenting, and there was no way this was his intention to initiate divorce.

What Thalia gained from this interaction was that she might have felt she was hurt and others needed to support her. Meanwhile the original problem that hasn’t been solved for a while involves which way Ken might get Jessica to cooperate. In the midst of turmoil, the direction to take gets blurry and is ultimately lost.

There are way more serious misinterpretations than this. People who use these manipulative tactics arbitrarily change the meaning of words and sentences. They might also intentionally misinterpret scenes. In case of confrontation or reproach, they might misinterpret their intention. For example: “I only criticize you for helping to become a better person!” – Because otherwise you are not good enough.

They can ruin other’s reputation to enhance their position with friends or coworkers. They tell half truths about people to each other but slant information. They are good at appearing trustworthy, friendly and fun in order to get personal information.

They have a strong need to be an absolute favorite that they might create justification in their mind by thinking it is it OK to change the story. They love to feel rescuers who come and inform. When they get caught, they might use tears to prevent any confrontation. Among them, there are lots of hard working people who make themselves invaluable.


More Manipulation Games:

Manipulation Games 1: The “One Upmanship Expert”

Manipulation Games 2: The Dependent in Charge

Manipulation Games 3: The Constant Victim

Manipulation Games 4: Iron Fist

Manipulation Games 5: Triangulator

Manipulation Games 6: Flirt

Manipulation Games 7: Projection

Manipulation Games 8: Best Defense Is Offense





Manipulation Games 8: Best Defense Is Offense

Best defense is offense

In this manipulation game the manipulator wards off confrontation with attack


Brianna came home from the party late at night, way later than it was agreed upon. Her mother was relieved when she returned home and consequently postponed the confrontation for a day later. The next day she reprimanded her for being late. This action provoked a huge blast.


As fume and flame came out Brianna’s mouth, she hurriedly shouted three other occasions when her mother was late, and reprimanded her mother for how rigid and un-understanding and how huge a hypocrite parent she was. The last time when she wanted to keep up with her newly gained friends, her mom didn’t let her go as if she were not trustworthy to take care of herself. Furthermore, not to mention the new tablet which she cannot get. It all proves how terrible her life is with this autocratic mom who obviously has trust issues.


Mom has been left confused: is she really autocratic? Does she really have trust issues? Should she allow a little longer rein for her teenage daughter?


This Manipulation Game’s goal is to derail the other party from discussing a problem. They throw several issues at once with anger to the other party’s head, simply a diversion tactic away from the topic. While the manipulator rants and raves, they play with your doubts and try to convince you that you have a problem.


The manipulator in this game has strong denial and they force the other to go along. They don’t want to change but would rather keep up their hidden, problematic behavior.

Most teenagers live with this tactic, but usually they grow out of it.


More Manipulation Games:

Manipulation Games 1: The “One Upmanship Expert”

Manipulation Games 2: The Dependent in Charge

Manipulation Games 3: The Constant Victim

Manipulation Games 4: Iron Fist

Manipulation Games 5: Triangulator

Manipulation Games 6: Flirt

Manipulation Games 7: Projection

Manipulation Games 9: Intentional Misinterpretation