Subtle Signs You’re Being Manipulated, According To Science

There’s nothing worse than treating someone with respect, consideration, and care only to be taken advantage of and manipulated in return. Sometimes the tactics manipulators use are less obvious than you’d think, but it’s important you know the warning signs so you can escape a toxic situation.

As California-based therapist Sharie Stines explained to TIME, “Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of asking for what they want and need in a direct way. People who are trying to manipulate others are trying to control others.”

Here are some signs this is happening to you.

  1. They make you feel afraid, obligated, or guilty. According to Stines, manipulative behavior always consists of those three characteristics: fear, obligation, and guilt. Generally speaking, the manipulator asks you to do something that you don’t want to do and you say yes because you feel afraid to say no, guilty for saying it, or like you have to because you owe the requestor. There may even be some outright bullying going on, with the manipulator threatening or coercing you by being overly aggressive.
  2. They make you doubt yourself. A big part of this is gaslighting, where the manipulator insists that your feelings are invalid and that you’re wrong about your perception of events. They always find a way to turn it on you and make you question yourself, which is really messed up. They refuse to accept that they could be at fault. As Stines says, “Manipulators blame, they don’t take responsibility.”
  3. There are always strings attached to anything they do for you. Generally speaking, friends or partners should be cool doing favors for each other occasionally. After all, you know that they’d do the same for you if the situation called for, right? Unfortunately, manipulators never do anything for you without strings attached and while it seems like they’re being helpful, there’s a clear expectation that you’ll do things for them in future, and if you don’t you’ll be painted as ungrateful or rude. Yep, that’s manipulation.
  4. They ask for an inch and take a yard, so to speak. You know the type—someone asks you if they can sleep on your couch until they get the keys to their new apartment in a few days, but three months later they’re still there, eating all your food, leaving the place a mess, and not paying a dime in rent. There’s also the opposite of this tactic which gets used a lot, where someone will ask you for something way too huge, you say no, so they ask for something smaller so that you feel bad enough to say yes. Ugh.

If you think you’re in a manipulative relationship that’s becoming abusive and you need someone to talk to, you can always reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or even speak to a friend or a family member who may be able to help.

Bolde has been a source of dating and relationship advice for single women around the world since 2014. We combine scientific data, experiential wisdom, and personal anecdotes to provide help and encouragement to those frustrated by the journey to find love. Follow us on Instagram @bolde_media or on Facebook @BoldeMedia