Being in a relationship with a manipulative, toxic person doesn’t always leave you with visible bruises, but it can tear apart your very sense of who you are. If the guy you’re with starts using these tactics on you, RUN because it’s only going to get worse from here:
Moving too fast
The guy who swoops in and sweeps you off your feet seems like a dream come true, but more often than not, he’s a nightmare in disguise. Some guys really are just more emotional than others, but in many cases, the men who try to shower you with affection from the get-go are destined to drown you in misery. They pour on the love from the very beginning to give you a sort of high off their affection. That way, when they start treating you like crap, you’re left with some sort of hope that deep down, they’re the knight in shining armor they pretended to be in the beginning instead of a douchebag in tin foil.
If you think this has something to do with love triangles, you’re kind of right. Triangulation is basically the introduction of another person to serve as an imaginary (and then real) threat to your relationship. It’s used a lot by insecure jerks to make their partners believe that they’re desired, which makes their partners panic and try even harder to keep the jerks happy. It’s not always another woman that completes the “triangle,” but it often is: The jerk will bring up his cute new lab partner, maybe telling you how much she reminds him of someone close to him, like you or his sister. Then, he’ll bring her into arguments, saying things like, “At least Allison thinks I’m right,” or, “Allison would never say something like that to me.” Suddenly, you’re worried about another girl stealing your man right out from under you… and whether or not Allison is aware of it, that’s exactly what the jerk wants.
If you were on the outside, it would be easy to see that the rude jabs followed by “just kiddings” aren’t really jokes at all, but when you’re on the inside of a toxic relationship, it can really mess with your head. The jerk will pinch your love handles and make a comment about how you clearly haven’t been taking it easy on the ice cream, and when you get upset, he’ll make YOU the bad guy. “I was just joking!” he’ll protest. “You really need to get a sense of humor!” he’ll say. This is not only a way for him to get away with insulting you but also a way to build up your tolerance for his BS and make you feel like your emotions are invalid.
This is commonly used in pick-up artist circles (for some reason), but it causes way more damage in committed relationships. If a random dude at a party says something like, “You’d be perfect if you had bigger boobs,” you’d probably raise an eyebrow at him and search for someone a little less socially inept. But when your long-term boyfriend says it, it HURTS. The idea of a “neg” is that it’s an insult disguised as a compliment. You’d never tolerate a guy insulting your chest size, but since he kiiind of complimented you first, you start to see it as something almost good. You ALMOST have his complete approval, so you start making more of an effort to fix what he perceives as a flaw. And when you do this, your brain figures, “Hey, I must really love this person if I’m trying this hard to make him happy,” completely missing the fact that this was a calculated attempt to lower your self-esteem and convince you to stick around.
This often starts with isolation — he’ll work to get you cut off from your loved ones, often by convincing you to delete phone numbers and social media accounts. Then, he’ll limit your financial independence. He’s not convincing you to quit your job and let him pamper you because he thinks you deserve it, but to ensure that you have no money of your own. By the time he’s done chipping away at all the things that make you YOU, you’ll realize that you have no way to get back on your feet if you want to leave him. You weren’t backed into a corner by accident — this was absolutely his plan to make sure that he was the only person you’d be able to rely on, even when he was the one making you desperate for an escape.
Have you ever been accused of lying or cheating, even though you had NO idea why? It might be that the player you’re with is taking his own guilt and slapping it onto you instead. He accuses you of hooking up with your married co-worker because he’s doing the exact same thing. People who project never just stop at a single accusation, either — they bring it up over and over and over again. But strangely enough, they never seem to believe it enough to actually dump you over it. Hmm.
You asked him not to leave his wet towel on the bed, and now you’re wondering how this turned into an argument about that time last year you put a banana peel in the recycling bin. If you’re wondering WTF, well, that’s the point. Narcissists don’t like to ever admit that they’ve done wrong, so when you point out even their tiniest mistakes, they’ll do whatever it takes to get it to go away… even if it means bringing up something completely unrelated that YOU did wrong. This is their way of saying, “I might have messed up, but YOU messed up, too, so you have no room to EVER criticize me.” It’s immature, it’s rude, and it often works.
Putting words in your mouth
You could have sworn you said, “Why didn’t you take the garbage out like you said you would?”, but what’s coming out of his mouth is, “I get it. I’m lazy and worthless.” You never said that and never WOULD say that, but by pretending like you implied this, your idiot of a partner is hoping to put you on a guilt trip so you’re scared to ever say anything “against” him again.
This is another way to chip away at your self-esteem. The guy will constantly try to cheapen your accomplishments, saying that your winning painting “was good, but not THAT good” or getting angry that the meal you made him wasn’t exactly what he wanted. You’ll become desperate at first, trying to be perfect in everything you do, then feel hopeless and defeated when you realize it’s just not possible. And who will you cling to during this dark time? Yep, the very person who made you feel this way.
This is one of the most common techniques among manipulators, and also one of the most dangerous when it comes to your self-worth. Gaslighting is basically when someone denies the truth in order to make you feel crazy. So for example, your boyfriend calls you a bitch, you say, “Don’t ever call me a bitch,” and he says, “What are you talking about? I’d never say something that terrible.” The obvious reaction here is to call HIM crazy because he literally just called you a bitch, but a skilled manipulator has the ability to look and sound so incredulous that even the strongest people start to doubt their own reality. If he keeps doing this, you’ll run into a dilemma: believe the person who (supposedly) loves you more than anything, or believe yourself? When you’re constantly being told that your reality is fake, you start to believe that you’re crazy, making it that much easier for the narcissist you’re dating to tighten his hold on you.
“Exposing the truth”
Smear campaigns aren’t just for crooked politicians. As you start to prepare to leave a toxic relationship, your manipulative other might try to get a head start on turning everyone against you. Even though HE was the one who piled on the emotional abuse, he’ll make it seem like you were the abuser all along. You cheated on HIM, you isolated HIM from HIS friends, you called HIM horrible names. By the time you work up the courage to tell your mutual friends what happened, they’ll already have his side of the story, and you’ll look like the one trying to ruin his reputation. Once again, your support system has been ripped out from beneath you, just as the jerk planned.
Physical threats sometimes come up, but first, you’ll experience smaller threats. If you turn him down for sex because you’re not feeling up to it, he’ll heave a sigh and say that he’ll just have to look for it somewhere else if you can’t satisfy his needs. If you don’t quit your job to get away from the handsome new intern, he’ll have no choice but to put your nudes online to punish you. These guys will figure out what would hurt you the most and use it to get you to do whatever they want.
Apologizing for your feelings
He’s never sorry that he messed up — he’s sorry that you’re angry or sad or hurt about it. This is his way of saying he’s not even remotely remorseful of what he did and that you’re just too sensitive. A practiced manipulator will get away with this at first because he seems so damn sincere. He really IS sad that you’re so sad… even though the reason you’re sad is 100 percent his fault.
Playing the victim
Narcissists are practiced in turning situations around to work in their favor. So even though your boyfriend might have slept with another girl on vacation, he’ll try to find a way to make you beg for HIS forgiveness by the end of the conversation. After all, you’re the one who’s been so busy with work, and you’re the one who seemed like you were going to break up with him anyway, and you’re the one who always said you’d love him no matter what, right?
If he’s calling you “crazy” or “silly,” or if he tells you to “call him back when you decide to stop acting like a baby,” he’s trying to make you feel inferior to him. And if a guy can make you feel like you’re worth less than he is, he’s got you in the palm of his hand. Even though common sense tells us to avoid people who treat us like they’re above us, it can actually make us cling to our abuser more when we’re in a committed relationship. If he calls you a bad name once, don’t give him the opportunity to do it again.
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