Manipulation: How to tell if it’s Happening to You


by Mike McKeown

Manipulation. It’s a word that is used a lot these days in everything from casual conversation to deep psychological issues. But how can you know if it’s happening to you? Let’s start by defining what manipulation is so that we can all be on the same page.

To manipulate means to influence or control someone to the advantage of another, usually through dishonest means. Have you ever had an experience with someone that felt weird after you left? Or maybe during? You might have felt like you were being pressured into doing something that you really weren’t thrilled with doing.  Or maybe you find yourself questioning your memory or perceptionb of an encounter? These are all warning signs that could indicate you’re being (or have been) manipulated.

So what are some red flags you should watch for? Here’s a list for you:

Questioning Yourself: Everyone knows that memory isn’t perfect. You might recall something one way and another person can recall the exact same incident in another. We all have unique perspectives. However, sometimes questioning yourself or a memory isn’t just simple forgetfulness or perspective issues. When a person is trying very hard to convince you that the way you remember things happening never happened that way at all, this is actually something called gaslighting. People who have dealt with gaslighting over a long period of time (0r even perhaps their entire lives) begin to have trust and self-confidence issues. I’ll go further into gaslighting in an upcoming article.

You’re Always Wrong:  We all mess up and do things wrong every now and then. It’s the nature of life.  It turns darker when it becomes a constant pattern of behavior.  If, in one (or maybe more) of your relationships, you are made to feel guilty all the time, then there’s an issue. Perhaps it’s a constant running dialogue of criticism. Nothing you do is right and you can’t ever attain the acceptance of someone else. You just always fall short. Maybe the other person is always upset or disappointed and you can’t every manage to please them no matter how hard you work.  After extended periods being exposed to this sort of behavior,  you may even find yourself apologizing for things you haven’t done wrong.  You could even feel like you are always walking on egg shells around this person. It’s even possible that you might feel scared or anxious because you feel like you’re being forced into doing something you don’t want to do. All of this happens for fear of disappointing the manipulator and it can be a very powerful motivator in your world.

Just a Little Favor – no really:  Manipulators are people who make you do what you don’t want to do and they always have a plan. They can often start out with a small favor they want from you. It might be nothing that even creates a blip on your radar. But then, after they praise you or thank you, it grows a little.  White lie here or a little more pushing there and slowly overtime they build to enormous asks until you find yourself doing things you would never do under normal circumstances.  Sometimes the opposite is true though.  Some manipulators could actually start with a big ask  knowing that you’re going to say no outright. Then they can come in with a smaller ask and show how easy they are to work with by compromising for you. This tactic increases the likelihood that you will say yes to the smaller ask even if it’s not something you would typically do.

Constant Criticism: Some people don’t always recognize this as it’s happening or if they’ve lived with it long term, they might have learned to adapt to it. Basically, the manipulator puts you down all the time. It could be anything from the clothes you’re wearing or the dinner you’ve prepared to some project you finished. And in the same way that they could have begun to ask for favors, this usually starts out small and begins to build until it’s constant bullying. Since most of us don’t have a very positive view of ourselves, it can be easy to believe them instead of something positive. As a result, people who deal with this constantly become extremely self- conscious. They begin to lose self confidence and the determination to stand up for themselves, which makes the manipulation even worse. Because of this, manipulators often use this first in order to assert their control for the long run.

This is why it’s important to understand how the people around you make you feel and what your feelings about them and yourself are.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you evaluate this in your own life.

We need to be very specific in choosing people to be around us who speak joy and encouragement to us daily. The rest of the world is hard enough. There’s always criticism to be found. But letting the critics have a key to the inner workings of your life will only put you under their control.  Understanding the feelings that others bring out in us can help protect against the toxic people who do not have our best interests in mind.

If you have someone in your world that is manipulating you, the next article will discuss tips that can help us get away from or out of that manipulative relationship.