Dating and Relationships: Is Your Friend, Partner, or Parent Manipulative?

Understanding if You're Being Manipulated in a Relationship

If you feel like the pressure’s on in your relationship with a parent, friend, or partner, you may be getting manipulated. Manipulation is a painful, confusing process, but you can break the cycle and find more freedom in your relationships.

With a clearer understanding of what manipulation looks and feels like and how a manipulator operates, it can be easier to avoid being taken advantage of and see the path forward.

What Does Manipulation Feel Like?

I’ve talked with a lot of people about manipulation over the years, and while it feels different based on the relationship you have with the person trying to manipulate you, a manipulator generally makes someone feel:

  • Like there are strings attached: When people are treated well by the person manipulating them, they’re often left feeling like they are obligated or expected to do something in return.
  • Fearful: People may be afraid for their safety around the person manipulating them. Or they may just feel a sense of dread when that person contacts them, fearing that they once again will be asked to do something they don’t want to do. 
  • Guilty: Guilt trips are one of the key strategies of a manipulative person.
  • Not only will they make you feel like you have to do things for them, but they’ll also make you feel bad if you say no.
  • Gaslighted: Gaslighting happens when people try to convince you that something you are really experiencing is “all in your head”. Manipulation and gaslighting go hand in hand because manipulators make it hard for us to trust our own instincts and judgment.

If these feelings dominate your relationship with your boyfriend, girlfriend, close friend, or parents, there may be manipulation at play.

Why Are People Manipulative?

People manipulate others sometimes for control, sometimes for power, and sometimes because their own emotional issues are unresolved.

For example, a person who is afraid or uncomfortable asking for what they want directly often resorts to manipulation as a way to get what they want in a way that they believe to be less scary or less harmful to the relationship. Of course, the truth is, they’re causing harm to the relationship by not being upfront about their needs.

Sometimes manipulation is just a bad habit (thanks to unhealthy boundaries) that needs to be talked through.

But talking about it may not be an option for you, depending on how safe you feel with that person. If there is cruelty mixed in with the manipulation you experience, be on your guard for other signs of abusive relationships.

How Can I Make Manipulation Stop?

If you feel safe enough around the person manipulating you to continue working on the relationship, there are a few things you can do to find freedom from their manipulative tactics.

  • Don’t respond right away. Manipulators can often make you feel like you have to respond to their requests immediately. Wait it out, and you may find that they move on or find another solution.
  • Say no when you don’t want to (or aren’t able to) step in. You may get pushback from this, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Simply saying “Sorry, I can’t make it today. I hope things work out for the best,” is a good way to be clear but kind.
  • Remember the truth of the matter: A manipulative person strives to make you feel like you are the only one who can help them. But they have other options. Realizing that they are responsible for their own feelings and actions can be one of the most powerful ways to distance yourself from a manipulative person.

Sometimes the nature of our relationship with a manipulative person makes it hard to know exactly how to keep our distance. In those times, I have to anchor myself in faith, even when I struggle to believe God can help me through tough times in a relationship, it’s often helpful for me to pray and meditate on the best ways to move forward for my emotional and spiritual well-being.

Even when you know how to break free from the cycle of manipulation, it can be hard to realize it. If you need extra support, we’re here for you. Talk to a HopeCoach at TheHopeLine if you need extra help healing after painful relationship struggles. We are here for you, and there is always hope.

Are you feeling stressed or strained whenever you’re around someone you care about? You could be in an unhealthy relationship. Find out here

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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