30+ Signs Someone Is Manipulating You (According to Experts)

No one wants to think that they’re being manipulated, but if you feel like something is just not right, it’s important to be aware of the signs.

Manipulation can be subtle and tricky to spot, but if you know what to look for, you can protect yourself from being taken advantage of.

According to experts, here are signs someone is manipulating you:

Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD

Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios

Certified Psychiatrist, ThePleasantMind

They are inconsistent with their sayings and behavior

Simply put, emotional manipulation is an overt or covert way of influencing or controlling others’ thought processes, emotions, and behavior. Manipulation occurs in all relationships but is most prominent in intimate ones such as family members, friends, partners, and spouses.

Emotional manipulation is directed toward power imbalance. This behavior may take various forms. Sometimes, it is seen overtly, while others are subtle and hidden.

The person who manipulates the victim is the manipulator. The obvious reason for this manipulation is to exercise power on the victim and force them to do what the manipulator wants. 

In psychology, manipulation refers to playing with someone’s feelings in such a way that the motive gets fulfilled on the spot. 

The manipulator plays several tricks and mind games to seize power and make the victim feel helpless and totally overtaken emotionally. 

The victim feels anxious and starts to question their self-identity as well. This can happen in gaslighting too often.

Related: 20+ Examples of Gaslighting 

When emotional manipulation happens, it may go unnoticed because it is done subtly. Thus, it can escape the eye of the victimized person initially unless the big damage to them is already done.

Learning the signs of emotional manipulation is crucial as it helps you to safeguard yourself from the perpetrator and their brutal intentions, even if they are someone from your close connections.

The various signs to look for are as follows:

  • Your friend or partner is manipulating you if you find they always gain from the bonding. The relationship is an unequal one. You are a scapegoat or standing at the receiving end.
  • You will know that manipulation operates in the relationship if there is a lot of blame game in the relationship.
  • When there is a lack of transparency in the relationship, lying or verbal abuse is too frequent, and you know you are manipulated.
  • If your partner tells you to follow their choices and forces you to make a choice you are uncomfortable with, you know it’s the art of manipulation.
  • Your relationship is not honest and seems to rely on fear and emotional treachery. There are trust issues, and you no longer feel at heart with the manipulator.
  • Your partner never listens to you or tries to ignore or avoid your wishes and wants. They always try to establish their authority. It’s a sign of power imbalance.
  • They are inconsistent with their sayings and behavior. Their actions are not the same as what they had promised you.
  • If they indirectly express anger and annoyance to you without reason, it could be a sign of manipulation. Covertly, they are trying to make you feel anxious and guilty.
  • They will make one request after another till you are tired. Big requests are subtle requests that force you to abide by their wishes.
  • They may stop contacting you, not receiving calls, or answering your messages. These subtle tactics are used to dominate the emotional space and make you feel powerless and completely broken.
  • Emotional manipulation is obvious when they try to shower too much affection in the beginning and then start humiliating you openly. 
  • They never acknowledge your feelings but rather try to highlight their own.
  • When they do not respect boundaries, it’s a sign of manipulation. They will transgress forcefully just to make you feel powerless.
  • They speak mean words but use it as a joke on you.
  • They will always demand recognition for their actions and behavior even when you know they were mean and harsh towards you. 
  • Frequently twists the real story and conveys an unreal one, totally disguising the real truth. They will never let you know the real facts.
  • Emotional manipulation is present if the other person tries to manipulate you using your feelings and insecurities. They will get busy highlighting your past faults and weak spots, if any.

Kasia Ciszewski, LPC, M.Ed.

Kasia Ciszewski

Licensed Professional Counselor and Brainspotting Pracitioner, MyCharlestonTherapist

They will make you question your emotions and intentionally point out your insecurities

Why does someone use manipulative tactics? Ultimately, it’s to gain control over a situation or relationship. This skill is often developed at a young age and later used when building relationships. 

A healthy relationship is based on mutual respect, understanding each other’s needs, and trust. 

If you don’t feel these things, then perhaps it’s time to consider if there’s a power struggle that’s present. If someone doesn’t feel like they’re in control or have the upper hand in a relationship, they may lean towards manipulative behaviors to regain control and shift that power dynamic back into their favor.

Related: How to Stop Being Manipulative

They will make you question your emotions with statements that intentionally point out your insecurities; they may try to make you feel guilty for your emotions. They may rely on ultimatums as a way to get what they want. 

These behaviors are often paired with the silent treatment, passive-aggressive statements, gaslighting, and excessive lying. The person feeling out of control will lean into these strategies until they feel like they’ve regained their sense of control. 

These behaviors are often overlooked and become stronger as the relationship becomes closer. The manipulator tends to get close quickly in an effort to make you feel special and comfortable in becoming vulnerable with them. 

This information can later be used to help the manipulator press your emotional buttons and try to control your behavior like a puppet. 

Related: 25+ Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner

Not all manipulators are bad people. It’s a skill developed at one point in their lives to get their needs met. They are not always aware that they are strategically planning their next moves, like in a chess game. 

To them, this seems to be a necessary skill for survival, which is a normal way of acting. Until they become self-aware of their manipulative ways, they may continue not to trust other people’s intentions and will continue to protect themselves by using manipulative tactics.

Keep yourself safe around someone like this by setting boundaries. Know that they’re playing a game but don’t participate. Do your best to manage yourself by not engaging in their false accusations or lies. Lean into the things that are true

Related: How to Deal With False Accusations in a Relationship

Hold yourself accountable and take responsibility for the things you believe you can change. Most importantly, learn not to feed into their passive-aggressive statements and inaccurate facts. 

Focus on the things you know, and don’t try to win. That’s what gets you off-course and off-topic. Stay on topic and try your best to trust your instincts. 

Christy Piper

Christy Piper

Coach and Speaker | Author, “Girl, You Deserve More

If those closest to you think the person is manipulating you, this is the strongest sign

Have you ever felt that someone is manipulating you, but you’re unsure how to tell? It’s extremely hard to tell when it’s happening to you at first. Skilled manipulators know how to win you over and reel you in slowly. 

This usually involves killing you with kindness. Manipulators use their charisma to get you to like them. Some may also use threats and force if they think they can’t get their way. This case is more obvious. But here, we’ll focus on the cases that are more difficult to decipher.

If someone is in a bad relationship or dealing with a known narcissist or toxic person, then expect manipulation. By this point, the person’s game is up. Once you know what they are, they have given up the cover of politeness. 

But it’s better if you can tell ahead of time. This way, you don’t sink in deeper with this person. The earlier you can tell, the easier it is to get out.

Setup for a situation for manipulation

They have a reason to want you to cooperate with them.

Common reasons are: They have to work with you, want to make money off you, or want you to be on their side for another reason.

It’s common that either you have power over them, or they have power over you. It’s not an even playing field. They want things in their best interest, not necessarily your best interest. This is why they decide to charm their way into your heart. To get you to do what they want.

Here are some tricks manipulators use to get their way with you

Mirroring

They’ll reflect all your beliefs, values, opinions, and anything important to you. You’ll feel like you’re exactly alike in many ways.

Home court advantage

They use their house, car, or office as the meeting place. This way, they are more at ease in their familiar environment. 

You are the one coming to them, and everything is new for you. This makes it more difficult to take in everything they’re saying and doing in. You’re more likely to feel a bit off balance.

Do favors for you

They may do little favors for you, such as buy your meals, make you lunch, or do other little things that make you feel special. This is how they get into your heart quicker.

The illusion of choice

They use language to make it seem like you have a choice and they’re not forcing it on you. These start with pleasant things at first. You get used to saying yes to this person. But as time goes on, you keep saying yes, even though the choices become more questionable.

Guilt-tripping

If you do things they don’t like or can’t do something they like, they will make it seem fine. But they’ll guilt trip you. This way, you usually end up doing what they want you to do.

Tells stories about how great they are

They may tell stories of how great they are and how others agree. Many of these stories may be greatly exaggerated or made up. But you can’t verify it.

Needs to know the dirt on you

They are trying to find out your secrets. That way, if you “betray” them, i.e., not do what they want, they can air your dirty laundry. Or at least threaten to. This is blackmail. 

But they will get you to try to trust them. This way, they can get you to tell them how to hurt or destroy you.

Harassment, but making it seem innocent

Many of them will continually call or text you to check in with you. It will be under the guise of being helpful, sweet, or concerned. But they want to stay top of mind and make sure other people’s voices don’t influence you.

Always watching you

They call or text you all the time because they want you to feel like they may pop up at any time. This makes it less likely that you’ll say negative things about them to others. You’ll feel like they’re keeping a close eye on you and that you always want to please them.

Tries to get you alone or isolated from others

They want to be your only friend or person who influences you. They won’t like others who care about you, whether they tell you this or not. Anyone who can point out that they are manipulating you is a threat to them.

Gives you preferential treatment, making others dislike you

If they treat you well in a group setting in front of others at work, this may make you feel special. But think about what your coworkers are thinking. They are probably seething with jealousy. 

Related: How to Deal With Jealous People

This preferential treatment isn’t making friends for you. If anything, it may make others turn against you.

Sexual shortcut overtures

They may try to seduce you or get you to want them sexually. They may pretend to have a crush on you, say sexual things, or touch you a lot. If you’re attracted to them, you’ll want to be around them all the time and trust their words.

Glimpses of incongruent behavior

Their words and behavior are different

They say one thing but do another. They make many promises or talk big, but you’ve never seen physical evidence of them actually doing those things.

Uses scary words to describe something nice they’re doing for you

They may use some words to describe something nice they’re doing for you, but it sounds shady. It confuses you, which creates even more mystery.

They’re not nice to others

They may talk softly and sweetly to you. But when others are around people they are overly familiar with, they may snap at or be mean to them. If you’ve always seen them act super nice to you, this will be shocking.

Others are scared of them

Even if you don’t see them snap at or be rude to someone firsthand, there may be other clues. 

If people are afraid of them or say they’re intimidating, yet you’ve never seen this side of them, this is a problem. Many manipulative people like it when others are afraid of them. But if they’re trying to sweet talk you and get inside your heart, they’ll treat you differently than others.

What do your friends, family, and mentors think?

If those closest to you think the person is manipulating you, this is the strongest sign. This is because they see it from the outside. When you’re on the inside, they’ve already put little hooks into your emotions. A lot can get past these hooks and your emotions. 

When you like a person, much of their manipulation can get past you.

Does it matter if those close to you are manipulators themselves? Those who are manipulators or have dealt with many manipulators probably have the keenest sense of this happening. Even if you don’t fully believe it yet, keep an open mind for these clues.

Rachel Davidson, MA, LPC-A

Rachel Davidson

Licensed Professional Counselor Associate, Malaty Therapy

When they try to convince you that your thoughts, feelings, and needs are not important

The thought of being manipulated is a scary one. We may ask ourselves if we would even know if it were happening. Many of us have found ourselves in situations where we felt something was off in one of our relationships but couldn’t put our finger on exactly what was going on. 

While manipulation is a broad topic, one way to determine whether someone might be manipulating you or to prevent future manipulation is to understand your needs in the relationship. Whether a friendship, a professional relationship or a romantic one, we all have needs. 

Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where the other person has more power for whatever reason. 

Maybe they are your boss or a parent, or perhaps the dynamic of your romantic relationship is, so one person is more powerful. Just because someone has more power does not mean your needs are unimportant. 

This is a crucial point to remember. Regardless of who you are and what your position is, you matter, and your needs are no less important than anyone else. Your needs should be met in your relationships, and if they are not being met, your relationships are not serving you.

So how do you know what your needs are? If you’re used to putting others before yourself, you may have lost touch with your preferences, desires, dreams, and basic needs. 

Taking some time to sit with yourself and identify what you value can help identify your needs. Ask yourself in what areas of your life you might benefit from support from others, whether you thrive within nature, benefit from creativity, or feel safe in the company of your family. 

When you know what you value, you understand what you prioritize in life. If your values and the way you live are not in-sync, you are not getting your needs met.

Related: What Are Core Values and How Do They Control My Life?

Set your boundaries

When you identify your needs, you can begin to set boundaries that protect them. Setting boundaries can be tough. It is often scary to advocate for yourself and your newly identified needs. 

Just know that those needs were likely always there, and by setting boundaries, you can work towards creating a life that supports them. When we set new boundaries, there is always a risk of getting pushback from others. 

Sometimes people will not like the boundaries we set and will try to convince us we are wrong, that our needs are not valid, or that what we are asking for is selfish or unfair. These are signs of manipulation.

Maintaining your boundaries

We are being manipulated when someone tries to convince us that our thoughts, feelings, and needs are unimportant, especially for their own benefit. 

For example, maybe you identified a need for financial security. Because of this, you set a boundary with your partner, stating that you plan to save $200 for each paycheck. 

Your partner may not like this new boundary and may put up a fight, making it difficult for you to stick with a boundary that helps you get your needs met. 

They may try to make you feel guilty, respond with anger, or use dishonesty to get their way. These are all manipulative behaviors that put their needs above your own and put them in a position of power over you. 

It isn’t easy, but you can take your power back by standing firm to the boundaries you set, even when they are not well-received. This may mean you have to remove yourself from an environment in which it is unsafe to do so. 

Maintaining your boundaries and advocating for your needs is not an easy task, but when you do these things, you are much more likely to notice behaviors meant to manipulate you and catch them early so you can take back your control.

Boone Christianson, LMFT

Boone Christianson

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Author, “101 Therapy Talks

There isn’t actually an objective measure of manipulation

Clients come in all the time accusing others of being manipulative. The accused believe they are just being assertive and trying to meet their needs.

Newsflash: They are both right.

At their root, setting boundaries and manipulation are exactly the same—they involve one person taking a certain action depending on the action of another.

However, what makes manipulation bad is the recipient’s perceived lack of info or input on the boundary and perceived inability to set a boundary in response or feel secure.

Most of the time, people aren’t trying to manipulate; they are just feeling highly insecure and are willing to threaten huge consequences to maintain what little security they have. 

A common example: “If you go out with your friends without checking in with me every hour, I’m going to leave/give the cold shoulder/relapse on my drug.” 

This insecure person is saying the relationship will take a hit if their partner doesn’t do what they want. They don’t want to manipulate; they just want to feel safe. 

If the partner’s sense of security depends on the relationship, then this is heavy leverage and will make the partner feel manipulated. If the partner has strong self-esteem and is secure, they may set a boundary by continuing to act as they will—the threat is likely empty, but if not, it’s not the end of the world.

An example of deliberate manipulation:If you don’t give me sexual favors, I’m going to fire you.” 

Those capable of this form of manipulation often have a personality disorder, typically NPD. Underlying this disorder is still a deep kind of insecurity, the need to be at the top of the food chain and be in control. 

However, this person knows he is putting someone in a bind in order to feel strong. He leverages something critical to his employee’s sense of safety (employment) to help him feel powerful.

An example where someone might feel manipulated from a healthy boundary: “I’ve noticed you coming in late most days. If that doesn’t end, we’ll have to let you go.”

If the employee’s sense of self-esteem is tied to this job, they may think, “My boss is manipulating me! She’s forcing me to do exactly what she wants, or she’s going to fire me!”

This boss may be setting a reasonable expectation, but the person feels manipulated.

So, there isn’t actually an objective measure of manipulation. And people with strong self-efficacy can’t be manipulated; their sense of well-being isn’t dependent on this job, or this relationship or whatever other blackmail can be conjured up.

You may feel manipulated if someone is holding a boundary with you that leverages something that feels essential (money, sex, the relationship, the job). You feel unable to act to appease that boundary. You feel forced that there are no other options.

The way to resist manipulation is by working on yourself. Find out why you are desperately afraid of losing whatever it is that might be leveraged. Process the associated emotions and traumas. 

If you aren’t afraid, you can’t be manipulated. You’ll likely cut off contact with people who would manipulate you and enter relationships where people don’t try to force you to appease their insecurity or power complexes.

Susan Trombetti

Susan Trombetti

CEO and Matchmaker, Exclusive Matchmaking

When someone says, “I would do it for you,” as they are demanding a massive ask from you, you are being manipulated. This request, they know is an outrageous request, but they would go to the ends of the earth for you as well as an awful manipulation.

There’s a huge difference between persuasion and manipulation. These are the signs you are being manipulated:

They are demanding and would tell you they would “do it for you”

When someone says, “I would do it for you,” as they are demanding a massive ask from you, you are being manipulated. They know this request is outrageous, but they would go to the ends of the earth for you as well as an awful manipulation. 

Don’t fall for it because they wouldn’t do it for you or anyone else for that matter, but they expect you to do it. 

They act like the victim and become overly dramatic

People that act like the victim are manipulators and possibly even abusers. Think of parental alienation. Sometimes one spouse in a divorce will act as of the other has done all of these terrible things against them and harmed them, causing the children to feel sorry for them and protect them. 

Related: How to Recognize and Overcome Victim Mentality

They manipulate the children against the other parent. It doesn’t even have to be this. Think of when your partner acts overly dramatic over something you said, and how could you? This is a manipulation tactic; don’t fall for it when it is used to get their way or frequently. 

They guilt-trip you

Guilt-tripping you is another common tactic and manipulation. You did so and so, or you made them sad, or they missed such and such because you did something or the other. 

Parents use this tactic sometimes to get their children to visit more. Don’t fall for this. If it feels like you are being controlled, and you are, back away and examine closely. 

They use the passive-aggressive style of communication

Passive aggressive people are manipulating as well. You have either been part of this dynamic or seen someone that is. You don’t know what you did wrong, but your partner is giving you the silent treatment, and you have to walk on eggshells.

To an extreme, this can also be a form of emotional abuse. Usually, it’s more of a basic type of manipulation used instead of good communication when that is lacking. 

Anyway, you have to guess what you did wrong and act apologetic for something vague until you correctly guess what the offense was, which can be minor or made up. 

You feel oppressed and less like yourself when you’re with them

When you feel oppressed, sometimes you are being manipulated. When in a relationship, this can happen over time and wreak havoc on your self-esteem and confidence. 

Related: How to Deal with Low Self Esteem in a Relationship?

In a relationship, we all try to make our partners happy by avoiding things that trigger them. When you are manipulated, though, you feel less and less like yourself. 

You start to feel everything is your fault, and you are nervous about setting the other partner off because they have manipulated you into a corner. They might be the insecure one that doesn’t like you with your friends, so they tell you they were cheated on. 

They might keep you from your family because they tell you they need you and are lonely. Things like this, and suddenly, you are vulnerable and able to be manipulated by them. 

Veronica Lichtenstein, LMHC

Veronica Lichtenstein

Counselor, Veronica Listens

We are manipulated because we have abandoned ourselves

I love when my clients reflect on this-especially when talking about an unstable relationship. Quite often, they spend more energy figuring out the other person rather than checking in with themselves. 

However, if they change how they look at it and stay within their own intentions, they will never feel manipulated because whatever they do, however they react, will be based on their own plan. This is empowerment! 

Manipulation connotes an unscrupulous method of getting another to do something they don’t want to do or aren’t aware they are doing. You can avoid this by always being aware of your own perspective and stop focusing on the other person’s. When you know where you are standing at all times, you will never feel lost. 

For example, if your child asks you for money and says it’s for a particular purchase, and you believe in that purchase, you give them money to support your belief. 

Taking it further, if that money is used for something else and you realize your child lied to you, it does not mean you were manipulated. It only means he lied. You still contributed to the situation motivated by your own intentions, which is to help purchase the desired product.  

Quite often, we get stuck in figuring out another’s intentions and take the focus off of ours. This sometimes leads to no action or fear of action because we seek clarity on another’s intentions. When we put our energy into this, we lose sight of our purpose. 

When you spend time figuring out another person’s motives, you lose power or perspective on your own. In that way, we are manipulated because we have abandoned ourselves. 

In anything we do in life, if we get something out of it and it serves us, we have not been manipulated. 

William Rivers

William Rivers

Founder and Chief Editor, Seniorstrong

They make you doubt who you are and even question reality

Manipulation is unfortunately quite common in society, whether subtly or more obviously. This could occur when you’re negotiating the price of a car, being assigned extra tasks by your boss, during family meetings, or arguing with your partner. 

Detecting the signs of someone manipulating you can prevent a lot of drama and stress.

The purpose of manipulation is to remain powerful, so manipulators will do whatever it takes to maintain your confusion and weakness. 

You often become confused by their peculiar apologies resulting in guilt. When someone is trying to ignore your needs to push their own agenda, they will need to keep you feeling conscious and guilty, so they don’t disappoint you. 

You may be made to feel guilty for setting a boundary by twisting your words or assigning negative traits to you. In messy arguments, the manipulator will likely come out on top—exactly how they want it.

According to relationship experts, the manipulator carries out their gaslighting this way, which makes the victim doubt who they are and even question reality. 

The manipulator gains control of the narrative by making you feel guilty, blaming you, and causing you to question what really happened. It is considered verbal abuse when someone gaslights you. 

Sameera Sullivan

Sameera Sullivan

Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers

They might twist your words or blame you for anything

Someone who wants to prioritize their needs over yours will make you feel bad for disappointing them. They might twist your words or blame you for anything to make you feel bad about setting a boundary.

They disregard your opinion

A manipulative individual may casually and subtly assume that you agree with what they say to get their way. 

It’s natural for us to project our preconceptions onto other people and circumstances. However, someone who wants to manipulate you will attempt to perplex you and claim that you said or did something to support their viewpoint.

Sai Blackbyrn

Sai Blackbyrn

CEO, CoachFoundation

They can cause you to question your perception of the world

Gaslighting is a common technique used by people who emotionally abuse others. You are being gaslighted if you start to doubt your own perceptions and judgments to the point where you give up your freedom of thought and action and let the manipulator take charge. 

Having them in your life is isolating

As it may be easier to see through the manipulation if you confide in other people you trust, a manipulator’s goal is to make you believe that you can trust them more than anybody else in your life. 

Isolating the victim is crucial for the abuser to continue their manipulative tactics since they don’t want the victim to figure out what’s going on.

They frequently provoke you

One can cut off a productive conversation and gain control by inciting an argument, either by exaggerating the current issue, bringing up old conflicts, or redefining the conflict as something else. 

To discredit your emotions, manipulators actively seek out debates, taking great pleasure in what they see to be their own wit and intelligence.

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