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If you’ve ever felt off in a close relationship or casual encounter—like you’re being pressured, controlled, or even questioning yourself more than usual—it could be manipulation.
“Manipulation is an emotionally unhealthy psychological strategy used by people who are incapable of directly asking for what they want and need,” says Sharie Stines, a therapist in California who specializes in abuse and toxic relationships. “Those who try to manipulate others are attempting to control others.”
Manipulation can take many forms, ranging from a pushy salesperson to an emotionally abusive partner—and some behaviors are more obvious than others.
Experts explain the warning signs that you may be a victim of manipulation.
You are filled with anxiety, obligation, and guilt.
According to Stines, manipulative behavior is motivated by three factors: fear, obligation, and guilt. “When you are manipulated by someone, you are psychologically coerced into doing something you probably don’t want to do,” she explains. You may be afraid to do it, obligated to do it, or feel guilty for not doing it.
She identifies two types of manipulators: “the bully” and “the victim.” She claims that a bully makes you feel afraid and may use aggression, threats, and intimidation to control you. The victim causes the victim to feel guilty. “The victim usually appears to be in pain,” Stine says. However, while manipulators frequently portray themselves as victims, the reality is that they are the ones who have caused the problem, she adds. Also, you must try to play this What Male Manipulator Are You quiz.
According to Stines, people who are targeted by manipulators who play the victim frequently try to help the manipulator in order to stop feeling guilty. Targets of this type of manipulation frequently feel obligated to assist the victim by doing whatever they can to alleviate their suffering.
What Male Manipulator Are You?
You’re doubting yourself.
The term “gaslighting” refers to manipulation that causes people to doubt themselves, their reality, memory, or thoughts. According to Stines, a manipulative person may twist what you say to make it about them, hijack the conversation, or make you feel like you’ve done something wrong when you’re not sure you have.
According to Stines, if you’re being gaslighted, you may feel a false sense of guilt or defensiveness—as if you’ve failed completely or must have done something wrong when, in reality, you haven’t.
“Manipulators are to blame,” she claims. “They refuse to accept responsibility.”
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There are conditions attached.
“If a favor isn’t done for you just because, it’s not ‘for fun and free,'” Stines says. “If there are strings attached, manipulation is taking place.”
One type of manipulator is referred to as ‘Mr. Nice Guy,’ according to Stines. This person may be helpful and do many favors for others. “It’s very confusing because you’re not aware of anything negative happening,” she says. “But, on the other hand, every good deed comes with a catch—an expectation.” If you don’t meet the manipulator’s expectations, you’ll be painted as ungrateful, according to Stines.
According to Jay Olson, a doctoral researcher at McGill University who studies manipulation, one of the most common forms of manipulation is exploiting the norms and expectations of reciprocity.
A salesperson, for example, may make it appear as if you should buy the product because he or she offered you a discount. In a relationship, your partner may buy you flowers and then ask for something in return. “These tactics work because they exploit social norms,” Olson explains. “It’s natural to want to return favors, but even when someone does one insincerely, we often feel obligated to reciprocate and comply.”