How to Tell if You’re a Manipulative Person—and What to Do to Change That
You probably don’t want to be thought of as a manipulative person. We might do it once in a while, of course—“just go out with your friends and leave me home alone, no, it’s fine.” Manipulation and passive-aggression go hand-in-hand. They’re ways of getting someone to do what you want without having to come out and ask. After all, asking is scary because someone could say no.
All of us know at least one truly manipulative person, and chances are, you probably can’t stand their behavior. But what if you’re the manipulative person in your friend group? Would you even know?
How manipulation harms relationships
Think about the last time your mother guilt-tripped you over the phone. “I’m getting old, Junior,” she sighed, “and someday I won’t be around anymore.” While those are facts, that’s not what she really means. You know the message is actually “I demand that you visit or call me more,” but if you call her out on that behavior, you’re liable to offend her. That’s manipulation in a nutshell. It demands something of a person, while making it difficult for them to say no.
When someone is consistently manipulative, it can strain any relationship. Over time, that resentment builds up until one person explodes or the relationship is completely severed. Roundabout communication does a lot of damage—but if you’re scared to ask for what you want, you might be acting manipulatively and not even realize it.
How to tell if you’re manipulative
- You can’t advocate for your own needs. This is the biggest indication that you might be manipulative. Everyone wants their needs met, but if you can’t be direct about them, you’ll probably find another way to get the message across.
- You make promises and fail to follow through. “If you see the movie I want to see, I’ll make you dinner,” you promise your best friend—but when the time to make dinner comes around, you’re too tired or you “forget.” This is manipulative behavior, and can make people feel quite betrayed.
- You lie a lot. It might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re stretching the truth, lying by omission or simply avoiding important facts, you’re manipulating others. The occasional white lie can be kind (no, those overalls don’t make you look like Elmer Fudd), but if you find yourself failing to tell the truth on a regular basis, it’s time to take a closer look at yourself.
- You love-bomb people. Love-bombing is when a person uses intense displays of affection to influence people. You might butter people up with compliments and presents right before you ask them to do a major favor. It won’t take long before they realize your affection comes with a price.
- You punish people when they don’t do what you want. What happens when someone doesn’t recognize your needs, or refuses to do what you’ve asked? Do you give them the silent treatment, yell, withdraw support or other punishments? That’s classic manipulative behavior: you’re teaching people that if they don’t do what you want, bad things will follow.
- You use guilt to get your way. Finally, guilt is an all-too-common manipulation. Just like Mom’s guilt trip above, there’s a big difference between expressing disappointment or sadness and purposely making someone feel bad if they don’t want to do something.
Banish those manipulative behaviors
If that list hit uncomfortably close to home, here’s the good news: being aware of your manipulative behaviors is the first step to getting rid of them for good. Once you recognize what you’re doing, you can stop yourself from doing it again.
There are a few different ways you can help the process along, too. If you have trouble speaking up for yourself, consider assertiveness training or therapy. In fact, therapy is a great way to shift from the “why aren’t they reading my mind?” mindset to “how can I take care of my needs in this moment?”
Another way to end manipulative behaviors is to ask a trusted friend to let you know when you’re acting manipulative. Pick someone who can gently point it out without judgement, and let you do the rest.
Ultimately, we’ve all engaged in manipulative behavior before, and we’ll probably do it again at least once in our lives. The key is to recognize when it becomes a pattern, so you can break the cycle.