How Do I Know It's Manipulation?


How Do I Know It's Manipulation?
What you do serves others' interests only.

How To Tell If Someone Is Manipulating You—Listen To Your feelings!

1) What are you doing and whose interest does it serve: yours or others?

Are you doing what you prefer not to do? Are you on a mission by doing some favor for your family members, friends, or acquaintances?

Can you answer "yes"? You may be a victim.

2) How do you feel when you're doing it?

If you can say, "Happy—I enjoy doing it," then, nope, you're not being manipulated.

  • "I would rather do my own business."
  • "Why did I undertake that?"
  • "What good is coming from this for me?"
  • "I am being taken advantage of."
  • "Other people do this for good money."

Yes to any of the above? You might be a victim.

3) Why did you decide to do it even though you did not want to?

A) "Because it's good (healthy, beneficial, pays off) for me in the long run."
Nope, you're not manipulated.

B) "Because otherwise s/he would think I am not good enough in some measure: not a good friend, neighbor, or coworker; morally inferior, weak, sick, controlling, or selfish. By avoiding these negative evaluations, I succumb and do what others expect me to do. In other words, you try to avoid experiencing guilt, shame, or anxiety.

Can you answer "yes" once again? You're probably being manipulated.

Formula of manipulation:

1: You make effort for others' interests, while
2: You feel rightful indignation because someone is taking advantage of you
3: You do it against your will and interest because you want to avoid being labeled negative. 
4: You feel guilty, ashamed, or worried by its implication

If I boil it down completely, the formula is:

1: Whose interest?
2: Your current feelings?
3: How did you feel when you complied?

More about Emotional Manipulation in: From Strings To Wings

1: Interest

If you do something that is in your interest and you sincerely want to do it, you do this from your will. Therefore, no manipulation is involved.
If you do something that you don't want to, it is not in your best interest, especially when you feel exploited. 

2: Present Feelings 

Your feelings give you the first set of clues. It might be hazy at the beginning but it says: It's not O.K. You might feel frustration, you might feel embarrassment, you might be angry. All of it comes with confusion, mostly because of the manipulator's mixed messages: "I do it for you!" or "You misunderstand my motives."

Your manipulator wants to discredit your negative feelings in order to keep you in his/her track: "You are too sensitive", "You are so selfish", or "You get angry so easily!" The goal of these interactions is making you believe that your feelings are not lacking any base.

Don't buy into it! Your feelings are your best friends! They are grounded to your physiology; you feel the adrenalin rush in your veins when you are scared: this makes you capable of fight or flight. You feel the serotonin-dopamine in your brain when you are happy. This encourages you to maintain that state. Although subjective, your emotions are very real. Believe them! If you feel it isn't okay, accept how you feel and realize the situation isn't okay for you. Figure out exactly what you feel and try to understand why you feel that way.

3: Understanding Why You Complied

Don't blame yourself! This is the well chosen motivation from the part of the manipulator. You wanted to avoid an even bigger threat: the terrifying emotions of guilt, shame, and anxiety. Examine the reason why you chose doing it in the first place. If the person who asked it implied a judgment that people who are not behaving in a certain way are "xyz" (subject to harsh judgment, even name calling), you probably tried to avoid being seen as a "xyz"—whatever that might be in your case.

This is the quintessence of manipulation: imposing guilt, shame, or anxiety and showing the way how to avoid it. The target of manipulation will act as s/he expected even if it's inconvenient in order to avoid the "big threat": feeling guilty, ashamed, or worried.

Listen to your feelings and accompany them with rational understanding: this is the first step in enabling manipulation!

More detail in my Mini Video Series about Emotional ManipulationSign up for free!

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This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.
Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Zita Fekete



I am more than happy to help figuring out the causes of relationship problems. I am especially devoted to support you to gain clarity and teach practical-behavioral tools if you are struggling with manipulative partner.

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Location: Mukilteo, WA

Credentials: MA Psychologist, Budapest, ABD PhD. Ethologist, Budapest, Licensed Mental Health Counselor WA

Specialty: Emotional Manipulation, Relationship Issues



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