6 Signs You're Being Set Up And What To Do About It

Learn how to recognize the manipulative tactics of someone who is trying to set you up.

couple looking at each other suspicious of being set up Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

If you're like most people, when you get a nudgng feeling you are being set up, you don’t want to believe it.

You believe in the goodness of people. Generally, you can. Sometimes, though, it's true. You are being set up to be seduced, exploited, and/or totally discounted. That’s when you have to wake up and smell the herbal tea!

If you don’t notice you’re being set up, you’re going to attract more similar situations at the hands of master manipulators who hijack relationships for their own purposes.


These people scavenge for power and control. Some are about as subtle as a train wreck. Others systematically wear and tear you down in small, nasty under-handed ways.

RELATED: 10 Undeniable Signs Of A Manipulative Man

You want to believe if only you are kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more patient, and less demanding, they will change. They won’t… because they can’t! They have a need to dominate.


6 Signs You're Being Set Up By a Manipulator

1. You're uncomfortable around them.

Your gut tells you to avoid them. You duck when you see them coming, beg off family events to sidestep a possible ambush, and try to keep any conversation with them on neutral ground. This is a clear sign that something is wrong.

2. You feel annoyed, resentful, and "had" when you have a conversation with them.

For example, you can’t avoid talking with them, so you attempt to agree with them. As soon as you do, they do an about face and tell you why you’re wrong. Gotcha! They are conditioning to be set up.

3. You feel demeaned, degraded, and in need of a shower when you walk away from an encounter with them.

No matter how you duck, weave, and bob, they find a way to make you wrong and point out that everything is your fault. They must be right! You know they are not right, but you’re tempted to believe them, anyway. Often you believe them because it is easier.

This is the gaslight at the end of the set up tunnel.


4. You second-guess yourself whenever you're around them.

"Could I be mistaken? Don’t I see things clearly? What was I thinking?"

They like that power, because they can make you believe everything is your fault. Manipulating your self-esteem and self-confidence is a big part of their M.O. You give them power over you in that moment they relish in it. You didn’t intend to give them power, but the subtlety of their manipulation carried the day.

Another "Gotcha!" When you don't trust yourself anymore, their set up is engaged.

5. You rationalize, justify, and make excuses for the things they do, even when you're really stretching to do so.

You are uncomfortable, but not willing to confront the behaviors. You may be in denial.


Seeing what’s actually going on would make you responsible for taking action, and you’re not willing, or ready to do that. Maybe, you don’t even know where to start!

This is the fruit of the set up, they have you right where they need you now.

6. You’re anxious, and you’re not sure what’s keeping you on edge.

These difficult people get under your skin and irritate you, even when they are not around. In fact, it can last after they have died, especially if they were your parent.

If you can see those signs in yourself now, that’s the first big step to getting yourself unset-up! The next action is knowing your best next steps.

RELATED: The 6 Worst Types Of Manipulators (And How To Deal With Each Of 'Em)


What to do if you're being set up

That's not a simple question. You have little control over another person.

Fortunately, you have ultimate control over yourself. Start there.

Oops! That’s not likely what you wanted to hear. You’d prefer a quick fix, a way to change the other person, I know. Unfortunately, that’s a non-starter.

First, acknowledge that you cannot do anything to change the other person. As I mentioned earlier, much as you might say to yourself: "If only I were more patient, loving, kind, compassionate, and understanding…they would change." Or: "I have to try to ask for less, complain less, nag less, or expect less."

Nothing changes. You cannot change another person. That’s not possible. Another person can change if they see a need to change. Master manipulators will sometimes change — for a short while — if you threaten to leave them, but they go right back to their puppeteer ways when the dust settles. Notice that.


These toxic people have repeated traits, patterns, and cycles. Start to observe their behaviors rather than feel victimized by them. Step out of your feelings, and get into your head.

What do they want? Power over you. It’s that simple.

You are either a help or a hindrance to getting their way. See that. And, if they think that you’re in their way, watch out!

People who try to set you up don’t care about you. They care about themselves and getting what they want. They don’t care what they have to do or say to get it. They will lie, cheat, exploit, seduce, or charm their prey to feed their need for power. Yes, see it clearly.

The work begins with you. A master manipulator robs you of self-confidence and causes you to doubt yourself. If that person was your parent, you were robbed from the cradle onwards. When you know that is in your background, start there.


All your relationships will have been affected by this early conditioning. When you really get right down to your toes, you’ll be excited and encouraged to move forward with more exploration.

RELATED: 20 Clear Signs You're The Child Of Toxic Parents

4 Steps You Can Take to Stop Getting Set Up

1. Stop wanting their approval.

You — like everyone else on the planet — want your mother (or father or partner) to like you, to love you, and to approve of you.

A toxic mother believes she has the ultimate power over you when she withholds that approval. She doesn’t really have love to give because she, unfortunately, was not given it. But, she refuses to encourage you by telling you when you do things well.


She may even give you a reason, like my mom did, "I don’t want you to get a swelled head."

How covert and backward is that? Once I realized that was the game, and that I was hooked into playing it. I quit. I advise you to do the same thing.

So many things about my mother were difficult, nasty, rude, racist, and mean. I didn’t approve of her behavior, even though I wanted her approval. She withheld it, as manipulators do.

The biggest learning for me was: why would I want the approval of someone of whom I don’t approve? That was a big moment, and a giant step towards greater emotional well-being.

Stop looking for the approval of people whom you don’t approve and may not even like. You may be afraid of them, and still be looking for their approval. As Bob Newhart said, "Stop that!"


2. Avoid their drama.

Manipulators like to keep you uncertain. They are masters of ambiguity. They create chaos. And, everyone else is always wrong and at fault. There is always drama around toxic people because they are constantly creating it.

They love to tell the "ain’t it awful" and "he done me wrong" stories. Sometimes, when it suits their desired result, they are the victim. Other times, they are the perpetrator. Others, the savior of situations! They want to keep you catering to their drama.

Toxic people will set you up to fail with other people. Like puppeteers, they pull strings behind the scenes to set up further drama, talking behind your back and telling tales that are not true. Stir things up so they can be in the center of it, that’s their play.

Don’t listen to them anymore. Don’t get sucked into their views on things. Be disinterested in their stories. Respond with neutral remarks like "That’s interesting" or "Love to listen, but have to run." You have that right. Exercise it!


3. Stop trying to live up to other people's expectations.

Manipulators count on you wanting them to like you. Or, at least, trying to please them. That’s a set-up right there.

If your parent was manipulative, they taught you that there was danger in not paying attention to their whims, suggestions, and demands. You learned to be hyper-vigilant so you would not land on the wrong end of their anger.

You were little and knew you needed to be taken care of. You learned to dance to their tune to survive. You do not have to do that anymore.

Toxic people choose you because they think you can be set up. Some, like a challenge. They’ll choose a strong person and look for their vulnerabilities to exploit. Manipulation is nasty. No matter how attractive the package looks on the outside, once you see the tricks, the attraction fades away in the shadow of being set up.


Whether you were raised in a toxic environment, or you find yourself in situations where you dread seeing particular people, know you are not in this world to live up to the expectations of others once you are an adult. Healthy people live up to their own expectations of themselves.

Stop caring what toxic people in your life need, want, or approve of. You don’t have to care, and when you do, you risk being further set up to fail. Have the strength to walk away and create distance, physically and emotionally.

4. Stop letting your boundaries slip.

Yes, if you were raised by toxic people, your boundaries are likely in need of strengthening. You need some practice. You don’t like it when they walk over you, but you haven’t yet made a stand for yourself. Do it now.


If you’re new at expressing boundaries, simply say: "I do not feel comfortable/respected/safe when ____ happens. What works for me is ____________."

Don’t talk about the person. Just speak about the behavior. That’s a great start.

Healthy people have healthy boundaries. That means that they can speak up and say what is OK and what is not. They expect to be respected, and when their boundaries are repeatedly walked over, they distance themselves from the person. You have that right.

Boundaries expressed let people know who you are, what you want, and how you feel when certain things happen. If you let them slip, you’re telling someone what you want doesn’t matter. It's not true! That’s why it is so important to know your own boundaries.


There will always be people who want to control you and set you up. Whether or not they are successful, manipulating you into giving them power over you, is entirely up to you.

If you clearly see the signs you're being set up, you need to take action to make them stop.

You’re not here to live up to the expectations of other people now that you’re an adult. Take your place. Learn to be assertive. Give yourself permission.

Folks who need power over you, do not love or respect you. If they did, they would be equally as interested in you as you are in them. Mutuality is a hallmark of a healthy relationship.

Stop, look, and listen. If you now realize that the anxious dread you feel whenever that toxic person is near is arising from the fear of being set up to fail, you are on your way to freedom. It’s not easy, but it’s do-able. Go for it!


RELATED: 10 Subtle Signs A Master Manipulator Is Trying To Control You

Dr. Rhoberta Shaler helps the partners, exes, and adult children of relentlessly difficult people to stop the crazy-making and save their sanity.