7 Traits Manipulators Look For In Romantic Partners & How To Outgrow Them

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Woman clinging to her partner

While being the victim of emotional cruelty is never your fault, there are certain "signals" women often give that manipulative and even downright cruel people look for in partners. Often, they are the same traits that allow victims to forgive and overlook abusive behavior as they fall in love. They also deepen the impact and effects of trauma bonding.

We cannot (nor should we) feel obligated to change in order to protect ourselves from manipulative people, but if you keep attracting cruel or manipulative people, it might be a sign of areas in your life where you want to grow. 

RELATED: The Scientific Reason So Many Women Stay In Emotionally Abusive Relationships

Here are 7 traits & bad habits manipulators look for when choosing partners to target 

1. Others define your self-worth.

For too long, I allowed people to define my worth by how they treated me. I never fully defined what I was worth and what I was worthy of in terms of relationships and life in general for myself.

woman touching cheeks for self love and wellness.

Photo: PeopleImages.com - Yuri A via Shutterstock

2. You feel you have less to offer than others do.

If I’m not confident about myself and my abilities, why would that attract someone confident in themselves? It wouldn’t and it doesn’t. Take it from me. I may not be God’s gift to earth, but I sure don’t have to be to know that I have so much to offer and give. And I need to believe that if I am going to attract someone who knows and feels the same way.

3. You believe mistreatment in the past means that's what you deserve. 

I think this applies to many of us, as our past experiences tend to influence our lives, but we do have a say in how much they influence our future and how. I’ve allowed my previous relationship failures to carry over into relationships, and they always fail. Hmm, I wonder why!

If I allow the carryover effects from previous relationships into current relationships, they’re destined to fail, but if I use previous relationships as a lesson and tool for guidance, I’ll be more likely to have successful and meaningful relationships in life.

RELATED: Trauma Bonds ~ Understanding Exploitive Relationships

4. You depend on other people changing (when they show no signs of doing so). 

Once they are adults, people rarely change their behavior, especially negative behaviors such as lying. Lying behaviors are often related to more problematic personality traits, such as narcissism or substance abuse. Until someone decides or becomes aware that their behavior is wrong, rather than trying to excuse and justify lying or other behaviors, the cycle will continue.

If I continue thinking people will change on my account, I’ll never have a successful relationship in any aspect of my life. People don’t change for other people. It takes a level of self-awareness that, unfortunately, many people find hard to achieve.

5. You believe everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt (even when they didn't earn it). 

Yes, most people should be given the benefit of the doubt — once. But giving someone the benefit of the doubt repeatedly is problematic because there’s something wrong with someone if you find yourself needing to give them the benefit of the doubt over and over again. I didn’t learn that until recently, and now that I have, it’s a one-and-done kind of allowance.



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6. You think you don't deserve any better.

Even as a child, I didn’t feel like I deserved much. I felt like I was completely out of what society considered the “norm” because I was a tomboy who played and watched sports more than many of the guys I knew. Because I felt different than almost everyone around me, I felt less deserving. If you believe you deserve to be treated badly, people will treat you badly. If you believe you deserve to be treated with kindness, respect, and honesty, that’s what you'll attract.

7. Everything in your life is negative.

People have told me throughout my life that you attract people by the energy and vibe you put off. If I am feeling negative for some reason, or not feeling positive about myself, I am going to attract people who feel similarly to me — or worse.



Trauma bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse where intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change — keeping them stuck in the role of victim for longer than they might otherwise.

I know this firsthand because, after my own experiences in toxic, emotionally abusive relationships, I have finally come to accept that I am not the problem. Once I decided I would no longer tolerate being treated as less than human by cruel and mean people, I needed to address the core issue by asking myself, "Why am I attracting people with narcissistic personality traits in the first place?"

While the harm they cause is always the abuser's fault (not the victim's), if you're like me, you may be ready to stop sending these signals for a whole host of reasons — including getting free of the people who want to exploit us. Now that I’ve become aware of my role in past relationships, I can now embrace the changes I need to make to have a more healthy and positive life.

It’s not easy to face your faults in situations where you were the victim, but try not to think of them as faults. Rather, they are weaknesses that can be changed into strengths using courage to find where you could improve in your life.

RELATED: The Sad Truth About The Effects Of Emotional Abuse On Your Brain

Brittney Lindstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. She writes about relationships, psychology, and personality topics.