Know when you’re being manipulated in a relationship, and what to do
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 21, 2023
Relationships should be built on trust, respect, and equality. However, there are times when we may find ourselves surrounded by manipulative people. Being aware of manipulation in relationships is crucial for maintaining our mental well-being. Let’s delve into what manipulation entails, how it can affect us, and what we can do to address it.
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Manipulation can be defined as the act of exerting undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation in order to gain power, control, and benefits at the expense of the victim. It stems from a fear-based response in individuals who lack self-trust and believe they need to control the behavior of those around them.
To identify manipulation, it’s essential to recognize the following signs of a safe and secure person:
- Emotionally healthy individuals respect your boundaries and personal autonomy, without dictating who you interact with or what to believe.
- They trust your reality and perspective, acknowledging that you are the best judge of your own experiences.
- Safe people maintain confidentiality and do not share vulnerable information you have confided in them.
- Tolerance and acceptance of different realities are characteristics of trustworthy individuals.
- Manipulation often goes hand in hand with emotional immaturity, whereas safe people exhibit a high level of tolerance, allowing you to be yourself even if they feel uncomfortable.
Identifying manipulation in relationships
Manipulative behavior can manifest in various ways within relationships. Here are some indicators to watch out for:
- Someone imposing restrictions on you that they do not adhere to themselves.
- When you make choices they disagree with, they recruit others to persuade you against them.
- Sharing your insecurities or personal disclosures with the intention of using them against you.
- Blaming you when you raise concerns or issues, positioning themselves as the sole authority on truth.
- Pressuring you into doing things you do not want to do or saying “no” to.
- A manipulative person invalidates your feelings and emotions, refusing to accept your reality.
- They force you to prove yourself or your commitment by engaging in activities that make you uncomfortable.
- They use your past against you, tarnishing your reputation.
The impact of manipulation on mental health
If left unaddressed, manipulation can have detrimental effects on our mental well-being. Chronic manipulation in close relationships can even mirror emotional abuse, leading to feelings of guilt and shame. Individuals who are subjected to manipulation may experience the following:
- Unhealthy coping patterns
- Constant efforts to please the manipulator
- Hiding their true feelings
- Prioritizing others’ needs over their own
- Difficulty trusting others
- Struggling to assert themselves or say no
In severe cases, manipulation can be so pervasive that it causes victims to question their own perception of reality.
Manipulation and mental health disorders
Manipulation often intertwines with personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). For individuals with BPD, manipulation may serve as a means of meeting their emotional needs or seeking validation, especially when they feel insecure or abandoned due to past experiences of abuse.
On the other hand, individuals with NPD may resort to manipulation as a way to maintain their relationships, as they struggle with forming close bonds naturally. Characteristics of narcissistic manipulation include shaming, blaming, playing the victim, and exerting control.
Manipulation in different types of relationships
Manipulation can impact various relationships, including romantic partnerships, marriages, parent-child relationships, and friendships. Let’s explore how manipulation manifests in each of these contexts:
1. Manipulation in love relationships
Manipulation can deteriorate the health of a relationship, leading to poor mental health for both parties involved or even the dissolution of the relationship. It is crucial to address manipulation in order to foster a healthy and supportive bond.
2. Manipulation in marriages
Manipulation within a marriage or partnership can make one partner feel bullied, isolated, or worthless. Often, individuals may recognize the manipulation but choose to downplay it or turn a blind eye. Manipulation in intimate relationships can take various forms, including aggression, guilt-tripping, selective affection, secret-keeping, and passive-aggressive behavior.
3. Manipulation in parenting
When parents manipulate their children, it can have long-lasting negative effects on their mental health. Children who are subjected to manipulation may experience guilt, depression, anxiety, and other related conditions. Moreover, children may learn manipulative behavior themselves if they observe it from their parents.
4. Manipulation in friendships
Manipulative friendships involve one person exploiting the other to fulfill their own needs at the expense of their friend’s well-being. Manipulative friends might use guilt or coercion to extract favors or only reach out to their friends when they need emotional support, neglecting their friends’ needs in return.
Dealing with manipulative people
It is essential to recognize and assert your fundamental human rights to combat manipulation effectively. Here are some strategies to help you deal with manipulative individuals:
- Maintain a healthy distance when you identify manipulative patterns. Remember, it is not your responsibility to save or change them.
- Avoid personalization and self-blame. Remind yourself that you are not the problem; you are being manipulated to feel inadequate. Stand up for your worth and rights.
- Shift the focus onto the manipulator by asking probing questions that challenge their behavior and expectations.
- Exercise leadership over the situation by buying yourself time to evaluate their requests. Say, “I’ll think about it” to distance yourself from their immediate influence.
- Learn to say no diplomatically but firmly. Practice assertiveness to establish boundaries and protect yourself.
By recognizing manipulation and taking proactive measures, you can safeguard your mental well-being and foster healthier relationships.
Keep in mind that healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and equality.