This article was co-authored by Allison Broennimann, PhD. Dr. Allison Broennimann is a licensed Clinical Psychologist with a private practice based in the San Francisco Bay Area providing psychotherapy and neuropsychology services. With over a decade of experience, Dr. Broennimann specializes in in-depth psychotherapy to provide solution-focused treatments for anxiety, depression, relationship problems, grief, adjustment problems, traumatic stress, and phase-of-life transitions. And as part of her neuropsychology practice, she integrates depth psychotherapy and cognitive rehabilitation for those recovering after traumatic brain injury. Dr. Broennimann holds a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an MS and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University. She is licensed by the California Board of Psychology and is a member of the American Psychological Association.
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Are you losing yourself to an odd, and ultimately destructive, relationship? Do you find your old friends falling away, while family members remark on how you don't seem like yourself? Before you can regain your individuality and strength, you'll need to determine whether the relationship is taking something away, and, if so, you must put an end to the destructive cycle.
Method 1 of 2:Revealing Manipulative People
1Check off the symptoms of abusive or manipulative partners. X Expert Source Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW
Psychotherapist Expert Interview. 11 June 2020. Read over the following bullets. Answer honestly and without justifying your partner's behavior (don't say "Well, they're not like that ALL the time," or "It's only happened once or twice--" if it happened at all it's an issue!). Simply answer yes or no. Even 3-4 yeses mean it is time to get out and get with someone who treats you with the respect you deserve. Does your partner:
- Embarrass or make fun of you in front of your friends or family?
- Put down your accomplishments or discourage your goals?
- Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
- Use intimidation, guilt, or threats to gain compliance?
- Tell you what you can and can't wear?
- Tell you what you need to do with your hair?
- Tell you that you are nothing without them, or they are nothing without you?
- Treat you roughly without your consent - grab, push, pinch, shove or hit you?
- Call you several times a night or show up to make sure you are where you said you would be?
- Use drugs or alcohol as an excuse for saying hurtful things or abusing you?
- Blame you for how they feel or act?
- Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for?
- Make you feel like there "is no way out" of the relationship?
- Prevent you from doing things you want - like spending time with your friends or family?
- Try to keep you from leaving after a fight or leave you somewhere after a fight to "teach you a lesson"?
- Deliberately ignore you at times (not making eye contact, etc.).
Allison Broennimann, PhD
Clinical Psychologist Expert Interview. 29 December 2020.
2Keep your ear to the ground for troubling stories or rumors about your partner. Hearing multiple versions of the "same" story? Do their friends tell you things about your partner that you've never heard, or that your partner flat-out contradicted? Half-truths and selective memories often mean they're shaping the "truth" for you. This is a major red-flag for manipulation, and you best get to the bottom of it.
- When you're being controlled or manipulated, it's usually through half-truths or omissions, not outright lies. There's just enough weirdness to make you stop and think, but not quite enough to get you to re-evaluate the entire relationship. X Research source
- If this happens more than once, STOP and remind yourself that this isn't the first time you've had this reaction. Start analyzing discrepancies between what your spouse/significant other said and what your friends say. If there are a lot of them, call them out on them. If their reaction or answers don't satisfy, it is time to re-evaluate in a major way. X Research source
3Keep your friends close -- especially if they are trying to cut them out of the picture. Cutting you off from the friends and family helps her/him gain dominance over you. Then, because they are so terrible, they make you think that it's your decision to leave them. If they're constantly talking behind your friends' backs, making jokes about your family, or making a big scene every time you leave to be with pals, then screw that relationship and move on.
- Controlling people love to make tension and drama. They'll stir up the pot by pushing people, acting passive aggressive, and initiating conflict. Then, like "innocent" little children by a broken lamp, they'll put their hands up and blame it on your friends and family.
- It's much easier for them to control you when you've decided there is too much tension between your loved ones and your mate, and soon, you have no one but him/her to turn to.
4Show excessive jealousy or possessiveness the door. If your partner is protective of you, that's sweet. If they're bizarrely over-protective, it's scary and super annoying. Do they interrogate you if you aren't home exactly on time, or if you go out for any reason? Do they question you too intensely about why you were talking to another person? Does your partner tell you that you don't care about them if you spend time with a friend?
- A little jealousy is normal, even cute. But it shouldn't affect your daily relationships. Jealousy means they don't trust you. And if they don't trust you, they aren't worth dating.
5Walk out on double standards and can't-win situations. It's okay for your partner to be two hours late, but you get attacked if you're five minutes off schedule? It's "perfectly innocent" when they flirt but you're accused of infidelity for saying "Hey?" If you save money then you're being too stingy, if you spend it you're careless with money. No matter what you do, you are at fault -- and this kind of bullcrap can't stand. These are just games meant to screw with your head, and are common in controlling-manipulative relationships. You're not going to win, so don't play the game. Get out!
6Ignore their sweet, fake attempts to make nice. They do something that is totally unacceptable, then ask your forgiveness. They tell you they realize they were wrong, and promises to change. They seem utterly sincere and convincing — and this is what makes them such master manipulators. They're using you -- the compassionate, kind one -- and turning your kindness against you. Watch for the bad behavior to resume as soon as they believe they have you hooked and complacent again. Then watch as they apologize again, rinse, and repeat.
- At this point they may even tearfully say they want your help to change, particularly if you have let them know that you will not tolerate such things again. They may bring you lavish gifts and attempt to sweep you off your feet again. It's up to you whether to give them a second chance or not. If they betray your trust again, though, cut through the crap and cut them out of your life.
Method 2 of 2:Putting Yourself First
1Be honest with yourself, even though it is going to hurt. This is not going to be fun -- manipulative relationships never are. But you have to wade deep into your crappy feelings and personal worries or you're never going to understand things. Is this relationship healthy, or is it unhealthy? Try to be objective as you analyze how things have changed since this relationship began.
- Let's be honest: sex clouds your judgment. Remove sex from the equation immediately. It should never be the only reason you're with someone. It doesn't matter how hot they are.
2Think about how your partner makes you feel. You are the most important person in your own life, aren't you? Don't disregard your feelings as worthless, biased, or over reactionary. If you feel like crap in this relationship, then you're being treated like crap. End of story -- get out of there. This is especially true if you: X Trustworthy Source HelpGuide Nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free, evidence-based mental health and wellness resources. Go to source
- Feel scared of how your partner will act, or react.
- Feel responsible for your partner's feelings.
- Make excuses to other people for your partner’s behavior.
- Believe it's all your fault.
- Avoid anything that causes conflict or makes your partner angry.
- Feel like your partner is never happy with you.
- Always do what your partner wants you to do instead of what you want.
- Stay with your partner because you are afraid of what your partner would do if you broke up.
3Take a look at the rest of your relationships. Are your family relationships and friendships increasingly filled with tension every time your partner's name comes up, or with your partner when their names come up? Red flags should go up if everyone who cares about you is becoming worried or being pushed away by your partner.
- Does this person bring out your best or worst traits? You want to love yourself at all times -- because you're awesome. If you don't feel great, it's likely because their negative energy is sucking you down to their manipulative level.
- Be aware of the way they behave with your family and friends, especially if they antagonize them, argue with them, or talk crap about them constantly.
- If you decided it is just "easier" to ignore your friends and family, you've let the manipulating monster win. It's time to break this toxic relationship off.
4Ignore your own excuses for them -- you're just biased because you are in love. Falling head over heels isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you can't leave your head in the sand for too long. Your starry-eyed affection can make you willfully close your eyes to warning signals, even as friends and family tell you to wake up. You need to have some "you time" to find out what's what. Step aside from the relationship for a few days, however you can, and ask yourself:
- Do you find yourself apologizing or defending your significant other's behavior toward you? You shouldn't have to defend a relationship with someone -- they should be good enough for you that it is obvious why you're together.
- Are you hiding things from people? You should have privacy, of course, but you shouldn't be hiding a monster under the bed. The problem isn't keeping it a secret, it's that you are dating someone so terrible you have to keep a secret in the first place.
- Do you always do what they want, instead of you? You don't date someone because you want another boss in your life, do you? You have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to have your opinion respected -- forget about people who don't oblige.
- Have you lost touch with your old friends and family? No matter how in love you are, you should never feel like you're cut off from old pals because of your new flame. They're trying to isolate you because you're easier to control -- especially if they're always throwing shade on your friends and family.
5Stop hating yourself for loving someone; dump them ASAP. Realize that they're amazing — on the surface — and you shouldn't beat yourself up for being attracted to that. Manipulators are often an odd mix of intelligence and charm-- it's how they get so manipulative. The best thing to do is just drop them from your life. These people are shallow and unworthy of your time, and it is their fault, not yours. The only reason they are manipulating you is because you're better than them -- so rock it and get the heck out of their life.
- You have to acknowledge that they are using your love for them against you to keep you trapped in the relationship. You are not at fault for loving them. They are at fault for using your love as leverage.
Help Recognizing, Talking About, and Handling a Manipulative Relationship
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QuestionHow do I know if I'm in an unhealthy relationship?Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSWKelli Miller is a Psychotherapist, Author, and TV/radio host based in Los Angeles, California. Kelli is currently in private practice and specializes in individual and couples' relationships, depression, anxiety, sexuality, communication, parenting, and more. Kelli also facilitates groups for those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction as well as anger management groups. As an author, she received a Next Generation Indie Book Award for her book "Thriving with ADHD: A Workbook for Kids" and also wrote "Professor Kelli's Guide to Finding a Husband". Kelli was a host on LA Talk Radio, a relationship expert for The Examiner, and speaks globally. You can also see her work on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/kellibmiller, Instagram @kellimillertherapy, and her website: www.kellimillertherapy.com. She received her MSW (Masters of Social Work) from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Sociology/Health from the University of Florida.
PsychotherapistPsychotherapistExpert AnswerUnhealthy relationships may involve physical or emotional abuse, but there can also be more subtle signs. For example, if you're not able to communicate what you're feeling to your partner, that can be unhealthy. If you're constantly questioning your relationship, or you compare your relationship to other couples, that can be unhealthy as well.
If you're constantly questioning your relationship or comparing it to other couples, it might be unhealthy. X Expert Source Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW
Psychotherapist Expert Interview. 11 June 2020.
If the controlling person has ever threatened you, take that seriously and have a safety plan. Do not underestimate the lengths some people will go to keep you under their power. If you need help, call a help line or a shelter.
Don't be mean about it. You don't have to be like them to get away. Just say it's not a match and you don't intend to continue the relationship. Period. Don't try pointing out all of the above warning signs. This type of person won't recognize it him/herself. It's like trying to teach a pig to sing - it wastes your time and makes the pig bitter.
- Watch for stalking or menacing behaviors or threats, including threats to harm you or your supporters, or to commit suicide. Don't rely on your own judgment to determine whether threats are serious. Report them to the police immediately. This person is probably just difficult and not dangerous, but don't take any chances. If necessary, get a restraining order and call the cops each and every time it is violated.
- Compassion is not easily understood or accepted by these folks, and it just hurts you both more in the end, as it is likely to be used as a weapon against you. Cutting them off may seem cruel, but it ends the confrontations and forces them to move on or get help.
- Severely controlling and manipulative people are often produced by external factors such as abusive parents or clinical mental disorders. You can't hope to change or rescue such a person, as much as you may care for them; the best help you can give them is to (A) refuse to be their victim, and (B) direct them to professional who can help learn to stop controlling every aspect of a situation.
- ↑ Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW. Psychotherapist. Expert Interview. 11 June 2020.
- ↑ Allison Broennimann, PhD. Clinical Psychologist. Expert Interview. 29 December 2020.
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201510/14-signs-psychological-and-emotional-manipulation
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201407/how-recognize-and-handle-manipulative-relationships
- ↑ Allison Broennimann, PhD. Clinical Psychologist. Expert Interview. 29 December 2020.
- ↑ https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm/
- ↑ Kelli Miller, LCSW, MSW. Psychotherapist. Expert Interview. 11 June 2020.
About This Article
To recognize a manipulative or controlling relationship, check for the symptoms of an abusive partner. For example, your partner may be abusive if they embarrass you, put you down, tell you what to do, blame you for how they act, or grab you without your consent. Furthermore, controlling partners may display excessive jealousy or possessiveness, and try to hold you to a standard that they can't meet themselves. In some cases, you may also want to keep your ear to the ground for troubling stories or rumors about your partner, so you know if they're lying to you or manipulating other people, too. If you notice your partner displaying any of these signs, don't let them continue to mess with your head and drop them from your life, even if you still love them. For more advice, including how to tell if your relationship is making you unhappy, read on.
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"It helped me to understand how to realize and recognize manipulative people and how not to let it happen anymore. I have a right to my thoughts, opinions, emotions and they have no right to tell me if I'm right, wrong, how I should feel or anything. I have a right to be who I am, their approval is not needed. Either they love me for who I am or they don't, but I'm not their puppet."..." more