I have one friend who I’ve really maintained a level of closeness with since the very ripe age of 10. We got through the awkward high school years together and even managed to pay one another monthly visits during college. Now we’re figuring out how to maneuver through real adult life together: that means jobs, independence, and—of course—boys. Recently a boy we sorta grew up with started showing her some attention. Her reaction? Excitement and giddiness. Mine? Worry and deflation. I knew this guy a little better than she did. A few years back, I stood on the sidelines and watched as he manipulated girlfriend after girlfriend. He cheated on each and every one, lived an unhealthy, alcohol lifestyle, and convinced his victims that it was all grand and normal. But even after receiving this insight, my friend insisted it would be okay.

I was a victim myself of another’s manipulation. Only nobody knew to offer me a warning. So, I dived into the deep-end and didn’t find my way to the surface for a few years. I endured a manipulative relationship, one that cost me much of my happiness and self-value. I was tricked into canceling plans with my friends, covering many of his expenses, and thinking I was a bad girlfriend as well as a bad person. It was an experience that taught me a lot, but nonetheless, one I would not wish on another—especially my best friend. But I don’t control her life or anybody else’s. So all I can do is share my experience and hope that it helps someone identify and combat another’s manipulative ways.

Signs of Manipulation

Manipulation isn’t typically easy to identify. It’s sneaky and disguises itself as love, care, concern. But thankfully, there are signs of manipulation you can look out for, in order to more easily identify it.

  • The individual typically insists on meeting at their place or on their terms. A manipulator prefers to interact in a space he or she can control. This may be their home, their car, or other familiar spaces.
  • The individual blames the victim for their feelings. Once they upset an individual, they insist that it’s the victim’s fault—it was just a joke, they’re making a big deal out of nothing, for example. My ex used to do just this. He would drive me to tears and then withdraw and tell me I was being ridiculous, that he didn’t actually mean it.
  • The individual distorts the truth. Manipulators make their victims feel dumb by twisting the truth in their favor. After finding out that my ex cheated on me, he manipulated the facts and made me feel stupid for blaming him.
  • The individual raises their voice and otherwise displays negative emotions. Some people raise their voice during discussions in attempt to get what they want. This aggression is often accompanied by strong body language. Our fights played out pretty much the same way every time. We’d argue back and forth and then he’d start laughing, shaking his head, and give me a very demeaning look.
  • The individual regularly uses the silent treatment. They purposely ignore your calls and text messages. Their intentions are to make you sweat and plant uneasiness in your mind. I recall a night where my ex and I got into a very intense fight. The next day he completely ignored me and refused to answer his phone. It resulted in my becoming extremely anxious and worried. He certainly gained power through this practice.
  • The individual makes a habit out of judging and criticizing you. Basically, the manipulator bullies you. They make you feel inadequate through ridicule. While my ex didn’t typically engage in this kind of behavior, I can remember times at which he criticized my thought process or approach to something, making me feel inaccurately inadequate.

I genuinely don’t think my ex knew that he was manipulative. But once he started engaging in these manipulative behaviors, he became used to having control and continued these practices. Only many months after our breakup did he finally realize the way he treated me wasn’t okay. But he never quite made the connection between his actions and manipulation.

Combating Manipulation

In my case, I completely removed myself from the manipulative person and relationship. It was the only solution I saw fit and may be the right solution for you too. However, there are other ways to deal with manipulative people, such as one’s we can’t so easily get rid of.

  • Stand your ground. Manipulators will continue to manipulate as long as you permit them to. Instead, know that it’s okay to say no and prioritize your wellbeing.
  • Set boundaries. Manipulative individuals may seek emotional or even financial help from you. Understand that you are not in charge of meeting this person’s every need and assert that.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Remember, manipulators will try to make you feel inadequate. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. In fact, they’re the problem, not you.
  • Listen to your gut. Do you feel like you’re being bullied? Pressured? Controlled? Listen to your gut and let it guide your next actions, which may involve removing yourself from the situation.
  • Shift the focus from you to the manipulator. Turn the tables on them. Ask them if it seems fair, ask them to consider how they would feel in your shoes. This will probably catch the manipulator by surprise and may cause them to back down.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to your manipulator. Whether that means practicing the above counter-tactics or ridding yourself of them completely. Because nobody deserves to be subjected to such abusive behavior—even myself, which I learned the hard way. Stay educated, remain aware, and prioritize your wellbeing before anything else.