"Am I Manipulative?": How To Tell If You're The Problem

Updated June 17, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

“The fact that you are asking yourself this shows that you care how your actions impact others. Asking for feedback from those close to you in your life can be helpful to understand the facts. Hopefully you can identify behaviors you would like to work on and continue to improve yourself.” - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

No one wants to think that they are the ones that are causing problems in a relationship. Often, there is a large amount of blaming and finger-pointing when unhappy situations arise. And while it's easier to think that it's someone else's fault, there comes a time when you must take a moment and look at yourself. It might be that others have accused you of being manipulative or that you've noticed some behaviors in yourself that you don't like. Either way, if you find yourself wondering, "Am I manipulative?", keep reading.

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Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors to get what you want?

What is manipulation?

Manipulation happens when you do something in a way that's usually sneaky or underhanded to get someone to do what you want. Manipulative behavior is a way to control the decisions and behavior of another person, sometimes affecting someone else's feelings as well. Those that are good at manipulating may do it in a way that goes undetected by other people. Manipulators often get what they want, causing those behaviors to continue. 

Am I manipulative?

If you are wondering if you're manipulative, there are a few emotional manipulation signs to watch for. The easiest way is to ask for the opinion of a trusted friend who isn't afraid to be honest with you. However, many friends struggle to be honest about things that could hurt your feelings because they don't want to damage the relationship. In this case, you might not get a straight answer, they may just the nice things about you instead. Another problem with asking a friend is that if you choose someone that might be manipulative themselves, they may take advantage of the situation.

So, here are some signs that you can look for yourself to determine if you have a manipulative personality. If you have some or most of them, you may want to seek help to change.

You always get your way

Do things always seem to go your way? If you disagree with someone, do you walk away getting what you want out of it? Do people seem to do what you want them to do?

This can be a sign that you are manipulating people. If you aren't aware that this is what you're doing, you may think that this is just what naturally happens. But the reality is that you may be behaving in a way that is manipulating others to do what you want to keep you happy.

You are persuasive

There are many ways to be persuasive without being manipulative, but this goes along with getting your way. If you know that you have a way of always persuading people to do what you want, you're manipulating them. You may not realize what you're doing. You may think this is how relationships work. On the other hand, you may know that you are working to persuade people to change their minds or their behavior and you're OK with that.

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You do for others so they will do for you

You've heard that it's better to give than to receive, but if you're a manipulative person, then you give so that you can receive. You are great at reading people to see what you need to do for them so they'll do what you want. Rarely do you do something for someone if there isn't something that you can get out of it.

You change your behavior to connect with people

There are a few different reasons why people change their behavior when they are with others. One of those reasons is that they might have low self-esteem. That's not what we're talking about when it comes to being manipulative. If you change the way you dress, talk, or act when around certain people to fit in with them and get them to do what you want, you're manipulating them. You are trying to make them think that you're just like them and on their side to connect with them. Then, you are more likely to convince them to do what you want to do.

You wear people down with arguments

Do you know how to talk circles around others? Depending on how you use this, it can be a sign of manipulation. For example, if they don't agree with you and you talk hard and fast at them until they aren't sure what's going on, it's manipulation. You probably don't even really care to convince them to believe whatever it is you're talking about; you want to wear them down and get them to agree with you.

You are the master of the guilt trip

Guilt trips are a very clear sign of manipulation. And some people are masters of guilt-tripping others. They know just the right things to say and do to get the other person to eventually feel so bad and guilty that they do what that person wants. This type of manipulation is often thought to happen within family units, especially involving the mother, though it can take place in any type of relationship.

It could be that you know the right things to say to make another person feel guilty. Or it could be that you do things like cry or give them the silent treatment, so they know that you're upset and will give in to you to make you stop.

You lie to get your way

Lying is a form of manipulation. You either lie to get away with something you did or lie to make someone do what you want them to. Neither of these is acceptable behavior. But, if you tend to manipulate others, you probably don't think twice about lying to them. You may even excuse it away or justify the lie. Or you may try to make it sound better by calling it a "white lie."

You confuse people on purpose

Another sign that you may manipulate others is by confusing them on purpose. You know that if you can talk them in circles, they won't know exactly what's happening, and if they are too insecure to admit it, you might be able to get them to agree to something that they didn't mean to.

How manipulation hurts relationships

Manipulation is damaging to any relationship. It doesn't matter if it's a family relationship, a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a working relationship. When you manipulate people, you are taking advantage of them. It can also be a form of abuse to others, especially when practicing emotional manipulation. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

While some people might not realize what you're doing, others will. And, as soon as they realize it, they may not want to continue developing a relationship with you. Or they may start to resent you and your relationship.

How to get help if you are the problem

If you recognize that you manipulate people, it may be time to become aware of your actions, conversations, and intentions. Changing behavior is not an easy task, but it's possible if you are determined. Talking to a therapist can be a necessary step for many people working on making this change. A licensed therapist can help you learn how to recognize and change your behaviors. They can also help you identify areas of your life that need help after you've behaved manipulatively. On the other hand, If you see signs that you're being manipulated, talk to your partner honestly. You may want to consider couples therapy if your relationship has been affected by manipulative behavior.

Here are some things that you might consider doing:

Work on repairing your relationships

If you realize that you have manipulated people that you are still in some form of a relationship with, then it's time to do some apologizing. Give them a sincere apology, letting them know that you don't like how you have acted in the past and are working on making improvements. You can ask them to be honest with you if they feel that you are manipulating them or their decisions in the future.

Remember that if you have hurt them through your actions in the past, they may not decide to forgive you. However, if you've apologized and are sincerely trying to make changes, you can't do anything else about it. All you can do is focus on your behavior. The chances are good that they will need to see that your behavior is changing before they trust what you say.

Learn to identify when you’re starting to manipulate others

It will help if you know what behaviors you typically use. You might need to stop yourself when you start blaming others or biting your tongue when you can feel yourself getting ready to tell a "white lie" to get your way.

Get your emotions and thoughts under control

If you're used to following your emotions on whatever rollercoaster they are on, it can be a hard cycle to break. However, that break may be necessary if you are going to learn how to change your behaviors. It may help to focus on the fact that you can learn how to control your thoughts. You don't have to allow your emotions to dictate what you do. Instead, you can learn how to choose your thoughts. Eventually, your emotions will follow your thoughts, and it will become easier and easier not to manipulate others and to have healthy relationships.

Getty/AnnaStills
Do you engage in unhealthy behaviors to get what you want?

Work through manipulative behavior with a nonjudgmental therapist

If you are struggling in this area, it may be time to make a change. The people in your life deserve better than for you to manipulate them to get your way. While that might seem like a good thing at first, you will be much healthier and happier when you learn how to have healthy interactions with others.

If your relationship has suffered because of your manipulative behavior, a licensed relationship therapist may be able to help you and your partner to rebuild. Consider working with a Regain therapist. Regain is an affordable, convenient online platform. You can get matched with a therapist trained to help with your specific issues. Sessions can happen anywhere you want (with an internet connection) any time you want.

Many people have turned to online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to work through issues such as manipulative behavior. In online CBT, negative thoughts and behaviors are processed and worked through, then replaced with more positive thoughts and behaviors. Online CBT can be even more effective than in-person CBT.

Takeaway

If you have behaviors you want to change, you can do it! You may find that your relationships are stronger once you've done the work, and you may just feel better about yourself.

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