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Would you know if you were being manipulated? Do you know what to look for?

Manipulative people are experts are toxic language to make you feel bad about yourself. It’s important to discern what manipulation is and what are normal relationship challenges.

Transcript follows

This is going to be a special post. I’m going to share a segment from my other show and site, The Overwhelmed Brain because I did a lot of segments on emotional abuse, manipulation, deceptive communication, toxic language, toxic behavior, and toxic relationships.

One of the reasons I began this site, Love and Abuse, is to take what I know and put it in one place and also to give you a one-stop shop for everything because it’s kind of mixed in with The Overwhelmed Brain. I also want to help you. If you’ve gotten The M.E.A.N. Workbook or if you want to know more about toxic communication and poisonous behavior, now you don’t have to sort or sift through a lot of other subject matter that I address over at the other show.

I’m going to share this segment from a show I did back in 2017. It’s called “Are You With A Manipulative Person?” It’s a good segment to help you identify some of the signs and symptoms of being with a manipulative person. It’s not always about their behavior; a lot of it has to do with how you respond to their behavior because sometimes you can’t tell. Sometimes you can’t tell if their behavior is manipulative or not. Sometimes, you just have to go with how you feel at the end of a conversation with them.

When I first started The Overwhelmed Brain, I interviewed someone named Dr. Dorothy McCoy, who wrote the book, “The Manipulative Man.” Back then I wanted to interview her because I read her book and though, “Wow, of all the personality types that you describe in here; I fit about two or three of them.”

This was when I was married, and I wanted to heal from some of the stuff that was going on in my life. I had a lot of judgment issues and maybe some anger issues. I had things going on, and I couldn’t figure out why I would do the things I would do. I couldn’t figure out why I would judge my wife so harshly. Why was I so critical of her?

She had mentioned that she couldnĂ•t stand being around me when I was that way. I knew I had do something for myself. I started going to the bookstore and looking for books that might describe what I’m doing. And for some reason, the title, “The Manipulative Man,” caught my eye. I started flipping through it, and in it, she described all the personality types. I was thinking, “Oh, crap, this really kind of explains me in a lot of ways.” And fortunately, as far as I know, I wasn’t that narcissistic back then, but it wasn’t going well. I thought, “This is me, this isn’t me. Oh, well, if this is me, then I’ll just fix it, and I’ll still be right. And she’ll still be wrong.”

Fortunately, I didn’t have those characteristics where I would look at a self-help book and not do anything about it. Narcissistic people have a tendency to, when they’re called out on something, find reason or logic to talk their way out of them not being that way. If that makes sense.

One of the first subjects I want to address today is manipulative people. Having been a somewhat manipulative person myself, I have a background of what I used to do to manipulate the situation to get my way. That’s what manipulative people do; they want to get their way. They want to control situations, to get their way to meet their own needs without too much regard for anyone around them.

Some or a lot of manipulative people will seem actually very nice to the rest of the world. They will seem very friendly, generous, and accommodating. If you’re in a relationship with someone you believe is manipulative, or if you don’t know they’re manipulative, you might know after this segment. This might come as a surprise to you or not, but if you’re in a manipulative relationship, people on the outside will never see what you see in that person.

One signal or sign of a manipulative relationship is that you feel like there’s manipulation going on, but everyone outside of your relationship doesn’t see it. Every time you get in a conversation with a manipulative person, you end up feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty for something that you thought you were right about. You’re made to feel wrong about that, and everyone outside that relationship looks in and says, “I don’t see what you see in him or her. I don’t see this manipulation that you’re talking about.” That’s because they’re so crafty with the closest people in their life, and they know how to word things in such a way where they sound right, logically, and rationally, analytically correct, but they’re subtly invalidating you.

They’re invalidating your feelings, your emotions, they’re even invalidating your logic by explaining things in a way that makes them right and you wrong. This is done so that the manipulative person can keep control of the situation. When you’re in a relationship with a manipulative person, they can tend to be the nicest person while at the same time making you feel bad for being who you are. When you have any type of emotion that you’re looking for validation for, they can say words that are very subtle that invalidate your emotions. This is why you’re wrong, and let me tell you how you should think in this situation.

I have several clients that have manipulative boyfriends or husbands. I’ve been a manipulative person myself, though, not to the extreme that I’ve heard from some of my clients. I was seeing this over and over and over again.

And as I wrote at the beginning of the segment, I don’t know what happens with these subject matters. These topics come in waves. For a few months, it was all about infidelity. I kept receiving emails about infidelity and cheating. I thought, “What is going on out there?” Now I’m seeing over and over and over again these manipulative people. Just so you know, these could be the same people. Some manipulative people are cheaters, and some cheaters are manipulative people. Maybe they are one and the same sometimes, and maybe not.

What I am saying is that it just seems to come to me in waves. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of saying, “You need to write about this,” so this is why I’m writing about it in this segment today. When something is so prevalent, it has to be discussed for some reason. It’s almost like I’m being spiritually pushed to share this with you about what to look for.

If you’re in a relationship and you feel bad more times than you feel good. You feel guilty more times than you should. It just seems like whenever you’re in a conversation, or an argument, or a heated debate with a manipulative person or partner in your life, you just seem to walk away from it feeling bad, guilty, or wrong in some way. Even if you go in knowing that you’re 100% right, you still walk away from the conversation feeling wrong.

Manipulative people have probably been doing this all their lives. They learned how to tweak their communication and fine-tune it in such a way that they became highly adept at it. The reason you can’t win in a conversation with these people is because they are well trained. They have been self-educated all their life and they study people’s reactions when they are manipulative. I’m not saying it’s conscious and I’m not saying that they know they’re doing it.

Some do, some don’t, but most of them grew up in a household that caused them to respond to the world in a certain way or communicate with the world in a certain way. Then they end up in relationships, and you end up with people like who I used to be or who they are now, and they haven’t healed from whatever dysfunction they’ve developed to create this manipulative personality, which really is a defensive personality. It’s the kind of personality that has needs that need to be met, but they’re very selfish needs. They need to control the situation. Manipulative people need to control their environment. Because if they lose control, then they feel like that their life is chaos, and it won’t be happy.

Manipulation is their way to be happy by controlling other people. Imagine it for a second. It is kind of an ego trip. It’s a power trip. If you could control everyone’s behavior so that this person didn’t make you feel bad, or this person didn’t do things that were in any way against you. You were able to figure out a way to control everyone, but they didn’t know you were controlling them. That would be a power trip.

It’s fun to think about a fantasy land where everyone’s doing exactly everything you want, but most of us aren’t capable of doing that. Some people have found a way to communicate with the world, to coerce the world, and make the world give in to their demands without the world knowing that they’re doing it. Have you ever felt bad for not doing something that someone wanted you to do?

They made you feel bad for not doing it yet, at the same time you felt something was off, something was wrong, but you couldn’t pinpoint it. You couldn’t figure out what they were doing or what they said, exactly, to make you feel the way you felt. You knew that you were wrong, because you felt it and you knew that you felt guilty, because you didn’t do something that you know you should have done. They convinced you. They convinced you that you were wrong, that you should have done it this way, that you should have thought of it this way.

They’re master communicators and not in a good way. They’re masterful at making you submit to their ways. When you’re in a close relationship with someone like that, it is so hard to figure out what’s happening.

That’s because you get wrapped up in the communication aspect of it. You get wrapped up in what they say, you get triggered by what they say, and you get involved in what they say because you want to be able to trust them. You’re looking for little clues that they might say something that you can trust. You’re looking for tiny little references that show that maybe they are saying something supportive.

When you hear something that is supportive, and it’s followed up with something else that makes you feel guilty, you start to associate being loved and supported with being wrong. These mixed emotions come up in you, and you start to feel ashamed, guilty, and wrong for the things that you think about. There’s a whole whirlwind of good and bad feelings that are mixed in when you are with or in a relationship with a manipulative person.

What I want you to do, and why I’m conveying all this, is so you start to understand that when you know you’re right about something, and you get into a conversation with someone who always finds a way to turn it around and make you wrong, it’s because you’re listening to them.

That sounds a little strange, but when you listen to a master manipulator, when you listen to them, that is their goal. Because when we listen, we’re engaged. When you’re engaged, you’re taking things in. You’re internalizing them. You’re making them a reality in your mind. What happens is, as I talk and you listen, you create images and sounds and thoughts in your mind.

This is normal. This is how we communicate. We take what people say and we internalize it, we make pictures, sounds and thoughts. Then we have a response. This is a problem when it comes to manipulators, especially those you’ve been with for a long time. If you actually listen to them, internalize what they’re saying, and you know that in most conversations you have with them, you come out feeling bad or wrong.

It’s because you listened to them. And you believed what they were saying. What’s the solution? How do you not listen to someone? How do you sit there talking to them, if they are a master at making you feel bad just by the words they use? You have to separate yourself from what’s being said, and this is very, very tricky. I’ve been sucked into manipulative people’s words.

What they do is mix signals so that they will say something nice or do something nice. Then they mix in manipulation to paint the picture that they’re right and you’re not. That’s one example. I used to do that. I used to be able to justify anything to make me look right and the person that I was with feel wrong. I would say things that sounded completely rational, because I just got good at it. Then, the other person would feel like they were wrong.

I did end up figuring that out about myself, that I was able to really manipulate situations, but I’m one of the few that actually got out of that state, because it was harmful. When you have relationship after relationship that fails, you have to start looking at the common denominator and ask yourself, “What am I doing? What am I doing to cause this?” And that’s why I picked up the book and found something out about myself.

If you’re with a manipulative person, step one is to not take everything they say completely seriously, especially if you know that you feel bad from most conversations, and you feel wrong in most conversations. If you feel like you’re being made wrong a lot, then you’re with a manipulative person. I can’t just make a sweeping assumption there, but it’s very likely. If you do feel like you’re being made wrong more often than not, then you are likely with a manipulative person. If they’re not manipulative, then there’s something else going on.

You shouldn’t leave every conversation feeling wrong, unsupported, or talked down to. Whenever you have that bad feeling come up, then there’s some sort of control, invalidation, or manipulation going on. It’s some sort of influence going on that is going under your conscious radar.

You know what I’m saying, right? It’s sort of like when you express something that’s on your mind with someone, and they come back, instead of listening, saying, “Oh, oh, really, that’s how you feel? Oh, okay, well, I didn’t know that. Okay.” It sounds like they’re actually listening and not trying to tell you how to think or how to see it a different way where you feel bad about that, when you feel bad about what they’re saying. It invalidates who you are, what you believe, or how you think, then there may be some manipulation going on.

This is a very, very complex situation because 99 out of 100 times, you’re not going to be able to detect it until you start stepping out of actually listening and believing them. Again, that’s weird. If you can do it, if you can say to yourself, ” I don’t believe anything they say,” just for a day. If I didn’t believe what they said, what would it be like? I know that’s very hard to do. If you’re living with someone, you want to believe everything they say, but what’s happening is that you’re looking for clues that they might not be manipulating you.

You’re looking for clues that they might like having you around, they might appreciate you. You’re looking for some supportive words and comments. What they usually do is mix in with those supportive words and comments with subtle words that make them right and make you wrong.

Here’s something you can do to test if you’re with a manipulative person. First, you check for congruence. Congruence is asking yourself if their behavior matches what they say. Do they walk their talk? Do they do what they say they’re going to do? Do they always follow it up with a congruent behavior of some sort?

When I was married, I told my wife that I was going to get help, and that I absolutely agreed that I had something wrong with me. I went to the bookstore, and I was looking for something to help me, but I never actually took major steps. I never sought therapy myself while I was married. I sought that before my marriage, but not on particular issues that we talked about. I never really meant that I was going to take larger steps and spend the money and the time and the energy and talk to someone to help me through my challenges. I secretly believed that there was nothing wrong with me. That’s one test. Is their behavior congruent with their intentions and their words? You can only tell their intentions by their words, usually, but are they following through with what they say?

I’ve seen it over and over again. The manipulative person will say one thing, and not do anything and say one thing and do something else, and then justify that something else. They will say one thing and then do something else, and then justify that something else.

That’s another test. If there’s always justification, then you might have a manipulative person on your hands.

Another test is, do you feel guilty after conversations? If you feel guilty, then they are likely invalidating you in some way. Not really listening, and helping you to learn how to think. That sounds kind of weird, but they’re teaching you how to think in a way that supports them. They’re teaching you to give your power to them. That’s another good way to tell that you might know a manipulator.

Another test is to look at your past with this person. In the past, if they have said something, and then did something else, or if they made a promise, and they did something else and then had a justification for it. Does it feel like every time they say they’re going to do something and they don’t do it, what they did is reasonable, logical, and makes perfect sense. But it feels like it’s just another delay. If it doesn’t feel like a delay, look at it as such, because manipulative people are fantastic at stringing you along. They tell you exactly what you want to hear so they can delay what they don’t want to happen in their lives.

For example, if you’re in a romantic relationship, they might delay by telling you words that you want to hear. That will buy them more time, so that they don’t have to deal with the inevitable of you breaking up with them or getting a divorce. They say the perfect things that they know you want to hear so that you don’t leave or you don’t say something that they can’t defend. They do what they can to keep stringing you along. The best way to tell is just to look at your history with them. For me, my words, were always, “I’m working on it; I’m going to get help. I’m working on getting healed. I am researching and reaching out to people.”

I would always have some legitimate excuse that I’m working on it or that it’s in process. But I never took action. I took some action, but not a lot. That’s another way to tell if you’re with a manipulative person. They keep saying the right words that make you feel better, but they never take action, or it just feels like another delay tactic.

If it doesn’t feel like a delay tactic, look at it as such, because that’s typically what they are doing, especially if it’s the same subject that comes up over and over again. Along that same line, as they use up their resources, tools, and tactics on you, and you become more and more aware of their tactics, they’ll start to see that you’re aware, and they’ll dig deeper into their bag of tricks.

They’ll dig deeper into their tools and resources and come up with some contingency plans because their normal manipulation doesn’t work. Their contingency plans are typically deeper triggers in you. For example, if they know that them not taking out the garbage is a trigger for you, they’ll find ways to use it against you. As soon as you’re on to that, and you realize, “Oh, every time I do this, he mentions the garbage,” or she mentions the garbage, “they’re trying to trigger me.” Then you realize, ‘I know what you’re trying to do.’ They’re going to reach even deeper, and then talk about your bad or dysfunctional relationship with your father, or something else that is deeper and more meaningful to you. They’ll do it in such a way that you feel bad once again.

And that’s what they do. They keep finding deeper and deeper levels of how you can be made to feel bad, wrong or guilty, so that they can keep stringing you along to avoid what they don’t want to happen. It’s very crafty. They’re brilliant, really. They’re very brilliant at communication, and they probably make excellent salespeople.

It’s so hard for us non-manipulative people, or former manipulative people who don’t practice this all the time like they do, to figure out what they’re doing. All we have at our disposal is how we feel, and what we walk away with in the conversation. When you walk away feeling bad, guilty or ashamed, or other negative emotions, then you’re probably getting manipulated in some way.

Not in all cases, but if you’re feeling that way more often than not with people who are supposed to love, support, nurture and create a happy life with you, then there’s something else going on there. I want you to get out of the cycle of self-doubt and self-blame.

This is the final test that you can run. Ask yourself, “Do I have a lot of self-doubt? Do I have trouble trusting myself?” If you do, then you’re probably being manipulated. At one time, you probably did trust yourself until someone came along and told you that you were wrong. If you trust yourself, then you make decisions that feel empowered.

When you don’t trust yourself, you lose your power. Somebody else has it. The question is, “Who has your power?” Especially when you don’t know exactly how they’re doing it, it’s probably being manipulated out of you. Don’t give up your power; know that you have a right to think what you think. You have a right to be validated and listened to, and not talked out of a thought process that you came up with.

Yes, there are times where some people might be right, but it doesn’t matter. If you’re always made to feel wrong, then they lose a lot of credibility with you, and it’s hard to trust anything that they say. Pretty soon, the tables turn and you stop trusting what they say, because everything they say turns out to be some selfish need to keep control in their life.

The wizardry that they possess when they’re being manipulative is that they create an air of freedom in the relationship within the confines of their control. What I mean by that is, that you feel like you’re allowed to do anything you want. They make you feel like you’re free to do anything and think anything you want, yet they keep it under a bigger veil of control.

It’s sort of like being in a big open field. When you go beyond the field, there’s a sidewalk and more field. You feel like you’re so free here; there’s just all these fields. Then you walk a little further out to the perimeter and notice a giant iron fence with barbed wire at the top. You start to think, “Wait, I felt so free, and now there’s this gate.” Then you walk the entire perimeter and you notice that you are just in one giant gated area that you didn’t know was there, but has always kept you in control of some sort. That’s what it feels like to be in a manipulative relationship of any sort. It feels like you’re under some veiled control.

I wanted to get this off my chest and to let you know that if you’re with a manipulative person, or you think you might be being manipulated, you are probably not crazy. If you feel wrong more than right, if you feel guilty more than not, then you might be with a manipulative person. If you feel self-doubt more than not, make sure that that doubt is not being programmed into you from someone else.

Again, it’s very subtle. If you’ve been with the person a long time, you probably don’t even know it’s happening.

Here’s my disclaimer. It doesn’t mean the person you’re with is a manipulator; there might be other things going on.

From what I’ve seen, if you just feel bad more than you feel good, then it’s time to question things in your relationship and figure out why you feel that way and what you can do to change that. As always, the step one is just being aware that something exists in your life, so that you can start making decisions that are healthier for you.

Share this with someone who might benefit.

Paul Colaianni

Paul Colaianni is a Behavior and Relationship Coach, and the host of The Overwhelmed Brain and Love and Abuse podcasts.

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