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Manipulative Behavior: Why Is It Toxic & Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you suspect your partner is using manipulative behavior on you, it’s time to start thinking about leaving. Nothing good every came from manipulation. 

manipulative behavior

Some people can’t handle not getting their own way. They want everything how they want it and that’s the end of the story. If you attempt to do something differently, or perhaps even have a different opinion, they don’t like it. Then, to try and pull you back “in line” they start to use manipulative behavior.

The bottom line is that nobody should ever manipulate anyone with real intent.

For sure, we all do it occasionally but only in a very small way. We don’t mean anything by it. Perhaps you want to go to a particular bar and your friend wants to go to a different one. So, to get her to do what you want, you persuade her by saying you’ll buy her a cocktail.

That’s a good example of lightweight manipulation that doesn’t mean to hurt anyone. But, some manipulation is pretty heavyweight and can have drastic consequences.

Within a close relationship, manipulation shouldn’t exist. If you think it does, it’s time to start seriously questioning your role in that union.

[Read: Psychological manipulation – 16 signs and tactics real manipulators use]

What exactly is manipulative behavior?

Manipulation is very hard to explain without actually using the word. You’re basically tricking someone into doing what you want. But, the way in which you do it is key. When you manipulate someone, you do it in an underhanded way. It’s subtle and in the worst cases, it plays on their fears and insecurities.

To give you a clear example of manipulation, let’s think about narcissists.

A narcissist is a master in manipulative behavior, it’s just what they do. They might want you to stop seeing your friend because they’re pretty sure that this person is going to pull you away from them. Rather than just telling you that they don’t like your friend, *because they know that won’t work* they add some manipulation to it instead. They tell you that your friend has been talking about you behind your back. Yes, they’re lying but lies and manipulation often work hand in hand. [Read: 15 signs of manipulation in a relationship you should never ignore]

They might say that they heard your friend telling someone that they think you’re weak and that you can never make decisions on your own.

They’re likely to choose something which you’re pretty insecure about. So, if you’ve always been insecure about your ability to make strong decisions, they’ll choose that and twist it.

Then, you’ll probably argue with your friend and stop seeing them for a while. The narcissist has got what they want and they manipulated you into doing exactly what they needed you to do. [Read: Manipulative people – How to spot them and stop playing the victim]

Why is manipulative behavior so toxic?

It’s not only narcissists who manipulate people. Everybody does it to some point, usually very lightly. But, if someone regularly manipulates you into doing what they want, that’s damaging on many levels.

Why? Because it’s just not healthy. If you want something from your partner or your friend, you should be able to ask them and explain yourself.

If you know they’re not going to agree, then you shouldn’t really be asking, should you? So, instead, you manipulate them and get what you want in an underhanded way.

It’s taking away someone’s ability to choose based on a fair argument. And, in the worst cases, it can twist someone’s mind into not really knowing which way is up or down.

It’s emotional and mental torture when someone is manipulated constantly over a long period of time. [Read: Am I manipulative? 20 signs you manipulate the people in your life]

Manipulation needs to stop. The fact is, manipulative behavior, especially if it’s long-term, harms a person for life if they don’t know how to stop it or get away from it.

It has the potential to permanently harm someone’s self-esteem, even spinning them into depression. Manipulation seems like a little thing, but it has lasting effects most people don’t even realize stem from manipulation. [Read: Emotional manipulation – 14 ways people mess with your mind]

Signs of manipulative behavior that are major relationship red flags

A new relationship should be a time to sit back and enjoy someone else’s company. However, be on guard for some red flags that may make you want to rethink getting into a relationship with someone in the first place.

If you’re unfamiliar with what to look for when it comes to manipulative behavior, have no fear. Luckily, we’re here to help navigate you through all the worst manipulative, red flag behaviors to look out for. [Read: How to spot gaslighting in a relationship and shut it down for good]

1. Jealousy

Obviously, jealousy in small amounts isn’t something to be concerned with. Nor is it bad if you have an adult discussion about why the jealousy presents itself. It becomes a problem when it gets angry and manipulative.

People often get jealous because of their own insecurities, and they use this in order to control their partner.

If your significant other gets jealous all the time and then blames you for being “too available” for others, pump the brakes on that relationship. [Read: Controlling people – 14 common traits and ways to deal with them]

2. Never apologizing or refusing to do so

This is a very difficult thing to catch. There are a lot of ways people work around apologizing without actually saying sorry. If you can’t even remember a time when your partner apologized, you could be being manipulated.

If your significant other never takes responsibility or has an excuse for everything they do that upsets you, they basically make you believe they don’t have to be sorry for anything and their behavior is acceptable.

They might also subtly make you think that you’re the one in the wrong, so you end up apologizing for something you never did. [Read: 15 signs of a toxic person to recognize the bad people in your life]

3. Not acknowledging your concerns as valid

We all know that person who responds to your concerns with, “you’re crazy,” instead of listening and trying to come up with a solution.

By doing this, they manipulate you into thinking you don’t have valid concerns. Sometimes they even manipulate people into thinking they really are crazy.

They knock down your concerns so you don’t bring them up again. Because they want to get away with it over and over again. This links very easily into gaslighting, a tactic used to make someone feel like they’re losing their grip on their own sanity by manipulating them to the point of no return. [Read: Gaslighting – 16 signs your lover is messing with your mind]

4. Arguments that only take place on their home turf

This is one you really have to pay attention to. If you’re at your place or even driving somewhere and get into a little fight about something, pay attention if they actually want to fight it out.

Manipulators often save their arguments for when they’re at home. Why? It’s all about being dominant. When they’re in their own home, they hold the power which subconsciously makes you realize you can’t win the argument.

So then, you back down and again, you probably apologize for something you don’t need to apologize for. It’s power play and it’s hugely manipulative. [Read: Narcissistic behavior – 27 signs to identify them when you see one]

5. Their mistakes are always because you did something first

“I wouldn’t have even been out at the bars if you didn’t go to the movies with your friend when I wanted to hang out.” Does something of this variety sound familiar? Well, if you’ve ever been in a manipulative relationship, it should.

If your new beau is already pulling this stuff, run far and run fast because they’re manipulative.

By using this tactic, they tell you they’re justified in their actions. They can’t be punished because you did something bad, too. Anything you ever accuse them of doing will somehow be your fault from the start. [Read: 12 subtle signs you’re clearly being manipulated by someone you love]

6. They don’t keep their word

Empty words foster empty hearts. There’s a reason people end up feeling like the joy is sucked out of life when they’re let down by a loved one. Sometimes it’s because of a partner who never follows through on their word.

If you’ve been promised really fun dates, that they’ll treat you amazing, and they’ll even cook for you, yet you never experience those things because they don’t follow through, you’re being manipulated.

They tell you what you want to hear to keep you around. It’s also possible that their actions and words just don’t match up. If someone says one thing and does another, be very wary indeed.

7. Regular guilt trips

This is the best known manipulative behavior, and it’s also the easiest to spot. If someone says anything that seems dramatic and makes you feel bad, it’s this.

Something along the lines of, “Fine. You can go out with your friends. I’ll just stay home and clean the bathroom,” then you’ve been manipulated. [Read: The best guilt-free ways to handle guilt trippers in your life]

Making someone feel guilty is one of the most common types of manipulation and it’s easy to spot but also subtle at the same time. It’s subtle because it’s powerful. It will make you drop everything and do whatever they want because nobody likes to feel guilty.

8. Using passive-aggressive behavior

Leaving notes all over the place. Talking to people behind your back. Leaving a sink full of dishes when they know it’s your night to do them. These are all passive-aggressive manipulative behaviors.

They’re not verbally telling you they’re upset, but they make sure you know they are. This is one of the most immature signs of manipulative behavior.

It’s best to just walk away and not return. If someone isn’t able to actually communicate with you and tell you what the problem is, they’re not going to be someone you can have an adult, healthy relationship with. [Read: How to deal with passive-aggressive behavior calmly and with class]

9. They fish for compliments or praise by verbalizing self-doubt

People fish for compliments all the time. While they’re really annoying, usually they’re harmless. However, if a person is also manipulative and they do this, it’s a red flag.

If they always tell you they hate the way their body looks or they can’t stand their hair or they wish they were just a little bit attractive, they’re fishing for compliments.

They make you feel bad for them, so you’ll do anything to cheer them up. That’s when they’ve got you where they want you and it’s likely that you’ll put your own needs on the backburner so you can make them feel better. [Read: 16 attention whore signs to watch out for]

10. Forces their insecurities onto you

If you’ve ever been with someone who made you act a certain way because of something that once happened to them, they manipulated you. This fairly common technique some people actually think is justifiable.

This is when someone says something like, “I don’t want you to have any male/female friends because I was cheated on. I’m sure you can understand that.”

It’s the idea that they push their insecurities onto you so you must deal with them.

This manipulates you by bringing your attention to their insecurities instead of your own concerns with being told who you can or can’t be friends with. But, that means you’re the one suffering because of something that their ex did. That’s not fair. [Read: Insecurity in a relationship – How to feel more secure and love better]

What should you do if you think you’re being manipulated?

Now you know what manipulative behavior is and a few examples of what it looks like, what should you do if you think you’re being subjected to it?

You shouldn’t stick around and do nothing, that’s for sure. Manipulation isn’t healthy and if someone you care about is doing that to you, you need to work out why and address the issue.

The best thing to do is sit down with this person and have an adult and gentle conversation.

Don’t go straight in there and accuse them of manipulating you. Instead, use language which is blame-free and gentle, such as “I feel like …” rather than “you keep manipulating me into doing what you want.” [Read: Stonewalling in a relationship – 15 signs and the best ways to fix it ASAP]

Set out some boundaries and make sure that they know they should ask you if they want something and not just try and get it through manipulation.

If conversation and boundaries don’t work, you may simply need to work out whether this relationship is worthwhile or not. After all, if you’ve highlighted the problem and they still do it, clearly they have a problem with manipulative behavior that they don’t want to change.

[Read: 34 big relationship red flags that most people completely ignore]

Manipulators are all out there and ready to pull in the next over-trusting person with their manipulative behavior. Luckily, you can now weed them out and end that relationship before it even begins.

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