We all want to be treated fairly.
By the world. Our friends. Our parents. Especially in our relationships.
Sadly, sometimes that’s not the case.
And if you err a little on the naive side where you think everyone has kind-hearted intentions, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of some subtle manipulation before.
Even if you didn’t know it at the time.
It happens more often than you’d think, and even though it makes you feel crazy (as tends to be the result with all mind games and manipulation), I assure you you’re not.
Many times, people don’t even know they’re being subtly controlled until they escape. Or they just never realize, which is even more heartbreaking.
The signs tend to be there, but they’re not always obvious.
So without further ado, I’m going to cover 8 things that signal you’re being subtly controlled by someone else.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to make you paranoid or encourage you to cut ties with anyone who does these things.
I’m merely here to give you the tools to recognize the signs for what they are.
Maybe you’re already aware of some of these signals…
Let’s find out:
1) They always want to know your whereabouts
Have you ever had this friend who constantly wants to know where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing?
They send you spontaneous messages saying they’re nearby, which at first seems like a fun coincidence, but quickly starts to get creepy.
Almost as if they had a GPS tracker on you, without you knowing…
Or, they grill you about where you’re going, who you’re with.
The novelty of having a sidekick quickly wears off, and you feel like you’re glued to their hip without really having given your consent.
Constantly being barraged as to your whereabouts and feeling like you owe someone a roundup of your every move is a classic sign of someone subtly trying to control you.
2) They make decisions for you
“She’ll have the salad, please and thank you.”
The very words make my blood boil.
So what if I want the steak? Sure, maybe I’m vegan – but who are you to tell me what I’m going to be eating?
They dress this illusion of choosing things for you, as not forcing you to do certain things (which this largely is), but instead kind behavior that’s supposed to lift a weight from your shoulders.
But trust me – when someone starts making choices for you, that’s a sign they’re trying to exert control over your life.
They subtly make it clear that what they want is more important than what you want.
If this pattern is consistently repeated, it’s a sign they’re subtly controlling you.
The balance of power in any relationship should be reciprocal, not one-sided.
3) They’re overly generous with their help (which comes with strings attached)
It may sound counterintuitive, but too much help, too much generosity can actually be a control tactic.
Let’s say a new best friend is just willing to go above and beyond to help you out. They receive all your parcels when you’re not in, organize your holidays for you, resuscitate your ailing dog.
On the surface, it seems like they’re just being kind and supportive and really going that extra mile.
Who doesn’t appreciate a helping hand, right?
However, if you look closely, you may notice that their ‘help’ often puts you in a position of dependence or obligation.
It’s as if they’re creating a debt that you are expected to repay, or subtly suggesting that you can’t handle things on your own.
And whilst you shouldn’t start frowning when people do nice things for you, be wary of those who wave the kindness they give you above your head and tell you that you owe them.
This is not genuine assistance but a subtle way to control and manipulate the dynamic of the relationship.
4) They subtly belittle your achievements
Imagine you’ve just shared some great news or achieved something significant.
Instead of celebrating with you, they downplay your success or redirect the focus onto their own achievements.
“Wow! Well done. Almost earning as much as I was 5 years ago now, aren’t you!”
“That’s so great! Look at you, you lil’ hiker. Soon you’ll catch up to me (I scaled Everest in record time this year)”.
“You look so great. A few more runs and you might be able to squeeze into my jeans, too!”
In a healthy relationship, your victories are celebrated, not minimized.
If someone consistently belittles your achievements and one-ups you, it could be a sign of subtle control.
They might be attempting to maintain an upper hand by undermining your confidence and self-worth.
5) They constantly “play the victim”
It’s a fact of human psychology: we are naturally inclined to sympathize with and help those who seem to be suffering or in distress.
Unfortunately, some people exploit this instinct as a subtle form of control.
Some people do have runs of bad luck, but if you notice that your friend or partner consistently portrays themselves as the victim, no matter the situation, this can be a red flag.
They always have a sad story to share, or they seem to be perpetually at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control.
You might find yourself constantly comforting them, offering advice, or even changing your behavior to accommodate their apparent distress.
This is not to say that those who are genuinely struggling should be ignored or dismissed by any means.
But if someone consistently uses their problems to monopolize your attention, sympathy, or resources, it could be a subtle form of manipulation.
They’re probably trying to use your empathy and compassion to control and influence your actions.
6) They make you feel guilty for spending time with others
We’ve all felt that pang of regret (that FOMO), when we’ve had to decline an invitation or miss out on time with a loved one due to other commitments.
‘Tis a natural part of life.
What isn’t natural, however, is when someone uses this as a weapon of control.
You may notice that every time you spend time with other friends or family, they make you feel so, so guilty.
“Where’s my invite?”, said with a smirk.
“You really don’t like me, huh?”, when you’ve spent the rest of the week in each other’s company.
“Guess I’m not good enough to hang out with your other friends”, when you just wanted an afternoon to see your childhood besties.
It could be through offhand comments about how you’re always busy, or passive-aggressive remarks about how they wish they could see you more.
They might even seem hurt or upset when you have other plans, leaving you feeling torn and guilty.
This is a raw form of emotional manipulation designed to isolate you from your support network and make you more dependent on them.
In a healthy relationship, your loved ones would respect your time and encourage your connections with others, not undermine them.
7) They’re extremely kind (too kind?)
On the surface, this sounds like the mark of a caring friend or partner.
After all, who wouldn’t want someone who is consistently considerate and attentive?
But when this attention becomes excessive, it might be a sign of subtle control.
They may insist on always driving you to your destinations, managing your schedule, or taking care of tasks you can easily do yourself.
This constant ‘care’ can gradually rob you of your independence and make you feel reliant on them for even the smallest things.
While it’s nice to have someone look out for you, it’s crucial to maintain your autonomy. True care empowers you; it doesn’t make you helpless.
If someone’s ‘attentiveness’ feels suffocating or limiting, it might be a disguised form of control.
8) They use your weak spots against you
We all have doubts and fears that we grapple with. In a healthy relationship, these insecurities are met with understanding and reassurance.
However, a subtly controlling person might use these insecurities as a tool for manipulation.
They might bring up your fears or weaknesses during disagreements to gain the upper hand.
Or they might casually mention them in conversation in a way that makes you feel self-conscious or doubtful.
Using your vulnerabilities against you is a powerful way to exert control as it can make you feel less confident and more dependent on their approval.
Remember, someone who truly cares for you would never use your insecurities as a weapon.
They would support and encourage you, not exploit your fears to control you.
These 8 signs serve as subtle indicators that someone might be attempting to control aspects of your life.
Trusting your instincts is essential in such situations.
If you ever sense that someone is exerting undue influence over your choices and actions, it’s important to address the issue.
Recognizing these signs can be a challenging task, as they often masquerade as well-intentioned behaviors.
However, once you’ve identified them, you’ve taken the first step towards reclaiming your independence and regaining control over your life.
Remember, your life is yours to lead, and your decisions should always be yours to make.
Recognizing these signs is the initial move towards regaining your freedom and self-determination.