9 subtle signs someone is manipulating your life decisions

Watch out for manipulators.

The world is full of manipulative people. Sometimes, we all want others to do what we want, but most of us stop short of trying to actually get them to do it.

That’s not the case with manipulators.

These people will use every trick in the book to get you to behave in a way that benefits them.

That’s what makes them so dangerous.

And part of the problem is that manipulators are usually good at hiding their manipulations.

The signs that you are being manipulated can often be subtle. Here’s some things to watch out for if you’re worried someone is secretly trying to control your life.

1) They come on really strong

One of the classic tactics of manipulators is a technique known as love bombing.

Basically, this means showering you with affection at the start of a relationship and coming on really strong to make you feel like this person is really connected to you.

It’s most commonly seen in romantic relationships. However, it can also happen in the early stages of friendships when someone is trying to win your trust.

“Love bombing is used to woo a person, control them, or encourage them to stay in a relationship. Love bombing creates an idealized version of the love bomber,” writes therapist Nicole Arzt.

And even after the love bomber shows what they are really like, the victim of the love bombing will often continue to hope that this first fake version of the person they knew will come back if they just behave right.

It’s a classic tactic, and although it can be hard to detect, it’s a major red flag in any relationship.

2) They guilt trip you

Manipulation needs to be subtle, especially in its early stages. So instead of yelling and screaming to get you to do what they want, a manipulator will often use guilt instead.

Guilt can be a powerful motivator to get you to behave however they want. The manipulator will act deeply hurt by the fact you won’t do what they want you to do. They may claim it means you don’t care about them, or point to all the sacrifices they have made for you.

This manipulation technique is often found in romantic relationships, but it is also common in families. Parents, for example, are often experts at guilt-tripping their kids.

Despite its subtlety, it’s a very effective tool for other people to manipulate your decisions.

3) They are possessive

Manipulators often get very possessive of the people they manipulate.

In a romantic relationship, this may show itself as excessive jealousy or demands to know where you are at all times and who you are spending time with.

In small levels, a little bit of possessiveness can seem harmless. It may even seem endearing. 

But as time goes on, the manipulator becomes more and more demanding of your time and attention until there is nothing left for anyone else.

“When we try to control someone close to us, we limit them in ways that make them less themselves,” psychologist Lisa Firestone points out.

Often, possessiveness and jealousy can be a sign of deep insecurity. But sometimes, it’s a subtle sign of someone trying to manipulate you and control the decisions you make.

4) You aren’t your real self around them

Do you feel you are losing yourself in your relationship?

Don’t ignore that feeling. Because it can be a major red flag of something seriously wrong.

Relationships require sacrifice from all of us. Finding time for a new important person in your life automatically means you’ll have less time for other people or your own hobbies and interests.

But if you feel like you are losing sight of who you once were, that’s a danger sign.

At their best, relationships allow us to become better versions of ourselves, not lesser ones.

If you have abandoned things you once found joy in because your partner monopolizes your time or because they don’t like you doing certain activities without them, watch out.

It may be because they are manipulating you.

5) You are often apologizing

I’m not saying you should never apologize. If you’ve done something wrong, of course you should apologize to your partner and make things up.

But what if you are always apologizing?

We all mess things up from time to time, but you shouldn’t be constantly apologizing to a partner, relative, or friend. If you are, it may be because they make you feel you have always done something wrong.

That’s a classic way to manipulate someone into doing what you want.

6) You are losing your social life

toxic relationship is ruining your life 9 subtle signs someone is manipulating your life decisions

Isolation is another common tactic of manipulators.

A manipulator will drive a wedge between you, your friends, your family, and anyone else in your life. That’s because they don’t want other people who care about you to point out how you are being manipulated.

The people closest to us can be a source of strength, and a manipulator does not want you to have the strength to break free of their games.

“In order to continue the manipulation tactics, isolation is essential, as they want to eliminate the chance that their victim will gain insight into the abuse,” writes Amelia Kelley, therapist and author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship.

Unfortunately, this can be very subtle. At first, you may think that you simply don’t have time to spend with your friends and family. 

It may take some soul-searching to find out if it’s actually a manipulative person who is driving a wedge between you.

7) You feel like nothing you do is good enough

This is another feeling that can sneak up on you.

Manipulators have a way of making you feel as though nothing you do is good enough. They will constantly guilt trip you and criticize your every decision.

The intention here is to make you lose faith in yourself so that you come to rely on them making your decisions for you.

It’s a particular sneaky tactic of manipulation, and it can have hugely damaging and long-lasting effects, even after the manipulative relationship ends.

If you often feel inadequate and as if you can’t do anything right, ask yourself why.

Have you always felt this way? Or is it something you feel more now that you are in a specific relationship?

And if so, how does that relationship contribute to this feeling of inadequacy?

Because it’s very possible that you are being manipulated.

8) You feel bad about yourself

It’s not just inadequacy, either. Over time, being manipulated can have catastrophic effects on your self-esteem.

When your relationship is all about the needs of somebody else, it’s easy to start to feel like you don’t matter.

“You start wondering if you’re worthy and lovable; as if your self-esteem is taking a hit,” says psychologist Carla Maria Manly.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the manipulator wants.

When you have low self-esteem, it’s harder to fight back against the schemes of the manipulator. 

So if you find yourself feeling worse about yourself since you started a new relationship, it’s important to ask yourself why, and be honest.

Because it may be a sign that you are being manipulated.

9) You are afraid to make a mistake

None of us like getting things wrong.

On the other hand, an intimate relationship should never be built on fear.

When something does go wrong, do you find your first thoughts revolving around your partner and their reaction? Are you afraid to do things they don’t like because it’s you don’t want to deal with their reaction?

This is one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. But often people who would never think of themselves as being abused still find themselves worrying about somebody else’s reaction.

It’s not an accident.

Sometimes, manipulators will completely overreact to relatively small things, and this is why. By making you afraid of their reaction to things, they can more easily control your behavior.

Look, it’s normal to lose our patience with other people from time to time. But you should never be scared of how another person will react. That’s as true in a family relationship or friendship as it is in a supposedly romantic relationship.

The signs of manipulation

Sometimes, manipulation can be quite obvious. But in general, it’s in the manipulator’s interest to hide what they are doing.

And it’s much easier to manipulate someone when they don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.

Manipulators are generally experts at hiding their true intentions. So you may end up feeling bad about yourself and like you can’t do anything right without even realizing why.

It takes a lot of mental strength and confidence to break free of the manipulations of other people, especially if they are a skilled manipulator.

But keep an eye out for these subtle signs that your relationship has become manipulative to avoid being controlled by somebody else.

Picture of Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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