Covert Signs Of Manipulation In Relationships

The signs of manipulation in relationships might be blindingly obvious to outsiders but for the person being manipulated, they can be very difficult to see. There are many reasons for this.

The manipulated person has been tricked into living in an alternate reality where the things that are happening seem to make sense.

The manipulated person is unable to think very well. Their reasoning skills have been blunted by the abuser. Typically they are not even allowed to think for themselves any longer. Everything has to be run by the manipulator.

The victim has been led to believe that anything bad that happens is their own fault and that the manipulator is always right. I know that sounds crazy, but welcome to the world of manipulation and mind control.

All the abusive, manipulative behavior is justified away by the manipulator. "It's because of my abusive childhood," "I am doing this for the good of the relationship," "It's not me, it's you! There's nothing wrong with me. If you were not so demanding, or pathetic, or weak, or whatever...!" and the classic, "It's actually YOU who are the problem. If only you could change, then the whole relationship would be great!"

And the victim was tricked at the start into believing that their partner is kind, generous, loving, intelligent and so on. This first impression can be very strong and persistent. So even when the manipulation and abuse is in full swing, the victim continues to think that the abuser is basically a decent person and has difficulty wrapping their head around the idea that someone might be abusing them deliberately, on purpose.

In this article I am not going to spend time on the insults, humiliation etc. that occurs in manipulative relationships. I want to have a look here at some of the more covert signs of manipulation in relationships.


Covert signs of manipulation in relationships

At the start of the relationship, when things were fantastic, it was easy to do nice things for your partner, right? You wanted the nice times to continue forever. You felt like you had met someone who really understood you like no-one before had. Now you spend your days thinking about what you can or cannot do so as not to upset them.

In other words, initially you did things to get the 'rewards' of having nice experiences with your partner, now you do things to avoid 'punishments'. Most people in abusive situations don't usually think in terms of rewards and punishments but that's what is basically happening. Your partner's bad moods are punishments, training you how they want to be treated. You do something they don't approve of, they get mad and you feel awful. They are training you in what you are allowed to do around them.

This leads into the idea that what they are doing is deliberate. It's intentional. Many people suffering in manipulative relationships cannot make sense of what is happening. They may think, "If my partner is so unhappy with me, why do they stay?" They often come up with all sorts of answers, "He must love me," or "I am useless, I can't seem to get things right," or "If I just try a bit harder and really please him, then he will appreciate me for who I am." The person is looking for some kind of explanation to try and justify what is happening to them. The problem is that none of these answers is accurate, but he victim often acts as if they are. This means that the victim suffers abuse at the hands of the manipulator for years, or even decades.

The fact is that there are people who control for the sake of controlling. These are people with personality disorders, more commonly known as psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. Most people don't actually know what these terms mean. They have an idea, based on TV or social media but what they don't get is that these types have no emotions. They have no empathy, guilt or remorse. They have no inner policeman. They never feel bad about what they do to others. That means that they can do anything they like and it never actually bothers them.

Their relationships are based on coercion and exploitation. The more control they have, the better. They actually thrive on seeing people being destroyed, especially if they are the ones doing it. That's why they stay in relationships although they may complain about how awful their partner is. They stay because they are in control. It's not actually upsetting to them how bad their partner is. Why? Because they are putting their partners in that state! They themselves are not miserable in the marriage, no matter how miserable their partner may be. They get off on knowing that they are in control and causing this level of distress for their partner.

Another important aspect of manipulative relationships is the system of rules and how they are applied. Have you noticed that your partner makes all the rules? Does he or she change them to suit themselves? Does your partner have one set of rules for themselves and another set for everybody else? Or even a special set for you?

It's also very common that you only find out what the rules are when you have broken one and you are getting into trouble, even though you didn't know that such a rule existed!

This idea leads into another of the important signs of manipulation in relationships, double binds. These are situations where you are wrong whichever choice you make. If you follow one rule, you are breaking another at a different level. For example, you are thinking that you don't like something that your partner has done. He asks what you are thinking about. You know at one level you have to tell him or he will make you feel guilty for keeping information from him (another sign of manipulation in relationships, you should be allowed to have privacy and you should never be obliged to tell someone everything). However, if you do tell him what's in your head, you get into trouble because a major rule is that you are NEVER allowed to criticize him. So, if you tell him, you are in trouble. If you don't tell him, you are in trouble.

These double binds are very common in abusive relationships. The problem is that they are so common that the victims often don't see them any more. This is often an issue in children who were raised in abusive households. They were brought up with so many double binds that they don't see them as anything abnormal, for them it's just the way the world is.

One way to manage double binds is not to buy into it. A witness in the stand in court is asked if he is still beating his wife. His best response is to point out that he loses whether he answers yes or no so he is refusing to answer.

However, there is a better way to deal with double binds. One of the conditions for double binds is that the victim cannot leave the situation. This is why children are so vulnerable, they are dependent on their abusive parents and have to stay in the house and manage as best as they can. So the best way for people in manipulative relationships to deal with the double binds is to leave the relationship. In fact, it's the only way not to continue to suffer abuse.

But again, it's not so easy! Why? Because the abused people in controlling relationships are also dependent on the abuser. I know that sounds ridiculous but this is a major sign of psychological abuse in relationships.

I get that no-one wants to admit that they are dependent on someone else, especially the person who is abusing them. But this is the nature of mind control. It is the fundamental reason that people end up in abusive marriages for years or decades. It's not that they don't think of leaving. They do. But actually leaving is such a difficult thing to do, because of the dependency, that they end up putting off the decision to leave. They are often afraid that they will not actually be able to manage without the abuser. I know that sounds ridiculous to anyone who has never suffered in an abusive relationship, but if you have been, or are, in an abusive relationship, then this dependency is something you have to understand.

For example, many people say that if anyone treated them badly, they would just tell the other person to get lost and they would exit the relationship on the spot. However, when someone has been trapped by a manipulator, and their personality has been changed, when the abuser criticizes or abuses them, the usual response is to step up to the plate and try harder to appease the abuser so that they win the approval of the abuser again. I know! That's very twisted. But again, this is the dynamic in abusive, controlling relationships.

Have you noticed that you have to forgive your partner for literally anything upsetting they do? If you bring up something nasty they did, they accuse you of living in the past or holding a grudge or they simply harp on about the fact that you just keep bringing up the past over and over again. And, at the same time, they will bring up lists of things that you have done in the past, sometimes even in chronological order, that they consider wrong, and thus they make you feel guilty, inferior, worthless and so on! In other words they do not forgive you anything at all. Nothing! And not only are they not forgiving you, they are actively using these things to control your emotions when it suits them!! How controlling and abusive is that?!?

Something else to watch out for is the so called mistakes, errors or wrongdoings that you have committed. I say 'so-called' because often there is nothing wrong with the behavior itself, but the manipulator labels it as bad or wrong and then uses this as evidence that you have committed some kind of sin.

For example, phoning your sister, asking a question because you don't understand something or vacuuming the house are normal, routine activities. But if you finish a call with your sister and your partner starts saying things such as, "Oh, you'd rather spend time on the phone with her than with me, right?" or, "Can you not decide anything without running it by her first?" or "Why is she always calling you with her problems? She's an adult, let her take responsibility for sorting herself out!" then your partner is literally making you feel that talking to your sister is somehow wrong and you are committing some kind of infraction by talking to her. This is then used against you later. "There you go again, talking for hours on the phone with her!!" making you feel guilty all over again, over something that is not inherently wrong. In this way, the manipulator is redefining what some behavior means and then making out that you are up to no good for engaging in that behavior.

Now, talking about behavior, here is another very significant covert sign of manipulation in relationships. The manipulator may be referencing some behavior or something you said, but their criticism is aimed at you. They are typically not criticizing your behavior or your words or ideas, the criticism is levelled at you, who you are.

For example, there is a world of difference between "That was a ridiculous thing to do," and "You are ridiculous for doing that." Children will respond one way to, "That is naughty behavior and we don't do that in this house" and another way to, "You naughty child! Don't do that!" This kind of thing has a big influence on children as they grow up. Likewise, it also has a huge impact on adults, especially when they hear this kind of thing day in and day out. The frequent attacks on your identity will lead you to question and doubt yourself and eventually you come to believe that you are less than others, worthless, stupid, careless, useless, a danger to others and so on. This tactic is one of the main ones used in changing a person's identity or personality in abusive situations.

Have you realized for some time that there was something wrong in the relationship? Did he continually blame you but secretly you thought he was the problem but you couldn't quite put your finder on why because so many things didn't make sense? Many people go in circles with this idea for months or years. If you have doubts about this, doubt no more. This is strong evidence for a manipulative relationship.

What about friends? Does your partner have real friends? Did he or she have loads of time initially to spend with you at the start of the relationship? Is it because they did not have other healthy relationships? These types are said to have only acquaintances and victims. And eventually the acquaintances become victims, too.

And the last of the covert signs of manipulation in relationships that I am going to mention here is that of repetition. When you recognize it, of course, it's not so covert, but when you are in the middle of an abusive situation it's common not to catch it. Studies have shown that if you hear some idea three times from different sources, you are very likely to believe it. However, if you hear the same thing three times from one person, it has 90% of the effect of hearing it from three sources. 90%! First of all, think news programs...

Secondly, think of how often your partner has said some things. There are things that are said several times a week for months or years! There are things that may be said several times a day for some time. In fact, some people in abusive situations have difficulty at first in coming up with examples of such things because they have heard them so often it's almost as if these things are reality and they have long since stopped questioning them. But if you spend a little time thinking about it, you will start to come up with instances in your own situation. You could even ask people around you for help with this one. It's a very useful exercise because the things that the manipulator repeats a lot are the things he or she wants in your head. These are the things that they want you to accept as true. And that's the very reason that you have to question them. You have to take each repeated idea and ask yourself if, in fact, it is factual or not. And then, who actually benefits from you believing it. Without spoiling anything, the answer, of course, is the manipulator.

Covert signs of manipulation in relationships - more reading

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you want to learn more you can read more articles on my site, there being a full list of the articles in the site map.

I suggest these articles on signs of a manipulative boyfriend, more warning signs of an abusive relationship, the dynamics of a controlling relationship, the stages of an abusive relationship, dealing with controlling people and narcissistic abuse recovery.

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