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How to Identify and Heal From Manipulative Relationships

Manipulation is an extremely broad topic, and it can be difficult to even know where to begin the conversation. To start, a manipulative relationship is one in which an individual seeks to control or use another person; to get him/her to do something or think a certain way by being controlling and dominating. It is a very unhealthy type of connection that can really wear on the soul and spirit of the victim. And while all types of manipulation have this as a defining characteristic, manipulation manifests in a number of different forms: these include gas-lighting, narcissism, pathological lying, borderline personality disorder, and sociopathy. Here is a very *brief description of each of these types:

Many Different Forms of Manipulation

gaslighting: attempting to confuse someone to question reality and his/her own sanity

narcissism: obsession with and fixation on oneself where the other person simply serves as a source of positive reinforcement and only exists to make a narcissist happy

pathological lying: habitual and near-constant lying that may or may not have a specific agenda or aim

borderline personality disorder: a mental illness characterized by an inability to manage emotions, which can lead to impulsive behaviors, rage, violence, or other unstable actions

sociopathy: a pattern of behavior that exhibits an absence of empathy, awareness of others’ feelings, or moral conscience

*these are in no means comprehensive definitions; please refer to professional mental health resources (such as the DSM) for more information on different types of manipulation

Manipulation Can Happen To Anyone

It’s easy to assume that only weak, insecure, and wounded individuals (particularly women) may find themselves in a manipulative relationship, but the truth is that it usually starts very subtly and can happen to anyone; sadly, it’s a lot more common than we’d like to think. Here are some common signs of manipulation:

  •  Walking on Eggshells
    d
    You’re afraid of angering or triggering the other person, and you find yourself choosing your words and actions very carefully to avoid making him/her upset. You do a lot to keep him/her happy, as you feel that is your responsibility.
  • Relational Micromanagement
    d
    Your partner has an excessive interest in nearly all your activities and has an unhealthy say in them (For example, a man has an obsessive interest in his girlfriend’s physical appearance and instructs her on what to eat, how to dress, etc).
    d
  •  Friends and Family Are Concerned
    d
    If you’re being told my multiple people in your inner circle that your significant other is bringing you down, it’s a good idea to listen to their feedback to see if there’s something to what they’re saying
    f

Changing and Healing From Manipulation

The good news is that if you find yourself in these types of situations, you do not need to stay there. The first step is to recognize that you are being mistreated. We sometimes put our emotional blinders on because reality is painful, but you must acknowledge the truth about your relationship and that it’s not healthy for you. Once you’ve done that, you can begin the process of changing, and in some cases, moving on.

It’s not always as easy as simply walking away from another person, particularly if you have created a life with him/ her (through marriage and having children, for example), but no matter your specific situation, making a healthy change requires setting and keeping boundaries. If the relationship is going to continue, the offending partner must be able to admit there is a problem and also be willing to change (professional therapy is usually necessary). If the relationship is fundamentally toxic and needs to end, you’ll need the support of others close to you to leave it. Part of this process requires grieving; no matter how dysfunctional things became, the person still meant a lot to you originally, and you need to mourn the loss. And finally, forgiveness is crucial to let go of the bitterness and pain of what you experienced. By recognizing the manipulation, setting boundaries, mourning your loss, and forgiving the other person, you can change the way you view yourself and find happiness again.

Watch my original interview with Baya here.

If you need some help emotionally unpacking a manipulative relationship, consider working with a counselor from Wasatch Family Therapy

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About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her book The Burnout Cure is available now and The Assertiveness Guide is available now.

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