Manipulation, by definition, is a way to get control over a situation or person. It usually uses subtle or underhanded tactics that could leave people feeling “off” without fully understanding why. Many adults tend to use healthy boundaries, communication, and assertiveness to achieve their goals. However, manipulators resort to other methods like aggression or deceit to get their way. Because of the subtlety of their tactics, it could be difficult to see the signs of manipulation. Here are some red flags to look out for.  Here eight signs of manipulation to look out for in relationships:
Gaslighting is a tactic abusers use that makes you question your reality, sanity, or judgement. They may try gaslighting to deflect blame off themselves and make you seem like the one in the wrong. This makes it difficult to discuss boundaries or work on relationship issues because gaslighting can make any concerns seem ridiculous or invalid. “If your partner says or does something to intentionally hurt you and you confront them at a later time, gaslighting would be if they said, ‘That never happened’ or ‘Oh my goodness, you’re crazy!’ The response is intended to not only deny, but also make you question if the scenario in fact happened,” says Janika Veasley, LMFT, founder of Amavi Therapy Center.
2. Weaponizing your insecurities
Manipulators can use your flaws, fears, and insecurities against you to hurt your confidence so they could better control you. For example, they might talk about your flaws to others, weaponize your fears to win arguments, or talk about your insecurities when you are already feeling down. They may also give backhanded compliments “If your partner says, ‘Oh I like your outfit today. You don’t look as chunky as usual’ you likely wouldn’t take it as a genuine compliment. You would feel hurt and very insulted,” says Veasley. 
Guilt is a strong emotion, and manipulators try to use it against you. For instance, they might remind you of your past misdeeds or of their own ideal behavior, so you’d feel obligated to do what they want. It can also make you feel indebted to them and unable to leave the relationship or make any criticisms about it.
This occurs when abusers bring other people into a personal conflict. They might do this to deflect some of the tension or blame, or to distract from the original problem. They can also use people to convince you to give in to what they want. For instance, if you try to break up, they might involve your friends or family members so they’d tell you to stay in the relationship. “This is incredibly problematic because it shows a huge lack of respect for you as an individual and a partner,” says Veasley.
5. Acting passive-aggressive
Passive aggression can come in many forms, such as silent treatment, sarcastic humor, or other ways to indirectly express a negative emotion without giving you any way to come to a resolution. “Finding ways to express frustration or dissatisfaction without actually voicing any issues can keep the other party feeling unsure, anxious, and on edge, which is key to manipulation as a whole,” says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT and founder of Take Root Therapy.
6. Violating boundaries
One common sign of manipulation is ignoring boundaries. You might say you want them to stop criticizing your appearance, but they continue to do so. They may make excuses or rationalize their behavior while continuing to ignore your feelings about the situation. “When they are presented with boundaries they either encroach, push, or completely violate the boundaries. This is a blatant show that their only concern is having their way and getting their need,” says Veasley. They may also be testing you, to see how much button-pushing you will tolerate from them so they can take advantage of you.
Love-bombing is why many people fall victim to abusive and manipulative relationships. It’s also commonly used to initiate people into cults. Essentially, an emotional manipulator love-bombs by showering a new acquaintance with affection, praise, and attention. This accelerates the relationship and creates a sense of unearned vulnerability and closeness. So when the love-bombing stops and the abuser starts to show their uglier side, you already feel committed to the relationship and are less likely to see the red flags. 
Manipulators may try to control you by controlling the people around you. For instance, they might coerce you into cutting contact or spending less time with close friends and family members. Especially those who expressed dislike or mistrust of the manipulator. An isolated person is easier to control and gaslight because they are forced to trust the word of the manipulator without any kind of second opinion. On the other hand, manipulators might charm your friends and family so that they’d support them in an argument instead of you. Both of these methods can make it more difficult to leave the toxic relationship. 
How to Respond to Manipulation
Keep in mind not all manipulators are aware that they are using manipulation. People may use these tactics to protect themselves after traumatic events or dysfunctional relationships. They may have learned this behavior from others and think it’s normal, or they may have been forced to manipulate to avoid cruel punishments or to meet basic needs. You may even use some of these tactics without realizing their negative effect on others.
Ending the Problem
Don’t excuse the behavior if you realize you are in a manipulative relationship. Confront the other person and talk about specific examples of their manipulation. Avoid accusations and focus on expressing your feelings, and allow them to talk about their emotions without minimizing what they’ve done. Hopefully, they’ll react by listening and genuinely trying to improve. But if they become angry defensive, and try to shut down any communication, you might want to evaluate this relationship and decide how — or if — you want to interact with this person. Remember to set firm boundaries, get support from a mental health professional, and be kind to yourself. 
- “Manipulation: Signs, Causes, and Types of Manipulative Behavior.” Psych Central. Hilary I. Lebow. September 21, 2022
- “Am I being manipulated? Here’s 9 tell-tale signs, according to couples therapists.” Insider. Ashley Laderer. March 4, 2022
- “Manipulation: Symptoms to Look For.” WebMD. Jabeen Begum, MD. April 3, 2023
- “Signs of Manipulation in Relationships.” Very Well Mind. Sheri Stritof. March 9, 2023
- “How to Recognize the Signs of Emotional Manipulation and What to Do.” Healthline. Kimberly Holland. March 16, 2023