Written by Writer’s Corps member Gussie Bryan
Manipulate: verb ma·nip·u·late \ mə-ˈni-pyə-ˌlāt \: the act of controlling or playing upon by artful, unfair or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.
By definition, manipulation can be tricky to detect, especially in friendships that tend to progress at a slower rate over time than romantic relationships. The fact is, no one wants to admit that their favorite person in the world (their best friend) is manipulative; even if they’re finding it difficult to ignore the sinking feeling they get each time their friend does something shady. Rest assured, manipulation doesn’t make your friend a bad person, it just means they have a lot to learn about relationships and how to exist in one. The first step in dealing with a manipulative friendship is to be honest about the red flags you notice within your friendship.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see that you’re being taken advantage of until well into the friendship, which will make finding a resolution even harder. Take time to look at your friendships and areas of concern. Early detection is key here. Just like any other relationship, dealing with your concerns early on will alleviate any conflict between you and your friend in the future.
To help you detect the signs of manipulation in your friendship, we’ve put together 5 common signs of manipulation and how they might show up IRL:
1. They Are Passive Aggressive
They avoid confrontation, however, their frustration will usually come by way of a mutual friend. Your mutual friend might say, “Susie Q is not happy with you right now, you should really talk to her.” This is characterized as manipulation because Susie Q has placed all responsibility on you to make amends with her. She’s also playing on your loyalty because, inevitably, you’ll feel guilty until you do.
2. They Never Listen
The conversation is rarely about you, and when it is, you get the feeling they’re not listening. Sigh. Perhaps they are actively responding to text messages on their phone or interrupt your story to tell you something off topic. In either case, they are relaying to you that what you have to say isn’t important to them, and certainly not as important as what they have to say.
3. They Are On A Power Trip
They always have to be in charge and likes the home court advantage. For example, they insist on hosting you at their apartment and places where they’re familiar, as well as doing things they’re familiar with to make sure they’re always in control. They might also try to force you out of your comfort zone to make you feel vulnerable and reliant on them for guidance.
4. They Ask A lot of Favors
This form of manipulation gauges how far you will go to fulfill their requests. You should always be willing to give a friend a helping hand, but it’s a red flag if it comes in tandem with any of these signs.
5. They Get Defensive
When you confront them about some of their behaviors, they become defensive and resistant to hearing your perspective. They may get emotional to avert the attention off the issue and onto their current state, or they may blame an extraneous event as the reason for their actions. If you don’t feel like your concerns are getting across, then you might be dealing with manipulation.
We Need To Talk…
If you recognize any of these signs, then make an effort to sit down with your friend and have a conversation about your concerns. If you’re able to come to a resolution, wait to see if their behavior changes based on the things you’ve spoken about. Another trait of manipulative people is that they will tell you what you want to hear without making any effort to change their behavior. If you decide to remain friends with a manipulator, it’s important to implement a strategy to protect yourself, and take the time to make sure it works.
Time To Say Goodbye
If the manipulation is particularly toxic, or if they become defensive upon confrontation and reluctant to hear your concerns, it may be best to walk away from the friendship completely. Sometimes people don’t even know they have manipulative tendencies and will be reluctant to change. If that’s the case, the behavior may continue to happen again and again, which can negatively impact how you feel about yourself.
Self-care and self-love should be your top priorities when it comes to any relationship. You’re not being a bad friend by standing up for yourself and pointing out signs of a potentially unhealthy friendship. Listen to your intuition and pay attention to the signs. Take time to think about whether or not your friendship is healthy and if it’s worth keeping in your life. It’s always worth the conversation, with yourself and your friend.