How Manipulation Works in Relationships

Unraveling the various structures of manipulation.

Source: Matt Paul Catalano on Unsplash

Manipulation is something that everyone has experienced. We all have encountered one person in our life who manipulates people as a way to get by.

Manipulation doesn’t have to be in a romantic relationship; it can be in any relationship.

Maybe a friend manipulates you to feel bad for them to avoid responsibility for their actions. Perhaps a romantic partner begins buying you gifts and is overly helpful — utterly different from who they usually are. Then the secret is out that they were caught in a lie and wanted to use this to get out of it.

Manipulation can happen in a wide array of different relationships and scenarios. But, at the root of it, manipulation is vile and reward-driven.

I’ve discussed manipulation with narcissists, but I wanted to branch that topic out and evaluate manipulation. I’ve discussed narcissism and manipulation, but there is much more to the surface level of manipulation.

So what is manipulation truly?

Power imbalance

When someone manipulates you, there is a power dynamic at play. The person manipulating you may exploit your weaknesses, target your insecurities, and cause you to become more dependent on them.

When they exploit your weaknesses, they are targeting your insecurities. By targeting your flaws and insecurities, they are looking to control you.

“A manipulator will actively lie to you, make excuses, blame you, or strategically share facts about them and withhold other truths. In doing this, they feel they are gaining power over you and gaining intellectual superiority.” (Manipulation: Symptoms to Look For WebMD)

Sometimes a power imbalance can look like one person having more decision power in the relationship. Or perhaps your friend’s opinions are more important than anyone else’s.

A power imbalance is created for one party to control the other. This puts the power off, making one partner more in control. It’s a damaging dynamic that can have lasting effects.

A power imbalance usually leaves the person manipulating to get the desired end goal that they want. This puts the manipulator’s wants and desires as being a top priority.

There should always be equal power in a relationship, no matter what. One person is not more important than the other. There should always be proper balance within a relationship. There has to be sacrifice and balance to have a healthy relationship.


The manipulator will use a large amount of guilt to get you to do what they want. Honestly, guilt seems to be the most common way people manipulate others.

Manipulation always seems to have a touch of guilt, which is the emotional factor. If you feel bad for someone, you may be more inclined to help this person. It’s easier for someone to manipulate you if you feel bad for this person.

The people in my life that have always manipulated me (my narcissist, to be exact) were out to make me feel bad for them. If I felt bad or guilty for my behavior, they were much more likely to impact my future behavior.

Guilt was a strong motivating factor to be compliant with what someone wanted. If I felt bad for my actions or pitied them, I would be much more likely to be there for the manipulator.

Motivating factors

At the root of it all, what causes someone to manipulate? There can be many reasons, but it’s from self-desire, as discussed earlier.

According to good therapy, there are a plethora of reasons why someone manipulates:

  • Poor communication
  • Avoiding connection
  • Fear
  • Defensiveness

Someone wants something from you, and they will manipulate you to get that. Manipulation doesn’t always need to be in the form of fraud, cheating, or destruction. Sometimes, it can be something as simple as not getting into trouble.

But regardless, the manipulation affects you — it sucks.

Most likely, the manipulator is insecure and sees manipulation as the only way to survive (for some people, that can be very true). Sometimes it’s easier for someone to lie and manipulate because telling the truth would be too hard. This isn’t an excuse but rather a reason why some people may manipulate.

As originally posted on Medium and NewsBreak