Manipulation is abuse

Not all kinds of abuse and toxicity shows itself through physical violence.

How to identify manipulative situations and people, & how to deal with them.

Crowdsourced by survivors


This guide will help you identify manipulative situations and find support to get yourself out of a controlling relationship.

A healthy relationship is...

.....balanced and equal. You feel that you can express your views and opinions freely and act on them without fearing a negative reaction.

A healthy relationship is not...

...feeling that you are being used by someone that your emotional wellbeing is the cost for their happiness. If you feel like this, you are most likely being manipulated and are in an abusive situation.

A controlling relationship is one-sided and unstable.

A controlling relationship does not have to be romantic. It is a relationship where you feel you are being emotionally abused or manipulated into doing things (or put into situations)that make you feel physically and / or emotionally distressed.

Partners, family members, carers, friends, colleagues to even teachers: anyone could be manipulating you.

the action of indirectly interfering with the decision-making process of another person, particularly in a clever or unscrupulous way.

can be abusive, deceptive and sneaky, to make you behave the way the perpetrator wants.

is meant to confuse you and leave you off-balance, and is often very subtle and deceptive

This guide has been crowdsourced by Chayn volunteers, many of which are survivors of abuse, to help signpost you towards as many of the relevant resources we’ve been able to gather. Get in touch if there’s more that we can add. Throughout the guide, we will be using controlling and manipulative interchangeably.

Who this guide is for:

We are all at risk of being controlled, regardless of our gender identity or sexual orientation.It’s not easy to identify abuse in your relationships, especially where there are emotions involved. And it becomes even harder when the perpetrator is not physically harming you. But let’s get one thing straight: mental abuse caused by manipulation is equally harmful.

Moreover there are various social and economic factors that can have an impact some people’s ability to identify and report abuse.

Sadly, if the manipulator is aware of these vulnerabilities, they may try to exploit them to maintain control over you.

We know that women are more likely to experience abuse but there are other factors that we need to keep in mind. Some groups are more vulnerable than others when it comes to controlling relationships, including (but not limited to):

Here’s the bottom line: If you are in an abusive relationship with anyone, you deserve to get the help you need.

Every person has a right to live a life free from abuse.

What the guide is for

Ever felt like someone knew how to push your buttons and despite how uncertain you were of believing or doing something, somehow they were able to make you believe or do something else? Ever felt like someone was trying to control you or force you into situations you do not wish to participate in?

You could be dealing with a controlling person and have found yourself in a manipulative relationship.

This is not limited to behaviour in romantic relationships. You can be manipulated by partners, family, friends, carers, colleagues, teachers - any situation where you feel you are being emotionally abused or manipulated into actions and situations you do not want to be a part of.

This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but is rather a compilation of subtle and more outright examples of manipulation and control, how you can identify them and remove yourself.

Not everyone who acts in the following ways may be deliberately trying to manipulate you. Regardless, it’s important to recognize these behaviours in situations where your rights, interests and safety are at stake.

This is a list of things you can think about, to help you increase your safety.

If you are still in the relationship:

If you decide to leave:

If your abuser continues to (try to) manipulate and control you:

These three scenarios have an emphasis on romantic relationships, but the principles behind all of them apply to any manipulative situation you may find yourself in, and need to remove yourself from.Even if you don't feel your safety is at risk, you could still be in a manipulative relationship. Please do read on if you feel this could be the case.

Regardless of what may drive someone to be controlling, you do not deserve to be subjected to, or continue to accept, this aggression.

Take the quiz

A quiz (researched and taken from this book) to self-assess the healthiness of a personal/professional relationship:

Answer the following questions with a TRUE or FALSE.

There are twelve questions in this quiz.

If you answered more than six of them with TRUE, then you might want to consider the possibility that you are in a controlling relationship. You will find more detailed examples of manipulative behaviour later in this guide.

Take the quiz

How to identify manipulative situations and people,
& how to deal with them.

Manipulation in any situation, resulting in control of your behaviour, thoughts and actions, is a sign of an unhealthy and unbalanced / one-sided relationship.

Healthy social influence is part of the give and take of constructive relationships. In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power, and exploits to serve their own agenda.

Do any of these sound familiar to you in any of your relationships?

Controlling other people’s perceptions of you

This might sound like: “They only like you because I lie to them about you!”

This could include spreading misinformation about you to others, and / or emphasising to you that others’ good opinion of you is entirely dependent on their representation of you, and that you have them to thank for your own success.


This might sound like: "I don't like your parents, they are not good to you and I don't want you to see them”, or telling you which friends you’re allowed to see.

Financial control

This might sound like: "You spend too much on yourself" / "Dear, you know you can't be trusted with money. It's best that I'm in charge."

Manipulative people will use financial control methods to gain power and control in relationships.

Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways to keep someone trapped in a relationship, and can take subtle or overt forms to limit access to assets and accessibility to family finances. This is intentional and is used to entrap you in the relationship.


This might come out in the form of drastic statements about what the manipulator might do if you don’t do what they ask, or over-reactions, such as obsessively calling you if you don’t answer at first.

This could be a form of emotional blackmail and might appear in exaggerated, dramatic language that makes you feel as though the other person’s wellbeing is entirely your responsibility.

Using your beliefs to control you

This might sound like: “How will I get to heaven if I have a child like you?!” / “You have no respect and will never pray for me when I am gone.”This exploits your beliefs for the benefit of the manipulator,resulting in controlling you and your actions.

They may refer to your faith or a higher calling as the reason you need to do something, in order to achieve their own goals.

Not allowed to defend yourself

This might sound like: “I’m sure he / she only has your best interests at heart” / “What did you do to make them feel like that?”

Controlling people may make themselves out to be the victim to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. They may react to your defence- in family situations this can be seen as “talking back”, and is seen as a sign of insolence and disrespect from you.

They will act as though you are the one who has done something wrong and hurt them.Remember you have every right to speak up for yourself.

People will defend your abuser

This might sound like:
“I’m sure he / she only has your best interests at heart”
“What did you do to make them feel like that?”  
“he / she only yelled at you because you made him / her so angry with what you did”

What happens? Others around you may not realise the extent or persistence of the manipulative person’s behaviour, as they may be an expert at hiding it from others, or they believe the abuser’s lies about you, and may have the same beliefs as the abuser but not agree with their methods.

Keeping the status quo is more important than your health

This might sound like: “They are old and set in their ways, it’s our culture.” / “They only want the best for you, I can’t believe you are being so dramatic about this / mean to them.”

What happens? People may make excuses for an abuser's behaviour, even if they know the damage they are inflicting. They will ignore the issue, make excuses, believe the abuser’s lies about you, and in certain cultural contexts, may not agree with the abuser’s methods but fundamentally have the same beliefs as the abuser.

Silent treatment

This might sound like: “Why am I such an awful person…” / “How can I make this better…” / “It doesn’t matter I’m upset because I’ve made them angry…”

What happens? Controlling people may stop talking to you completely to exert pressure upon you, and to coerce you into what they want you to do, and see how long it will take before you break down. One person shares:“My very first boyfriend did this when I didn't want to have sex. He literally turned his back on me, and didn't respond to anything until I agreed to have sex. No violence involved, but very damaging still…”

The ‘no way out’ question

This might sound like: “How could you say that to me?”

What happens? You might think you are given a choice by being asked a question but the answer has already been decided by the manipulator. Usually, after such a question, there is a pause and people are programmed to respond to a conversational pause by offering to help, hence you might just do whatever the manipulator wants you to do.

A question disguised as a statement

This might sound like:
“I was wondering why you…”
“Perhaps you could…”
“I wish you would…”

What happens? Manipulative people avoid asking questions because they do not want to lose control. So instead they frame statements as questions.


This might sound like:
“They only like you because I lie to them about you!”
“I never said that! You are imagining things again.” or
“You are nowhere near as beautiful as she is”
“You are nothing compared to them”.

What happens? Manipulators may react aggressively to avoid answering as they may fear loss of control. They may even shift the focus onto you by asking you questions, or may start accusing you or even change the subject completely.


This might sound like:
“If you loved me…”
“Every decent person would…” or “You should be grateful you have me…” “Do you think anyone else would want you?”
“You would be nothing without me”,
or making you feel guilty for normal actions - e.g. “Why did you get your haircut without telling me?”

What happens? Controlling people use statements to make you feel guilty about doing or not doing something.


This might sound like: “What will people say if you leave? You made your decision and you have to stop being so ungrateful.”

What happens? Normalisation refers to social processes through which ideas and actions are seen as culturally “normal” in everyday life. Manipulative people take full advantage of this and use it against you.

Universal statements

This may sound like: “You are so lazy!” / “You forget to do this every time!” / “Everyone knows that you’re bad.”

What happens? These generalise a person’s character or behaviour in a negative way. They often involve the use of words such as “always,”“never,”“again,”“so,”“every time,”“such as,” and “everyone.”

Invalidate feelings

This may sound like: “You’re blowing things way out of proportion.” OR: “Your anger is a big of an overreaction.”

What happens? Manipulators will invalidate your feelings. This happens when we recognise emotions, positive or negative, coming out of a person, and either discount, belittle, minimise, ignore or negatively judge these feelings.

If these behaviours seem familiar to you, you could be in a controlling relationship.

We have gathered a non-exhaustive list of resources and useful information for you in this guide. Let us know of any others you think would be helpful to add by getting in touch. You can also add lovedoctorin on Snapchat for confidential counselling and check out for more information.


While we hope our guide has given you tips on how to identify manipulation and has made you more confident, there are many resources out there that could be useful to you. We have compiled a few that are particularly relevant and helpful below. This is a work in progress and we will be updating it. This is why you will find many of the links are relevant only for the UK as most of the volunteers who worked on this guide are based in UK.


To have a safe space to talk to strangers about your relationship: 7 Cups of tea [global]

In the UK, there are many options:

If you’re in Pakistan, India or Italy, check our project sites to find out what help is available: Chayn Pakistan, Chayn India & Chayn Italia

Spotting the signs

How to recognise and handle manipulative relationships

Emotional abuse is damaging to your health and self-esteem, and affects all aspects of your life. Read some of the signs that people who have been in these situations have shared here, in Tweet form

More real life examples of non-violent abuse in relationships here in the Huffington Post.

Financial abuse in relationships - Huffington Post outlines some of the signs here

Manipulation is not just limited to romantic relationships - partners, family, friends, carers, teachers and work colleagues may also be perpetrators. Business Insider wrote about this here

Age UK provides a definition of elder abuse and advice on protecting yourself here

14 signs of psychological and emotional manipulation herefrom Psychology Today

Culture-specific abuse signs are outlined in this blog post

Preparing to leave an abusive relationship

Leaving an abusive relationship - read one woman’s story here

Making a safety plan in preparation of leaving an abusive relationship is here

Creating boundaries and sticking to them - read more here and here

Communications tips and techniques to remind yourself it’s not you can be found here

The law

It is encouraging to see many countries are taking important steps to include emotional abuse in existing legislation as well as introducing new legislation on domestic abuse. One such case is the UK.

The UK Government has published a Statutory Guidance Framework on Controlling and Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship here. This created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour.

Remember,manipulation and coercive control - that is the use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance - is illegal in England and Scotland. New powers will target perpetrators who subject spouses, partners and other family members to serious psychological and emotional torment, but stop short of violence.

Who made this?

This guide is a project by CHAYN, an open-source project that uses technology to empower women against violence and oppression so they can live happier and healthier lives. You can see our Impact reports here.

License: The content for this document is openly licensed using theCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International. All are invited to remix and distribute it as long as it is appropriately attributed. We want to see more organisations use it!

View more on this license here. Legal code can be found here.

Volunteers who have worked on this guide: