Manipulation is abuse

Not all kinds of abuse and toxicity show themselves through physical violence.

How to identify manipulative tactics, behaviours, 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.

Think about it for a moment: there may be that person in our lives who really knows how to push our buttons. Despite how certain we are of believing or doing something, somehow they make us question ourselves. We may feel like someone is trying to control us, make us doubt ourselves, or force us into situations we really don’t want to be in. Does this feel familiar?

It’s possible that we are dealing with a controlling and manipulative person. This is the right place to identify how others may be manipulating us in a relationship, and learn how to find support to get out of this.

What this guide is for

This guide is for anyone who suspects something is off in their relationship, is confused about their relationship, wants to understand what healthy relationships look like, wants to find support getting out of a relationship, or just wants to understand more about manipulative people. It is also for those of us supporting someone close to us who is experiencing manipulation. This guide has been crowdsourced by Chayn volunteers, many of whom are survivors of abuse, and reviewed by two trauma therapists. 

This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list of manipulative or coercive behaviours. Instead, it’s a compilation of both subtle and more outright examples of manipulation and control, how we can identify them, and how we can remove ourselves from those relationships. Throughout this guide, we will use the terms ‘controlling’ and ‘manipulative’ interchangeably.

Not everyone who acts in the following ways may be deliberately trying to manipulate us, but this guide does help us identify and recognise those acts for what they are. Regardless of whether they are intentional or not, these behaviours can be harmful, restrict our independence, infringe on our rights, and affect our safety. It’s important to recognise when these tactics become a pattern, bring them to light, and seek help for ourselves. 

Who the guide is for

We are all at risk of being controlled, regardless of our gender identity, sexual orientation, race, age, or any other characteristic.

It’s not easy to identify abuse in our relationships, especially where there are emotions involved. It can become even more complicated when the perpetrator is not physically harming us — a sign of abuse that is more widely recognised. But let’s get one thing straight: emotional and psychological abuse is abuse, and are equally harmful. 

Moreover, there are various social and economic factors that can impact some people’s ability to identify and/or report abuse, such as gender, sex, religion, disability, and immigration status. Sadly, a manipulator may be aware of these vulnerabilities and may try to exploit them to maintain control over us.

Here are three key facts we want to remember as we read through this guide:

Take the quiz

Every relationship looks different. When talking about manipulative relationships, it’s important to acknowledge that people communicate and process their emotions differently. It’s not always possible to look at one specific behaviour and say that it’s ‘always’ bad or ‘never’ healthy. For example, it’s possible to disagree without either person’s behaviour being manipulative or abusive. It’s also okay to feel sad or upset after an argument. We might also occasionally say mean or hurtful words to a loved one which we don’t mean. It’s when this behaviour becomes a pattern that we may be seeing the signs of a manipulative relationship. We may need to reflect on whether there is manipulation or signs of it in our relationship. 

There are also ‘green flags’: positive features of a relationship that indicate when our relationship is based in care and mutual respect. Healthy relationships are based on the principles of trust, open communication, and kindness. Even when we disagree or make a mistake, our relationship is still founded in a reciprocal sense of compassion and care. You can read more about healthy relationships in the next section. 

With that said, the following quiz has some statements on what are often called ‘red flags’: behaviours that can often be used to help us identify whether we are in a manipulative relationship. Manipulative and abusive relationships can be of many different kinds: not only relationships with a romantic partner, but relationships with family members, work colleagues, and more. We’ve written this quiz to primarily reflect family, friends, and romantic relationships, but some statements may also apply to work or other contexts. 

While taking this quiz, adapted from a quiz in Harriet Braiker’s book ‘Who’s Pulling Your Strings’, replace [name] in each statement with the name of the person you are considering.

Answer the following questions with a True or False:

If you find yourself strongly relating to a few of these statements, or relating at least partly to half of them, you might want to consider the possibility that you are in a controlling relationship. If there is ambiguity in your answers, this is a good time to reflect on your relationship; you could use journaling as a tool to do this. Even if you feel confused, this guide can support you as you reflect further on your relationship. You will find more detailed examples of manipulative behaviours further on.


What is a manipulative relationship?

A manipulative relationship happens when one person uses emotional and verbal coercion — tactics such as threats, criticism, and lying — to control the other person. It can also include physical violence. 

Manipulation isn’t just unfair or mean: it’s abuse. We’ll go into lots of detail later, but here are a couple of key types of manipulation that are considered abuse.


when an abuser breaks down someone’s sense of self. It can take the form of withholding affection or attention, aggressive or intimidating behaviour, or verbal abuse. It can be deceptive and sneaky, meant to confuse us and leave us off-balance.


a pattern of behaviour designed to intimidate someone. Through coercive control, an abuser uses threats of harm, punishment, or humiliation to control the survivor’s behaviour.

What is a healthy relationship?

Unlike a manipulative relationship, a healthy relationship is based on mutual compassion, care, and respect. We don’t just have to look for the negative signs in our relationships to know how they’re going: the presence of positive signs is equally important.

A healthy relationship is...

...balanced and equal. We feel that we can express our views freely and act on them without fearing a negative reaction. When we disagree, we’re able to resolve it with respect and without being criticised, belittled, or shamed. Care and patience are reciprocated between both of us.

A healthy relationship is not….

...feeling that we are being used by someone and that our emotional wellbeing is the cost for their happiness. It often feels one-sided and unstable. We may feel fear about their reactions and worry about sharing things with them.

There are two areas that are especially helpful to think about where the signs of a healthy relationship might appear: communication and boundaries.

Communication. Healthy communication means different things for different people. Some people are very comfortable expressing themselves in conversation, while for others it might take a bit more effort. Some people like to have difficult conversations in the moment when a disagreement occurs, while others prefer to wait and process their feelings before speaking. No matter what our communication preferences are, healthy communication is based on respect, care, and trust. We work with each other to come to a solution, validating the other person’s feelings, while feeling free to share our own perspective and have it heard.

Want to improve your communication skills? Check our 'Assertive communication' course on Soul medicine.

Boundaries. Our boundaries are the circumstances we need to feel safe, respected, and joyful in our relationships. Overall, we have physical boundaries (boundaries around our body, personal space, touch, and privacy), sexual boundaries (boundaries around sexual activity), and emotional boundaries (boundaries around how we share and process our and others’ emotions), as well as some other types, like time boundaries (how we spend our time) and material boundaries (boundaries around our physical possessions). When we communicate our boundaries in a healthy way, we are:

Learn more about creating boundaries and communicating them by taking our 'Creating boundaries' course on Bloom, or reading it at your own pace on Soul medicine

In a healthy relationship, we will get direct, honest, respectful, and clear communication from the other person as well. Both of us feel able to be open and vulnerable, without fearing criticism, shame, or humiliation from the other person. 

And in a healthy relationship, we don’t have to be perfect! We might struggle with communication or boundaries, but there is always a recognition of the need to work on things for the good of the relationship. For example, we might find it hard to bring up things that are bothering us, but we still try our best to communicate clearly and honestly. In healthy relationships, there is room for us to grow and develop.

What Manipulation looks like

In psychological manipulation, one person is used for the benefit of another. The manipulator deliberately creates an imbalance of power and exploits the other to serve their own agenda. Manipulation in any situation, which results in the control of our behaviour, thoughts, and actions, is a sign of an unhealthy, unbalanced, and one-sided relationship.

This guide focuses on emotional abuse. Emotional abuse often occurs alongside or is intertwined with physical and/or sexual abuse. Though this guide does not deal with physical, or sexual abuse in detail, it does touch upon many different and intertwining manifestations of abuse — all of which are serious and cause lasting harm.

If we are in a manipulative relationship, it may be hard for us to recognise what’s problematic or explain right away what’s wrong in our relationship. Articulating it may not be straightforward, and the situation might be complex, for example, if we share a family with the manipulator. We may also have been silent about this for so long that we don’t know where to begin or have normalised this behaviour and accepted it. This may keep us from asking for the help we need or leaving the relationship. This guide is meant to help us recognise manipulative behaviours so we can better identify and explain what’s happening to us. 

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


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 “I didn’t have fun with your friends tonight, they’re boring,” or “Let’s not meet your friends tonight, we met them just last week,” or “Your friend was telling me you two had a fight recently? She told me she hates you,” or “Do you really have to meet him/her tonight?” or “I love you so much, I just want you all to myself,” or “I don’t think men and women can be friends.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Abusers make excuses or create stress around us seeing other people which forces us to avoid socialising. They might target this isolation towards friends that are of a particular gender or anyone who knows us well enough to be able to spot the abuse. They might lie to us about our friends and family to discourage us from seeing them. They might tell us that these people have confided in them about us, and that they dislike us. Over time, we become more withdrawn and fall out of touch with the people around us — making us more dependent on the abuser.

Isolation might happen if we are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. If we have only recently come out, don’t have contact with our old social networks, or share our friendships with our partners, they might try to put us on the edge of our social group and make us dependent on their presence in social situations. If they are better known in the LGBTQIA+ community, they may try to leverage that to impact what others think of us, make us feel inadequate within the community, or tell us that they know best and will subsequently make all the decisions for both of us.

Isolation is a common control tactic. It cuts us off from our support networks — people who might otherwise be able to help us recognise the abuse or leave the abusive person. Remember that we have the right to see and interact with whoever we want, irrespective of how the manipulator feels about them.

Using finances to control and abuse us

This might sound like:

"You spend too much on yourself," or "Dear, you know you can't be trusted with money. It's best that I'm in charge," or “Do you really need this job?” or “Show me your receipts, I know you’ve been going behind my back with our money, and I need to know I can trust you,” or “I need this now, if you really love me and trust me, you’ll give it to me.”

This might look like:

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

What happens?

Manipulative people use finances to gain power and maintain control in relationships. Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways to keep someone trapped, and can take subtle or overt forms to limit access to assets and accessibility to family finances. This is intentional and is used to keep us stuck in the relationship.

Finances can prove to be especially difficult when we are an immigrant, as the abuser could prohibit us from working, and therefore we would not become financially independent or able to step away from them. Or they might force us to work excessively and provide all essentials for our family, because it’s the only way to keep them safe from immigration authorities.

Money should not be used as a reason to control or monitor us. We have the right to access it, save it, use it, and live our lives as we see fit. Financial independence is often the key to our being able to step out of an abusive relationship. With Soul medicine, we offer micro-courses that can help you learn how to manage your money as well as open a bank account.

Financial abuse and addiction

For some people, financial control looks like an abuser demanding a lot of money at very short notice with little or no explanation. They often promise that they’ll give us back our money later, but over time they never actually follow through. Needing lots of money in a short amount of time can sometimes be linked to addiction. For example, an abuser may have a gambling addiction where they have accumulated a large debt, or a substance addiction where they need money for alcohol or drugs.

However, someone having an addiction does not make a relationship unhealthy: addiction is a mental health problem that deserves love, support, and care. It’s possible to be in a healthy relationship with someone who has an addiction. Remember our principles of healthy relationships: when someone can be open about their struggles, honest about their needs, and respectful of our feelings, we can support them through their problems, and vice versa.

It’s situations where someone uses coercion as a way of sustaining their addiction that a relationship can become abusive. If we notice a pattern of behaviour where someone often demands a lot of money from us very quickly without telling us why, it’s possible that person is struggling with an addiction, and it’s worth speaking to a loved one about what to do.

If someone does this as a repeated behaviour, or uses threats (“if you don’t give it to me, you’ll be sorry”) or manipulation (“I guess you don’t really love me”) to convince us to give them money, that’s abuse.

*Dowry is a payment from the bride to the groom’s family, practised in certain parts of the world such as South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.


This might sound like:

“I can’t do this without you,” or “You know how I get when you’re not around,” or “I can’t live without you,” or “You’re the only one who gets me,” or “I’ll die without you.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Dependence happens when an abuser creates the perception that their emotional wellbeing is entirely dependent on us and is our responsibility — and that if we don’t behave how they want, they will be in pain, and it will be our fault. 

This might come out in the form of drastic statements, and exaggerated/dramatic language about what the manipulator might do if we don’t fulfil what they demand, or reactions such as obsessively calling or messaging us if we don’t answer at first. All of this is a form of emotional blackmail.  

They might always ‘glue’ themselves to us, accompanying us wherever we go or remaining present when we are talking to our friends on text and phone. They might not give us the space which allows us to thrive in other relationships and build our own one-to-one bond with these people. This, in combination with isolation, can make us feel alone and dependent on the manipulator.

In intimate relationships, it can be difficult to see through this manipulation, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that someone wanting all our time and attention is actually romantic. But wanting someone in our life is very different than making them feel suffocated and as if without them we would stop living. 

A manipulator may use gender norms to force us to always fulfil their basic needs at the expense of ignoring our own needs — such as making them food, doing their laundry, or keeping their house clean. When and if we’re not able to care for ourselves, or our own well-being is harmed, or they don’t fulfil our needs, these gender norms are being employed in an insidious way. For example, it could look like us trying to fulfil their needs even when we are sick.

As an adult child, we may experience ‘dependence’ from our parents if they constantly make us feel that we shouldn’t live our own life or make independent choices and must only think of their needs. They may tell us we’re being selfish if we pursue a certain career path or romantic partner whom they don’t approve of. Similarly, as a parent we may experience this when our adult children keep demanding that we support them, despite being capable of supporting themselves. 

It’s natural for us to feel guilty or sorry for a loved one if a situation has been created where we feel everyone else is distant from them or we feel responsible for the wellbeing of that person but it’s not our responsibility to shoulder that burden. Mutual care and independence are the foundations of equal relationships. We deserve to have a life outside of their needs.


This might sound like:

For the abuser: “This is just how things are done,” or “You should be grateful I don’t treat you like others treat their partners.”

From other people: “What will people say if you leave? You made your decision and you have to stop being so ungrateful,” or “This is how men are in our culture, you just need to compromise,” or “Look, she’s also been living with her partner even though he beats her up. At least your partner doesn’t do that.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Normalisation refers to social processes through which harmful ideas and actions are seen as culturally ‘normal’ in everyday life. It is a tactic that a person abusing us may use to normalise their inappropriate behaviour towards us so that we accept it as commonplace. It’s also a tactic others can use to force us to remain in an abusive relationship (romantic or otherwise).

Manipulative people take full advantage of this and use it against us. This kind of manipulation can be particularly difficult to fight against, simply because it feels like everyone around us, or even our entire society, is telling us that we’re wrong.

Remember that we are allowed to trust our instincts and judgement about manipulative tactics. If we feel that someone is crossing the line with us, we can choose to remove ourselves from the situation. No one has the right to tell us that we should have ‘compromised’ or ‘accepted’ something, simply because others in our society have or it’s ‘normal’ to do so. We are the experts in our life experiences and we deserve love, safety, and respect.

Two aspects of normalisation tactics could be using religious beliefs to control us or exerting control using culture and traditions. Read on to learn more about these.

Using religious beliefs to control us

This might sound like:

“How will I get to heaven if I have a child like you?!” or “You have no respect and will never pray for me when I am gone,” or “You’re sinning by not listening to me, God will punish you,” or “You have to do this because it’s mandated by God.”

This might look like:

What happens?

This kind of abuse exploits our shared religious beliefs for the benefit of the manipulator, resulting in controlling us and our actions. A manipulator may refer to our faith or a higher calling as the reason we need to do something, in order to achieve their goals. Depending on our religious belief, this might even involve concepts of afterlife, sin, and more, to guilt us into obeying them.

Such abuse makes use of our religious beliefs to harass, humiliate, or traumatise us. It can include the use of manipulating religious texts or positions of authority within a religious community, as well restricting the way we choose to practise our beliefs. This abuse is often perpetrated by someone who holds power and respect within our community but that doesn't make it, or any other form of it, acceptable.

It can also be perpetrated by an intimate partner, who could use religious injunctions to control our movements, dictate our choices, and tell us that we’re wrong to ask for our rights. For example, they may claim superiority over us based on their gender, because it may be one of the ways our religious texts have been interpreted. Or they may tell us that our ‘place’ is within the home.

Whatever our beliefs are, they are unique to us and our experience and should be free from exploitation. Abuse is not a part of any religion, and our relationship with our religion is our business alone.

Exerting control using culture and traditions

This might sound like:

From an abuser: “This is our tradition, you are a disgrace for not knowing/following these rituals. Haven’t your parents taught you anything?” or “You are too young to know these things, trust me I have years of experience and knowledge of our traditions. Just do what I tell you to,” or “This is normal, everyone does it,” or “What will people say?”

From others: “They are set in their ways, it’s our culture,” or “They only want the best for you, I can’t believe you are being so dramatic about this / mean to them,” or “You need to stand by them to make this relationship successful,” or “It’s your fault if you don’t understand our culture.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Having a shared culture or traditions with our abuser can be a way for them to exert control over us. They might do this by accusing us of disrespecting our culture and/or traditions and using our culture to justify and normalise their abusive behaviours.

Often, the abuser’s actions or words might be hurtful because they might attack our sense of self and identity as well as cause us to question our place within our own culture. But if we aren’t aware of alternatives, we might agree with them or accept their actions without the word ‘abuse’ even crossing our mind. If we discuss or share any concerns with others, they may also make excuses for the abuser’s behaviour, even if they know the damage they are inflicting. They may ignore the issue, justify their actions, believe the abuser’s lies about us, or even believe the abuse is a normal thing to happen. In certain cultural contexts, they may not agree with the abuser’s methods but fundamentally have the same beliefs as the abuser. Find out more about this topic in our session on 'Mythologies of the patriarchy', from our Bloom course, ‘Society, patriarchy, and sexual trauma’.

Furthermore, most cultures have a history of glorifying unequal power dynamics in relationships as romantic, cute, or even ‘relationship goals’. For example, while a partner believing in rigid gender roles and stereotypes is regarded as a warning sign for intimate partner violence, these stereotypes and roles are often presented in social media campaigns, Hollywood films, and most companies’ extended leave policies as ‘normal’. The media often glorifies unhealthy pursuit culture that doesn’t acknowledge consent in initiating relationships or even ongoing consent as we date someone. Chasing after someone, even a complete stranger, is a staple of most romantic comedies in Hollywood, but it actually highlights an unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation. Because of the prevalence and normalisation of unhealthy behaviours, it can be challenging to identify them when we or someone else discloses their experience.

Another prevalent value in many cultures is for women to provide emotional support and loyalty to their partners. When they talk to friends and family about leaving an abusive relationship, they may already feel like they are letting their partner down and failing their ‘role’. Because we are all socialised and taught to consider a successful partnership as one that lasts forever despite any challenges, others can project onto us the idea that by leaving an abusive relationship we may have failed or let the family down in some way.

The practices of our culture can be upheld on the level of family codes and stepping away from these would be looked upon as a betrayal by the manipulator. For example, our family custom may be to greet each other in a very specific way such as with a kiss on the cheek, and if we decide to set boundaries around this, we may be told that we are rude, ill-mannered, or ‘acting out’. This could also extend to family traditions such as meeting up on certain occasions or performing certain activities together. A manipulator would hold it against us when we don’t fulfil these, whether or not we had a good reason for setting that boundary.

Culture should never be used to exert control or justify cruelty towards us, no matter how prevalent it is around us. A shared cultural background does not excuse any type of manipulative behaviour. Nurturing a community of like-minded people, who accept us for who we are, can be an important source of support in the longer run until we find the space where we can be free. We can choose to practise our culture, tradition, and customs in different ways and still adhere to social values — only we can decide what is right and wrong for us.

Controlling our social circle’s perceptions

This might sound like:

From an abuser: “They only like you because I lie to them about you!” or “If they knew what you’re actually like, they wouldn’t like you,” or “They don’t know the real you, like I do!”

From others: “I’m sure they only have your best interests at heart,” or “What did you do to make them feel like that?” or “They only yelled at you because you made them so angry by what you did.”

This might look like:

What happens?

People who manipulate learn to present themselves in ways that make them extremely likeable to people around them, not just us. They are experts at performing and putting up a good image. This makes it hard for others to believe that they can be abusive. The manipulator may use this to control other people’s perceptions of themselves, us, and the relationship. 

A manipulator might tell us that others’ good opinions of us are entirely dependent on the manipulator’s representation of us, and that we should thank them for our own success. This might make us hesitant to confide in others and lead to isolation. 

We might also hesitate to confide in those around us because we know that the abuser has manipulated our social circle. A manipulator might get close to people around us and build strong relationships with them. This allows them to spread lies about us so that when we’re sharing our story people give our manipulator the benefit of the doubt. This might make others fail to realise the extent or persistence of the manipulator’s behaviour — especially if they are an expert at hiding it. Others may believe their lies, which can make telling our story more difficult.

Most people do not assume or want to believe that a relationship is abusive. They may not know what intimate partner violence and manipulation are really like. Society constantly tells us that relationships take work, and though there may be ‘hiccups’ along the way, forgiveness (especially of men by women) is key to things ‘working out’ in the long run. While this can be true in healthy relationships, people who are abusive are unlikely to change permanently. If our abuser has manipulated our social circle’s perceptions, and people are not able to identify the signs of a manipulative relationship, they are likely to encourage us to stay in our relationship. They are misguidedly believing that we are experiencing the type of issue that can be worked through. 

This means we have to be brave and vulnerable when and if we want to share what we’re going through. When we experience abuse, however, we may not be able to create a straightforward narrative of what happened and how it is impacting us. Although this is a completely normal response to trauma, those around us (including law enforcement and the general population) might be unfamiliar with it and expect a more linear narrative. People might question our credibility, take the side of the abuser, or even try to convince us to go back to the abuser, especially if they have manipulated their perception of us. This might make opening up to someone very difficult. This guide has more information on how to open up about what’s happening to us.  

If others defend the person who is hurting us, we may begin to normalise the situation. This can especially happen if the first person we confide in doesn’t believe us and supports the abuser. We may have thoughts like: “Everyone has flaws — I only have one problem with them, everything else is fine, so maybe I should just accept this,” or “Maybe I’m the problem,” or “Everyone deserves another chance; I can change them,” or “They are a very jovial, nice person to everyone else — no one will believe me.” We have these thoughts because we are trying to stay safe in what is an extremely difficult situation, but others who care about us should be looking out for our happiness and safety. We are not to blame, and we don’t have to remain silent. 

Our friends and support systems should remind us that even if our relationship doesn't look manipulative from the outside, we deserve to make our own decisions about how to be happy and healthy. We should not be forced to stay in a relationship we don't want to stay in anymore. Within our Good friend guide we share information for people on how they can be supportive of those going through an abusive relationship.

Remember that we have our own relationships with others outside of what the manipulator says or does. If we feel we’re being misrepresented, we can choose to have open and honest conversations with people we care about. We recognise that this may not be possible until we are in a safe space. But no matter what, we do deserve to be heard, supported, and believed. Even if others initially struggle to understand what is happening to us, those with our best interests at heart should be able to hear and validate our truth. Remember, we are not alone.


This might look like:

“You’re making a big deal out of nothing,” or “I won’t talk to you about this because I don’t think you care about me” or “Since you didn’t listen to me then, I won’t tell you this now.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Stonewalling refers to when someone literally acts like a stone wall and doesn't engage with us, in order to make us feel hurt or belittled. Controlling people may stop talking to us completely to exert pressure upon us, to coerce us into what they want us to do, and/or to see how long it will take before we break down.

Stonewalling is a very direct and intentional behaviour. This is not the same thing as someone being unable to answer in the moment or being quiet and reserved by nature. While others might communicate or express emotion differently from us or need time and space in order to communicate, stonewalling refers to when someone refuses to communicate with us at all. After stonewalling, we may begin to think things like, “Why am I such an awful person?” or “How can I make this better?” or “It doesn’t matter that I’m upset because I’ve made them angry.”

It’s important to remember when anyone is stonewalling, ignoring, or ghosting us that it is not our fault and we are not responsible for their actions, especially if they are implying that this is a reaction to something we did. Anyone who respects us would be willing to have a conversation about what they are thinking and feeling, even if it simply means communicating that they need some space or time to figure out their feelings. We should not be left in a limbo, trying to figure out what we did to deserve this and searching for ways to ‘fix’ things.

The ‘no way out’ question

This might sound like:

“How could you say that to me?” or “Did you even think before you said that to me?” or “Is that what you think about us?”

What happens?

We might think we are being given a choice by being asked a question, but actually the answer has already been decided by the manipulator. After a question like this, there is usually a pause. Most people are 'programmed' to respond to a conversational pause by offering to help, so we might find that we are agreeing to do whatever the manipulator wants us to, without realising that we’ve been coerced into it.

Doing something because we wanted to is not the same as doing something because we simply had no choice. Later, a manipulator may tell us that if we did something or agreed to it, it was proof that we wanted to do it. If we had no choice (although it seemed like we did), and we were forced to make a decision against our wishes or desires, this is also abuse.

A manipulator may also ask leading questions that pressure us to share opinions that ultimately support their goals. For example, they may ask us a question in front of a room full of people so that we won’t say no. By carefully choosing the setting of the situation and the framing of their questions, a manipulator can distort their act of abuse by passing it off as a joke. They may also use this tactic to invalidate emotions and feelings we may have expressed in the past.

It can be hard not to answer such tricky questions and realise, in that moment, that we’re being manipulated. However, it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t owe an answer or a behaviour to anyone. We should only say and do what feels right to us and what we feel comfortable with. Once we recognise a pattern of such behaviour, it is okay to stand up to it, distance ourselves, or go to a place of safety.


This might sound like:

“That never happened,” or “It didn’t happen that way,” or “You imagined it,” or ‘It’s all in your head,” or “I never said/did that,” or “You tend to have a bad memory,” or “Stop making things up,” or “It’s not a big deal,” or “Why are you making this an issue?” or “You’re crazy,” or “You’re too sensitive.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Being gaslighted means we are repeatedly made to doubt our own thoughts, memories, perceptions, and experiences, and made to feel that no one will believe us if we say anything. It involves a power imbalance between the abuser and us.

Over time, being gaslighted and told that our version of reality is wrong — that we’re misremembering or making up events — leaves us feeling confused, hopeless, frustrated, and constantly on edge. It makes us question our most fundamental trust in ourselves: our memory, instinct, and knowledge of things that have happened. To every memory we think we remember, we question: “Did that really happen, or did I just make it up again? Can I really trust myself?” This may escalate to the point where we begin to question our sanity or face a serious mental health crisis, needing professional care and intervention to bring us back to trusting ourselves and what we know.

Gaslighting is an incredibly harmful and destructive behaviour. It makes sense that gaslighting has such a powerful effect on us — being constantly told that we’re wrong, or that we’ve imagined everything, is a deeply destabilising and confusing experience. When we are gaslighted about abuse, our abuser is sowing self-doubt and confusion in our mind, breaking down our ability to trust our own perceptions, making it more likely that we stay in the abusive relationship, and even make excuses for their behaviour to others. If we’ve been gaslighted, remember that it wasn’t our fault, we’re not ‘losing’ our mind, and there is hope. We know what has happened in our lives; no one can ever take that away from us.

One of the ways in which we may be gaslighted is if our feelings and emotions are constantly invalidated. We discuss this below.

Invalidating our feelings and emotions

This might sound like:

“You’re blowing things way out of proportion,” or “Your anger is a bit of an overreaction,” or “Why are you making a big deal out of something so small?”

This might look like:

What happens?

Manipulators will invalidate our feelings. This happens when they recognise our emotions, positive or negative, and either discount, belittle, minimise, ignore, and/or negatively judge these feelings. They may use this tactic in arguments with us, to undermine us, and to avoid taking responsibility or accountability for their actions.

While not usually considered gaslighting because it doesn’t make us question what has happened, it does make us question the meaning of what happened. We may think to ourselves that perhaps the manipulator didn’t intend to hurt us or that we took their words in the wrong way and we’re at fault. When our feelings are constantly trivialised, this does make us doubt ourselves and our view of the world.

No matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ our feelings are, we deserve to be respected and heard. All our emotions are valid.


This might sound like:

“They only like you because I lie to them about you!” or “I never said that! You are imagining things again,” or “You’re always making things up,” or “I swear in the name of God, I’m not lying,” or “If you love me, you should say this.”

This might look like:

What happens?

An abusive partner’s lying could revolve around the dynamics of our relationship where they might decide by themselves when to act as a couple and when to ignore us. This might also happen in queer relationships, if our partner is in denial about their sexuality and does not want to fully accept our relationship for what it is. Queer relationships might not be accepted in our society, and so the act of hiding the relationship may build up increased feelings of shame and insecurity in us.

Our partner may also hide their relationships with other people from us, or cheat on us and lie about it when we confront them. Hiding cheating may involve other forms of manipulation, such as isolating us from those who might tell us the truth, gaslighting us, or promising that they will leave the other person with no intention of following through. This can also happen when we are the new partner and are repeatedly told by the abuser that they will leave their original partner for us, but then they don’t.

The abuser could also force, coerce, or manipulate us into lying on their behalf. This could involve lying to others about the abuser’s acts and intentions towards them or lying about our own acts and intentions. It could also involve lying about our relationship to everyone else; essentially making us paint a false picture of a happy relationship.

Manipulators may react aggressively if we ask questions about their lying and/or avoid answering our questions as they may fear loss of control. They may even shift the focus onto us by asking us questions, accusing us, or entirely changing the subject. Lying becomes a form of gaslighting when it is used as a repeated behaviour to make us constantly question what we remember and think we know about what has happened.

When we are repeatedly and habitually made to question our realities and experiences, it can also be incredibly hard to see abuse for what it is. Even when we’ve been subjected to abuse, we might question that perception, thinking “Oh, they’re not actually that terrible,” or “That was just one time,” or even “I do tend to overreact, maybe I just made that up”. However, sometimes there is a mismatch between how we feel and what we think. We can trust our instincts, if we feel that we’ve been abused. You can seek help using some of the resources we look at later.

A healthy relationship involves open and honest communication especially about anything that impacts our connection with each other. If our manipulator constantly lies to us, keeps insisting that they’ve done nothing wrong, or apologises repeatedly only to lie to us once again, we do not owe it to them to maintain our connection to them and repeatedly forgive them. We may find ourselves thinking that we can ‘fix’ them, but this is often a trap set by the manipulator to keep us attached to them.

Verbal abuse: Belittling and berating

This might sound like:

“You are nowhere near as beautiful as she is,” or “Why are you so ‘dumb’?” or “You can’t even do [using your disability against you]. All my friends’ partners can do it,” or “I could have done a better job at that,” or “You idiot,” or “You’re so stupid,” or “It’s all your fault,” or “You’ve ruined everything,” or “We wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for you,” or “Did you really get a promotion? Oh wow, were there no more options?" or “Why don’t you dress more like her?” or “I think you walk in a weird way, you should walk like this,” or “Your hair is very short, I like longer hair,” or “Social sciences is so easy, your work sounds simple.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Manipulators use the tactic of belittling and berating to slowly chip away our confidence and self esteem, so that we feel small, unimportant, and disrespected. The more down we feel about ourselves, the more power they have in controlling and ‘validating’ us — as per their understanding. Ultimately, we will feel worse about ourselves, and may feel that we have to rely on the abuser, and that we are not capable enough to succeed outside of the relationship.

A manipulative person may scold or blame us in order to diminish our sense of self-worth. This may be in the form of shouting or aggressive phrases, but can also include calling us demeaning names, swearing at us, or telling us off in front of others. This behaviour can make us feel humiliated, ashamed, and afraid. But the tone of the manipulator doesn’t always have to be aggressive; it might be really different from how we think a ‘manipulator’ would sound. Their put downs and negative comments could be very subtle, and they may simply use language which makes us doubt ourselves. Nevertheless, the persistence of their words can leave a long-term impact on our wellbeing.

Many manipulators may later try to pass these comments off as just jokes or light-hearted teasing. They may even frame it as “helpful advice,” say that we “take ourselves too seriously,” or say that “everything doesn’t need to be a fight.” However, if we feel that someone’s words are repeatedly hurting us, causing us anxiety, or leading to stress and feelings of discomfort, there is clearly something wrong with how they behave with us. We may even have tried to communicate to them that we do not appreciate these comments and observed no change in their behaviour. This shows that they do not respect our feelings.

What’s important is that we do not need to depend on anyone for validation. We are worthy of love, affection, and respect, just as we are. We don’t need to change ourselves to suit anyone’s perceptions, especially our abusers, as their opinion of us is not true and is calculated to make us feel bad and create shame. Remember, we always deserve to be treated with respect. Regardless of whether we make mistakes or not, this is never an excuse for anyone to insult or demean us.

Universal statements

This might sound like:

“You are so lazy!” or “You forget to do this every time!” or “Everyone knows that you’re bad,” or “Why do you always treat me like this?”

What happens?

These statements generalise our character or behaviour in a negative way. They often involve the use of words such as ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘again,’ ‘every time,’ and ‘everyone.’ By talking in absolute terms, any and all situations are grouped together to make us feel as if we’re a horrible human being.

By making us feel as though we are always doing something wrong or are absolutely terrible, the abuser can make us feel unworthy of love or affection from others. They can use this tactic to reduce our self-esteem, create shame and guilt, and make us feel like we need to earn their validation, which they may never provide.

Remember, these kinds of sweeping statements are designed to make us feel badly about ourselves and can never accurately capture who we are. The world is more nuanced than this and we should never be reduced to any generalisation. We have plenty to offer the world and others will be able to see this.


This might sound like:

“If you loved me,” or “Every decent person would,” or “You should be grateful you have me,” or “Do you think anyone else would want you?” or “You would be nothing without me,” or “Why did you get your haircut without telling me?” or “I wish I had a child who was like other people’s children,” or “I feel like a failed parent/guardian because of you,” or “If you were a dutiful child, you would do this for me.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Controlling people use their words and actions to make us feel guilty about doing or not doing something. A person who guilt trips us may not accept apologies for earnest mistakes, and is likely to not put effort into stopping their manipulation of us. This sort of abuse leaves us feeling like we can’t do anything right and that it’s impossible to please the person abusing us. It can be exhausting to cope with on a daily basis. For example, in arguments with us, they may get excessively emotional and blame us for everything going wrong in their lives, targeting who we are as a person rather than any specific action we did.

Such a person could also blame us for not providing them with something or for not fulfilling their needs, while failing to communicate these to us. They’ll expect that we should just ‘get’ what they need, but when we don’t fulfil this because we didn’t even know what they wanted, this will be held against us.

We do not have to meet anyone’s unreasonable demands simply because they are our partner, family, or friends. Their words and actions are meant to create shame and guilt about who we are and what we’ve done, so that they can get us to do what they want. This can be about something really simple like getting a haircut we want or wearing the dress we like. We are within our rights to set our boundaries and maintain our control over the choices that affect our lives.

Some other forms of guilt-tripping could be blackmailing us by using our sense of shame or guilt, or the manipulator harming themselves so that we agree to their demands. Read on to learn more about these.


This might sound like:

“If you don’t do this/ give me what I want/ talk to me/ give me your money / have sex with me, then I will leave you / tell everyone your secrets / share your photos / tell your family / tell everyone you’re gay / spread lies about you / not love you anymore / hurt myself,” or “I do all this for you so you should do this for me,” or “You owe me this,” or “You need to pay me back, no matter how you do it.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Blackmailing often overlaps with other forms of abuse, but it is important to recognise it as a distinct pattern of behaviour and abuse in itself. It can involve a manipulator threatening to reveal intimate or untrue details of our life if we don’t comply with their demands. A manipulator uses the threat of embarrassment, distress, or damage to reputation to control our behaviour. This can include financial or sexual coercion such as requesting money or unconsensual sex in exchange for their silence. It can also be through forcing us to stay in a relationship or living with them.

If we share children with our manipulator, they can hold these relationships over us as well. They may threaten to take them away from us or create distance between us and them by telling them lies about our behaviour. The abuser may also use shared custody to force us to meet or spend time with them or not follow dates and times for custody to force us to get in touch with them. Similarly, if we share pets with the abuser, they may threaten to take them away by telling others that we treat our pets badly. They may also threaten to hurt our children or pets and thereby force us to stay with them for the sake of ensuring their safety.

Blackmailing can also play out within a queer relationship, regardless of whether our partner may have a shared experience and understanding of the harms of homophobia, and sometimes because they do understand. An abusive partner within this context might take advantage of negative homo/bi/transphobic stereotypes in society by threatening to ‘out’ our sexual orientation to others. They might force us to tell our family or colleagues that we are not straight. For example, they might say to us, “I’ll come into your office and tell everyone.” They may also threaten to reveal our gender identity before we are ready to do so ourselves. We’ll talk more about these examples of emotional blackmail and abuse later on in this guide.

It can be difficult for us to disagree with someone and assert boundaries when they are emotionally blackmailing us, but it’s important to remember that no one deserves to tell our story, speak our identity, or share our secrets but us, and only when we decide is right and comfortable for us.

Self-harming in order to manipulate us

This might sound like:

“You’re the reason I hurt myself,” or “If you leave me, I’ll hurt myself,” or “I love you so much I can’t live without you,” or “I wanted to prove how much I love you so I hurt myself,” or “There’s no point in my living anymore.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Self-harm is not always an abusive action. People harm themselves for a wide range of reasons. An individual who self-harms may feel that it helps them cope with difficult emotions, or it may be used by them as a form of self-punishment. However, an abuser may threaten to harm themselves, and may do so, in order to make us feel guilty, insecure, and scared.

By threatening to or carrying out self-harm, an abusive partner can make us feel as though we are responsible for their health and that it is therefore our fault when they hurt themselves. We may end up thinking that how we behave influences whether they self-harm or not. For example, by threatening to hurt themselves, our partner may be forcing us to stay in the relationship or to keep spending time with them. Essentially though, this means that they are blackmailing us into doing things we don’t want to, while using threats of self harm.

Acts of self-harm may also establish a strong sense of fear in us: we may start to fear for our own physical safety because we worry that the violence they are inflicting on themselves could one day be targeted towards us. There is also the fear that they will follow through with self harming, that larger society will blame us for these actions, and that we will also not be able to forgive ourselves.

Remember: we are never responsible for the actions or happiness of another person, no matter what they say. We have the right to be happy, independent, safe, and to live our own life, without the constant fear of their actions.

Distorting the acts of abuse

This might sound like:

“This is not abuse, I am a woman too,” or “You’re so much bigger than me, how could I abuse you?” or “You’re the one that’s neglecting me,” or “You’re turning me into the bad guy,” or “Why are you making me sound worse than I am?” or “How can you say I’m treating you badly, when everything I do is for you?” or “You provoked me, it’s your fault because you always do this,” or “You deserved it, I’m teaching you right from wrong.”

What happens?

An abusive partner may distort our perception of their abuse by changing the way it is framed. For example, they might portray or believe themselves to be ‘the victim.’ By painting themselves in this way, they will use this to manipulate our behaviour.

Such distortion can be based on our shared gender or other personal characteristics that impact our social standing. An abusive partner may say that due to societal norms and assumptions it is not possible for them to abuse us, or even blame us for the abuse to convince us that it is something that we have provoked. When manipulators do this, they want us to lose belief in ourselves and our judgement — impacting our ability to identify and seek help to address the abuse.

It is common for people abusing men to use humour as a device for minimising or distorting the nature of their behaviour, both in private and within social groups. This plays on cultural stereotypes, which position men who encounter violence as weak or deserving of ridicule. But this is not true, because no matter our gender identity, we can be the target of abuse and manipulation.

This can also play out when we are the same gender as the manipulator. For instance, they may say “This is not abuse, because I am a woman too” — this plays on the misconception that only a man can hold power over a woman. An abusive partner may use the fact that we are both men to distort the acts of abuse by claiming, “This is how it is in a gay relationship”. This plays on the misconception that only women can be victims of domestic abuse. They might also minimise acts of aggression against us, and say things like, “I didn’t hit you. Stop overreacting,” or “You provoked me, it’s your fault”. These tactics make us doubt ourselves, even if we know the reality.

Remember: we can always trust ourselves to recognise when someone is harming us. And when it feels like we’re losing our grip on reality, we can sense-check with others in our lives who are supportive as well as read resources such as this guide. If something feels like it’s not right, we can and should seek support.

One of the ways in which someone may distort the acts of abuse, is by instead accusing us of abuse. Read on to learn what happens in such a situation.

Accusing us of abuse

This might sound like:

“You are the one who is abusing me!” or “I’m not abusing you, you’re abusing me,” or “Keeping my children from me is abuse,” or “You’ve always tried to hurt me,” or “You’re being so cruel to me,” or “Why are you making me ask you for forgiveness when you’re the one hurting me right now?”

What happens?

When we call out the manipulative behaviours of those close to us, and confront them for their harmful actions, they may instead tell us we are being abusive. This can feel particularly horrifying and alarming, as we did not intend to hurt them or cause the same harm we have experienced. Even if they accept their actions, the manipulator may argue that they didn’t have bad intentions, and we’re making them feel bad or guilty, as well as painting them as someone they’re not.

But it’s important to know that this may not actually be true. This method used by manipulators is called ‘DARVO’ (deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender), and it is often used to deflect attention from the manipulator’s own acts. Instead of holding space and being accountable for their actions, the manipulator may even use some of the terms we’ve highlighted in this guide to make us feel bad about our actions to protect or defend ourselves.

For example, they may say that we are ‘gaslighting’ them when we confront them about their behaviour or ‘ghosting’ them when we try to distance ourselves. Some manipulators may go further and not just accuse us of these actions, but actually frame us by creating or capturing evidence that makes it look like we did abuse them. They may then use this to blackmail us, by threatening to share it with our family, friends, or even legal authorities.

In a situation where we are being constantly told that we did something wrong, we may start doubting our own self. We may even think, “Maybe I did do something wrong,” or “I do get very frustrated sometimes.” Let us interrupt those thoughts: it’s not your fault.

It’s important to be able to differentiate between the manipulator’s actions and our own, despite how much they try to blur the lines. This can be very difficult, and it can often feel like we’re all alone. But we are not the same as our manipulator, and when we try to set our boundaries or remove ourselves from that situation, we are acting in response to their harmful behaviour. We have the right to live happily and free from constant fear.

Pitying themselves

This might sound like:

“You know that I’m going through a lot right now,” or “Nothing I do is good enough for you,” or “You spend so much time with him, but you don’t spend any time with me,” or “I am so helpless, and you never support me,” or “You don’t prioritise me,” or “You know I’ve lived through so much trauma and now you’re putting me through this again.”

This might look like:

What happens?

While it is possible that someone sharing feelings of self-pity with us means they are being vulnerable and trying to convey their needs, it can also be a tool used by manipulators.

An abusive partner may leverage their own experiences of discrimination or abuse, and draw attention to their self-pity in order to shift the focus from our needs and the abuse they are subjecting us to. Instead, they will make us feel like we need to care for them and remind us of their vulnerability. People who intentionally manipulate their partners may use excuses or rely on certain challenges they have faced, such as past trauma, which places pressure on the survivor to stay in the relationship and provide support, at risk to their own health.

Controlling people may make themselves out to be the victim to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. They will act as though the world is against them, and we are colluding with the world by not taking a stand for them or catering to their every wish. Eventually, it may turn into a situation where they start distorting any acts of accusation, and tell us that instead we have done something wrong or hurt them.

They may also react strongly to our defence of ourselves: in family situations, this can be seen as ‘talking back,’ a sign of insolence and disrespect from us. This may cause us to feel guilty if they express that we are not caring for them properly. This could happen despite the fact that we may be offering a lot of care, while they rarely offer us the same level of care in return. This feeling of guilt can make it very difficult to leave such types of abusive relationships.

We are not bound to give anyone care and affection if they are not able to value us, respect us, and respond to our needs in a fair manner. If our entire relationship revolves around fulfilling the needs of just one person, it is not a healthy relationship. We deserve a relationship where our partner puts an equal amount of effort into understanding our needs as well.

Using our appearance to make us feel bad

This might sound like:

“Your makeup is so cheap,” or “You need strength to carry a child, you should eat more! Come to my house, and I’ll feed you,” or “Men are not meant to wear skirts! You shame me.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Manipulators may critique the way we look to make us feel bad and undermine our self-esteem. Our assessment of our appearance can have a significant impact on how much we respect ourselves and how confident we feel: manipulators may take advantage of that to control us and our self-respect. It is important to remind ourselves that the way we look does not define who we are and that, more importantly, we are not what our manipulators want us to believe.

Such judgments may be based on various aspects of our appearance, including our weight, race, clothing style, femininity/masculinity, and more. These may target bodies that do not conform to society's beauty standards (example: fat, extremely thin, and disabled bodies), racialized individuals, people visibly belonging to a religious group (example: those who wear hijabs, burkas, skullcaps, etc.), and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

If we are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, this might sound like a parent or partner telling us not to cut our hair or to dress more feminine or masculine in order to present more in line with their gendered expectations of us. It might also sound like someone telling us to stop wearing the clothes or makeup we want or misgendering us.

Remember that discriminating and manipulating someone based on their appearance is never acceptable, and we are not responsible for how others see us. We are beautiful the way we are.


This might sound like:

“You eat like a bird,” or “You eat like a pig, everyone thinks you’re so greedy,” or “You’d be prettier if you lost weight,” or "That style doesn’t look so good on women your shape,” or “You won’t find a partner if you stay so fat,” or “You won’t be able to have kids with this body,” or “You are fat, and you need to lose weight — see how their girlfriend is so fit!” or “You are too thin! You look like a boy,” or “You need to hit the gym.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Body-shaming is a form of criticism, bullying, or mocking directed at us based on the shape, size, or appearance of our body. Someone may use our body image to humiliate and diminish us based on our physical appearance.

Sometimes we may feel like the way we look, the way we are, is our ‘fault’ and that it is therefore our responsibility to change and conform to society’s standards or someone’s desires. Fatphobia is an example of this, where the abuser uses the social stigma around ‘fatness’ to belittle us, mock us, and make us feel ashamed of ourselves. They may even say that they are just giving us friendly advice or that they care about our health and well-being. But if we constantly come away from our interactions feeling bad about our body and our self, we may be experiencing manipulation. This could also severely impact our mental health, lead to suicidal ideation, and eating disorders. But we don’t owe anyone health, just as we don’t owe anyone being skinny. Health and weight aren’t conditions we need to fulfil before deserving to be safe and loved in the body we have.

In terms of body shaming, ableism and racism can also intersect with how our manipulator treats us. We may be told that self-love is conditional on having the ‘right’ kind of body — not just in terms of what our body looks like but also what it can do. Our manipulator may try to make us feel that if we have a disability, we owe other people our shame, and that we cannot publicly celebrate our body. They may emphasise that our body is flawed or something to be pitied. Or if we are darker skinned or have curly hair, they may tell us we need to ‘fix’ those things by using skin-bleaching or hair-straightening products.

Survivors of assault and abuse also find that our bodies are particularly subject to judgement, both from ourselves and the wider society. After an assault, our bodies — and our sense of self — feel and are perceived as 'wrong.' This is especially true if we have experienced honour-based violence or live in a place where it is practised and accepted, which adds to the notion that our body has been claimed by our assailant. Those of us who survive this violence are expected to internalise a sense of shame about our worth as individuals and the purity of our bodies  We explore this topic in depth in our Body Image session from our Healing from Sexual Trauma course, on Bloom.

Another group of people judged on the basis of our looks is the LGBTQIA+ community. Abusers may make comments with the intention of aggravating or triggering dysphoria, which is experiencing discomfort or distress due to a mismatch between our biological sex and gender identity. This includes drawing attention to the parts of our body with which they know we are dissatisfied or creating situations in which they believe our dysphoria will be triggered.

All of these comments and the trauma we have experienced may make us feel ashamed of our bodies and ourselves, believing that if people knew who we really were, they would be disgusted, horrified, or disappointed. There is a profound loneliness associated with trauma-related shame. But you are not alone. Your experiences and other people's perception of you do not define who you are. No one should ever determine our value based on our appearance, and whether we would like to change something about our looks should be solely based on our own will.

Controlling our clothing

This might sound like:

“You eat like a bird,” or “You eat like a pig, everyone thinks you’re so greedy,” or “You’d be prettier if you lost weight,” or "That style doesn’t look so good on women your shape,” or “You won’t find a partner if you stay so fat,” or “You won’t be able to have kids with this body,” or “You are fat, and you need to lose weight — see how their girlfriend is so fit!” or “You are too thin! You look like a boy,” or “You need to hit the gym.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Clothing is a way of expressing ourselves — not just our style, but our identity. But our clothing may be scrutinised by those around us; our partner, family, or society. As a result, when someone criticises our clothing choices it may feel as if they are criticising who we are.

Abusers may control our clothing choices in order to control us. They may say that they don’t like how we dress and suggest or even demand that we wear different clothes. Their criticism may be disguised with compliments — they may say, for example, that we are too beautiful to dress how we do — but their comments always have the effect of making us doubt ourselves. They can use subtler tactics, such as questioning our choices, another way of making us doubt ourselves. Abusers’ control over clothing can also be more overt.

They might evoke our beliefs or the beliefs of our community, to control us —for example, they may say that we cannot really follow our religion if we dress in a certain way. They may mention the supposed opinions of others as a way to get us to change how we dress. For example, they may question what people would say if they saw us dressed that way. This is commonly called ‘moral policing,’ because it invokes the idea of shared ‘morals’ or ‘values.’

For example, Muslim women around the world may either be forced or coerced to cover or uncover their head. This abuse can even be mandated by the state, as in Iran and France. Often society expresses this control using ideas like honour, religion, or social norms. If we want to cover our heads, we may be forced to justify why we want to or be told that we look better without it. If we are forced to cover our heads, we may be told to do so by an authority figure, who may say that we have to do what they tell us to and that it is ‘shameful’ or ‘dishonourable’ when we don’t do this. 

Other supposed values and norms around clothing may be used to control us, particularly gender norms. In many communities, clothes are gendered; in much of the Western world, skirts are considered feminine and are worn by women. A person assigned male at birth wearing a skirt, regardless of how they define their gender, may face stigma and abuse for their clothing choices. Similarly, a person assigned female at birth who only wears trousers may be criticised for not being ‘feminine’ enough.

This may be particularly acute if we are trans or non-binary and experience abuse from partners or family members who do not accept our identity. If we are starting to explore gender nonconformity, we may experience abuse as we start to experiment with our clothing choices. We may be told that we should just ‘dress normally.’ The abuser may refuse to go out with us unless we change what we are wearing. They may make us feel ashamed of our clothing, and like we cannot dress or present ourselves as we want to.

Similarly, the abuser may link our clothing to our sexuality. They may say that we dress in a way that makes us ‘look like’ we identify as having a particular sexuality, that we look ‘too gay’ or ‘too straight’. If they are not open about their sexuality, they may say that our clothing choices will out us and them, using this as a reason for demanding that we change.

If a manipulator tries to control our clothing choices, it can be difficult to stand up for ourselves and our choices, particularly if they are acting in line with social or cultural norms. We may minimise this for ourselves, saying that it’s not that big a ‘deal’. We may feel that we need to conform to what we are being told to do, and that is okay. Often this is how we cope with, survive in, and remain safe in difficult situations.

 It’s important to remember that we are the most important decision-makers when it comes to our body and how we clothe ourselves. No one has the right to dictate our choices and we can dress however feels comfortable and right for us. 

Love bombing

This might sound like:

“We are destined to be together. There is no one for me but you,” or “I am the luckiest person on the planet,” or “I cannot believe I didn’t treat you the way you deserved. I’m going to do better now and we can be happy like we were,” or “Everything about you is perfect!” or “Please take me back, I only love you and want to be with you forever,” or “I have never felt the way I feel with you.” 

This might look like:

What happens?

Love bombing is a behaviour that someone may use to manipulate us into a relationship that moves more quickly or more seriously than we would like. While there may be nothing inherently wrong with these actions, their excessive use may be a manipulation tactic.

This pattern of behaviour can build a false foundation of trust and intimacy in a very short amount of time. Besides being used to pull us into a relationship, it can also be used to pull us back in when we may have distanced ourselves or reward us when we do what the manipulator wants. It may also be used by the manipulator when they feel insecure about the status of our relationship. Love bombing may make any feelings of uneasiness or questioning that we have about a relationship go away for a small amount of time, because it makes us feel complete and admired. We may spend many years chasing the high that the initial period of love bombing brought — either in the same relationship or other relationships — because it made us feel that our feelings were good and that we were accepted and wanted.

Love bombing tends to happen in relationships where the manipulator is a narcissist, as narcissistic relationships follow a particular pattern. You can read and learn more about the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle, from our course on Recovering from Toxic and Abusive Relationships on Bloom.

We may find ourselves thinking: “How did I get myself into this?" or “Things like this don't happen to people like me,” or "I'm a strong independent person," or “They didn’t used to be like this.” The truth is, anyone can find themselves in one or multiple relationships like this. We are not to blame for this and it is not our fault.

Remember that we deserve to experience love within healthy, non-manipulative relationships. Our relationships shouldn’t come with conditional love and a baggage full of expectations based on a person’s earlier show of affections. We don’t owe anyone anything simply because they behaved in an affectionate manner. We deserve slow love, because there is nothing wrong with taking our time in a relationship.

Abuse based on specific characteristics of our identity

In the following sections, we explore how our gender, sexuality, social privilege, race, and disability can be used by manipulators to control us. However, this is not an exhaustive list of characteristics that may be targeted by them; other aspects could include ethnicity, nationality, religion, immigration status, and more.

Abuse based on gender and sexual identity

This might sound like:

“Of course you can’t drive, you’re a woman,” or “Stop being such a pussy,” or “Ugh, you’re such a girl,” or “You weren’t born a woman so you’re not a woman,” or “I’ll out you if you don’t stay with me,” or “You couldn’t have been hurt; you’re a man!” or “Man up, it’s not that bad,” or “You’re not a real woman,” or “You can’t really be queer.”

This might look like:

What happens?

hat happens? An abusive partner might attack or belittle our sexual orientation. For example, they might accuse us of ‘not really being gay’ because we do not act like they expect. They may also attack us because they do not view our identity as bi or pan-sexual, to be valid, especially if we have been or are in a heterosexual relationship. This may also be given as a reason by our partner (if in a monogamous relationship) as to why we shouldn’t be trusted to be faithful, as a result of them believing negative stereotypes about bi/pan-sexual people.

If we identify as bisexual or another non-monosexual identity, our partner may try to leverage negative stereotypes of dishonesty and promiscuity to discourage us from reporting their abusive behaviour to the authorities should we attempt to do so. This type of abuse can lead to feelings of internalised homo/bi/transphobia.

This type of abuse might also happen when it comes to our gender identity. For example, if we don’t express ourselves in a traditionally ‘feminine’ way, our partner may tell us that “You’re not a real woman”, or vice versa, if we do express ourself in a traditionally ‘feminine’ way, our partner may tell us that “You can’t really be queer”. They may ridicule our body or appearance, or use offensive pronouns when talking to or about us.

An abusive person in our lives may use their knowledge of our sexuality or gender identity as a way to manipulate us. They may harass or threaten that they will tell people about our identity, in order to make us stay with them or do what they want. This is called ‘outing’, a tool of abuse and control which may be a barrier to us seeking any help for the abuse. This can also be the case if our abuser believes we can not access any support because of our identity, further trying to isolate us.

No one has the right to comment on our gender or sexual identity in a demeaning manner. We deserve better than to be reduced to just these aspects of who we are or to be told to express ourselves differently. A supportive person would not try to constantly change us.

Using social privilege to abuse

This might sound like:

“You’re lucky someone from my background wants to go out with someone like you,” or “You’ll never meet someone who accepts you the way I do, considering where you’re from,” or “You’re nothing without me, my status and my money,” or “That’s not how you pronounce that, you look stupid when you say it like that!” or “You’re using the wrong knife to eat!” or “Are you from a village? I’ve told you a million times how to do that!”

This might look like:

What happens?

In class-based abuse, we can become isolated because the abuser is making us feel ashamed of our friends and family. We may be made to feel ashamed of how we speak, dress, the kinds of things we enjoy doing in our spare time, where we are from, or even what we enjoy watching on TV — this may lead us to stop engaging in things that used to bring us joy. The abuser constantly compares their social status to ours, positions themselves as ‘superior’ to us, and keeps telling us that we’re ‘beneath’ them or that they’re doing us a ‘favour’ by interacting with us.

Furthermore, social privilege can also involve caste-based abuse, as exists in South Asia, where ‘upper castes’ enjoy various privileges whereas ‘lower castes’ are subjected to the inhumane treatment of untouchability. For example, upper caste men target lower caste women and humiliate them to assert their caste power. Moreover, cases of caste-based manipulation at workplaces often go unreported as people fear losing their jobs but also end up not receiving recognition for their hard work and talent.

The dynamics of social privilege can also play out within marginalised communities. For instance, within a gay relationship being perceived as ‘masc’ or ‘straight-acting’ can be a privilege, particularly within a homophobic society. This is often seen as being more superior to ‘fem’ or ‘camp.’ An abusive partner might use this to intimidate or justify abuse towards us, repeating prejudicial comments that may have been used against them in the past. While we might think that someone who has experienced prejudice cannot themselves be prejudiced, this is sadly not the case – often the prejudice they have experienced becomes internalised.

We want you to know that no privilege a manipulator may have, whether class, caste, gender, or sexual-identity based, gives them the right to treat us badly. We deserve to be respected in all our relationships, regardless of these markers of identity. We should be able to be who we are without a constant fear of judgement.

Race-related abuse

This might sound like:

“You’re like this because you’re this race,” or “I knew I shouldn’t have married someone from your community,” or “People of your race always act like this,” or “I thought people of your race were supposed to be submissive/smart,” or “I wish you’d straighten your hair,” or “You should get your eyelids fixed.”

This might look like:

What happens?

In race-related abuse, our race is the characteristic which the manipulator keeps coming back to in order to make us feel bad about who we are. They may resort to using racist stereotypes, either telling us that we are adhering to those stereotypes (generally those perceived as negative) or making us feel guilty for not adopting certain stereotypes and not being ‘enough’ of our race.

For example, they might attack our intelligence, telling us that we’re ‘stupid’ or ‘slow’, because of our race. Or they may demand that we act a certain way that they view as being characteristic of our race, for example, hypersexualised or submissive. As manipulators generally try to find excuses for their behaviour, they might even try to justify their racism by using arguments about evolution or so-called scientific data.

Manipulators might also comment on our looks, telling us to change our physical appearance so that we look less like our race. This can erode our sense of self, make us feel bad about aspects of ourselves that we cannot change, and make us feel that we are undesirable. This can make us more reliant on the abuser, if we feel like no one else would want to be with us because of our appearance.

A manipulator might also keep referring to where we were born, to keep reminding us that we are ‘different,’ both in order to create shame about who we are but also to make us feel that others see us as outsiders. They may even use racial slurs, and then try to pass these off as jokes. By making us feel like we don’t belong, this can make us feel more dependent on the abuser out of fear that we may not be accepted by others and therefore, more isolated.

Essentially, the manipulator tries to reduce us to just one aspect of our identity and labels our race as being to blame for our behaviour or a standard that we need to measure ourselves against. For example, Black women face racist stereotypes about being ‘angry,’ so anytime they stand up for themselves, a manipulator might shut them down by saying they are acting too ‘emotionally.’ Similarly, Asian women face stereotypes of being ‘submissive’, so a manipulator might use this to say that they are not being a good example of their race. This can make it difficult for us to just be ourselves or to express our feelings, out of fear that we are perpetuating stereotypes that are looked down upon in society or failing to live up to the standards of our communities.

If we have a shared race identity with the abuser, they may use this to manipulate us into staying with them. They may tell us that people from our community will abandon us if we leave them or that we need to accept their behaviour because no one else will believe us. When we belong to a marginalised group, this can also be a further concern for us, perhaps because we don’t want our abuser to face the carceral system should we report them to the authorities.

Such abuse can be extremely difficult to experience when it’s coming from an intimate partner. But it can also feature in other settings and relationships, such as the workplace, in friendships, and with neighbours. Racism in any shape or form is unacceptable and we have every right to speak up against it. Just because the racism we are experiencing is coming from those close to us, does not mean that we can’t stand up to it or that we need to justify it.

Disability-related abuse

This might sound like:

“Let me take care of you, you don’t need anyone else,” or “You shouldn’t go out by yourself, who knows what will happen,” or “No one else would love someone like you,” or “You only think that because you’re disabled,” or “A normal person could do that easily; they wouldn’t need help,” or “I’ll put you in a care home if you do that again.”

This might look like:

What happens?

They may use social norms and stigma against disabled people to make us feel bad about ourselves and make us more reliant on them. In many societies, disabled people are infantilised and are not empowered to make choices about their own lives. Disabled people may be seen as unloveable and undesirable. Manipulators may tell us that no one else will want to have a relationship with us, that no one will believe us, and that we need them in order to live our lives. We might feel isolated because of this, and may find it hard to seek help, particularly if our condition or impairment affects our ability to communicate or physically access help and support.

The manipulator may do things that limit the range of activities we can do independently. If our mobility is limited, they might move things out of our reach, or make it impossible for us to move around our house by removing our mobility aids, or putting physical obstacles in our way. They might refuse to help or care for us, or they may make it impossible for us to access other forms of care or support — for example, by refusing to pay for independent carers.

They might use our condition or impairment as a cover for their behaviour. For example, if we find it difficult to manage our finances, they might say that they will help us by taking control of our money. This might initially seem helpful, but they may disempower us by not involving us in decisions and use us for their financial gain. They might tell others that they are caring for us as an explanation for their behaviour. Or they may blame our distress or complaints about their behaviour on our condition. Other people may be sympathetic to our manipulator, and may see us as being difficult or hard to work with, because of our disability.

If the manipulator provides us with care, they may care for us in ways that are neglectful, embarrassing, or disempowering. We might be put in the position of having to beg to be cared for, or made to do or say things in order to have our basic needs met. We may be made to feel that we should be grateful that our care needs are being met at all.

Our manipulator may threaten to put us in a home or another institution — not for the provision of improved or specialist care but to isolate us from others, threaten us, and hold this care over us as a way to manipulate us. If we have a mental illness, they may say that they will have us taken to a psychiatric hospital. If we access benefits or services related to our disability, they may threaten to stop us getting or going to these. All of the abusers’ acts can be really frightening and isolating.

Remember that we have worth whether we are disabled or not. We are not defined by our impairments or conditions. We should feel empowered by the people around us to make decisions and live our lives the way we want.

Abusers can use their social privilege to manipulate us for their own benefit. This occurs when they take advantage of a privilege they have that we don't to make us feel small, belittled, or grateful for their affection — even when they treat us poorly. They create a constant feeling of us not being good enough. Social privilege can exist in a number of ways, such as based on their class, caste, gender-identity, or more.

Health-related abuse

This might sound like:

“I don’t want you using contraception; you should want to be a mum if you love me,” or “You’re not really ill, you’re just being lazy,” or “I don’t need to wear a mask, it’s just a cold,” or “You’re not depressed, you just want attention.”

This might look like: 

What happens?

Our health can be manipulated to harm and control us. Someone who’s abusive might take risks with our health and wellbeing that make us feel scared by putting us in dangerous situations or by making choices that could have serious consequences. 

They might compromise our health by deliberately infecting us with infectious diseases, such as COVID-19 or sexually transmitted diseases. If we are vulnerable to COVID-19, the person who is abusing us may refuse to take any precautions that help us to feel safe, such as wearing a mask or avoiding crowds.

Some abusive partners might refuse to wear a condom, or may sneakily remove a condom during sex (known as stealthing). Stealthing might be part of wider reproductive coercion and control, where we are not allowed to make our own choices about reproduction, including contraception and pregnancy. We might be coerced into pregnancy and forced to have children we do not want.

When we are ill, we may not be allowed to be ill. We might not be allowed to rest and take care of ourselves, and might be expected to carry out tasks that leave us exhausted and feeling even worse. Our ill health may simply not be taken seriously by the manipulator. 

All of the tactics described here have one thing in common: disregard for our health and wellbeing. Remember: our health and wellbeing is important, and anyone who compromises these does not care for us. We deserve to be cared for and treated with respect.

A manipulator may focus their attention on our health either by using chronic illness or impairment as an excuse to abuse or preventing our access to healthcare. Read ahead to learn more.

Using chronic illness or impairment to control and abuse

This might sound like:

“I do so much for you; you should be grateful,” or “You’d never survive on your own — you need me,” or “If you leave me, I’ll stop taking my medication.”

This might look like:

What happens?

If we have a chronic illness, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or a mental health condition, or an impairment such as sight loss, our abusers may use this to manipulate and control us. In some cases, domestic abuse begins around the time of diagnosis. Being diagnosed with an illness or impairment can be really challenging and disruptive, and abusers may recognise and exploit this.

Often, people who have chronic illnesses or impairments are abused by someone who provides care for them. This might be a partner, family member, friend, or even a paid carer. Requiring care can make us more dependent on the person providing care, particularly if we don’t have good access to other forms of support in the first place. Our illnesses or impairments may make us more physically or emotionally vulnerable. Abusers may also deliberately make us more reliant on them for our care needs. 

Professionals may have beliefs about people with chronic illnesses or disabilities that may make it easier for us to be abused, and harder for us to seek help. They may ask our caregivers questions about us and let them speak for us. If we have communication difficulties, it may feel impossible for us to be heard without our caregiver mediating for us.

Our caregiver might use our need for care to abuse us. When the abuser is in a caring role, they may use this to excuse their actions. For example, they might say that the way they behave is due to them being stressed because they are a caregiver, or they may say that we are making unreasonable demands by asking for more care. 

Other people often think that caregivers are always kind and selfless, which means some may be unwilling to see that they are being abusive to us. Abusive caregivers may say that no one will believe us because everyone thinks that they take good care of us. It may be hard for us to get people to believe that they are not the kind, caring person they present themselves as.

We might have complex feelings for the person who cares for us, even though we don’t like how they treat us. We may feel grateful for the care they do provide. We might also be unsure or frightened of how we may cope on our own, if they were to leave.

But remember: we all deserve to receive the care that we need without being made to feel that we are a burden, being humiliated, or being hurt. If someone who cares for us makes us feel bad about our chronic illness, impairment, or care needs, then they are being abusive. 

If we care for someone who is abusive, they may use their illness or impairment to control us. They may exploit our concern for them and their wellbeing by saying that they are at risk if we go out or do certain things. They might blame us for their poor health and may accuse us of wanting their health to deteriorate, if we don’t care for them exactly in the way they want us to. They may humiliate us if we have made a mistake or don’t immediately fulfil their demands. They may make us feel guilty for enjoying activities they can’t engage in, or hold us back from doing things for ourselves. They may want us to make them the centre of our life and attention. Some abusers who have care support needs may deliberately do things to worsen their health, such as not taking medication, in order to manipulate or blackmail us. This differs from them simply being upset or worried about their care needs, and instead looks like them constantly blaming and berating us.  

Remember: we all deserve to live our own lives without being made to feel bad for our choices. Having a chronic illness or impairment is no excuse for abusing us and neither is it okay to abuse us when we have a chronic illness or impairment. In all our relationships, we should be treated with respect and kindness, and we should feel empowered to live life on our own terms.  

Preventing access to healthcare

This might sound like:

“I won’t take you to your appointment today unless you do this for me,” or “I don’t want you taking those pills anymore. I’m not letting you go to the pharmacy to pick them up,” or “It is shameful for you to be treated by a male doctor. It’s better if you don’t see the doctor at all.” 

This might look like:

What happens?

An abuser may prevent us from accessing healthcare. If we are prevented from accessing appropriate healthcare, this may seriously affect our health and wellbeing. Someone with our best interests at heart would want us to be healthy, and should support us in accessing the services that we need

The abuser may make us feel ashamed of our healthcare needs by mocking or belittling us so that we do not contact healthcare services. This may particularly be the case if our healthcare needs are culturally stigmatised or sensitive — for example, if we need gynaecological care, if we identify as trans and want to access medicines and health services in relation to our transition and/or identity, or if we have mental health problems.

If someone is stopping us seeing healthcare practitioners, is belittling our health concerns, or is setting conditions about the care and treatments that we receive, then that is not OK — it is abuse.

Remember: we know our own bodies, and we know when something is wrong and we need to see a healthcare practitioner. We have the right to choose when to see a healthcare practitioner and what kind of treatment we receive from them. Information about our health is private, and we do not have to share it with anyone else. Our bodies are ours; they do not belong to an abuser.

Sexual Coercion

This might sound like:

“If you don’t have sex with me, you don’t love me,” or “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll fire you,” or “I’ll only forgive you if you have sex with me — you owe me,” or “Everyone already thinks that we’ve had sex, so we may as well,” or “If you don’t have sex with me, then I’ll go find it somewhere else,” or “It’ll feel better without a condom,” or “You’re being such a tease, you shouldn’t have come home with me if you didn’t want it.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Sexual coercion often occurs alongside or is intertwined with emotional abuse. It occurs when we are coerced, manipulated, intimidated, blackmailed, or compelled to have unwanted sexual activities. Sexual coercion may come from someone with authority over us, such as a teacher, landlord, or boss, but may also come from our partners or family.

Sexual coercion can make us feel guilty, ashamed, like we owe them, and threatened or fearful of what they might do if we refuse. In some cultures, we might also be coerced by family members to have sex as soon as we get married, even though neither partner wants to engage in this. Or one partner might coerce the other into having sex simply because that’s considered the norm in our culture.

Any level of sexual coercion can be considered manipulative and abusive, and having sex with someone who has coerced us into it means we have not given our consent voluntarily. Feeling guilty for not wanting sex or for not carrying out a sexual act is a sign that we are being coerced. Although we may have consented to a particular sexual activity, we might feel coerced into participating in another. Consent is act specific; we might consent to kiss someone, for example, but that doesn’t mean we have consented to being touched elsewhere by them.

If you’ve experienced sexual coercion, you might find our web companion, Your Story Matters helpful. It walks us through how to take care of our body, tell someone what happened, and regain our confidence after experiencing this trauma. To learn more about enthusiastic consent, you can go through our session on this topic from our Society, patriarchy and sexual trauma course, on Bloom

No matter what the relationship, no one is entitled to us sexually. Remember that we have a right to refuse any sexual activity we don’t want to participate in. If we have not given consent enthusiastically, our partner should respect our wishes.

Slut Shaming

This might sound like:

“She has so many dates, what a s*ut!” or "It's no wonder that everyone thinks you're a w*ore if you dress like that," or “What will people think of me, that I raised a daughter who dresses like this?” or “Going out like that? You must be cheating on me,” or “My friends make fun of me when you put up sexy pictures on social media,” or “I wouldn’t marry someone who isn’t a virgin,” or “If you’ve been with me, then I wonder how many others you have been with,” or “Did you sleep with the boss for this promotion/job?”

This might look like:

What happens?

Slut shaming is when someone insults or embarrasses us for the way we express our sexuality or the way they think we’re expressing our sexuality. Someone might criticise us for dressing ‘too sexy’, tell us we’re acting inappropriately, or degrade us for having ‘too much’ sex or dating or sleeping ‘around’. They may tell us we’re being provocative or blame us if we have been sexually assaulted or harassed, telling us that this is what comes of our behaviour. 

Slut shaming can take various forms, such as name-calling and sexual bullying. For example, bullies may share explicit photos and videos of us, a form of tech abuse, without our knowledge or consent. We talk about more forms of tech abuse further on in this guide. They may harass us or sexually coerce us, and tell us that we deserve this because of who we are. If we've been slut-shamed, we may struggle with body image issues, as well as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 

If we’ve ever felt like this, it may help to remind ourselves that we are not alone and that help is available to make us feel better. Remember that we can express our sexuality however we want, and we are never to blame for how others perceive or respond to that expression. 


This might sound like:

“I’ll find you and tell everyone where you live,” or “I really want to see you, I won’t stop calling/messaging/showing up until you let me,” or “Can’t you see that we’re meant to be? That's why I can’t let you go.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Stalking is a pattern of unwanted and persistent attention that causes us to feel worried, scared, anxious, unsafe, or harassed. Stalking might be the same type of behaviour on every occasion, or different behaviours at different times. It can happen to us both physically and online. If we are being stalked, we may be spied on, threatened, as well as blackmailed.

Social media and the internet are frequently used for stalking and harassment, and 'cyber-stalking' or online threats may be just as frightening as physical ones. Cyber-stalking can look like repeatedly sending us insulting and threatening comments and messages, or even love bombing us with messages, as well as creating fake profiles to follow our online activity, or tracking our movements and actions online.

Some stalking behaviours might feel small individually. And we might feel that we can just ignore them. However, together they create patterns that can be persistent and unpredictable, and may change or increase over time. Stalking can impact us emotionally and physically, and may cause us to alter our behaviour. A manipulator may also try to convince us that their stalking behaviour is actually their way of showing us love or affection. But actually, in such a case, it is often a form of love bombing.

Remember, we all have the right to feel safe in physical and online spaces. Stalking behaviours should never be minimised and all forms of stalking are criminal offences that can be prosecuted by law in many countries.

Tech Abuse

This might sound like:

“Why are you smiling at your phone?” or “Who are you talking to at this time of the night?” or “If you leave me, I’ll send our pictures to your whole family and workplace,” or “You know I’m watching your every move.”

This might look like:

What happens?

Tech-facilitated gender-based violence (TGBV) is any such violence carried out through or enabled by technology. It is often an extension of other forms of abuse. Someone may stalk our online profiles, harass us through messaging, cyberflash us, or out our gender identity or sexuality online.

Tech abuse can also include domestic digital abuse. For example, someone may monitor us through home devices such as webcams or control a home environment’s light, sound, temperature, or locks. This kind of behaviour can come from strangers, acquaintances, family members, or romantic partners and can have an element of extortion. For a full list and more detailed descriptions of the many types of tech abuse, see our Orbits project.

As tech abuse is connected to our devices, it can feel more scary and overwhelming than other forms of abuse because it walks around with us and is not something we can easily leave behind. Remember that we all have the right to have an online presence and do not need to isolate ourselves because of this abuse. There are many ways to stay safe. Our Online Safety guide and Refuge Tech’s Digital Breakup tool can help you get the help you need.

I think I'm in a controlling relationship...

If these behaviours seem familiar to us, we could be in a controlling, manipulative relationship. It is also possible that the kind of coercive control we are experiencing does not fit into any of these categories, and yet we know that something is going wrong. That is okay. 

Remember that anyone can find themselves in one or several manipulative and controlling relationships — and this is abuse. We might think things like, “What did I do to invite this?” or “What is it about me that has let this happen?” or “Why am I too weak to get out of this?” These feelings can be very powerful, but it is important to remember that it is not our fault or something we ‘allowed’ to happen to us. It is the abusers fault for being manipulative and coercive, and all the tactics described in this guide make it very difficult for anyone to leave an abusive relationship or disengage from an abuser. 

The convictions of the manipulator could be so strong that everyone around us and we ourselves start believing the narrative and spend a lot of time, effort, emotional energy, and personal sacrifice trying to make it work. Unfortunately, we then realise that making it work is impossible, which makes us feel like we are failing and that we are not good enough. In reality, it is not our fault. Some of the best ways to help ourselves is to trust ourselves, set boundaries if possible, and most importantly to disengage from such situations for our own mental peace and health. When our safety is in danger, it can be important to make an exit plan and assess all our options before we take any further steps. 

All of us deserve to live free of abuse, and experience healthy and non-manipulative relationships. Our life belongs to us, not to the other person or anyone else. We may think it is harsh or selfish, but actually it is totally okay to give ourselves permission to let our loved ones feel bad if he/she wants to. We are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness; we deserve freedom from fear and a joyous life. And remember, we have every right to speak up for ourselves.

what now?

Now that we’ve identified that we’re in an abusive relationship, what should we do? It’s a difficult reality to accept, and we may feel that it’s easier to deny it or ignore the situation or tell ourselves that things will get better with time. No matter what we decide is our next step, we deserve support in it. Seeking out information, like reading this guide, is itself a very powerful thing that we can do and something to feel proud of.

After reading this guide, we may have also been able to identify manipulative actions that we have also engaged in, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It may even be that because we were immersed in an abusive and manipulative environment, we replicated the actions of the abuser. It is important to recognise that we are a part of larger society and learn behaviours and patterns from our surroundings. Now that we have recognised what we may have been doing wrong, we can apologise to those we have hurt with these actions and work towards changing our own behaviour. 

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 from Chayn’s own work that are particularly relevant and helpful below. For crisis specific resources in your part of the world, visit our global directory here. Let us know of any others you think would be helpful to add by getting in touch.


How to open a bank account: Beginner steps to understanding how banking works and how to open a bank account.

How to manage your money: Bite-sized information on how to become financially independent.

DIY Online Safety Guide: A simple online safety guide in nine languages.

Advanced DIY Privacy: An advanced level guide on how to protect yourself against tech abuse. 

How to be safe online: A resource that helps us figure out how to stay safe online from internet stalkers. 

Bloom: Learn and heal from trauma in a private, supportive space. Our courses, such as Healing from sexual trauma, and Society, patriarchy, and sexual trauma, are written and checked by survivors, allies, mental health support workers and therapists from around the world.

Your Story Matters: A digital companion for survivors of sexual assault with curated content on recovery.

Creating boundaries: In this course, we learn how to understand our own needs, identify toxic and unsafe behaviour in others, and centre our wellbeing in personal relationships.

Recovering from toxic and abusive relationships: In this course, we discuss abusive tactics, the cycle of coercive control, the science of trauma, and how abuse can affect our relationships and coping mechanisms.

Reclaiming resilience in your trauma story: Through narrative therapy and journaling, identify triggers, learn the science of trauma, re-build self-esteem, unlearn shame - and find your natural resilience.

How to regain your confidence after trauma: Bite-sized information for survivors on how to rebuild confidence and self-esteem after trauma. 

Assertive communication: Bite-sized information on different styles of communication, with practical tools for becoming more confident. 

The good friend guide: A short guide that will give you practical and simple advice on how to better support a loved one in an abusive relationship.

How to cope with stress: A short guide on how to identify triggers of stress and safeguard yourself against them. 

Managing anxiety: Discover short and long-term methods for managing anxious thoughts and physical symptoms of anxiety, through grounding techniques, journaling, and somatic care.

Getting better and moving on: A mental health support guide.


The first version of this guide was made by: 

The second version of this guide was written by: 

Project leads: Aiman Javed, Hera Hussain, and Nooreen Khan
Illustrations: Sally Pring
Web design: Beatriz Diaz 
Trauma-informed therapists: Mehak Ahmed and Marilú González


Attribution CC BY: This licence allows you to distribute, remix, tweak and build on this guide, including commercially, as long as you credit Chayn for the original creation. 

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