5 Signs You’re Being Manipulated


In English, we say “the carrot or the stick.” The promise of the carrot compels the horse forward and the stick inflicts pain and moves the horse forward. In Spanish, we might say “Plata o plomo” The silver representing money and the lead representing bullets. Manipulation is when people use punishment (or the threat of it) and/or pleasure (or the promise of it) to coerce people to move in calculated directions. Leadership is not done this way. Keep your guard up my friends.

Here are 5 signs you are being manipulated.

1. Someone is trying to destabilize your current situation or circumstances.

Reasoning: If you are unstable, paranoid, emotional, and/or stressed, slowly your relationships will suffer, you will become less influential, your reputation will deteriorate and your self-esteem and confidence will decrease. The idea is to exhaust your resolve and energy by creating inner turmoil. Once you have reached this point, you are easily manipulated and influenced. This happens in war all the time.

What tools are used to destabilize entities or people?

- Half-truths and misinformation - They give partial information and do not reveal the whole truth. This frequently happens in the media. Many facts are misrepresented. They edit out words. This is to shock the conscience and stroke fear or anger to create a reaction. Then the reaction to the misrepresentation becomes the news. See how the cycle begins to play out?

- The concealment or delay of vital information - This is especially true in the work place. When things are communicated at the last moment, it causes stress and discomfort especially if there is a deadline.

- Obstacles intentionally in the way of assets and/or resources - They prevent you from functioning in your proper role in the organization or community. People know the common routines and processes that take place in community groups, families, and organizations. They manipulate the processes to cause disruption and interruption. Many times, this is used to harm your reputation because you were unaware the process was manipulated and when things went wrong it was under your supervision. Your frenemy may say they are dependable but at the crucial moment they are nowhere to be found.

“Age and treachery defeats youth and zeal.” – Proverb

Be aware of what is happening around you. Don’t be naïve. Guard yourself with the truth and make sure everything under your supervision is done with excellence and transparency.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…” Matthew 10:16,17

2. They sell you the dream of what could be to provoke you to take an action or a series of actions. This is the carrot.

What does it look like?

They sell it in many forms. It can be the promise of pleasure, profit, popularity, power, peace, pardon or any other words that start with the letter "P". Unfortunately, it's a false promise. It is a "bait and switch." You get promised one thing but are given another. It's the liar lying to get what they want. Their only interest is in you doing something for them. There is almost always a time limit. The manipulator is almost always in a hurry and puts the other person in a high time pressure situation even if it’s not necessary. This gives people less time to think and increases the chance they will make an impulsive or emotional decision. A boyfriend may ask for sex from his girlfriend. She says no. He says I will to marry you. She says okay. Then they break up. Bait and switch. With a promise, they say they will trade their future action for your present action but they plan on never following through. “Things are different now” they say. Anything can be said to get you to commit to doing something for them.

Once they get you to commit, they guilt you into following through with what you said because “you told me you would do this” or “we already invested so much time/money/resources preparing for this.”

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9

Try to slow things down. Don’t make impulsive decisions. Ask your team members, mentors, and friends for advice about what your response should be when someone is selling you the dream. Investigate thoroughly. Pray about it. If everyone around you sees the same thing, hello! Pay attention to your loved ones. They love you. They help you guard your heart. This leads us to the next step.

3. They make you feel guilty. The is the stick.

They accuse you. “You don’t love me.” They label you. “You call yourself a Christian?!” They use shame, ridicule, and humiliation “What kind of man are you?” They use allegations and accusations with a purpose of injecting fear into your mind. “You’re anti-whatever“ this is a common one now. They play the victim and cast the burden of responsibility on you. You should’ve done something. Not them. You. It’s not their fault. They may also make unfair comparisons between you and someone else to make you feel inferior. Yup, an emotional attack sneaks up on you again out of nowhere.

As a teacher, I have seen this with several students throughout my career. For some, they are incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions or inactions. I ask them “Why didn’t you practice your music?” Before they can answer, I say “Please don’t blame the situation or your circumstances. Don’t blame me. Don’t blame someone else. Okay. What happened?”

They usually just don’t say anything except for “I’m sorry. I should’ve practiced.”

“Beware of someone who tells you all of their sorrows and none of their joys.” – Jewish Proverb

Learn to guard your heart against accusations. Recognizing when someone’s intent is to manipulate you by creating a false sense of guilt in you helps you disregard their words and protects your conscience. Don’t aim to please. Aim to be honest, just and fair.

4. They threaten you. This is a bigger stick.

The attacks are overt. They verbally threaten you or attack you emotionally. They threaten physical harm to you or your loved one’s health, job or property. The threat and the relinquishment of the threat are part of their negotiations with you. This is not acceptable. You should be driven by love and not fear. You should be driven by passion and not compulsion. The foundation of leadership is inspiration not force. The famed French Emperor Napoleon made this statement, “Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him...”

Remember you can still care for someone who tries to manipulate you. You can still forgive them for trying to do that. You do not have to trust them though. You don’t have to let your guard down around them. You don’t even have to be in the same physical space as them. They don’t have to be on your team either. In fact, they don't deserve to be on your team. They must go through the slow painful process of earning that trust back. Trust is a privilege and it takes a long time. Sometimes they earn it back. Sometimes they don’t. That’s okay. Just remember...you shouldn't get used to this. This is not something that should be tolerated. You don’t deserve any of this.

5. You get the feeling you aren’t in control anymore.

Sometimes you can’t really tell what’s going on. This is what makes manipulation so effective. Be honest with yourself. Are you in control? Really? Get your loved ones involved. Ask for advice from several mentors. Implement that advice. Stay strong.

In politics and government, when these things begin to happen it starts wars. In the workplace, it is bullying. In relationships, it is an unhealthy foundation. You can’t build a long-term relationship on manipulation. No way.

“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you.’” Matthew 24:4

The best way to deal with manipulation is to call it what it is. Name it. Address it openly, honestly, and directly. It’s hard. It takes courage but it’s worth it. You can do it my friend. You absolutely can.