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7 Hallmarks of a Manipulative Friend

Watch for these signs that you're in a toxic relationship


(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com.)

Does it feel like you’re always giving — and one of your friends is always taking? Or does it seem like your friend never makes time for you — but always expects you to be there for her? Your pal might be playing you for a sucker.

How did you fall victim to a one-sided friendship?

People who have a poor self image and suffer from insecurity get a false sense of power and control in their lives by taking advantage of their friends and family, says Michael Salamon, a licensed psychologist and a fellow of the American Psychological Association. Other people manipulate their friends because they’re simply narcissists. “They truly believe that they know better than anyone else and the perspectives that other people have are irrelevant,” explains Salamon.

But don’t blame yourself for your friend’s bad behavior. It’s easy to fall victim to manipulators — especially when they trick you into feeling sorry for them or make you believe that they’re somehow smarter than you.

Wonder whether your friend is actually more like your frenemy? Read on for seven hallmarks of a friend who is manipulating you:

Manipulators only make time for people who can serve them and who they can benefit more from at that particular time in their lives.

— Carole Lieberman, author of 'Bad Girls'

1. Your friend isn’t listening when you speak.

“The number one sign that you’re being manipulated by a friend is a feeling in the pit of your stomach that your friend is not hearing what you are really saying when you’re speaking to them,” says Salamon, who wrote Every Pot Has a Cover: A Proven System for Finding, Keeping and Enhancing the Ideal Relationship.

While your pal may be looking at you while you’re talking, it feels more like she’s staring right through you. Or maybe it seems like what you’re saying to her is going in one ear and out the other. While it’s totally normal for everyone to have off-days when they can’t engage well in a conversation, if you feel like your friend tuning you out is a regular occurrence — and that she only becomes engaged when she’s the one doing the talking — it might be time to move on from the friendship.

2. Your friend has nothing nice to say.

Be wary of friends who talk negatively about other people, says Melissa Cohen, a therapist in private practice in Westfield, N.J. “If someone has a bad thing to say about almost everyone, she’s also probably talking badly about you when you aren’t around,” Cohen says.

Manipulators may say that they’re only telling you other people’s business because they know you won’t tell anyone, but manipulative people say that to everyone as they spread their gossip. “You may want to believe that your friend would never betray you like she does to others, but it’s only a matter of time before she exploits your trust when it benefits her,” says Cohen.

3. Your friend only gets in touch when he or she needs something.

One of the top warning signs your friend is manipulating you: “She doesn’t contact you or have time for you unless she wants you to do something for her,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets.

Feel like you’re constantly doing favors for her but don’t get a lot of payback in return? If she’s not there when you need a friend, but then suddenly appears when she needs a shoulder to cry on or a helping hand, watch out.

4. Your friend lays on the guilt.

Manipulators use guilt to make you feel sorry for them. “Many manipulators use emotional warfare, like guilt-tripping, to get you to do what they want,” says Cohen.

Your friend might say things like, “After all I’ve done for you, can’t you help me out?”

Manipulators might compare you negatively to other friends or rally imaginary allies to their cause, saying things like, “Even Shirley thinks I’m right” or “Everyone says you can’t be counted on.”

5. Your friend needs to be in charge.

All. The. Time. Does your friend get mad at you for not wanting to do whatever he’s asking? Does he try to constantly convince you to do things his way — even though you may have a good reason to do things differently?

“When someone is unwilling to see someone else’s point of view or only think that their way is the right way, you are at risk of being double-crossed by them,” says Cohen.

Another take on this: “Your friend is a know-it-all who is always right — even when you know they’re wrong,” says Salamon.

6. Your friend doesn’t have time for you.

Everyone gets busy. Everyone has weeks or even months when life takes over. But if your so-called friend tells you that she has no time to socialize with you, but then routinely makes time for other friends, it’s a sign that she might be skirting you for people who are more useful to her at the time, says Lieberman.

“Manipulators only make time for people who can serve them and who they can benefit more from at that particular time in her their lives,” she says.

7. Your friend asks for favors.

A lot. “Manipulators are great at figuring out how to get their needs met,” says Cohen. And to get their needs met, a manipulating person often creates friendships with people (like you!) who are natural givers. “Their requests and accommodations start small and you might not mind it at first,” explains Cohen, ”but as their requests become more frequent or weightier, it becomes apparent that you might be getting played.”

Oddly, manipulative friends often seems to be completely oblivious that you’re helping them or that they should be reciprocating.

For example, let’s say Judy does not like driving, so she asks her friend Liz to drive her to book club, which they both attend regularly. Liz agrees to drive. But after a few months, Liz realizes she always drives and starts feeling like Judy is taking advantage of her. “With most people, there is an assumption of reciprocity, but for Judy, she simply assumes that it’s Liz’s pleasure to drive her every time,” explains Cohen. But Liz didn’t agree to drive her every time and hasn’t asserted herself to say, “Hey Judy, it’s your turn.” So she begins to resent Judy — and “resentment damages the relationship as much as a lack of reciprocity,” says Cohen.

Turn it around by speaking up when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of — which will nip rising animosity in the bud and maybe even level the friendship playing field.

What You Should Do

If you find yourself with a friend who is constantly taking advantage of you and not seeing your needs, you’ve got two choices: Confront her, or end the friendship. Experts agree that it’s best to walk away from a toxic friendship since the pattern can continue to happen again and again, which can impact how you feel about yourself.

“The best way to stop manipulating behavior is to first acknowledge to yourself that it is happening,” says Salamon. “Very few people are actually aware that they are being taken advantage of, at least initially.”

Once you are aware that you are being manipulated, he says, it is best to not respond to any and all manipulations. If you do, the manipulator may try harder to keep you in his or her grasp.

“If there is, in fact, an important reason to preserve the relationship, you have to ask if the manipulator is aware that they are taking advantage,” he says. “If they are not, that usually means the friendship will get tuned down a notch, maybe to the level of an acquaintanceship or perhaps even less, to no contact at all.”

The most important thing if you are going to try to maintain a relationship with a manipulator: You have to develop a strategy to protect yourself, and make sure it works.

By Cari Wira Dineen
Cari Wira Dineen is a New Jersey-based editor, writer and author.

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