Anonymous said to realsocialskills:
I’ve had an issue in my life with people who take advantage of me, and only recently have I been able to start recognizing a few of the red flags of that. Stuff like: You always end up paying more than (or getting less than) your fair share if you go out with them, they pressure you into doing stuff you can’t afford, etc. I think it’s wrapped up in emotional abuse, but I’m bad at seeing it. Are you better at recognizing red flags that you’re being taken advantage of, and if so, what are they?
I think the biggest thing to watch out for is what happens when you don’t want to do something, get angry, or try to say no:
- Is there ever a polite way to say no to something, or do you always have to either do what they want or be rude?
- Is “I can’t afford that” something they are willing to take for an answer without arguing or guilt-tripping?
- If you’re angry about something, do you always end up apologizing for being angry/blowing something out of proportion/etc, or do people sometimes agree that you have a point and apologize to you? (If only one of those things ever happens, that’s a problem).
If there’s a pattern where you have to be rude in order to say no, something is really wrong. Some people manipulate the rules of politeness to stop people from having boundaries or saying no to them. Some people are really good at making you feel like you’ve done something wrong every time you say no to something.
If things are going well in a friendship, everyone involved will say no from time to time. Everyone will get annoyed from time to time. Everyone will have inconvenient preferences from time to time, and everyone will compromise to accommodate the others from time to time. If you’re the only one compromising, something’s going wrong. If you’re always doing what others want even if it makes you really uncomfortable or hurts you, something’s wrong. If you’re not able to express feelings or say no, something’s wrong.
The thing going wrong might not be that people are taking advantage of you. There are other possibilities. For instance, some people are trained in childhood to never say no, and it can be hard to learn as an adult that you don’t have to want what others want, that it’s ok to say no, and that friendship involves compromises in both directions. If you haven’t learned that, it might be hard to communicate and negotiate, even if no one is intentionally taking advantage of you. That said, all of this is a major red flag for people taking advantage, and it’s worth taking the possibility very, very seriously. (And both problems can be happening at once - manipulative people usually prey on people who already have trouble asserting boundaries.)
And in any case - if you’re not ok with what’s happening, that’s a problem that matters, because it matters what you want and what your boundaries are. If you’re not ok with what’s happening, then the situation is not ok. You’re allowed to have boundaries whether or not anyone is wronging you.
I’m currently reading a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear; it’s problematic for a lot of reasons but it’s also really good in equal measure (to me, personally) in talking about signs of manipulation and how to recognize them.
Observing how the person takes rejection is critical, and as mentioned by a commenter that another sign may be the person doing you unwanted favours. Some others listed by de Becker in the book I mentioned include:
- Forced Teaming.
This is when a person implies that he has something in common with his chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
- Charm and Niceness.
This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate them by disarming their mistrust. In his book de Becker notes “niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait”.
- Too many details.
If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue. I think this or a similar strategy is also known as negging in the PUA circles, where the PUA approaches his “mark” with an insult or a backhanded compliment. Basically this is a common way of getting the chosen victim or mark to become engaged and invested in the interaction on the manipulator’s terms.
- Loan Sharking.
Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return. This is what the commenter mentioned, and is one way of, as mentioned above, stacking the situation in such a way that you look bad if you refuse.
- The Unsolicited Promise.
A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
- Discounting the Word “No”
Refusing to accept rejection.
All of these things can be very hard to spot on the fly. This is not the fault of you or anyone else dealing with anything similar. Especially if you’ve been the victim/survivor of past emotional trauma or abuse. That’s normal.
Because it can be so difficult to spot all of these on the fly de Becker talks about the importance of intuition. More often than not we don’t need to actually intellectualize our decisions as we make them (although this may be affirming, or comforting, or whatever, it’s also not always practical), we just need to let our intuition lead us. He also proceeds to list what he calls “Th Messengers of Intuition” from lowest to highest intensity, and instructs the reader that these are the feelings that are important to listen to when you’re trying to appraise a situation or a person’s behaviour. They are as follows:
- Nagging feelings
- Persistent thoughts
- Gut Feelings
I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting probably but this is what I’ve been reading lately and what I’ve got for now. This type of stuff can be really difficult because abuse/manipulation/coersion is so ugly and steeped in deception, so the tactics can be really nebulous and hard to decipher a lot of the time. What’s easier to unravel, I think, are one’s own feelings in the midst or aftermath of everything. “When he suggested ___ I had a nagging thought that ___”; I’m slowly learning to appraise uncomfortable situations in these ways instead of trying to tack on a “because” to the sentence I mentioned and just act on what I feel. So far I haven’t been disappointed even once.
ETA: Possible strategies of getting out of these situations are, off the top of my head:
- A single, crystal-clear, direct “NO”. Anything less as a first volley is open to negotiation. Backing down from it later just makes you weaker. You can do this by saying that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with whatever the person is trying to drag you into doing, so that way they look like the jerk who’s being pushy.
- Forcing the person to be explicit. If extortion is the goal, “I don’t understand what you’re getting at” forces the asshole to be explicit. Many would rather back down rather than be clear about the evil they want to do.
That book has a lot of useful information in it, but it’s also a seriously dangerous book for people who are being actively abused. His attitude towards abuse victims is incredibly condescending, demeaning, and victim-blaming. (It literally says “the first time a woman is hit, she is a victim and the second time, she is a volunteer.”)
I think that it’s probably, for most people, a better idea to learn these ideas from Captain Awkward than to read the book directly. Captain Awkward takes most of hist good ideas and leaves out most of the destructive parts.
I also think that if you read The Gift of Fear, you should also read Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft. It’s in most ways a much better book.
It counters a lot of the victim-blaming, and has a much more respectful attitude towards abused women, with more realistic and respectful advice. (Major caveat about that book: the only abuse dynamic he really takes seriously is a man abusing a female partner. If you’re currently being abused in a different pattern or are a survivor of a different kind of abuse, that might be difficult. Most of what he says applies, but he doesn’t seem to know that, and it can make the book painful to read.)