What Is Family Manipulation and How to Recognize Its Warning Signs

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Does family manipulation sound like a new thing? You may be surprised to learn that manipulation can come from anyone – be it, partners, mothers or fathers… even siblings.

Partner manipulation has become pretty common. Many people have managed to get away from this sort of abusive relationship. However, manipulation is prevalent in all sorts of relationships, apart from the intimate sort. In fact, many people are reporting that family manipulation is also a problem. Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are all prone to become manipulative and abusive toward one another, and it can become a serious problem.

Family manipulation is mental, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse carried out by family members toward one another. This sort of abuse is generally used to control another for various purposes.

Signs point to an unhealthy relationship

Having grown up with your family may make it difficult to decipher any abusive treatment. Considering the components of manipulation include “brainwashing”, it’s hard to tell if you’ve actually been mistreated at all. Sometimes, it’s not until you’ve gotten away or moved out of the home that you realize the extent of the unhealthy situation.

Here are some warning signs that family manipulation is or has been a part of your life.


You will recognize family manipulation when lies are involved. Family members, especially the narcissistic kind, will tell lies easily. When direct questions are met with vague answers, this is one indication that manipulative lies are being told.

Liars will always be able to give half-truths to convince you that they are honest and reliable people. When in truth, they are only striving for what they want. A liar will always lie and tell more lies to cover the old ones.

Silent treatment

Even family members will resort to the silent treatment. In fact, the closer you are to someone, the more chance that their narcissistic actions will display this sort of behavior.

Silence is one of the manipulator’s choice weapons because it get’s the work done with little effort. For those who are unaware of the tactics, the silent treatment can garner pity and groveling, which is exactly what the manipulator wants. They have won.

The selfless disguise

Truly selfless people are honorable. The manipulator can fool you into thinking they are selfless as well, but they’re really not. They actually have a deeper motivation which includes rewarding themselves and making everyone else think highly of their “outward motivations” – which are false.

While people are busy being proud of the manipulator, they are also falling right into the trap and helping the manipulator win.


Dysfunctional families are notorious for gaslighting. Sometimes you might even find an entire family that constantly tries to convince each other that they are all crazy. The sheer volume of madness present in some families is almost unbelievable.

Gaslighting, in case you didn’t know, is the ability to convince another person that they are crazy while taking advantage of them. I bet you’ve seen sisters or brothers doing this to each other. Honestly, this is so common, it almost seems like a normal aspect of the family unit.


Family manipulation sometimes comes in the form of intimidation. While it might not be straightforward threats, it can still be frightening enough to make you do what the manipulators want. This is what’s called “covert” intimidation which is veiled in a form of kindness, and it is hard to decipher at times.

Pay close attention to the choice words of the manipulator, and these words will reveal true intentions.

Guilt trips

A manipulator will use guilt trips on a regular basis. If you tell them no, they will find a way to make you feel bad about putting your foot down. Sometimes if you ask the manipulator to turn the volume down on their music, they will turn it off completely.

This tactic is used to make you feel bad about asking them to tone something down and will return by taking something away entirely. It is also done to show you they have control, and yet you should still feel guilty. It’s weird, isn’t it?


If family members are shaming your weaknesses, then they are being manipulative. For instance, if you have an insecurity about your weight, a manipulator will make shaming comments about that topic. Their intentions are to keep you beneath them in order to retain control. If they can retain control, they will feel better about themselves in turn.

After all, manipulators, truth be told, have a low self-esteem naturally, and all their tactics are used to fix that.

Is your family manipulating you?

Let’s take this one step at a time. If you’ve always wondered whether your family was manipulators, you can use the warning signs to discover the truth.

After you know for sure, you can research ways to improve your life or get support from others. Maybe you can help your loved ones in the process. It may be a long road to healing, but its worth it.

Are you in a manipulative family? I want to hear from you.


  1. https://pairedlife.com
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com

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About the Author:

Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.


  1. raghava March 16, 2018 at 7:13 am - Reply

    yes i am in a manipulative family. i was wondering for a right person to share my problems so that i can get a solution. plz i need ur help bcz of mental pressure i always want to suicide .

    • Sherrie March 19, 2018 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      Hello Raghava,

      I am terribly sorry for your situation. Manipulation is awful, and I can tell you that I have attempted suicide twice in my life and thought about it on many occasions. There is a reason, however, that I was not successful. I had a purpose. Now, when I think about killing myself, I remember the days following my attempts. After I attempted suicide, I had two more children, in whom I love so much. I went on to finish college, divorce and find someone who truly appreciated who I am, and watched my oldest son go off to college. If I had died that day or the day following, I would never have seen or experienced these things. So, when I think about it now, I always think about the things that tomorrow may hold. If I am dead, something miraculous or truly amazing could happen the next day, and I would have missed it. Also, if I am dead, I dont’ get another chance to try and fight for a better life. And yes, I felt like nothing would get better for me in those times, I was abused and trampled on daily. When I decided to keep going, I popened up those possibilites and many of them came true. Please, always think about what might be, tomorrow, next week, next year~ If there is not purpose but this, keep this near to your heart and never give up.

  2. Leonie March 22, 2018 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Absolutely brilliant everything you described is happenig to me now at age 44. Ive recognised for some time covert narcissist traits in my mother and her abandonment/rejection issues have been projected onto me recently. She will go to arms lengths to ‘act’ a helpless frail sick role to keep me from leaving the family home which was only ever meant to be temporary after a relationship parting and redundancy which meant I relocated back to the North. Eight years later i am still here after complying to her needs to nstay. Aproximately 4 yeasr ago I met the love of my life and we embarked on a love affair with plans to cohabit which have been sneakily sabatoged. I have been subject to a ruthless smear campaign as well as blatantly bullied by other much younger family members recruited unaware by myself as flying monkeys. In addition I have had my human rights violated and my motor vehicles vandalised as well as items stolen from me. I am not budging my boundaries are clear and I will not submit to expectations inflicted on me that I have not agreed nor negotiated. The bigggest mistake in this from my mother is that I dont reuire validation or approval from her or others and as she cant manipulate nor bully me into co-operating she is becoming more and more disturbing in her behaviour. Its true what they say an educated empath is a narcissists nightmare and when I leave to my new abode I wont look back but wave and smile. This article has come at a timely moment for me which I believe to be a synchronicity and I thank you for reinforcing my strength and courage to continue to live the life that I so choose. Cheers

    • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      It is difficult leaving a narcissist. In many ways, you feel responsible for their wellbeing. Considering you know the truth about them, this makes it hard to leave them to their own devices. You actually fear that they will harm themselves or someone else. When you get to the point where you realize your self-worth you will also feel so sorry for them. It’s a tragic relationship. When it comes to someone like a mother, this is so much more difficult. You have to find a balance when it comes to blood family, where you can still check in but not feel obligated to be at their beckoning call.

      I wish you the best, Leonie.

  3. Carly March 23, 2018 at 2:31 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for this article. I have a manipulative family member and it has caused me a lot of pain over the years. We were very close as children, but for as long as I can remember she’d ask me for favors and have me doing things for her without ANY show of appreciation or gratitude. It was an expectation. Like I owed it to her. No matter what I did I always felt like I wasn’t doing ENOUGH. I was never up to par. I always found myself doing things I didn’t want to do. She often used guilt trips. Always subtle and passive aggressive. After a while I began to distance myself from her because of it. I dreaded calls from her because it was always asking me to do things for her. I felt so guilty for not wanting to be close to her but the relationship only drained me. This made her worse. When I see her at family functions she will often give me the cold shoulder. It’s very hurtful and often makes me sick to my stomach. For a long time I blamed myself, thinking it must be me. After a while I began to think maybe it’s not me. Maybe I don’t owe her anything. Maybe it’s not my job to please her. I just have to learn to be okay with that. I’ve always been a people pleaser and she took advantage of that. I have another family function coming up where I’m sure I’ll get the cold shoulder. I don’t want to give up the rest of my family so I just want to learn to detach from her and know I’m okay the way I am, even if she doesn’t accept me that way. So I really appreciate this article. Again, thank you!

    • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      You are doing the right thing, as difficult as it may seem. Warning: Her next move may be to slander your name. I just wanted to forwarn you so that it wasn’t surprising when it happened. Most of the time when narcissists cannot get their way, they will talk bad about you to others. It is the only way they can fight back. It’s all a game to them. Just keep being kind and keep your boundaries as you want.

  4. Emack April 26, 2018 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    I am not going to say that my parents manipulate me. They really do not. But, it always seems that one or both of them try to scheme or come up with an excuse whenever I prepare for a trip overseas or somewhere like Las Vegas. I guess that they are more scared than I am. I however am a 32 year old man who can do and go wherever I am.

    Parents give birth to their children. Parents also raise their children properly (while some parents abuse or neglect their children). However, parents need to realize that they do not control or own their children. Children have their own minds, feelings, desires, needs, etc. So, I as an adult child have a right to go after what I want or need.

    I am tired of doing what parents want or doing what I have to do. That is why I sometimes feel like I am half my age.

    • V. A. May 6, 2018 at 1:24 am - Reply

      Hi, Emack. I totally agree with you on this. I have an aunt who is manipulative. You want to know how someone like her can be manipulative? I have a cousin (her son) who left home for college. My aunt just couldn’t STAND her baby being away from her, so she actually recruited my dad (her brother) to try to talk my cousin into coming back home. Thankfully, he said “no” and stayed where he was. Another time, when my mom told her that I was going to Rio de Janeiro for a destination wedding, she (the aunt) said, “You’re letting her go?” Keep in mind, I was 37 YEARS OLD, old enough to plan a trip, save money for it, get a passport, and JUST GO. I still went anyway and had a FABULOUS time. (I didn’t find out about this, however, until after I came back.) And of course, she just HAD to put in her (negative) 2 cents’ worth when my brother grew a beard and mustache, which he likes having; that’s why he grew them in the first place. But her propensity for manipulation didn’t start just then; it started before I was even born. Back in the 60s, when my dad was in the National Guard, he had the opportunity to go to OCS. But my aunt, ever the “concerned,” dutiful, (over)protective sister, talked my dad out of going, citing my grandmother’s heart condition. Guess what? He didn’t go.

      Because of her behavior, I no longer talk to her. I want nothing to do with a manipulative, selfish person like that. I’m so glad she’s not my mom. God knows how much worse I’d be if I was.

      • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm - Reply

        My aunt was so manipulated by her parents that she let her boyfriend move away because her parents said they needed her to take care of them. My aunt was in her twenties, lived alone and was in love. Her boyfriend had to move a long distance and asked her to go. Everything worked out: her job etc, but her parents made her feel guilty. She died a couple years ago…never married, no children. 🙁 I once caught her running her finger over a photo of the one who got away…she never forgot him, and I sometimes wonder if she was bitter with her parents.

    • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:12 pm - Reply


      It’s okay and you are right. I tried this with my son a few years ago when he wanted to go see a girl in Texas. I grew angry and told him that he wasn’t going. Well, he said this: “I didn’t tell you because I was asking…I told you so that you would know where I was.”

      Of course, I was angry when he said this as well. But over time, I have come to realize that I can no longer tell him where to go or what to do. All I can do is be a positive influence and let him learn. Just have mercy on your parents, Emack. Their hearts are just breaking because you’re no longer their baby. lol

  5. CHRISTINE MCKINNEY June 20, 2018 at 4:18 pm - Reply


    • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:18 pm - Reply

      Thank you for reading, Christine

  6. alreka June 22, 2018 at 5:21 am - Reply

    yes i am in a manipulative family.

    • alreka June 22, 2018 at 5:22 am - Reply

      how do I get help

      • Sherrie June 26, 2018 at 6:24 pm - Reply


        I am sorry for responding so late. If you are in a manipulative family, the first thing you need to do is check your self-worth. Are you starting to feel guilty for things when you’ve done nothing wrong? If so, stop that first. I would say stand up to those who are abusing you, but I do not know your individual situation. This can work differently according to whether or not physical violence is involved. Stay strong and if you are spiritual, pray. Remember that whatever negative things they say about you is a reflection of them and not you. If you can find someone local to talk to, that you can trust, this would be helpful as well, as they may be able to get a clear picture of what’s happening in your family. It’s always good if someone else can see what you are going through because manipulative people can hide who they really are around everyone else. They can do this well, so get an outside eye invovled…just don’t let the manipulators discover this or they will turn it around on you. IF you feel threatened, do not hesitate to get help.

        Sending love and prayers

  7. Aleksandar Pavlovic July 12, 2018 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Sherrie, I desperately need a strategy to respond to abuse of my mother and sister since my birthday and sisters birthday. Sister is 6 years younger than I am. She is born in 1983. I am born in 1977. My mother is born in 1953. My father passed away on April 25, 2013, in his 62nd year. He was 1951. My mother literally killed my father. I am the heavy victim of domestic abuse. I am pushed by psychiatric manipulations and psychiatric drugs poisoning since 1997. I am proclaimed for mentally incompetent in 2009. This series of legal crimes happened in Serbia during the 80’s, 90’s, and the third millennium. I need the strength of spirit, cunningness, fitting into the situation, seeing the situation in real light, it wouldn’t be good to make the circus before the circus, I need maximal status secured, my future depends on one moment of the luck. I couldn’t do any of those before. I desperately need strategy and fast implementation to rid off all of that lifetime evil off me.

    • Sherrie August 7, 2018 at 8:35 am - Reply

      I am sorry for the delay in response, as I sometimes do not see my comments from earlier posts. I try my best to go back through them as I can. I am sorry for your stress and anxiety, so I will help as much as possible. Unfortunately, different locations bring different issues, and I may not be able to come up with a perfect solution for everything. My heart’s desire, however, is to help you as much as possible.

      First off, if you are spiritual, any sort of meditation or opportunity for alone time can only benefit you. Stable emotions help to stable the thinking process, so if you can learn to control your emotions, you can thinking more clearly. In order to get out of the influence of any dangerous drugs, you must stabilize your emotions, thus bringing clearer thoughts to do this. Meditation can help you focus so you can stabilize your emotions naturally.

      In simple terms…focus, breathe deeply and then strive to bring down anger, resentment, and fear…under control. Self-control is so important for fighting external enemies, as they feed off your insecurities.

      One step at a time, Aleksandar.

  8. Sarah J LaPlante September 2, 2018 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    Hi I’ve been in therapy for a long time now. My current therapist has opened my eyes and told me, “Do you realize you are being manipulated?” I had no idea. Now that I look back it is quite obvious. I am going through a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t even know which way is up right now. My therapist suggested that I retain a lawyer. So I am going to file a civil lawsuit. I am waiting for my family to get served the papers because things aren’t going well right now, I can only imagine what’s going to happen when the papers are served. I’m so lost and scared. I have limited my contact with my family but they are holding my nephew hostage and that is killing me. I feel defeated already but at the same time I am spending more time with friends and they are supportive. I’m confused.

    • Sherrie September 13, 2018 at 1:48 am - Reply


      This is a serious situation that you’re in. I cannot imagine going through this sort of thing with my family. I went through this with an ex-husband but I just pretty much walked away. I do have to deal with him a bit because we have children, but other than that, I stay away. Although I cannot tell you what you should do, I do offer my support and love. Please think things through and find emotional support there locally for when these papers get there. You will need support in case it gets really ugly. I wish you the best.

      • Sarah LaPlante September 13, 2018 at 3:42 am - Reply

        Thank you for the kind words. I am sorry about your ex-husband. I am really sorry that kids are involved. I am esigning the papers tomorrow. I am really scared. I hope I have enough supports in place to do this. This is a barrier I have to set and I can’t let anything stop me from setting this boundary. I’ve had enough boundary violations. I am suing for such a small amount of what she owes me and a car that is in my name. (15 months I’ve given her. worked with her. and she ignores everything. she didn’t even touch an insurance payment.) I’m done! I’m tired! I need to stand up for myself for once!

  9. Crystine November 1, 2018 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    While it’s not myself who is being manipulated, it’s my boyfriend. The story is a novel long, so I’ll list points:
    – In the beginning of our relationship, we broke up twice due to his female friends & sister telling him that I’m no good for him, that I’m a joke, that I’m a trashy wh*re. Etc. Etc.
    – The sister is by far the worst, with always bringing up an event [a lie] that he was never there for when he actually did go. In fact, knowing he was on a date with me, she demanded him home by 8 pm to take care of things.
    – His mother and sister always said that family is more important [as well as used grandparents possibly dying any day now] to keep him away from me every time he wanted to visit me.
    – After his female friends bullied me on social media and in his face, he cut them off. They blamed on me.
    – After his sister attacked him emotionally and mentally, he cut her off too. Because of his decisions, his entire family concluded that it was me controlling him with cult-like behavior, and isolating him. He’s simply choosing to be with me because the people he thought were friends and a loving family failed to support him and respect his decisions.
    – They tried booking us a ticket to Disney without prior permission from us, and wanted to keep us in a room with the mother.
    – The sister wrote a long e-mail to my boyfriend, which was titled “An Apology” when in fact, it was 7 paragraphs of manipulation emotionally and mentally. She compared his relationship when he was 17 to me [I’m 32]. She used a cousin’s death against him. She used memories. She said I don’t bring out his best.
    – His parents insists they only know what’s best. His mother always reminds him of the tears she cried every night when he moved in with me. They insist a relationship work best when there is constant family involvement and interference. She was planning out our weeks with them every 4-5 days to the point where it would leave room for no alone time between himself and I…. and I’ve had it.
    – She invited herself over without asking. We never gave her our address… she found his car.
    – We finally moved 3 hours away. They can’t wrap their mind around it. He’s suffocating. They pushed him away. And everytime he tells them what he wants and needs and would appreciate from them, they shrug it all off as if he doesn’t know what he wants. He’s 25. He’s not a child.

    That’s just knocking out a quarter of what happened WITHOUT the details.
    He told them that this holiday, he wants to create his own traditions with me alone. His mother still won’t drop it. She’s still saying she’s coming up, and will stop by. “Could you AT LEAST do a lunch or dinner? You’ll still have your holiday traditions. I’m your mother for God’s sake!”

    We aren’t cold and heartless. I have a mother too. She accepts my decisions and respects them.
    I’ve never been involved in something like this before, and I recognized SO MUCH of the manipulation and control from his sister and eventually his mother, and his female friends [who are in a relationship of their own] because I was in an abusive relationship prior to this one. I recognize the gaslighting signs and other forms of mental and emotional manipulation.

    I just hope they stop, respect, and accept soon… because they’re losing him.

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