9 signs your friends are just using you

How to recognise and handle manipulative people

9 signs your friends are just using you
9 signs your friends are just using you
11 Mar 2015

9 signs your friends are just using you

PHOTOS: Ingimage


There are all sorts of bad friends in the world, but we count manipulative people among the worst. Instead of caring about you as a person, they take what you expose to them – be it your social connections, your money, or even your weaknesses – and use it to their advantage. These are the people who befriend you just to get close to another friend, and dump you swiftly thereafter. They ask to hear about your problems just so they can one-up you with theirs. And behind every social interaction is the need to “win”. It’s terrible, but it happens to the best of us – well, especially the best of us, as manipulative friends like to take advantage of people with naïve or forgiving natures.


The worst part is, you can go for years without realizing that someone is just using you. Your gut might inform you that something’s amiss, but alas, we tend to ignore it without concrete “evidence” that the other person is bad news.


Ever get the feeling that your friends are just using you? Read on to learn about the classic behaviours of manipulative people. 

1. They practice emotional loan sharking
1. They practice emotional loan sharking
11 Mar 2015

1. They practice emotional loan sharking

Friends help each other all the time, but manipulative people give you unsolicited favours just to put you in their debt. And as we all have a deep-seated need to repay those who have assisted us in the past, it will be hard to resist the manipulator in the future when he brings up how much you “owe” him because of what he did for you in the past.


To avoid being caught in this position, do everything yourself before the manipulator can offer to help. And when he does, politely decline. You shouldn’t show him the areas in which he can prove himself useful, as he’ll just end up using you back. 

2.  They play dumb
2. They play dumb
11 Mar 2015

2. They play dumb

Oh, you know how this goes. You confront your friend about something he did to hurt you, only for him to play innocent and claim that he has no idea what you’re talking about. He’ll goad you into clarifying, and then turn the blame around by claiming that you’re over-sensitive. So instead of solving the problem, you end up feeling guilty for making such a big deal out of it. 

3. They make you feel the need to seek their approval
3. They make you feel the need to seek their approval
11 Mar 2015

3. They make you feel the need to seek their approval

Manipulative friends establish control by making it a goal to have you seek their approval. You need their “permission” or blessing every time you date someone new, take up a new hobby, or go out with another friend. Not only do they see life as a competition, but they can’t stand seeing you with something they don’t have. So when you do go to them with a piece of good news, they’ll act like it’s terrible instead of being happy you. Either you’re stupid for not consulting them before making a decision, or you’re a bad friend for not involving them in the process. Ultimately, they want you to feel as if they’re doing you a favour by being your friend, and that you’re better off seeking their approval than by making your own choices. 

4.  They practice “forced teaming”
4. They practice “forced teaming”
11 Mar 2015

4. They practice “forced teaming”

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker describes “forced teaming” as what happens when the manipulator tries to suss out common ground with his victim. He’ll try to bond with you over a predicament that doesn’t really exist, pretend that he’s interested in things that you enjoy, or force himself into your world. People who practice forced teaming will use “we” statements a lot (e.g. “Everyone at this party seems trashed, we’re the only sober ones”) and will do anything they can to convince you that you are kindred spirits. 

5. They treat you like their most treasured confidante
5. They treat you like their most treasured confidante
11 Mar 2015

5. They treat you like their most treasured confidante

A manipulative friend will “confide” in you things that they claim nobody else knows, be it juicy gossip or their own problems, and will affirm you afterward by gushing about how great of a friend you are. A little poking in the grapevine reveals, however, that either what they shared is already common knowledge or that it’s a falsehood altogether. Be wary of people who keep telling you that you’re the best friend ever, that you’re so good at keeping secrets, and that they wouldn’t let their guard down around anyone else. Have you ever had a genuine life-long friend who kept flattering you that way? No, because genuine friends don’t need to use special tactics to earn your trust. 

6. You know everything about you, but you know nothing about them
6. You know everything about you, but you know nothing about them
11 Mar 2015

6. You know everything about you, but you know nothing about them

Manipulative people are gifted conversationalists. They can gab about nothing for hours. They can also ask just the right questions to make you open up, without reciprocating by sharing anything personal. As manipulators, they fear being vulnerable as it can give other people ammunition or blackmail material. They don’t understand that in healthy relationships, both parties open up because they’re sincerely interested in each other, not because they’re evaluating each other’s usefulness. Be wary of people like this, as they can act like a good listener, only to what you say against you. 

7. They play the “he said, she said” game
7. They play the “he said, she said” game
11 Mar 2015

7. They play the “he said, she said” game

Instead of being straightforward, a manipulator will tell you that “so-and-so thinks you should do this.” That way, they can make you do what they want without dealing with the responsibility of their influence. This is especially prevalent in the workplace, where a manipulative colleague will tell you that they’ve overheard the boss saying you should improve in a particular area. This not only distracts you from what’s really important, but it keeps you away from tasks that the colleague feels are his to shine in. 

8. They’re always changing the topic
8. They’re always changing the topic
11 Mar 2015

8. They’re always changing the topic

Well, this drives us crazy. Just when the conversation drifts toward something important, your friend brings up something totally irrelevant. And when you steer it back into the correct territory, he or she either accuses you of being over-dramatic, or the play the martyr and complain about how everyone is way too hard on them. So once again, instead of solving the problem, you have to acquiesce their demands for an apology. 

9. They only tell part of the truth but over-dramatise their “confession”
9. They only tell part of the truth but over-dramatise their “confession”
11 Mar 2015

9. They only tell part of the truth but over-dramatise their “confession”

Smart manipulators will share just enough – and with enough sincerity – that you don’t question whether they’re holding anything back. Instead of avoiding confrontation, like less able manipulators do, they’ll break down and cry, giving you the impression that they’re being 100 per cent honest. If you find out later that your friend withheld some information to retain control, well, you’ll know that they were crying crocodile tears.


BONUS: Short-term manipulators distance themselves from you once they get what they want

Not all friends are long-term manipulators, however. Some only have the focus to use you in the short term. They’ll act like your best friend, only to disappear once they’ve gotten what they wanted – be it a job reference, access to a hip nightclub, or an introduction to your cute male BFF.  It doesn’t feel good being conned by one of these friend acquaintances, but at least it won’t be as hard to cut them out of your life.  

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