Not all kinds of abuse and toxicity shows itself through physical violence.




This guide will help you identify manipulative situations and find support to get yourself out of a controlling relationship.

A healthy relationship is...

…..balanced and equal. You feel that you can express your views and opinions freely and act on them without fearing a negative reaction.

A healthy relationship is not…

…feeling that you are being used by someone that your emotional wellbeing is the cost for their happiness. If you feel like this, you are most likely being manipulated and are in an abusive situation.


A controlling relationship
is one-sided and unstable.

A controlling relationship does not have to be romantic. It is a relationship where you feel you are being emotionally abused or manipulated into doing things (or put into situations)that make you feel physically and / or emotionally distressed.

Partners, family members, carers, friends, colleagues to even teachers: anyone could be manipulating you.

This guide has been crowdsourced by TRAUMA volunteers, many of which are survivors of abuse, to help signpost you towards as many of the relevant resources we’ve been able to gather. Get in touch if there’s more that we can add. Throughout the guide, we will be using controlling and manipulative interchangeably.

Who this guide is for:

We are all at risk of being controlled, regardless of our gender identity or sexual orientation.It’s not easy to identify abuse in your relationships, especially where there are emotions involved. And it becomes even harder when the perpetrator is not physically harming you. But let’s get one thing straight: mental abuse caused by manipulation is equally harmful.

Moreover, there are various social and economic factors that can have an impact some people’s ability to identify and report abuse.

Sadly, if the manipulator is aware of these vulnerabilities, they may try to exploit them to maintain control over you.

We know that women are more likely to experience abuse but there are other factors that we need to keep in mind. Some groups are more vulnerable than others when it comes to controlling relationships, including (but not limited to):

  • Minorities and marginalised groups
  • Recent immigrants
  • Elders who are facing abuse and manipulation from caregivers
  • Parents in fear of losing children
  • Individuals in forced marriages
  • Same sex partners
  • Physically disabled

Here’s the bottom line: If you are in an abusive relationship with anyone, you deserve to get the help you need.

Every person has a right to live a life free from abuse.



Ever felt like someone knew how to push your buttons and despite how uncertain you were of believing or doing something, somehow they were able to make you believe or do something else? Ever felt like someone was trying to control you or force you into situations you do not wish to participate in?

You could be dealing with a controlling person and have found yourself in a manipulative relationship.

This is not limited to behavior in romantic relationships. You can be manipulated by partners, family, friends, carers, colleagues, teachers – any situation where you feel you are being emotionally abused or manipulated into actions and situations you do not want to be a part of.

This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but is rather a compilation of subtle and more outright examples of manipulation and control, how you can identify them and remove yourself.

Not everyone who acts in the following ways may be deliberately trying to manipulate you. Regardless, it’s important to recognize these behaviours in situations where your rights, interests and safety are at stake.

This is a list of things you can think about, to help you increase your safety.

If you are still in the relationship:

  • See what are the different options for a safe and happy future – do you want to confront your significant other, or do you want to leave? Or do you think you have a third option?
  • Elders who are facing abuse and manipulation from caregivers

If you decide to leave:

  • Try not to place yourself in a vulnerable position or to isolate yourself
  • Consider telling your employer or others at your place of work – particularly if you think your abuser may try to contact you there
  • If you live with the person, spend time planning where would be a safe place for you to stay as soon as you leave

If your abuser continues to (try to) manipulate and control you:

  • Keep detailed records of each incident, including the date and time it occurred, what was said or done, and if possible and relevant, photographs of any damage or injury caused to yourself or others. Also, see“How to build your own Domestic Violence case without a Lawyer” guide.

These three scenarios have an emphasis on romantic relationships, but the principles behind all of them apply to any manipulative situation you may find yourself in, and need to remove yourself from.Even if you don’t feel your safety is at risk, you could still be in a manipulative relationship. Please do read on if you feel this could be the case.

Regardless of what may drive someone to be controlling, you do not deserve to be subjected to, or continue to accept, this aggression.


A quiz (researched and taken from this book) to self-assess the healthiness of a personal/professional relationship:

Answer the following questions with a TRUE or FALSE.

  • I sometimes feel confused about what my partner/colleague really wants.
  • I feel that my partner/colleague frequently takes advantage of my giving nature.
  • Even when I do something that pleases my partner/colleague, the positive feelings between us never last long.
  • With my partner/colleague, I feel that it’s hard just to be myself or do what I really want.
  • Around my partner/colleague, I feel taken for granted.
  • I seem to work harder on this relationship than my partner/colleague does.
  • My partner/colleague has a very strong impact on what I think and feel
  • I sometimes feel that I am trapped in this relationship and there is no way out.
  • I don’t feel as good about myself in this relationship as I once did.
  • I feel that I need my partner/colleague more than my partner/colleague needs me.
  • No matter how much I have done, I feel that it’s not good enough for my partner/colleague.
  • I feel that my partner/colleague does not understand who I really am.

There are twelve questions in this quiz.

If you answered more than six of them with TRUE, then you might want to consider the possibility that you are in a controlling relationship. You will find more detailed examples of manipulative behavior later in this guide.