Exploitation doesn’t just happen in professional sectors. Exploiting behaviors can happen in your own platonic, romantic, and familial relationships, too. Anyone can try to take advantage of or manipulate you, and that can make building relationships scary.
Exploitation can be very sneaky and covert. But if you’re able to recognize the signs, you’ll be able to nip it in the bud before it grows out of control and takes over your life.
10 Signs Someone Is Exploiting You
1. They Seem Only To Be Interested In Specific Things
The easiest way to determine that someone is exploiting you is what they seem to be most interested in from you. Yes, some relationships are mutually beneficial due to certain aspects, but your entire bond shouldn’t hinge on something you can give them.
Someone who is taking advantage of you will likely be spending time with you for selfish reasons, to get something out of you. These things may include:
- A membership to a franchise, store, gym, or another similar establishment
- Emotional labor
If someone is only showing interest in being around you when one of these things is involved, they may be exploiting you. Sit them down and talk about your concerns, or establish a clear boundary on what you suspect they may be using you for, or stop offering that object at all. Their true colors will reveal themselves in time.
2. You Feel Guilty All The Time
An exploiter often uses feelings like guilt and shame against you to coax you into giving them what they want. If you find yourself constantly feeling guilty to the point that it is affecting the decisions you make involving this person, they may have manipulated you to take advantage of you. It may feel like:
- You are never giving or doing enough for them
- They have been doing too much for you, and now you owe them
- You are always making mistakes that you need to atone for
- They are always suffering in some way or other, making you a bad person for saying “no” to them
- Your actions, needs, or requests inconvenience them
It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t feel guilty for something forever. If you’ve atoned for a mistake, you needn’t make up for it for the rest of your life. One single action does not lead to a permanent need to atone. If a mistake you’ve made has ruined your entire relationship with someone to the point where it needs to be continuously made up for, it’s best to part ways.
3. They Are Controlling
Someone who is exploiting you will also often try to control you. They need you in their grasp to keep you compliant, after all, and it’s challenging to take advantage of someone who you can’t control to some degree. Someone who is controlling you may attempt to:
- Prevent you from doing certain things
- Push you to participate in specific actions
- Stop you from spending time with other people
- Influence your decisions
The tricky part about this is that an exploiter may not be transparent about their control. They may use reverse psychology, mind games, and emotional manipulation to convince you to do what they want you to do, so you have to be extra cautious to detect this behavior.
If someone is actively controlling you in a clear and direct manner by blackmailing you, using fear, or threatening violence, seek help immediately from the relevant authorities.
4. They Punish You Indirectly
Indirect punishment is often not easily picked up on, as it doesn’t involve any obvious actions like hitting, shouting, or the declaration of a punishment. Instead, it involves a lot of passive aggression.
But even when passive punishment is not immediately apparent, you will likely notice it somehow. The negativity will cut through your positive thinking. It is through this method that an exploiter can punish you while maintaining an innocent and understanding facade.
Examples of indirect punishments are:
- The silent treatment
- Making things more difficult for you
- Withdrawing already-promised assistance
- Backhanded compliments
- Saying things that can hurt you
5. They Are Dishonest
There is no reason for an exploiter to be honest. If they were honest, they would tell you what their intentions are right off the bat, but that’s not what these manipulators do. They intentionally deceive you into achieving the results that they want. There’s no limit to what an exploiter may lie about. Some examples include:
- Their life
- Past or background
- Personal values or opinions
- Emotions or feelings
If you have reason to believe someone is exploiting you, you should take everything they say with a pinch of salt. Don’t expect them to be honest with you. However, you can call them out on their behavior and specifically request honesty from them and see if they change their tune. Still, someone so deceptive will need to regain your trust through positive actions, and you do not have to give it to them freely.
6. They Pay Attention To Your Weaknesses
An exploiter can’t exploit you if they can’t find anything to use. As such, they may pay extra attention to your weaknesses. They may try to learn how to push your buttons to manipulate you. These weaknesses could be anything, from topics that tend to set you off, to your loved ones, to causes you’re especially sympathetic towards.
Though these weaknesses make you more susceptible to manipulation, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them. These so-called weaknesses aren’t necessarily negative – they’re part of what makes you human. Of course, you care for your loved ones and hate when they are poorly spoken about. Of course, you believe in some causes and are passionate about them. That’s normal and healthy!
But it’s essential for you to keep in mind that these things that you feel strongly about can and will be used against you by an exploiter. By knowing this in advance, you can keep this in mind and be prepared.
7. Your Confidence Is Dropping
A change in your self-esteem with no discernable trigger could be due to an unknown exploiter. Toxic and abusive behavior is a widespread cause of a decline in confidence, self-esteem, and positive thinking, and it can stay with you for years and years.
Manipulators and exploiters can often undermine you and ruin your self-esteem because they continually make you feel reduced to one specific use. You may wonder if they even like you at all or if you’re worth spending time. You may wonder if you can ever do anything right, or if everything you do is destined for failure.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that your self-worth is not defined by anyone else. Only you can set it. If someone is exploitative of you, it doesn’t detract from your value or worth in any way.
8. They Make You Question Your Reality
Gaslighting is a very commonly performed behavior that typically involves making the victim feel like they’re going crazy or losing their grip on reality. They twist events and situations in their favor, implying that you’re misremembering those events. They may use phrases like:
- “Maybe you just weren’t paying attention.”
- “You’re too emotional.”
- “Woah, is your memory getting worse?”
- “That’s obviously not what happened.”
- “You’re taking this too seriously.”
But a lot of gaslighting is more complicated than one or two simple sentences. It involves slowly and deliberately making you question past events. If you aren’t aware of the manipulation, you may slowly begin to believe it, slowly losing confidence and positive thinking as you go. This is classified as abusive behavior.
If someone gaslights you, you can respond with the following statements:
- “That isn’t my reality.”
- “I understand your perspective, but that’s not how I see it.”
- “We experienced that differently.”
- “You cannot change what I experienced.”
It feels like you meet a different person every day with an exploiter. In various scenarios, they put on different masks, sometimes becoming unrecognizable.
As an example, they may be extremely polite and friendly in public but then morph into insulting and dismissive people behind closed doors. Why is this done? Well, someone who is taking advantage of you may need to make themselves look more positive or like the “good guy.” As such, they may do what they can to make sure that everyone around them has no reason to suspect their motives, making it difficult for you to seek help.
Another example is that they may seem kind and sweet to you one day, then cruel and biting the next. This is a form of indirect punishment and typically done to inform you that you’ve done something they don’t approve of.
10. They Expect Sacrifice
Someone who is exploiting you is going to want you to keep sacrificing things so they can get what they want. When you don’t, they may treat you like you’ve wronged them.
There’s nothing wrong with making sacrifices for someone, but if you make them again and again while it feels like you’re never giving enough, you’re being exploited – even more so if they seem to expect this of you.
You should also pay extra attention if this person never seems to want to make similar sacrifices for you. If every favor you request is turned down for a wide range of excuses, even after you’ve done so much for them, you’re being taken advantage of.
So, should you immediately cut off anyone who does any of these signs someone is exploiting you? Not necessarily. Exploitative behavior can sometimes be unconscious, and while that doesn’t make it right, it does mean the actions are changeable. Sit down and talk to the person who is doing this to you with honest and direct communication and see if any changes come of it.
But if someone exploits you again and again, even after you speak to them and ask them to stop, it’s time to cut them off. Don’t feel ashamed of saying “Enough is enough” and showing an exploiter the door.