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Human relationships are so complex and dynamic. Ideally, we’d all just get along and treat each other well… but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Whether we like it or not, there will be hierarchies and varying power relations among individuals.
Nobody wants to get the shorter end of the stick in their relationships – whether with your family, friends or significant other. That’s why you always need to keep things in perceptive, communicate effectively and be mindful as to whether or not the relationships you are involved in are healthy and fair ones. If not, chances are you’re only being used.
What does it mean to be used?
To be used in a relationship means to be manipulated and taken advantage of for the benefit of the other party. While being in a give and take situation makes for a healthy relationship, being used means you’re in a one-sided relationship… which typically equates to you doing most, if not all, of the giving.
It isn’t always cut and dry, nor is it immediately clear, when you’re being used by somebody. This person could be your parent, sibling, best friend, lover or even your boss. Because of the dynamics in your relationship with them, you could be blinded or gaslighted into believing that they’re actually the one doing you a favor, instead of the other way around.
Why do people use others?
There’s no one particular reason why somebody would use and take advantage of others for their own ends. It could be a way for them to overcompensate for insecurities they’re feeling, or it could be a core belief they developed when they were younger.
Some people could have had experiences that made them believe it’s wholly justified to do anything to get what they want, even at the expense of others.
It’s also possible that it’s simply in their personality to assert their dominion over others, which typically results in bullying people into submission.
Whatever the reasons may be, it’s never good to be indiscriminately used by anyone else. That’s why it’s important that you learn to spot the warning signs or red flags as soon as possible, so that you can nip it in the bud before they can even begin with your exploitation.
17 Warning Signs that you are being used by others
1. They demand your attention all the time while not giving you any
This is a classic user sign, and is among the easiest to spot early on. The person using you will demand that you prioritize their needs at all times, making you feel like you owe them or that they deserve it.
When it’s time for you to ask or want them to pay attention to you, however, they disconnect and become difficult to engage with.
2. When they pay attention to you, it’s because they need something
Users will make a big deal out of paying attention to you, if only to make sure that you will remember they did this grand gesture for you. They always approach your interactions from an angle. Every situation is an opportunity to make a “bargaining chip” they can use on you later on.
Pay attention not only to these instances of being nice to you, but also to when they turn off this “nice” mode and go back to ignoring you. You’ll find that most likely, the switch happens as soon as they get what they want.
3. They often ask for “little” favors
Oftentimes, these “little” favors are, in fact, not little at all. They entail a lot of work on your part, and sometimes, the favor actually puts you in a compromising position. They, however, depict it as being a minor request to pressure you into doing it for them. Otherwise, they will guilt-trip you for not accommodating when they asked you to.
What they’re really doing, though, is putting your reliability–and thus your contributions to the relationship–in question. If you can’t do this simple thing for them, what more if it’s a major situation? Will they be able to count on you then?
4. Their support for you depends on what they can gain from it
There’s an office event coming up, but you don’t feel like going. Suddenly, they show great interest and reassure you that they will be there to support you. In truth, it could be that they’re only there to make the most out of your networks as well, so that they can gain something from it too.
In other words, they’re not really going out of their way to support you. They’re there for themselves, and you are their means to their ends.
5. They convince you to take steps in your career that would benefit them
There’s an opportunity for promotion at work, but you’re feeling hesitant to throw your hat in the ring because you don’t feel ready, or you know what the role entails and you don’t want to subject yourself to unnecessary added stress.
Despite knowing about your concerns, they convince you to go ahead anyway, perhaps because they can gain something from it. It could mean longer hours for you in the office, which means more time for them to go about their own way. Or it could mean higher pay for you, which means you can afford to grant more “little favors” for them.
6. The conversation is always about them
They may ask about how your day went, but you’ll soon see that they’re barely listening to what you’re saying anyway. Either that or they’ll somehow find a way to make the conversation about them.
Being used does not only refer to material things. It can also pertain to emotional use, and self-absorbed conversations are a major warning for that.
7. They gaslight you to cover up for their faults
No matter how much you try to explain why they are at fault, they will find ways to turn the tables on you and make it appear like it’s on you. In the end, it’s going to be another thing that you “owe” them for.
8. They impose a lot of requirements on you in the relationship
Relationships are supposed to be a two-way street, but not when it comes to them. The rules set in your relationship are mostly for his benefit. Look closer and you’ll realize that most of the adjustments expected are supposed to come from you.
9. They try to control how you act, speak, and later on, even how you think
It would better suit their ends to have you easily agree or submit to their wants. This becomes a lot easier for them when they are able to control your thoughts and actions.
The manipulation will start subtle, perhaps by telling you that they prefer seeing you looking a certain way because it makes them look and feel good about themselves. They’ll make it out to be like a compliment, but actually, it’s just another backhanded way to force you to do things their way.
10. Decisions are only negotiable if it suits them
Users are very good at manipulating situations, to the point that they can lead you to believe a decision was your idea, when in fact, it was theirs.
If you try to counter their decision or put it up for a discussion, they will immediately shut it down or refuse to engage. But if they want to bend the decision to their favor, then having a discussion about it is immediately necessary.
11. They disregard/deny your boundaries
Users are so self-absorbed that they don’t even care that you’ve set up boundaries for your own wellness. Did you block off your early evening so you can practice yoga or meditation after a long workday? It doesn’t matter, you should be available to them 24/7 or whenever they feel like it.
Are you going out with your friends on the weekend, and you specifically requested to go alone so you can focus on your friends? They’ll invite themselves over if need be. Your friends can be their friends, too, after all, and this network of yours is just another resource they can use to gain for themselves.
12. You don’t feel the give and take in the relationship
If your gut feeling is telling you that this is not an equal relationship, then it probably isn’t. You would know best when you’re not getting what you deserve out of the time you’re spending with someone.
If you spend more time trying to please them so they will stay with you, or so that they will hopefully reciprocate all the good things you’re doing for them, but to no avail, then this relationship is clearly imbalanced and puts you at a clear disadvantage.
13. They prioritize their friends over you
You’d think you’d be their priority, but the truth is they’re only available because their friends aren’t. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be too inclined to spend time with you on their own volition–unless, of course, it is because they need something from you.
14. They’re never grateful
They’re never grateful for everything you do for them because they expect you to do it for them anyway. Sure, they might say thank you, but only because they know they need to at least act like they are grateful. This way, it’ll be easier to get you to do more for them in the future.
15. They constantly borrow money or expect you to pick up the check
One of the more obvious ways someone could be using you is if they constantly borrow money from you or expect you to pick up the check. They may employ a variety of tactics to get you to hand them money, whether by guilt-tripping or making big promises about how soon they’ll give it back.
They will be warm and attentive to you while they’re trying to get what they want. They may even shower you with compliments, or act extraordinarily sweet or congenial. Watch them turn cold and disregard you again once you give what they want.
16. They don’t care about what you want or how you feel
Being ungrateful, prioritizing others over you, disregarding your set boundaries–all of these are very clear indications that they really don’t care about you. Not what you want, not how you feel.
For users, the only thing important is that they are able to keep getting what they want from you, when they want it. They will do anything in their power to manipulate the situation to keep them in a position most advantageous over you.
17. They deny the imbalance you perceive in the relationship
When users are confronted about the imbalance in the relationship, expect that you will be manipulated and made to feel as if you did something wrong. As mentioned earlier, they can be very skillful in turning the tables on you, so that you will always be the one who needs to apologize or relent.
By denying that there’s even a problem, nothing gets resolved, and they get to keep the status quo that they are benefitting from at your expense.
Effects of Being Used in a Relationship
Being in a manipulative relationship can lead to serious long-term issues with the used individual. It can lead them to believe that their worth is tied to how useful they are for others, or may be constantly gaslighted into thinking that it’s their fault when things go wrong.
It can even lead to serious mental health issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma, among others. Being in this kind of demeaning relationship can also affect how you approach future relationships. You could become more distrustful and find it more difficult to explore and open up to new relationships.
Once you’ve been conditioned to believe that your worth is only good for being exploited by others, then it will be very difficult to unlearn that harmful belief about yourself.
Final Thoughts on Being Used by Others
I hope this article has inspired you to take a good look at your relationships, both personal and professional. Are you satisfied? Do you feel there is give and take? Are you needs and feelings validated?
No person should ever trample over your identity or diminish your dignity! Stand up and defend yourself against those who use you and do you more harm than good. This is not to say you should question every relationship, nor is it meant to put ideas into your head.
You should enjoy your relationships, but at the same time always be alert for any of the warning signs we’ve provided above.
Learn to set boundaries early on in order to protect yourself and your emotional well-being. If it ever gets to a point where your mental health is already being affected, seek help from a professional, so that you can properly address and process the situation.