How to Weed Out Manipulators, Controllers & Users In Your Relationships

Years ago, when I started my career as Psychotherapist, a seasoned colleague gave me perhaps the best piece of professional advice I had ever received. She told me, “If you don’t want to burn out in this field, never work harder on solving your client’s problems than they do.”

This wonderful morsel of advice, saved me from the all too common burn out of a career, that so many mental health professionals, who don’t exercise good boundaries, often experience.

And it can save you, too.

By refusing to work harder than your partner on solving the problems in your relationship, you can weed out the manipulators, controllers, and users, and avoid being taken advantage of, and be carrying all the emotional weight in the relationship.

My colleague’s advice resonated with me, and when I found myself working harder than my clients in the therapeutic relationship, I would pull back, and save my energy for those who really wanted my help, and benefitted from it.

It was a professional boundary I set for myself, in my therapy practice, that allowed me to support others without weakening myself.

I spent my energy on the clients that most wanted my help, and were willing to work as hard as me, to improve the quality of their lives.

Sound selfish or not empathetic?

I don’t think so.

Professionally, I created healthy boundaries, which produced great results for my clients, as well as myself.

Refusing to work harder on solving my client’s problems, than my clients, weeded out the clients that really didn’t want to improve, change their ways, or were just attending therapy to appease a spouse, partner, or relative.

Of course, personal relationships, especially romantic ones, are very different from professional relationships. We are all more emotionally invested in our personal relationships, and it isn’t always as easy to take a necessary step back and resist the urge to solve an issue or repair a damaged relationship.

So often we want the relationship to work so bad, that rather than risk losing it, we would rather risk losing ourselves trying to save it. 


But taking a step back is an absolute necessity.

It’s self-preservation!

It’s the only way to find out if your partner is carrying his/her emotional weight in the relationship. And if they aren’t, well, you shouldn’t have to do the all the emotional heavy lifting by yourself.

That’s not a relationship. That’s called being single.

If you are the only one spending the effort, by bending, and twisting, and compromising, you’re being taken for granted. Suckered. Manipulated. And if you allow it to go on long enough you will feel exhausted, depleted, and drained; burned out and bummed out.

And even worse, all your precious effort will be in vain, because it takes two people to make lasting changes in any relationship.

You won’t have any reserves left in your tank for you, much less the people in your life, who really appreciate you; because you are too busy wasting them, in a hopeless situation, with someone who is a taker, a user, and probably someone who really doesn’t give a darn about you. They really don’t want things to change, despite what they may say because frankly, the imbalance in the relationship is working just fine for them.

Changing anything is the last thing they want to do. Why would they, when they have you wrapped around their little finger, doing all the dirty work for them?

These types of people (manipulators, narcissists, and sociopaths) will blame you, and everybody else, for all the problems in their lives, and the relationship, and will be more than happy to sit back, and watch you run yourself ragged, carting all the emotional weight and blame, in the relationship.

While you’re so busy working overtime, trying to correct all the problems, you are enabling them to continue to do nothing, and maintain the status quo.

Taking a necessary step back is the only way that you will truly be able to determine your partner’s intentions, and discern the degree of your partner’s emotional investment, and commitment to you and the relationship.

So, drop the weight. Take a step back, and see what happens.

A person who truly loves you has compassion, and wants the relationship to be mutually satisfying, will want to carry their fair share of the weight, the blame, and the responsibility for fixing it. No, if’s, and’s, or but’s about it!

Copyright © 2015 Bree Bonchay.  All Rights Reserved.




Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines, and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.


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17 thoughts to “How to Weed Out Manipulators, Controllers & Users In Your Relationships”

  1. Oh my gosh, I wish someone had told me that years ago. I spent 30 years in a marriage doing exactly that before finally getting it. I am so glad I finally broke free!

  2. This all sounds like what I have been doing for the better part of 27 years. I cannot kick him out or leave myself because of chronic health decline. I wish I would have known all of this years ago when i had health enough to do something about it.

    1. U understand the feeling. If you could get away… do you think your health would improve? No knowing your condition of course, but if there was any way… maybe hope isn’t lost?

      1. I know your health would improve! The constant stress of being with a manipulative personality, narcissist or sociopath impacts your physical health and mental well being. <3 Hope is not lost my friend ~ Bree

  3. Well said. To make the relationship work, we tend to give away power to somehow balance what we sense is clearly out of balance. I don’t like the term co-dependent, but that’s who narcissists need to feed their insatiable needs. When I learned how to shift my internal beliefs about over functioning, my own worth apart from what I do for others, loving myself, I gained the power to leave. And have never looked back.

  4. Hi Bree, thank you so much again for another excellent article. Sharing! I tried to click on the link at the end to join the forum, but it was not working, found it through the name on fb anyway, but just to let you know 🙂 Thank you.

      1. Thank you, it’s a great advice for the therapists too. Not just psychotherapist, but massage and other therapists (who very often during session also listen to all sorts of problems). When we are in the field long enough, we learn to see, who really is serious about solving their problem and willing to cooperate and participate and who simply needs to find another person to blame for the terrible state they got themselves into and for not getting better after one or two sessions… I’m starting to learn to set up boundaries there, too.

  5. Reblogged this on AnnaG Massage therapy in Cardiff and commented:
    This applies to massage and other bodywork therapists, too. After some time in the field it becomes clear who really wants to solve their problem and is willing to cooperate and participate in the process, taking responsibility for their part, and who only seeks another person/therapist to blame for the state they got themselves into and for not getting all their chronic problems sorted in one or two sessions. It is best to save the energy for the first who will benefit most and save it on the latter, who really didn’t want to improve all that much for whatever conscious or subconscious reason.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. I have recently started doing this in all relationships I have. As it turned out, I had surrounded myself with toxic, negative people, who only used me. Now that I have purged the toxicity, I feel so much better about myself.

    Your post has reinforced to me that I’m on the right track. I plan to keep this practice in my life forever now.

  7. This is one of the best things I have ever read on the topic of unhealthy relationships — and I have read an entire library’s worth of articles and books on this subject over the past forty years.

    On second thought, this isn’t one of the best. This is the best.

    I hope you will soon write a book to share your amazing insights with the world. I have a granddaughter who is going to Harvard right now (brag) and I am a Mensa member, so I know brilliant when I see it.

    1. Alaina, thank you for that amazingly nice compliment. It was the first thing I read when I woke up this morning and what a way to start off the day! My colleague gave me some great advice years ago and it’s just a good philosophy and boundary to live by and apply to all our relationships to avoid those individuals who want us to carry them through life and/or manipulate and control. Xx ~Bree

  8. Great advice. I like it. It is harder to do when you are in a relationship but easier when looking back. I remember trying to reach a compromise with my ex once and I asked for 8 hours a week to have time alone. She said no. I feel silly for even trying that. 8 hours!!!!

  9. Great Advice! I now know that my behaviors in all relationships stems from my mother being a Narcissist. I allow toxic people into my life and take all my positive energy because this is what I felt was normal since I was raised this way. I just now set boundaries with my mother and got rid of my 28 year on and off relationship with a HUGE Sociopath Narc. I can not begin to explain how ALIVE I feel….My anixety attacks have stopped and I now sleep at night….Thank you for this as I have spent years thinking something was wrong with me…..My mother would tell me so…..She has run off every man I have ever dated…..Even my husband….I understand now I have to limit my interaction with her and focus on myself and my children…

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