Being manipulated is no fun.

Realizing that someone’s taken advantage of our ignorance or our good nature feels awful, doesn’t it? You might feel stupid. Or used. Or you might just feel confused: How did they get away with it?

Stop beating yourself up; we’ve all been there. And if you think you’re an easy target, or there’s an especially manipulative person in your life, I’ve got your back.

Dealing with manipulation is all about awareness. You need to make conscious decisions, based on something other than what feels the best (or the least awful) in the moment.

So here are five questions to help you become more aware – and get you thinking about the right things before being manipulated again.

1. Is this my responsibility?

There are three kinds of people in the world: the ones who take responsibility for themselves and a few others, the ones who take responsibility for everyone and everything, and the ones who do neither.

People in the first group know their limits. They look after themselves and their loved ones. They understand that they can’t be everything to everybody, and they’re OK with that.

Those in the second group sacrifice their own priorities to look after others, whether they deserve it or not. And the folks in the third group take advantage of their willingness to be of service.

If you’re in the second group, responsibility is an important issue. When you’re asked to do something that’s not quick and easy, make sure you’re not being too responsible. (And, yes – that’s a thing!) Get into the habit of asking yourself who created the problem and why anyone else should be fixing it. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone – in the long run – is to give him the opportunity to take responsibility for his own mistakes.

2. Would this person be there for me if the tables were turned?

It’s tempting to assume that the answer is yes – but is it? You may be lucky enough to have people in your life who would be there for you in an instant. If so, you know who they are. When someone else wants you to put his needs before your own, consider the relationship. How close are you? When you’ve needed him, has he been there? If you decide to give up something important for him, will it be worth it? If you keep giving to someone who keeps taking, you’ll end up feeling used.

3. Am I doing this to feel good about myself?

If you find yourself giving up your time and energy for people who don’t give you much in return, this question is crucial. Does doing things for others give you an ego boost? Does their flattery or gratitude lift your mood?

If you need to be doing something for others to feel good about yourself, then your life is not your own. Some of us have been taught that sacrificing for others is what makes us good people. If you’re one of them, it’s time to question that belief. Others just know that saying yes makes them feel good – at least for the moment. If that describes you, then you need to find other ways to feel good about yourself. This may take time, and you may need some help along the way.

4. Am I doing this to avoid emotional pain?

While some people allow themselves to be manipulated so that they can feel better, others do it to avoid feeling worse. Self-judgment hurts, and experienced manipulators know exactly how to trigger it. They may try to make you feel guilty: “I thought family was important to you; I guess I was wrong.” They may tell you how much they need you, knowing that you’ll feel selfish if you refuse. They may even suggest that you “should have seen this coming,” leaving you feeling ashamed of yourself – and responsible for fixing a mess you didn’t create. And if none of that works, they may let you know, directly or indirectly, that their affection or approval is at stake.

If you’re agreeing to things for someone to avoid guilt, shame or rejection, consider ending the relationship – or at least walking away when the games begin. If you’re not sure what’s going on, try talking to a trusted friend. Sometimes another perspective makes all the difference.

5. What is my gut telling me?

This is the most important question you can ever ask – in nearly any situation. If you don’t feel comfortable, find out why before you commit to anything. Your unconscious mind may have picked up on some clues that your rational side isn’t noticing. The person you’re talking to may be uncomfortable … because she knows something you don’t. Going along with the people around you may affect your relationship with someone else – or yourself, if your integrity is at stake.

When you don’t feel good about something, there’s always a reason. Find it before you agree to something you may regret later.

Everyone is different.

You may find that just one of these questions puts things into perspective for you. If you’re not sure where to start, go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, put off your decision. Then take your time and consider the rest of the questions.

Being manipulated is easy; looking out for yourself takes a little more effort. I promise you’re worth it.

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