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28 Signs You’re Being Taken Advantage Of By People & Secrets to Break Out

We all think we are nice people who do nice things. But when people take advantage of our caring and patience, what can we do? And how do we recognize it?

taken advantage of

Ever feel like you’re the universe’s personal punching bag, perpetually taken advantage of by just about everyone?

Hey, you’re not alone—whether it’s your beau, your bestie, or even your boss, the art of being played is a universal struggle. And we’ve all been there, whether we admit it or not.

Why does this keep happening, you might ask? Good question! Is it bad luck? Bad karma? Nope. It’s a bit more complicated, but don’t worry.

By diving into the nooks and crannies of human psychology, we’re going to crack the code and stop people from taking advantage of you.

[Read: How to tell someone is using you – 22 signs a user just can’t hide]

The Psychology of Being Taken Advantage Of

Before we discuss the signs and how to break the cycle, it’s crucial to understand why we find ourselves trapped in these situations in the first place.

So let’s put on our psychology caps *they’re invisible, but oh-so-stylish* and delve into the science behind the phenomenon of being taken advantage of.

1. Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling you get when your beliefs and actions are out of sync. Picture this: you know you deserve respect but find yourself tolerating disrespect.

This creates a mental tug-of-war, pushing you to justify the other person’s actions just to relieve that inner tension. In doing so, you unwittingly perpetuate the cycle of being taken advantage of.

[Read: Toxic relationship – what it is, 107 signs, causes, and types of love that hurt you]

2. Operant conditioning

In the psychology world, operant conditioning is the principle that explains how we learn from the consequences of our actions.

When someone takes advantage of you but sprinkles in occasional acts of kindness, you’re more likely to stay stuck. These ‘rewards’ make it difficult to cut ties and move on, keeping you ensnared in the loop of being taken advantage of.

3. Self-discrepancy theory

Self-discrepancy theory posits that we have different ‘self-states,’ like our ‘actual self,’ ‘ideal self,’ and ‘ought self.’

When there’s a gap between these selves, like feeling that your ‘actual self’ doesn’t measure up to your ‘ideal self,’ you might think you deserve to be taken advantage of.

This theory can offer an illuminating explanation for why some people tolerate less-than-ideal situations longer than they should. [Read: Positive self talk – what it is, where it comes from, and how to master it]

4. The sunk cost fallacy

Yes, the sunk cost fallacy—this is the psychological trap that convinces us that because we’ve invested time, money, or emotional energy into a relationship or situation, we should stick it out, even when it’s clearly not in our best interest.

This can often apply to friendships where you might think, “But we’ve been friends for so long!” as a reason to tolerate being taken advantage of. [Read: 34 signs to know how and when to end a friendship that’s toxic and hurting you]

The Glaring Signs You’re Being Taken Advantage Of

It’s one thing to know the psychology behind why we let people take advantage of us, but spotting the signs in real time? That’s a whole different game. Luckily, we’ve got some telltale signs to watch out for.

1. Constantly walking on eggshells

If you find yourself rehearsing conversations in your head before you even have them or if the slightest sigh from your partner triggers an anxiety attack, you’re walking on eggshells.

The mental exhaustion from constantly trying to avoid your partner’s disapproval keeps you emotionally caged, making it easier for you to be taken advantage of.

Not to mention, this erodes your self-esteem bit by bit every day. [Read: Sense of self – what it is, 36 signs, tips, and steps to raise it and feel great]

2. One-sided affection or effort

Ever had those moments where you look at your call log and realize it’s you doing all the dialing? Or maybe you’re always the one planning dates, making thoughtful gestures, or even initiating basic conversations?

When the scales are tipped so far, you’re not in a relationship; you’re in a one-person effort parade, and guess what, you’re the grand marshal. [Read: 30 signs of a one-sided relationship and how to fix it before it ends]

3. Unspoken expectations

Picture this: You’re expected to pick them up from the airport, no questions asked, but you can’t remember the last time they did something for you without a sigh or eye-roll.

It’s like you’ve become an all-in-one service provider without even signing a contract. And the worst part? Your partner acts like this is the natural order of things.

4. Keeping score

Ever hear something like, “Well, I did this for you, so you owe me that”? If you’re not keeping score but they are, you’re in trouble. This tit-for-tat dynamic makes every favor feel like a transaction rather than a genuine act of love or friendship.

This kind of scorekeeping creates a power imbalance designed to keep you constantly indebted and easier to be taken advantage of. [Read: Bad friendships – 45 signs you have bad friends and need to get new ones ASAP]

5. You’re expected to drop everything

Your phone buzzes and voila! It’s your significant other. They need something, and they need it now. Maybe they’re locked out and need you to leave work to let them in, or they want to vent about their day precisely when you’re swamped with yours.

The point is, if they expect you to be at their beck and call, your own life becomes secondary, and let’s be honest—that’s the epitome of being taken advantage of.

6. The one-sided listener

We’ve all been there. You’re the shoulder to cry on, the ear for venting, and the one they ask for advice. But when it’s your turn, suddenly they’ve got to run.

While it’s lovely to be considered wise, if you’re the perpetual counselor without any emotional return, you’re being taken advantage of.

It’s a one-way emotional labor street, and it’s a sign you’re being used, not valued. [Read: 19 ways to be a much better listener in a relationship and read their mind

7. The eternal sponsor

If your wallet is getting more action than a squirrel near a bird feeder, be cautious. This goes beyond generosity; it’s a Social Exchange Theory imbalance.

If you’re the go-to person for picking up the tab, you’re more a sponsor than a friend or partner. [Read: The tell-tale signs to know if you’re being used for sex or money]

8. The invisible employee

Does your boss love your ideas but never remember your name during team meetings? That’s power dependency theory. You’re not an invisible employee, you’re a valuable asset not getting the recognition you deserve.

9. The planner and the ghost

If you’re always the one making plans, sending texts, and getting ghosted, beware. This is what psychologists call ‘social loafing,’ and it’s a sign that you’re being taken for granted, not taken seriously. [Read: Ghosting – what it is, 63 signs, reasons to ghost, and how it affects both people]

10. The guilt trip guru

Is someone making you feel like a bad person for saying no? That’s emotional blackmail, and it’s designed to make you question your worth and your choices. It’s another way of being taken advantage of.

11. The last-minute hero

Ever notice you’re only the go-to when all other options are exhausted? This is tied to the psychology of availability heuristic, aka., you’re the easy option, not the preferred one. It’s time to ask if you’re a priority or an afterthought.

12. The human diary

You know all their secrets, fears, and hopes, but they can’t even remember your middle name. You’re not a friend, you’re an emotional dumping ground. This is what psychologists refer to as ‘unidirectional emotional disclosure,’ and it’s a neon sign that you’re being taken advantage of.

13. The errand runner

Another sign you’re being taken advantage of is if you’re always the one picking up their dry cleaning, feeding their cat, or doing their grocery shopping.

While helping out is great, if it’s only you breaking a sweat, you’re falling into the ‘altruism trap,’ a psychological term indicating that your kindness is being exploited.

14. The textbook validator

Do you get called upon only when they need validation? Whether it’s for a selfie, a new job, or a big life decision, if you’re just there to boost their ego, you’re subject to what’s known as ‘narcissistic supply.’ You’re a mirror reflecting their greatness, not a person in your own right.

[Read: 73 red flag narcissism signs and traits of a narcissist to read them like a book]

15. The perpetual plus-one

If you’re only included in plans when they need a wingman, a driver, or someone to make them look good, watch out. This is an example of an ‘instrumental friendship,’ a scenario where you are a means to an end, not a true friend.

[Read: One-sided friendship – 31 causes, signs, and how they can hurt and break you]

16. The wallpaper effect

Ever feel like you’re just part of the scenery during significant moments or decisions?

If you’re often overlooked when it matters, it’s a glaring sign you’re not valued as you should be. In psychology, this could be linked to ‘social invisibility,’ where you’re seen but not acknowledged.

17. The conversation hijacker

Frustrated by constantly being interrupted during discussions? If your words are regularly cut off, you’re experiencing what psychologists call ‘conversational narcissism.’

It’s not just rude; it’s a signal you’re being taken advantage of by not having your voice heard.

Taking Back the Power When Being Taken Advantage of

So you’ve recognized the signs that you’re being taken advantage of. Bummer, right? But hey, the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.

Let’s arm ourselves with some strategies, fortified with a pinch of psychology, to take back the driver’s seat in our lives.

1. The art of saying no

Ever feel cornered into doing something you don’t want to do? Like staying late at work for the third time in a row without extra pay?

It’s time to embrace the power of “no.” Saying no isn’t being rude; it’s reclaiming your time and refusing to be taken advantage of.

[Read: How to say no – 15 ways to reason politely, stop pleasing, and feel kickass]

2. Knowing when you’re drained

You’re not a superhero, okay? You can’t be emotionally available for everyone 24/7. So, if you’re feeling like an emotional dishrag at the end of the day, it’s a sign.

Listen to that gut feeling that says, “I can’t take any more.” You’re avoiding being taken advantage of by conserving your emotional energy.

[Read: 23 secrets to set personal boundaries and guide others to respect them]

3. Your personal cheer squad

Who’s in your corner when things get tough? Don’t underestimate the power of a supportive friend group or family.

Let them know when you’re feeling taken advantage of—their backing can give you the confidence to tackle the issue head-on.

4. Finding your voice

Ever bit your tongue because you didn’t want to stir the pot?

Look, if you’re hesitating to speak your mind because you don’t want to offend anyone, rethink that strategy. Your voice matters, and speaking up can prevent you from being taken advantage of. [Read: 17 confident ways to be more assertive and speak your mind loud and clear]

5. The reality check-in

Alright, truth time. Stop for a minute and assess: Are you making excuses for someone else’s bad behavior? That’s you being taken advantage of, but recognizing it is the first step to changing it.

6. Drop the rescuer role

Listen, Captain Save-A-Friend, you’re not in a comic book. You can’t fix everyone’s life problems. If you’re always the one solving other people’s issues, chances are, you’re being exploited for your goodwill.

7. Break the silence

Silence might be golden, but not when you’re being mistreated. Share what you’re going through with people you trust.

A problem shared is a problem halved, and when you’re vocal about being taken advantage of, it becomes harder for the perpetrators to continue doing so. [Read: True friendship – 37 real friend traits and what it takes to be a good, loyal one]

Take That Leap to Stand Up For Yourself!

So now that you’ve got the 411 on the sneaky ways you might be taken advantage of, it’s time to turn the tables. Knowledge is power, after all.

Don’t let another moment slip by where you’re the sidekick in your own life story. Take that leap to stand up for yourself; you’re worth it.

[Read: Selfish friends – what makes one, signs, and the 36 best ways to deal with them]

In case you didn’t catch it the first time, you’re not a doormat to be stepped on. You’re a high-quality, limited-edition Persian rug with intricate patterns and stories to tell. So let’s stop the tread-wear and start appreciating your true value, shall we?

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Vinod Srinivas Serai
Vin Serai
Vin Serai is the founder of LovePanky.com, and has delved deep into the working of love and relationships for almost two decades. Having dipped his feet in almo...