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5 Signs of Toxic "Spider-Webbing" in a Relationship

3. Weaponizing what you reveal to them.

Key points

  • Spider-webbing keeps you trapped in a bad relationship with elaborate webs of deceit and manipulation.
  • Before you get to know them, such spiders can seem innocent and often very charming. They can love-bomb you.
  • Beware of people who are not consistent in their behaviors, such as running very hot and then very cold.
Studio-Annika/Getty
Spider-webbing is when someone keeps you trapped in a toxic relationship with an elaborate web of deceit and manipulation.
Source: Studio-Annika/Getty

Oh, what a tangled web some people weave when they date you. Sometimes the web is a very elaborate one of charm, lies, deceit, and manipulation. Such a sticky mess of multiple malignant behaviors is designed to keep you confused and trapped in a relationship with the person. And there's now a term for this strategy that circulating on social media just in time for Halloween 2023: spider-webbing. If you find yourself caught in this creepy-crawly situation, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Terminator movies, get out.

It's called spider-webbing because it's not just one toxic behavior. It's a complex, well-coordinated combination. And it can be very difficult to extricate yourself from the mess once you've been trapped. People who perform spider-webbing can be sort of the "final boss" of dating, masters of playing you as if you were in a video game. They've got a whole range of manipulative tactics in their toolbox that they can use to pummel you at different angles over time in remarkably strategic manners. The goal of all of this is to control you, whether consciously or unconsciously.

People who try to spider-web you typically have major issues. They can be very insecure, lacking confidence in their ability to establish and maintain genuine connections in an forthright healthy manner. They can have suffered significant trauma, such as being previously abandoned in a relationship and thus do whatever they can to prevent that from happening again. They may have a very controlling personality in general, such as a high degree of narcissism, whereby they feel the need to have others worshipping them unconditionally.

Once you are able to detect spider-webbing, consider it much more than a red flag. Instead, it is a whole freaking red half-time show, complete with a marching band, baton twirlers, cheerleaders, and color guard all dressed in red.

But at the beginning, spider-webbers, or spiders for short, can be very difficult to detect because they are frankly very good at manipulation. Therefore, watch out for people who are:

1. Too charming to be real.

Of course, someone who spider-webs you is typically not going to say, "Nice to meet you. I am going charm the pants off of you and then breadcrumb, enmesh, gaslight, neg, and love bomb the heck out of you so that your freaking head is spinning.” Before you get to know them, such spiders can seem innocent enough and often very charming. You may even think, "Where have you been all my life?" The answer is probably busy spider-webbing other people.

2. Inconsistent in their behaviors.

One moment the person may be showering you with compliments and gifts to build an attachment between the two of you. The other moment they may be criticizing you, feeding you backhanded compliments, or otherwise making you feel like trash so that you don't have the confidence to leave the relationship. Someone who blows hot and cold does not make for a good partner. If you find yourself asking, "Who is this person," then you may be getting tangled in a spider web.

Mesamong/Getty
You may not even recognize the weaving of the web until you find yourself trapped in it.
Source: Mesamong/Getty

3. Weaponizing what you reveal to them.

This is when the person uses against you whatever vulnerability you reveal to them. For example, say you mentioned how you've been betrayed in the past. That person may then later use some official-sounding label like "betrayal trauma" and then claim, "You don't trust what I did because of your past betrayal trauma."

4. Labeling you or your actions.

Speaking of labeling, highly manipulative people can use labels to put you in a well-defined box, rather than treat you as a unique individual. So, they may just simply say, "Oh, you are (such-and-such trait) and that's why you reacted in such-and-such manner," without accounting for the context and complexity of the situation.

5. Bragging about how they can manipulate others.

Yeah, if they are so good at manipulating other people, what makes you think that they won't do the same to you?

Feeling comfortable and secure is a sign of a good relationship. Constantly feeling uneasy is not. Don't mistake the latter for love. When you're bombarded with multiple manipulative tactics, your gut can tell that something is really, really wrong.

As the saying goes, one can be an accident, two a coincidence, but three or more is a trend. Spider-webbing is typically not simply an accident or a misunderstanding. It's deliberate or baked into that person's personality or both. Once you recognize that a web is being weaved or has been woven, have a frank and open conversation with the spider about their tactics. Don't hold back. Open communication is the key to any successful relationship, clearing up any misunderstandings and enabling possible solutions.

You could make one earnest attempt at rescuing the relationship if you feel that the person is worth it. But don't hold your breath. If the person is manipulative at his or her core, chances are you'd be fighting an uphill battle. The person must provide an acceptable explanation for his or her actions, a true acknowledgment of manipulative behaviors, and clear evidence of genuine change.

Otherwise, it's best to get out of the relationship as soon as you can. And steer completely clear of the person. No friends-with-benefits situation. No friends-without-benefits situation. Any kind of contact can get you caught in the web again.

And if you are pretty fly as a person, why would you want this to happen?

Facebook image: Koldunov/Shutterstock

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