The Principle of Reciprocity and How It Keeps You Stuck in Toxic Relationships

The Principle of Reciprocity and How It Keeps You Stuck in Toxic Relationships the principle of reciprocity and how it keeps you stuck in toxic relationships

In “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Robert Cialdini explores the concept of the law of reciprocity. This principle suggests that when someone does a favor for us or gives us something, we tend to feel a strong psychological obligation to return the favor. It’s a fundamental aspect of human behavior and social interaction.

Cialdini explains how this principle is deeply rooted in human culture and is a powerful tool in the art of persuasion. When someone provides us with a gift, assistance, or a favor, it triggers a sense of indebtedness. As a result, we are more likely to comply with their requests or reciprocate in some way. Reciprocity is more like a social glue which holds us together. This principle is used in various aspects of life, from marketing and sales to personal relationships. In this article, I am going to be explain to you how this principle is a key element in keeping you stuck in a manipulative relationship.

Cycle of Abuse

The beginning of a manipulative relationship involves being love-bombed and made to feel like royalty. You are offered excessive affection, showered with what appears to be love, validation, compliments, and more. It’s all about receiving what you deeply desire and serves as the foundation for reciprocity, which involves giving. These acts may not be genuine, but they make you feel like you owe the abuser your ‘life’ for the beautiful things they’ve done. Some of the grand gestures they may perform include paying your bills, clearing your debts, or helping you out of the ‘mess’ you’re in.*et9czc*_ga*MTkxNjcxMDU2NC4xNjg1MDA1MjYw*_ga_6LJN6D94N6*MTY5ODczNDU3OC4yMjQuMC4xNjk4NzM0NTc4LjAuMC4w

The grander the gesture and the more significant the implications of their generosity, the stronger the feeling of indebtedness you have towards them. This is how you deeply feel the urge to reciprocate, or you sense that you harbor an unpayable debt.

When a toxic person engages in such behavior, they do it with the expectation that the recipient will feel indebted in some way. By receiving these gestures, you may develop a sense of obligation to reciprocate, even if you are unaware of the underlying manipulation.

So how does this perpetuate the cycle of abuse once they start revealing their true colors?

Strong Sense of Obligation

When the abuser starts displaying their ‘true’ colors by being manipulative and engaging in various hurtful ways, you may recall their prior displays of kindness and generosity during the relationship. As a result, you might find yourself downplaying their negative behaviors or even tolerating them. You could ‘allow’ them to mistreat you or manipulate you because you believe it’s a way to reciprocate for what they’ve seemingly done to rescue you from a dark place in your life. You might feel obligated to offer forgiveness in return for their earlier acts of kindness. It’s at this point that thoughts like, “They’ve done so much for me, and I can’t just walk away,” start to dominate your thinking.*et9czc*_ga*MTkxNjcxMDU2NC4xNjg1MDA1MjYw*_ga_6LJN6D94N6*MTY5ODczNDU3OC4yMjQuMC4xNjk4NzM0NTc4LjAuMC4w

You begin making excuses for their behavior and might even hide their abusive actions from your family or friends, all in an attempt to demonstrate your kindness and repay this seemingly ‘unpayable debt’ of kindness and generosity they displayed some time ago. This is how you become trapped in toxic relationships; it turns into a transaction of trying to repay what was given to you, something that can never truly be repaid.

Your overwhelming urge to reciprocate makes you give them numerous chances, and you even come up with any excuse to shield their image and reputation. They cared for you in the beginning, and now you feel it’s your responsibility to endure and sacrifice your mental well-being as you care for and tend to their mental health. This exemplifies the law of reciprocity in action, where you feel compelled to give back what was given at the expense of your own boundaries.


Giving and reciprocating in a relationship are healthy and natural, driven by care and consideration for one another. However, when these actions are motivated by a sense of obligation or the fear of consequences, it becomes insincere and harmful. In a healthy relationship, generosity is freely given, and reciprocation is a choice rather than an obligation. It’s crucial to prioritize your own well-being and emotional health in any relationship and recognize when your actions are coming from a place of ‘have to’ rather than genuine care. Genuine care include yourself or puts you first in the picture, you don’t have an obligation to sacrifice yourself for the sake of someone who love bombed you only to exploit you afterwards. The urge to reciprocate and give is a beautiful thing, but it turns ugly when you neglect to give back to yourself. Giving is wonderful, but it should be done with your boundaries intact. You don’t owe anyone everything; your primary obligation is to yourself, to love and care for yourself, and when you do, that self-love will flourish and its fragrance will be sensed by those around you.

Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these toxic patterns, then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts & bias, experiences and research😊.


  1. Cialdini, Robert B.. Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion (p. 23–73). Harper Business. Kindle Edition.
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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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