Healthy relationships are based on trust, mutual respect, and security.
Not emotional manipulation.
Each person must feel they are valued and loved unconditionally, accepted for who they are, and safe to expose their vulnerabilities and flaws.
This is the ideal foundation for a good relationship, but of course, all of us fall short of this ideal from time to time.
We might use passive-aggressive tactics to express our pain or get our way in a disagreement.
We might tell white lies or throw out hurtful barbs to protect ourselves and cope with our own pain or anger.
I’ve done this myself, and I always feel regretful as soon as the words escape my mouth. I know this behavior does nothing to foster intimacy and trust.
We are all self-centered to a certain extent, but emotionally mature, healthy-minded people generally recognize when they behave this way and can correct the behavior, offer an apology, and begin again with a more loving and healing approach to conflict resolution or negotiation.
This foundation of respect, trust, and security is necessary in all personal relationships — your marriage or love relationships; your relationship with your family members; and your close friendships.
Both people must be committed to the health of the relationship and possess a strong emotional intelligence in order for the connection to thrive.
- What is emotional manipulation?
- 8 Emotional Manipulation Signs and Techniques
- 1. They turn your words to benefit them.
- 2. The manipulator says something and later denies it.
- 3. Emotional manipulation uses guilt trips to control you.
- 4. Manipulators try to diminish your problems or difficulties.
- 5. They use the emotional manipulating back door technique.
- 6. They use tactics that suck the energy from the room.
- 7. Emotional manipulators use aggression or anger.
- 8. They seek out the sensitive, insecure, or overly trusting.
What is emotional manipulation?
You’ve likely encountered people who are emotionally manipulative and controlling.
They use these behaviors to get their way or keep you from saying or doing anything they don’t like.
Emotional manipulation can be subtle and deceptive, leaving you confused and off-balance.
Or it can be overt and demanding where fear, shaming, and guilt-trips leave you stunned and immobilized.
Either way, emotional manipulation is not acceptable, and the longer you allow it to continue, the more power and confidence the manipulator gains in this one-sided relationship.
Eventually, any remnant of a healthy connection is destroyed, as the foundation of trust, intimacy, respect, and security crumbles under the hammer of manipulation.
8 Emotional Manipulation Signs and Techniques
Look carefully at these 8 types of manipulation to see if any exist in your relationship:
1. They turn your words to benefit them.
A manipulator has trouble accepting responsibility for their behavior, and often if you call them on it, they’ll find a way to turn it around to make you feel bad or guilty.
For example, you might make a legitimate complaint like, “It really bothers me you didn’t help me clean the house when you promised you would.”
Instead of apologizing, acknowledging his or her actions, and correcting the situation, a manipulator will say something like, “You would never have asked me to help you if you knew how overwhelmed I am. Why don’t you think about me for once?””
Or they might offer a quasi-apology like, “Well I’m really sorry but I was working until midnight last night. I know I should have told you about all the stress I’m under and how tired I’ve been. I may be coming down with something.”
This kind of manipulation is almost worse than no apology at all because it makes YOU feel bad for even asking and expecting them to follow through on something they promised.
If an apology feels false or if the other person replies with defensiveness or guilt-trips, don’t allow them to get away with it.
If you do, it will just empower them to do it again. Make it clear that a real apology is unconditional and followed by a behavior change.
2. The manipulator says something and later denies it.
A manipulator may say yes to a request or make a commitment to you, and then when the time comes to follow through, they conveniently forget they ever said anything.
Unless you have a recording of them making the promise, you can’t really prove anything — so it’s your “bad memory” against their lying words.
A skilled manipulator has a way of twisting a previous conversation or replaying it to suit their needs and make you feel like it’s your fault and that you are forgetful, demanding, or ridiculous.
Emotional manipulation causes you to question yourself and make you feel bad or guilty that you challenged the manipulator.
If you experience a pattern of these bait and switch manipulation tactics in your relationship, begin to write down exactly what the manipulator has promised.
Date it and post it in your kitchen or email it to yourself and the other person.
This may anger an emotional manipulator, and they may question your trust or faith in them, but it will make it much harder to deny the conversation later on.
3. Emotional manipulation uses guilt trips to control you.
This is the ultimate in manipulative behavior.
The emotional manipulator finds your sensitive Achilles heel and pokes it until you either give in or it makes you feel like a hound dog.
“You go ahead to the movies without me. It’s fine. I’ll stay home and finish the laundry.”
“It’s always about your needs. If you knew what kind of childhood I had, you’d never ask me to do that.”
“If you really want to go on the girls weekend, go ahead. I just don’t understand how you could leave the kids for that long.”
“I know we can’t afford to buy a new car. But I’ve never had a new car in my life. I guess I’ll just live with this crap car forever. I don’t deserve nice things.”
The emotional manipulator knows how to play the victim role to perfection.
They stir up a pot of guilt and sympathy and serve it to you in heaping ladlefuls.
They will say just about anything to get their way — especially if they see a kind-hearted, sensitive victim.
You are not going crazy. They are playing you for all it’s worth. Don’t fall victim to these manipulative, guilt-laden shenanigans.
Don’t give in to their passive demands or requests for sympathy.
This person is an adult. Remind them of that, and how they are perfectly able to cope with your decision or actions.
4. Manipulators try to diminish your problems or difficulties.
Emotional manipulators don’t care much about your important issues — unless they can use them as a platform to highlight their own.
“You think you had it bad sitting in traffic today?
Did you ever think about how I have to deal with traffic every day? It takes years off my life. Be thankful you only had to deal with it today.”
“Gosh, that’s terrible you and your mom had a fight. But just be thankful you have a mom. My mom is dead, and even when she was alive, we fought much more than you and your mom do. It almost felt like I never had a mom.”
If you point out how the manipulator just turned the tables, they’ll likely try to make you look selfish and pitiful.
They won’t acknowledge their narcissistic behavior or reframe the conversation around your pain or difficulty.
There’s not much you can do in these situations except walk away and find someone else who is more caring, compassionate, and mature.
Don’t expose your vulnerabilities to someone who tramples all over them.
5. They use the emotional manipulating back door technique.
Rather than being direct and forthright, manipulators will sidestep honest communication and use passive-aggressive methods instead.
They might talk behind your back with others, or ask someone else to be their spokesperson so they don’t have to be the bad guy or girl.
For example, they might have a friend tell you they want to break up or mention to your best friend how unhappy they are in the bedroom.
They might use passive ways of letting you know they’re mad or unhappy by pouting, stomping, or giving the silent treatment.
Or they might say something supportive but behave in very unsupportive ways.
For example, your spouse might say she’s happy for you to finish a demanding work project at home in the evenings, but then she goes out shopping, leaving you home with the kids.
For your own peace of mind, call them out on this behavior.
More than likely, you’ll get a defensive, angry reaction, but at least the manipulator sees that you know what they’re up to.
If this indirect, manipulative behavior occurs regularly, it’s time for counseling or to consider your exit strategy.
6. They use tactics that suck the energy from the room.
Manipulators have a way of walking into a room and dragging a dark cloud along with them.
They want the attention and focus to be on them, and they want to make sure everyone in the room notices if they are angry, unhappy, or discontented in some way.
People tend to scramble to accommodate the manipulator or to try to help them “feel better.” They might ask, “Are you OK? Is something wrong?”
This is just the opening the manipulator needs to feed off the sympathy and energies of others.
Being in the room with a manipulator, a sensitive person will feel drained and off-balance.
If possible, leave the room. Why give away your energy and good mood to a manipulator?
If you’re stuck in the room, envision yourself surrounded by an impenetrable barrier that protects you from the negative vibes of the manipulator.
7. Emotional manipulators use aggression or anger.
Emotional manipulators often try to intimidate others with aggressive language, subtle threats, or outright anger.
Especially if they see you’re uncomfortable with confrontation, they will use it to quickly control you and get their way.
The goal is to foster fear or extreme discomfort so you’ll belly up quickly.
Maybe your wife has a temper tantrum every time you bring up her over-spending.
Maybe your husband raises his voice and slams doors when you do something he doesn’t like.
Over time the manipulator learns all he or she has to do is get a bit crazy and things will go their way.
Unless you fear physical violence, call them out on this behavior. If this escalates the anger or aggressiveness, leave the room or the house entirely.
If anger and aggression are left unchecked, they can turn to more harmful behaviors.
Demand counseling so the manipulator can see clearly what they are doing and how to change their behaviors.
8. They seek out the sensitive, insecure, or overly trusting.
Emotional manipulators seek out the vulnerabilities in people in order to exploit them.
In fact, they may consciously or unconsciously create relationships with people who are the most vulnerable and willing to be controlled.
Manipulators can easily spot those who have a need to please or who’s insecurities drive them to put their own needs behind the needs of others.
Manipulators may first come across as caring and sensitive, using these methods to deflect their true motives.
Over time, they subtly begin to exploit the more gentle sensibilities of the other person.
If you know you’re highly sensitive and giving, you are more prone to falling victim to a manipulator.
Learn how to spot the signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship early so you can avoid these types of people altogether.
If you’re already in a manipulative relationship, it may be more difficult for you to pull away, as sensitive people often have a mixed bag of anger, loyalty, guilt, and insecurity tied up in these relationships.
You may need the support of a counselor to sort through your feelings and find a way to break free of this destructive situation.
Emotionally manipulating people need to be in control, and this desire for control often masks underlying feelings of insecurity.
Manipulators often compensate by appearing to be self-confident and powerful.
Their motives are almost always self-serving, and they have little regard for how their behaviors impact those around them.
They need to feel superior and powerful and seek out people who will validate them by accommodating their manipulative, passive-aggressive behaviors.
Your own emotions are your best tool for recognizing the problem between you and a manipulator.
Examine your emotions to see if you feel defensive, shamed, guilty, angry, or sympathetic toward the other person.
Do you find yourself making excuses for their behavior or compromising your own beliefs and choices to accommodate them?
You may not recognize these negative feelings in the immediacy of the moment, but later when you revisit the situation, these emotions might emerge.
If you suspect you’re involved with a partner who wants to manipulate you, then now is the time to take action to end the abuse.
Speak with a counselor to validate your suspicions and to see if there’s any hope for the relationship.
The longer you remain in this unhealthy dynamic, the more of your authentic self you give away.
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Do you recognize any of these emotional manipulations?
I hope you found the examples of manipulation and action steps helpful in dealing with an emotional manipulator who wants to control you.
Controlling people in your life can make you feel so manipulated that you feel unsure about your own feelings and judgment.
But don’t allow the behaviors of this toxic person to sow the seeds of self-doubt within you. Believe in yourself and your inner knowledge about healthy relationship behaviors.
Revisit this list of signs when you’re having a confusing or difficult time with a manipulator.
Which of these manipulation techniques are you seeing in your relationship?
Try to take the actions we suggest to call out the manipulator and let him or her know that you see through their bad behaviors.
The person may not change, but you’ll feel more empowered and confident about how you respond in the relationship.