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Emotional Manipulation: A Guide to Identify and Deal With It

Emotional Manipulation: A Guide to Identify and Deal With It

Updated on Aug 26, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Emotional Manipulation - Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional manipulation is a way of establishing power in any relationship
  • Manipulators like to control the people in their life
  • The tactics of emotional manipulation can often go unnoticed
  • Emotional manipulation can lead to emotional abuse and unhealthy relationships

Emotional manipulation is not always obvious. Many relationships, including romantic relationships and others, fall prey to emotional manipulation tactics.

One may often require an external person to point out these tactics. However, there are certain signs to self identify emotional manipulation.

Read this article to find out more and to maintain some caution. 

Emotional Manipulation Infographics

Emotional Manipulation - Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More
Emotional Manipulation – Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More
Emotional Manipulation - Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More
Emotional Manipulation – Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More
Emotional Manipulation - Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More
Emotional Manipulation – Meaning, Examples, Signs, Ways to Deal & More

What Is Emotional Manipulation? 

Emotional manipulation is the act of taking power in a relationship. It includes tactics that influence the victims to act and feel according to the manipulator’s advantage. Emotionally manipulative people are considered a red flag in any relationship.

Emotional manipulation is the power play we often find in relationships. Even if it is a good and healthy relationship, there may come times when some manipulation is involved. 

In many situations, emotional manipulation is an effective tool to get what you want. Since neither the tactics nor the cause is clearly visible, it even goes unnoticed.

However, sometimes, people use it to an unhealthy extent in emotionally abusive relationships. 

Parents, siblings, bosses, friends, colleagues as well as romantic partners are capable of emotional manipulation.

These are essentially the people that are close to you and hence you think of their feelings before doing something. 

Emotionally manipulating someone is also a red flag in relationships. No amount of it is okay.

Hence, even when it occurs in otherwise healthy relationships, they are a sign of trouble. Often, emotional manipulation is followed by serious emotional abuse. 

According to a study from 2013, emotional abuse in intimate relationships has a lasting impact on mental health.

It is even a ‘precursor to physical violence,’ in a number of intimate relationships. Additionally, it can damage a person’s entire well-being. 

Lastly, it is important to remember that identifying an emotionally manipulative person is the most difficult part.

There are many clear ways to deal with them after you have identified them, the most severe of which is breaking contact. 

Emotional manipulation is often misunderstood as the compromises that come as part of love. However, the following are the reasons that you should consider it as a red flag. 

1. Unequal relationship

Whether or not it is a romantic relationship, a healthy one requires balance and equality. They keep it thriving and allow both partners to truly express themselves. 

In a working relationship as well, balance ensures that both people can effectively fulfill their roles. 

When there is emotional manipulation involved, it becomes clear that one person is not behaving equally. The balance is skewed, and it is usually the person who does the manipulation that stands to gain.

2. Abuse of power

Love and respect are genuine emotions that do not require power. Wanting to feel powerful is not a good sign for any relationship. 

For example, if your colleague emotionally manipulates you to do their work all the time, they are abusing the power they have over you.

You may truly care about them and their problems. However, if they use it to their advantage it is not a good sign. 

3. Lack of honesty 

An equal relationship is one that is based on transparency. That means that both the people involved are open and honest with each other. 

Emotional manipulation is in itself dishonest behavior. This means that at least one of the people in the relationship does not care about such manners.

For them, the relationship is not about open communication. 

Rather, they use various tactics to win both big and small battles. Even the things that you may not consider a fight, for them these are important wins. 

They make sure to maintain their hold over you through these manipulative gestures. 

Emotional Manipulation Examples

There are ways to identify emotional manipulation in relationships and in your general life.

The following section will go into detail about the tactics used as well. However, in this section, you can see the various examples of emotional manipulation around you. 

1. Doing things out of guilt 

Some would argue that guilt is the most wasted or unproductive emotion. While this is debatable, emotional manipulators use guilt to make their victims act in their favor. 

For example, you may see someone doing all the work in the house, which is more than their fair share. What may not be very obvious is their reason for doing it. 

Often, people try to guilt others into doing their chores or work. 

This is an example of emotional manipulation that is very common all around us. Some people even stay in unhealthy relationships out of guilt.

This is mainly because of emotional manipulation by the opposite person. 

2. Flawed communication 

A lot of tactics used in emotional manipulation are based on communication. It could either be playing with extremes, avoiding communication, misguided communication, or more. 

These are all terms that point to emotional manipulation. For example, when you see a friend telling the other, “You always prioritizing your work over our weekend plans breaks my heart.” 

This is flawed communication in a lot of different ways, as mentioned above. This leads to the person feeling like a bad friend, even if they were genuinely busy. 

Additionally, they also feel personally responsible for the hurt they cause someone else. 

Even if the person does not act out of guilt and goes out with this friend the following weekend, they may still feel bad. 

It may even influence the satisfaction they derive from their work, which is a sign of emotional manipulation. 

3. Relationships based on fear 

Some tactics used in emotional manipulation elicit fear. One person may constantly be afraid of disappointing the other. 

Even if they are being thoughtful, it is not healthy to always worry about your actions. 

This example is also very common. We often see people worry about upsetting or disappointing their partners, friends, etc. They stop talking to other people or taking personal time for themselves. 

It is highly possible that this worry or fear is not unfounded. They have probably learned to worry this way. This is because of the emotional manipulation they face in the relationship. 

4. Peer pressure 

We do not often talk about the peer pressure we all face starting from a young age. Peer pressure, or the pressure to fit in with the people around us, affects everyone. 

People even take drastic steps to fit in with the outer groups. 

Peer pressure is an example of emotional manipulation. Here, society and its many groups use negative emotions to make people act a certain way.

For example, buying the type of jeans that are in trend. 

If you do not buy them, nothing really can happen to you. However, if people point out that you do not dress according to the times, you may feel upset. 

You may fear that your choice of not buying the jeans will leave you alone. 

Hence, out of fear, insecurity, need to belong, or even to please others, you may buy the jeans. This is widely known as peer pressure, but it is also a form of emotional manipulation. 

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy even explains the role of peer pressure and other such terms used in manipulation. 

5. Ads, Media, Politics 

Lastly, we often leave out the emotional manipulation that is present in the larger world.

Whether it is advertisements, movies, marketing campaigns, or even political campaigns, they all engage in some kind of manipulation. 

We have seen ads that give out a message like ‘Mothers that care get this product’ or ‘If you care about your body, support this brand.’ These are playing on our emotions day in and day out. 

The main purpose of this is to increase their business and popularity. As consumers, we are faced with no choice but to face this manipulation.

This is because as long as we live in any society or country, there will be people in power who want this. 

Emotional Manipulation Tactics 

Now that we have a brief idea of what is emotional manipulation and what it looks like around us, let us go deeper. 

People often use clear tactics of manipulation. Many times, they are even fully aware of what they are doing and how it will influence others.

1. Showing passive aggressiveness

Firstly, what is passive aggression? It is a non-violent, often non-verbal way of showing anger. It is not obvious in terms of expression.

However, it is often used to indirectly express your negative emotion towards a certain thing or person. 

Passive Aggression goes a long way in making someone else feel uncomfortable.

For example, when you try to do a new thing. You may express this to your friend, and they may respond with, “Well I wouldn’t do that ever, but you go ahead.’ 

On the surface, it seems like they are giving you the freedom to do what you want. However, even if you understand basic social cues, you can judge that it is truly not the case. 

In reality, they are passive-aggressively telling you that you are letting them down. They are indirectly suggesting that they did not expect this of you, or find it acceptable themselves.

This behavior, in a lot of personal equations, is enough to discourage a person from doing something. This means that passive-aggressiveness works as an effective tactic of emotional manipulation. 

When a person acts sulky, uses taunts and jabs, does not appreciate the other person, or goes out of their way to hurt them, it is passive-aggressive. 

2. Emotional bullying  

We may have heard of bullying occasionally. Bullies use their words or actions to show their power over others.

Being bullied also leads to emotional scars, because the person ends up doing things they do not wish to do.

Emotional bullying is when a manipulator uses harsh words to hurt another person. This includes insults, criticism, unfair judgments, and other similar things.

The main aim is to manipulate a person by making them feel bad or inadequate. 

When we feel like we are not good enough, we end up not following our own minds or heart.

There are various types of bullying but emotional bullying, in this case, is as severe as physical bullying. The emotional scars it leaves behind can take a long time to heal. 

If the person emotionally bullying us is actually someone very close, it can cause even more damage. This is because we may have high regard for them and their opinions. 

Hence, when they bully us, we may take it even more seriously. 

3. Distortion 

Distortion is the act of misrepresentation of facts or other information to fulfill a selfish purpose.

For example, a person who only gives half the information he or she possesses. They intentionally don’t divulge the whole truth. 

This gives them an advantage as the opposite person makes a choice based only on what is half the truth.

When we are told that we should attend a party because the host has sent a personal handwritten invitation. 

We feel we may owe it to the host to attend their party since they took special care of us. However, the whole truth may be that they sent a handwritten card to every one of the guests invited. 

If we know, our opinion of how special it is, changes. 

These distortions of facts often influence our decisions on an emotional level. Lying, hiding facts, using selective information are all forms of manipulation.

These rarely work in the favor of the person who has to make a choice. 

4. Gaslighting

Similar to the previous tactic, emotional manipulators use gaslighting to turn the situation in their favor. Gaslighting is essentially changing what the reality is in the other person’s mind. 

In a lot of ways, it is very much like distortion.

Here, the manipulator gives such an account of the facts that the person feels as if they were the ones who had it all wrong. Some people may be excellent at gaslighting others. 

For example, a relationship where one person is constantly not available for the other person’s needs.

This may bother someone, however, when they bring it up, the entire narrative changes. 

Their partner may paint a picture where they feel like they are being too needy.

This person may gaslight the victim to feel like they are remembering everything wrong, or that they read too much into a situation. 

In reality, this is a perfect example of emotional manipulation. You know the truth and believe in your own version of events.

However, when the opposite person successfully gaslights you, your own perspective shifts in their favor. 

This process actually makes people doubt themselves. They suddenly feel like they do not have a proper grip on reality or what is important.

Emotionally abusive relationships and even workplaces often use gaslighting tactics to get what they want. 

5. Using guilt 

Using guilt is an effective manipulative tactic as well. It forces people to act because they want to avoid feeling guilt, or they want to repair the mistake they made.

However, in this case, they haven’t made any mistakes. 

It is mainly the manipulator’s tactics that invoke such emotions. Often, they can make a person act in anticipation of guilt.

For example, ‘You know if you take a break right now, the project will suffer a lot.’ 

This simple statement is a form of guilt-tripping. They want to avoid being responsible for the bad state of their project.

Hence, even if they can technically take a leave, out of fear of guilt, they won’t. 

Family members, siblings, friends, and bosses all use guilt very effectively and often casually. This is why it goes unnoticed because it is part of so many of our daily interactions. 

6. Using sympathy 

Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else’s suffering. It is when you feel sorrow or pity for someone else. These are powerful negative emotions that most people wish to deal with quickly. 

For example, when you see a person struggling with too many deadlines and work pressure. You may feel a tug of sorrow that is called sympathy.

Sometimes, manipulators intentionally bring out this emotion in you. 

This emotion makes you want to physically do something about it. It is like when you see someone badly embarrass themselves in public. 

If you feel sympathetic, you may just rush to help them, so you don’t feel bad for them anymore. 

Emotionally manipulative people twist their words and situations to make you feel increasingly sympathetic.

The more sympathetic they make a person feel, the more they can control their response to the situation. 

7. Silent treatment 

Silent treatment, or withdrawal, is an exceptionally good tactic. Some may even call this a form of passive aggression. Essentially, the silent treatment is when a person refuses to participate in your life. 

As the name suggests, they use their absence of words or reactions to put across their point.

Often, when this is a person we care about, the lack of communication affects us. We do not enjoy feeling shut out.

On their end, their manipulative behavior sets the tone of the relationship. This means that every time their romantic partner or friend does not give them what they need, all they do is get quiet.

This manipulative tactic also works because it makes the opposite person feel bad as well as frustrated.

Often, we get so annoyed with the lack of a response from someone, that we become easy targets for their manipulation. 

Ghosting is a type of silent treatment as well, where a person completely disappears from your life without warning.

8. Playing with insecurities

A manipulative person probably knows you and your weaknesses really well. If this person is close to you, they most likely know your insecurities well.

This happens in healthy relationships as well, as it is a part of opening up to people. 

However, in the case of emotionally abusive relationships or manipulative people, your insecurities become their weapon.

They use it to make you feel particularly bad. For example, if you are insecure about your weight.

An emotionally manipulative person may use this insecurity to their advantage. They may compare you to other people.

Additionally, if you bring it up, they may use your insecurity to justify their behaviors and humiliate you even further. 

Often, at work particularly, if you are insecure about public speaking, presentations skills, etc. it can be used against you.

Coworkers who may not have worked as hard as you may take extra credit, because they are able to trick you using your insecurity. 

In relationships, this is not a good sign at all.  If you are really insecure, you may feel like no one can love you. 

A manipulative partner may actually use this to make you feel thankful for their love. This is a bad sign, particularly in long-term relationships. 

Lastly, ads by brands like cosmetics profit really well from our insecurities.

They use effective language that plays on people’s insecurities and needs to compensate for them. For example, ads that point out people’s acne. 

9. Lying and denial 

Another tactic similar to distortion is lying and denial. Here, a manipulative person does not only twist some facts or give half-truths. Here, the manipulator does not care about moral codes like honesty. 

For them, in any situation, the aim is to come out ahead. They do not want to be caught in a losing position. Hence, when they are cornered, they lie to turn things in their favor. 

This is also emotional manipulation because the opposite person falls prey to a lie. 

Denial also comes easy to people who make bad decisions. Often, they do wrong things and do not have the courage to take responsibility. Hence, they deny the things that people tell them. 

For example, if you tell them they are neglecting their relationship, they may strongly deny it. This is manipulative behavior because, at the very least, it makes their person second guess the argument. 

Often, they may try to downplay your concerns. Even if you have a legitimate reason to doubt them, they may downplay the situation.

Their offhanded way of dealing with this may shake your personal resolve as well. 

10. Using exaggeration 

Hyperbole is the art of exaggeration. It means that a person uses extreme words to describe even minor-level situations.

This makes the person overestimate how good or bad the situation really was. 

When a person uses this as a manipulation tactic, they are trying to make a bigger impact.

This means that if something were not actually significant, and they knew it, they would use exaggeration to get the response they desire. 

For example, if they have to wait for someone for ten minutes, they may say that “I have been waiting in the heat for you for so long, it felt like hours.” 

This is a very clear exaggeration, however, the person who was late may feel worse than required. 

In some situations, the effects of this are more serious. For example, if a person is trying to stop their divorce or break up. 

They may use this tactic to paint a very bad picture of life after divorce, which is actually not as bad as they may make it sound. 

11. Moving goalposts 

Many times, emotional manipulators are just looking for an easy target. They try to pick on a person for any reason they can find. 

For example, a friend who is manipulative may constantly find reasons to be displeased or disappointed with you. 

If you show up for their parties, they pick on you for being late. Then if you are on time, they may not appreciate what you got them.

If you buy them something they like, they may blame you for not being original. 

The constantly moving goalpost of what they want from you makes you feel worried. This tactic ensures that the manipulator manages to keep you on your toes. 

It even makes some people try too hard for their approval, which is not a healthy sign. 

12. Using fear 

While violently threatening someone is physical abuse, the act of a threat is also emotional manipulation. These people do not particularly care about physical violence. 

However, they like to invoke fear which makes people act in a way that pleases them. 

Using fear is a dangerous kind of emotional manipulation. This makes the victim feel unsafe and makes the relationship physically as well as emotionally abusive. 

13. Social pressure

Often, manipulators use others’ help for emotional manipulation. They use other people to prove their own point. The effectiveness of this tactic comes from the number of people involved. 

For example, if a person cheats on their partner. He or she may try apologizing or even twisting things around so that they are forgiven. 

However, it is possible for you to deal with them or reject their apology when they are the only ones fighting. 

If they were to involve all your mutual friends and family in the argument as well, your decision becomes more difficult.

When there are multiple people who are defending the manipulator, the victim actually has a tougher position to maintain. 

It is also emotionally manipulative to use social pressure because it makes the victim feel worse when they do not fall prey to it. 

Continuing the example, if the person chooses to maintain their position, they still feel like they let down multiple people. 

Essentially, the manipulator uses the divide and conquer strategy. They use their mutual friends and family to support them. 

Thus, they separate you from the social support and try to get their way through this separation. 

14. Love bombing 

Much as the name suggests, love bombing is a form of psychological manipulation. Here, a person uses all the love and adoration you can imagine in the initial stages of the relationship. 

This is a form of manipulation because they are trying to ensure that they control the opposite person from the very beginning.

In this way, even if they were to mess up or make mistakes in the future, the person still feels like they are in their debt. 

Often, people make many grand gestures when they first start dating. They shower their date with love and obvious signs of affection. 

Hence, even if they behave in a bad manner, later on, the partner still feels like they owe this person more chances. 

This tactic also works because the person being manipulated may even feel guilty for complaining.

They may feel like they are not respecting the earlier grand gestures the manipulator made. In reality, love bombing is a part of many relationships.

Sometimes, when you know you have made a mistake, you make up for it even before the opposite person finds out. You behave extra nice with them or bring them flowers or sweets. 

15. Playing the victim 

This is another very frequently found emotional manipulation technique. Here, the manipulator poses as the victim even before the person actually being hurt can say something. 

Playing the victim is an unfair position to put anyone else in. It makes the other person feel guilty and like they owe you an apology when that is not the case at all.

It is also known as the victim card, which manipulators use so that they can guilt-trip you. 

The victim card allows this person to not only avoid responsibility for their own actions but also make the innocent person apologize. They use this tactic to take control of the situation in their own way. 

This tactic works well on people who are close to them. They take advantage of the fact that this person would not want to see them hurt.

Hence, when they play the victim card, the other person gets manipulated to feel responsible for something they did not do. 

16. Foot in the door tactic 

A foot in the door is actually a sales tactic to improve performance or compliance. You use this tactic when you ask someone for something smaller first before you move on to a bigger request. 

For example, you may start by asking them to sign up for a free email chain. Here, they do not have to do much, so they may agree.

Sometime later, you may ask them to participate in workshops and events held by the group. 

The person feels emotionally indebted to participate. This form of emotional manipulation works when you are trying to sell something to someone, or get them on board for something big. 

17. Door in the face tactic 

The opposite of the foot in the door tactic is the door in the face tactic. Here, they start with a big request, which they know will be turned down or rejected. 

Then they use your guilt for saying no and present you with the smaller, original request. 

Since you have already said no to them once, you may feel inclined to say yes a second time. 

For example, if your friend asks you to take a week off to go on a holiday with them. You may say no because you have to go to work. 

Then, they may ask you to go on a short weekend getaway. This is also more possible for you and your initial guilt of saying no makes you agree to the plan. In reality, this is a form of emotional manipulation. 

Signs of Emotional Manipulation 

After exploring the tactics of emotional manipulation, let us see the signs you may notice. Often, manipulators use their tactics so effectively, that you cannot recognise what happened. 

However, in these cases, you can focus on the signs of emotional manipulation. Some of these are your own feelings when you are being manipulated.

Other signs include the manipulator’s peculiar behavior. 

1. Insecurities coming up 

Manipulative tactics often use your insecurities against you. When you are in an emotionally manipulative equation, you may realize that your insecurities are coming up more frequently than normal. 

The most basic example here is ads put out by beauty brands. Whether it is a video ad or print, you may notice that your deepest insecurities are the center of the ad.

This could be your acne, your weight, your financial position or even your lifestyle choices. 

They rely on you feeling bad about your insecurity and turn to them for a solution. This increases their sales through simple yet effective emotional manipulation.

However, for the people at large, it is a reminder of the insecurities they live with every day.

2. Questioning the reality 

As you saw before, gaslighting is a common emotionally manipulative tactic. Through gaslighting, a manipulative person can make you alter your version of reality.

This means that you start questioning whether you had the right idea to begin with. 

Gaslighting is sometimes a subtle form of manipulation that is perhaps all around us. We may feel like our own thoughts or concerns are too crazy and therefore not valid.

For example, when you tell your boss how you feel about your workload.

If they respond with something along the lines of, ‘You know the demands of the industry you are in,’ or ‘You don’t work half as much as I did in your time,’ it is gaslighting. 

This is a sign that the manipulator is trying to establish power over you by changing your own concerns about what is happening. 

It is a sign to watch out for because when you don’t stop it, the manipulator can continue to mess with your mind. 

3. Recruiting other people 

When you are fighting with your partner or a friend or family member, the fight is between you two.

The only person you should expect to deal with is just them. That is an equal fight and is expected in most relations. 

However, if your opponent starts recruiting other people to defend him or her, it is a bad sign. They are trying to manipulate you through the presence of other people. 

This is not equal or even a fight in any regard. It is also a sign of their manipulation to underwhelm your side by bringing in other people.

This will likely gain them more popularity and make your decision tougher. 

4. You feel guilty 

Another sign of emotional manipulation is feeling guilt. If you notice that you act out of guilt frequently, then it is not a good sign.

An emotionally manipulative person may be controlling your life through guilt. 

This could include canceling your personal plans because you feel guilty to leave them alone. Or you could prioritize their likes and dislikes out of guilt for being inconsiderate.

There is no end to what you can feel guilty about. 

In emotionally abusive or manipulative relationships, guilt is often a very clear sign. When you feel that you do more things out of guilt rather than wanting to do them, it indicates emotional manipulation. 

It is easy for manipulators to use guilt. Hence, when they bring up your past mistakes or try to remind you of the guilt you once felt, they are likely trying to manipulate you again. 

5. Smokescreens 

A smokescreen is a way to disguise the real plans or reality of the situation. In emotional relations, a smokescreen is a way to cover up or disguise a mistake one person made. 

It is a manipulative tactic because it takes you away from the truth.

When you notice smokescreens being put in your relationship, it is a sign of manipulation.

This means that the manipulator is against accepting any responsibility. When there is a lot of gaslighting in an equation, you may notice smokescreens. 

For example, if you tell your parents that they did not support you through an emotional time.

If they respond with how you also do not stay in regular touch with them or remember their special occasions, they are using a smokescreen. 

This is a sign that they are manipulating you into taking the blame on yourself. These smokescreens are noticeable when you evaluate how a fight or confrontation ended. 

If it mostly ends with you taking the blame, then it is an obvious sign of manipulation. 

6. Not respecting boundaries 

If someone is emotionally manipulating you, they are trying to get closer to you. This helps them have more information on you, which in turn gives them more power in the relationship. 

Often, the people we live with or share a huge part of our lives with, know our boundaries.

We may all have boundaries that are both physical or emotional. A person that respects you, must also respect your boundaries. 

However, if a person is merely trying to manipulate you, your boundaries do not matter to them.

Thus, if you notice someone constantly violating the boundaries you set for yourself, it is a sign of something wrong. 

For these people, their needs matter more than yours. In a healthy friendship or relationship, the needs of both parties are kept in mind. 

When this balance shifts, more frequently in only one person’s favor, it is because of emotional manipulation. 

7. Excessive mirroring 

Lastly, you may notice that you find a lot of similarities between you and a new person in your life.

They like all the things you like, believe in all the things that you believe in, and more. This is a form of mirroring or matching. 

In reality, we are all unique and different people. We may share interests with each other, however, it is not possible to be the exact same person as someone else.

When someone tries to convince you that they are, it is most likely a lie. When someone uses distortion as a manipulative tactic, they may engage in mirroring.

Their goal is to try to trick you into opening up more. This eventually leaves you in a vulnerable position. They may soon find out all your weak spots as well. 

When you start getting suspicious of the mirroring, it becomes a clearer sign of manipulation.

They may copy your style, your preferences, your deeper thoughts, and even your spiritual journey. 

8. Emotional intensity 

We all often believe that the best relations are emotionally intense. Even if it is a friend, intensity is considered proof of the depth of your friendship. 

You feel that the two of you are connected in a deeply emotional state. 

In reality, intensity is not a requirement for healthy relationships. Intimacy is good, however, intensity can be both good and bad.

If you feel that the intensity of the emotions is too high, then it may be a sign of emotional manipulation. This includes intense positive and negative emotions.

The manipulator’s aim is to make you dependent on the relationship or regard it as extremely important. A healthy relationship on the other hand should feel light and free. 

9. Negative language 

Another sign you can watch out for is the use of negative language. If you notice them constantly comparing you, embarrassing you, or using humiliative language, it is a sign of emotional manipulation. 

Many manipulative tactics use this type of language to make you feel bad or inadequate. This means that you may not only start believing them, but you also rely on them to make you feel better. 

This becomes a win-win situation for them. For you, it further ruins your self-image and keeps you in a negative loop of feeling bad and needing them to make it better. 

10. Inconsistent behavior 

Emotional manipulators also use different tactics together to assert their power in a relationship.

They may use silent treatment one day and love bombing another. This is a sign called inconsistent behavior. 

When you notice that their behavior towards you changes as per their needs, it is a sign of manipulation.

Here, they may engage in whatever strategy works for them to maintain an upper hand in your life.

Mood swings, using extreme words to describe basic things or events, or even fluctuating between love and anger are a form of inconsistent behavior. 

You may even notice it leaves you constantly guessing their next move. 

11. You feel anxious 

Lastly, another sign of emotional manipulation is how you feel as a result of it. If you are being emotionally manipulated, you may feel anxious around that person.

You may feel scared of what they will do or how you will end up. 

A healthy relationship, family, or work dynamic fosters positivity and growth. If any person makes you feel anxious more than usual, it is a sign that they are not very good for you. 

Your anxiety is a negative sign that this person has control over your peace and emotions. 

Emotional Manipulation In Relationships 

Emotional manipulation is not restricted to any particular type of relationship. It depends on the person you are interacting with more than the nature of your relationship. 

If it is a manipulative person, they may be manipulative with every person in their life. 

In relationships, manipulation can seriously impact your mental health. One of the reasons is that you may trust this person with your secrets and feelings. 

When they resort to manipulation, they are also betraying your trust. 

Additionally, this is also a person whose judgment you trust. It means something to you. Hence, if they humiliate you or gaslight you, it also makes a deeper impact. 

You can ignore a stranger if they try to manipulate you. It is harder to ignore your own romantic partner. 

Lastly, in new relationships, everyone wants to put their best foot forward. It is the way they want to make an impression of themselves. 

However, if they have to manipulate you into loving them, then it is not a healthy start to your relationship at all. 

Emotional manipulation tactics in relationships

Relationships are common grounds for emotional manipulators. They use a variety of tactics to firstly get a space in their partner’s life and then to establish power. 

Following are the most common tactics used by emotional manipulators in relationships. 

  • Gaslighting 
  • Emotional bullying 
  • Moving goalposts 
  • Social pressure 
  • Love bombing 
  • Playing the victim 
  • Silent treatment 
  • Passive aggressiveness

The reality is that any other tactics may also be used when trying to establish power in a relationship.

As long as that main goal is satisfied, manipulators do not hesitate to use whatever tactic they can. 

However, the more dangerous side of the problem is that emotional manipulation is also emotional abuse.

A lot of victims of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in relationships may report it started with basic emotional manipulations. 

The line between what is harmless and what can lead to severe consequences may be hard to draw.

A person may not only have to be emotionally aware of what is happening but also capable of standing up against this kind of manipulation. 

Dealing with emotional manipulation in relationships is similar to dealing with it in other relations of our life.

Read the following sections to identify what you need to do if you are in a manipulative relationship. 

How To Deal With An Emotional Manipulator 

While dealing with emotional manipulation really depends on the type of person you are dealing with, there are some certain steps you can take.

This includes personal steps like boundaries as well as seeking professional or legal help. 

Following are the ways in which you can deal with an emotionally manipulative person or situation. 

1. Set a boundary for yourself 

One of the first things you can do when you are emotionally manipulated is establishing boundaries.

Even in healthy relationships and relations, boundaries are essential. They allow you and the other person to know what is acceptable and what is not. 

Boundaries include telling yourself and others the things you are okay with and the things you will not tolerate. For example, a good workplace boundary is that you will not work during the holidays. 

If this is the agreed-upon plan by you and your employer, then he or she has to respect it. This means that if they email you or ask you to come to the office that day, they are violating the boundary. 

If you reject their request, then you do not need to feel guilt. They are the ones that broke your boundary and hence they are in the wrong.

Next, you also need to identify which boundaries are an absolute no-go for you. 

If you are faced with a person who does not respect your boundaries, you can make it clear that some situations are non – negotiable for you.

These should also be boundaries that are actually good for you. 

Boundaries also change over time. With each new relationship or bad encounter, your boundaries may evolve.

The best step forward is to clearly communicate your boundaries to the manipulative person in your life. 

2. Be ready to cut contact

Emotionally manipulative people thrive on the control they have in their life. One of the ways to deal with this is to take that control away from them. 

In a lot of instances, we believe that we are tied to our manipulator and cannot break free. 

The truth is that they are ensuring you feel tied to them. When you start feeling manipulated, you can communicate to them that you are capable of walking away from them. 

Your decision to walk away or break contact with them allows you to feel in control of your life again. 

They may try to violate your boundaries, use your weak spots, or even guilt trip you into staying. However, you can still break contact if that is required. 

3. Identify the manipulator’s patterns 

Manipulators often feel like they are smarter than you. They may go ahead with their tactic because they believe they can trick you into giving them power.

Some of the less obvious tactics they use may even go unnoticed. 

What you can do in such situations is not doubt yourself. You can try to identify what they are trying to do and see if there is a pattern you can find.

For example, if their reaction to any of your concerns is to try to turn it around, you can identify they are gaslighting you. 

You can also try to have a conversation with them or people around you. One of the ways you can help yourself is by knowing what the manipulator is trying to do. 

4. Identify your own relationship patterns 

Often, we ourselves are susceptible to certain kinds of manipulation. This is because your personality is an easy target for some types of manipulation.

For example, a submissive personality can be gaslighted more easily. 

You can look in your own past to see if you have been emotionally manipulated before.

If you have, the next question you can ask yourself is what kind of tactic did the manipulator use. Usually, every person has some tactics that they fall for easily. 

These are not points against you in any way. Rather, they tell you what you can do going forward.

If you identify that people use silent treatment with you often, instead of dealing with the manipulator, you can deal with that tactic. 

You can highlight ways in which the silent treatment bothers you less and less. Eventually, when the tactic stops working on you, the manipulator will be left with fewer options.

5. Work with a professional

A social worker, therapist, psychologist, or any other mental health professional can give you an objective outlook.

Their job is to make you see the manipulative behaviors that are being used on you. 

When you work with such a professional, you can identify your own personality and personality disorders, if you have any.

You can also understand whether or not your relationships in your life are healthy. 

Professionals can help you make a plan that works for you. They can help you identify a boundary that works for you.

If you have been manipulated for a long time, they can help you find your way back to objectivity. 

Lastly, they can improve your communication skills. If people around you take you for granted, you can learn ways to make yourself and your needs clearer.

Often, when you set good ground rules, manipulators will have no choice but to respect them or walk away. 

If you are scared that the emotional manipulation has reached scary levels, you can seek other professional help. You can reach out to domestic abuse helplines in your country in cases of abuse as well. 

If you are being emotionally manipulated in your workplace, you can reach out to the right person in the office or seek help from human resources to establish a boundary.

The goal is to take outside help when you feel you need it. 

6. Trust yourself 

You can learn to trust yourself over time. Manipulation can make you believe that you are not thinking straight. When you doubt your own judgment, the manipulator’s work gets easier. 

When you start having concerns about yourself and your relationship, they need to be addressed.

If the other person does not address them and tries to discredit them, you can trust yourself and your gut. 

This shows that you are serious about what you feel. Additionally, it makes you feel confident in dealing with other manipulative people in your life and future as well. 

7. Strengthen healthy relationships 

Emotionally abusive and manipulative people try to have more and more control in your life.

For them, the more you depend on them, the more they can manipulate you. Their advantage comes from your weakness. 

Hence, if you have positive and healthy relationships in your life, you can focus on them.

For example, if you have a manipulative boss but a healthy partner, you can strengthen your bond with your partner. 

He or she can help you understand your true worth. Their presence in your life can remind you what a good equation or relationship looks like.

You can even have a healthy relationship with people you are not close to. 

These people can provide you with a good distraction when you need it. They can accompany you to things you like to do. This healthy relationship can make your life more fun as well. 

8. Be kind to yourself 

Often, we judge ourselves for being manipulated. We think we should have been able to see it coming.

Additionally, we feel that it is our fault for not being alert or aware of what the manipulator was doing. 

In reality, none of these statements are right. When you are trying to deal with an emotional manipulator, it is not a situation you could ever see coming.

It is also not your fault if someone decides to take advantage of your personality or emotions. 

Being kind to yourself is an important step. It lets the manipulator know that they were not able to break you.

Your kindness and compassion to yourself allow you to take back the control for your own wellbeing and mental health. 

Lastly, do not try to downplay what happened to you. You can only be compassionate to yourself when you acknowledge that you were treated unfairly.

Seeing the situation for what it was is the first step in breaking their manipulation over our life. 

Why Do People Turn Emotionally Manipulative 

While there is no justification for people who are emotionally manipulative, there are certain reasons behind it.

These reasons are more the precursors that lead to their manipulative ways. 

Following are some of the reasons that people emotionally manipulate others. 

  1. Bad communication skills 
  2. Personality disorders 
  3. Need to avoid true connection
  4. Fear of relationships and vulnerability 
  5. Extreme levels of defensiveness 
  6. Disregard for others or social norms 
  7. Profitability through power 

Some personality disorders and internal fears make people lash out and make bad decisions. For them, emotional manipulation is their own way of survival. 

This does not excuse manipulating others or asserting power over them. It only provides an explanation for emotional manipulation that is not based on the victim.

It looks at the internal struggles of the manipulators themselves. 

How To Know If You Are Being Emotionally Manipulated

Now that you have seen the signs and consequences of emotional manipulation, this section looks at ways you can identify what is happening. 

  • You feel insecure, unsafe, embarrassed 
  • Your thoughts, concerns and doubts are not validated
  • The relationship mainly benefits the other person
  • You often act out of guilt 
  • The other person makes you feel anxious, dependent, or suspicious 
  • Anger, dissatisfaction, hurt, betrayal and discontentment become a part of your romantic life as well
  • Your self esteem takes a hit
  • You have a difficult time trusting other people

These points are basic reminders of what happens in emotionally manipulative situations. While you cannot ensure that you will never be emotionally manipulated, you can try to be aware of these tactics. 


Emotional manipulation is using different tactics to establish power in a relationship.

It allows the manipulator to enjoy the power and makes the victim take responsibility for the negative consequences. 

Emotional manipulation is hard to identify and difficult to deal with. However, there are always ways out of it and help available when you seek it!

Are you interested to know more about ‘Emotional Blunting’ then click here?

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