How Do I Recognize the Signs of Emotional Manipulation?

Emotional manipulation isn’t always easy to spot. It can be subtle. In fact, it can creep up on you and take you by surprise once you’re in the thick of it. That’s because emotional manipulators will work fast to gain your trust by making themselves vulnerable, yet always remaining in control. It’s a complicated game they play. To help you better determine emotional manipulators in your life, we’re going to cover the biggest red flags.

Key takeaways:
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    Emotional manipulators will always try to stay in control and hold something over you, be it a secret, an insecurity they prey on, a weakness or simply by wearing down your self-esteem.
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    Emotional manipulators are impossible to win with, they will always find fault in something, martyr themselves, and when they’re acting nice it’s with the ulterior motive of trying to get something out of you in return.
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    Emotional manipulators will try to get close to you fast as means of gaining information about you that they can use to try to control you at a later date.
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    Emotional manipulators will always try to one-up you whether you’re winning or losing, their wins are always bigger as are their losses in their eyes and they will expect you to focus primarily on them.
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    Emotional manipulators have an inability to take accountability for their own actions if they are in the wrong. They may deny they ever did it, gaslight you to make you feel guilty for it or find a way to twist the truth and make themselves the victim.

An emotional manipulator tends to play a series of mind games to gain control in a relationship; be it a romantic connection, friendship, a family member, an acquaintance, a community member or a co-worker. Since the signs of emotional manipulation can be difficult to spot, the following paragraphs will cover the most common tactics emotional manipulators use.

Emotional manipulators Always Want to Be in Control

The need for control in a relationship can manifest in many forms. It could look like:

  • Always having you come to them, so they have a home advantage and upper hand in a space where they have ownership or authority.
  • Intellectual and bureaucratic bullying.
  • Causing you to feel guilty for speaking your truth.
  • Combating what you say in an aggressive manner, trying to start a fight.
  • Always trying to one-up you, be it good or bad.
  • Placing excessive expectations, rules, or desires on you.
  • Causing you to apologize when you’re not in the wrong.
  • Can isolate you from friends and/or family.
  • Try to keep tabs on you.
  • Use moral, ethical or religious codes to guilt-trip you.
  • Give ultimatums.
  • Be there for you only when it’s convenient for them.
  • Eagerly offering to help or do something for you without your asking, then making you feel like it is a huge burden on them to get you to do something for them.

When this happens, it’s best to set and maintain strong boundaries, speak your truth with no remorse, and do not give into their strategies to try to manipulate you into doing what they want you to do.

Emotional Manipulators Will Act Fast to Gain Your Trust

To gain your trust fast, an emotional manipulator may let you be the first person to speak, they may also share deep secrets or insecurities with you faster than normal. This personality type may use excessive emojis in their communications with you to try to relay false positive emotions. They may also go to great lengths to make you feel special in order to get secrets from you that they can use against you in the future. They may also ask questions that are intrusive in nature. They typically plan to use your answers to manipulate you further.

Emotional Manipulators Will Disenfranchise Your Feelings or Problems

If you’re having a bad day or feeling upset, an emotional manipulator will not be able to hold space for your emotions. Rather, they will try to one-up you by telling you that whatever you’re going through is nothing compared to what they are dealing with. This will drain your emotional energy if you focus on their issues as opposed to your own. They want support from you but are unable to return it when needed.

In turn, the same goes for happy emotions. If you’re experiencing success in life, they will still try to one-up you, or speak to you with sarcasm and rudeness, then play it off as if they were just joking from the beginning, while breaking down your self-confidence.

Emotional Manipulators Can Cause You to Question Your Sanity

Regardless of how wrong an emotional manipulator’s actions have been toward you, they will not admit blame for what they’ve done. If they do, their actions will consistently fail to align with their words. They may even deny it even happened if they do not gaslight you for it; trying to make you out to be the one to blame. They tend to martyr themselves and refuse to take accountability for their actions. They may also find ways to twist the truth and cause you to question your own sanity.

You may find yourself pinpointing relationships where there were instances of emotional manipulation. In turn, you may relate to some of these signs. No one person always exhibits perfect behavior. However, sometimes these behaviors can stem from a close relationship with an emotionally manipulative person, or they could be symptoms of a personality disorder. If you strongly relate, it could significantly help to reach out to a therapist to explore your thoughts and feelings in a safe, supportive environment.

If you are a victim of emotional manipulation in your home, and you feel like your mental, emotional, or physical wellbeing is in danger, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-7233.


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