We all know what it feels like to be emotionally manipulated. If you’ve ever felt upset, demoralized, or feel like something is “off,” there’s a good chance you’re being manipulated.
According to Dr. Harold Hong, a psychiatrist from North Carolina, “Emotional manipulation is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to control another person’s emotions. It is often done through persuasion, coercion, or even emotional blackmail.”
If this sounds like the plot of Gone Girl, that’s precisely what it is. The goal is to control you.
But when you know the signs of emotional manipulation, you can reclaim your power at home and in the workplace. Here are the signs that you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator.
1) They make you question your reality
No, not in a Matrix red pill or blue pill type of reality. More of a The Girl on the Train type of gaslighting.
On average, the top 1% of liars tell at least 15 lies or more daily. But emotional manipulators don’t just lie. They’ll lie about the things they lied about before.
The conundrum? They’re so good at lying that a mere untruth can quickly turn into making you question your own eyes and ears.
Are you positive you witnessed a coworker talking trash about someone behind their back? Not if you’re in the company of a skilled emotional manipulator, you aren’t.
2) They’ll take you on regular guilt trips
Up to 80% of people will experience emotional manipulation in an intimate relationship once in their lives.
Whereas most people prefer to take a trip to the mountains or the beach, a manipulator’s favorite trip is the guilt trip.
Want to discuss something that’s bothering you? You’re guaranteed to feel guilty for even bringing it up. Done something according to your best judgment? That’s definitely your fault, too – and you should feel bad.
This is one of the hallmarks of the emotional manipulator.
3) They’re the world’s biggest victims
The rain will reverse course in real time and suck its way back into the clouds before emotional manipulators admit a shred of responsibility for anything they’ve done or haven’t done. Remember, they all have narcissistic tendencies, or they wouldn’t practice emotional manipulation.
Think Kanye West attempting to frame the issue of historical slavery as a choice and then going on an epic rant in response to the backlash from the public about how it’s the media twisting his words.
Emotional manipulators know many people, but the name “Accountability” doesn’t mean anything to them. It’s all part of their goal to win favor and portray themselves as innocent.
4) They are just too much
Ever run into someone who loves oversharing? Granted, some people are just that way, but emotional manipulators do this to exude sensitivity and vulnerability.
It’s the classic ruse of making you feel like a special ray of sunshine because they allowed you into their inner circle.
And that’s when you’ll often feel compelled to share your own personal deets in return, which the manipulator will use against you as they tighten the screw.
5) They isolate you from everyone else
Manipulation works best when it’s done in isolation. After all, if you’re trying to play with someone’s emotions, the last thing you want is someone else working against your nefarious schemes.
Emotional manipulators want to make you feel like they’re the only people that you can trust. There’s a reason why two-thirds of women never even knew they were the victims of abuse.
6) They love a game of fisticuffs
If you’ve ever tried to have an open and honest discussion with someone about their behavior, you know how things can blow themselves out of proportion fast.
This is the emotional manipulator’s frontline defensive mechanism. They’re liable to explode if they know you’re getting close to the truth.
Mostly, this will appear as bringing up past slights or twisting the conversation, but in some cases, it could even involve physical intimidation and violence.
Are you sorry? The chances are you’re about to be, and here’s why.
7) They often make you apologize – and you don’t know why
Around 15% of people are people-pleasers, and these are a juicy target for the emotional manipulator.
Some love to play the victim to take advantage of deeply compassionate people, but if you’re constantly apologizing when you had no reason to, it’s time to take a step back and ask, “Why?”
8) They sometimes bring help to wear down your resistance
Emotional manipulation doesn’t just involve a single victim. Expert manipulators worm their way into your inner circle and whisk away your friends and family. And this leaves you wondering how to love yourself and others again in the aftermath.
Known as “Triangulation,” this tactic turns your family, friends, and work colleagues against you.
Think of the 1999 movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Mr. Ripley used forgery, imitation, and manipulation to isolate his victim and drag his family and friends to his side.
The whole movie is a textbook manipulation play. But they need ammunition before pulling this off, and here’s the simple trick they use.
9) They’ll always let you speak first
One of the biggest misconceptions is that if you’re being abused, you’ll be run over by their charisma and force of personality. This isn’t necessarily true if there’s no physical side to the abuse.
Instead, manipulators will usually let you speak first. They want you to share what’s on your mind because that’s how they can use it against you.
10) They love to project themselves
Emotional manipulators have more projections than an old-school movie theater. No highly successful person displays this trait because they’re content within themselves. They don’t need to use you.
Did your boss tell you you’re “too emotional” in the office, even though they regularly love screaming and throwing stationary around?
Then see this sign as the emotional manipulator’s mask slipping. They’re outing themselves, but you need to be on the ball to spot it for what it is.
11) They twist facts like pretzels
They will twist facts at every opportunity as part of their plot to make you question reality and look the other way.
It could include exaggerating events to make themselves even bigger victims, or it could be an outright lie.
For example, did you accidentally throw their leftover lunch in the trash? You didn’t throw just any leftover lunch in the trash. It was the lunch his aging mother made for him, and this parent only had the strength to make this special lunch once a year.
Is it true? Well, it happened so long ago that you don’t even remember, so you decide to go with it because you owe him one.
12) They dilute your concerns
Some people don’t listen, but think again if you assume they’re just bad listeners.
Manipulators never listen to valid concerns. They will mitigate, dilute, and dismiss them while implying you’re silly, uninformed, or outright dumb.
It’s all about shifting the power dynamics in the relationship to put themselves on top. But it’s not just about diluting your concerns. There’s a second side to it.
13) Their problems are always bigger than yours
Think back to elementary when you had the eternal “My dad can beat up your dad” discussion. Sooner or later, someone’s dad was tougher because he was an ex-CIA agent, and your dad was once a professional boxer.
All nonsense, right? Well, there’s an adult version, but it’s not about dads. It’s about who’s suffered the most. Who has had the most challenging time? Who has defeated the greatest foe?
Here’s how this works in practice:
Problem. You have too much work. Not as much as the manipulator, you don’t.
Problem. Your credit score just got shot because you couldn’t make last month’s repayment. Well, your manipulator is thinking about selling their home or declaring bankruptcy.
Not every instance will be this significant, but if someone is always trying to top your problems with theirs, you could be being manipulated.
But one final sign allows them to take liberties and make you their pet on a leash.
14) They know all of your buttons
Since you shared so much and they’ve isolated you from your traditional support systems, they’ve got free rein to press any button they see fit.
Did they make a fat joke about you? They’ll pass off the insult as if it were nothing more than a joke and that you are the one who’s overreacting.
These people will ruin your day by bringing up your abusive father and then simultaneously buying you your favorite treat to cheer you up.
That’s the manipulator’s ultimate flex!
Overcoming emotional manipulation
Emotional manipulation is harder to spot than to solve, and that’s because emotional manipulation is an illusion. Once you pierce the veil and look behind the curtain, you’ll see that the emperor has no clothes.
But it requires strength to steamroll the manipulator’s tricks and a refusal to be kind to “avoid making a scene.” And, often, it requires someone else to help you see that and get your act together.
So, speak up, confront the manipulator, and assert yourself. You’ll soon send them running in search of another victim.