Dealing with emotional manipulators is tough, but the first step to a solution is recognizing the problem.
Once you recognize their manipulative behavior, you can set boundaries, practice confident communication, and find support from people you trust as well as professionals.
So, let’s dive in!
1) They make you feel guilty for things that aren’t your fault
Emotional manipulators have a way of turning situations around so that you end up feeling responsible for their problems or actions.
It’s incredibly common and one of their favorite tools.
They say things like, “If you really cared about me, you wouldn’t have done that,” even when your actions had no negative intent.
That kind of behavior is particularly frustrating to deal with because you always get blamed for things, regardless if it’s your fault or not.
Emotional manipulators are also experts at making you feel guilty for even the smallest things.
They say things like, “If you really loved me, you would do this for me,” to manipulate you into doing what they want.
And then you also have to deal with this:
2) They use your vulnerabilities against you
Emotional manipulators are quick to pinpoint your weaknesses. They exploit your fears, insecurities, or past traumas as leverage in arguments or to make you comply with their wishes.
For example, if you’re insecure about your physical appearance, they’ll make hurtful comments about your looks, making you believe that no one else would find you attractive or love you as they do.
Or they use your troubled relationship with a family member against you, saying, “No wonder your family doesn’t get along with you. You’re impossible to deal with.”
In both cases, they use these hurtful and insensitive comments to keep you beholden to them because they’re the only ones who can “tolerate” you.
3) They play the victim
Playing the victim card is also one of their favorite things emotional manipulators do. They cast themselves as the victim, even when they’re the ones causing harm.
They’ll paint a picture of themselves as the ones who are suffering and in need of support, making you feel guilty for ever questioning their actions.
Here’s a real example of something that happened to me:
I had an argument with a co-worker about a minor issue. Instead of addressing the issue, they dramatically exclaimed, “Why are you always picking on me? I can’t believe you’re so mean!”
This shifted the focus from the actual problem to their victimhood. Mind you, this was our second interaction ever.
4) They’re overly critical
Constant criticism is another hallmark of emotional manipulation. They’ll pick apart your choices, actions, or appearance, leaving you feeling like you can never do anything right.
They don’t just offer constructive feedback. They nitpick, highlighting the smallest imperfections and blowing them out of proportion.
For instance, they criticize the way you cooked dinner, pointing out that it was inedible because you used too much salt.
5) They use sarcasm and passive-aggressive comments
Many manipulators don’t like dealing with issues and people directly. They love playing games, and sarcasm and passive-aggressive comments are great for that.
Their indirect approach leaves you feeling confused and hurt without them having to take responsibility for their words.
For example, if you make a mistake, they tell you, “Bravo! You’ve really outdone yourself this time,” in a mocking tone.
Or they leave sticky notes with snide comments like, “I guess some people don’t know how to clean up after themselves.”
But, besides being sarcastic, they also love giving you the silent treatment.
6) They give the silent treatment
Sometimes, you just get the upper hand on an emotional manipulator. Or you’ve displeased them or challenged their control, which isn’t hard to do.
In these and many other cases, emotional manipulators resort to the silent treatment.
With this tactic, they want to make you feel anxious and drive you to pursue their forgiveness or approval.
7) They make you doubt yourself
Emotional manipulators are skilled at making you question your judgment, memory, and emotions.
They say things like, “You’re overreacting,” or “I never said that,” causing you to doubt your own perceptions.
It’s called gaslighting, and it involves manipulating your sense of reality. They deny things they’ve said or done, or even distort events to make you doubt your own sanity.
This results in you feeling confusion and self-doubt. Similar to the following:
8) They use emotional outbursts
Emotional manipulators often have fits of anger, yelling, or dramatic displays of emotion to intimidate and control you.
When they don’t get their way, they suddenly raise their voice, slam doors, or even throw objects in rage.
By doing this, they make it difficult for you to stand your ground or express your needs.
They’re like a ticking timebomb because you never know when the situation will escalate.
9) They withhold affection
As a form of punishment, EM withdraw physical affection, love, or attention. This emotional withdrawal causes you emotional pain and makes you more compliant to regain their favor.
That way, you’re once again under their control because otherwise, they threaten to leave you.
If you let them affect you, you’ll be afraid to speak up because their withdrawal will happen again and again until you self-censor.
10) They manipulate your actions
Emotional manipulators have a talent for getting you to do things you don’t want to do. They use guilt, threats, or emotional pressure to make you comply with their wishes or demands.
Suppose you’ve made plans with a friend, but the emotional manipulator wants you to cancel and spend time with them instead.
They say, “I thought we were close. I guess I don’t matter to you,” making you feel guilty for keeping your commitment to your friend.
Or if you want to spend time pursuing your hobbies, but the manipulator insists that you spend all your free time with them.
They then say, “If you truly loved me, you’d give up those silly hobbies. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can be with someone so selfish.”
That’s a clear attempt at pressuring you to give up your interests.
11) They cross your boundaries
Manipulators also frequently disregard your personal boundaries, whether physical or emotional.
They invade your personal space, read your private messages, or force you to reveal information you’d rather keep to yourself.
That’s simply manipulation 101. The sooner you’re aware of that, the better.
Unfortunately for many people, they find out what their partner is like when it’s already too late.
They’re already married or have kids, and getting out of the relationship is much harder.
In that case, you need to set firm boundaries, or else. If you don’t stand up for yourself, they’ll steamroll you forever.
12) They twist the truth
Emotional manipulators also love distorting facts to fit their narrative or make themselves look better.
They do this without flinching, so it’s difficult to realize they’re lying through their teeth.
They alter the details of past events to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, even if it means making you look bad.
That’s just how they roll, and if you believe you can change them, you’re delusional.
In the end, recognizing an emotional manipulator is relatively easy. If you know what to look out for, that is.
But naturally, that’s when the real battle begins because you need to take a stand and protect your principles, values, and rights.