14 non-obvious signs you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Emotional manipulators are all around us. They’re also very skilled at what they do – lying, exploiting, and controlling. 

But they’re also very capable of hiding their true intentions until it’s too late. 

For that reason, let’s discover the non-obvious signs you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator so you can handle them until it’s too late. 

1) They often use guilt trips, making you feel responsible for their problems

Emotional manipulators excel at making you feel guilty for their problems, whether real or exaggerated. 

They recount personal challenges, financial despairs, or past traumas, subtly implying that you’re somehow responsible for making things better. 

This emotional weight can be overwhelming and leave you feeling obligated to fix everything.

But if you already know they’re manipulating you, it might be easier to say no to their demands and let them reap what they sow.

2) Emotional manipulators are often passive-aggressive, not addressing issues directly

Instead of openly telling you about their dissatisfaction, emotional manipulators resort to passive-aggressive behavior

They use backhanded compliments, sarcastic remarks, or exaggerated sighs to share their displeasure without actually saying what’s bothering them. 

This can make you feel constantly uneasy, unsure of what their problem is.

I mean, sure, who wasn’t passive-aggressive at one point in time, right? But if that’s a pattern for you, your partner, or your relationship in general, you’ve got a problem you need to fix. 

3) They’re experts in gaslighting, making you doubt your own feelings and perceptions

Gaslighting is quite an insidious form of manipulation. Emotional manipulators will flatly deny things they’ve said or done, making you doubt your own memory and judgment. 

They’ll insist that your perceptions are wrong or that you’re too sensitive, which can deteriorate your self-confidence over time if you play their game.

To counter gaslighting:

  • Trust your gut feelings
  • Keep a record of what happened
  • Talk to friends or family for their perspective
  • Be clear about your feelings and boundaries with the gaslighter

4) They frequently use the silent treatment to control you

When you’ve upset an emotional manipulator, they resort to the silent treatment as a means of control. 

It’s their way to control the situation. 

They’ll stop talking, and affection and communication will dry up. This leaves you feeling anxious and unsure about what’s going on. 

You end up in a cycle where you desperately seek their approval. You feel like you have to tread carefully to avoid triggering another episode of the silent treatment. 

Basically, you’re on a never-ending emotional rollercoaster.

5) Emotional manipulators give insincere compliments to gain your trust

Emotional manipulators can be quite charming at first. They shower you with compliments to win your trust and make you feel special. 

The tricky part is that these compliments aren’t that authentic. They’re reciting lines from a playbook, telling you what they think you want to hear rather than genuinely appreciating you. 

That can be very confusing and make you question their intentions.

But if you sense that the compliments don’t feel genuine, trust your instincts. Don’t dismiss your gut feelings. It’s okay to be skeptical if something doesn’t sound true.

6) They have a way of making you feel like you’re walking on eggshells

Emotional manipulators can also be extremely unpredictable, which makes it that much harder to deal with them. 

Unpredictability and mood swings create an environment where you constantly feel on edge. 

Any disagreement or misstep (even if you did nothing wrong) can trigger their disapproval, resulting in tense exchanges and a pervasive feeling that you must be hyper-alert to avoid conflict.

7) They use emotional blackmail to get what they want

Emotional manipulators love using threats or ultimatums to get what they want. For instance, they will threaten to end the relationship, play on your fears, or withhold affection as leverage. 

What does this do to you and your relationship? It creates a sense of emotional instability, and you’re unable to stand up for your own needs and boundaries.

For example, an emotional manipulator might say something like, “If you don’t do what I want, I don’t know if we can stay together.” 

This puts you in a state of fear and uncertainty and less likely to stand up for yourself or assert your own needs.

8) They’re skilled at playing the victim, seeking sympathy and attention

Emotional manipulators are master storytellers. They weave tales where they’re always the ones getting the short end of the stick. 

They’ll tell you about how they’ve been mistreated, used, or faced unimaginable difficulties. 

This portrayal as a perpetual victim tugs at your heartstrings, making you feel like their personal superhero, even when the situations they describe might not be as dire as they make them out to be.

You need to clarify your role to them. You’re not there to fix them or resolve all their problems. 

Sure, you can help them come to the bottom of their issues, but the rest is mostly on them. 

9) An emotional manipulator will exploit your weaknesses and vulnerabilities

These manipulators are brilliant at identifying your vulnerabilities, be it past traumas, insecurities, or personal fears. 

Now, how terrible is that, right?

They then use these vulnerabilities as ammunition, weaponizing your own feelings against you to gain control and compliance.

It’s a frightening thought that we, because we’ve opened up to someone, gave them bullets for their guns, basically. 

Can we go around acting like robots without feelings so no one can hurt us? Of course not. Because without opening up, there’s no real connection, is there?

10) They constantly change the subject to avoid accountability

Dealing with someone who’s emotionally manipulative can be really frustrating. When you try to talk to them about their actions or issues, they change the subject. 

They have this magical ability to dodge any responsibility or tough discussion, leaving you feeling like you’re talking to a wall.

This leaves you feeling like you’re talking to a wall, and it’s super hard to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

11) They often play mind games and create confusion

Emotional manipulators are masters of emotional chess. They love playing mind games that make you feel like you’re in a constant state of emotional chaos.

Picture this: You’re in a relationship with someone who one moment showers you with love, affection, and compliments (a behavior called love-bombing). 

It’s all sunshine and roses, and you feel on top of the world. But then, suddenly, they switch gears: 

They become distant, indifferent, or even critical (this is the devaluation phase). It’s as if the warm, loving partner has transformed into someone unrecognizable.

You see, emotional manipulators excel at playing mind games that create confusion and emotional turmoil. 

They switch between affection and indifference, love-bombing and devaluation, and other tactics that keep you off balance and emotionally invested in the relationship.

12) Emotional manipulators always find fault in your actions

Emotional manipulators find fault in your actions or decisions, regardless of their importance. 

This constant criticism can really wear you down. They’re not just offering helpful advice or constructive feedback; instead, it feels like they’re always on the lookout for your slip-ups, no matter how minor. 

Maybe you forgot to do one small thing, and suddenly it’s blown out of proportion, making you question your abilities and worth.

Nobody should constantly make you feel inadequate or flawed for just being yourself.

13) They rarely take responsibility for their actions, blaming others instead

They hardly ever admit when they’re wrong. Instead, they’re pros at pointing the finger at others, and sometimes that includes you. 

Dealing with this can be super frustrating, and it often leaves you feeling like you’re the one stuck with all the blame, which can build up a whole lot of resentment.

But perhaps the worst thing they do is this:

14) They isolate you from friends and family

Emotional manipulators want to be the center of your universe, and they’ll subtly discourage you from hanging out with your friends or visiting your family.

Over time, you find yourself spending less and less time with the people who’ve been there for you all along. 

It’s not that you don’t love your friends and family anymore, but this emotional manipulator has made you believe that they’re the only one who truly understands and cares for you.

And why do they isolate you? So they have all the control over you, of course. 

Final thoughts

If you want to keep a sound head on your shoulders, you need to recognize and address these signs and behaviors. 

If you suspect you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator, your best bet is to set boundaries and seek support from friends or even professionals.

Getting out of their often vicious grip isn’t easy. That’s why you’ll definitely need all the help you can get. 

Adrian Volenik

Adrian has years of experience in the field of personal development and building wealth. Both physical and spiritual. He has a deep understanding of the human mind and a passion for helping people enhance their lives. Adrian loves to share practical tips and insights that can help readers achieve their personal and professional goals. He has lived in several European countries and has now settled in Portugal with his family. When he’s not writing, he enjoys going to the beach, hiking, drinking sangria, and spending time with his wife and son.

If you want a happy and successful life, say goodbye to these 11 behaviors

If someone displays these 11 behaviors, they’re at peace with being alone