The emotional manipulator is cunning.
They’re so good at what they do that we’ll get played and only realize it when the damage has thoroughly been done.
Their main motivation is power. They seek to make you feel uncertain and small, so you become vulnerable and easier to control.
Manipulators are all around us; sadly, they can even be the people who are supposed to love us the most.
So if you suspect you have an emotional manipulator in your life, it’s time to take action.
But first, you need to recognize the signs.
In this article, I’ll take you through some of the phrases emotional manipulators use to make you feel inadequate.
Let’s dive in!
1) “You’re too sensitive.”
The manipulator is all about washing their hands of any accountability.
They want to have their cake and eat it too.
They’ll work to make you feel bad about yourself through subtle jabs or blatantly belittling remarks, but rather than apologizing, they claim that your “irrational” emotional response is the problem, not theirs.
This can be confusing, frustrating, and, well, a form of gaslighting.
You might feel invalidated and begin to question your own feelings and experiences, rather than go after the manipulator.
For them, they’ve successfully evaded blame–mission accomplished
2) “I was just joking.”
Here’s another one in the manipulator’s arsenal that’s often used to dismiss their insidious and hurtful behavior.
They’ll make an overtly disparaging remark and then hide behind the guise of “humor.”
I love comedy as much as anyone–but in theory, jokes are supposed to be funny; when they get too mean-spirited that zaps the humor out of them.
The manipulator will make an overtly hurtful remark and then blame your inability to take a joke as the issue, not them. Never them.
My ex used to make jokes at my expense all the time.
A few years ago, I gained a bit of weight.
She’d poke fun at my size by calling me names or making snide comments about my love of food.
I held her in high regard, so I mostly let it pass at first, thinking that she indeed meant the best for me, and her comments were merely light-hearted banter.
Eventually, I realized that whenever she teased me, I just wouldn’t feel good. My self-worth would take a hit.
So I politely told her to stop.
Aghast by my perceived change in tone, she claimed that I couldn’t “take a joke.”
She actually wound up getting mad at me for feeling how I felt, for feeling hurt.
Long story short, I ended up apologizing to her for her insults. I fell into the trap.
Classic emotional manipulation. Live and learn.
3) “You always…” or “You never…”
When a manipulator senses weakness, then like a predator in the wild, they’ll do their best to go in for the kill.
One way they do this is by trying to use your susceptibility to guilt against you.
They’ll come up with absolute statements like “You always do this to me” or “You never care about me,” to tap into your emotions and make you do what they want.
Go with your gut too. If you know that what they’re claiming isn’t the case, then trust that feeling.
The thing about absolute statements is that they’re often exaggerations or misrepresentations used to make you question your own character.
Ultimately, they want you to second-guess yourself and second-guess reality, so they can swoop in and take control.
4) “If you really loved me, you would…”
If you have shaky foundations or feel emotionally vulnerable like many of us do at some point in life, the manipulator will catch on quickly.
They will not hesitate to exploit the situation.
They want to make you doubt yourself and your standing with them; and make you prove your worth and affection for them by giving in to their demands.
In their version of things, you’re portrayed as the uncaring, unloving abuser while they’re the morally upright, hapless victim.
They’re so convincing, that you end up buying the act–and out of guilt, you end up complying with them.
Any boundaries or needs you may have are conveniently set aside as they do their thing, leaving you in a haze of disorientation, confusion… and even anger for allowing it all to happen.
5) “No one else will ever love you like I do.”
Whether consciously or not, one of the primary objectives of the manipulator is to chip away at your self-worth.
You see, your being independent and confident doesn’t quite fit in with their agenda.
They’ll work to make you as dependent on them as possible.
To achieve that, they need you to believe that you’re inadequate and worthless without them.
They want to isolate you and make you feel undesirable.
They want to create a sense that they’re an irreplaceable presence in your life.
Think of the cult leader who strives to make emotionally vulnerable people more and more dependent on them.
They might actively isolate you from your family and friends, as that could sway you away from their toxic, manipulative influence.
The manipulator in your life may not be forming a cult anytime soon, but still, it’s best to stay wary once you see unsettling patterns forming.
6) “You owe me.”
As you may have gathered at this point, guilt is among the manipulator’s favorite tools.
Esteemed psychologist George Simon notes, “Manipulators often create situations where their victims feel guilty, thereby making them feel small and leading them to retreat and accept unacceptable behavior. This is a form of covert aggression.”
In my opinion, manipulators make avid sports fans. Why? Because they’re pros at keeping score.
They typically keep a mental tally of everything “good” they’ve done for you so that they can use it against you when the time comes.
This is a powerful form of guilt-tripping, one used to induce compliance and submission.
So when you start noticing a person frequently claiming “you owe them,” take it with a grain of salt.
If this all sounds familiar, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you have emotionally manipulative tendencies, you are far from alone.
Ask yourself why you do these things.
It’s worth getting to the root cause of these issues, and then working to fix them methodically.
Reaching out to a professional therapist or counselor could expedite the process.
And if you’re a victim of it, the first step is communication.
Try to air out your issues with the manipulator as clearly as possible… and hope for the best.
But if you’ve tried this and change doesn’t seem to be coming around, you owe it to yourself to cut your losses and walk away.
You got this.