9 signs you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator

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Emotional manipulators are skilled at using your emotions against you to get their way.

The even bigger problem is that they can be incredibly subtle.

Sometimes you don’t even realize they’re playing you until you wake up dazed one day and no longer recognize yourself.

Don’t let it get that far.

Here are 9 signs you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator.

Learning to spot these concerning behavioral patterns is a crucial step to protecting your sanity and self-esteem.

1) They offer too much, too soon

When I first heard the phrase love bombing, I imagined someone showering their partner with affection to make their day.

In reality, love bombing is a manipulation tactic with much darker undertones.

When you start dating someone new, it takes time to build intimacy.

If that someone new is constantly giving you compliments and telling you how much you mean to them, it can signal that they’re trying to lock you in quickly so they can begin to control your life.

The tricky thing?

It’s challenging to figure out whether the love bomber is overly enthusiastic or if they have sinister long-term intentions.

First off, assess whether any of these actions apply to your new boo:

  • They already called you their soulmate
  • They’re always available to you and asking for reassurance
  • They pressure you into making things official
  • They express jealousy when you don’t make time for them or hang out with someone else
  • They buy you extravagant gifts or take you on expensive dates

If the relationship feels too intense, ask for space and see how your partner reacts.

As long as they respect your boundaries, it probably means they fell for you hard and are anxious about losing your attention.

But if they can’t seem to respect your wishes, you’re probably dating an emotional manipulator.

2) They try to isolate you

People who care about you have your best interests at heart and can offer a fresh perspective when you doubt your relationship.

A proficient emotional manipulator will waste no time trying to cut you off from your loved ones, whether we’re talking family, friends, or even casual acquaintances.

They do this because they know that isolating you makes you dependent on them. It also makes it easier for them to influence you.

Keep an eye out for these alarming red flags:

  • They discourage interactions with friends or family, saying they are a bad influence
  • They actively try to drive a wedge between you and your loved ones by lying or stirring up conflict
  • They criticize whomever you hang out with and constantly bring up their shortcomings
  • They insist that they are the only ones who truly know and understand you  

3) They want your undivided attention

An emotional manipulator stops at nothing to make sure they are the center of your life.

They demand your attention 24/7, get upset when you don’t have time or energy for them, and can even cause unnecessary drama just to get a reaction out of you.

If they feel neglected, they sulk or resort to playing mind games.

This brings us to the next point on the list.

4) They take advantage of your feelings for them

An emotional manipulator can seem like the ideal partner as long as you comply with their demands and meet their expectations.

When that doesn’t happen, they attempt to adjust your behavior to their liking by employing popular manipulation tactics:

  • Playing the victim – they portray themselves as the victim because you don’t cater to their every need
  • Withholding affection – they give you the silent treatment or stop interacting with you until you cave to their demands
  • Emotional blackmail – they threaten to leave you or harm themselves if you don’t fulfill their wishes

These tactics can have a high success rate because of your feelings for them.

After all, you likely care about them deeply and don’t want to hurt them.

As a result, you’re more willing to sacrifice what you want to make sure that the relationship continues and that your partner is happy, even if that doesn’t align with your needs.

Love shouldn’t be conditional.

5) They make it all about them

On a similar note, emotional manipulators always try to one-up you in conversations.

If you try to talk through a problem you’re having with them, they dismiss it and begin to complain about something they’re going through.

If you point out that their actions hurt you, they shift the conversation to everything you’re doing wrong.

Does that sound familiar?

6) They twist the facts

Emotional manipulators are great at gaslighting to the point where they make you question your own reality.

They can insist that an event didn’t happen how you remember it, even if you’re initially sure about your recollection.

They might also insist they said or did something you have no memory of – or deny they said or did something you know happened in the past.

7) They destroy your self-esteem

Emotional manipulators slowly but surely crush your self-worth by criticizing you every chance they get.

They usually start small by pointing out minor flaws in a seemingly helpful manner.

I used to have a frenemy who was the queen of disguising cutting remarks into advice.

She would say that she noticed I put on some weight and send me a link to an exercise app, or state that I look positively exhausted and then give me tips on how to prioritize sleep.

Similarly, your partner might tell you that you’re attractive, but you’d be downright gorgeous if you just dyed your hair another color or dressed another way.

Or, they could say they admire your determination to chase your dreams, but maybe you should set more achievable goals to avoid disappointment.

In the long run, their tactics can escalate to insults, mocking, and using your insecurities against you.

The more a partner chips at your self-esteem, the more likely you are to stick with them.

You lose hope that someone will treat you better and that you deserve to be in a healthy relationship.

8) They play the martyr

While emotional manipulators love it when it’s all about them, they can occasionally compromise or shift the focus on you.

Unfortunately, they often act like martyrs for doing so.

For example, let’s say your partner agrees to go with you to a friend’s wedding. Once they’re at the event, they act like they’re having a horrible time.

Then, they claim that they did you a favor and that you should reciprocate or cut them some slack for a while.

Relationships go both ways.

They’re not the only ones with needs, and they shouldn’t keep score or behave like they’re “indulging” you just by meeting yours.   

9) You feel like you’re riding an emotional rollercoaster

One of the worst things about dating an emotional manipulator is that it can initially feel exciting.

They’re hot; then they’re cold.

They’re showering you with affection; then they’re pulling away.

This inconsistency may appeal to people who can’t say no to a challenge.

You might be tempted to stick around just to say that you figured them out.

Or, you might want to keep engaging with them in order to “beat” them at their own game.  

But is stooping to their level worth it?

When the relationship feels like a rollercoaster of highs and lows, it will eventually leave you emotionally exhausted.

It’s hard to come back from that.

Bottom line

If you’re currently shaking your head in disbelief because you relate to more than a couple of the signs described above, it’s time to reevaluate the relationship.

You can have an honest conversation with your significant other and set healthy boundaries moving forward to assess whether they can change.

Additionally, you can consider couples counseling or individual therapy.

Above all, however, trust your gut.

If you feel perpetually unhappy or unsafe in any way, move on.

Deep down, you already know if it’s time to go.

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