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

Are you in a relationship with an emotional manipulator? 

There are many reasons that could have led you to this question, very few of them good. And it’s never a fun time for me writing these kinds of articles either, however necessary they happen to be.

Always, I think of who’s at the other end and being aware that a good portion are reading this with either a suspicious heart or a broken one. 

Those are heavy burdens, so I hope you find your answers here. If not that, at least some comfort. 

So here, the 10 signs that you’re in a relationship with an emotional manipulator:

They make you feel cornered

If you often feel like you need to do something for them unless you want something to go wrong. If they make you feel like it’s all-or-nothing with them all the time.

They use guilt as their weapon to make you do things you aren’t comfortable with, be in situations you don’t want to be in or interact with people you don’t want to. 

1) They often give ultimatums

Ultimatums give you the illusion of a decision, but truthfully, you are being coerced towards a particular outcome.

I can’t dismiss that there are ultimatums that aren’t inherently bad (like if you’re affirming your boundaries) but ultimatums can tumble so quickly into constant and abusive territory just the same.

Some examples are:

  • They use breaking up or divorce as a threat. Often. 
  • “If you love me, you’ll…” statements. 
  • “If you want me to be happy, you’ll….” statements.
  • “If you don’t sleep with me, I will/won’t…” statements.
  • “If you don’t give me money, I will/won’t…” statements.

2) They often cross your boundaries 

Without your consent, they often include you in activities you have *explicitly* said that you are not comfortable with. 

I’m not talking about wanting you to try new things to broaden your horizons, I’m talking about them wanting you to be uncomfortable AND relishing in it.

It’s about control, as you will learn from this list. This is what they want. This is what will make them feel powerful. 

The ability to control you, your decisions, your reactions, and your emotions. 

They make you second-guess yourself 

They make you feel like you’re not making the right decisions. They make you doubt your own mind. 

They make you feel like ONLY they know what’s true and what’s right. 

3) They gaslight you

Gaslighting. They make you question your reality, like you’re crazy. Like, “That couldn’t possibly be true!”

Like, “You probably remembered it differently!” or “That can’t be right, I know what I saw.”

Or they could say that you’re exaggerating it to make them look bad. 

Being gaslighted is a nasty and slimy feeling, you feel like you’re not even safe within your body. You feel like you’re making mountains out of molehills. 

In my early 20s, I dated someone who used gaslighting language on me and I didn’t even know it. I was telling him that I didn’t appreciate the way he was neglecting me as a partner, he was MIA for days at a time.

No calls, no texts, no anything. 

But he told me with a scoff, “Neglected? Really? When did I neglect you? Are you sure?”

I doubted myself. Told myself I was being dramatic. Told myself he was busy.

Now nearing my 30s, I know better, and lived experiences have made me detect bullsh*t from a mile away. 

4) They make you feel insecure

There’s always that feeling of inadequacy—as if they might replace you at any given moment. They make you feel like they can drop you at any time.

They make you feel like they’re the best you’re ever gonna have. They’d make it seem like no one will love you the way they do or no one would love you at all.

Sometimes, they’d make it seem like they’re doing you a favor for putting up with you.

Quick author note: Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re not worthy of love, because you are. You deserve the kind of love you want, bestie.

They don’t take accountability

5) They always shift the blame

It’s always someone else’s fault and never theirs. Whomp, huge red flag, the brightest scarlet. 

They can’t take accountability for their actions, they can’t take responsibility for their mistakes. The problem here now is they will never apologize to you when they’ve hurt you.

So, remember when I said up top that they constantly cross your boundaries? Yeah, they won’t apologize for that. 

It’s just going to be a nasty cycle of offending you and never saying sorry for doing so. They’ll try to wear you down until you’re pliant in their hands.

6) They always play the victim 

Additionally to shifting the blame, they would even position themselves as the victim.

Have you ever met someone who just constantly claims that the world and everyone in it is out to get them? And then finding out shortly after that they’re the problem?

An emotional manipulator wants to control the narrative because how the narrative is presented will affect your opinion of them.

They can spin stories, withhold details, and straight-up lie to your face if necessary. 

It doesn’t really matter what the truth is so long as they’re not shown in bad lighting. It doesn’t matter what the truth is so long as they can use it to feel superior. 

If not that, at least to gain sympathy, either yours or those witnessing your relationship. 

7) They minimize your problems

They invalidate your feelings. They might have called you overly sensitive or dramatic. 

You might have been made to feel like you’re rocking the boat too much. Like “It could be worse, so why are you making a big deal out of this?”

News flash: Just because something “could be worse” doesn’t mean that what you’re feeling doesn’t hurt. You are allowed to acknowledge your pain and work through it. 

Just because someone else might have it worse than you, doesn’t mean your hurts and your pains aren’t real. 

Being constantly emotionally invalidated, especially when you’re trying to tell them your problems (either to vent or ask for help) can feel like a losing battle.

It’s like double the weight. 

8) They say it’s a joke whenever they hurt your feelings

I wanted to give this point its own space because this is so simple, yet so sinister. 

They always pass off offenses as a joke. They always say that you’re no fun for not finding the humor in their action. Even when that action is done to hurt your feelings.

“I’m just kidding!” They say as they comment negatively on your weight or the way you dress. 

“Don’t be so sensitive, can’t you tell it’s a joke?”

“I’m sure others would find that funny.”

The minimization of the damage by framing it in supposed humor is so, so sinister. The sad thing is, it seems so normalized in our lives.

Of course, not a lot of us would want to feel like we can’t take a joke. Or that we’re ruining the atmosphere. However, that’s exactly what the emotional manipulator is banking on.

The shame. The guilt. 

They weaponize your feelings

Because of course, they do. It’s why you stay in the relationship, why you endure. You love someone so much that you give them chances.

You believe they’ll change, that it’ll be different soon enough if only you let one more offense pass.

But will it?

9) They treat you passive-aggressively 

Direct confrontation will yield no results with an emotional manipulator, they’ll do a cocktail of all the points above and will leave you confused.

They might leave the argument but they will hold grudges. They will be passive-aggressive, making life difficult for you in their indirectness.

When you do get frustrated over their behavior, they’ll make it seem like you’re the one who’s overreacting. 

Seeing the cycle?

I also want to briefly talk about a very specific type of passive-aggressive behavior which is weaponized incompetence

“I don’t know how to do that” or “See, you shouldn’t have asked me to cook, I’m so bad at it.” It’s when they deliberately do a task so badly to escape future responsibility.

This is a nuanced topic that deserves its own article but it needed mentioning just the same. 

10) They love bomb 

And finally, love bombing. Too much, too fast is how it starts. 

You’ll feel loved and appreciated, spoiled even. They throw you gifts left, right, and center. They tell you how they can’t live without you.

Then suddenly, it shifts. 

“They can’t live without you” turns into constantly asking you where you are, and even worse is demanding that you don’t go without them. 

“You only need me” turns into isolation from everyone else. It’s talks of marriage in the first few days, even on rocky foundations.

Love bombing is dangerous because it creates a false narrative, a false sense of security. It’s believing that someone only has good intentions.

And being proven wrong but holding on to the idea that the good was what’s normal.

This makes love bombing cyclical, too. They’re hot and cold in their treatment. They’ll turn on the charms if they feel you slipping.

They’ll put you where they want you. 

And that’s the danger of the emotional manipulator, they wish for control. For power. To own your love but also your confusion.

Your compliance. They want you weak.

Which you aren’t. I hope you know that you have the power to resist. 

You do, you do. 

If you want to keep a conversation positive and upbeat, stop using these 12 phrases

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