The signs of emotional manipulation in relationships can be very subtle and may leave you feeling utterly powerless. Manipulation is common in interpersonal relationships – we’re all manipulators in one way or another if we go by the dictionary meaning of the word.
However, repeated emotional manipulation can be a significant red flag in relationships and is highly distressing to the person on the receiving end.
This article will help you figure out how to tell if someone is trying to manipulate you.
What is emotional manipulation in a relationship?
Before we look at the signs of emotional manipulation in a relationship, it is first essential to know it.
Manipulation is a type of social influence on an individual that aims to alter their behavior. We’ve all used the power of manipulation at one point of time in our lives. For example, convincing your friend to skip school to watch a movie is a form of manipulation.
Trying to convince your friend to skip class doesn’t seem particularly sinister, but ongoing emotional manipulation in a relationship can be damaging.
When people use mind games to seek control or power over you, we label them emotionally manipulative. The ultimate goal of such manipulation is for someone to seek control or an unfair advantage over their partner.
It’s essential to keep in mind that these people aren’t looking up psychological tricks to manipulate! They might even be manipulating unconsciously and need therapy to uncover their issues.
Emotional manipulation can be very subtle and hard to pick up on. It can leave you feeling misunderstood, helpless, and overwhelmed. In the following section, we will go over the signs of emotional manipulation in relationships.
Emotional abuse manipulation: What can emotional manipulation do to a relationship?
Emotional manipulation can turn the healthiest of relationships sour and cause a lot of irreparable damage. The wounds created through emotional manipulation fester and can worsen over time.
Here’s what emotional manipulation can do to your relationship:
Create a lack of trust as well as feelings of insecurity.
Lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Cause low self-esteem.
Impact one’s sense of safety.
Increase negative communication.
The signs of emotional blackmail: 20 signs of emotional manipulation
Now, let’s jump right into the topic at hand and look at some emotional manipulation signs.
Please do keep in mind that this is a list of common signs of emotional manipulation in relationships. If you feel manipulated in a relationship, the chances are that your gut instinct may be correct.
1. You’re always in their space
Do you constantly find yourself meeting them at a place of their choice?
Having you come to see them at their home or favorite restaurant can be very empowering. While they feel safe and comfortable in a familiar environment, you are bound to be on edge.
This gives an unfair advantage over you, creating an imbalance of power.
2. Your weaknesses are a weapon against you
This is one of the most significant signs of emotional manipulation in relationships.
Suppose you always kick yourself for opening up to this person. In that case, the chances are that they’ve been using your weaknesses and vulnerabilities against you by weaponizing them and bringing them tactfully up during an argument.
You may feel like they always hit you below the belt.
3. You’re always in the middle of a misunderstanding
Do you always feel misunderstood?
Emotional manipulators have a way of forcing you to believe their version of the story without you even realizing it. They thrive in chaos and always try to pitch two people against each other for their pleasure.
If you constantly find yourself in the middle of a misunderstanding, you’re probably being manipulated.
4. They’re passive-aggressive
This is one of the most common emotional manipulation signs. The manipulator usually avoids confrontation and channels their aggression indirectly.
They may always make excuses for their behavior and use silence as a punishment. They also use tools like microaggressions, snide comments, etc., to bring you off balance while being nice to you as well.
They might also use insults masked as compliments to confuse you. This is characteristic of emotionally manipulative women.
For example, they may say something such as, “You seem so immature and childish sometimes. It’s cute!” This leaves you wondering whether they love you or hate you.
5. They make you feel like they’re doing too many favors for you
An emotionally manipulative person volunteers for tasks and responsibilities they don’t wish to take up and acts as if they’re doing you a solid favor only to use it against you during a fight.
For example, they might take up the responsibility of cooking dinner every night but bring it up later, stating, “I always cook dinner for your ungrateful self.”
They might also buy you gifts or spoil you with expensive vacations only to then bring it up in an argument as a favor.
Watch this video to learn more about emotional manipulation in relationships:
6. They play the victim card
They’re always the innocent victim in their twisted version of the story while you become the bad guy. You may always feel like you’re at fault or you were the one who made a mistake, while they were the ones who got affected by it.
After a point, you start assuming their version of the story to be correct as your self-esteem reaches an all-time low.
7. You’re on the receiving end of criticism
You always feel like you’re not worth it, and no matter what you do, it will never be good enough for them.
This is one of the most common signs of emotional manipulation in relationships. You always end up being criticized and judged by the person and start losing faith in yourself and having a healthy relationship with people.
You always feel like you’re under attack for minor things.
8. Gaslighting has always been a part of your relationship
Gaslighting is one of the most common examples of emotional manipulation. The manipulator insists that an incident didn’t happen as you start questioning your sanity and sense of reality.
Your genuine concerns and issues are often minimized or dismissed, and you start believing in their version of how events played out.
9. They’re a pathological liar
Do you ever feel that every word that comes out of your partner’s mouth is a lie?
An emotional manipulator is excellent at lying about small things and big things. They lie about trivial things like what they had for dinner and more serious ones like whether they’re still in touch with their ex.
You never know if they’re telling the truth, and this drives them crazy.
10. They talk for you and over you
Does your partner answer questions for you before you even have the chance to get a word in?
One of the most common signs of emotional manipulation in relationships is when your partner never gives you the chance to get your point across. They may invalidate your opinions by talking to you.
An emotional manipulator may also talk over you as they interrupt a point you’re making, isolating you from the conversation.
11. They can only see the negatives
Emotional manipulators have a hard time seeing the glass as half full. They tend to have a pessimistic perspective of life and easily find faults in things that you do.
They have mastered the art of finding the negatives in a good situation.
For example, if you’re thrilled about getting promoted at work, they would be the first to talk about the additional responsibilities you’ll be taking instead of being happy for you.
12. Ultimatums are a regular thing
Are ultimatums a big part of your relationship?
Your partner might be quick to drop ultimatums and threaten to leave you during trivial ultimatums. They thrive on having the upper hand in the relationship and don’t mind making you feel anxious and insecure.
You may even feel that you’re always walking on eggshells around your partner.
13. They always mock or belittle you
Does your partner make you feel small?
They may try to make you feel insecure by passing snide remarks that trigger your insecurities–even when you’re with company.
They aren’t afraid to say things like, “She doesn’t like that I look at models.” “Don’t listen to him; he doesn’t even know a thing about financial stability,” etc.
You always end up feeling drained after spending time with them.
14. You can never be good enough
You feel like you aren’t good enough for them, and no matter what you do, you will never be good enough for them. They always make you feel insignificant and like the ugly duckling in the relationship.
Your successes aren’t ever celebrated in the relationship, and your failures are always highlighted.
15. They cause you to doubt yourself and feel insecure
Have you ever started to feel insecure about things that didn’t even bother you before?
This is one of the most significant examples of emotional manipulation.
They may talk about your weight, compare you to their ex-lovers or the people they were attracted to in the past, or ask you to be more like someone else.
All of this causes you to develop issues you never had. If this goes on for long enough, you may even start showing symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
You feel like you’re always being watched and monitored and there’s too much pressure on you at all times.
Some people even describe it as living in a fishbowl.
They pressure you into making decisions that you wouldn’t usually make – like getting breast implants or buying a car/property that you cannot afford.
17. They aren’t afraid of causing a scene
Emotional manipulations aren’t afraid of putting you into uncomfortable social situations. They love to create scenes in public places, yell at you, or shame you in front of people.
They even badmouth you to your friends and families while making themselves the victims. They may even show up at your work!
You often find yourself dismissing your feelings so that they don’t create a scene.
18. Blackmail is always involved
“You better do this, or else….”
Blackmail is the go-to weapon emotionally manipulative people use to get you to behave the way they want it. They could threaten to expose your secrets to your friends or family, leak private photos, etc., to get you back in line.
You may start to feel that there’s no way out of the relationship.
19. You feel like you’re fighting facts and statistics
Emotionally manipulative people are often brilliant. They use facts, research, and statistics to prove their point to you. You may even start to feel like your feelings and arguments don’t make sense.
They’re compelling while using this tactic, and you start questioning your sanity when you’re in conversation with them.
20. Negative humor pokes at your weaknesses
They use humor and jokes as a weapon against you and then call you over sensitive for getting offended. These jokes are designed to trigger you and get a reaction out of you.
They thrive on making you lose your balance whenever they wish to.
You’re often left wondering what they meant when they cracked a certain joke and whether or not it was a subtle jab on you.
Unintentional emotional manipulation: Why do people emotionally manipulate their partners?
Most people pick up emotional manipulation techniques from their dysfunctional families, so it isn’t uncommon to find people trying to consciously find out, “Am I emotionally manipulative?”
Many people do it unconsciously, so they may not even be aware of what they’re doing!
Let’s explore unintentional emotional manipulation in this section of the article.
Here’s why people are emotionally manipulative:
Their immaturity, emotional wounds, and pain.
They lack the social skills crucial for healthy interactions.
They have low self-esteem and need to feel in control and power.
They were raised in broken homes or dysfunctional families.
They may have a personality disorder, such as narcissism, which results in emotionally manipulative behaviors.
Effects of emotional manipulation: How to deal with emotional manipulation in relationships?
Now that you are aware of the emotional manipulator traits, let’s look at how you can deal with manipulation.
Identifying emotional manipulation is the first step to dealing with it. If you think your partner is manipulating you unintentionally, you can talk to them about it and ask them if they would like to consider therapy.
If your partner continues to manipulate you despite all your efforts, it may be a good idea to rethink the relationship and consider professional help for yourself.
The bottom line
Did this blog post help you understand the signs of emotional manipulation in relationships?
This blog post would have given you clarity on essential concepts, like the question, “what is emotional manipulation?” and its effects on a healthy relationship.
Keep in mind that the emotional manipulation signs shared in this blog post are only limited in number. There are still several things that we haven’t covered.
It is also important to note that emotional manipulation may be unintentional, and the person may not even be aware of it. You might consider having a conversation with your partner to discuss their behavior and its effects on you.
In some cases, emotional manipulation can be complex for your partner to change on their own because they are coping with their pain or mental health issues that result in them having a hard time interacting appropriately with others.
If you think this applies to yourself or your partner, you should visit a therapist to delve deeper into the issue.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.