Emotional manipulators exploit a relationship to benefit themselves through tactics, including twisting the facts and bullying. Some techniques like setting boundaries may help.

Emotional manipulators often use mind games to seize power in a relationship.

The ultimate goal is to use that power to control the other person.

A healthy relationship is based on trust, understanding, and mutual respect. This is true of personal relationships, as well as professional ones.

Sometimes, people seek to exploit these elements of a relationship in order to benefit themselves in some way.

The signs of emotional manipulation can be subtle. They’re often hard to identify, especially when they’re happening to you.

That doesn’t mean that it’s your fault — no one deserves to be manipulated.

You can learn to recognize the manipulation and stop it. You can also learn to protect your self-esteem and sanity, too.

We’ll review common forms of emotional manipulation, how to recognize them, and what you can do next.

Being in your home turf, whether it’s your actual home or just a favorite coffee shop, can be empowering.

If the other individuals always insists on meeting in their realm, they may be trying to create an imbalance of power.

They claim ownership of that space, which leaves you at a disadvantage.

For example:

  • “Walk over to my office when you can. I’m far too busy to trek over to you.”
  • “You know how far of a drive that is for me. Come over here tonight.”

Emotional manipulators may skip a few steps in the traditional get-to-know-you phase. They “share” their darkest secrets and vulnerabilities.

What they’re really doing, however, is trying to make you feel special so that you divulge your secrets. They can use these sensitivities against you later.

For example:

  • “I feel like we’re just connecting on a really deep level. I’ve never had this happen before.”
  • “I’ve never had someone share their vision with me like you have. We’re really meant to be in this together.”

This is a popular tactic with some business relationships, but it can happen in personal ones, too.

When one person wants to establish control, they may ask probing questions so that you share your thoughts and concerns early.

With their hidden agenda in mind, they can then use your answers to manipulate your decisions.

For example:

  • “Gosh, I never heard good things about that company. What was your experience?”
  • “Well you’re just going to have to explain to me why you’re mad at me again.”

Emotional manipulators are masters at altering reality with lies, fibs, or misstatements in order to confuse you.

They may exaggerate events to make themselves seem more vulnerable.

They may also understate their role in a conflict in order to gain your sympathy.

For example:

  • “I asked a question about the project and she came at me, yelling about how I never did anything to help her, but you know I do, right?”
  • “I cried all night and didn’t sleep a wink.”

If someone overwhelms you with statistics, jargon, or facts when you ask a question, you may be experiencing a type of emotional manipulation.

Some manipulators presume to be the expert, and they impose their “knowledge” on you. This is particularly common in financial or sales situations.

For example:

  • “You’re new to this, so I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
  • “I know these are a lot of numbers for you, so I’ll go through this again slowly.”

Also, in the business setting, emotional manipulators may try to weigh you down with paperwork, red tape, procedures, or anything that can get in your way.

This is a particular possibility if you express scrutiny or ask questions that draw their flaws or weaknesses into question.

For example:

  • “This will be way too difficult for you. I’d just stop now and save yourself the effort.”
  • “You don’t have any idea the headache you’re creating for yourself.”

If you ask questions or make a suggestion, an emotional manipulator will likely respond in an aggressive manner or try to draw you into an argument.

This strategy allows them to control your choices and influence your decisions.

They may also use the situation to make you feel guilty for expressing your concerns in the first place.

For example:

  • “I don’t understand why you don’t just trust me.”
  • “You know I’m just an anxious person. I can’t help it I want to know where you are at all times.”

If you have a bad day, an emotional manipulator may take the opportunity to bring up their own issues.

The goal is to invalidate what you’re experiencing so that you’re forced to focus on them and exert your emotional energy on their problems.

For example:

  • “You think that’s bad? You don’t have to deal with a cube-mate who talks on the phone all the time.”
  • “Be thankful you have a brother. I’ve felt alone all my life.”

Someone who manipulates people’s emotions may eagerly agree to help with something but then turn around and drag their feet or look for ways to avoid their agreement.

They may act like it’s ended up being a huge burden, and they’ll seek to exploit your emotions in order to get out of it.

For example:

  • “I know you need this from me. This is just a lot, and I’m already overwhelmed.”
  • “This is harder than it looks. I don’t think you knew that when you asked me.”

Critical remarks may be disguised as humor or sarcasm. They may pretend they’re saying something in jest, when what they’re really trying to do is plant a seed of doubt.

For example:

  • “Geez, you look exhausted!”
  • “Well if you’d get up from your desk some and walk around, you wouldn’t get out of breath so easily.”

Emotional manipulators will never accept responsibility for their errors.

They will, however, try to find a way to make you feel guilty for everything. from a fight to a failed project.

You may end up apologizing, even if they’re the one at fault.

For example:

  • “I only did it because I love you so much.”
  • “If you hadn’t gone to your kid’s awards program, you could have finished the project the right way.”

When you’re elated, they find a reason to take the spotlight away from you. This can also happen in the negative sense.

When you’ve had a tragedy or setback, an emotional manipulator may try to make their problems seem worse or more pressing.

For example:

  • “Your pay increase is great, but did you see someone else got a full promotion?”
  • “I’m sorry your grandfather passed. I lost both of my grandparents in two weeks, so at least it’s not that bad.”

Emotional manipulators may dismiss or degrade you without the pretense of jest or sarcasm. Their comments are designed to chip away at your self-esteem.

They’re meant to ridicule and marginalize you. Often, the manipulator is projecting their own insecurities.

For example:

  • “Don’t you think that dress is a little revealing for a client meeting? I guess that’s one way to get the account.”
  • “All you do is eat.”

When they know your weak spots, they can use them to wound you. They may make comments and take actions that are meant to leave you feeling vulnerable and upset.

For example:

  • “You said you’d never want your kids to grow up in a broken home. Look what you’re doing to them now.”
  • “This is a tough audience. I’d be nervous if I was you.”

If you’re upset, someone who is manipulating you may try to make you feel guilty for your feelings.

They may accuse you of being unreasonable or not being adequately invested.

For example:

  • “If you really loved me, you’d never question me.”
  • “I couldn’t take that job. I wouldn’t want to be away from my kids so much.”

During a disagreement or fight, a manipulative person will make dramatic statements that are meant to put you in a difficult spot.

They’ll target emotional weaknesses with inflammatory statements in order to elicit an apology.

For example:

  • “If you leave me, I don’t deserve to live.”
  • “If you can’t be here this weekend, I think it shows your level of dedication to this office.”

A passive-aggressive person may sidestep confrontation. They use people around you, such as friends, to communicate with you instead.

They may also talk behind your back to co-workers.

For example:

  • “I’d talk about this, but I know you’re so busy.”
  • “I thought it was better if you heard it from someone else, not me since we’re so close.”

They don’t respond to your calls, emails, direct messages, or any other form of communication.

They use the silence to gain control and make you feel responsible for their behavior.

This technique is meant to make you question your memory of events.

When you no longer feel certain about what happened, they can pinpoint the problem on you, making you feel responsible for the misunderstanding.

For example:

  • “I never said that. You’re imagining things again.”
  • “I wouldn’t commit to that. You know I’m far too busy.”

Manipulative individuals often have a reaction opposite of the person they’re manipulating.

This is especially true in emotionally charged situations. That’s so they can use your reaction as a way to make you feel too sensitive.

You then gauge your reaction based on theirs, and decide you were out of line.

For example:

  • “You saw that everyone else was calm. You just got too upset.”
  • “I didn’t want to say anything, but you seemed a little out of control.”

Gaslighting is a manipulative method with which people try to make you believe that you can no longer trust your own instincts or experience.

They make you believe things that did happen are a figment of your imagination. You lose a sense of reality.

For example:

  • “Everyone knows that’s not how this works.”
  • “I wasn’t late. You just forgot what time I said I’d be there.”

It may take time to realize someone is emotionally manipulating you. The signs are subtle, and they often evolve over time.

But if you think you’re being treated in this way, trust your instincts.

Apologize for your part, then move on. You likely won’t get an apology, but you don’t have to dwell on it either. Own up to what you know you did as a matter of fact, and then say nothing of the other accusations.

Don’t try to beat them. Two people shouldn’t play this game. Instead, learn to recognize the strategies so you can properly prepare your responses.

Set boundaries. When a manipulative person realizes they’re losing control, their tactics may grow more desperate. This is the time for you to make some difficult decisions.

If you don’t have to be near that person, consider cutting them out of your life entirely.

If you live with them or work together closely, you’ll need to learn techniques for managing them.

You may find it helpful to speak to a therapist or counselor about how to handle the situation.

You could also recruit a trusted friend or family member to help you identify the behavior and enforce boundaries.

No one deserves to have another individual treat them in this manner.

Emotional manipulation may not leave physical scars, but it can still have a long-lasting effect. You can heal from this, and you can grow from it, too.

A therapist or counselor can help you recognize patterns that are dangerous. They can then help you learn ways to confront the behavior and hopefully stop it.

If you’re in the United States, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

This 24/7 confidential hotline connects you with trained advocates who can provide resources and tools to help get you to safety.