In a perfect world, we would all respect one another’s autonomy and allow each other to live the way we want.
This is not that world.
In this world, manipulators exist.
It could be your family. It could be your friends. It could be a romantic partner.
Unfortunately, emotional manipulation works best for people who know you very well and are able to trigger a strong emotional response.
In other words, it’s the people closest to you that are most easily able to manipulate you.
And people who are good at manipulation are also good at hiding that fact. So it can be hard to tell if someone is actually being manipulative.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
1) They isolate you
Isolation is a classic tactic manipulators use to control others.
That’s because our support networks often give us strength and self-esteem, which makes it harder to manipulate.
Marriage consultant Sheri Stritoff writes that emotional manipulators will often try to isolate you from your friends or family members, especially if they have criticized the manipulator in the past.
They may do this by trying to convince you that those people don’t really respect you, refusing to spend time with them themselves, or making you feel guilty for spending time with others.
On the other hand, a manipulator can sometimes try to turn your support network against you. They may attempt to win the affection of your friends and family to help them in their manipulations of you.
For instance, they may try to get your family to convince you not to leave them.
Manipulative people understand that having a strong support network makes you more confident and able to stand up to them.
That’s why they will do everything in their power to destroy it.
2) They give you the silent treatment
The silent treatment, or refusing to engage with another person, is a common tactic in relationships. And manipulators use it because it can be very effective.
Now, according to psychologist Kristin Davin, there can be lots of different reasons for someone giving you the silent treatment.
Although it can happen at work and within families, it is most common in romantic relationships. And having your partner refuse to talk to you can cause damage to your self-esteem and your need to belong.
It’s important to separate someone temporarily unwilling or unable to talk to you from someone using silence as a tool of manipulation.
If your partner just needs some time to themselves to control their own feelings, you should respect that.
But if a manipulator often uses silence to get you to give in and behave the way they want, they are being abusive.
3) They threaten you
Obviously, no one should be threatening you, whether it’s your friends, coworkers, family, or a romantic partner.
But threats aren’t always as obvious as you might think.
Clearly, anyone who threatens you physical harm if you don’t do what they want is abusing you, and you need to get out of that situation immediately.
But threats can take many forms.
A partner might threaten to leave you or cheat on you if you don’t behave the way they want. If they have a history of self-harm, they may threaten to engage in self-harm to get you to give into them.
No matter what form the threats take, it’s important to remember that they have no place in any relationship.
Using threats to control someone is a classic sign of emotional manipulation.
4) They guilt-trip you
This isn’t the type of trip that gives you great photos to post on your social media.
Instead, a guilt trip happens when someone uses your sense of obligation to them to make you feel bad about doing what you want.
Guilt trips happen in all sorts of relationships.
Often, parents use them to get kids to do what they want. By emphasizing how hard they have worked to raise their family, parents put pressure on their offspring to find a partner and have kids.
But guilt trips also often happen in romantic relationships.
A manipulative partner may remind you of all the sacrifices they have made for you, or the gifts they have provided for you throughout your relationship.
As psychologist Guy Winch points out, guilt trips are often very effective. But that doesn’t make them OK.
Being the victim of a guilt trip often causes resentment within a relationship.
And if someone is always trying to get you to do what they want by making you feel guilty, there’s no doubt that they are being emotionally manipulative.
5) They gaslight you
This psychological term has entered popular culture, and it is a clear sign of someone who’s trying to manipulate you.
Gaslighting involves giving the target false information to make them question their reality.
The manipulator may start out with small lies, but before long, the scale of the fabrications grows.
They may lie to you about things you have said or your own memories, and as the lies mount up, this can start to make even the most strong-willed person question what they perceive as the truth.
Gaslighting is so damaging because it strikes at the core of your identity. By making you question your beliefs, opinions, and memories, the gaslighter intends to get you to rely on them to tell you what’s real and what isn’t.
6) They try to control you
In a way, all manipulation is intended to control you.
However, some manipulative people will be more obvious than others.
Sometimes, they will try to directly tell you what you can and can’t do.
Maybe they want to tell you what you can and can’t wear. Maybe they will tell you who you can spend time with.
They may even demand that you pursue a certain career or live in a way that will make them happy.
No matter how they do it, it’s a clear sign of someone who is manipulating you.
7) They project
Projection means blaming other people for behaviors you are doing.
Often, people project without realizing they are doing it. A liar may accuse other people of lying all the time, and a cheater may accuse others of infidelity.
On the other hand, people who are trying to emotionally manipulate you will deliberately use projection to make you feel bad.
They will accuse you of their own bad behavior to increase your feelings of guilt and dependence on them.
8) They avoid responsibility for their actions
When confronted about their manipulations, manipulators often refuse to admit the truth.
Or they may try to switch things around and say that you are really the cause of the problem.
They will say things like, “you make me angry!” or “you make me jealous.”
But the truth is, no one is responsible for the emotions of another person.
Manipulators are more than willing to play the victim to get what they want. Anything to avoid responsibility for doing what they do.
9) They dismiss your concerns and ideas
Making you doubt yourself is key to a strategy of manipulation.
So a manipulator will often try to act as though your ideas and concerns aren’t valid.
They may be condescending, saying things like, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
They may downplay your intelligence or even mock you for not being as smart as they are.
It’s all part of their plan to keep you dependent on them.
10) They diminish your problems while playing up their own
“What about me?”
That’s one of the favorite phrases of emotionally manipulative people.
Complain about something, and they are likely to downplay it and act as if you’re making a big deal over nothing.
At the same time, if anything goes wrong for them, they act like it is a major tragedy that the whole world should be outraged by.
This behavior shows you exactly where you stand in the worldview of a manipulator. Nothing matters except them and their feelings, and everybody else is just a means to an end.
11) They exploit your insecurities
Even the most confident people have things about themselves they are not so keen on.
And manipulators are experts at using your insecurities against you.
The closer they are to you, the easier this is for them, since they will get to know you well and understand what makes you feel bad about yourself.
They may say hurtful things about your looks, your intelligence, your level of education, or what you do for living.
Whatever bothers you most about yourself, they will zoom in on and use it to make you feel bad.
Again, this is because a manipulator needs you to have low self-esteem so that they can control you more easily.
Watch out for manipulative people
Deep down, manipulative people only really care about themselves. To them, other people are just a way of getting what they want.
Manipulators rely on building an emotional connection with you so they can control you more easily. Watch out for the signs of manipulation so that you can avoid people who only want to use you.