If you recognize these 9 behaviors, you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator

We’ve all had to deal with an emotional manipulator at some point or other in our lives.

It’s never a nice thing to come to terms with, and yet we often have to either confront the manipulator if we want them to change or make a decision to leave them behind entirely.

When I dated an emotional manipulator, I had to make the choice to walk away from the relationship, and while I still maintain friendships with a few people who are emotional manipulators, I keep my distance.

But what exactly are the signs that we need to look out for? Let’s take a look, shall we?

1) Ignoring boundaries

We all set boundaries in life. Without them, we’d let people walk all over us and treat us however they want to.

The problem with emotional manipulators is that even when you set these boundaries, they’ll just act as though they’re not even there.

For example, if you’re protective of your personal space and you ask them to stay a respectful distance from you, they’ll deliberately ignore you.

Worse, if you call them out on it and re-state your boundaries, they’ll continue to ignore them. They might even apologize for it, but they won’t modify their behavior.

And the apology will only be there to manipulate you into letting them get away with it.

2) Guilt-tripping

Emotional manipulators love guilt-tripping because they see it as a great way to get what they want.

For example, if you’re in a relationship and you ask your partner to go with you to a birthday party, they might agree to do it, but they’ll do everything they can to make you feel guilty for it. They’ll talk about how you owe them for agreeing to come and then blame you if they don’t have a good time.

Guilt-tripping comes in many forms, but the aim and the end result is always the same.

The manipulator is using it as a means to an end, as a way to get what they want from you. And quite often, the victim of guilt-tripping will give in and do whatever the manipulator wants them to do, just to get a little peace and quiet.

3) Playing the victim

As we saw from the last point, emotional manipulators love playing the victim.

We used the example of them guilt-tripping their partner for asking them to go to a birthday party.

The seasoned emotional manipulator will often deliberately sabotage things by starting an argument. Then they can play the victim when they don’t have a good time.

They do this because when they’re playing the victim, they’ll receive sympathy. This is often why emotional manipulators partner up with people who display a lot of empathy, because they find them to be the easiest to manipulate.

4) Gaslighting

Gaslighting is as difficult to define as it can be to spot, but the general definition is any form of psychological manipulation that causes people to doubt their sanity.

At its most extreme, gaslighting looks like the crazy behavior we see in thriller novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

What you need to be aware of, though, is that it can also take subtler forms.

For example, an emotional manipulator might keep moving your keys or your phone to make you think that you’re losing your memory. The goal of gaslighting is generally to make the victim feel as though they’re unable to cope without the manipulator on hand.

5) Fake concern

pic1462 If you recognize these 9 behaviors, you're dealing with an emotional manipulator

Fake concern is a tricky one because it can be hard to differentiate fake concern from the real thing.

Still, assuming that the emotional manipulator in your life is personally close to you, there’s a good chance that you know them pretty well. Even the most masterful manipulator can’t help letting bits of their personality shine through, whether they’re trying to hide it or not.

You’ll need to rely on your knowledge of them to understand whether the concern is fake or genuine.

Bear in mind that it’s quite often coupled with another one of these techniques, such as if they ignore your boundaries and then pretend to be worried that they’ve upset you.

6) Selective memory

This is another one that you’ll come across all the time, and it’s often used as a method for gaslighting.

For example, someone’s partner might be like, “I don’t remember that. Are you sure that actually happened and you weren’t imagining things again?” This is especially common when they’re trying to downplay their negative behaviors.

But selective memory can come into play in all sorts of ways.

For example, someone might claim they have a new bank card and they’ve forgotten their pin so that they can manipulate someone else into picking up the bill for them.

7) The silent treatment

This is perhaps one of the lesser forms of emotional manipulation, if only because it’s so common.

You’ve probably either used it or been the victim of it yourself.

The idea behind the silent treatment is that we stay silent and avoid talking to someone as a way of getting back at them for something. It’s pretty common to see this in relationships where one of the partners has done something to upset the other one.

Emotional manipulators use the same model but with a twist.

Instead of using the silent treatment in response to something that you’ve done, they’ll do it purely because they know that you’ll do anything to make them talk.

In other words, they’ll use the silent treatment as yet another way to get what they want.

8) Emotional blackmail

Emotional blackmail is pretty much the ultimate form of emotional manipulation. In many ways, the two words are synonyms.

When a manipulator uses emotional blackmail, they’ll use your emotions as a way to get you to do what they want. For example, they might make you feel guilty if you don’t give them attention. They’ll also often use their own emotions to fuel the blackmail.

An example is if they tell someone to do what they tell them to do or it’ll make them angry. In many situations, the victim of the emotional blackmail will do anything for an easier life, and so they’ll go along with what the blackmailer wants even if it’s against their better judgement.

9) Unpredictability

Unpredictability is the emotional manipulator’s best friend, because it allows them to keep their victim on the back foot.

This results in people feeling as though they can’t raise issues with the manipulator because they don’t know how they’re going to react.

Often, this is also the reason why people stay with an emotional manipulator when they’re in a relationship with them. They’ll say, “He’s not always like this.”

That might be true, but it’s usually because of a deliberate effort on the part of the manipulator to be unpredictable.

Deep down, we all love predictability, and so if someone in our life is unpredictable, it leaves us feeling disconcerted and makes us more vulnerable to their other manipulative behaviors.


Now that you know the behaviors to look out for if you’re worried you might be dealing with an emotional manipulator, it’s over to you so that you can diagnose the person you’re worried about.

If you recognize three or more of these behaviors, there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with an emotional manipulator – and if you recognize all of them, all I can say is that it’s time for you to run.

Remember, life’s too short to share it with an emotional manipulator. If you have to leave them behind, so be it.

Picture of Dane Cobain

Dane Cobain

Dane Cobain is a published author, freelance writer and (occasional) poet and musician with a passion for language and learning. When he’s not working on his next release, he can be found reading and reviewing books while trying not to be distracted by Wikipedia.

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