10 signs an emotional manipulator is using your past against you

We’ve all made mistakes in our past, right?

Whether it’s something silly we did when we were teenagers, or a relationship that didn’t turn out as we expected.

But what happens when someone starts to use these mistakes to manipulate you?

Emotional manipulation is when someone uses your feelings to control you. It can be done by anyone – friends, family, or romantic partners – and it can make your life really tough.

In this article, we’re going to show you 10 ways to tell if an emotional manipulator is using your past against you.

By the time you finish reading, you’ll know how to spot these manipulators and protect yourself from them.

1. They constantly bring up your past mistakes

This is one of the most common tactics used by emotional manipulators.

They’ll constantly remind you of your past mistakes, no matter how small or how long ago they happened.

The aim is to make you feel guilty, insecure, and ultimately, easier to control.

Remember, everyone makes mistakes and it’s part of being human. It’s not fair or healthy for someone to keep bringing them up just to gain power over you.

So if you notice this happening frequently, it’s a red flag that you might be dealing with an emotional manipulator.

2. They use your past to belittle you

Another classic sign of an emotional manipulator is when they use your past to make fun of you or belittle you.

They might bring up past events or incidents, especially ones where you were vulnerable or made a mistake, just to make you feel less about yourself.

This is not only hurtful but also a way for them to assert dominance and control over you.

If someone is consistently using your past to put you down, it’s time to reevaluate that relationship.

3. They make you feel guilty for moving on

This one really hits home for me.

I remember being in a relationship where my partner would always make me feel guilty for trying to move on from my past mistakes.

Whenever I would try to leave certain things behind and start fresh, they would bring up those very things to make me feel like I didn’t deserve to move on.

They’d say things like, “Remember when you messed up that one time?” or “How can you just forget about what you did?”

It was a manipulative tactic to keep me feeling stuck and under their control.

If someone in your life is making you feel guilty for moving on from your past, it’s a clear sign of emotional manipulation.

4. They twist your past to fit their narrative

A manipulator has a way of spinning your past experiences to fit their narrative. They might distort facts or exaggerate details to make you second-guess yourself.

This tactic is known as ‘gaslighting’, a term derived from the 1944 film ‘Gaslight’ in which a man manipulates his wife into believing she’s going insane.

Gaslighting is a powerful form of emotional abuse and manipulation, where the abuser makes the victim question their own memory, perception, or sanity.

If you find someone constantly twisting your past and causing you to question your reality, it’s time to step back and reassess the situation.

5. They use your past to justify their bad behavior

This one’s a real heartbreaker.

Sometimes, an emotional manipulator will use your past mistakes to justify their own bad behavior. It’s as if they’re saying, “You messed up before, so it’s okay for me to treat you poorly now.”

But here’s the truth: nobody is perfect and we all have moments in our past that we aren’t proud of. However, these shouldn’t be used as a free pass for someone else to hurt or mistreat us.

Your past does not give anyone the right to disrespect you or treat you badly. 

6. They hold grudges over past mistakes

I’ve been through this one personally.

A few years back, I had a friend who just wouldn’t let go of a mistake I made. It was something I deeply regretted and had apologized for multiple times, but they just kept harping on it.

Every time we had a disagreement, they’d bring up that mistake as if to say, “Well, you did this, so you’re wrong.”

It felt like I was constantly being punished for the same thing over and over again.

Holding grudges is an unhealthy behavior and when someone uses your past mistakes to gain upper hand in arguments or to make you feel bad, it’s a clear sign of emotional manipulation. 

7. They use your past to control your future

Let’s get real for a moment.

Emotional manipulators don’t just use your past against you for the fun of it. They do it because it’s a powerful tool to control your future.

They’ll throw your past mistakes in your face any time you try to make a decision they don’t agree with.

Want to take a new job? “Remember how you failed at your last one?” Thinking about starting a new relationship? “Don’t forget how badly your previous one ended.”

It feels like you’re chained to your past, unable to move forward without their permission.

But here’s the truth: you are not defined by your past mistakes. You have every right to learn, grow, and make decisions for your future without someone else holding you back. 

8. They use your past to isolate you

Emotional manipulators often use tactics to isolate you from your support network.

One way they do this is by using your past against you. They might share your past mistakes with others to embarrass you or make them see you in a negative light.

According to research, isolation is one of the key tactics used by emotional abusers to gain control. When isolated, a person is more likely to depend on the abuser and less likely to seek help.

If you find someone spreading tales about your past mistakes causing others to distance themselves from you, it’s a sign of manipulation. 

9. They use your past to create a power imbalance

I had a colleague who knew about a mistake I made in the early days of my career. They would bring it up in front of others, not in a constructive or helpful way, but to undermine me and create a power imbalance.

It felt like they were trying to remind me – and everyone else – that they were superior and I was inferior because of a mistake I had made years ago.

This constant reminder of my past mistake created a power dynamic where they held the upper hand.

If someone is using your past to establish themselves as superior and keep you feeling inferior, it’s not just disrespectful, it’s emotionally manipulative. 

10. They use your past to keep you in a cycle of abuse

Let’s be brutally honest here.

If someone is constantly bringing up your past, making you feel guilty, belittling you, or using it to justify their own bad behavior, it’s more than just manipulation – it’s abuse.

This is a cycle that keeps you feeling stuck, guilty, and afraid.

You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to bring up that one mistake or that one embarrassing moment from your past. It keeps you on edge, it keeps you under their control.

And it’s not okay. No matter what you’ve done in your past, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, you don’t deserve to be treated this way.

You deserve respect, kindness, and the ability to move on from your past and grow.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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